William Nicholson discusses Seeker, the first volume in a three part
trilogy for teens
Although perfectly suitable and intriguing for adults,
Seeker is targeted for a teenage audience.
Do you feel that teens are interested in exploring the idea of the supernatural
or of the supreme?
The true answer is, I dont know. I personally was fascinated by the
supernatural when I was a teenager. I think it interested me more than anything.
I wanted to know what mattered most in life, what was most real and lasting,
whether God existed and what God asked of me, and what sort of experiences lay
beyond my immediate perceptions. Those fascinations remain with me to this day.
What might readers take from the Noble Warriors saga? Do you hope that
the book will inspire some to lead more noble lives?
It may sound pompous, but yes, I do. Ive tried to create characters who have
real ideals, who want to make the world better in whatever way they can. And
then Ive tried to dramatize that journey. I was reacting to a certain extent to
the superhero culture that suggests that all thats needed to save the world is
a trick power and a fancy suit. I think whats needed is more complex, and
involves more sacrifice.
In Seeker, Morning Star and
Seeker are decent, unselfish, law-abiding people seeking who are determined to
become Noble Warriors for the greater good. But the Wildman is quite
differentan outlaw, unpredictable, and seemingly drawn to the Nomana for
selfish reasons. Although its unclear whats in store for the Wildman in the
next two Noble Warriors books, at the end of Seeker
he is redeemed. Does the Wildman send a message to teens that people can change
for the better?
I dont think its quite right to say that the Wildman changes for the better;
its more that he grows from one level to the next. He is selfish and amoral,
but hes also hungry for more than hes yet experiencedand when hes offered
the strange concept of peace, he knows he wants it. Youll see in the next two
books that the Wildmans journey is by no means the obvious bad-to-good-guy
story. If Im trying to send any message to teens, its that even bad guys are
searching for deeper lives.
How does your process differ for writing books and screenplays?
There are only really two differences between books and screenplays, as far as
Im concerned. The first is obviousin a book I have much more room and much
more time to explore whats happening inside the heads of the characters. The
second is that Im in full control of my books, whereas with a screenplay, Im
forced to adjust to the demands of many other people.
The nature of the Noble Warriors god seems intentionally vague and
mysterious, almost as though youre challenging readers to define the nature of
the All and Only. Do you have all three books outlined, with a firm story line?
Did writing screenplays help you refine the skill you use for long-range
I do have all three books outlined, and I had the ending mapped out before I
began. However, the process of actually writing the books has brought about
changes along the way. New characters have entered the scene, and my heroes have
taken turns I had not envisaged. The god of the Nomana, though, will be revealed
just as planned. As for the skill of long-range creative planning, I think I
learned that through working on the Wind on Fire books. Screenplays are
the oppositebursts of short-term energy.
What can tell us about the sequel to Seeker?
Will readers again visit the city of Radiance?
A: The second book of the Noble Warriors,
Jango, begins with an invasion by a new and
powerful warlord, who leads his army against Radiance. The island of Anacrea is
threatened as never before. Seeker learns that he alone has been given the power
to save the god of the Nomana. Morning Star finds herself helplessly drawn to
the Wildman, even though she knows hes the least noble of them all. A new
character joins them, a pale and beautiful forest girl called Echo. And we meet
a mysterious old man called Jango, who seems to know whats going to happen to
You have said in a video interview that you dont want to look back on
your life to see what you have done and find the answer is nothing. The
three main characters in Seeker are similarly
determined to do something vital with their lives. With the success youve
experienced as a writer in a various media and your positive influence on young
readers, do you feel some level of fulfillment? Or, as with your characters, do
you feel you are continuing on a lifelong pilgrimage?
I do now feel, somewhat late in my life, that I have begun to do something
worthwhile. But I also feel that I have so much more burning inside me, to
reveal and to discover and to explore. Yes, I am most definitely on a journey
that will only end with my deathand perhaps not even then. Thats the big mystery.
William Nicholson writes:
I come from oddly mixed stock. My father, a doctor, is the
son of a Methodist minister; my mother the daughter of a South
African Jew. Both converted to Roman Catholicism when I was
My father specialised in tropical medicine, and spent the
first half of his career in Nigeria, working to eradicate
leprosy. I remember the summer I was baptised into the Catholic
Church, at the age of eight, a ceremony bathed in African
sunlight, for which I wore a white suit. My baptism took place
in a leper colony.
My mother read English at Somerville and came out with a
First. She was hired after the war to lecture for the British
Council in Nigeria, and met my father on the boat to Lagos. She
loved him at first sight because he had a gentle face, and he
was reading Proust.
I grew up first in Seaford, on the south coast, a town that
is at the end of a railway line. It has no claim to fame, but it
lies between the Downs and the sea. My childhood passed on foot
and outdoors, in bracken and on pebbly beaches. I had one
friend, but one is enough. We were inseparable until I was sent
to boarding school at the age of eleven.
I was educated first by Dominicans and then, from the age of
thirteen, by Benedictines at Downside. I came of age
intellectually at a time of ferment in the Catholic Church. The
Second Vatican Council encouraged new thinking to sweep through
the church, and the younger monks of Downside dared to think
bold new thoughts. They taught me to pursue truth wherever it
led. For a time this strengthened my youthful faith and made it
strong and subtle. I regarded atheism as the easy option, and
enjoyed demonstrating to my contemporaries, most of whom had
never been taught any theology, how shallow was their dismissal
of belief. To this day it annoys me when people say they cant
believe in a good God because of the suffering in the world.
