Bestselling author Nicola Pierce has published four historical novels for children, her subjects ranging from the Siege of Derry to the battle of Stalingrad. At DBF 2016, her schools’ workshop Re-Writing History will explore how to use fiction to bring history to life. We chatted with Nicola about her path to publication.
Q. What first drew you to writing historical novels for children?
I think I might be the luckiest writer in the world as I would never have considered writing for children if Michael O’Brien (from The O’Brien Press) had not rung me one day back in 2010 to see if I’d be interested in trying to write a novel for children… maybe something on the Titanic! Before that I was a ghostwriter, that is, I was writing people’s life stories for them. I wrote one for The O’Brien Press and Michael saw something in the manuscript that I certainly couldn’t, and asked me to try my hand at writing for children. I’ve always loved history and English, so writing historical novels is a great way to combine my two loves. At the moment all my ideas in my notebook for future books are based around historical episodes.
Q. Why do you use real characters in your work?
It helps to bring that particular time alive if I use someone who was actually there. For instance, when The O’Brien Press asked me to write a novel about the Battle of the Boyne I wasn’t terribly interested in this subject initially, so in order to make it more ‘real’ and immediate for myself, I searched for someone who was actually there. As soon as I read a couple of lines about nineteen-year-old Gerald O’Connor from County Offaly, the story began to take off in my head. Gerald was a Catholic and, therefore, a Jacobite soldier fighting for James II. He grew up in a small cottage in Offaly, right next door to just one of the ruins of his grandfather’s castles. In other words, his family used to be extremely rich, which instantly explained to me why he was championing the English James, the Catholic king. If James was returned to the English throne with Irish help, then he could be expected to look after the former wealthy Catholics in Ireland who, years earlier, had been stripped of their wealth and privileges by Oliver Cromwell.
Q. What have you read recently that’s really excited you?
I have a huge interest in American history and particularly that of the devastating history of Native American Indians. I recently read a fantastic book about Chief Sitting Bull, George Armstrong Custer and the 1876 battle of Little Big Horn, called Son of the Morning Star: General Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn. I’m preparing to give a writer workshop on this topic and maybe… just maybe… I’m preparing to at least think about it in terms of a historical novel.