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

 

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Barry Faulkner’s Entertaining Take on HULF 2019

Crimewriter B L (Barry) Faulkner is a staunch HULF supporter, always happy to turn his hand to any task here, whether or not related to his successful series of police procedural novels, and can be depended upon to add his own brand of wry humour to any event. We’re delighted to share his memories of this year’s Festival below.

photo of Crimefest panel

Crimewriter Barry Faulkner, pictured second from left, was in the spotlight at CrimeFest a couple of weeks later

The alarm woke me at 7am. Quick outing with the dogs in the Forest and back for a shower and check on my to take with me, HULF list. All present and correct and in the bag so off we go. A leisurely drive through the Forest of Dean (where I live) and down the A48 to Chepstow and the  Seven Bridge. PANIC!!! Bridge closed due to high winds!  So foot down to Cardiff and pick up the M4. Arrive at Hawkesbury as the opening ceremony (?) is finishing. Can’t find my name tag on the book tables to stack my books. Yes I can, another author was sitting on it.

I’m chairman for the Best of British panel which is first off in the Methodist Chapel so quickly put a bunch of pamphlets I did on the computer promoting it on the table inside the main door and more spread around the cafe tables. Bit worried as we are at the other end of the High Street in the Methodist Chapel. Will people make the effort?

Walk down to the Chapel. Door locked. Go round the back and find an art display being arranged in the back hall.

‘Can I get through to the Chapel from here?’ I ask.

‘Yes, there is a door behind the refreshment counter.’

It’s locked.  A helpful lady says she will phone the caretaker for a key. No signal on her phone so she leaves me and goes outside to try. I don’t think that will make any difference, if there’s no signal inside there won’t be one outside either. I take a close look at the lock whilst she’s gone and when she comes back I have the door open. (Don’t ask).

What a smashing intimate venue.It’s a House of God so look up and ask his permission to re-arrange the pews.  I didn’t get a jolt of lightning cast down on me so I pulled them about a bit, put some pamphlets out and by now my panelists are arriving and so are some punters. Soon the place is buzzing and time to start.

I’ve done my homework on the panelists and suffice to say I’m batting above my league! I explain to the audience, now standing room only, that each one of the panelists will do a short reading and then at the end they will take questions.

I kick off with a short read from one of my DCS Palmer books and quickly move onto Nicola Horton. I know Nicola will get us off to a good start as I have suffered extremely late nights lying in bed with the wall lights on as my wife chuckles and laughs her way through one of Nicola’s Diary of a Stressed-Out Mother books. True to form, the audience chuckle too.

Next up is Ali Bacon with that lovely Scottish accent and that great novel  A Kettle of Fish, a coming-of-age novel. Ali has numerous awards and is also a judge at this year’s Stroud Short Stories competition. (I made the long list, perhaps I should have had a quiet word with her about the next one?)

Lucienne Boyce is a historic novelist of repute, a radio presenter and has an MA in Eng Lit with distinction. (I was a milk monitor once.) She regularly gives talks on Women’s Suffrage and has a book of essays on the subject. She is currently working on the third novel in her Dan Foster Mysteries series and a biography of suffragette Millicent Browne. Wow!!

J J Franklin is an ex nursing professional who has written for the BBC and is writer of the psychological thriller novel Urge to Kill,  featuring DI Matt Turrell of the Warwickshire Police which she is developing into a series with the second book A Kind of Justice out now. She also runs a crime-writers’ group in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Melanie Golding’s debut novel Little Darlings is out soon and destined for the top of the best sellers list with a film option already taken.  She has also won many short story awards and is currently working on a second novel.

Alice Jolly, novelist and playwright has a host of awards for her work, having been produced at the Everyman Theatre Cheltenham and published novels through Simon and Schuster, plus a memoir with the arresting title Dead Babies and Seaside Towns. Alice teaches creative writing at Oxford University.

And last but not least to read was Jo Ullah who pulled me up for the wrong pronunciation of ‘dyslexic’.  (I told you I was batting above my league.) Jo told us she was brought up on a diet of horror and the supernatural by her mother’s inventive mind! ( My mother’s inventive mind only stretched to porridge for breakfast and chips on Sunday.) Jo’s debut novel The Locksmith was a Kindle Scout Winner. She is half way through a second book and studying for an English Literature and Language Degree in a cluttered house with four kids in Bristol.

Those were our 7 Best of British authors. What a gold medal lot, eh? They took questions and made the whole experience a really enjoyable one judging from the feedback I had from members of the audience afterwards.

