My World

I love to welcome readers to the world of the Elysee sorcerers. It is a world where magic exists, but it is very rare and also very difficult and dangerous to do. It means sorcerers are always in trouble of one sort or another and I write books about different sorcerers and their adventures.

If you would like to keep up with all the news from my magical mystery world and my writing world and join in hearing some inside snippets. And perhaps take part in some competitions and giveaways, then I write a Mystery Journal and you can get it here.

Nicki Thornton’s ‘wickedly funny and wildly original haunted whodunit’ The Last Chance Hotel, was selected as Waterstones Book of the Month October 2018 and has gone on to be an international bestseller, being translated into fifteen languages.

Lashings of Harry Potter-style magic is fused with an Agatha Christie whodunit in an exuberant and wickedly funny mystery for 9 to 12 year olds. The Last Chance Hotel is first of the Seth Seppi mysteries. The sequel ‘The Bad Luck Lighthouse’ returns to a world of sinister sorcerers, even darker magic, an inspired cast of characters and a plot so full of twists it will keep readers guessing right until the end with another unbeatable mystery for Seth to solve.

Nicki Thornton’s debut won the 2019 Ealing Junior Book Award, was nominated for the Carnegie Medal 2019, was shortlisted for the 2019 CrimeFest Best Crime Novel for Children, the 2019 Oxfordshire Book Award Best Junior Novel, Shortlisted for the Warwickshire 2019 Junior Book Award and longlisted for the Specsavers National Book Awards 2018.

The Last Chance Hotel was a 'Best Book of 2018' in The Observer, The Telegraph and The Sunday Times.

Nicki is a former bookseller, and still lives in Oxfordshire where she ran a bookshop for more than ten years. She remains passionate about books, bookshops and anything that celebrates reading for pleasure and writes a regular Mystery Journal celebrating all things crime fiction for young people.

Can I get you to come to my school?

I love talking to children about reading – and particularly about mystery stories, and how I went about inventing the mystery and magic in my novels The Last Chance Hotel and The Bad Luck Lighthouse and The Cut-Throat Cafe. I love detective fiction and I love the fact that after always being a reader, I have suddenly become a writer!

I will not be visiting schools in person for now, but am putting together some exciting virtual events and workshops that I hope will be really popular in schools.

You write about mystery and magic. What are your favourite books and writers?

My favourite books always have a mystery in them. I grew up reading Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie (both very famous for their mystery stories). It wasn’t until I had children of my own and ran a bookshop that I started to read quite so many children’s books. I was pleased to see mystery stories are still very popular.

Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike series have a great detective team in them and I really enjoyed Lauren St John’s Laura Marlin mysteries and also the mysteries that Gareth P Jones writes, like The Thornthwaite Inheritance. Another big favourite is Julie Berry’s The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place. I think Derek Landy’s skeleton detective Skulduggery Pleasant is a brilliant creation. My current favourite series is Lockwood & Co by Jonathan Stroud. I really wish I could have written them.

But I do read an awful lot and I have many, many favourites. I think Seth's character owes quite a lot to Charlie in Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

You ran the independent bookshop, Mostly Books in Abingdon, for more than ten years. You must like books very much. Did you like running a bookshop?

I had the most amazing time running a bookshop with my husband, Mark. I knew it would be all about books, which is great as I LOVE reading. I think reading is the best and there are so many books you want to tell people about. But I discovered that running a bookshop is about bringing a community together – around books. Bookshops are incredible cultural hubs and any town that has one should treasure it. We ran author events, we took authors and book fairs into schools and supported a love of reading wherever we could – and we got to know people in our town well and received incredible support.

Are you now a full-time writer?

I spend a lot more time now writing than I have ever done. I am really grateful to have turned my hobby into a job and to have been able to do this in more ways than one – first running a bookshop and now writing books. But that’s not all I do. 

Like many writers, I would call writing my 'day' job, but not my only job.

One thing I get asked to do more and more is talk to people about my books and inspire them to read more, and have confidence in their own creativity. I get invited to speak in schools, to run creative writing workshops, to sit on panels and talk at literary events and even open libraries.

Being a writer really is the best thing!

Bookshop mentoring

I ran a bookshop for more than ten years. It was a brilliant job. There was so much I loved about it. And so much of it was important and helped me to sustain things I believe are important, such as keeping people reading, introducing children to the right books, organising author events and supporting the community I live in.

But running a bookshop (like many things that are rewarding), are also immensely hard work. So now I am part of a mentoring scheme to help bookshops navigate the many difficulties of running a sustainable business. 

