My guest this week is Dan Holloway, who many of you already know as ALLi’s news editor who updates us on our blog and podcast with the latest news from the world of independent publishing. Who you may not know is Dan Holloway the advocate for the disabled, the power lifter, the ultramarathon runner, the writer of thrillers and poetry, and the expert in how to think creatively, which is the subject of his latest book. There’s more, but let’s let Dan tell you his story.
A couple of highlights from our interview:
On Powerlifting and ADHD
That’s incredibly helpful because one of the problems of ADHD, is you just have all of this adrenaline shooting you off in every single direction. And lifting is something that uses that adrenaline and gets it out of your system. So, there are a lot of powerlifters who are neurodivergent in one way or another.
The thing that I’ve always enjoyed doing is communicating ideas. In particular, communicating to people that it’s okay to be on the outside, and communicating to people who are on the inside of anything, that what’s outside is almost certainly more interesting and more useful and more exciting than anything they’ve got on the inside.
Listen to My Interview With Dan Holloway
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last six years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcript of My Interview With Dan Holloway
Howard Lovy: I’m Howard Lovy and you’re listening to Inspirational Indie Authors.
Every week, I feature a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors to find out what inspires them and how they are an inspiration to other authors.
My guest this week is Dan Holloway, who many of you already know is ALLi’s news editor who updates us on our blog and podcasts with the latest news from the world of independent publishing.
What you may not know is, Dan Holloway, the advocate for the disabled, the powerlifter, the ultra-marathon runner, the writer of thrillers and poetry, and the expert in how to think creatively, which is the subject of his latest book. There’s more, but I’ll let Dan tell you his story.
Dan Holloway: Hi, I’m Dan Holloway. I’m the news editor for the Alliance of Independent Authors.
I write thrillers, literary fiction, and at the moment I’m working on creative nonfiction, and I’m also a performance poet. I do quite a lot of advocacy for mental health and I obviously do quite a lot through the Alliance of Independent Authors, trying to bring information to authors, especially trying to educate authors on technology and on the delights and intricacies of tax law and copyright law, as anyone who’s read the column that comes out every Wednesday will know. I will probably leave anything else to Howard to ask me, or we’ll be here all year.
Howard Lovy: The thing to know about Dan first is that he has attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
But that isn’t just a diagnosis. It can also describe his work and the way he lives his life. He does so many things at the same time that to tell a linear, chronological story about Dan would not get all the symphonic nuance, but we’ll try. First, his childhood.
Dan Holloway: When I was six years old, I got home from school one day, and my mother said to me that she she’d met someone, or she’d been accosted by someone on the street, who was clearly a scam artist, but when you’re six you don’t realize that, who told her all this stuff about her child and said, your child’s going to grow up and make a fortune with pen and ink, was how the person put it.
So, my mother interpreted that as that I was going to be a writer. For at least the first 10 years of my life, I interpreted that to mean I was going to be a stationery magnate. And I still like stationery as much as I like writing, but sadly, I don’t think I am a magnate either at writing or at stationery.
I grew up in the South of England, the South West, first of all in Wiltshire, and then mainly in Stroud. In the UK, it’s the national hub of the performance poetry scene, which I only found out long after I left. And one of the kids I was in primary school with, that I sat next to in primary school, turned that out to be the son of the person who introduced the first poetry slam to the UK. Again, something I had no idea of at the time and only found out about 30 years after that, when I caught back up with his father at a poetry festival.
Stroud is also famous for being the first place in the UK to run a non-cash-based economy, and it has a massive folk festival. So, it’s basically hippie paradise.
I imagine it’s a bit like somewhere like Big Sur, or one of those places that you read about in Kerouac.
Howard Lovy: Already you can see that what draws Dan’s attention is not the mainstream, but the outsider. He remembers his childhood through the lens of his later life—when things like poetry slams and alternative economies and even influence from the beat poets are part of Dan’s DNA. Also, part of Dan’s composition is a love for numbers, which led to a rather unusual interview to get into Oxford University.
Dan Holloway: I started off studying classics at Oxford, but I had a very strange interview for university. I’d put down on my application form that I wanted to breed racehorses. I loved maths, and one of the things I’ve always been fascinated by is the maths of horse racing and, in particular, breeding lines in horse racing.
So, I said on my application form I wanted to breed racehorses. So, that led us into a long conversation about why on earth I wanted to take a classics degree in order to breed racehorses. And I think they were slightly bemused by me and so I got in, because they didn’t want to be the ones who turned me down, if I turned out to be anything.
So, yes, I think it was more curiosity than anything else that got me into university. It turned out I wasn’t any good at classics, I came bottom of my year in my first exams and very quickly changed to theology and philosophy, which was a much better fit, and I ended up coming top of my year in final exams.
So, yeah, I stuck with the theology and the philosophy, and then did another, basically 10 years, of studying that.
Howard Lovy: Why study philosophy and theology? It’s because he got to feed his restlessness by studying a little bit of everything, from history to sociology, to literary criticism and interpretation. Dan’s university life was multifaceted.
It’s where he gained his lifelong love for sports, such as power lifting, and developed his love for ideas, especially ones that allow his active creative mind to make connections that nobody else was making.
But Dan’s active mind also came with a mirror opposite.
Dan has bipolar disorder and it hit him hard at the end of his university career. So badly that he had to drop out.
Dan Holloway: I’m bipolar, that’s the mental health aspect. And then obviously, as you know, I’m ADHD and dyspraxic is the neurodivergent aspect, which is lifelong and almost certainly contributed to, or not being able to handle that at university, contributed to the breakdown. Everything went wrong and it sort of put an end to a whole chunk of life and ruled out ever doing anything again. Because one of the problems with a prolonged period of poor mental health is that you end up in financial trouble very quickly.
