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Sunday, September 20, 2020

Interview with Nellie English: Q3 2020 Creative Nonfiction Essay Runner Up

Nellie English is a Zimbabwean-Irish adrenalin junkie and writer. She was the first person to run across Zimbabwe, a 724 km run in just over two weeks, for which she raised 7,000 dollars for a mental health charity. She wrote a book about her experience: Ambessa Run. Two years later, she published 1+1=3. This is the story of her pregnancy, told from three perspectives; that of herself, her boyfriend and her unborn baby. She has published essays and poetry online, and her short story was shortlisted for the Eyelands Mag Flash Fiction Contest. Nellie has recently discovered the magnificent medium of poetry, and its power to channel raw emotion and condense thought into visual images. Life would hold no sweetness without the bitter fruits, nor would the peaceful times stand out but for times of war. Nellie is grateful for even the darkest and most painful periods in her life &endash; without them she would be the person she is today. She is working on her first collection of poetry: Vacilando.

After years of searching for adventures around the world, Nellie now lives in Barcelona with her fiancé and spritely toddler. She loves playing piano and guitar and after her own family, horses hold the most space in her heart. She works as a political journalist and astronomy blogger, and is currently studying to become a paramedic. You can read about her former rum-fueled and now baby-filled shenanigans in Barcelona at her blog or see them here. To support her writing or charity projects in Zimbabwe, please check out her Patreon.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Q3 2020 Creative Nonfiction competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Nellie: My partner prompted me! He writes poetry and often has his ear to the ground for interesting competitions. We both came across the link separately but he encouraged me to have a go.

WOW: Your essay, “Sex Education,” eloquently describes #MeToo-related issues and more. What inspired you to write this particular story?

Nellie: Strangely enough, the series by the same name! I was watching the Netflix Original series “Sex Education” and one of the episodes centres around one of the female characters being touched up on the bus. Thanks to a friend, she ends up reporting the incident to the police. I found the episode really shocking, not because of what happened or how she reacted, but because similar and much worse incidents have happened to me my whole life and I just accepted them as somehow my fault. Immediately after finishing the episode, I sat down to my computer and wrote “Sex Education.” It helped me deal with incidents in the past and acknowledge that many of the sexual experiences I had were actually not okay. Writing is always such a cathartic experience for me, and I wanted to share this essay in the hope that other readers might either learn from my mistakes or take comfort in shared hurt.

WOW: We love that show! They explored quite a few issues in season 2. Besides essay writing, you also write fiction and poetry (and are also a political journalist and astronomy blogger). How do you juggle the different types of writing that you do? Anything you can share about the process?

Nellie:  Coffee is my sidekick! Without a pretty gargantuan dose of caffeine in the morning I would be better suited to the Neanderthal section of an Archaeology museum. It can be challenging making the switch from writing about popular science, to a technology review, followed by a poem. Needs must however, I need all my jobs and I am grateful to have the opportunity to learn about new subjects each time.

I am also a “Tab Queen” and I love taking notes. Before writing anything, be it an essay on “What happens to the human body in space” or an article about Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, I read around similar topics (hence a mile of open tabs across my screen!) to immerse my mind into the new subject matter.

WOW: In your bio, you mention that you’re currently studying to become a paramedic. What prompted you to pursue that goal?

Nellie: Becoming a paramedic has been my dream for years! Three years and five months to be precise. I first became inspired to study emergency medicine after a night out. There was a fight and this man got badly punched and broke his nose. I found myself taking charge of the situation, getting him out of the club and mopping him up while we waited for the ambulance. I remember trying to keep him calm while getting gawping onlookers to move away and give him space.

It was only after the ambulance left and I was left holding my blood-soaked jacket I realized how right it felt to be taking that role in an emergency situation. Later that year I signed up for the paramedic degree at my nearest institution. Just before term started however I found out I was pregnant! So it has been put on hold while I work at being a mum and continue writing, but I am so looking forward to beginning a new career.

WOW: You seem like someone who will be a great paramedic. Good luck with your studies when you can get back to it! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Nellie. Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Nellie: See every competition as an opportunity to share your creativity, whether you win or not! I am fiercely competitive and I take each loss quite personally. And I lose all the time! More often than not, my writing does not have what it takes for a particular competition. I try to get over the disappointment by seeing each entry as a victory in simply having the courage to share my writing and navigate the competitions entry process!

I suppose in the same way that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” there ‘s also “no such thing as a bad competition.” Each one is you baring your writing, and therefore your soul, to a stranger. Each time it is a small win to you!


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.


  1. Marcia--Thanks for doing this interview and giving us the link. I enjoyed reading Nellie's essay. I found myself nodding my head--a bunch of times--as I read it.

    Nellie--Congratulations on earning a spot as a runner-up. The competition is fierce when it comes to the WOW contests, so you should be proud.

    I think every woman had at least "something small" happen to her at some point. The unlucky ones had horrific things happen. I don't think most men could say the same. I imagine their victims' club is smaller and more exclusive... and that's not right.

    Good luck with your paramedic training, and your writing. Being a paramedic will give you an endless supply of essay/story/poem ideas. And again--congrats.

  2. Nellie,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us in this essay! You are so correct in that the world is changing, a little at a time, but there shouldn't have to be so much change to be done. It's unsettling. I recently listened to a podcast all about the Bill Cosby case and what he apparently did to so many young women in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. It's not right. What's also not right are the people that will help cover up these assaults and crimes. Congrats on placing with this essay and I know your future career will inspire so many more stories, as if your already fascinating life hasn't already!


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