Other community involvement

I still also get very involved in other community initiatives. One of the things we learned through running the bookshop is that Abingdon is one of the best places in the whole world for science. Both myself and my husband, Mark, worked in science before the bookshop.

People are doing amazing, world-beating science on our doorstep and we felt not enough folk knew about this. So one of our recent ventures is a podcast where we interview scientists locally and get them to tell us about their jobs. You can go and listen at Stories from Science.

More things I get asked often

I was born in the UK, in a town called Portsmouth, which has some interesting bookish connection. Charles Dickens was born there. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lived there and wrote some of his Sherlock Holmes stories there. And Neil Gaiman lived there as a boy. I am in my fifties and have done many things in my life as well as writing and hope I will continue to do so.

People often ask . . .

When I was growing up my favourite authors were Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie, but I also loved Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens (Bleak House is my favourite), Daphne du Maurier and Jane Austen.

My favourite children's books were probably 'The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat', 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' and 'The Phantom Tollbooth'.

But as an adult I still really love children's books. My current favourites are the Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy and the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud. But there are really too many to list that I think are just brilliant. There are some great writers out there that I am simply in awe of. I am also a big Harry Potter fan.

As you can probably tell, my favourite stories tend to be mysteries, but I also love a little bit of magic.

I still believe all the best books have a little mystery in them, but murder mysteries were what kept me reading throughout my childhood and teens. I discovered Agatha Christie at an early age and never looked back.

So I found I really wanted to write a murder mystery for today's children. Which is much more difficult than it looks. I had several attempts to write murder mysteries that were suitable for younger readers, but they all turned out to be slightly dark and I wasn't happy with them.

But luckily the idea of setting the stories in a magical world put the fun element into it that I had been searching for

My passion is inspiring children to learn to love reading books for pleasure.

I think this is because I have always been a compulsive reader and reading has always been important for me. From my very earliest memories I never remember a time when I wasn't reading something. 

These are the main reasons I love reading:
1.      It is rocket fuel for your imagination! It’s brilliant for getting an insight into other lives, like a magic portal to worlds you can only dream of. Stories about other people teach us to be the types of people we want to be.
2.      I also love the fact that stories are there, ready for you dive back into. Stories always wait for you and you can read them as quickly or as slowly as you like.
3.      Reading is fun and enjoyable! Sometimes they are even a useful escape.
4.      And learning to be a good reader is also what makes you a good writer! (Although it also makes you good at lots of other things.)

“It can give you room to exist beyond the reality you’ve been given. It is how humans merge, how minds connect. Dream, empathy, understanding, escape.’ – Matt Haig
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.: - Philip Pullman.

I can often be found in a bookshop and for ten years was lucky enough to run my own. It was called Mostly Books, in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, and I ran it with my husband, Mark - another book enthusiast. We organised a busy events programme, bringing authors to the town. We also took many into local schools. This was particularly rewarding because it was clear hear how much these events inspired people to read and try new authors and books. 

One of the best parts of the job was talking to so many children about the books they love and what keeps them reading.

It is so important to listen and try to match each child with a book. It is one of the reasons I think we need diversity in the books that are published, because there are no 'one size fits all' children. It is important that they be given the space and choice to find the stories that they love.

And it is a privilege to have been a bookseller and to have been in a position to make a difference.

I can be found at @nicki_thornton

and review at

How did this happen . . . how did I go from someone who sold stories to telling my own?

Well, if you like reading books, this might well happen to you . . .You think it might be even more fun to write them as well.

Warning! If at all possible, this should be avoided, because while it is extremely good fun, it does take up an awful lot of time and can quickly become an obsession. It is so difficult to do as well as you want to. 

I started to write . . .

Reading lots of books made several things happen. I tried to write, but found it so difficult and my writing was nowhere near as good as all those authors I loved to read, so I never did take it very seriously. I thought all those marvellous authors must have simply been born able to write.

I was lucky enough to work as a journalist, which is terrific as someone pays you to write for a living. It was also pretty awesome as I managed to travel a lot, which I also really love to do. Books and travel both broaden the mind, but in different ways.
'Books are a uniquely portable magic.'...Stephen King

My children think there are two things which are cool about me. (Believe me, as a mum, I consider myself lucky to count two things.) The first is that I crossed the date line on Christmas Day once and had two Christmas Days – one in New Zealand, and the next day was also Christmas Day spent in California (also sunny on both days and I went swimming!). And I have flown on Concorde – twice.

