Nell Grey Interview
Posted on 06 July 2004. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to novelist and short story writer Nell Grey.
Tell us something about your background.
I’ve written articles for publication in the magazine of one of the art societies I belong to, and I’ve also undertaken editing, but I only began writing seriously and sending work out in 1998. My first novel was never published – having no experience of submitting work to agents and publishers I sent it out six times and then stopped – but I received some encouragement from one or two agents, and before it had come back the first time I’d started another. Solitary Pleasures was published in 2003, and The Golden Web in 2004. Between the two I’d begun submitting the occasional short story to competitions in magazines, and this year Fear of Bulls was a prize-winner in the February issue of Writers’ Forum.
How did you start writing?
I’ve written on and off since I was at school – short stories and poetry mostly – usually during those times in my life when it was difficult to paint. I lived for five years in Southern Africa; my husband was a civil engineer and we were never in one place for very long, often we’d be miles away from the nearest town and materials were difficult to come by, so writing was the easiest way to satisfy the creative muse. Later I wrote – and sometimes illustrated – stories for my children as they were growing up, although I never thought of sending them anywhere. I’d always wanted to write a novel – that was somewhere near the top of my list of things to do sometime in the future – so I thought I’d better get a move on and make a start before it was too late!
Who are your favourite writers and why?
Oh, Iris Murdoch – I love the slightly odd world her characters inhabit, peculiarly her own and not quite as life is, although it feels true as you read. Lawrence Durrell for his so intelligent writing, and the amazing Alexandrian Quartet – four books each named for one of the four main characters, each complete in itself yet the with the story so cleverly integrated throughout the novels that one can read them in any order. D.H. Lawrence for his beautiful prose, his almost feminine sensibility – excluding Mellors’ terrible rant against women in Lady Chatterley’s Lover of course. Patrick Hamilton for his genius in writing about little lives, austerity and the mundane, and making one feel one is seeing them for the first time. And a recent discovery, Sara Maitland, whose imaginative and magical collection of short stories, On Becoming a Fairy Godmother had me almost weeping with admiration. Angela Carter, Paul Theroux (his fiction only), Michael Ondaatje. Too many to mention them all.
How did you get your first publisher?
Solitary Pleasures was published by a subsidy publisher. I hadn’t found WriteWords in those days, and although I knew something about how these companies operate I was fairly green. I could write an article about those methods now, and I’d like nothing better, but there’s a clause in my contract that forbids me to say or do anything that might affect sales of the book, so I have to be careful. All I can tell you is that in my experience one needs to be very cautious indeed when considering this route to publication. Search the Internet for information; ask the publisher to put you in touch with authors they’ve published (if possible seek them out yourself); look in bookshops to see if their books are on the shelves; find out what marketing and promotion they undertake; obtain a copy of one of their books to assess the quality. It’s far better to self-publish than to pay a company that will do considerably less than you could do for yourself. The Golden Web was self-published – after my first experience I wanted to see exactly what was involved and to produce a book that was as good as I could make it. I did everything – from obtaining copyright permissions and ISBNs, to editing, formatting, designing the cover, marketing and distribution, and I’ve no regrets. It was a wonderfully satisfying experience, although unless you publish by Print On Demand the work continues until the first edition is sold, and that’s a daunting goal to keep in mind. It’s not for everyone.
What's the worst thing about writing?
Finding the time and stamina to send work out when I’d rather be writing. Those brown envelopes with the crease down the middle that keep falling on the mat.
And the best?
Losing yourself in the worlds and characters you’ve created, making things happen as you’d like, although I have to admit that my characters have a worrying habit of escaping my clutches and rampaging through the story behaving quite differently from the way I’d intended. I’m lying though – I love it when that happens! Reading something you wrote a month or so ago and thinking it’s not half bad.
What kind of response do you get from readers?
If you’d asked me that question nine months ago I’d have said that the only comments I knew about were those on WriteWords, but since then I’ve had some great reviews for Solitary Pleasures and a wonderful review from a reader of The Golden Web, all on Amazon. I’ve also received repeat orders from a single buyer of The Golden Web (not a bookshop) and an email saying how much he likes the book. That was so special.
What inspires you to write?
Peculiar things; oddness, eccentricity, the fact that that truth is often stranger than fiction, and has to be fictionalized to make it believable.
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