From statistician to writer – SJI Holliday shares her journey
Susi ‘SJI’ Holliday is a short-story writer of quirky and often dark short stories. She’s the winner of various online competitions, managing to write in addition to her daily job as a statistician. The combination of the mathematical and lyrical finds expression in the spreadsheets she keeps for the 1001 ideas she has during the day.
Holliday grew up just outside Edinburgh. Her first job was in Dublin but she then quickly moved to London. It took Holliday a while to turn writing into anything more than a childhood ambition; reifying her imagination seemed an unrealistic career ambition.
“I’ve read thousands of books and my mum used to read a lot of crime and horror, and other dark stuff. She used to have a cupboard full of books with horrible fronts on them that used to freak me out as a kid, and then I started reading them and just got hooked,” said Holliday. “I always thought I would do an English degree but for some reason I never thought about being a writer as a career. I didn’t think that was a valid job and ended up doing a degree in microbiology. After some consideration then I done a masters in stats and got a job in a pharmaceutical company and have been doing that since 1998.”
It wasn’t until 2006 when traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway that Holliday was inspired to write again. Soon after that trip, she went back to a local writing club to remember what she had learnt at school and things progressed from there.
The process hasn’t been easy. She recalls a formative experience four years ago which gave her the belief to continue punctuating her day with the splattering of her imagination.
“I think the first time I got this support was when I read something out loud in a writing class,” said Holliday. “It was a short 300-words exercise about this guy called Mr Parker, who was a psycho that killed his wife. It was all very subtly done; he’s an old man and at the end you find out that his wife is stuffed – he’s into taxidermy and he’s got loads of stuffed animals in his house. There was a stunned silence at the end of it then they all said, ‘Wow, that was brilliant!’ Although it was a nerve racking thing to do, to read in class like that, it gave me the belief that I can do something with this. I’ve had a lot of encouragement from my networks, my family and friends.”
Holliday also spends time networking on social media to meet and exchange with other writers.
“There are loads of people doing what I’m doing,” said Holliday. “I’m networking and meeting people through Twitter, Facebook and that sort of thing. People like that have really supported me because I’ve read things that they’ve written, compared it to mine and thought, actually, my stuff is alright!”
Now Holliday is really getting going and is slightly worried that she might not meet her own expectations.
“I try and look upon it as a hobby, to keep enjoying it,” she says. But as with every writer, she would love to get published and maybe one day make a living off of her stories.
Holliday is a nocturnal writer, which is in keeping with the tone of her pieces – the darkness and twists in her writing have a haunting pull. However, she also rummages through her commutes to work for inspiration.
“The metro’s really good for picking up story ideas,” said Holliday. “I used to write a lot of stories while getting the train to work. I find that if I sit and try to think of stories that it’s hard but generally if I go out for a walk or drive to work, things come to me. I’ve resorted to recording myself in the car because I can’t text; I dictate things to myself as I drive.”
Holliday’s ability to twist her average daily experiences into wonderful characters is exciting to read – and a relief, as one would not want to cross the fringe personalities she produces in real life. One such character is the femme-fatal in Holliday’s short story titled Careers Advice:
‘So I was thinking of becoming a serial killer,’ she said.
The man on the other side of the desk nodded and took a noisy slurp of his tea. ‘Mmm hmm,’ he said. ‘Do you have any experience?’
‘I’ve killed small animals,’ she said. ‘Frogs, mostly. I suffocate them in jars then cut them into pieces with a kitchen knife.’
He looked across at her, pushed up his glasses and nodded again.
She continued: ‘I’ve mostly worked in cafes. I’ve never stayed in one place more than a month. I get bored easily.’
He smiled, showing off his yellow teeth. ‘High IQ?’ he said, scribbling on his pad.
‘180,’ she said. She crossed her legs and started bouncing her dangling foot. ‘I didn’t do well at school though… teachers said I was disruptive.’
He was writing quickly now. ‘How do you get on with your family?’ he said.
‘I don’t talk to those… people. My mother refused to believe me…’
‘Of course,’ he said. ‘Alcohol..? Drugs..? Abuse..?’
She nodded and sighed. ‘The full set,’ she said.
‘Excuse me a sec,’ he bent down and pulled an A4 file from somewhere below his desk. He flicked through some pages, held it open with a thumb. ‘What about fires?’ he said.
She grinned at him, feeling hopeful again. ‘I burnt down my primary school.’
His shoulders shook with laughter. ‘You don’t fit the demographic,’ he said.
Her face fell. ‘But why?’
‘You realise that 90% of serial killers are male?’
‘Yes… but, that leaves 10%…’
He held the file out towards her, his hand was grubby. ‘Read it,’ he said. He paused to scratch his head and the musty smell of unwashed hair wafted across the desk. ‘Have you ever tried to, or even thought about killing yourself?’
‘Well, not yet, but…’
He shook his head and started to laugh again. He was on the verge of a convulsion. ‘You’re not really what we’re looking for,’ he said. ‘Sorry.’ He snapped the file shut.
She felt a fat tear roll down her cheek. ‘But it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,’ she said. Her shoulders drooped and she sniffed, wiped her nose delicately on a tissue.
He looked her up and down, took in the smart black dress and the neat blonde hair. He took another slurp of tea, said: ‘Have you considered hairdressing, love?’
For more short stories: www.sjiholliday.com