Between school and university I spent a year as a Voluntary
Service Overseas teacher in British Honduras, now Belize, in
Central America. A transforming experience of living a life of
utter simplicity, deep in the jungle, cut off from the rest of
the world. I shared the teaching duties with a second volunteer
from England, who had an excellent singing voice, and perfect
recall of all the Simon and Garfunkel songs written at the time.
All I have to do is hear Homeward Bound and Im back in my
hammock in the jungle, counting the days to my return home.
I still considered myself a practising Catholic as I began my
university career, as a scholar at Christs College, Cambridge;
but by the time I left all that was left was the space in me
that my faith had occupied for so long. Much as I wanted to go
on believing, it became clear to me that its we humans who make
God, in our great need. God, if he existed, would have no need
of humanity. But as all my writing demonstrates, the need or the
puzzle or the hunger has never left me.
At Cambridge I studied English Literature and wrote novels
and fell in love. First love and first sex, late but passionate.
When my girlfriend left me after a year I believed I would never
love or be loved again.
I came out of Cambridge with a double First and a job at the
BBC as a General Trainee one of three successful applicants
out of 2,500. But all I wanted to do was write novels.
I had written my first completed novel at the age of fifteen.
It was called The World, the Flesh and the Devil, and was
inspired by Ian Fleming. Not a James Bond parody: an act of
homage. My second novel was written in British Honduras, by
candlelight, and was about school anxieties.
I never stopped writing. All through my years at the BBC I
rose before six and got in two hours on a book before going to
work. For a while all I wrote about was my failed love affair.
Meanwhile I ventured clumsily into new relationships, all of
which I knew were not the real thing. A combination of shyness
and arrogance made me an awkward young man. I dreaded rejection,
longed for perfect love, hungered for sex, and sought the status
conferred by beautiful women. In some dim recess of my mind I
was aware that I was not yet capable of making a full
commitment, but I believed myself to be forever in search of the
one true love.
My novels flowed on, all as immature as their writer, all
rejected; each one the fruit of some two years of snatched time.
There was some encouragement along the way: a short story
accepted by Encounter magazine; first prize in a Spectator
writing competition; a play accepted and broadcast by Radio 4. I
remember the producer telling me he would take anything I wrote.
I went home and pounded out six more radio plays. All were
Meanwhile, I was making modest low-budget television
documentaries for a BBC series called Everyman. I travelled the
world covering such subjects as Satanism in Hollywood movies,
visions of the Virgin Mary in Spain, Sioux mysticism in South
Dakota, and nuclear missiles in the South Pacific.
Then at last, in 1979, an actual novel was accepted by a
publisher. It was a strange hybrid of sex and mysticism, and it
came and went unnoticed and unbought. But one of my bosses at
the BBC read it, and concluded I could write dialogue. He
suggested that I write for television.
I had never considered television as an outlet for my
writing. I dont think I regarded television script work as real
writing at all. Perhaps for this reason I wrote fast and easily.
Astonishingly, my first script was produced, with Jonathan Pryce
in the lead. My second, Shadowlands, won every award in its
Suddenly I was a real writer. The years of failure dropped
away. I woke up from dreams of Proust and Tolstoy and looked
about me and was excited. I went on to write many more
successful television scripts. I turned Shadowlands into a
successful stage play. And so Hollywood called.
For a writer reared on English Literature at Cambridge,
Hollywood is as far away as you can go. No one in Hollywood
cares about your voice, or your sensibility. What they want is
big characters, big stories, big audiences. Very smart people
there do nothing all day but beat writers into shape. I was duly
beaten into shape. As a result I now understand that I am not
writing to reveal my own mysteriously-fascinating self to others
no ones listening, no one cares but to explore the world we
Ive become professional. Im well paid. Ive twice been
nominated for Oscars. But no screenwriter ever owns or controls
his own work, and some of my best screenplays remain unproduced.
So I became a writer-director. Im proud of my one film,
Firelight, but it failed, and with it sank all hopes of
controlling my own film career. So while continuing to write
screenplays to pay the bills, I decided to go back to my first
By now I knew that one of my old faults had been a tendency
to over-intellectualise my stories. So I decided to try my hand
at writing for children. The result was The Wind Singer, which
grew into the trilogy The Wind on Fire; which is now selling
well all over the world. The confidence this success gave me
encouraged me to complete my circular journey, and return to
novel writing. The Society of Others was published in 2004;
Trial of True Love followed in 2005. A new trilogy for younger
readers, The Noble Warriors, begins with Seeker, also in 2005.
My writing career may look unfocused, as I slither from
television to movies to plays, and from childrens books to
novels but in fact everything I write is linked. Hollywood has
taught me that whatever my subject, my own true concerns come
pushing through. Even as unlikely a project as Gladiator
contains my perennial obsession life after death. So I see all
my work as one unfolding attempt to make sense of this messy
life, whether Im writing about the unfairness of death (Shadowlands),
the failure of my parents marriage (The Retreat from Moscow),
the mystery of evil in the world (The Wind on Fire) or men in
love (The Trial of True Love).
As for my romantic life: by my late thirties I knew I was
locked into a well-known pattern which caused me to want what I
couldnt have, and not to want what I could have. I was wise
enough, just, to understand that this was ridiculous, but still
I pursued the unattainable. The women involved knew better than
me. Just as the beautiful American actress I was pursuing
finally froze me out, a former girlfriend saved me. She decided
she liked me well enough to keep me as a friend, and re-entered
my life. It dawned on me then that the time I spent with her
caused me none of the anxiety I associated with love affairs. I
was just happy.
Our love affair unfolded very slowly, but it went very deep.
There came a moment when I knew I wanted no more escape routes,
and was glad of it. By the time we married, I was forty.
My marriage has made me deeply happy. We have three children.
I love my family more than my writing. My only regret is that it
took me so long to get here.