Important questions about reading and writing for young adult author Nikky Lee

Nikky Lee, Australian young adult and fantasy writer.


Nikky Lee, Australian young adult and fantasy writer.

Nikky Lee is an award-winning young adult writer whose latest book, The Rarkyn’s Familiar, was published following a Twitter pitching contest, PitDark. For more than 12 hours, authors presented manuscripts to agents and editors – essentially jumping in front of the pile of slush.

What prompted you to pitch on Twitter?

The first thing I learned about editing was that extremely slow movement. Agents and publishers receive hundreds of submissions per day, so getting a response to a query can take months. What appealed to using a Twitter pitching contest was the opportunity to speed up the process somewhat.

There are several pitch events throughout the year, so between them I send queries to agents and editors through the usual channels and the responses were slowly coming back. However, the pitch events were where I had the most traction and interest from the writing and publishing community.

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You write to deal with anxiety – how has this helped you?

My first experience of anxiety was in my early twenties in the form of panic attacks. And I had no idea what it was, which made it all the more terrifying. Unlike today, there was very little anxiety awareness back then – I ended up learning it from Google! (Also, plugging symptoms into Google is a terrible idea, don’t.)

Creative writing is a very meditative process for me; it’s a way for me to relax and process. Sometimes my anxieties find their way unconsciously into what I write – and it wasn’t until I read it much later that I realized it. Other times, it’s simply a way to cut the worry loop and escape somewhere else. It’s like diving into a hot bath at the end of a long day. This is my happy place.

Rarkyn's Familiar by Nikky Lee.  Published by Parliament.  MSRP: $37.


Rarkyn’s Familiar by Nikky Lee. Published by Parliament. MSRP: $37.

How do you write now?

I am definitely a night owl. Most evenings I alternate between writing at my desk and on the sofa – it all depends on whether I can ignore what my husband is watching on TV. Most nights I put on my headphones, crank up a playlist to drown out the TV, and tap away. Sometimes I have to negotiate typing around a cat who likes to snuggle between the keyboard and me.

Luke Nola and his friends

Hands and feet are the hardest thing to draw, according to artist Donovan Bixley.

How were you hoping to make this fantasy series different?

Probably the most notable difference is the creation of an all-new fantasy race, the rarkyn. Rather than rehash the traditional fantasy races I’ve seen before (elves, dwarves, orcs, etc.), I decided it would be more fun to invent my own! I also like to read non-human viewpoints. There is something about exploring humanity from the outside that I find fascinating. So when I came to write Rarkyn’s Familiar, it was a must.

As a teenager and young adult, I grew increasingly frustrated with how often the female characters were portrayed as helpless damsels in need of rescuing. I decided early on that my female lead would be none of those things. Her journey is also kind of a mirror of my own journey with anxiety. She goes from not understanding this strange, dark power within her, to trying to fight it, to finally accepting that it is part of her, and in doing so discovers that acknowledging her condition lessens its hold on her.

What are you reading right now?

I listen to Hail Mary’s audiobook by Andy Weir (who wrote The Martian) – it’s utterly captivating. I also really like The Stone Wētā​, a cli-fi (climate science fiction) by Kiwi author Octavia Cade and The Eternal Machine, a steampunk alternate history fantasy by Australian author Carol Ryles.

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