Interview with Holden Sheppard

What's the story behind your latest book?
There is a whole lot behind my current release, THE BLACK FLOWER, but probably the most important catalyst was during the winter of 2015. I was home sick with a head cold and had to go to the local pharmacy, and while I was in line, I noticed the guy in front of me. He was swaying pretty violently and was clearly drunk or high or both; he was really quite wildly out of it and I just had that sixth sense that he was about to turn around and talk to me. Sure enough, the bloke turns around and says, out of nowhere, "I drink ..."

Now, my own prejudices kicked in and I chose not to engage. I say "prejudices" to be generous: I'm pretty sure most people would do the same, based on their past experiences with drunkards who looked pretty rough and fairly likely to kick off. Plus, even if I felt like chatting to a random drongo about his addiction, I really wasn't up for it with the head cold clouding my mind. So, I pretended to be on my phone, and moved away until he was out of the way.

While I'd probably do the same again, I immediately wished I had heard what he had to say. The tone he started speaking with seemed to be explaining why he drank to me, like he needed me to know the backstory. It made me think of a short story draft I had sitting on my laptop, and that encounter prompted me to tidy it up and send it off to journals. Page Seventeen in Melbourne published it later that year; and in 2017, I revisited it to flesh it out into a longer story, which is the published e-book.

THE BLACK FLOWER is a tale of alcoholism, violence and broken relationships. Mostly, however, what I wanted to do with this story was show the human side of the addict. Nick, the protagonist, is probably not someone you would want to be mates with in real life (or say g'day to at the pharmacy) - but he is a product of his environment and his trauma and I wanted to get that across here. I hope I succeeded.
What are you working on next?
I've just completed my second novel, so I'll be working on some edits of that over the next few months. I'm also putting together some paperback versions of both THE SCROLL OF ISIDOR and THE BLACK FLOWER, which I hope to release in late September.

In terms of new titles, I'm aiming to release a new fantasy short story from the world of THE SCROLL OF ISIDOR in late October. It centres around a different character than Levin Ruck, so I am excited to get this story out there to broaden that universe. Stay tuned!
Describe your desk
My desk is inexplicably visible at the moment, and this should really be classed as the eighth wonder of the world. It's usually buried under papers and all kinds of shit, but as I'm not currently writing a manuscript or marking, it looks almost livable.

I have a pretty sweet desk set-up in my home office, thanks to a grant I won a couple of years back. I have dual monitors (the greatest thing since ciabatta bread), a docking station for the laptop and a multifunction centre beside me. Plus some portable bluetooth speakers which are surprisingly excellent quality.

Atop the desk are some general oddities I have accumulated, which form a kind of geek shrine. A few figurines: a ninja turtle (Leonardo), Nathan Drake from my favourite game series (Uncharted) and Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead. Oh, and a Royal Doulton-made British Bulldog which is an exact replica of the one M gives to Bond at the end of Skyfall. /geekout

The most essential fixture on my desk? A steaming cup of black coffee in my Incredible Hulk mug.

But there's no barrier to push this crap back through. I'm stuck with it until I get fed up enough to clean it.
What do you read for pleasure?
Mostly novels, and mostly YA or Fantasy or both. My favourite YA book series growing up was John Marsden’s Tomorrow series; my favourite fantasy series was C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. I’m a bit of a Potterhead too. Some of my favourite books as an adult have been Holding the Man by Timothy Conigrave, The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

I recently read No Worries by Bill Condon, which I absolutely loved, as well as an unpublished manuscripts by a writer friend (it was excellent). I'm currently reading World War Z by Max Brooks, and after that I have booked myself in to read Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson or attempt American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I have a couple of Aussie authors on my to-read list next: Carousel by Brendan Ritchie and All These Perfect Strangers by Aoife Clifford.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I write around a few casual day jobs – working in community engagement and teaching at a university – and writing tends to occupy a lot of my free time around those. Being an indie author currently, the admin side of the writing career takes up a huge chunk of hours each week, too, so finding time to chill is hard (but vital).

When I find myself with some real downtime, I’ll probably be reading a book, playing video games, listening to music (usually rock) or watching TV shows or movies. I also go to the gym five times a week – not just to keep fit, but as a writer it’s good to get out of your head and into your body, so to speak. The more exhausted I feel before the gym, the more I know I need it - and the better I feel afterwards.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Blind ambition. Since I was a little kid I’ve had these glimpses and visions of a career as a published author – ambition wildly beyond my station in life. Not a day passes where I don’t think about my dreams and my goals – and each day is one small step closer to achieving them.

The current underlying my ambition is passion and a longing for connection. I love telling stories. I love sharing them with other people. I love hearing them discuss the characters and the events. Most of all, I love it when something I wrote - that I gingerly extracted from my soul - resonates with another human being. I really value the discussions we can have together, or just hearing from a reader that they were touched, or inspired, or brought to tears. I live for that.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
My parents read to me a lot from a really young age, and I started reading quite young, so I don't remember the very first stories I would have come across. However, I do remember the first book I read as a kid that really captivated me and enchanted me, and that was The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. That woman had one of my most incredible imaginations of any children's writer, ever. I was so taken with the strange and imaginative creatures and characters, and this idea that at the top of this enormous tree was an entire cycling universe of different lands - some good, some horrible - that the children could go up and visit. I think my love for fantasy began here.

The other book that springs to mind was called Danger at Demon's Cove by Karen Dolby. It was one of a whole series of Usborne Puzzle Adventures, which I read voraciously as a kid, but this one was my introduction to them all. It completely engrossed me, because not only did it have proper baddies, it had treasure maps (which I loved), and puzzles and riddles to solve before you could turn each page. It was reading this book that I learned about stuff like Morse Code and CCTV and smugglers. The whole story is surprisingly still fresh in my memory, and I have a huge amount of affection for it.
What do your fans mean to you?
They keep me cool during summer.

… This is why I am not a humour writer.

I’ve been really fortunate to have some dedicated readers to some of my work over the years, especially some online writing I posted as a teenager. For me, the reward of writing is not the money (if there is any around to scrounge up, anyway) but the feedback from readers. To post a new chapter and have people drop everything – their own writing, their exam study – to read it is a very cool feeling. To have people react to your story, characters, plot twists and cliffhangers with delight, excitement, disgust, sorrow and rage is a unique perk of being a creative artist and I love it.

I do hope to build a sustainable career as a novelist and writer, but what I really hope is to produce stories that readers connect with and cherish. What an amazing job.
Published 2017-09-05.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Black Flower
Price: Free! Words: 7,290. Language: English. Published: July 17, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Literary, Fiction » Young adult or teen » Drama
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.
The Scroll of Isidor
Price: Free! Words: 9,720. Language: English. Published: March 6, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Epic, Fiction » Fantasy » Short stories
Levin Ruck was once a great warrior mage, but in peacetime he serves as Deputy Chief of Dervine Village. When orchard keeper Desma brings news of trouble in the mountains, Lev knows the time for action has come again, but with the Chief refusing to act, Lev and Desma must defy orders to investigate. What they discover is a deadly threat – and they are Dervine's first and only line of defence.
A Man
Price: Free! Words: 3,050. Language: English. Published: January 4, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Literary
Sam is a labourer, and like most working men, he doesn’t like to talk that much. If he does, it’s shouting instructions on the job or talking shit with his mates about sport, cars, women and dirty jokes. But there’s a lot going on in Sam’s head - about his job, his girlfriend, and his stagnant life - that he doesn’t share with anyone.