Holly Kench is a writer and a feminist, with a classics degree and a fear of spiders. She lives in Tasmania, Australia, where a lack of sun provides ample opportunity for hiding indoors and writing off-kilter stories. Holly writes about her life as a stuffed olive on her blog Confessions of a Stuffed Olive and manages the website Visibility Fiction, promoting and publishing inclusive young adult fiction.
I am a huge fan of your cartoons! When did you first start creating them, and can you tell us a bit about the process involved?
Thank you, David!
I started creating my cartoons nearly three years ago when I first decided to start taking my writing seriously (more than writing only for myself and friends). I wrote a few stories and put them on my blog, but they seemed really boring without pictures (because I have the maturity of a 3 year old and the attention span of a dead goldfish) so I decided to illustrate them with stick figures, and it snowballed from there. At some point the illustrations kind of took over…
My process? You make it sound like these things are the result of some kind of forethought. Typically each comic or story begins with me experiencing some socially awkward event, or remembering some mortifying childhood experience. Then I write. All my posts begin as text – usually long rambles written at 3am. Often by the time I finish writing, I realise I can say the same thing with more punch if I delete all the words and just draw a few sad looking stick figures. Of course, words are my enduring love, so a lot of the time the fun for me comes from crafting those rambles. The luxury of my Olive cartoons is that I can pick and choose whether I want to create a short comic or a short story, and can use supplementary stick figures to give my stories another dimension.
I create all my Olive pictures in MS Paint and maintain that it is the best graphics program since, well, MacPaint. Once I’ve added in the pictures, I hit ‘publish’ before I can think about it too long and chicken out.
You have a story in the upcoming YA anthology from Twelfth Planet Press, Kaleidoscope, alongside an amazing range of YA authors. What inspired you to write your story, and why did that anthology in particular appeal?
I was so excited when I first heard about Kaleidoscope. I’ve been a fan of Julia Rios, via The Outer Alliance Podcast, and Alisa Krasnostein, via the Galactic Suburbia Podcast and Twelfth Planet Press, for quite a while. Both their podcasts are on my must-listen list. So when I heard they had teamed up to create an anthology with a theme that basically summarised everything I was dying to see in fiction… well, I happy-freaked out.
I didn’t have to read the planned table of contents to know this was going to be a fantastic anthology. Then when I did discover the amazing authors they had included… I mean, what can I say? I just feel so lucky to be involved.
My fan-girling for Alisa, Julia and the rest of the Kaleidoscope authors aside, the theme ofKaleidoscope is something I feel very passionately about. I’ve written quite a bit in the past about the need for more diversity in fiction and it was clear from Alisa and Julia’s initial posts about the anthology that they were coming from a very similar perspective to my reasons behind starting Visibility Fiction.
My story “Every Little Thing” was loosely inspired by a novel I wrote (but never quite finished) a few years ago. Even though I eventually put that novel in the drawer-of-doomed-manuscripts, one of the secondary characters really stuck with me. When I read the submission call forKaleidoscope, that character came straight to mind and I knew I had to tell a story from her perspective – though Mandy ended up being significantly modified from her original being. I can’t tell you how happy I am to have her story included in Kaleidoscope. I hope people like it.
You manage the site visibilityfiction.com. What is the site’s mission, and where do you see it going in the future?
As I mentioned, Visibility Fiction’s mission coincides a lot with that of the Kaleidoscope anthology. We publish and promote young adult fiction with protagonists from diverse backgrounds. Our aim is to create a space where people can access free, positive stories about diverse characters, and to address the imbalance of representation in fiction, which tends to focus on straight, white, cis, able (etc) characters.
When I first started the site, I had just finished some university work focusing on LGBT representations in teen culture (comparing the representation of the closet in Buffy and Pretty Little Liars – heh), but I soon realised that the lack of LGBT characters in TV, film and fiction was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to missing representations.
I also realised that no matter how much I wrote about the current imbalances in character representations, if I wanted to really commit to seeing change, I needed to actively address the problem from within fiction. I began writing more diverse stories, but I also realised there were so many experiences that I could not even fathom. I decided there needed to be more spaces where people could access diverse stories from diverse voices, and spaces that promoted inclusive fiction in all its forms. So I made one.
My dream for the future is to be able to offer pro-payments to authors. I want to see more stories and a wider range of authors on the site. I’m very fussy about the stories we publish, in terms of the writing and the nature of the diversity presented. We have some fantastic stories up there and I’d like to see more. A pro-payment would help with this, but I also think it’s only fair for authors to receive that kind of compensation for their work. We run on donations, though, so our budget is fairly restricted.
Looking even further down the track than that, I’d love for the site to eventually become obsolete. I want to get to the point where diversity in fiction isn’t something we have to search for and actively promote, but where diversity in fiction goes hand in hand with fiction itself. I think that would be amazing.
What Australian works have you loved recently?
I fell into a steampunk spiral a little while ago and haven’t quite managed to pull myself out. There’s a lot more of it out there this year than in the past, both adult and YA, and this is both good and bad – good because it feeds my obsession, and bad because it’s beginning to get to that point where finding the good stuff amongst the rubbish can be a bit of a chore. That said, Australian author Bec McMaster totally brings the good stuff. I’m currently reading My Lady Quicksilver, which is the third in her London Steampunk series. These are some of the most addictive books I’ve read in a while, but a word of warning, they are VERY high on the steam scale of romance, so not for those who squirm at a bit of sexy times in their fiction. There’s a great overarching intrigue plot as well, and some of the best steampunk world building I’ve read.
Getting away from steampunk for a bit, I’ve also just started Nina D’Aleo’s The Whitelist. Last year I really enjoyed Nina D’Aleo’s The Last City, which was all fabulous characters and an amazing world. She has a very unique way of writing that really appeals to me and is very captivating, so I’m excited to be starting another of her novels.
Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
I only read digital content these days, so the increase in the availability of digital content has hugely influenced my access to reading material. I love ebooks and I’m also a complete audiobook addict. I don’t remember how I functioned before audiobooks. I don’t even want to think about it. I’m also a big fan of libraries, and despite what some of the end-is-nigh paper book fanatics might say, the wonderful thing about libraries these days is the way they are adapting to provide more and more digital content (including audiobooks). Libraries are a good example of how previous models of book consumption can be adapted to make the most of the digital world, while still providing spaces that are all about book love. Seriously, guys, hug your librarian!
I think outlets for digital publications have also made it possible for more diverse and interesting fiction to be published. Stories that previously might have failed to find a path to publication through traditional models now have more opportunity to find an audience, not only via self-publishing, but also through digital first publishers which seem to be more willing to take risks with less mainstream content. For example, I’ve been reading a few female superhero novels lately (The Masked Songbird by Emmie Mears, Sidekick by Auralee Wallace andScorched by Erica Hayes), all of which were released by digital first publishers, and I honestly have my doubts about whether some of these novels would have seen the light of day in the past.
As you can tell, I’m pretty positive about the way things are moving. There are definitely scary factors, but that’s the nature of transition, and I can see more good results from the new world of publishing than bad.
I have no idea what I’ll be publishing/writing/reading five years from now. Probably fiction, maybe some non-fiction. I can’t really say more than that.