Interview with self-published author Dan Holloway
Some people are born to stand out in a crowd. Wherever they go and whatever they do, they radiate a fierce form of honesty. Compromise or diplomacy are words that would instantly raise their hackles. Dan Holloway is such a person, carved from a special type of wood – yew tree in his case, no doubt.
Dan- both as a writer and a performer – cherishes his independence, his vow of integrity to his artistic work. So self-publishing is – evidently- the route he chooses.
How to describe Dan’s writing style? As he says himself, he doesn’t stick to one genre – again because he’s true to his artistic integrity: what comes out, comes out, but here’s a born story teller who breathes words from the inner cavities of his soul. I am truly in awe at the rawness and sweetness of so much talent. In case you’re not familiar with Dan’s work but you have a craving for authentic, intelligent literature, make sure you check out a Holloway novel.
Where do you live (town, country)?
I’ve been based in Oxford since I came here as a student in 1989.
What kind of food do you like? Are you a good cook? How important is food to you?
Food plays a central role in my life, and in my writing (I’ve even set a novel on a vineyard – OK, that’s wine, but still). I love cooking – pretty much anything I can get my hands on but my favourites are long, slow dishes that take hours and hours or even days to prepare: Moroccan roast lamb, for example, or osso bucco. Eating-wise, I love rich rustic food like Cassoulet but my favourite has to be sashimi.
Do you do any sports? How often? What does exercise mean to you? Any other hobbies?
When I was at university I was in the athletics team, throwing discus and hammer. I was a powerlifter and bodybuilder too. I loved the simplicity of lifting weights. There’s nothing refined (well, there is, but the actual measuring of it’s so simple), it’s just lifting more than you did last time. And I love the concentration required
lifting really heavy weights, knowing if you slip you’ll end up paralysed or
worse. It focuses you 100%.
My other passion (arts aside) is bridge. I was a junior international for several years almost two decades ago. I love that it’s both mathematical and psychological.
Do you have kids?
We can’t have children.
Do you like travelling? Where do you go then?
I love travelling. My wife and I visited 23 countries in a year at the height of the budget air boom, and got ourselves onto the cover of Woman’s Own offering travel tips. Central and Eastern Europe is my favourite. It’s hard to single places out, but the amber galleries of Gdansk, visited on a misty Autumn evening, left a lasting impression. They feature heavily in The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes. And Hungary is very very special.
Do you have another job apart from writing? For how many hours? How do you feel about the ‘other’ job?
I work full time. A lot of writers resent having to do so. I’m just grateful I can do something to pay the bills. Writing sure as anything never will.
How do your family/friends react to you being a writer? Have their opinions changed since you became a published author? Which remark from your surroundings has stuck most with you?
They think it’s me being the odd one in the crowd as usual. I certainly don’t think they take it seriously. Probably a good idea – if they ever read anything I wrote they’d have a heart attack.
Would you call yourself a social human being? Do you have time for going out and spending time away from the writing desk?
I’m bipolar so I have a really strange relationship with being social, and it’s very hard to tell which is the real me. It’s certainly true to say that I’m at my absolute happiest
performing to a live crowd. The bigger the better. It’s a buzz you just can’t imagine unless you’ve done it. And I love being in big crowds at really loud rock gigs. Most of the time I love the socialising that goes with organising live shows and being in a writers’ collective, and I only don’t get a kick out of that when I’m really low. I hate parties though. I don’t understand small talk. And by and large people scare the hell out of me. I can only really cope when socialising’s structured and we all know what we’re meant to be talking about.
Which character trait do you like best about yourself and why? Which trait would you rather do without?
Does anyone actually admit to liking themselves? I don’t know. I cook omelettes well. I love that I can cook – it gives me something to do at parties so I don’t have to talk.
Can you describe the place where you write + the view?
I write on the bus home so the view’s always changing! And I write in cafes and sitting on pavements. In crowds, with my headphones in, listening to whatever music I’m using for the current book.
Is there something you always need to have near you when you work (beverage, cigarette, mascot, music, quote, etc)?
I’m very impressionable and find myself naturally imitating whoever I’m reading at the time, so in order to keep the voice consistent in my books (or the voice of each character if I’m writing multiple points of view) I tend to have a playlist that I listen
to whilst I write. For the Tommy West Oxford thrillers it’s Skunk Anansie and Coldplay, for the Black Heart High series it’s The Kills, The dead Weather, The XX and
Blood Red Shoes. For literary books it tends to be Radiohead.
What genre(s) do you write in? How did that develop?
I write all over the place like a magpie. I don’t know why. Lack of stickability probably. My first serious attempt at writing for publication was a comic travelogue. Next was a thriller (which I completely rewrote and released as The Company of Fellows), then literary novels of various kinds from the Murakami-esque Songs from the Other Side of the Wall to the postmodern The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes, and now paranormal romance/dark urban fantasy with Black Heart High. First and foremost though I’m a performance storyteller, and those pieces tend to be
transgressive, they scrape things from the dark places and leave audiences
nowhere to hide.
How about this – I tell the story I need to tell whatever the genre – that probably sounds more respectable than a lack of stickability. Maybe less true, but more respectable!
At some point you decided to self-publish. Can you tell us how that process developed?
I made some half-hearted attempts to get an agent for Songs from the Other Side of the Wall at the end of 2008. I had requests for the full, but eventual rejections because it wasn’t “big splash” enough. I didn’t want to do “big splash”. I don’t know what it means and I feel like I probably don’t want to. Anyway, several of us on
Authonomy were getting the same responses. So we set up Year Zero Writers where
we could showcase our work and let people know what we were self-publishing. It
was an absolute blast, and still going strong. Everything has come from Year
Zero and the bizarrely devoted following we seem to have acquired.
