I'm so excited that Kathy Hoyle has agreed to be part of my People & Books blog. I've been following Kathy's writing activities online for some time. She likes to explore flash and short fiction, and her awards prove she has a talent for this genre, but what I also find interesting about Kathy's work is that she's involved in activities to encourage new and emerging writers. Kathy has a BA (hons) and an MA in Creative Writing, and has just started a PhD at the University of Leicester. She tells us here how she arrived at this point.
Who/What inspired you to begin writing?
My nanna was the greatest storyteller. When I was very young, she would put me to bed and tell me stories until I fell asleep. My mam also introduced me to books at a very young age, and I could certainly read by the time I started school because of her. My favourite place as a child was the library bus! I never actually thought of becoming a writer until I was forty, when I saw an advertisement for the Open University. One of the courses was creative writing and I’d just had my youngest daughter. I wanted to fill some time while I was at home, so I signed up! The rest is history, as they say.
Which authors do you admire?
I love short stories and short fiction and admire writers such as Ali Smith, Owen Booth, Lisa Blower, Leone Ross, Sarah Hall, Mike Fox, Wendy Erskine, Saba Sams and Emily Devane. Lately, I’ve been reading lots of working-class short stories for my PhD and I’m enjoying discovering new and diverse writers. In the flash world, I really enjoy the work of Cathy Ulrich, Francine Witte, Nancy Stohlman, Gaynor Jones and of course Kathy Fish. I also think Kit de Waal is a wonderful writer and I've always loved Marian Keyes.
Have you been influenced by any particular books you've read?
I’ve read hundreds of books so I couldn’t possibly choose just one! It would be like asking to choose my favourite child!
What do you enjoy most about writing?
Escapism, catharsis, philosophy, exploration, imagination! What’s not to love? Writing for me is a form of freedom. I can use it to travel, to meditate, to figure out problems, to find understanding, to have fun, to learn, to create! I always say writers are so lucky to have this incredibly special gift, one we can use on a daily basis. I found great joy and solace in reading when I was younger and now I hope I can create something that might have the same effect on others.
You fly the flag for short stories and flash fiction. What interests you about these formats?
I love the brevity of short fiction. When a flash is written well, it’s sublime. It’s a real skill to pack a full story into under 500 words without compromising plot or character development. It took me a long while to really get to grips with flash but I’ve loved the learning curve.
Similarly, short fiction can take the reader’s breath away when done well. The skill is knowing what to leave off the page – something I’m still trying to master. I love that short fiction can be read again and again and you will still find something new in the same story! Short stories always seem so full of energy. I think, as I've got older, I have less patience for novels. I prefer the urgency of short fiction.
How would you describe your current body of work?
I’ve spent the last few years absorbed in flash and am only just starting to diversify into writing longer pieces, although certainly they all still fall under the umbrella of ‘short fiction’. I don’t really have a specific narrative voice in flash. You can explore all kinds of themes, points of view, characters and so on, so my stories are eclectic and yet somehow they do all tend to be a bit dark! My muse is a bit of a sour puss, maybe because in real life I’m always nauseatingly upbeat and jolly! My short fiction pieces are much more closely linked. They’re all set in the North East with a very distinctive setting and vernacular.
Where has your work been published?
I’m lucky that my work has found homes in a variety of literary magazines such as Lunate, Ellipsiszine, The Forge, Emerge Literary Journal, Northern Gravy and The South Florida Poetry Journal. I also have flash published via the Reflex Fiction website, as part of their longlist selection.
I was the winner of the 2022 Bath Flash Fiction Award and you can read my winning story here, I also won the Retreat West Flash Fiction Award which you can read here. Other stories have appeared in anthologies such as MAINSTREAM, SNOW CROW and BEACHED.
photo by Trust Tru Katsande @ Unsplash
Do you explore other formats e.g. poetry, graphic novels?
I’m in awe of poets. I think the technical skills required to write good poetry are beyond anything I could manage, but I do read some now and again. I like to listen to slam poetry – I think that’s a wonderfully vibrant scene.
What inspires you when planning new ideas?
Craggy coastlines, the sea, lighthouses – I love seascapes! Also, people. I people-watch all the time and I’m always curious about other people’s stories and experiences. I often take real life events, something I’ve seen on the news or an experience either I’ve had or someone I know has had and then fictionalize it. I’m a magpie writer. I steal bits and bobs of real life and use them as starting points.
photo by Paulius Dragunas @ Unsplash photo by Pierre Guerin @ Unsplash
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m studying for a PhD in Creative Writing and my research involves delving into the working-class voices of the North East (where I grew up) and it’s such a joy to be able to do this! I’m hoping to have a complete collection of short stories when I’m done – oh and a doctorate, of course!
What are your future writing plans?
At the moment, I’m not thinking beyond my short fiction collection, interspersed with writing and teaching flash. One day there may a novel, but it will be many moons from now!
Do you have any particular writing habits or routines?
I have to write when my youngest is at school as, in a rather diva-like way, I need complete silence. So, no coffee shops or playlists for me. I write in bed, in a very dark room, even though I have a desk. It’s stupidly bad for the back but I just seem to be able to get into the best writing headspace when I’m in my bed-den . Not very professional at all but works for me!
Do you support other authors and encourage writing opportunities for them?
I’m lucky to work with Writers HQ which has a brilliant writing community. We have novelists, poets, short fiction writers, scriptwriters , academics etc., so it’s wonderful to be surrounded by so many creative people. I host the regular weekly Flash Face Off event where we encourage new writers to come and explore the world of flash fiction. Writers submit 500 words based on a different prompt each week and then, on Friday nights, we have live readings. It’s fun and free. I’m always encouraging our flashers to send out their work and often provide them with a list of opportunities. Many of them have gone on to have a whole list of publications and have won major competition prizes.
Do you have any tips for new writers?
It’s a cliché, but read widely. Read the genre you’re interested in and then read outside of that genre. Learn from others but try not mimic. Be your original self and don’t worry at all about if people will ‘like’ your work or not. Authentic writing, from the heart and gut, will ALWAYS be well received. Start slowly. Start with flash and short fiction. This teaches you how to edit carefully and get rid of extraneous words and sentences, then move on to novels. Find support – a writing group or community (like Writer’s HQ), and be resilient and determined. Learning how to take rejection is key to progression as a writer.
Most of all enjoy it, be playful and excited by your stories. Always bring the energy to the page.