Writing psychological thriller novel was ‘cathartic’, says social worker turned author

White is the Coldest Colour is the debut novel of former police officer and child protection social worker John Nicholl

book and author
Left: 'White is the Coldest Colour'. Right: Social worker turned author John Nicholl.

By Davinia Overton

Dr Galbraith, a respected consultant child psychiatrist, has already murdered one child in his sound-proof cellar and has now set his sights on seven-year-old Anthony.

This we learn while reading the synopsis of John Nicholl’s debut novel, White is the Coldest Colour. Described by Nicholl as, “a classic story of good and evil”, it explores the thought processes of a child abuser and draws on Nicholl’s experiences in child protection.

Starting out as a police officer, Nicholl went on to qualify as a social worker and worked in statutory child protection services and the NSPCC before becoming the head of child protection services for Carmarthenshire council.

‘Cathartic process’ 

“During my career I was faced with case after case that left me incredulous as to the harm sexual predators chose to inflict on their victims. The book reflects that reality,” Nicholl says.

Writing the book was “a cathartic process”, he acknowledges, but says he could not have written it when he first left social work because his experiences were too raw.

Although he has chosen a distressing, and perhaps controversial, subject for his first book, Nicholl found there was a benefit to writing about the paedophilia and abuse he had come across in his work. “When you’re writing, you have control over events that you don’t have in real life,” he explains.

But none of his clients would ever recognise their own stories. “It is inevitable you use your own experiences when writing, but the book is entirely fictional,” he confirms.

Dedicated to survivers

Throughout his work researching and writing on the novel, he was also conscious that he did not want it to appeal to anyone with an unhealthy interest in child abuse. “There is nothing in it that would be at all attractive to offenders,” he says.

Nicholl has been contacted by survivors of sexual abuse who he says have been positive about White is the Coldest Colour. He has dedicated it to survivors everywhere and hopes it will raise awareness of the risks posed by paedophiles, and help people understand how to safeguard children against them.

“Evil predators lurk in the most unexpected of places, often assuming positions of trust within the community, and that is what makes the whole thing so ghastly and deplorable,” he says.

Sequel underway

The book is not intended to be educational, however: “My first hope is that it’s an exciting, psychological crime thriller – that’s it’s primary function.”

Nicholl always thought he might write a book, but says it was only when he had more time on his hands after retiring that he was able to fulfil his goal.

Although the process of editing and getting a book published has been a “steep learning curve”, Nicholl seems to have caught the writing bug. He is already working on his next book, which tells the story of Dr Galbraith’s wife, a victim of domestic violence.

White is the Coldest Colour will be published by Arts Council-funded publisher Feed A Read on 1 May.

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