After featuring a handful of Big White Shed poets in this series, it was only a matter of time before the wonderful Anne Holloway found herself here. She’s an incredibly supportive woman, especially when it comes to poetry, creative expression and supporting writers. This interview offers some wise poetry advice, while also being funny and feeling very true and human. I suggest you grab a cup of tea and sit down here with Anne, because I guarantee you’ll come out of it inspired.
About the author
Anne Holloway is Founder of Big White Shed (a small press who support creatives through mentorship, advice and skill sharing). She curates and promotes events in a variety of community settings, has published a novel Korakas, and a first collection of poetry, There Are No Photographs. Former Co-Director and Professional Development Manager for Mouthy Poets (a Nottingham based collective of young writer/performers), she facilitates writing and performance workshops in schools and community settings as well as writing and performing her own work. She hosts and curates an alternative cabaret show as comedy character That Welsh Woman.
Describe your ideal writing atmosphere.
I write poetry longhand, or as notes on my phone. These snippets of writing can be done anywhere, anyhow. I do a lot of writing with my laptop balanced on my knees on bed at the dead of night, or first thing in the morning – but my ideal writing atmosphere – when I want to write an actual draft – that needs space – space in my head, space in my day and space around my laptop. I need to know I have plenty of time with no interruptions before I can sit down, with a mug of tea, open up the laptop and set to it. Ideally I like to have a window to look out of. I’m okay with ambient sounds, birds tweeting, dog sighing and stretching, but not loud noise – neighbours drilling or hedge trimming, or my son shouting at his game, or the radio or music. I don’t write to music. And I like to be warm – so either sun streaming in or the heating jacked up in the winter.
How long have you been writing and what inspired you to start?
I have written poems and stories since I was very little. I still have some of the things I wrote at primary school and a certificate for writing a poem. Poetry turned into writing a journal while I was a teenager – but I threw all that away when I left home, as I couldn’t bear the thought of my mum going through my stuff if I died in a tragic accident! It was all very angsty stuff about relationships and parties and being misunderstood. But I wish I had kept it all as now I can’t remember the chronology of what went on, or the dates I saw this band or that band.
Once I hit my twenties I stopped writing and reading but then picked it up again in my late twenties/early thirties. I had moved back to the UK from living in Greece, with 2 children in tow and got a job at the local uni. Both my sisters had studied later in life and around that time a friend had gone to uni to study English – she used to send me the essay questions and we would talk about the books she was reading. I discovered that I could do a degree part time at the uni where I was working, and my boss agreed to give me a day a week off to do it, and paid for the fees (considerably less than £9k a year back then). I was studying English Literature, and due to timetabling and fitting lectures around my work responsibilities I ended up doing a strand in creative writing. Suddenly I felt like I had found the thing I should have been doing my whole life! I went on to do an MA in Creative Writing funded by an access to learning fund and a max-ed out credit card! It was completing the MA which gave me the confidence to call myself a writer.
Describe your writing style.
I write in a straight-forward manner and use everyday language to describe quite complex thoughts and emotions. I’m not one for long passages of description, but I think I find beauty in the most mundane things and try and share that with my readers. I think my writing can be quite sad, but often when I read poems aloud people laugh at bits I thought were serious – so I guess there is an undercurrent of humour in there and hope – always hope.
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison
What kind of story that hasn’t been written yet do you want to read?
I’m 54 and I thought my life had been quite ordinary. So many things I took for granted I have since learned were not the norm. I would love to read a book of the kinds of experiences I have had. I still don’t have the balls to write it though. I still worry about what people think of me, or if I would be offending someone who is still alive. There have been some dark and comic moments in my life and I have taken risks and made ‘decisions’ if you could call them decisions, based on pretty dumb assumptions, often leading to adventures. Chuck Palahniuk and John Irving have tapped into that sense of the absurd and the slightly surreal – that’s what I’d like to do. I have ventured into it with some of my poetry – but I have a way to go.
Name any authors or books that have had an impact on your writing.
Chuck Palahniuk – no particular book, more the fact he doesn’t give a shit what he writes – the weirder the better.
John Irving – A Prayer for Owen Meany and Until I Find You – the way he lets his narrative digress, takes you on a journey into the world of a subsidiary character and then brings you sharply back to the main narrative again.
Elizabeth Goudge for my first experience of the unreliable narrator and putting magic into stories, Little White Horse and Island Magic.
