Expat Writer in Barcelona: Jeremy Holland
Jeremy Holland who wrote a book about Barcelona partly credits his success to living in a foreign land that has awaken all his senses and spurred his creativity.
Name: Jeremy Holland
Nationality: British - American
Title(s) of book: From Barcelona Vol. 1: Stories Behind The City
Date of book launch: Nov 2009
Why did you start writing?
To cut a long story short, I had a bit of a personal crisis back in 2000. I was suffering from the consequences of dropping out of university, bouncing from job to job, not finding anything I was good at or qualified for that paid a decent salary.
I'd always fancied myself a writer, but it was all talk then. Feeling a bit desperate at my situation, I wanted to know if I could actually start and finish something for once, so I decided to write a book and see it all the way through to the end of the submission process. Two years later it was roundly rejected by every agent and publisher, but I'd found writing was the only thing I truly enjoyed doing, so I wrote another novel.
Like most writers, I'm obviously a bit masochistic. And finally my fourth attempt paid off when From Barcelona was published by Native Spain.
What topics do you write about?
I've always written fiction but it's become less personal and more about other people, both real and imaginary. People say they have an element of reality to them, so they're obviously influenced by the world as it is and not as it should be.
My personal favourite to write, though, is a new twist on a known genre or theme. An example would be “CSI Barcelona” or “Running the Gauntlet.” For volume two, I found inspiration in el caganer, a figurine of a man squatting with his pants down placed in the nativity scenes of Catalunya. Combining that scatological image with Mary holding the baby Jesus without taking away from the power of the moment was definitely a challenge to write.
What do you like most about writing?
I like taking a random idea and creating an entertaining story out of it. The whole process, from sketching the plot to the editing and rewriting, stimulates me more than just about anything I've done. And when people I don't know say they enjoyed the story or relates to a character, it's a fantastic feeling of accomplishment that makes me want to keep at it.
Writing is a lonely occupation, do you find that difficult?
Not really. I actually find it harder to leave my office and face the world when I'm immersed in a story, sometimes even when I'm not. Luckily my wife keeps me from spending too much time in my head, but we don't have any axes in the house just in case I go too long pretending not to hear her.
How has living abroad influenced your work as a writer?
It has allowed me to dedicate more time to my craft and improve to the point where I could be published. But more than that, as a friend said, living abroad really awakens all the senses and stops you from being sedate.
As an outsider, it offers the chance to take in this strange place you now call home with a certain detachment, yet at the same time with a sense of wonder, which really spurs creativity. I highly recommend it, although I appreciate it's not for everybody.
Are writing classes / groups easy to find in the country you live in?
For a city with such a rich literary history, Barcelona doesn't have much of an expat writing community and what exists is quite insular and pseudo-intellectual. I know of a few authors by name and there are a couple of groups on Facebook with three members, but it's nothing like when Hemingway, Beckett and Miller were drinking, sharing stories and whoring in the great cities of Europe with no money.
Which writers have inspired you the most?
The list is long and varied. Dracula was the first book that really captured my imagination and I read a lot of Stephen King until It. Mysteries by Knut Hamsun was the book that made me want to be a writer. I recently bought Parrot and Oliver in America by Peter Carey which has been a delight and what real historical fiction should be.
What hurdles did you encounter when you were trying to gain more recognition as a writer?
I think the hardest thing is psychological, letting go and accepting that the book is good enough. It's not as perfect as I'd like it to be and I can't read it because I'll take a pen to paper for some editing, but it will always be like that with the stories I write. So the first thing is accepting that I'll never be satisfied with the final copy but it's still a worthy effort.
Self-promotion and marketing are as important as the book itself nowadays, so you have to believe in it, moles and all, in order to sell it. It feels somewhat like a job now, which is ironic because I became a writer in part to avoid that feeling. But if I want to continue on this path, it's what I have to do, even if I'd rather it be a monkey on the jacket cover than a picture of me.
How do you deal with rejection or harsh comments?
Sometimes it's warranted, sometimes not. I try not to take things personally and keep a sense of perspective. I've also found rejection and criticism are often good teachers. The first book I wrote didn't get past the query letter stage but by the fourth, the second person I contacted was willing to publish it.
A lot of it also has to do with the kind of comments. If someone says: “Loved the stories, but found some typos,” that's something which is embarrassing and disappointing but correctable. If someone says: “The stories were drivel and you have no talent,” that's different. So far I haven't had any of the latter, although I'm sure there's someone out there who feels that way.
What advice would you give to budding writers?
I think there are two classes: those who feel themselves to be and those who are. Normally, the first group might have the ability but there's something pathological holding them back from ever actually doing it. The problem is, writing is about self-discipline as much as creativity, so finish what you start and rewrite it twice would be my advice.
Then there are those who understand the cliche, “the real writing begins after the first draft.” A few may find instant success, but most likely you'll have to slowly make a name for yourself. It's not just about the story or how good the writing is but finding niches and marketing the book to them.
One of the reasons I wrote From Barcelona and came up with the idea of “city-lit” was to provide a possible template for aspiring authors living in other cities. We'll see how it works out. Maybe in two years there will be an explosion of “From...” books.
How do you see your future as a writer?
Hopefully my story telling will improve and my range will diversify. I'm just beginning on this journey so there's a lot of room from growth and I'm striving to become better.
Fortunately, there's been enough demand to start on volume two, so that's next and then I'd like to leave Barcelona behind as a topic. My goal has never been to be rich or famous, just make enough to buy the small house down the street and support my family.
Like with every other sector of the entertainment industry, though, publishing is going through a radical change. It's easier to be published and distribute but advances are harder to come by, so the question is: how to earn money in a crowded market when royalties are dollars and cents even at fifty percent?
Unfortunately, it's not just about being a writer anymore but building a business around your name and selling your services or expertise; the book is more like a brochure advertising you as the writer now.
Would you like to add anything that we haven’t addressed in the questionnaire?
Buy the book and feel free to send and email if you have any comments. But, remember: it's just entertainment. Likewise if you've got a great story you've written and want me to take a look, send it my way and I'll try and find the time to read it.
In this new series of Expatica interviews, we invite published expat writers to share their thoughts on how living abroad has affected their writing career. If you would like to fill out a questionnaire too, send an email with 'Please send me an Expat Writer in Spain questionnaire' in the subject line to editorES@expatica.com.
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