Nillu Nasser Stelter is a writer of literary fiction, poetry and essays. She is happiest barefoot with a book in hand. They are the first thing she unpacks when she is somewhere new. She lives in London with her husband, two children, one angelic and one demonic cat, though she secretly yearns for a dog. She has a BA in English and German Literature and an MA in European Politics. After graduating she worked in national and regional politics, but eventually reverted to her first love. If you fly into Gatwick and look hard enough, you will see her furiously scribbling in her garden office, where she is working on her debut novel.
My personal motto:
“Courage, passion, persistence.”
- A typical work day begins with… dropping my daughter and son to school and a quick stretch on the yoga mat. After that, I head to my desk in our garden office, grab a coffee (more milk with coffee, than coffee with milk) and have a quick check of social media, especially on hashtag days. Next, I open up Scrivener, in go the headphones, and off and away into imaginary worlds.
- I lose track of time… when I’m writing. Nothing causes time to go more quickly. It takes me back to daydreaming as a child, how easy it was to while away the hours. Lately I’ve been using an hour-long egg timer on my desk and setting my laptop clock to speak on the hour to slow down my perception of time. I don’t like the weeks and months and years speeding past. It helps keep me in the moment, more grounded, which is usually a good thing.
- I have always… known I wanted to be a writer. I inhale books. It took me a long time to admit out loud that I wanted to be a writer. When I did, it felt like freedom, like a puzzle was coming together. Now, I think it could not have been any other way. It was only a matter of time before my conscious acts caught up with my subconscious.
- I have never… played an instrument well. I took piano lessons as a child but gave up after a few years. I bought a guitar a while back, which has been gathering dust in the corner. I picked it up again recently and am determined to teach myself a simple song by the end of the year.
- Home means to me… where the people I love best are – my family, the friends who have become family – , where my favourite books line the walls, where I can wear yoga sweats and no one cares, my desk. It’s also where I find peace most easily: by the ocean, on the beach, a mountain top or a country walk.
- I am inspired by… poetry and flash fiction. I love the tightness of these forms, how words are carefully chosen to amplify meaning, how I can take a quick dip in clever ideas and exquisite language for inspiration without the threat of losing myself in a novel when I can’t afford the time. I love also the white space around poetry and flash: it gives thoughts room to percolate. Somehow you read more slowly, savour the words, because there are less of them.
- I would like to meet… do they have to be alive? Robin Williams. I am sad he is gone. Helena Bonham Carter, Ted Heath, Malala Yousafzai, Jon Stewart, Dave Grohl, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Virginia Woolf, Jonathan Safran Foer, Haruki Murakami, David Tennant, Aamir Khan (Indian actor, not boxer), Margaret Atwood. Those would be a blast, though I might be too overwhelmed to get any words out. My Twitter friends too. I never thought that it was possible to have deep friendships with people I have never met in real life. One day I dream of us all meeting up in a big house, wandering around getting to know each other for real, drink in hand. There would be surprises I’m sure. We can never project our real selves across 140 characters. We take the best, funniest, most thoughtful parts of ourselves to social media (well, unless you’re a troll…). I’d like to get to that part with Twitter friends when it’s ok to be boring with each other, and smell, because stripping back layers is where the best friendships are found.
- My worst character trait… Frustration with people who cannot read what to me are obvious and repeated signals in their relationships and environment. Too often we hold up signs stating who we are, and our conversation partner reads who they want us to be. Life would be so much smoother if we were better at reading other people’s needs and desires.
- My best character trait… I steer away from black and white, and try to find complexity, to understand.
- The best advice I was given… It doesn’t matter if some people don’t like you. Only you have to like you. Be true to your essence. The rest will follow.
Excerpt of Nillu’s debut novel The Voyeur
Tonight had come to pass like every other night since he lost her. As darkness fell, he made his way through the city’s streets in the sticky air, drawn to a white-washed mansion in Juhu he hadn’t visited before. Glittering white lights framed the house as if from a fairy-tale and, as Akash approached, the pungent smell of pink rose bushes overwhelmed him. He crept across the courtyard, camouflaged by the grime and dust that had become his natural attire. It was the best and worst decision he had ever made.
As he peered through the glass, a maid with flour in her hair kneaded dough for roti. A baby slept in a basket, wrapped in a deep orange swaddling blanket despite the heat. Nearby a woman in an embroidered salwar kameez sat in a rocking chair. At the table, a young man with fine eyebrows read a newspaper, his shirt buttons popping across his belly, his dirty bare feet in contrast to the sterile extravagance of the floor tiles. From time to time, he looked up to speak to the woman by the baby. Then an older woman entered the kitchen and Akash’s stomach lurched as if he was riding a ramshackle fairground ride.
She stood taller than the average Indian woman. She pushed her shoulders back with pride and her sari pulled tautly across her body in haughty dismissal of accepted styles for older women. Akash recognised her before she turned. The hair on the back of his neck rose in anticipation and his chest constricted as he caught her in profile. As she turned towards him, Akash’s head emptied for a moment before an explosion of unwarranted thoughts filled its cavity. Then, his mouth slackened, and he thought only I wish I could be someone else. Someone without my history. Someone cleaner, fitter, richer, deserving of her. His legs shook, and he flailed as his feet became tangled in the fairy-lights, falling against the pane of glass with a dull thud. For a moment he held his breath, considering himself lucky. Then all hell broke loose.
“Ye kya hai? Maa, call the guards! Malini, stay inside with the baby!” shouted the man as he grabbed a flour-covered rolling pin from the kitchen worktop and dashed out of the room.
Akash staggered up, held captive by the almond-shaped eyes of his lover for a long moment before stumbling back into the shadows on feet that did not want to do his bidding. She had not recognised him, he felt sure. Relief replaced his shame at his sad state. His legs felt submerged in tar as he ran, passing landscaped gardens and a swimming pool. He headed for the street, still reeling from the sight of her, and made it onto the gravel drive before the man even reached outside. His pursuer fought against his plumpness and the humidity, slow and heavy, cursing as the gravel slowed his bare-footed progress. Glee bubbled up inside Akash as if from a dormant volcano, uncontrollable and unwelcome. Joy at finding his lover threatened to send every other emotion into the stratosphere.
He had to get away. Experience taught him the rich were the most vengeful if they caught him. Like gods in their palaces, with iron-wrought fences, sleeping guards and noisy dogs to keep them safe, they rose up in squawking outrage at their pillaged sanctity. Fat, manicured men, with great wealth and photo-ready families, belonging to the ranks of the privileged few in a city where the streets teemed with the god-forsaken. This one continued his cries of outrage as he chased after Akash, his breath heaving, driven on by his anger and hatred.
The guards, woken by their master’s shouts and the old woman’s call, unleashed their snarling hounds. He screamed when a large dog, its fur ravaged, sank decaying teeth into his bare leg. Fear filled Akash’s belly at last, like a serpent unfurling and stretching deep within him. The men surrounded him, their eyes filled with glee and self-righteous anger. Vice-like they gripped his forearms, paying no heed to the dogs still snapping at his legs. An outbuilding with dimmed lights nestled in bushes a few hundred yards away. There they made their way as Akash’s leg bled and bruises sprang up beneath his skin as if he were an ageing piece of fruit.
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