Nicole has spent the last five years studying at Dundee University, gaining her undergraduate degree in English Literature before completing the Writing Practice and Study MLitt. Nicole is a keen reviewer of the arts and several of her reviews are published here on DURA. She has also been actively involved in the organising of literary events and festivals throughout her time in Dundee, and is the creator of the official Dundee University Creative Writing Society.
Nicole’s writing, which has previously consisted of mainly short stories, is deeply interested in place and memory. Most of her writing is inspired by growing up in working class small-town Scotland; the concerns of class, gender, sex, alcoholism, mental health and identity which this setting promotes. She also dabbles in poetry and auto-fiction centred around her own experience of maternity, specifically of becoming a young mother. Nicole is expecting her second child on Christmas Eve 2019.
The following extracts are taken from random points of her first novel, ‘The Den’ (working title). She has chosen these sections to (hopefully) highlight her interest in setting and showcase her personal writing style.
The Den is a sprawling community of trees and rivers. Of bridges that threaten collapse with each step. Danger hums within a friend’s playful OoOhHhHhh as they swing the railings aggressively from the safety of solid ground. The entrance lies up past the old sawmill; awash with its own ghosts. Up past the Parish Church; the house of Hymns which as a child had me scared stiff.
Church visits were always made with school or girl guides. My parents were never the religious type. My mother is a human daydream. She treats her only daughter like an amusing animal that’s somehow found its way into her home. She carries a hipflask to her work as a cleaner and serves me chicken dippers with micro-chips for my tea. Bleach-scented and foul-mouthed. When her lips aren’t entertaining a man-friend, they hum the sad melodies which have become the soundtrack to my life.
As the woman drives slowly past the church it still gives me the heebies. A fragmented, stained-glass Jesus weeps on the cross. We don’t talk. There is only the rhythmic swish of the window wipers. The entrance to The Den appears up ahead…two large iron gates, smack-bang in the middle of the road. She parks the car, but neither of us move. There’s no protocol for what to do next.
It’s that weird time between night and morning, when the moon and sun share the sky. Everything has a blue-ish tinge. The woman eventually gets out of the car and I follow. I walk over to the gate and push it hard with my palms, but it won’t budge. I lean the weight of my body against it. Crumbs of rust and paint attach themselves to my clothes. There’s some hesitation before the gate jolts open, taking me with it.
A short walk between lover-carved trunks takes us to the play park. We head for the swings as if by silent agreement and sit, toes anchoring us to the tarmac. I grew up here, in the parks of Fairmill. Fairmill may be small, but it has six parks. Of these, the one in The Den is by far the best. I look around. It has everything a child could wish a park to have. The climbing frame is the star of the show. A gigantic castle made of logs so big, they’re like the knobbly fingers of a giant. It has a hundred nooks and crannies that were perfect for hide and seek. Then for all things stolen – kisses, beers and cigarettes. And then for over-enthusiastic, toothy blow jobs.
The latter were handed out to the older boys. Boys old enough to score drink, but young enough that their skin was still mottled with the puss-mountains of teenage acne. The kind of boys who smoked baggy roll-ups, with dry tobacco hanging out the end like straggly pubic hair. These boys flicked their cigarettes away extravagantly, to draw attention to the fact they knew what they were doing. They wore tracksuits with buttons up the legs, which they un-popped to reveal fuzzy white calves. They got their mums to dye the tips of their spiky hair blue. These were boys whose dads shat on them, and so they shoved themselves in the mouths of too-young girls, and so goes the testosterone-fuelled aggression fall out. There were other boys too, less showy boys, who just liked the buzz of feeling our extra-padded B-cups. Boys who were bored or lonely or had something to prove.
Boys will be boys.
The Den is home to these pubescent perverts. But the Den is also where middle-aged women hold their gossip groups. Where couples take their kids to muddy their new outfits and post photos of them on social media captioned “Messy kidz r happy kidz”. The Den is where old Mrs Whitlock walks her cat on a lead and pushes her two-legged Pomeranian in a special doggy pram. The stoners bake themselves under the bridges, our very own spaced-out trolls. The emo kids find dark corners where they can burn each other with skull-motif lighters or carve their initials into each other’s arms.
The Den caters to everyone.
“Hey!” My shoulder receives a harsh nudge. “That’s us in Fairmill, orphan Annie.”
I open my eyes. It takes me a minute to get her joke, and to get my bearings. I look out of the window. It’s still raining. Fat drops of water chase each other down the glass and then disappear. We’re parked outside Fairmill’s chippy, the florescent “FISH BAR” sign humming away despite the hour. It’s about a ten-minute walk from here to my house. A walk I’m not quite ready to make.
I look over at the woman sitting next to me, but she’s staring straight ahead, into the rain.
‘Why are you driving about in the middle of the night?’
She doesn’t answer, doesn’t look at me.
‘Where were you going?’ My mum always tells me I don’t know when to shut up. Always asking fucking questions.
The woman sighs. ‘You’re a nosy wee shite, you know that?’
‘Excuse me Ma’am, you asked me the same question earlier…did you not?’
She looks at me now, grinning. She looks younger when she smiles. I think it’s her teeth…they aren’t normal white, they’re TV toothpaste advert white. Rich people white, I find myself thinking.
‘You can shut up with that ‘ma’am’ stuff, I’m not that fuckin old.’ Her smile disappears. ‘I had to get out of the house.’
She turns away again, staring through the windscreen at something I can’t see. Her jaw is a hard square.
‘I think I just killed my husband.’