A Writer's Process: Kriss Nichol

Kriss is the winner of the Wild Words Writing Competition which closed in December 2015. Here she talks about her creative process.

I write because I have to and am particularly interested in human nature, human existence and our relationship with the natural world.

I love the process of writing, of creating spaces between the words that allow creativity to take form and I love the intensity, when everything in the cauldron comes together and sparks a chain reaction. 

In 1997 I gave up my career as a teacher and senior manager of community education in a high school in Northumberland and set off to Nepal to work as a volunteer for VSO. This was to be a life-changing experience and provided me with the material for Magic Happens in the Dark. It is an autobiographical account, but the first problem I had was to present the ‘facts’ in a way that fit the brief.

When writing about events that happened within a different cultural setting and norms, the challenge was to convey and explain these without ‘telling’ all the time.

I therefore selected a couple of scenes to convey the alienation I felt first as a foreigner, then as a woman working in a hostile male environment, and finally as a woman whose sexuality was being suppressed by the culture.

I decided to open the story with a short description of the view from my flat and the longing for companionship then to move to the beheading and boiling of animals, a daily occurrence, which was woven into the theme of the story to be picked up later with the hot wax. The beheading also raised questions about male and female roles in that society that were then brought up in the workplace, enabling me to show scenes of the caste system and hostile male environment. There is also a ‘caste’ system amongst the westerners who worked there, as shown by the affluent wives of Embassy officials in the hotel, and a ‘no touching’ code of practice that has its effects on the main character in sexual repression.

In order to make the issues ‘real’ for the reader I had to find the right ‘voice’ for the main character and it took me several attempts till I was satisfied.

I also used sensual imagery, the fecundity and lushness of vegetation as a metaphor for her feelings.  This then led into the character’s slumbering, where the mistake is made, and culminated in her eventual awakening.