Why Short Fiction Writer John Holland Wouldn’t Miss HULF

Award-winning short fiction author John Holland shares his enthusiasm for HULF

There’s nowhere I’d rather be in late April than at HULF,  Debbie Young’s completely free one day literature festival in the South Gloucestershire village of Hawkesbury Upton, writes John Holland, multiple award-winning author of short fiction himself.

It has been my honour and delight to chair the short story session at the festival since 2016. These days Debbie and I together draw up the list of authors to be invited to read at the short story session.  As organiser of Stroud Short Stories, the twice-yearly live lit event for Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire writers, I’ve read quite a few short stories by members of the local short story community and seen a large number of authors read/perform in public. The short story authors who read at HULF are re-shuffled annually with new faces each time to help keep the session fresh.

This year, after a year or two in the primary school, the short story session was back in Hawkesbury Upton’s Methodist Chapel. The hall lends itself superbly to its new role as a venue for short story readings. And, as I am wont to say, the short story session is the only session at the festival where the audience will hear entire stories, rather than extracts.

As well as the readings, Debbie had arranged for Dr Gerri Kimber, the Chair of the International Katherine Mansfield Society, who had, only an hour earlier, provided an engrossing talk about New Zealand’s doyenne of short stories, to speak about the short form at the end of our session.

This year I was able to persuade local authors Kate O’Grady, Nastasya Parker, Mark Rutterford, Chloe Turner, Steve Wheeler (aka Steven John) and Katie Witcombe to read/perform their stories at HULF. I must say, they didn’t take much persuading! I received an immediate ‘yes please’ from all six of them. These are all writers whose work I respect enormously. They had all read at Stroud Short Stories and all have gained publication and international short story competition success. It was the first time as a performer at HULF for Chloe, Kate, Katie and Steve.

We had the 1pm slot in the festival programme and I had warned the authors not to expect a large audience, as we were competing with a panel discussion, a lecture, a workshop and lunchtime! I was amazed that in fact we had the largest turn-out to date with nearly every seat in the hall taken.

Each story was to a maximum of five minutes, leaving enough time for a quick story from me and a lovely finale from Dr Gerri in which she touched on the current state of the short story, the relevance of Katherine Mansfield to contemporary writing and generously predicted successful writing futures for the writers she heard.

As well as Gerri’s talk on Katherine Mansfield, I was also able to attend the Official Opening of the Festival with some thought-provoking words from Brad Borkan and some wonderful readings by local children, together with the Best of British session featuring a number of very accomplished authors reading from their novels.

It was 3pm before I realised I hadn’t eaten lunch but that’s how it goes at HULF. There are sessions I felt compelled to see so my stomach had to wait.

As ever the organisation of the Festival was amazing. The range of lectures, panel discussions and readings was quite extraordinary. These were provided free for the Festival by the authors involved, all of whom whole-heartedly support Debbie Young’s efforts in creating this annual event in the South West literary calendar which has now gained ‘unmissable’ status.

Debbie, you’re a marvel.

To find out more about John Holland and his wonderful stories, visit his website:  www.johnhollandwrites.com

To find out more about Stroud Short Stories, visit: www.stroudshortstories.blogspot.com

With thanks to John for allowing us to share the story he read at HULF this year, which was first published in the National Flash Fiction Day Flash Flood Journal (June 2017):

The River

It is too hot to walk. The sun has rendered the day harsh and distorted. Bleached it of its softness. They flee the starkness of the stubble field. Head for the river. And are cooled by its deep swell and the purple shadows of overhanging trees.

The smell of wild garlic seeps into them. In places the river bank gives way to rough tracks leading to the edge of the water. They step down to peer into the river’s surge.

 “I’m going to lie on the grass bank in the shade,“ he says.

“I’m going in,” she says, thrilled at the idea.

”You’re mad,” he says.

Already without stockings, she sits on the bank and removes her shoes. Stands and places one foot, then another, in the river. Feels the ooze between her toes.

“It’s amazing,” she screams. “It’s so cold.”

He sits up on both elbows to watch. “You ARE mad,” he calls.

She takes a few more steps. “Come on in,” she shouts.

