The Writing Life of: N.R. Baker
This week I am thrilled to be interviewing author N.R. Baker, who will be sharing with us details of her writing life, telling us all about her new book ‘10:59‘, which was released on 7th August 2020, and answering a few fun questions. This post contains affiliate links.
Niki Baker (N.R. Baker) is an English writer who escaped to a wild green corner of France. Practically nocturnal, she enjoys the world best when the stars are out and most of the people are in. She has received recognition for numerous short stories, poems and travel articles, and her first full-length novel, 10:59, was published in 2020.
1) Did you enjoy writing when you were a child?
For as long as I can remember, writing has been something I need to do, like eating and breathing. So yes, I loved writing from the moment I learned how to hold a pencil. My early stories were dreadful, with illustrations to match, but it was a start. I was an insatiable bookworm, too.
2) Which author shaped your childhood?
There were so many. I grew up in a house that was a treasure trove of old books and Mum used to read bedtime stories to my sister and me, so my younger years were shaped by Dr Seuss, Hans Christian Andersen and Beatrix Potter, among others. Growing up in the countryside, I remember being captivated by nature stories such as Gavin Maxwell’s Ring of Bright Water, and Sajo and Her Beaver People by Grey Owl.
Reading for myself, I especially recall the magic of books like Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, and Mary Stewart’s Ludo and the Star Horse. I devoured C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and then, when I was a little older, I developed a taste for adventure stories and thrillers by the likes of Alistair MacLean and Dick Francis.
3) What motivated you to begin your first novel?
People are bound to make assumptions about the inspiration for my first published novel, 10:59, because it features a flu pandemic, but I actually finished writing it two years before COVID came along!
The seed for the book was sown long ago, and it’s a moment that’s echoed in this extract: ‘Well, you must’ve seen those graphs about population growth. The ones where the line gets nearly vertical at the end.’ I drew in the air with my finger. ‘It can’t keep going like that. I mean, it just can’t. Something’s got to give. But nobody’s even talking about it.’
4) Do you plot your book, or are you a pantser?
A bit of both. I like to give my initial ideas complete freedom to bounce around for a while inside my head, where there’s lots of empty space for them to grow and have some fun. Then I plot the bare bones of the story, but I always leave plenty of scope for things to change once my characters start getting ideas of their own about where they want to go. It’s always exciting when you get to the point where you feel like you’re pretty much just tagging along for the ride.
5) What is your average writing day?
I don’t have one. Some days the words just flow and I can write for hours. Some days I can produce good work with a bit of effort. And other days I can sit for ages just staring at the screen, fingers poised above my keyboard, and nothing useful happens at all.
I’d like to say I’m one of those disciplined writers who spends X hours per day on their craft, but I’m not. I’ve learned the hard way that when the magic isn’t happening I tend to do more harm than good if I try to force it. So I don’t.
6) What is the best thing about being an author?
Getting feedback from readers is an incredible buzz! I’m an introvert, yet I write because I want to reach people. Knowing that my words have touched or moved someone means so much, and every comment and review is priceless. When complete strangers describe your work as ‘powerful’ and ‘just a real wow of a book’, and say that your writing ‘might even change the way you try to live your life’… Wow. I guess that’s why they say the pen is mightier than the sword. And it’s definitely less messy to change someone’s life with a pen than with a sword.
Publisher – Burning Chair Publishing
Pages – 492
Release Date – 7th August 2020
ISBN 13 – 978-1912946112
Format – ebook, paperback
Everyone’s going to be talking about this book. If they’re not, they should be.
With the power of life and death at your fingertips, who would you save?
If you knew the future was in your hands and time was running out, how far would you go?
In this controversial thriller, Louis Crawford is one teenager who doesn’t know everything. He doesn’t know that the world is about to end, and he doesn’t know that his new employer is hiding a monstrous secret. But he’s about to find out.
Described as hard-hitting and humorous, thought-provoking and inspiring, N.R. Baker’s 10:59 may be one of the most important books you’ll ever read. An apocalyptic thriller with a difference, it challenges the greatest taboo of our time and will have you questioning everything you thought you knew.
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7) How did you go about researching the content for your book?
10:59 is a thriller that required research into all sorts of things, from the impact humans are having on the planet, to Chinese dams, explosions, vaccines and square beer bottles. The internet is such an incredible resource to have literally at our fingertips. In the Author’s Note at the end of my novel, I comment that, ‘Researching for this book was fascinating, depressing, encouraging, infuriating and terrifying.’ And what I discovered was something of a one-way ticket. It crystallised my general love of nature and vague concern about overpopulation into an urgent passion to confront our greatest taboo.
8) How long did it take to go from the ideas stage to writing the last word?
