Ahead of World Book Day 2019, we spoke to Nicola R. White – a Canadian romance novelist, young adult fiction and comic book writer. From John Grisham to Meg Gardiner, many lawyers turn their analytical minds to novels later on in life. Quite a few lawyers at Obelisk Support are published authors too. Yet it is rare to come across one who has successfully pursued their creative aspirations as they start out on their legal career. But that is exactly what Nicola R. White has done, leading to her being awarded the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in Romance.
Nicola tells us about how her experience as a lawyer has helped her as an author (and vice versa), the surprising amount of lawyers who write romance fiction, and how she managed to balance both writing and legal work.
Where did it all begin – did you start out with an interest in law, in writing, or both?
I was always interested in both. With law, it started because my parents wanted me to be a lawyer, but I had taken law subjects at high school and really enjoyed them, so I decided to go to law school and pursue law as a career. I attended law school at Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia, Canada) and also studied creative writing. The creative writing and law continued alongside one another but never really overlapped until I finished law school and started practising. I was writing my first book before I finished law school and it was published not long after. I practiced from 2012-2018, and operated my own small firm (sole practitioner) from 2015-2018. I stopped practicing in 2018 to focus more on my writing career, although I still teach paralegal students at a business college in my hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
How did you get started as a published author?
I self-published my first book (Fury’s Kiss) in 2015 I had sent the manuscript out to editors, who were receptive but said they felt it wasn’t quite what they were looking for. So I decided to go down the self-publishing route, and shortly after I won best emerging writer prize for debut writers. That came with a quite substantial cash prize and advertising and marketing support, making it easier to continue to publish. Since then all my books have been self-published. I created the pen name at the beginning as I wasn’t sure how colleagues would react. Happily, everyone has been supportive and people know me by both my pen name and my real name.
How does your experience and mindset as a lawyer assist in your research for your books? And how has writing impacted on your work as a lawyer?
The creative writing started as a as way to give my brain a break. Doing legal work all day while interesting can be very dry, whereas coming home and writing a novel is something I could be entirely free with. Over time, I started to include legal sub plots in some of the novels – I don’t ever write legal thrillers but I like to bring in some legal elements in there. Being a lawyer I think definitely helps the research process – I always liked reading and research and training in law school meant learning how to do this more effectively and I know where to go to find sources. It’s also helpful to have a network of other lawyers to ask in other areas and jurisdictions.
In terms of the business of publishing your books, does your experience as a lawyer give you any advantages?
Oh, for sure. I would say law is my most significant skill when it comes to the business aspect of publishing. I understand contracts. I am comfortable with taxation in different jurisdictions. Even things like writing a will as an author and setting up a good estate plan. Many authors I would know would not have the same knowledge or confidence in these areas, but when something goes wrong you realise the value of that knowledge.
How do you manage your time while pursuing a dual career?
At a certain point I had to accept I couldn’t do all the things I wanted to do – I am currently on hiatus from full time practice to concentrate more on writing, though I still teach part time. When working full time you have to carefully manage your priorities, and you have to really know yourself and your strengths and weaknesses to get things done. The stuff you aren’t so good at needs to be outsourced, e.g. my editors are tasked with keeping me on track with deadlines as I know I won’t stick to my own!
How supportive do you feel the legal industry is for those who want to pursue other interests?
When I started publishing, I used a pen name as I was worried how it would be received, but I found that people were more supportive than expected, and so felt more comfortable sharing what I was working on as time went on. I was actually very surprised how many other lawyers I spoke to starting out who were working on book projects and different kinds of writing. In the romance genre in particular, there is an unusually high number of authors who are lawyers and former lawyers, it’s actually quite disproportionate compared to other genres, which is interesting! There seems to be a lot of creativity in the profession and we all just need a friendly ear to share our creative side and feel confident with it.
How do you approach the roles of men and women in romance writing, are there certain stereotypes and tropes that you try to avoid or counter?
I’m very interested in social justice and feminism and I try to be aware of philosophies in my writing – I may not always get it right, but I try to make sure all my heroines are well rounded, that they have friends and family and their whole world doesn’t revolve around hero. And I try to make sure the heroes also have room to be three dimensional people with feelings, who are more than the typical expectations of the alpha male. Each story has to have a happy ending – that doesn’t mean just getting married and living happily ever after but that they work out whatever issues they had in their lives as individuals and continue on a good path.
I first came across the Irish folk tale of Eliza Day in a version written for children, and it stuck with me as this morbid and beautiful folk tale. Then years later I heard the song Wild Rose by Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue, which is based on the same tale, and that rekindled my interest. I was going to write a novel but soon realised there was more to explore visually. Plus I was looking for a comic book project at the time, so it kind of fell into place.
How different is the process to writing books?
Writing them is easier, getting them made is harder. Obviously you have more people working on the project with illustrations and formatting etc. It becomes much more about coordination and moving pieces.
What are you working on currently?
In the past year I have been working on the next instalments of Wild Rose, and film writing. My next release will be a text-based game, something similar to a “choose your own adventure” but with algorithms. I am also working on a short film about a mermaid and young Syrian woman who fall in love.
And finally, what authors do you admire and what have you read most recently that stood out?
In Romance: Nora Roberts is always a classic! Other authors I have been reading lately include Courtney Milan, Lisa Kleypas, and Beverly Jenkins. I like M. L. Buchman when I’m in the mood for a military romance (and he is a male author, which is rare in the genre). Cynthia Sax writes a good series of indie sci fi romance about cyborgs. In paranormal romance/urban fantasy, I like Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series.
Comics: Bingo Love, a queer romance starring women of colour. Beasts of Burden – Animals investigate paranormal events in their neighbourhood, with beautiful watercolour illustrations. And My Boyfriend is a Bear is weird but sweet! After a string of terrible boyfriends, a woman finds love with an actual bear.
YA: I haven’t been able to put down Sabaa Tahir’s Ember in the Ashes series! The audiobook for this title is excellent, too.