WORK/LIFE: Paige Nick

Paige Nick

Paige Nick’s novels include Dutch Courage, This Way Up and A Million Miles from Normal (which is also the name of her popular Sunday Times column). A copywriter who has worked on brands such as Santam, BMW and Nashua, over more than two decades, she’s also is one third of the Helena S. Paige trio, whose first choose your own adventure erotic novel, A Girl Walks into a Bar, launched in 2013.

What does “writing” mean?

Sitting down and beating off every other distraction to get your words down for the day, every day. Whether they’re for a book, column, or an ad for coffee beans.

Which book changed your life?

When I was 11, I took The Never Ending Story, by Michael Ende, out of my library. It was the first “proper” book I ever read, because it had so many pages. I was completely absorbed by it. That was when I first discovered that I had magical powers, and I could make the whole world disappear, and a new one form in front of my eyes. All I had to do was open a book.

Your favourite fictional character?

Ooh tough one, so many to choose from. It’s somewhere between Winnie-the-Pooh and Alice in Wonderland.

What are you working on at the moment?

I just finished my ninth novel, Unpresidented. It’s a political satire, set in the future. The president of South Africa, Jeremiah Gejeyishwebisa Muza, has just been released from prison early on medical parole for an ingrown toenail. Entirely fictional of course.

Describe your workspace.

Whereever I am at any given moment.

Paige Nick's Workspace

The most important instrument you use?

Easily my laptop, closely followed by my brain.

What’s your most productive time of day?

I think the best author preparation, has been spending the last twenty-three years with a full-time job as a copywriter in ad agencies. I’ve learnt mental toughness, a resilience to feedback and criticism, and most importantly, I’ve learnt how to be productive at any given moment, and how to squeeze in an hour of writing anywhere I get a gap in the day; whether it’s morning, noon, night, or later that same night.

What do you do when you’re stuck, or not feeling creative?

A run almost ALWAYS helps me untangle a plot knot. I also rely heavily on a handful of really amazing (and patient) writing friends. We discuss mental traffic jams, which often unloops me too.

How do you relax?

I don’t think I’ve been properly relaxed since my first novel came out in 2010. But to partially unwind, I run, travel, hang out with friends, have sex, and watch the most disgustingly brain-dead TV series, which I’d be too embarrassed to name in public.

Who and what has influenced your work?

Sarah Lotz, international author, and powerhouse of inspiration constantly influences my work, because I’m constantly picking her brain. There are others to add to the list too; my amazing editor Helen Moffet, and other writer friends, Edyth Bulbring, Rahla Xenopoulos and Yewande Omotoso. But I know that’s not what you’re asking.

I read widely, or rather, as widely as possible, given the time-drought we find ourselves in. But I don’t know who influences my work. Of course Sex & the City influenced my early colums, but my novels seem to be coming from so many different places right now that it’s hard to pinpoint any specific influence.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

“Nobody cares that you only had the weekend.”

It’s the headline from a print ad from the 70s or 80s for an advertising awards show, and I need to dig it out of my archives again. The copy went to talk about how excuses don’t matter. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the work and how good it is.

This was reitterated by writing coach Sarah Bullen who once told me that you can watch a TV series/go out/sleep/read OR you can have a novel. It’s your choice.

These thoughts play over and over in my mind while I’m mired in a draft of a new novel.

Your favourite ritual?

Probably making tea, sharpening pencils and checking social media and my email obsessively. I do that several times, then get down to work.

What’s the hardest thing about writing?

Other than the self-hatred and angst when you’re in the middle of it? It’s got to be the market. It’s so freaking flat, I can’t stand it. You work yourself to death to sell a couple thousand books. For what? I can’t stop doing it, but I know I probably should.

What do you dislike most about yourself?

God, how long do you have? We may need a longer page.

What are you afraid of?

Again, I think I need more ink on this one. I have a lot of fear and anxiety. Mostly to do with failure and death, in that order.

What advice would you give to people starting out in a writing career?

It’s the most boring advice in the world. Write.

What’s the thing you’re proudest of doing?

Dutch Courage (Penguin SA, 2016) was the hardest book I’ve ever written, because it was so far out of my comfort zone and realm of reference. It took me four years and two overseas trips to research and write, while all my other books have come out of me in six months to a year. But more than that, I’m proud of where I am. I’ve worked really really hard for this life, and it’s one thousand per cent the one I want to live, and I think there is much merit and some luck in that.

