Five Questions With Sally Nicholls

Today we play a quick round of Five Questions with Sally Nicholls, the award-winning author of All About Ella, illustrated by Hannah Coulson.

But first, let’s get to know All About Ella in Sally’s own words!

Can you describe your story in 5 words?

Girl reaffirms importance in family.

Can you tell us about the particular inspiration behind your story?

Ha! Yes. This one had rather an unusual route to publication. It’s actually a companion story to the first ever novel I wrote, Ways to Live Forever. Ways to Live Forever is about a boy with terminal leukaemia, and I wrote it in 2005/6 on an MA in Writing for Young People. Ella, the main character in this story, is his little sister. When I was writing the novel, I had real trouble getting Ella to come alive because Sam, who narrates the book, just saw her as his annoying little sister and wasn’t really that interested in talking about her. But I suspected she probably had a story of her own, which deserved to be in the book. So I decided to write it.  At about the same time, I picked up a leaflet for a competition run by The Northern Echo for a short story for young children. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to try and write a short story about Ella, and what it was like having an older brother who was ill, and to enter it into this competition. So I did, and it won – £600, which was a lot of money for me at the time, and also the first fee I ever earned as a writer, which was obviously very exciting. All About Ella then sat on my computer for nearly ten years. Until 2015, when I picked up Eoin Colfer’s The Fish in the Bathtub, devoured it, and decided I really had to have a go at writing some Little Gems for Barrington Stoke. And then I remembered this story…

And now on to Sally, herself!

What appeals to you about reading or writing short fiction/ novellas/ short stories?

I love writing short books! Most of my working life is spent drowning in messy, complicated novels for teenagers – I’m currently editing a 90,000-word novel with three main characters from three very different backgrounds, set a hundred years ago, covering four years, and taking in lots of real-life historical events. It has taken me over two years to write (although I took some time out to write some other short books and to have a baby) and although I love it, it hasn’t exactly been easy. So to step away from that and write a short, self-contained, manageable story is just brilliant. And I still get a thrill from being able to say, “Oh, I wrote a book this week!”

Who or what made you into a reader? Can you remember a specific book or moment?

No, not really. When I was a very small girl, I used to have three bedtime stories every night. I can’t ever remember not loving books and stories.

Who would you love to collaborate with?

Sally Wainwright. I’d love to have a go at writing some TV.

Do you have a regular writing/ reading routine?

Sort of. I used to try and write 1000 words on a good day and 500 words on a bad day. But now I have a little boy, that doesn’t work so well, because I can’t keep plugging away at a manuscript until I’ve written enough. My baby goes to a childminders three days a week, and on those days I have to try and write as much as I can. I also do writing while he’s asleep, and once I week we go swimming and I do my best to tire him out and then write and write and write with a bacon sandwich in the leisure centre café while he sleeps.

What’s the nicest (or worst!) thing anyone’s ever said about your books?

Someone told me my book had saved their friend’s life, which was pretty amazing.



Sally Nicholls was born in Stockton-on-Tees and as a child would wander the school playground at break times and make up stories in her head.  After travelling the world, she realised she’d soon need an actual job and so studied Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. It was there that she wrote Ways to Live Forever, which won a raft of awards including the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.

Her first Little Gem with Barrington Stoke, Billy Button Telegram Boy (illustrated by Sheena Dempsey), was just shortlisted for the Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year.


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