I grew up in Devon, France and West Sussex. I studied English Literature at university and have taught in secondary schools for 23 years, including 15 years at an inner-city London comprehensive.
I have appeared at the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts, Chichester Arts Festival and the Petworth Literary Week, and I am a frequent guest on BBC Radio London. I give regular talks for schools, libraries and colleges (including World Book Day), as well as prisons.
My words and poetry have been published in Mslexia Magazine, IRON Press, The Frogmore Papers, The Guardian and the Writers & Artists Yearbook Guide to Getting Published. The story of 29 Locks’ publication is told in The Children’s Writers Artists Yearbook (Bloomsbury, 2023, 2024 & 2024).
One of my poems is even winging its way around the south coast on a public bus after winning a Brighton & Hove Arts Council poetry competition!
My debut novel, 29 Locks, was shortlisted for both the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize and Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition and was longlisted in the Berkshire Book Award 2022. It was chosen by Suzi Feay, books editor of The Financial Times, as one of the ‘Best Books of 2021’ It is also on the longlist for the prestigious Branford Boase Award for outstanding first-time novelists. My second novel, 21 Miles, was published in September 2023.
I live in West Sussex with my wife, three children and a Jack Russell terrier called Little Bear.
Donny and Zoe are back!
This time they must get out of Calais before they both end up in jail.
This isn’t a holiday. This is a role-swapping, day trip to hell. With football.
21 Miles revisits the much-loved protagonist of 29 Miles two years after his canal boat adventure as a fifteen-year-old. Older, wiser and more confident, life is going well for the former gang member who’d escaped a brutal life of criminal exploitation. But when Donny and his best friend Zoe plan a day trip to France ahead of their sixth form exams, Donny loses his passport and is arrested as an ‘illegal’ migrant.
To survive, he must rely on the help of unaccompanied teenage refugees, living rough in the dunes east of Calais. Can Donny use his boat skills to cross the busiest shipping channel in the world and make it home?
A fast-paced, tender and unflinching depiction of teenage friendship and resilience against the odds.
Praise for 21 Miles
Nicola Garrard’s 29 Locks was one of the best YA novels published in 2021. Her new one, 21 Miles, is every bit as good. Garrard deals with hugely important issues, without ever preaching or compromising the pace and excitement of the narrative. This is committed fiction, but the heavy lifting is done by exciting storytelling and compelling characters, not preaching. It grips, and forces you to think. And to feel. One of the very best pieces of fiction to come out of the refugee crisis.
Anthony McGowan, Carnegie Medal Winner
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I cannot wait for young people to get their hands on it.
I love the intention behind why the story is written, and I got really attached to the characters. They’re very real! Thanks so much for the opportunity to authenticate the North African Muslim experience in this wonderful book, and I am happy to be a part of it!
Hala-Randa Kaizra, Authenticity Reader and Youth Worker
21 Miles is a brilliant follow-up to 29 Locks and it couldn’t be more relevant. Heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful, the exhilarating plot and memorable characters combine to create a true page-turner. Donny is an inspirational hero who seeks justice in the face of overwhelming obstacles – it’s impossible not to fall in love with him! The novel offers a disturbing insight into the plight of unaccompanied child refugees in the camps around Calais. Yet there are moments of humour too, as Donny and his new friends navigate countless dangers in an attempt to build a brighter future. Beautifully written with compassion and urgency, this is a thrilling read for both children and adults.
Juliet West, Author of Before the Fall (Pan Macmillan, 2014) and The Faithful (Pan Macmillan, 2017)
I’ve just finished reading and I’m still wiping away the tears. It is BRILLIANT! It rockets along so pacily. I could not put it down! And it just works so, so well, raising so many ideas and issues in a provoking way that forces the reader to reconsider perspectives and challenges them to think differently. There are enough references to 29 Locks to make it an utterly convincing sequel, but it works absolutely as a standalone story.
There will be comparisons with Manjeet Mann, I know.
Dr Theresa Gooda, writer and educationist
“It CRACKLES off the page!” Alex Wheatle
“Urgent, gripping, relevant and important: I loved 29 Locks.” Anthony McGowan
Financial Times Top 5 ‘Best Books of 2021’
BBA YA Award Longlist 2022
Set between the violent estates of inner-city London and the rural home counties, 29 Locks tells the story of 15-year-old Donny, an ex-gang member from Hackney who is fostered outside of London after the disappearance of his beloved mother. When, during work experience on the Hertfordshire Union Canal, Donny learns that the waterways lead – via the titular 29 locks – directly back to Hackney, he is presented with a dilemma: Should he stay in the safety of his rural foster home, or return to London to find his mother?
Tackling issues of racial injustice, child poverty, gang violence and knife crime, this powerful coming-of-age novel was inspired by my fifteen years of teaching teenage boys at a comprehensive school in inner-city London. The novel is dedicated to the memory of my former student, Mahad Ali, who was brutally murdered in 2017 at the age of 18.
It was published by HopeRoad in September 2021. HopeRoad’s founder, Rosemarie Hudson, said: ‘Nicola is a fantastic new talent, and I’m so proud that HopeRoad will be publishing her debut. Her writing is gritty and gripping but full of compassion, and from the very first page I felt completely invested in Donny’s story. I’m really looking forward to bringing 29 Locks to readers, and to publishing many more stories from Nicola.’
School & Library Talks, Workshops and Events
I love hearing from librarians, teachers and book group organisers wanting to plan a talk, event or creative writing/drama workshop. I have 24 years experience working in secondary schools as an English teacher, subject leader and Head of PSHE. I currently work as a Schools Liaison Officer and teach at Minority Matters, an educational charity supporting disadvantaged young people in Islington.
29 Locks is suitable for students in Year 8 and above and provides a nuanced route to discussing issues such as poverty, drugs, knife crime and racism. 21 Miles is suitable for students in Year 7 and above.
I would be delighted to deliver a presentation, talk or workshop to large or small groups in your school or library. Workshop content I offer includes: Creative Writing, Discussion and Debate, and Drama activities. Please get in touch to discuss an in-person or online visit.
I’m delighted to have been invited back to the Hay Festival 2024! Booking is now open for my event on Friday, 24th May and many others!
Keep up to date with Nicola
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Writers & Artists Yearbook Blog
Catch up with my Writers & Artists Yearbook blog to find out more about my journey from novice creative-writer to literary prize shortlister and publication. Get tips on starting out, querying agents and learn more about the hidden world of publishing.