10 QUESTIONS: Helena S. Paige


Writing under the name Helena S. Paige, friends Helen Moffett, Sarah Lotz and Paige Nick have shaken up the international literary world, shoving E.L. James aside, with the launch of a series of erotic novels in which the reader gets to choose their own fantasy. The first two books, A Girl Walks Into A Bar and A Girl Walks Into A Wedding, are available in several languages and readers can expected a third title, A Girl Walks Into A Blind Date, later this year.

We had our way with them during a brief gap in their busy schedules:

How did you react when you realised just how successful the idea would be?

HELEN: Sheer disbelief. Those first emails describing the international rights sales had me pinching myself. A year later, it still doesn’t feel real.

PAIGE: It’s so unlike anything that’s ever happened to me, I didn’t quite know how to react. I still don’t. Gobsmacked is the closest word I can think of.

SARAH: I’m also still at the “pinch me” stage. We’ve been incredibly fortunate.

Was the book ever intended as a feminist piece, with the idea of giving some agency back to women, or is it just a bit of fun?

HELEN: Fun, first and foremost. But the idea was born out of a feminist rant about how if women’s erotica was going to go mainstream, why couldn’t women be in charge, be the ones making choices?

Did you have fun writing it? Were there any awkward moments during the collaboration?

HELEN: Writing as a trio is the most tremendous fun – we laugh so much, Sarah’s dogs start howling. Awkward moments: I am, ahem, a tad older than my co-authors, and a member of the last generation who remembers when a condom was something you used as back-up when you’d forgotten to take the Pill. Early on, I asked Paige and Sarah if there were any circumstances in which the Girl could have sex without a condom. (Yes, I know. *Hangs head.*) I’ll never forget the looks on their faces. That’s when we decided the Girl would always have safer sex.

PAIGE: On one or two occasions, in author meetings, I would suggest something and then blush furiously and hold my breath, hoping they wouldn’t think I was a massive sexually perverted freak. You have to have a relatively judgement-free zone to co-write a sex book. Writing these books has been so much fun, I often have to remind myself that it’s work.

SARAH: The only awkwardness I felt during the collaboration was when Paige dared me to write one of the sex scenes. Not my forte – you can either write sex or you can’t. I leave that integral part of the books to the experts.

Was it challenging having to combine three distinct literary styles into a single voice?

HELEN: I found that really enjoyable. It’s a lovely editing challenge, blending and mixing.

PAIGE: That’s not something I wanted to worry about while writing. I had to just get my parts of the story out and trust that we would smooth the rest out later. We’re also lucky to have a built-in, world-class editor.

SARAH: Paige and I are both commercial writers, so our “literary” voices aren’t a million miles apart. It helps having a world-class editor on the team to smooth over the cracks though.

What have your unique backgrounds added to the book?

HELEN: It helps that we all have such different skills. Paige is our Everywoman, with chick-lit chops (and she writes GREAT sex). Sarah is the Mistress of Plot, and also the fastest writer I know, which was helpful, given that we had to deliver three manuscripts in ten months. With my history as an editor, I get all Virgo, nag over tiny plot-holes, and scrub at everyone’s punctuation. Plus I’ve been writing erotica for a while, so it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to do it professionally, as it were.

Have you had any reviews from male readers?

HELEN: Not formally that we know of – but Ben Williams, well-known to book-lovers around the country as editor of the Sunday Times book pages, has been very encouraging and supportive. And our gay male friends love A Girl Walks Into A Bar.

PAIGE: For some reason, the men seem to enjoy the lesbian scenes the most. I can’t imagine why.

Why have you banned comfy panties?

HELEN: We love them, really we do. But in sex scenes, they’re invariably comic. Not always the effect we want.

PAIGE: It’s bad enough that we have to get all our characters out of their clothes and finding ways to put on a condom: imagine if we had to deal with comfy pants, too!

SARAH: I approve of comfy pants. G-strings are of the devil.

When you read the book, what scenario do each of you end up with?

HELEN: Bags I the barman.

PAIGE: The rock star has always been my fave.

SARAH: The bodyguard, but mainly because of his car (I’m shallow like that).

What do you do to escape the stress of your demanding deadlines?

HELEN: I take my cats for long walks. Very good for my mental health, if not my reputation. But given that I now write erotica for a living, maybe that ship has sailed…

PAIGE: I like to mix business with pleasure, so I research.

SARAH: If I gave you an honest answer to that, I’d be arrested.

helen-s-paige-postWhat’s next for Helena S. Paige?

HELEN: Honestly? A long holiday with lots of naps and books with absolutely no sex in them sounds rather tempting.

PAIGE: If all goes well, maybe more books?

SARAH: A massive gin and tonic, please.

A Girl Walks Into A Bar is published by Jonathan Ball Publishers and is available from