How does one go from despising school and having zero interest in the written word to becoming a published author of Young Adult (YA) fiction?
I chatted with Toronto author Nicole Winters to find out.
Winters, whose novel TT: Full Throttle was published in Fall 2013, was a reluctant reader: exactly the type of person her book is geared towards.
“I grew up in the country and there weren’t a lot of books around for kids to read other than your junior picture books,” she recalls. “And reading didn’t really come easy to me because I had a learning disability. Seeing the books my peers were reading, like Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings…they just didn’t sit with me. And so I really didn’t like reading; I just didn’t enjoy it.”
That all changed at the age of 12 when she was assigned S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders – a novel that ended up altering her whole view on reading and putting her on a different path. And a novel that she consumed in a single day.
“It was this place with young people without parents on their own trying to make a family for themselves – in a world with unbending rules,” she enthuses. “It was the greasers versus the socials. And it was fascinating! For a kid who grew up in a very small little town, it just opened up a whole world.”
In TT: Full Throttle, Winters delves into the world of motorcycle racing; specifically, the Isle of Man’s annual Tourist Trophy (TT) Races. Protagonist Scott lives in British Columbia and is determined to realize his longtime dream of qualifying for and competing in the dangerous road race. Encountering numerous challenges along the way, Scott must work with his friends to overcome the tragic and the unexpected and ultimately reach his seemingly unattainable goal.
As Winters explains, it’s much more than just a sports novel.
“I love tales of men or women versus themselves rather than man versus man,” she says. “And in sports, a lot of times it’s that whole ‘Team A versus Team B’. I never really liked that; but I do love the idea of an internal conflict rather than an external antagonist. And what I learned from the Isle of Man TT Races is that it’s really the rider versus the clock, or the rider versus himself. The roads are so narrow and so dangerous that they actually go out one at a time – it’s not your standard grid start. And so they’re just trying to beat their own time.”
Naturally, much research was involved in writing the novel. Winters wanted to learn everything there was to know about the prestigious race, its course and then men who risk their lives to complete it every year. Granted a press pass for the 2010 competition, she headed over to the small island and even volunteered as a roadside marshal – an experience she won’t soon forget.
“The marshals are situated all along the TT course and that way if a situation should happen where a rider has a mechanical failure and he pulls off to the side of the road, somebody sees him and radios it in to the office tower,” she says. “So there are always eyes on the course. These riders are going by at 180 miles an hour…it was scary stuff, like having a jet engine just whip by right by you. My heart was pounding, but after a while, it was quite thrilling.”
The experience of visiting the TT Races also afforded Winters the opportunity to chat with the various racers, participate in the homestay program discussed in the novel and even explore the 37 and ¾-mile course firsthand on the back of a motorcycle driven by a former TT champion.
So what makes TT: Full Throttle a good book for a reluctant reader?
“A lot of it is that I’m not just writing about a race, and I’m not just writing about ‘team A versus team B’…I’m actually giving real inside information as to what it’s like to be a newcomer at the TT Races,” she explains. “I think boys and girls who enjoy racing would have a real interest…it’s kind of an insider’s scoop.”
And as for what’s next for the author…
“I have so many ideas in my head battling right now,” she laughs. “It’s kind of like there’s a battle royale going on in my head with all my writing ideas; so whatever survives is going to be the next project. I have one, the working title is Stupid Random Universe and it’s about two teens lost in the Montana Mountains in wintertime. I’m also working on another one called The Jock and the Fat Chick, about an athlete who fails gym class and to make up for it he’s got to take a home economics class where he meets the love of his life.”