Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas with our readers. Could you please tell us a little about your current book, The Words We Use are Black and White, and the reasons for writing it?
According to the blurb on the back, the novel is an ‘interwoven story of love, family and our inability to make ourselves understood’. It started with a poem, a long time ago, and that gave me the setting and character – I’m fascinated by the power of language, and the many ways that people (try to) communicate with each other: when we speak to someone, for example, do we have any idea if they understand what we are saying? And when what we say is (to us) so important that our happiness depends on it, does that make it even more important that we make ourselves heard, or are the opportunities for misinterpretation even greater because we deem any response so vital? This book was a way for me to explore these ideas and themes within a multi-layered narrative, allowing the characters and their interactions to build on each other to make what is hopefully an entertaining and thoughtful novel.
Which books were the source of your early inspiration towards building your passion for writing?
I think I can trace it all back to the poetry and prose of Edward Thomas. From there I read de la Mare, Housman etc., and then started consuming all I could, from ‘trash’ fiction to the ‘classics’. As far as novels go, it seems that Gabriel Garcia Marquez first got me interested in what could be achieved, and how, and his work led me to that of Faulkner, Nabokov, Pynchon, to name but a few. But there are still so many good books out there waiting to be read…
Which writers/authors currently inspire and delight you?
DeLillo, Murakami, Franzen, Kundera – and above all, Marquez, whose precision of writing still thrills and enchants me. There’s a novel called Icefields by Thomas Wharton, which I find myself going back to over and over again, and a collection of poetry by Patrick Moran called Green which is so wonderful it’s hard to describe.
What advice would you personally give to students of creative writing and aspiring authors?
Just write – once you’re confident enough to show your work to someone else make sure you find someone who will be honest, and whose opinion you trust and respect. When you’ve done that, write some more. There’s no secret to it, really – it all comes down to hard work, practice, and being able to recognise your weaknesses and strengths. If you want to write then give it the commitment it needs, regardless of what anyone may say. To put it simply, writing is work. Get it done.
How difficult is it to combine your work as a university lecturer with time for your personal writing?
Very difficult. I wrote a creative/critical piece on this topic which was published last year (available at http://www.textjournal.com.au/oct13/holloway_prose.htm). And it’s not just the teaching and the admin that get in the way – there’s also the need to keep writing critically on the subject of creative writing. But I believe that if anyone wants to write then they’ll find the time: the drive has to be strong enough, that’s all.
As someone whose career is focused around inspiring others to embrace creative writing, what moments have given you the greatest pleasure and inspiration?
I have to disagree with the question: my career is focused not on inspiring others to embrace creative writing, but to develop and utilise their creative abilities in whatever way they choose. Having said that, the creative work that I get to see is often exciting: it’s gratifying to see the writing produced when a writer is courageous enough to embrace their own personal voice, to write the way they want to, rather than the way they think others want them to.
Do you have a particular place to write? Or a set time of day/night?
I need a place to work: it doesn’t really matter what that place is, as long as it’s ‘mine’ in some way and I can customise it with mental comforts – that might be a photograph, an object, a particular coaster for the endless cups of coffee, depending what I’m working on. And I work best at night…my brain has this annoying tendency to wake up around eleven no matter how tired my body is, and lets me curl up at my desk and disappear into the work. It leaves me exhausted during the day, but that’s the way it is.
You have been published in a wide number of genres, Simon, such as poetry, fiction, screenplays and many more. Is there one particular genre which you enjoy working with above all others?
Each medium has its own appeal, I find. Fiction charms me with its possibilities: there’s so much that can be done with the careful placement of phrases, hints and dynamics of narrative. It’s possible to say so much whilst saying and doing so little, and to leave readers feeling that they’ve worked hard and got their reward; as a reader that always pleases me. Poetry too, of course, but in a different way, and I’ve recently started writing much more poetry than I have for years – the precision and detail needed make me work harder, and there are things I can say in poetry that I can’t say as well in any other form. Scriptwriting is (for me) a collaborative act, so that brings its own challenges and rewards. I can’t say I have a favourite – to me it’s all storytelling, in one form or another, it’s just the method of delivery that changes.
As a reader, do you have a preferred genre?
Aside from novels and poetry, I’m becoming increasingly fascinated by short fiction, and the ways in which allusion and perception can be revealed as much by omission as by inclusion: less is often much, much more!
Finally Simon, do you have a firm idea on your next writing project, or are you still pondering over ideas?
I’m in the middle of a critical book for Palgrave MacMillan, about certain aspects of the actions of writing, and my co-writer and I had an idea for another sitcom which we’d very much like to write, given the time. Waiting patiently for its turn is my next novel, so far four years late, and although I’ve done huge amounts of the essential preparation work, I haven’t written a word of it yet! There are plenty of projects I’d like to be doing right now – it’s simply a case of deciding which one to commit to next and then giving it everything it needs. Writing is work – I just have to get it done.