In our online book club ‘Travel Europe Through Books,’ we travel to a new European country every month through its literature. This month we’ve been focusing on the literature, culture, and landscape of Great Britain by way of Thomas Hardy’s classic romance, Far From the Madding Crowd. As we round off this month, I thought you might enjoy reading an interview with contemporary British author Maggie Holman, whose works are quite different from Hardy’s, but still draw inspiration from the British landscape.
Maggie Holman is a British author who has lived in the Netherlands since 2009. She writes and self-publishes fantasy stories for children and ‘stranger fiction’ for older readers.
Q: Maggie, what part of Britain do you come from?
I was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and grew up in the North East, then I moved to the Forest of Dean, in Gloucestershire, in 1995. I lived there for almost fifteen years and I actually feel more of a connection with this area than with my original northern roots.
Q: What types of books do you write?
Strange ones! I can’t write realistic fiction. Although my stories are usually set in the real world, they always go off in an ‘unreal’ direction. I write stories of magic and fantasy for younger readers, and then my stories for older readers are definitely more paranormal, speculative and weird.
Q: What impact has your homeland had on your writing?
The obvious one is the influence that my time in the Forest of Dean has had on my writing. Four of my five self-published books are set in this region. The landscape is so atmospheric. My ghost story ‘The Knocking’ is based on a real flood that happened there in 1607, and ‘Footprints in the Snow’ is based on the local myth that a panther lives wild in the forest.
However, I also know I’ve used particular places from my childhood in the North East as locations for stories. For example, my short ghost story ‘Watch Out for the Master’ (published in spring 2023 in a Crone Girls Press anthology) is based on childhood memories of watching garden parties at ‘the posh house’ from my grandmother’s bedroom window, and also on her stories about her time as a teenage servant during WW1.
Photo (left): The cottage of Maggie’s grandmother where, as a child, Maggie spied on parties at the ‘posh house.’
Q: How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. Although I didn’t think about it at the time, looking back, I was quite a withdrawn child and I escaped into imaginary worlds and scenarios. I started writing ideas down more seriously when I was about eleven or twelve, and never stopped.
Q: How have your books been published and/or marketed?
I’ve self-published all my books so far. I’m registered as a small publisher, under the name Run Jump Jive. I do my own marketing but I find this difficult, because I don’t have anyone to help me and I find it time-consuming.
Q: For whom do you write?
My children’s books are aimed at the middle grade age group (7-11), while my other fiction is suitable for young adults and adults. I also tend to write female main characters, so perhaps my stories have a wider female readership and appeal. At the moment I’m working specifically on a set of short stories in which women and girls have to/need to breathe underwater. It felt right to put them together in this way.
Q: Where does your inspiration come from?
I don’t usually plan too much. I usually write in response to something and look at the structure or purpose after a first draft is complete. I get ideas from all sorts of external sources, for example, in someone else’s creative work, whether it’s a book, a painting, a film or a piece of theatre. I also find ideas come from news items, photographs, trips or visits, or a conversation with someone. However, some of my ideas also seem to come from more internal sources. Quite often a title, an image or a moment sort of ‘pops in’ and I work with it to see what it’s about, and at least two of my stories have specifically come from dreams.
Q: How do you feel your writing has developed over time?
I cringe when I read some of my older work. It might have been an interesting idea, but I can see the gaps in my understanding of the ‘craft’ elements of writing – structure, description, building character and so on. By reading books about writing, and attending courses and writing groups, I feel more in control of my writing now, but there’s always room to learn more and we learn from everything new thing we create.
Q: Many authors are influenced by other writers. What do you like to read? Have any of those authors influenced you?
I very rarely read realistic fiction. It always feels like there’s ‘something missing’. Just as with my writing, the books I most like to read are those which are set in the real world but have a fantasy or speculative element to them. My favourite book of all time is ‘Wuthering Heights’, by Emily Bronte. I read it again and again. I’m also a huge, huge fan of Frances Hardynge, Alice Hoffman, Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter and Dean Koontz. I’m always fascinated by the emotional depths and description of their writing. However, I’m not so into ‘high fantasy’ with wizards, battles etc set in imaginary worlds. As a teenager back in the 1970s, when everyone was reading ‘Lord of the Rings’ at school, I was reading the darker and more sinister imaginary world of Mervyn Peake’s ‘Gormenghast’. For sure, reading these authors, and others like them, have inspired me and given me examples of how to structure writing and also to tell storiesin a speculative way, while still writing about real-life emotional connections.
Q: What brought you to the Netherlands?
In 2009, our children were grown up and my husband and I had been thinking for a while about having a European adventure. We have a motorbike and wanted to travel further afield, and we also just wanted to experience a different environment. We did consider Spain as well, but we knew we could probably better find work as English speakers in the Netherlands. I’m really glad we made that choice!
Q: What has writing taught you?
I’m passionate about writing. I’ve learnt that if I don’t write regularly, my life doesn’t feel so balanced. It’s taught me how important it is for anyone to follow their passion, that thing they love, whether it’s writing or something else. Writing has also taught me skills which can be transferred to other parts of everyday life. It requires patience, effort, discipline and organization, and when something is finished, I feel a sense of achievement and self-confidence. Because I feel these impacts of writing for myself, I hope, as a teacher, it has also helped me to have empathy for the value which writing can have for other people, especially children and young people.
Q: Where do you hope to go with your writing?
I hope to continue to be able to share stories with other people and listen to their stories and experiences in return. On a practical level, I’m still trying to find more time in my work/life balance for writing. I have so many ideas and it’s distracting when they stay stuck in my head all the time! I also hope to develop contacts with schools for author visits and workshops. It’s always fun to hear what children are writing and they love to share. I do miss that kind of interaction since I gave up school teaching.
Recently I’ve also been spending more time exploring my family tree. I found some information about my ancestors and more recent relatives that are growing into both fiction and non-fiction ideas, so that’s an exciting new direction.
For more information about Maggie and her books, please visit: www.maggieholman.com
Armchair Travel is a charming collection of culturally-rich short stories from award-winning author V. M. Karren (The Deceit of Riches) that will help relieve the cabin fever of restless wanderers everywhere.
Let yourself be carried away to three unique destinations off of the usual tourist tracks, and lose yourself in the local music, seascapes and food. Experience both the romance and suspense while you enjoy delicious food in the pages of Armchair Travel, as if you were there.