What was your background before your became a writer, and did you always want to be a writer?
Nigel: My background is varied. When I left school I joined ATV as a post boy simply because I wanted to work in television, and the idea was to get over to Elstree to become trainee cameraman, but when that didn’t work out, I headed over to Denmark Street, or Tin Pan Alley as its known, and worked in music publishing, first as packer and then in copyright, and in the evenings and at weekends I was deejaying at a club in Tunbridge Wells, which a little later on became my full time profession. I ended up doing lot of gigs at clubs, and for Top Rank as a resident DJ, in their ballrooms, ice rinks and bowling alleys. After the DJ craze died out, I became a printer, and then, if we fast forward to the 80s, I got into graphic design, designing album sleeves, tour books and posters, simply because I wanted to work for myself, so I set up a little home studio and called it Artsleeves. I had moderate success with it, and it was during that period that I did my first book (with Peter Lewry), which all came about out of the unexpected. It was really a case of wouldn’t it be fun to turn a booklet that Peter had made for his sister, on Cliff Richard’s recording sessions, into a book if we could, so we found a publisher, and got Cliff and EMI involved with it, but no, I don’t recall there being any big career plan to become a writer at that point. If anything, the one thing I wanted to do when I left school was to be an actor, but that was a very hard profession to get into, and as my parents eluded, I would probably be out of work more than I was in work.
Who or what inspired to you to become a writer?
Nigel: I would say Winona Ryder was my biggest inspiration. She certainly inspired me to write biography, simply because I was desperate to write about her, which is always the best reason to write. It came about, because I had at that time, watched more of her films than any other actress, and like anyone who had seen her films, I thought she was a brilliant actress. There is something very silent movie about her acting, a quality I really adore. It’s not a style in the sense of a pose or put-on, but something very organic and completely unique to her. I was also fascinated by the fragile energy that follows her through all her films, regardless of genre, so I was really excited to be able to get to write about her, and share my name on a book cover with hers. And I loved every minute of it. Being able to get up each morning and write about her was the best part about it, I literally couldn’t wait to get started each day. What was strange is how I totally immersed myself in her life, and so when I finally finished it, and delivered the manuscript to the publisher, it was like the ending of a relationship. I do remember feeling quite lost about it and having what I call post-book depression. For me, it is still my favourite book of all the ones I have written, and that was largely down to who Winona Ryder was and me feeling passionate about her and her films, and that is what all writing should be, about following your passion, and for me that was Winona.
How long did it take you to publish your first book? How many books have you written to date?
Nigel: I’ve written 20 original books, one of which, was a ghost writing affair, and if we count the books I have updated with new editions, I guess it must top 30, which is quite staggering to think about when you consider there was no great career plan to be an author. I can’t remember exactly how long it took to get Cliff published, but I do remember we started the process of the book, which included all the preliminary stuff soon after I had turned 40, in February 1990, and the book came out in September 1991, and in those days there was a much longer time scale required by the publisher for editing, typesetting, and proof reading, so probably close onto a year after we had delivered the manuscript.
What is your take on the publishing industry? Is it an easy industry to work in?
Nigel: It’s changed enormously. There are now so many digital distributors and publishers that will now take your book and convert it into all formats from the Kindle to the iPad, and make it available on sites like Amazon, iBooks, WHSmith and Waterstones. Some will even design a cover for you. The only drawback in the print vs digital war is that an author will have to self-publicise and self-market his/her own work, unlike print publishing where all the marketing and PR is part and parcel of a publishing deal. Ebook publishing has its advantages and disadvantages. The joy of ebook self-publishing is the freedom you have with writing your story. No deadlines, no editors screaming at you and no extra hidden costs deducted from royalties.
In your opinion, how easy is it to earn a decent living as a writer?
Nigel: It’s a tough way to make a living, but then most creative jobs are. Most writers these days probably write in their spare time, or if they are writing full time, it is likely they supplement their book earnings with earning from other things like magazine articles and liner notes for albums. That is how I got through the lean periods, in between books. It’s funny because if you tell someone you are a writer, they think you must be rolling in money, but that really is not the case! I wish it were! I read an article not long ago that claimed authors were among the poorest paid jobs in the country and that is probably true. Having said that, though, with the onslaught of ebooks and the Amazon self-publishing platform on Kindle, things have changed things quite considerably for both published and self-published authors.
What advice would you give anyone aspiring to become a professional writer?
Nigel: There has never been a better time for new unpublished writers, who perhaps dream of becoming the next JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer. Suddenly writers are not faced with rejection letters if self publishing on Amazon. But its also changed for readers too. With so many now using Amazon’s self publishing platform, without the need for a publisher or distributor, there will obviously be some titles with sub-standard writing, editing and poor story-telling. My key advice though would be to know who you are aiming your stories at and to make sure you cater for the right market. And if you want to get into print, research the publishers so that you know you are submitting your story to the right publisher. No point in sending a romantic novel to a publisher of sci-fi fiction. I would encourage anyone to write because the things you never thought were feasible really are. If you follow your heart and passion, and if you think you have a story to tell, then you should write it down and turn it into a book. Today it is a lot easier to get published than it was when I started twenty years ago. And you never know where it will lead.
If you were told you could only write one more book, what would it be and why?
Nigel: It would probably have to be Elvis. He is my all-time favourite and although I wouldn’t want to do another bog-standard biography about him, I would love to do a book on the making of his films, because that was really how I discovered him, and became a huge fan, through his films when I was growing up. I used to watch them all. And I still do now because they are timeless and he is still so fascinating to watch. I am intrigued that he once said he became physically sick of making those type of movies, and would love to find out why he couldn’t just say no to doing them.