Banbury author Sylvie Nickels dies of cancer weeks before her 90th birthday

Author and travel writer Sylvie Nickels who has died aged 89Author and travel writer Sylvie Nickels who has died aged 89
Author and travel writer Sylvie Nickels who has died aged 89
The Banbury author and travel writer Sylvie Nickels has died a month before her 90th birthday.

Miss Nickels - christened Odette Sylvie Nickels but known as Sylvie - had been diagnosed with cancer at the end of May and died in a nursing home on September 11, weeks before her birthday on October 10.

Born in Switzerland to a Swiss mother and English father, Miss Nickels grew up in Seven Kings near London during the Second World War. Her first love as a child was writing and she sold her first short story, proudly, to a women's magazine at the age of 17.

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Her first job was as secretary to the editor of Estate Magazine. She then worked in public relations before accepting the role of Assistant Editor to a travel magazine called Go in 1955, the start of a long career as a travel writer.

Sylvie Nickels at Daeda's Wood - the community woodland at Deddington that helped to establish to celebrate the millenniumSylvie Nickels at Daeda's Wood - the community woodland at Deddington that helped to establish to celebrate the millennium
Sylvie Nickels at Daeda's Wood - the community woodland at Deddington that helped to establish to celebrate the millennium

As well as writing travel guides for the publisher Fodor on Finland, Yugoslavia and Scandanavia she became a freelance travel writer, publishing articles for the Financial Times and other publications.

After some years living as a freelance writer in Cambridge, Sylvie moved to Steeple Aston in 1976. Here in 1977 she married her long-term friend George Spenceley (a member of Bomber Command and a prisoner of war survivor) who was a lecturer and mountaineer. With George she canoed the Danube River in 1979 and spent months paddling down the Mississippi River in 1984 when Sylvie was in her mid-50s and George was in his 60s.

She wrote The Big Muddy, a fascinating book about their amazing Mississippi adventures, which she self-published in 1992. The couple also travelled to Finland, Poland, Russia and the Baltic states by campervan.

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In 1992 the two moved to Deddington, where Miss Nickels joined the local writers' group and became editor of monthly Deddington News newsletter.

One of her most notable contributions to the community was to help in the creation of Daeda's Wood - the millennium wood on the outskirts of Deddington. As well as working on the original proposal, she planted many of the trees and helped establish a group of volunteers to monitor the woodland’s progress. In 2006 she edited and published a book to celebrate the woodland’s 10th anniversary.

From 2005 to 2013 Sylvie wrote and self-published several novels including a trilogy based partly on conflict in former Yugoslavia, an anthology of short stories about village life, a novel based partly on war in Finland and a book for for young adults on overcoming alcohol addiction, something she had accomplished herself.

After her husband's death in 2013, Ms Nickels continued to write, publishing an anthology of short stories about life in a retirement home and her memoir So What Next? in 2018.

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Miss Nickels’ friend and fellow author, the late Ian Mathie, said of her in 2014: “Sylvie is coming into her prime as a consummate writer with a line of fascinating novels, short stories and travel books on her bookshelf. Her understanding of people’s feelings, intentions and behaviour comes from many years of detailed people-watching.”

In her last year of life Miss Nickels updated and re-published her trilogy Distant Echoes and published Looking Back, an anthology of short stories about lessons learned in life.

She contributed an article for the Banbury Guardian in April about how the difficulties of lockdown reminded her of the privations of wartime Britain. With an ever-creative mind, Miss Nickels had been working on ideas for her next novel shortly before she died.

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