I’m a fan, and have been gobsmacked by the beauty of his prose. In this interview, he has answered questions on writing, based on his long experience as an outstanding author of short stories, and very atmospheric, eloquent novels. My highlights in blue.
If you have questions for him, please drop them in the comments.
In this group we share tips, self-doubt, insecurities, and of course, discuss the act of writing.
In the post below, Patrick Holland talks about the role of chance in successful art: while writing a story, he can see the end on the horizon, but must grope his way there, without complete pre-planning. Language dictates his writing to an extent, and I identify with this.
I’m unable to completely understand planned writing— the many how-to books that tell you how to write a bestseller.
I hope the interview will be useful for the IWSG members, and invite comments and questions from one and all, writers, readers, bloggers. If Patrick Holland’s work is new to you, I encourage you to go grab his books– I’m reading his short stories now, and relishing them one by one: very evocative, poignant and true.
Without further delay, I’ll post Patrick’s answers to a few of my questions:
1. At what age did you start writing fiction? What prompted you?
As I remember, I wrote from the time I knew how to shape the letters into words. I was always making stories and poems. Stories about exploration, outer space, and prayers, poems and confessions. Then, as a teenager, like most teenagers, I became very much a herd animal and played football and tried to fit in. I re-discovered literature again when, having dropped out of Accountancy at university, my sister had me go to the library to fetch a rare book of poetry by Ernest Hemingway. That was the crucial moment. I wanted to do what he did.
2. What are your preoccupations as a writer? Do you have an ideal reader in mind as you write?
I have many themes that occur. Or perhaps, they are parts of a single theme. I write about home and lost-ness and journey. As for an ideal reader, never. I like to think that one day I will write a book that both a child and a professor of literature could take something valuable from.
3. For someone new to your work, which of your books should they read first?
The Mary Smokes Boys is the book that people most often want to question me about. It is very confessional, and it represents the first time I really tried to write in the minimalist style I most often do. So that book, or else my short stories The Source of the Sound. I always think short stories are a nice, gentle way into a writer’s work.
4. Who are your writing influences, the authors whose work has inspired you?
I’m inspired by so many artists, and not always writers. I think, in recent years, Arvo Pärt’s music has influenced me as much as anything else. And even more recently, Italian film director Paulo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) and video game designer Jenova Chen (Journey).
As for writers, there are so many, Hemingway I’ve mentioned, but also Graham Greene, Kipling, Emily Bronte, Lady Murasaki, Dante, Borges, Heinrich Boll, Yasunari Kawabata … and as for living writers, the Americans Poe Ballantine and Barry Lopez come first to mind. Australia’s Brian Castro is a marvelous and criminally underrated writer.
5. What advice would you give to someone starting out on the writing life?
It’s not too late to get out. Unless it is. In which case, read. And learn from what you read. There isn’t a ballet dancer in the world who thinks they’d be better off never seeing a ballet, but there are writers who think they don’t need to read books.
6. What is your writing routine like?
When I can, I write three hours first thing in the morning. And two hours last thing at night.
7. You write both short stories and novels. Do you find either form more challenging than the other?
The novel is undoubtedly more challenging for me. It’s architecture is something I grapple with each and every time. And the short story is, perhaps because of its brevity, and the lack of necessary logical problems, more enjoyable to write.
8. Your books are very character and language driven. Do you begin writing a book knowing some of the events in it in advance, or do you discover them as you write?
Good question. It’s a mixture of both. I typically see things on the horizon, I point the writing towards them, and eventually, I get … well … somewhere. But the language does often dictate. There is always an element of chance in a successful work of art. East Asian artists always acknowledged this, and made use of it. As do many composers of music, like John Cage.
9. Please tell us about your story in the Cooked up Anthology, and what inspired you to write it.
I often write about estranged people. And the shortly-to-be-retired porn star in this story gave me an opportunity to write about someone who – perhaps ironically – was estranged from his emotions, where love was concerned, for twenty years. I liked the idea of him having sex with a woman as a matter of course, but then being afraid to ask her if she wanted to get a cup of coffee, and I wanted to explore that.
Patrick Holland lives between Brisbane, Saigon and Beijing. He is the author of the travel book Riding the Trains in Japan: travels in the sacred and supermodern east, as well as the short story collection The Source of the Sound, which won the Scott Prize. His novels include The Darkest Little Room, a thriller set in Saigon, and The Mary Smokes Boys, a story of horse thieves which was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and shortlisted for the Age Book of the Year. Talk to him on twitter at @phollandwriter
His most recent novel is a redux of the journey of St Brendan called Navigatio. His next novel, One will be released early 2016.
Is it too late for you to skip the writing life? Do you agree with Patrick’s advice? Do you believe that chance plays a role in successful art? Have you considered signing up for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group? Do you write novels or short stories? Do you have questions for Patrick?
For those who don’t write, but love to read, have you read any of Patrick’s work? (If you love gorgeous language, evocative writing, and poignant stories skilfully told, he’s your kind of writer.)