About Nicola

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.


Before writing novels for young adults, my passion was poetry. I was a runner up in the Poetry Book Society poetry competition, judged by one of my heroes, Carol Ann Duffy. My words have been published in Mslexia Magazine, the IRON Book of Trees, The Frogmore Papers and the Writers & Artists Yearbook Guide to Getting Published.

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.

I now live in West Sussex with my wife, three children and a Jack Russell terrier called Little Bear.

Twitter: @nmgarrard



“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’d love to hear from librarians, teachers and book group organisers wanting to plan a talk, event or creative writing/drama workshop. I have 23 years experience working in secondary schools as an English teacher, subject leader and Head of PSHE.

29 Locks is suitable for students over 13 years of age and covers a range of issues, such as poverty, knife crime and racism.

It directly relates to the following KS4 and KS5 PSHE curriculum learning goals to:

  • know the factors that contribute to young people joining gangs; the social, legal and physical consequences of gang behaviours
  • develop strategies to manage pressure to join a gang, exit strategies and how to access appropriate support.
  • understand motivations, misconceptions and consequences of carrying weapons and strategies for managing pressure to carry a weapon
  • recognise and challenge stereotypes and family or cultural expectations that may limit aspirations

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, all based on hard-hitting scenes in the book and the issues they raise.

Please get in touch to discuss an in-person or online visit.


Upcoming Public Events & Talks

24th June 2022 – Festival of Chichester, Author Talk, Reading and Q&A, 6pm, Chichester Library

4-6th October 2022 – Children’s South Coast BOOKFEST


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.