Our Author Profile series continues today with prolific short story writer John Holland.
John’s story The Most Beautiful Thing She Has Ever Seen was shortlisted in our July 2019 competition, and appeared in our first print anthology.
He has won first prize in five short story contests including To Hull And Back, InkTears and Momaya. His work has been long/short listed more than 50 times, and more than a hundred of his short fiction works have been published in magazines, anthologies and online. Online publications include The Molotov Cocktail, The Phare, Reflex Fiction, Spelk, Ellipsis Zine, Truffle and NFFD.
John also runs Stroud Short Stories, a twice yearly live lit event for Gloucestershire writers.
Firstly, tell us a little bit about yourself, and the kind of stuff you like to write.
I was formerly a librarian, library campaigner and topical gag writer for BBC Radio and Punch magazine. These days I mostly write amusing, ironic stories often with a hint of darkness. Sometimes they’re a little surreal. I also like to read my stories to audiences who preferably are drunk. I’ve read at lit fests and other events in London, Birmingham and throughout the south west.
How long have you been writing, and what was it that first got you started?
I started writing short fiction about ten years ago at the age of 59 after taking early retirement – just for fun initially and in the hope of keeping alive what was left of my brain. After a couple of years writing stories I plucked up courage to submit some to competitions and they did pretty well, so I’ve continued – even though officially my brain is now more or less moribund (as it will confess in its more lucid moments).
What does your writing day/schedule look like?
It looks like a mess – fitful and unregimented. I also run a twice yearly live lit event for Gloucestershire authors called Stroud Short Stories. The standard of submission is high and the last 14 events all sold-out, even though we are in a theatre with a 150 capacity. It’s the perfect excuse for not writing.
How have you found writing during lockdown times? Has your writing day changed much from how it was pre-lockdown?
The beginning of lockdown back in March 2020 I wrote with renewed vigour, but it has now slowed to a trickle. (I put a prostate joke here initially but my wife insisted I remove it).
Tell us about the last thing you were working on. And also, a little about your very next project.
I’ve just written a story about a family with children who only have one toy – a potato. It’s absurdist and was described by members of the writing group I attend as “juvenile” and “lacking any depth”. Judgements on all short stories are subjective; on funny short stories even more so.
Next up is the third Stroud Short Stories anthology. Volume Two, which took me six months to edit, was a best seller round here. We have some great short fiction writers in Gloucestershire.
What successes have you had in the past? How do you feel when you see your work in print?
I’ve always been a competitions person and have been lucky enough to have won first prize in five short story contests including To Hull And Back, InkTears and Momaya. My work has been long/short listed more than 50 times, and over a hundred of my short fiction works have been published in magazines, anthologies and online. Online publications include The Molotov Cocktail, The Phare, Reflex Fiction, Spelk, Ellipsis Zine, Truffle and NFFD.
My latest success was third prize in the Retreat West short story contest and will be published in a new print anthology. It was the ninth time I had submitted this particular story to a competition. I was delighted.
On the other hand, because I always co-judge Stroud Short Stories submissions I consequently have a healthy disregard for the judging process. Both the individual foibles of judges and luck have a significant bearing on the results.
Do you have a particular place where you go to write?
The box room has become my study. It is strewn with books, vinyl records, paper and studio pottery. I work at a PC covered in dust and sandwich crumbs.
Do you have any tips or advice for other writers?
Don’t work in a room strewn with books, records, paper and studio pottery. Or at a PC covered in dust and sandwich crumbs.
Read, read, read famous short story authors and people you’ve never heard of. Try to understand why some stories work and some don’t.
If you can find a writers’ group where the majority of members have opinions about your work which they are willing to share in a kind, but not overly kind, way, join it.
Edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit your work and make every word count.
Pay particular attention to your endings. I did a short two minute video for the Phare online lit mag about endings.
Don’t be too disappointed if your work is not accepted. Judging is subjective. Edit, edit, edit, edit the story again and send out to other competitions/journals.
Finally, some quickfire answers:
Planner or pantser? Pantser
Computer, pen & paper, or typewriter? PC
Do you write every day? No
Do you have a daily/weekly word count target? No.