He continues to watch her.  She begins to walk slowly upstream, away from him. And is aware of the strength in her calves and thighs as she strides on. The river splays around her thighs.

The water is deeper – nearly to her knees. She lifts her green cotton skirt. Then stumbles on a rock and loses her footing. He sees her lurch before steadying herself.

He shouts to her, but the water drowns his call.

He stands and moves to the river’s edge. Sees her in the distance moving purposefully away from him, a V of water following her. He imagines her walking mile after mile into the open sea.

She turns and begins to walk back towards him, feeling the power of the river against the front of her legs. She is laughing uncontrollably.

When she reaches the bank he holds out his arm for support, as she strides from the water.  She is shivering, laughing, out of breath.

“That was amazing,” she says.

He says nothing. As they walk up the bank into the bright day, she holds her skirt so that it doesn’t fall onto her wet legs. Still in sight of the river, they lie on their backs on the grassy slope. She breathes deeply, her white legs apart, bent at the knees, dripping river water, feeling the sensation of the sun on her wet skin as something familiar, yet intensely sensuous. The air tastes and smells like that of her youth. She imagines that they are 18 years old. Discovering each other, testing their nerve. It is as if all the years of their marriage have never existed. 

Still grounded next to her, he moves on to his side. His face is close to hers, shielding it from the sun. 

“I guess we’ll talk about everything when the kids are back at uni,” he says, searching her face.

“Yes,” she says. “Not now.”

© Copyright John Holland 2017

 

A High Time at HULF by Maureen Armstrong

What a buzz!! Arriving in the school hall at the start of the day, we found the place crowded, and humming with conversations. We set up our books in the allotted space, got my Author badge, and sat with a cup of coffee to absorb the atmosphere.

The good folk in the cafe were working flat out from the moment we arrived (Photo: Angela Fitch Photography)

The good folk at the “Alice in Wonderland” themed food counter were working flat out. There were excited children from the school, whose book of poems was being launched at HULF. (What a good idea to make sure every child’s poem was included.) Authors were busy setting up their displays, and Debbie Young was gathering her speakers for the opening ceremony. Then the Festival began in earnest, with an introduction by key speaker Brad Borkan, and some of the Hawkesbury Upton children reading their poems.

The programme was so extensive, it was hard to decide which talk to choose. We went to the Village Hall, to hear Dr Gerri Kimber talk about New Zealand author Katherine Mansfield. It was a fascinating look into the life and works of a woman who was a ground-breaker in early 20th century literature, and one of the first to focus her work entirely on short stories.

photo of Gerri Kimber addressing the audience

We enjoyed Dr Gerri Kimber’s talk about Katherine Mansfield (Photo: Angela Fitch Photography)

After lunch it was our turn to talk, as part of  the Panel Conversations in the Bethesda Chapel. With the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War Two, this year, it was appropriate that our session featured novels about the impact of WWII on civilians.

Richard Vaughan-Davies‘ novel In the Shadow of Hitler portrayed the utter devastation of Hamburg, and raised serious moral questions about victory and defeat.

cover of Bombweed

Bombweed was written by Maureen and Gillian’s smother

Then we discussed our novel Bombweed, originally written by our mother in 1947, which tells how women in England survived bombing, evacuation, rationing, and bereavement, but still found fun, friendship, and even love.

Finally Rosalind Minett introduced us to her trilogy, A Relative Invasion, in which the relationship between two boys develops through the war and post-war years. I found the descriptions of bullying painfully real. The message that your own family is not necessarily the one to give you love and support came over very clearly.

We then hurried back to the Village Hall to be thoroughly entertained by Lucienne Boyce‘s presentation “Make More Noise!”, which was actually a programme of silent film clips about the Suffragettes. We were both laughing and angry at some of the “comic” films – who would have thought that women were supposed to be punished by being made to wear trousers for two weeks!

Finally, it was back to the school for more tea and delicious cakes, and the closing ceremony.

We had a lot of interest in our novel Bombweed. Full information, including reviews and how to order, is available on our website www.gfmortonbombweed.com.

Gillian Fernandez Morton and Maureen Armstrong