INTERVIEW: Lucy Nichol | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Parklife, the new novel from author Lucy Nichol is about the insidious nature of addiction. Set during a bright 1990s summer in Hull, it’s hopeful, sad and funny, and packed with music references. It also has a cast of characters so real and familiar that you feel as though you could bump into them in the street.

One reason for that (aside from the excellent writing) is that Nichol is returning to a world she knows well. She grew up in Hull in the 90s, and Parklife is her second novel about 20-something music fans Emma and Dave, who we first met in 2021’s The 27 Club. No spoilers, but Emma has finished the paltry six sessions of counselling available on the NHS, and considers herself fixed. So she doesn’t see how she can possibly be an addict.

I just think mental health is such a complex topic that it shouldn’t neatly finish in one book,” Nichol tells me. “Given what Emma as a character went through when she was younger, six sessions really wouldn’t break the surface. [Parklife] is about acknowledging that, if you have experienced trauma or you have an anxiety disorder, there is ongoing work and recovery is never a straight line.”

Parklife is about acknowledging that if you have experienced trauma or you have an anxiety disorder, there is ongoing work and recovery is never a straight line

As well as being a writer, Nichol is a mental health campaigner, and she has her own experience with an anxiety disorder; it’s important to her to open up the conversation about mental health and addiction to everyone. When I tell her Parklife reminds me a bit of Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes, which was marketed as chick lit but carried a serious story amongst the jokes, she lights up. “[Marian]‘s a genius, and I could not compare myself. But in terms of what she’s doing, I think that’s what I want to do, because it’s normalising the conversation completely. Not just in terms of having it out there, but in having it out there in an easy-to-read format. Because when you read stories about addiction and recovery, they’re mainly literary fiction.” Which is not a criticism – Nichol lists several literary books that she loves. “That’s not my writing style. I wanted to write accessibly. And I wanted to work on friendship and bringing a bit of humour into things.”

She has more than achieved this with Parklife. It will make you laugh, and it’ll make you want to put on a playlist of 90s bangers and hug your mates. But it also breaks your heart and challenges a lot of preconceptions about addiction and mental health.

Everything that I do is tackling stigma,” Nichol says. “It’s really important to me. I think the 90s, in terms of mental health stigma, were really, really challenging. It’s not great now, but things are a lot better now than they were then.”

Is that why the book is set in the 90s, and does she think the pub-and-club, ‘ladette’ culture is partly to blame for Emma’s addiction? “I don’t necessarily think they are the root cause of things – but trends can be damaging because they can hide things.” Mostly, the 90s setting is “a bit of a nostalgic, midlife thing. And because 90s music is just bloody brilliant.”

Parklife by Lucy Nichol is out on 1st June. 

Hear more about Lucy’s creative process in Fran Harvey’s My Writing Life podcast, available on our Spotify channel

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