"The mind is a fascinating thing, and that also plays to the supernatural. Is it real or isn’t it? Does anyone really know?" S.J.I. Holliday
Writers’ paths
Over the line

Over the line

All writers should plant sleeper agents in bookshops, to be activated when their novel starts to peep over the parapet. I am fortunate to have the wonderful Mr B’s Reading Emporium just around the corner from me, and have been receiving coded signals about my debut novel, Testament. “It’s appeared on the system!” “It’s available...
The reluctant romantic

The reluctant romantic

I didn’t set out to write a love story. In fact, I was startled when my agents Karolina Sutton and Lucy Morris chose to position my book as a love story. I said, are you sure it isn’t migrant literature disguised as time travel? Or a disquisition on the passage of time, wrapped in a...
Outback to the future

Outback to the future

I didn’t always want to be a writer. When I was at school it just wasn’t the kind of thing I thought you could ‘become’, or, even if it was, how you would ever go about doing so. This was pre-internet, a dark and mysterious time when the sum of all knowledge was the ragged...
Beyond the abyss

Beyond the abyss

I was only a few months through an MA in Creative Writing and I already wanted to quit. My partner was driving me to the train station at the time. I had the money in my hand ready to pay for the expensive journey that would get me all the way from South Wales to...
A beginning

A beginning

Everyone loves an origin myth, even if most are exaggerations or convenient distortions, and some of them outright lies. But if you want to know where the idea for my debut novel Arkady came from, I might as well tell you this story. Sometime around 2010, while I was working as a freelance radio producer,...
Picking a subject

Picking a subject

If anyone asked I said I wanted to be a writer, and I imagined and intended that this should be another word for novelist. But the stories of the glamorous dead, biography and narrative history, were as often as not what I read for pleasure. Not long before the turn of the century, my mother...
The summer Smiley saved me

The summer Smiley saved me

In the summer of 1989, breaking up with a man I had been engaged to marry, I flew to Taipei. I didn’t have a job, but I was sure I could teach English. I didn’t have a place to live, but I had the address of a hostel with hundreds of beds. I had a...
Innocents uncovered

Innocents uncovered

With its portico designed by Brunelleschi, its decorative tiles from the workshop of Della Robbia, its nine well-proportioned arches, each topped with an elegant tabernacle window, the Ospedale degli Innocenti is one of Florence’s most-scrutinised, most-photographed buildings, often claimed by tour-guides to be the earliest example of Renaissance architecture in the world. But it is...
In the shadow of Vesuvius

In the shadow of Vesuvius

My starting point for Hell’s Gate was a desire to tell a story about an actual descent to the underworld, a person venturing into the kingdom of the dead to find someone. Could today’s readers still believe in such a thing, I wondered, and was their thirst for the epic and mysterious strong enough to...
I, Octavio

I, Octavio

The day I finished my degree in modern literature at the Sorbonne in May 2010, I was called before a board of examiners to present my dissertation on the ‘engaged literature’ of the interwar period. After I had spoken for three hours, I was awarded my MA. I went off to celebrate with friends from...