I noticed John Holland in the audience as we were finishing and as his Stroud Short Stories event was coming up soon. I called on him to give it a promo (even though I only got to the long list John. I don’t hold grudges, anyway I know where you live.) and then thanked everybody and made my way back to the main hall for a coffee and sandwich before… the Poetry Slam competition!

I had been drafted into being a judge in the Poetry Slam as one of the real judges had had to pull out at the last moment.

So, what do I know about poetry? Well, 40 years ago I did a two-hour train journey London to Manchester with John Cooper Clark. As I recall we played cards and slept most of the time. So you can see my poetic knowledge is somewhat miniscule.

Lucky for me I had Peter Lay as the other judge.

‘How do you judge a poem, Peter?’

‘See how much you like it.’

I liked them all. Had to give marks out of 25.

The first poet gave forth.

Peter looked at me.

‘Twenty five,’ I said

‘And what if you like the next poem more?’ he said.

‘Twenty six,’ I said.

He gave me a sad look and shook his head.

I would have given them all 25,  but Peter’s advice was, ‘If you give them all 25 they all go through to the 2nd round and all then through to the final and we will be here all night trying to find a winner.’

Point taken.  I am pleased to say most of my marks were within one or two points of Peter’s.  There were some great poems.  The subjects were amazing,  Love, Spiritual, Environment, Hot Air Ballons and even one about  Washing Machines.  And it all closed with Josephine Lay’s poem about banging her head, twice. Josephine, like me, had stepped in to compere the slam when  Dan Holloway had to unfortunately pull  out at the last minute.

So, thanks to the poets,  Linda Alvis, Chris Burleigh, Jason Conway, Bobbie Coelho, William Fairney, Mari Howard, Gef Lucena, David Willams, Shirley Wright and of course Peter and Josephine Lay, I now view poetry and poets in a different light. I even bought two books of poems from the charity shop last week that are on my TBR pile.

Talking with Peter after the slam one of the poets approached me, one that didn’t win.

‘So what parameters do you use to judge a poem with?’ he asked.

I looked at my watch. ‘I have to get across to another panel,’ I lied. ‘Peter will explain’ And I scarpered.

I do lots of talks and get to attend as many Lit Fests as will have me, but guess which one I’m already looking forward to the most for next year?

pile of Barry's books in bookshop

Barry’s books – eight in the series so far – on display at the HULF bookstore. (Photo: Angela Fitch Photography)

Barry Faulkner’s entertaining series of police procedural stories set in London is available in paperback and ebook via Amazon and at the many events he speaks at throughout the region – he is in great demand as a public speaker. He also writes a fascinating blog about real-life crime here: www.geezers2016.wordpress.com

Writer Kate O’Grady Shares Her HULF Highlights – and Her Short Story

Local writer Kate O’Grady was invited to be a part of this year’s line-up for our short story readings because we knew from seeing her at Stroud Short Stories that she’d be a terrific addition to our programme. At the end of her post, you will find the story she wrote especially for the event. Many thanks to Kate for kindly giving us permission to share her story here. The story remains her copyright.

I feel really honoured to have been part of this year’s HU Lit Festival and was delighted to be asked to read a short story at the Methodist Chapel along with five other local short story writers.

From  Audience to Speaker

This is my second time attending the festival, and my first time as a participant.

When I attended the festival as an audience member in 2017 I loved every minute of it.  It was a gorgeous day and, as a reader and a writer, there really isn’t a better way to spend an afternoon than strolling around listening to talks, and hearing authors share their work.  The fact that you can do that in a beautiful village for free, and eat cake and drink tea in between all the talks and readings is heaven!

Short Story Readings Report

The audience in the lovely Methodist Hall for the short story readings was attentive, and it really was a pleasure to be there this year in the company of other writers and people who love the written word.

I was able to be at the Official Opening in the School Hall, and also able to attend the Best of British Authors reading and panel, and the talk on Katherine Mansfield in the Village Hall.

Thanks Debbie and everyone in HU for putting together such an amazing literary festival.  It’s a very special, local event.  I loved listening to the young poets from Hawkesbury Primary School read their work, and as a fan of Katherine Mansfield’s short stories, learning more about her life via Dr Gerri Kimber’s informative talk enhanced my appreciation of this great writer.

Congratulations on Five Years of HU LitFest.

