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Nell Grey Interview

Posted on 06 July 2004. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to novelist and short story writer Nell Grey.

Tell us something about your background.

Ive written articles for publication in the magazine of one of the art societies I belong to, and Ive 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 Id started another. Solitary Pleasures was published in 2003, and The Golden Web in 2004. Between the two Id 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?

Ive 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 wed 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. Id 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 Id 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 Chatterleys 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 hadnt 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 Id like nothing better, but theres 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 theyve 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. Its 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 Ive 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 thats a daunting goal to keep in mind. Its not for everyone.

What's the worst thing about writing?

Finding the time and stamina to send work out when Id 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 youve created, making things happen as youd 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 Id intended. Im lying though I love it when that happens! Reading something you wrote a month or so ago and thinking its not half bad.

What kind of response do you get from readers?

If youd asked me that question nine months ago Id have said that the only comments I knew about were those on WriteWords, but since then Ive had some great reviews for Solitary Pleasures and a wonderful review from a reader of The Golden Web, all on Amazon. Ive 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.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Comments by other Members

Account Closed at 18:47 on 06 July 2004  Report this post
Marvellously encouraging stuff, Nell - as always! Very many thanks for this.


Anne B

old friend at 20:30 on 06 July 2004  Report this post

Sound common sense and down to earth statements. A good interview with lots of interest and advice.

Keep it up, Nell.


Nell at 21:43 on 06 July 2004  Report this post
Holly, Len, thanks. Len, I'll do my best.

deblet at 10:26 on 07 July 2004  Report this post
Hi Nell

Incredibly encouraging - thanks! Just started reading 'On Becoming a Fairy Godmother' - the Stepmothers Lament was wierd for me, realise I may have a Cinders complex - or I certainly did when younger. But I agree - it's fantastic (loved that little mermaid!) My kind of writing. I really want to check yours out now because I identify a lot with what you say about your inspirations, dreams, reading, being somewhat of a fantasist, structuring your day, being set off by paintings, overheard conversations etc, getting lost in the characters and them taking you somewhere else and I do aspire to carry that notebook around sometime soon, write every single day even if it is rubbish and find a writers group!


All the best

deblet x

Friday at 13:09 on 07 July 2004  Report this post
Hi Nell,

You are such an inspiration, so glad youre a member of WW.

Dawn, x

joanie at 14:42 on 07 July 2004  Report this post
Thank you, Nell. You are always so encouraging and positive. I have bought 'Solitary Pleasures' to read but haven't had chance yet! This is a very interesting, open and informative interview. Thanks again!

Becca at 16:13 on 07 July 2004  Report this post
Hi Nell,
Good advice here about reading and writing as essential parts of the day. Interesting about the interstitial places you are drawn to, although I knew that.

Zigeroon at 22:36 on 12 July 2004  Report this post


The birth of ideas is so true. I was facinated by the cross over between art and writing, no materials leading to the use of words instead of paint, etc. Thanks for sharing your insights, it's always inspiring to hear how others achieve the difficult but fun process of putting one word after another. That's a Douglas Adamsism I think, and true.


Nell at 10:22 on 13 July 2004  Report this post
Deblet, Dawn, joanie, Becca and Andrew - thanks for the feedback, I'm glad you found this interesting. Andrew - Douglas Adams should be on my list of authors, I love his mind, and Alasdair Gray is another favourite that I forgot to mention.

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