Nik Perring is a short story and flash fiction writer, and author from the UK. He’s an editor, teacher of writing, mentor, sometimes poet, and children’s author too. He’s also the author of Beautiful Words and Beautiful Trees (both illustrated by Miranda Sofroniou), two books of flash fiction that form the beginning of a trilogy.
Susan Tepper recently had a chance to interview Nik about his books. Here’s a peek at their conversation.
Susan Tepper: You are writing a fiction trilogy of books based around the concept of the word “beautiful.” What does beautiful immediately conjure up in your own mind?
Nik Perring: What is beautiful is a question I’ve thought a lot about over the past couple of years, and one I don’t think I’ve really answered and I think that’s probably because beautiful is different for every single person. I think it’s something, anything, that can be celebrated, that causes us to stop and appreciate it, or just give it an extra second’s thought. It definitely doesn’t have to be perfect. And it can be nothing more complicated than a moment.
So, what do I think of when I think of beautiful? I think I think of life, of nature. The depth of a sunset. The potential of a new life. That one perfect smile shared with a stranger. A hummingbird.
ST: And in this central point in the book trilogy (that began with Beautiful Words) you have moved along to trees as a metaphor to carry this book so effortlessly, the way a stream carries a leaf. You write:
“The alder tree is usually found by rivers. In fact, it’s alder trees that often keep them on course – with their deep roots they slow down erosion. You are my alder tree.”
NP: I think what I try to touch on in the series is that even the most mundane of things can be beautiful. There’s a point in Beautiful Trees where Alexander is thinking a Monterrey Cypress is beautiful because it mirrors his wife’s pregnant shape. Or, the moment where he’s standing with Lily in front of a tree (I think it’s a yew) that’s over 1,000 years old and he’s kind of feeling blessed – not in a religious way, more by the splendor of being in the presence of such an aged thing; it’s that humbleness and that moment that he finds beautiful and I think I’d have to agree with him.
ST: I certainly agree with Alexander. Trees are quite spiritual. I often wonder if they are old souls come back to observe, watch over, or perhaps guard us in some way. They make shade and beauty, and food for people and birds and animals. Do you feel Lily has the same regard for trees as her husband does?
NP: I love that idea – that they’re wise and that they protect and help and nourish. Which is why we need to treat them (and the rest of our planet) with more respect and NOT CUT THEM DOWN.
And I think Lily does, yes. What I like – and this goes for both of them (and me!) – is that they appreciate or love these trees and not in an arboricultural way. They’re not experts. It’s as much, mostly, more about what they mean or what they remind them of than anything scientific. A tree can be beautiful because of the way it looks; bonsai do nothing much but look great.
ST: This “reminder” is wound through this story you tell about them.
NP: Right. A cherry tree bought as an excuse to talk to someone selling them – who Alexander ends up marrying – is important. And that association is what I think is the most beautiful thing. You know, when someone thinks: Every time I see a cherry tree it reminds me of you, of us. Yeah, that’s pretty powerful.
ST: Since this is a book trilogy about the concept of beauty, it would be remiss not to talk about the third character who is part of the trilogy. You begin this current book by saying: “After Lucy went away Alexander met Lily.” Please tell us what became of Lucy, who made her appearance in your first book, Beautiful Words.
NP: Lucy was Alexander’s partner when he was a little younger, and possibly, but probably not, a little more naive, than he is in my book, Beautiful Trees. She’s who he was with during Beautiful Words but, at the end of that book (and I don’t think I’m giving too much away here), Lucy decides to leave. And I like Lucy – she’s a lover of words, so that helps. She likes being clasped, macaroons, and she has a lisp. Her leaving is kind of where Beautiful Trees begins, with Alexander’s next relationship…
ST: Was there a precipitating incident that caused Lucy to leave their relationship?
NP: That’s a really difficult question to answer because I don’t think Alexander really knows himself – it’s a lot easier for us to deal with if we know why things haven’t worked out. I don’t think there’s normally just the one incident in any relationship breakdown. I think it’s usually a build-up of things and, if I had to, I’d guess that that was most likely what happened between Lucy and Alexander. So, no. I don’t think there was one massive moment. You never know though, now Lucy’s back on the scene, we might find out more in the next book…
ST: Aha! I love a good triangle, be it words, books, trees, characters, or real life. Stay tuned, readers, because this beautiful saga has not yet come to an end.