Q and A with SJI Holliday - author of Black Wood
You’ve previously worked as a statistician. What made you change your career path or was being an author something you'd always aspired to?
Well I still work as a statistician. There’s nothing like a day in front of a computer screen staring at loads of numbers to inspire the creative brain! Seriously, I think it’s always something I wanted to do but something I never imagined I’d be able to do. I took six months off to travel the world in 2006 and it was then that I realised I wanted to pursue it. I started with short stories, then lots of unfinished novels, before I finally got stuck in and finished Black Wood.
Do you have a favourite author?
No. I read so many authors. I often cite Stephen King as my favourite, but I’m not actually sure anymore! I like different styles and voices. I do love Mo Hayder though. The darkness of her mind is fascinating.
If you could have written any novel what would it be?
Bird Box by Josh Malerman. Just. So.Clever.
Do you have any peculiar writing habits or quirks?
Not really, unless you counting writing in bed?! My worst habit is being too easily distracted by social media.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished Untouchable by Ava Marsh. It’s not out until May, but I’ll tell you now - it is fantastic. I’ve got a few books that I’ve read a bit of and put back for later – I’m bad for that! I like a sneak peek of things before I settle down with the one I want. I’m am trying not to start anything new at the moment as I need to focus on writing, but I know I’m going to crack… I can’t stop myself. I have a to-be-read pile the size of a house.
Is there another novel on the cards? If so can you give anything away yet? And will it be the same genre?
Yes. No. Sort of. I never talk about a work-in-progress in case I jinx it.
Will you continue to write short stories now that you’ve taken the leap and written a novel?
Definitely. I was shortlisted for the CWA Margery Allingham competition last year with a story featuring a character from Black Wood. I’m still trying to decide how to publish that story. I’ll always write short stuff, even though I have less time. They’re great for experimenting with ideas and styles, and it’s satisfying to finish something in days rather than months
Have you read anything that made you think differently about how you write?
That’s a great question. Yes, most definitely. I think everything I read makes me think differently about how I write, especially now that I am a writer as well as a reader. It’s impossible to read now without analysing the writing – you never stop learning about structure and voice and language, especially with crime as people are writing things in many different ways. I love to read first person – it really draws me in and helps me to imagine the character. Black Wood is written partly in first and partly in third, and it’s my aim to one day have the confidence to sustain a whole novel written in first.
Do you prefer an E-book or a physical book?
Physical – and I prefer paperback to hardback, just because they’re more portable and don’t hurt so much when they fall on your face when you drop off to sleep. I do read eBooks too, on a tablet and an iPad. Those things really hurt when they fall on your face!
Davie Gray is an extremely likeable character. If there is another book on the cards, how likely is he to feature, and would you consider a series of books featuring him?
You know what – he was never even meant to be in the book. I needed to add in another character, and I decided to try writing a policeman, sitting bored in a station in a town where nothing much happened. I wrote a chapter and sent it to my writing buddy, and he said he loved him. He grew from there and took on a life of his own. He’ll definitely be back.
There are lots of twists and turns to the plot in Black Wood. How do you keep track of your story as it becomes more complex?
Haha! Ask my editor. I thought it made perfect sense until we realised that one character’s story ended on Tuesday and everyone else was still going on Thursday. I do use a spreadsheet to try and track the timeline and a brief description of each scene, but it tends to get abandoned during the frantic writing phase (i.e. when the end is in sight).
Black Wood is quite a dark book. How did you feel when writing it? And did you need to take any time out to get away from the story whilst writing it?
The sections in the woods freaked me out a bit – I could picture them clearly and the thought of what happened made me feel sick. And there are two sort-of-supernatural scenes that actually scared me when I wrote them. It didn’t help that I wrote them in our old house, which was apparently haunted… I always had to play some uplifting music after a writing session and watch at least half an episode of Friends. That’s a great mind cleanser.
Great questions – thanks for having me!