First I’d like to apologize for my absence last week. I decided to take an internet break for the holiday, but forgot to let everyone here know beforehand. I’ll try to do better about that in the future and hope those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving enjoyed your holiday. And now to the next interview!
This week I’d like to introduce you to Holden Sheppard, the author of several deep, thought-provoking YA short stories, including The Black Flower, and the upcoming novel Invisible Boys.
Nick’s a binge-drinking redneck; Ashlea’s a wild party girl. It’s a perfect match – until it isn’t. When tragedy strikes, Ashlea grows up fast. But Nick can’t escape the booze – or the ghosts of his childhood.
With Nick out of control, Ashlea delivers an ultimatum – with deadly consequences.
THE BLACK FLOWER is a raw portrait of teenage chaos. It was originally published in Page Seventeen.
Holden Sheppard is an award-winning Young Adult author from Geraldton, Western Australia. Holden’s work focuses on coming-of-age themes and issues such as anger, isolation, masculinity and sexuality.
Holden’s debut YA novel, Invisible Boys, won the ASA’s 2017 Ray Koppe Residency Award, which involves a 2018 residency at Varuna, the National Writers’ House. Holden’s short stories have been published in Indigo Journal and page seventeen, and he has also written for the Huffington Post, the ABC, DNA Magazine and FasterLouder.
After graduating from Edith Cowan University’s Creative Writing program, Holden received a prestigious ArtStart grant from the Australia Council for the Arts. During 2016, he undertook an ASA mentorship to develop his first novel.
Holden is represented by Haylee Nash of The Nash Agency.
1. Tell us a little about you and what you’re working on.
Well, I’m a YA author which kind of makes sense, since I started writing back when I was a kid myself. I think there was some point in my childhood – growing up in a small town in the Midwest of Australia – where I realised boys weren’t supposed to have feelings – definitely not painful ones. I learned by osmosis that articulating these feelings was verboten, so I began to lose myself in writing instead.
I’m currently doing some revisions on my debut YA novel, Invisible Boys, which is a story about gay teenage life and is a hard-hitting manuscript. It recently won the 2017 Ray Koppe Residency Award from the Australian Society of Authors. I’m doing some revisions now and then again in January, when I will be taking up a writing residency at Varuna House, which is the national writer’s house in Australia.
You As A Reader
2. When did you first fall in love with books?
Really, really young, and I’m talking two or three. My Mum read to me a lot, and I was totally rapt with books from about that age. It started off with those simple Cocky Circle books for little tiny kids, and I think books really got their hooks into me when I started reading chapter books (Enid Blyton, Emily Rodda) around six or seven.
3. What’s your favorite book from your childhood?
Depends on which year of my childhood we’re putting under the microscope, to be honest! As a kid, The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis. It was the only book in his Narnia series that didn’t focus on English children visiting Narnia, but rather on one of the characters born in that world, and it is amazing. I could write an essay on why I love this one.
And as a teen, Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden. I would argue it’s his masterpiece. It had an enormous impact on my writing and my thinking.
4. Of the books you’ve read, which one changed you the most?
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, without a doubt. I had big dreams of becoming an author from when I was really young, but reading this novel when I was sixteen made me turn those dreams into goals. In fact, this novel is almost a bible to me: it really shaped me as a man.
5. What’s the last book you read and your current favorite?
The last book I read was either No Worries by Bill Condon (excellent Aussie YA with a rare male protagonist I felt I could really relate to) or World War Z by Max Brooks (very deft storytelling and an interesting approach to the zombie subgenre).
As much as I love Rowling’s Harry Potter series, I think The Alchemist will always pip those books at the post in terms of being my favourite book.
6. If you could meet any author, alive or dead, who would it be?
You know what? I’d love to meet Walt Whitman, partly to suss out whether he actually was a gay bloke or not. Failing that, I reckon it would be cool to meet someone like Banjo Patterson to see what the man was like versus the myth.
You As A Writer
7. When did you first know you were a writer?
Age seven. It hit me like a thunderbolt when I was staring at the full moon during a night-time road trip through the Midwest. It really was a magical moment. Just like that, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
8. Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? If so, what was it about?
Yes. It was a classic British boarding school story about a twelve-year-old boy named Jake. He went to a stuffy boarding school and got up to a whole bunch of 1940s-style adventures that were incredibly retrograde given I was writing it in the 90s.
9. What has been the most difficult part of your writing journey? The best part?
Man! Just about everything about being a writer is difficult, to be frank. Being poor sucks, but it’s a necessary result of giving up a good job to pursue my career as an author. That’s probably not as hard as feeling wildly misunderstood, which I know is a cliché, but you know, clichés exist for a reason. I’ve faced a lot of naysayers in the past, too, who wanted me to get a real job and give up this fanciful and whimsical author stuff, to whom I gladly say, ‘Piss off.’
10. Of all the writing advice you’ve received, what helped you the most?
On Writing by Stephen King kicked me up a notch from amateur to serious author. If you’re a writer, read it. If you want to be a writer, read it. If you are a human being with a pulse, read it.
It might be a bit dated now, but almost everything I know about publishers and agents, I learned from Miss Snark’s infamous blog. It is a work of art and it taught me so much; I am incredibly grateful to her for sharing that.
11. Tell us about your current project and any others you’re working on.
My current project is a YA novel called Invisible Boys. My agent has described it as “a work of raw, heartbreaking honesty that is both brutal and beautiful”. It is pure fiction but thematically it is super close to the bone – about gay teenage life. I’d say more, but my agent would want my head, so keep an eye on my social media for more news about this book.
Fun Stuff About You
12. Besides writing and reading, what are some of your other interests?
I am a massive gym junkie, so I’m always lifting or running or working up a sweat at my local gym. When I’m actually chilling out, I like reading, video games (I play both Pokemon and COD), catching up with mates and family and good TV show binges on the couch with my fiancé (anything from Game of Thrones to Will & Grace).
13. If you could become an instant expert at any one thing, what would it be and why?
Understanding other people’s feelings and motivations. You know, like when someone reacts with anger or bullies you or lashes out, or withdraws, it would be incredible to be able to know somehow what kind of pain or trauma or vulnerability belies that reaction.
Maybe this is less a case of expertise and more along the lines of a magical superpower?
14. You’ve just won an all expenses paid trip to anywhere in the world. Where would you go?
Somewhere in Italy. I spent five weeks there a few years ago and loved it, especially as I am half Italian and speak a little of the language. I’d love to find myself in Positano or Cinque Terre again, or even in my family’s native (and beautiful) Sicily.
15. How can people connect with you?
Definitely follow me on Twitter @V8Sheppard: if you’re a writer, I always follow back, unless you write about something crazily abhorrent like running over puppies or enjoying films with Ryan Gosling in them. I tweet daily and love connecting in that space; I know it sounds a bit naff, but I really enjoy making new mates, especially fellow writers.
16. Anything else you’d like to tell us?
My short stories are available as free downloadable e-books, ranging from gritty crossover YA to epic fantasy, so head over to www.holdensheppard.com/books and have a read!
Thanks for sharing a little about you! I’m impressed by the tact with which you’re able to write about these sensitive issues.
If you’d like to read Holden’s short stories, you can find them for free through his website above, or on Amazon.