At This Present Moment

by Kate O’Grady

At this present moment Charlotte is sitting cross-legged on a mat on the floor with her eyes closed and her palms resting on her thighs.  She is trying to pay attention to her breath as it comes in through the tip of her nose.  At this present moment she is trying to be “mindful”, she is trying to be “In The Now”.  At This Present Moment, This is Very Hard.

The twelve day silent meditation retreat had sounded like a grand idea when Charlotte first heard about it.  Increased self awareness, insight into the nature of reality, freedom from suffering.  Who wouldn’t want a slice of that?  Charlotte had signed up immediately and spent the two days before the retreat imagining what her new more aware and insightful self would look like.  She was sure it would be a very different self from the current one, who stole The New York Times from strangers’ doorsteps, binge watched The Real Housewives of Atlanta, and lusted after her sister’s husband.   “If nothing else, it will be an escape,” she told herself as she was packing to go.

The retreat is located in the Sierra Foothills on a 109-acre estate with oak trees and a lake.  Charlotte had shared the ride from Santa Barbara with three other women named Tania, Betty and Linda.   Tania, the driver, was a yoga instructor.  She ate gummy bears throughout the four-hour journey and drummed her fingers constantly on the steering wheel.  Betty, who insisted she had to be in the front passenger seat because she was liable to get nauseous and throw up if she didn’t, was a prison guard.  No one knew what Linda did for a living, as after she told them her name, she didn’t say another word.  Charlotte could only assume she was getting a head start on silence.

An hour into the journey they all got quiet and settled, looking out the windows and watching the hills and trees pass by, a steady stream of green and gold and red.  It was fall and nature was shouting “Look At Me!”  Charlotte tried to think deep thoughts, but mostly she just hoped she’d remembered to turn the gas off before she left the apartment.

The rules of the retreat are simple but strict:  No talking for the duration of the retreat.  No reading, no writing, no phones and, most importantly, they must remain within the designated boundaries of the retreat site at all times.

By Day 3 Charlotte is ready to punch someone between the eyes.  Perhaps the doe-eyed female meditation teacher who sits at the front of the room, her legs neatly folded in the classic, full lotus position.  Or maybe the woman to the left of her, wrapped in a mauve silk pashmina, who relentlessly clears her throat and does downward dog yoga postures in between meditation sessions.  Charlotte is ready to slap any one of the 120 human beings surrounding her, all coughing, and sniffling, and seeking enlightenment.

On Day 4, after a night of bad dreams, one in which she is being chased by huge drooling black dogs who snap at her ankles as she runs screaming into a stream of oncoming cars, Charlotte spots Linda in the dining room.  This is the first time she has seen her since their arrival at the retreat center.  Linda is sitting alone facing a blank wall and she is crying.  Her shoulders are shaking and she is taking in small, rapid gulps of air through her mouth.  The image of Picasso’s “Weeping Woman” comes to Charlotte’s mind, along with the words “abject sorrow.”

Someone has made a smiley face in the frost that covers the bench outside the dormitories.  It is the morning of Day 6, and it is icy cold.  Charlotte can see her breath as it leaves her mouth.  Instead of going into the meditation hall with the others, Charlotte turns and walks to the path that surrounds the lake.  She has seen Linda heading that way and decides to follow.  For the last two days Charlotte has thought only of Linda and what the source of her grief might be.  Is it disease, divorce, death?

Linda has stepped off the path now and is walking down a small, steep hill.  She stops at a barbed wire fence, in front of which is a sign that says “Retreat Boundary.  Do Not Go Beyond”.  Beyond consists of hundreds of trees.  Beyond is a forest.  Beyond seems to be a great unknown.

As Charlotte makes the descent down the hill, Linda turns, and their eyes meet.  Linda’s eyes are red and wet with tears.  She stares at Charlotte, but she does not seem startled by her approach.  Charlotte stares back at Linda and takes in the anguish on her face.  She tries to convey to Linda, through her facial expression, that she is friendly.  This is done with half smiles, nods, and a head tilt towards the wire fence.  Charlotte has understood in a flash that Linda is trying to escape.  In one quick move she steps down to the fence, and with her right hand grabs hold of a piece of wire and pulls it up so that there is now space to crawl out. With her left hand she grasps Linda’s palm and motions for her to step through.  Linda does so immediately and Charlotte follows.

They are still holding hands when they are standing again at the other side.  Charlotte turns to look at Linda and nods her head in the direction of the forest in front of them.  Then together, in silence, they proceed towards the trees, towards the interior of the woods, towards whatever lies beyond.

© Kate O’Grady 2019