I’m not sure, exactly. A few years. At times, it seemed that I’d set myself an impossible challenge: to write a story that I felt needed to be told, addressing a subject that we’re actively discouraged from considering, in a way that would be exciting and engaging and even humorous… I almost gave up on it more than once. That’s why it’s so incredibly rewarding when readers describe the story as gripping, inspiring, and essential. I have to pinch myself every time.
9) What made you choose the genre you write in?
10:59 has been called ‘a stunningly original genre-blending novel’, but it’s most often described as an eco-thriller, which is a fairly new genre of literature but one that’s gaining momentum all the time as more people become aware of the true state of the world. Many of my readers are adults, but it was a very deliberate choice to make my book accessible for teenagers and young adults, too. They’re often very well informed about the environmental crises we face, and they’re the next generation of decision-makers.
10) How did you come up with the name(s) for your lead character(s)?
The main character in 10:59 is an 18-year-old called Louis (with a ‘wiss’, not a ‘wee’). I don’t remember inventing him… He just wandered into my imagination one day and introduced himself. He’s used to people mispronouncing his name. In the book, he says, ‘I’d asked my dad more than once why my name couldn’t have been spelled Lewis, to avoid confusion. Apparently, names had been Mum’s department.’
11) Can you give us an insight into your characters?
Louis struggles a bit, academically and socially, but he’s pretty comfortable in his own skin, nonetheless. He sees the world with unusual clarity – a quality he’s come to think of as ‘superlogic’ – and it’s obvious to him that things need to change. A competition during his final year at school pushes him outside his comfort zone and results in him being offered a dream job by an enigmatic organisation known as Phoenix. Against a backdrop of mounting global pressure, Phoenix wants to save the planet. But when Louis is entrusted with the monstrous secret of how they plan to achieve that goal, he – and the reader – must decide whether they’re heroes or villains.
12) How did you feel when you had completed your book?
When I thought I’d finished writing 10:59, I felt elated and exhausted, and decidedly jittery at the prospect of sending it off to potential publishers. But there was also a tinge of disappointment that I hadn’t been able to develop a particular sub-plot because I thought it would take me over a desirable word count.
After a lot of rejections, I landed a publishing deal with Burning Chair. They encouraged me to add in the storyline that I’d wanted to include and, after a few rounds of editing, I felt that the completed novel really was the book I’d hoped to write, and that was very exciting.
1) Do you have a favourite quote?
My favourite quote is probably ‘Not all those who wander are lost’, from Tolkien. I also have one framed on the wall that reads, ‘Look up and see the beauty of your dreams. Believe in them and follow where they lead’. I really do live by that one, and I’m happy to say that it’s led to all manner of rash decisions and fabulous adventures.
2) Do you have any pets?
I don’t have any pets at the moment, although I’m lucky enough to live in a forested river valley in the French countryside so there are plenty of animals around me: foxes, coypu, martens, squirrels, snakes, slow worms, lizards, frogs, birds, beetles… My previous pets have included a Doberman called Dizzi, cats called Jazz and Bluze, and a German Shepherd called Noggin
3) What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver and enjoying it very much, so I’d like to read more of her writing. We’ve been doing a lot of work on our house during the past two years and time to just sit and read has become a rare pleasure, but I’m looking forward to reading more this year. I’ve heard good things about The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern) and The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman), so those are definitely on my list. I also like to support books by my fellow Burning Chair authors.
4) Your book has been made into a movie, you’ve been offered a cameo role, what will you be doing?
I’d be yelling at cows. That would be utterly (udderly?) appropriate, and makes sense if you’ve read my book! In fact, Yelling at Cows was the working title of the novel.
5) If you could travel to a fictional world from any book for the day, which would you choose?
I’m sure this isn’t a very original answer, but it would have to be Middle-Earth from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Although, with all of those deep forests, misty mountains, Hobbit holes and Elven citadels to explore, I might need to stay for considerably longer than a day.
6) There’s a penguin sitting in your chair, what’s the first thing he says to you?
Well, what I think he says is, ‘I’m angry. Do you have any fleas?’ But my Penguinese is admittedly rather rusty, so I look online for a better translation. Google Translate offers me: ‘I’m Hungarian. Do you have any fishnets?’, or, ‘I’m ornate. Do you have any trumpets?’, neither of which seems very likely. So then I get curious about accents and dialects between different penguin species and I start reading articles on the internet, drawn from one fascinating article to another like an inquisitive bird following a haphazard trail of breadcrumbs. Four hours later, I find myself considerably enlightened on the subjects of penguins, Antarctica, explorers, backpacks and thermal underwear.
The penguin wandered off some time ago, and I eventually found him outside, fishing in the river. He must have been hungry.
A big thank you to N.R. Baker for sharing her writing life with us and a wonderful interview.