How do you feel about self-publishing now? What are the advantages,
disadvantages, pitfalls, etc.?
Now I realise that getting a contract with a publisher would have been a disaster. I don’t think I could have coped with the claustrophobia and lack of freedom. I can’t imagine the circumstances under which I’d say yes if I were approached now. Well, I can, but no one would offer them. What I love about self-publishing is the flexibility to write what I want, publish it when I want, market how I want, and generally swarm the internet and live gigging scene saying inappropriate things without being
answerable to anyone. I get completely why people would want a publisher, but
the reasons they give – handing over editing, distribution, marketing etc – are
exactly the reasons I don’t want one.
Are you in a network of Indie authors? How do you market your own book?
Yes and no. I absolutely think people who cross-review each others’ work are doing themselves and indie authors a disservice. Likewise people who cross-promote simply because they’re indie. I’m part of several networks, but they’re all based on very particular things we have in common. Year Zero Writers is a very special place for me, a group of people who wanted a space to write the things they want to write
without having to think about publishers or agents. Eight cuts gallery is a project designed to champion the many amazing things that exist in the underground scene across the arts. I get to work with the most incredibly talented people producing exhibitions and live shows that are utterly unlike anything else out there.
I don’t know that I do or care about marketing. I post about my books from time to time on Amazon’s forums but I do like to hang around online and chat. I love that these days you can call that marketing! My absolute favourite thing in the literary world is doing live readings. I guess that sort of counts as marketing.
When was your first book released and how did that make you feel?
Songs from the Other Side of the Wall came out on September 1st 2009. I had a big launch at The Albion Beatnik, my local store in Oxford.
About 60 friends, most of them from twitter and Authonomy, came along and music
was provided by the amazing local musician Jessie Grace. It was wonderful.
Having the book out, though, I don’t think that made me feel anything in particular.
It had been there in my head for a long time. It didn’t feel any different having it in my hand. What *does* make me feel special is getting an e-mail from someone I don’t know and who isn’t using nice words as a way of asking me for something. And what’s best of all is standing in front of an audience. You can’t beat that as a storyteller. Watching people react to your words real time, changing your performance in direct response to their rhythms, is the best feeling in the world.
Can you tell us some background information on the book? (How did you get the idea, how long did it take you to write and edit it, is it part of a sequel, how does the published book make you feel now?)
I went to university in 1989, so I was a student when the Berlin Wall came down. It imprinted on me. Combine that with the facts that my wife and I went on a travelling bonanza in Central and Eastern Europe during the height of budget air travel, and that I did my doctoral study on subjectivity and relationship, and it’s inevitable
that the question of identity and how it’s constructed in post-communist Europe
would be at the heart of my writing. Everything I write in fact is about identity, about our struggle to be an individual absolutely outside of categories and stereotypes. Combine that with having just read Murakami’s Norwegian Wood and being blown away by it, and Songs from the Other Side of the Wall – about a teenage girl torn between past and present, East and West, family and lover, city and country, art and commerce only to discover that each of these distinctions is a phantom and that the future lies in transcending these distinctions rather than choosing between them – was the inevitable result.
What are your writing habits? (every day, number of words, etc.?)
I try to write for an hour a day, which is about 1000 words. Sometimes I manage it, sometimes I don’t. I physically can’t do more than 2000 words in a day without my brain turning to mush – the things I write are clawed out from places that are very painful – I can only spend so much time there without crashing completely. I write best in busy surroundings with lots of background activity and my headphones in –
cafes, pavements, buses (if it’s not too bumpy).
Who’s been your biggest inspiration and why? Since when?
This falls into that too many to mention category, but I’ll zoom in on a few. Penny Goring, author of The Zoom Zoom, uses language like no one else I’ve ever read, and she has taught me to have the confidence to put onto paper the words that are right for the passage regardless of preconception or what may seem to be their meaning.
Last year I met both Cody James and Katelan Foisy for the first time. I learned a simple lesson from both of them – writing is there to tell the truth. Your truth. Anything that fails to do that is fake. And we exist as artists to celebrate life and shine our searchlight deep inside ourselves into the darkest, most complex corners. And hide nothing of the glorious complexity that manifests itself as life.
Finally, Banana Yoshimoto writes the most horrific, layered, troubling material in the simplest manner you could imagine. She is the perfect teacher for the art of understatement – of using exactly the words that are necessary to convey what you have to convey, and nothing more.
Where do you see yourself in 5-years’ time?
Still here, I hope.
THANK YOU SO MUCH, Dan!!
Dan’s website: http://danholloway.wordpress.com
Thriller’s site: http://thecompanyoffellows.wordpress.com
The literary project Dan runs: http://eightcuts.com
The Company of Fellows http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Company-of-Fellows/dp/B004PLMHYC
The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes http://www.amazon.co.uk/Man-Painted-Agnieszkas-Shoes-ebook/dp/B004QGYH6M
Songs from the Other Side of the Wall: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Songs-Other-Side-Wall-ebook/dp/B003LN1UBG
(life:) razorblades included http://www.amazon.co.uk/life-razorblades-included-ebook/dp/B003QTDLBW
Black Heart High http://www.amazon.co.uk/Black-Heart-High-ebook/dp/B0053CPFDC