Hilda Lolly Is The Lady ‘In the Know’.
For those who know her, Hilda Lolly may be a vision of robust handbags and loose leaf tea, but there are hidden depths to her genteel exterior. Her first public appearance began a few years ago when she planted both well-shod feet into electronic media with her website and first ‘ramblings’ blog, serving up advice in line with her unique lifestyle. She also has her own twitter feed @HildaLolly and Facebook page.
Hilda’s first book of short stories Gracious Lies has been produced not only as an e-book, but also as an audiobook. The wonderful performances of Anne Reid and Joanna David bring out the full flavour of stories which appear to begin in an unremarkable or idyllic setting, but something sinister or untoward is never far away.
How did you become a writer?
I come from a long line of diarists. My grandmother, in particular, was a very strong influence. She had the most delightful handwriting and I’d love to watch her pen swish about the page as she sat hunched over her Charles Letts. She hated me watching, of course; said that diaries were private and jabbed me with the pen more than once, but I kept going back. I was hooked. I wanted a diary of my own. Fast-forward many decades and a young relative of mine (I won’t name names) suggested that I get myself a blog, and as someone who likes to dive into unknown waters, albeit with a nose-clip, I decided to go the whole hog and get myself a website, too. I dip into Twitter and Facebook every now and again, and find it enjoyable. I’ve met (or rather tweeted and facebooked) some lovely people, not least the publishers of Gracious Lies who, I must say, have been extraordinarily kind and patient with me. Firm – when required – but always very chipper with it. I like that in people.
Many people would like to write, but just can’t get over the initial part of sitting down and getting on with it. Or they look at what they’ve written and feel it’s not very good. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Start small and work your way up. I keep a notebook on the go and love to jot little things down. I think that’s important. There’s nothing more quickly forgotten than a good idea, so you should always be ready to whip out a pencil and paper (or electronic device) when inspiration comes. I think a blog is a marvellous way to get your writing out there and you can write as much or as little about anything you like. The key is to enjoy it. Yes, it’s natural to be critical about your own work, but see what other people think; you never want to take too much notice of yourself. When it comes to the sitting down part, you must think of practicalities. Make it a pleasure. I’ve got a nice little desk with turned legs that’s always a delight to slip my pins under. Again, it’s about enjoyment. I’m for all for anything pleasurable.
Why did you decide to write short stories rather than a novel?
I’ve always enjoyed short stories. One of the perils of being very active is that I don’t always have time to curl up with a meaty volume. I tend to peck away at books, grabbing bits when I can. With a novel, I often have trouble getting back in, if I’ve left it a while. With a short story, it’s a bit easier. I can peck away at a short story in a relatively modest amount of time.
What do you think makes a successful short story?
Goodness! Well, I certainly know the type of short story I prefer, and I’m tricky to please on a good day. For me, they need to be rounded. I don’t like to be left dangling and I’m not averse to something outré on occasion either. Patricia Highsmith, for example; weird but lovely. I suppose a good short story should hook you early on and, by close of business, make you wish it had been a bit longer. That’s what I attempted with mine anyway – it seemed like the sensible thing to do.
Your style of writing requires a good grasp of the complex dynamics of the story. Like comic timing, if it’s not delivered properly it will fall flat. Do you work the plot of the story out in its entirety before you start writing, or does it evolve as you go along?
A bit of both. I like to know where I’m going with things, so I’ll have some basic plot points and a definite idea of what should be at the beginning, middle and end. For filling in the gaps I prefer to let my mind and fingers wander. The only slight snag is that I’m a self-confessed rambler, so I have to be strict with myself on occasion and prune back if needed. There was one particular story in Gracious Lies that had an entirely superfluous character and even though I thought she was a hoot, she added nothing to the overall story. I’m saving her for a future project, so if a highly-strung dental nurse with a passion for lewd ceramics ever crops up in my future writings, you’ll know why.
Your writing harks back to an age in tune with Betjeman (‘Hunter trials’ comes to mind) and yet at the same time the stories seem embedded in today’s world. Why did you decide to write in this novel way?
I’m not sure it was a conscious decision. I think that’s just me generally – I hark back to a certain age, but I still have one foot in the present. Yes, I think there’s a definite whiff of ‘Hunter Trials’ in ‘Upper Rugless’, for example, and I’ve always admired the gracefulness of Betjeman’s writing. He’s doubtless one of my influences. Likewise Saki, perhaps my all-time favourite short story teller. His world was all haughty Duchesses, of course, but so beautifully written and captivating.
Do you think you had audio rather than the written word in mind when you wrote your stories, because the dialogues seem particularly appropriate for an actor to read?
I was thrilled when I found out they were going to be recorded for audio and it certainly makes you think about how it’s going to sound on the lips. I knew the dialogue would be important, especially with the element of performance you get from a good audiobook narrator.
And there are so many strong personalities in Gracious Lies. Those sorts of characters really come alive in the hands of a professional. I’m working on a little project at the moment – a special edition audio short story – and I’m enjoying collaborating with the narrator to produce something very harmonious in terms of story and voice.
Where do you think your writing career will take you now?
Well, I’m still writing my ramblings diary and my very popular advice column, Hilda Helps (I’ve been fully websited for years and I like to keep things fresh). As for fiction, I think a novel’s on the cards. It feels like the right move. It’ll probably take me a while, but that’s fine. I just enjoy sitting at my little desk and chuckling away at my own thoughts. I’ve got ideas brewing. All I can say is: watch this space, and feel free to pull up a chair.
Your blog is full of all sorts of goodies. Would you like to go through what delights readers can expect when they enter the world of Hilda Lolly?
Yes, it’s quite the treasure trove, isn’t it? Aside from my ramblings diary (I find the word ‘blog’ a little unpalatable) and advice column, there’s a selection of my poems, plus a whole heap of bits and bobs that are well worth an afternoon’s mouse clicking. A lot of the little illustrations that you’ll find peppered throughout are done by a very talented Canadian boy. I’ve never met him and, in fact, I’ve never been to Canada, but I hope to do both at some point if all parties are willing. Ooh, and I’m currently in the process of having a bit of a facelift (my website, not me) so that should be rearing its head sometime soon. I’m at this moment debating whether to stick to the beige colour scheme or plump for a much fresher eau de Nil. If anyone has a preference I’d certainly be interested. And I will, of course, be incorporating a ‘fiction’ section where I can put all my future bestsellers. Well, you’ve got to be prepared, haven’t you?