But one of the things you can’t help but want to do is to tell other people about great books and, when I started my family, I turned my passion into starting an independent bookshop in my home town, Abingdon, in Oxfordshire and ran it for more than ten years, which was brilliant.

The best thing about running a bookshop is spending part of every working day talking to children and adults about their reading – what they love, what they’re looking for, what keeps them reading.

It is a great feeling when you switch people onto reading, introduce people to new books and help them to discover authors they really adore. Running a bookshop was an absolute privilege, being able to create a wonderful alchemy in a community, bringing together authors and readers.

I found it inspiring not just to recommend books, but to find out just what books are really important to people and hear about why they love stories, what do they love about reading - why do they read?

When I'd been a journalist I was writing for a living and forgot how much I'd enjoyed writing for fun. But the bookshop brought all that back to me. I really wanted to become one of those people who can spark a love of reading in children, because I know that spark can last a lifetime.

I was thrilled that my magical murder mystery ‘The Last Chance Hotel’ won The Times /Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition.

It is a quirky story involving magic - and a murder! But it is mostly about discovering your talents and finding your place in the world and about how we all need to dream. 

I was always one of those kids you could not get out of the library (after I'd read all the books in the house, which were mainly Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie). I started to read lots of crime fiction, but I also loved the classics and funny books such as PG Wodehouse. And being a writer is definitely a dream come true for me.

A few other things I get asked, eg Is a firefly cage a real thing?

One of the questions I get asked a lot is - is there really such a thing as a firefly cage?

Well, Yes there is. And when you hear more about fireflies and about the incredible natural source of light they produce, I'm sure you'll be as fascinated as I am by these incredible creatures. I've put a few details together here.

Technically, fireflies are actually not flies at all, their proper scientific name is Lampyridae and they are a family of insects in the beetle order Coleoptera, so they are winged beetles. Although we know them fireflies or sometimes lightning bugs. 

The family name, Lampyridae comes from the Greek lampein, meaning to shine just like a lamp and there are stories that early miners used them to light their way underground. 

People have long captured fireflies for their amazing and rare ability to give off natural light. 

It is from Japan, where fireflies populations have traditionally been common, that the firefly cages come from. Tiny cages or baskets, often made out of bamboo, were delicately carved to capture these creatures to bring their light indoors or to private gardens. 

Firefly hunters would capture thousands of the insects to illuminate hotels and private gardens and these expeditions are familiarly captured in Japanese art.

Today, more often fireflies are captured in the twilight of early summer to put in jars to give off a light. It is a light that you look and and think surely it must come from fairies - or from aliens!

With air holes and a damp cloth fireflies can be kept safely in a jar - although always should be let go, because like many creatures, firefly populations are crashing in many areas due to a combination of light pollution, pesticide use that pollutes the water they live by and habitat destruction. They are becoming ever more rare and precious.

Here's the science bit about fireflies (I love the science bits)

The light from a firefly's tail is almost as good as magic because the light produced by the firefly is the most efficient light ever made. 

Almost 100 percent of the energy in the chemical reaction is emitted as light, compared with a light bulb, which only emits closer to 10 percent of its energy as light, the other 90 percent is lost as heat. The firefly could no survive if the light in its tail emitted this much heat.

Fireflies are an incredible creature. A beetle that gives off what looks like ethereal enchantment? How does that work?

If you are lucky enough to see fireflies or glow worms they are best enjoyed in their natural habitat, which is often woods, near standing water or marshy ground.
Fireflies  make light within their bodies to communicate - to attract prey or a mate. This lighting up process is called bioluminescence. So, how does it work?

In a firefly's tail, you'll find the naturally occurring chemical luciferin and it is a chemical reaction that creates the spectacular light.

The lucifern combines with a superoxide anion (a form of molecular oxygen that contains an extra electronoxygen), so that the chemicals are able to combine. 

Do any other creatures glow?

The firefly's ability to generate light is incredibly rare in plants and animals that live on land. We may not see many creatures that light up, yet it is an ability shared by many other organisms. Yhey are mostly sea-living or marine organisms. Glowing creatures are common in the oceans.

Where can I see fireflies in the UK?

We don't have fireflies in the UK, but we go have glow worms. Virtually all the glow worms seen in Britain are Lampyris noctiluca. 

Key glow worm facts:
•  Only adult females glow, to attract the flying males
•  Adult glow worms can't feed, so they can live only for 14 days or so
•  Once a female glow worm has mated, she turns out her light, lays eggs and dies

So although to capture a fireflies might feel like capturing a bit of magic, as well as being beautiful - they really should be left alone so that future generations can enjoy them.

And, if you can, try to capture them in photographs.