Nicola Monaghan gave up a lucrative career in finance which took her around the world to return back to her hometown to pen her debut novel The Killing Jar. Set on a council estate off Beechdale Road it follows the adventures of Kerrie-Ann, an intelligent but precocious individual, struggling to survive abusive parents, drug peddling, murder, abortion and joyriding. Fortunately, Nicola’s personal life is a lot happier than her fictional counterpart and recently married old school friend Chad to become Mrs. Valentine. James Walker bussed it over to Aspley and discussed Britney, Ecstasy and marriage over a bag of chips…
Losing your maiden name after just releasing your novel must have taken some persuading?
Valentine isn’t Chad’s original surname either, but an old family middle name. We decided we would both change our names and when this one came up in discussion, we were both into it. It would make a great surname for a writer, wouldn’t it? If only I’d got published after I got married…
Did the idea for the novel come during your MA at Nottingham Trent?
Yes, it happened in various stages. The old entomologist, Mrs Ivanovich, was conjured up by a memory exercise led by one of the tutors, Mahendra Solenki. It took me right back to the close where I lived when I was very young, to the girls next door who used to collect butterflies and put them in a rabbit hutch exactly like I had the old lady doing.
A week or so later, I was standing at the bus stop outside Strelley Co-op, co-incidentally where my novel ends, and I was struck by the vibrancy around me. There were teenagers hanging out and messing with each other, blokes on mini-motos, cars stopping and holding up traffic while the owners chatted. I’m sure these scenes could have been intimidating if I didn’t know the estate so well, but to me there was something beautiful about them. I remember thinking; If I can capture this, that would be a novel.
Was it easy writing in that lovely flat Nottingham accent?
I was born and brought up here, I had the insider track on the dialect, but because I’d been away for so long, I could see it from the outsider’s point of view too. It was not so easy editing it, though. I had to go to real pains to make sure the grammar and syntax were completely consistent throughout and that was quite a painful process. It was worth it, though. I’ve been very pleased with the reaction to the dialect, particularly from people from the estate.
Did you grow up on an estate?
I was born in Radford, on a road parallel to Raleigh Street, real Saturday Night and Monday Morning territory. We moved to Basford, then Broxtowe, then Top Valley (twice), then Bilborough, then Aspley, then that estate they built when they knocked down the flats at Balloon Woods. So the answer is all the estates!
Your financial career offered a similar, if more exotic, escape than Kerrie-Ann who leaves Nottingham on a bus. Were you trying to get away?
I was definitely trying to escape in a way. Not Nottingham, as such, but certainly the poverty I experienced as a child. I was very ambitious then and competitive. I wanted to have everything. I don’t supposed that’s changed that much, it’s just my ‘everything’ that I’ve redefined over the years.
Drugs feature in the novel and also in your story ‘Flyboats’ which appeared in Sunday Night and Monday Morning. Given the problems they can create can drugs be used in moderation?
Everything we take into our bodies has an effect on our psyche. That’s the basis of the human condition. Where do we draw the line? Well, everyone has their different lines, don’t they?
My experience is that there’s a lot of hypocrisy and ignorance in attitudes. I’ve heard so many people lecture about how bad and dangerous Ecstasy is, all based on a few isolated and high-profile deaths, and the same people go out and melt their brains with alcohol every weekend. There’s this ingrained attitude in society that keeps shouting ‘Way hey! Let’s get the beers in.’ I wanted to explore some of these contradictions in this book and gave Kerrie-Ann her own very clear code about drugs, but one that to some people would seem alien and contradictory.
I hear you are in the new Nottingham Writers’ studio? Are the bouncers on the door exacting a strict dress code?
It’s strictly white tie, except on naked Thursdays. I’ve been renting an office there for six months or so now and I’m really loving it. It’s wonderful to be able to ‘go to work’ as a writer. I’m rubbish at home. I just surf the web and drink tea. And it helps that Jon McGregor is upstairs.
If Jon Mcgregor was a footballer he’d be John Robertson, a tricky winger thanks to his mellifluous prose. I’ve got you down as a Roy Keane, a tough sod biting the ankles of opponents. How do you feel about that?
I’m rather relieved actually; at least you didn’t pick Stan Collymore. I love this! My mum and dad met at a Forest match, so I truly am red all the way through. Back to your question, though. I’m quite pleased with that comparison. I mean, he’s never boring or afraid to say what he thinks, is he? That’ll do for me.
You had a skinhead recently, were you doing a Britney?
In fact, it was after seeing photos of me that Britney went for the clippers! I love all this fuss about what she’s done, this assumption that to have shaved off her hair, she must be slightly mad. I think people are quite threatened by a woman with a shaved head. I got all sorts of reactions. All the best people I know loved it, but I did get whispers, and even pointing and shouting in the street. I got asked several times if I was a lesbian. It’s so liberating not to have to wash or blow dry your hair. And to not have to pay ladies salon prices to get it cut…