I have been writing short stories and flash fiction for five years and submitting to competitions for four (ie since 2013). In that time I have had around 60 pieces published, and 30 pieces have won or been short listed (mainly the latter!) etc in competitions.
Since 2014, I have been the Organiser/Director of Stroud Short Stories – a twice yearly ‘live lit’ show described in last year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival programme as ‘probably the best short story event in the South West’. Its aim is to showcase and promote Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire writers. And, as an encouragement, submissions are free. SSS receives a good response. The last eight events have all sold out in advance. For me, it’s a labour of love.
What got you interested in writing?
I wrote satirical/topical gags in the 1980s and early 1990s for BBC Radio (Weekending and The News Huddlines) and Punch magazine. I also wrote for some TV comedy shows but conveniently my memory of these has faded completely.
I am a librarian by profession. When I retired a few years ago I attended both a cookery course and a writing course. I loved the cookery course. But, as the family got food poisoning and the first story I wrote was immediately published, I carried on writing.
What are your happiest memories in your writing career?
I like just having written. I’m really not that keen on the act of writing itself. It’s often hard work and labourious, and I prefer to fritter my time away pointlessly. I’m a competitive writer, so I do like being short listed and winning comps.
These days I’m doing lots of public readings. I’ve read my work in London, Bath, Bristol, Cheltenham (including at the LitFest), Stroud, Worcester and, of course, Hawkesbury Upton. To have an audience respond directly to your work, especially with laughter, is a wonderful thing.
How do you handle success and failure?
I handle success extremely badly. My story ‘Da’ won the InkTears Short Story Contest in March this year (2017) and I have written very little of note since.
Not only do I organise Stroud Short Stories, but also co-judge it each time, so I read hundreds of stories of varying standards by other writers, mainly amateurs, each year. I know how thin the line is between success and rejection, how subjective the judging process really is. That’s why I always write personally to all writers whose work I and my fellow judge enjoyed but which didn’t make the final cut. I recall how hard it was to accept rejection when I started writing, so it’s important to me to encourage rather than discourage others.
What is your advice to young and new writers?
As I don’t need the competition, my advice is that you won’t always be young or new, so give up now and save yourself the time and grief. I jest. My advice is to read, read, read, write, write, write, eat, eat, eat, drink, drink, drink, find yourself a nice person to watch telly with, maybe do a little gardening or bird watching, perhaps have kids, later grand-kids, and then die an ironic death. For instance, being crushed under a toppling pile of hard backs, or, when tired, falling forward onto your pen so that it penetrates your eye and brain like a stiletto.
Do you self-publish?
My work is published by others in anthologies, magazines and online. I think self-publishing is excellent, so long as you know what you’re doing. Think about joining the Alliance of Independent Authors https://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/
People ask me, ‘John, will you ever publish a collection of your stories?’ And I say, ‘Maybe, or maybe not. Time is a great healer, but have you tried Savlon?’
Why did you start your website?
My own website (www.johnhollandwrites.com) was a birthday present from my elder son last year. This year he got me beer and socks.
As well as using my website to publicise events I organise or at which I am reading, I use it as a record of my writing. In theory it’s a promotional tool, but I have no idea whether it works.
A website is essential for Stroud Short Stories, of course, to encourage submissions, announce those stories and authors selected to read, and to advertise and celebrate our sell-out events. Here it is – http://stroudshortstories.blogspot.co.uk/