The Apprentice Witch – The Inside Story with author James Nicol


Published by Chicken House books

Hello! Welcome to our 2nd author interview at hellopipski!

This month we have James Nicol visiting to tell us all about his debut novel The Apprentice Witch with Chicken House publishers.

Hi James! So, what’s the book about? 

The Apprentice Witch is all about a young witch, Arianwyn Gribble, who on the brink of becoming a fully-fledged witch fails her evaluation test due to a dark secret she has harbored for many years, and has to remain an apprentice for a little bit longer. She’s sent to serve the remote community of Lull. But even before she arrives she discovers the town is not quite as quiet as she first thought. And when an old adversary arrives in town…well it all gets very interesting indeed!

Tell us about Arianwyn. What kind of character is she?

I hope she’s the sort of character readers will want to be friends with. She’s a good person and wants to make her mark on the world by helping people as a witch and when she fails she feels quite lost and her confidence is severely dented.  I think that’s something we can all relate to whether you’re 10, 30 or 70!

What was the initial spark that started The Apprentice Witch in your mind? 

I knew that I wanted to write a fantasy middle grade story, but I’d actually been working on something else for a few years on and off before the idea came to me for The Apprentice Witch. Once I had decided my main character was going to be a witch I quickly wrote a scene where Arianwyn was casting a protection spell by drawing symbols into the night sky, it all came quite easily (well that bit did!) and I took it from there, though I wrote it in a very haphazard order with no plan at all! Thank heavens for editors!!!

What appealed to you most about having witches in your story? 

Witches are such a massive part of our childhoods, from fairytales we’re told before we can read ourselves to classic witches like The Grand High Witch, Mildred Hubble and The Wicked Witch of the West.

Witches have featured so much in my reading throughout my childhood and into my adult life as a reader too.  I knew I wanted magic in the book and who better to wield the magic than a witch!

Tell us about your writer’s journey. And how did you get your lucky break? 

Well I wrote a lot in my late teens and very early twenties. And then life sort of got in the way and I didn’t do much writing at all for a long time, though there were always stories flying around in my head and I was reading lots and lots (the huge plus side to working in bookshops and libraries is there’s always something to hand you want to read!) One or two got scribbled down in bits and pieces over the years. I started to play with a few ideas from about 2010 but it wasn’t until 2012 when I started a creative writing course that I really threw myself into it and found myself writing what was to become The Apprentice Witch.

I was lucky enough to be accepted into The Golden Egg Academy in 2013 where I was mentored by the brilliant Bella Pearson. Bella sent my book off to Chicken House for consideration for a scholarship that is offered to Golden Egg writers. I had a couple of meetings with Barry Cunningham to discuss the plot, other ideas,  I wasn’t offered the scholarship but more amazingly and far more excitingly I was offered a contract from Chicken House to publish my book! It still feels like a dream!

How much editing did you have to do after getting your book deal? 

I’d already done quite a lot of editing with Golden Egg, although at the time Chicken House made the offer, and following feedback from Barry, I was in the process of rewriting almost the entire second half of the book! Thankfully once I started working with my Chicken House editors, Kesia and Rachel there wasn’t anything in terms of major structural editing to do, though there was a lot of tweaking here and there. I think we did about 3 full edits before we went to copy edits and page proofs!

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers? 

The best bit of advice I was given was ‘just get on with it!’

Writing a whole book is jolly hard work and editing one through to publication is a marathon not a sprint so you need to be committed to your story and characters because you’ll be spending a LOT of time with them.

Read lots. Don’t try to chase a trend and get impartial and constructive feedback to make your writing as good as it possibly can be. And really important is to enjoy it!

 Which writers do you particularly enjoy reading?

Over the last few years I’ve become a massive Emma Carroll fan, her writing seems effortless and her stories are just wonderful, touching and thought provoking but not in an obvious way. Jonathan Stroud has also become a real favourite and I am really enjoying the Lockwood and Co books at the moment, but I ration myself else I’d read them all in one go!!

I really enjoy some of the modern American writers, people like Anne Patchett, Alice Hoffman and Anne Tyler all wonderful, masters of their craft and have an eye for the everyday which I think is a huge skill and can be just boring when done badly!

What’s next for you writing-wise? 

Well I am in the very lucky position that earlier this year Chicken House contracted me to write a further two books to follow on from The Apprentice Witch! I am so pleased to be delving back into the world of The Four Kingdoms and pick up the stories of Arianwyn and her friends. I’m just getting ready to send a draft of book two back (no confirmed title yet!)  to Kesia and Rachel and still tinkering with the plan for book three, so I’m going to be kept buy for a while yet!

Thankyou so much James for taking the time to do this, and on behalf of all your fellow Golden Eggs well done and good luck with all your author adventures! And if you haven’t yet met James, here he is!


You can connect with James @JamesENicol and at

Thanks for visiting 🙂



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