BackStory: Five Questions with John Nicholson


BackStory: Five Questions with John Nicholson
Author of Compost

What inspired you to write ‘Compost’?

I was on a prose fiction Diploma course at UEA at the time. My old Norfolk garden had apple trees in fruit, all but one planted by my wife and me. The oldest was there when we arrived 30 years before, and produced yellow apples not unlike my pig apples. I was able to juice them, but they could not match my Bramleys, Ida Reds and Crispins. I was clearing them from between the vegetables they had fallen on, pulping them, and composting them when the appalling allegory dawned. I went straight inside and made notes. The composting had to wait – I had a class assignment to complete.

Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?

Many. In cutting my original length from 1000 words I found much redundant text with casualties I regretted, ‘darlings’ dispensed with, e.g.the Berlepsch, apples for pancakes, flushing crimson, anticipating their frying in molten butter.

How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? Did you discover anything that surprised you?

Lots of research, most unused, and no surprises. I feel the need for accuracy in my fiction, creating a tissue of imaginings on a framework of veracity. The apple varieties and their uses are a case in point, along with setting the story in the time for it to make most impact.

What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite?

I love the initial stages when an idea emerges from some memory or experience, takes form in my mind out walking or in the waking hours, becoming something tangible to work on. My least favourite? Finding an error of fact, spelling or grammar too late, and relying on an editor to spot it.

I love the buzz of imagining something and dislike finding out too late that I have messed up.

Who most influenced your writing of ‘Compost’?

My classmate Debbie Arnander who rightly savaged my first attempt when workshopped. My tutor Ashley Stokes of UEA and Unthank Books who restored my deflated ego and encouraged me to go into print. Finally Fiona Mills, whose proofreading goes well beyond spelling and semicolons to making suggestions with the insight of the creative writer she is herself.

John Nicholson completed diplomas in Creative Writing at UEA after a career in science education in the UK and overseas. He has published a few short stories including ‘The Ringing Stone’ in Unthology 3 (Unthank Books, 2010), and is working on a novel set in Uganda.

Photograph by Emily Devane.

An earlier, much longer version of ‘Compost’ appeared in print in the now-defunct Staple Magazine, Issue 72, 2010.