Daphne Du Maurier for her sense of mystery – Rebecca, Jamaica Inn.
Toni Morrison – Beloved (terrifying and heartbreaking).
Describe the moment you truly felt like an author.
I was asked to give a talk at the WI in a village near Bristol – they knew nothing about me except that I had given a talk to another group in the previous year (I’d been invited on that occasion by a friend of a friend who knew I had published a novel). They plied me with tea and biscuits, listened to what I had to say and totally believed I was an author! I judged their ‘best hat’ competition, got paid, and sold copies of my book.
What book by another author do you wish you’d written?
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.
What is the best thing about writing/being a writer?
Telling stories and hearing stories. Making sense of the stuff in my head. Finding connections in small details, stringing them together to make a story. Putting words to the things I see around me. Sharing stories. Connecting with people.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
To me an author is someone who earns their living by writing books and from booksales. I don’t earn my living from booksales! I earn money from commissions, delivering workshops, giving talks, mentoring, freelance work in the arts and my peer-publishing company. I see myself as a jobbing writer.
If you aspire to being an author, who makes a living from book sales, then I would say hone your craft, invest in courses and master classes, go on writing retreats. Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Talk to other writers. Work at getting yourself an agent so that they can find you the best deal with the right publisher. Only in that way will you be able to make a living from selling your books.
If you aspire to being a writer: hone your craft, invest in courses and master classes, go on writing retreats. Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Talk to other writers. Be true to your heart. What is it you are saying? What is it you want to communicate? Don’t hold back. Find out who you are and put that into your writing. Be honest with yourself and your readers. Be brave. Give yourself permission to be a writer. If you can’t give yourself permission, then I give you permission! But be the best writer you can possibly be and never stop learning. Find one or two readers (who don’t write) who will be honest with you about how you write and how your writing makes them feel. Find a writer buddy who will be honest with you too.
Tell the story behind your latest book, why did you write it?
My latest book is a collection of poetry called There Are No Photographs. It explores childhood memories, family relationships, grief, parenting, snapshots of life. It is, broadly speaking, a memoir I guess. The poems are some I have written over the past 8 years and I had reached a point where I felt I couldn’t write new pieces as I hadn’t done anything with these. I have spent the past few years reading and performing poetry, so to be able to share some of the ‘page’ poems was wonderful. They have been lonely left inside my laptop for so long! It’s very easy to think that the writing we create isn’t worthy because it doesn’t necessarily suit the venues/spaces we frequent – so for me putting these together inside a book cover has shown me that they are actually worth reading and sharing. The act of working them into a narrative arc has also made sense of some of the poems for me – I know that some of them will be reworked in the future because now I understand more fully what it was I was trying to say.
Most inspiring quote?
I have always had a sense that time is running out for me, and so the quote I find most inspiring is by Walt Whitman:
Women sit, or move to and fro – some old, some young;
The young are beautiful – but the old are more beautiful than the young.
Which author (living or dead) would you like to have dinner with?
John Irving – I think he must be a gentle man.
If you could bring any fictional character to life, who would you choose?
How do you beat writers block?
Not sure that writers block is an actual thing to be honest. But I know that if I go somewhere new, a gallery or a park or a field or even drive a different way or walk a different way (even on the other side of the street, you get to see familiar things differently) – or go to a live performance – then my mind wakes up and starts thinking new thoughts and I can write about them.
If you mean writers block, when you need to get a draft done, or are editing – then sometimes it is about practical things like- have you eaten? Are you hydrated?! Are you too warm, too cold? Be kind to yourself – writing is work.
Give yourself some writing advice.
Stop writing Facebook updates and start writing stories/poems.
What are your plans for the future? What writing projects are you currently working on?
I have had ideas for 2 new novels for some time now, but I realised recently that they could be rolled into one. I am also working on an immersive poetry show with 3 fellow poets who work with Big White Shed (my peer-publishing organisation).
Korakas is a story of love, revenge, control and being an outsider. Set on the island of Crete, it charts the story of two women, mother and daughter, twenty years apart, as they come under the influence of a man, an island and its myths.
There Are No Photographs is a collection of fragments, curios & relics, keepsakes & memories, made into stories. A book of poetry that contains the growth and grit of life with great beauty.
Buy Anne’s books through her website: Anne Holloway