That then follows through, so that means I was never able to finish my doctorate. I have never been able to take time away from work to do that, or anything else. So, life then becomes catchup thereafter.
Howard Lovy: So, I want to dwell, just a little more, on Dan’s mind because nature has a very peculiar way sometimes of producing genius. The very thing that makes Dan such a creative force in the world, somebody who is so good at so many things, is also a form of mental illness that makes him unable to function like others do. I’ll let Dan explain.
Dan Holloway: With ADHD, it goes with wanting a degree that’s really interdisciplinary, for example. So, the need for stimulation and for darting around, and the inability to work in a linear fashion. So that meant that I was very, very good at a degree where you were doing something new every week. And not so good at following the procedures that went around that, and it’s still something I struggle with, anything to do with following steps.
So, you’ve probably come across the making a cup of tea experiment. In terms of systems and programming, where someone says, write down all the steps involved in making a cup of tea and people have to write down in sequence what all those steps are.
They don’t realize how many steps are actually involved in making a cup of tea. Whereas, in many neurodivergent minds, if you have a problem with executive functioning, there is no elision. So, things that feel to some people, so it’s all just one process are actually broken down into the thousands of tiny steps that make that up.
And you have to be aware of every single one of those steps in sequence and, it’s exhausting, and almost impossible. So, it’s as though the whole world, both from a sensory and a conceptual and an experiential point of view, has become arpeggiated. So, nothing in life is a chord, everything is each separate note.
Howard Lovy: That was the end of Dan’s university career, but he found that physical exercise helps put him in the right frame of mind. So, he went to work in a carpet factory, which helped improve his mood. Powerlifting is one of his lifelong passions, he said, and lifting heavy rolls of carpet was wonderful.
Dan Holloway: It uses up adrenaline as well. That’s incredibly helpful because one of the problems of ADHD, is you just have all of this adrenaline shooting you off in every single direction. And lifting is something that uses that adrenaline and gets it out of your system. So, there are a lot of powerlifters who are neurodivergent in one way or another.
Howard Lovy: And Dan says it needs to be something extreme. He’s also an ultra-marathon runner. So, here’s Dan doing a lot of heavy lifting in the carpet warehouse, and to his disappointment, he was actually promoted to the carpet showroom. No more heavy lifting. But it did mean he had a lunch hour, and that is when Dan began to write.
So, what would a carpet salesman possibly write about? Well, crime thrillers, of course. And here’s where Dan, and maybe I, have to be a little careful about what we say.
Dan Holloway: I’ve got to be very careful about this. I worked in, shall we say it was a very traditional family business, in a small village. And anyone who has worked in a very traditional family business in a small village will know that they are hotbeds of intrigue and, walk the line, is a polite way of putting it. So, that combined with a natural love of thrillers meant that it was very easy to spend my lunch times writing a chapter of a thriller a day.
Howard Lovy: But he didn’t write about the carpet business. Instead, it was a thriller set in his old stomping grounds at Oxford University. Think Inspector Morse. And yes, that famous detective show does not exaggerate too much. Oxford University really is a hotbed of crime and intrigue. Dan said an old Oxford bridge partner in fact, was stabbed to death in an altercation over a first edition of The Wind in the Willows.
Dan Holloway: Which is about as Oxford as you can possibly get when it comes to murder.
Howard Lovy: So, Dan Holloway is selling carpets by day, writing thrillers during his lunch hour, and the next step was publishing.
So, he got together with a few friends and they helped each other self-publish.
Dan Holloway: We self-published together, and then we went on and, those of us who were in the UK did live events together. And that was sort of how I got into self-publishing. It was very unpopular, and I liked the fact that it was unpopular. It wasn’t the cool thing to do. No one was making a lot of money out of it back then. So, it was much more like the beatnik scene again in the sixties. So, it was much more like just rolling zines off your Xerox roller than it was like this glossy machine that you’ve got nowadays. It was more like pamphleteering and that appealed.
Howard Lovy: What also appealed to Dan was performing his work live.
Dan Holloway: I started off reading prose and then, through the performance scene, I got into poetry. We were very lucky. One of our group used to be an accountant for the music industry for an indie label. I don’t know if you know, Rough Trade Records? They might not be a big thing in America, but they were one of the big independent labels in the UK, in the seventies.
We got our first big gig at the headquarters of Rough Trade in Brick Lane, which was really fabulous. And I got to meet lots of people in the poetry scene through that. And, Oxford is home to the second oldest poetry slam in the UK. So, I ended up going along to that, discovering that poetry was even more fun doing it live.
Howard Lovy: Dan is back at Oxford University now, working as an administrator, but more importantly, he is using his position there to get involved in mental health advocacy, among other things.
Dan Holloway: I’ve managed to inveigle my way into various other things. Obviously, I do a lot of activism, a lot of mental health advocacy.
I’m part of a future thinking network, which is really exciting. So that’s the research network that I’ve managed to get into and be part of, so that my research keeps going a little bit. So, that’s where I look at narratives around the future and also, I have gotten involved with the innovation community in the university.
My interest is in the way that narratives of utopia include and exclude people. Not narratives of utopia in a fictional sense, but the narratives that we use in the political arena and everyday sense. So, when you talk about your ideal world, the world you want to end up living in; the features of that world that mean that other people can or can’t live there with you, which is a really interesting intersection. On the one hand with the activist work, because it’s amazing how many utopias don’t feature disabled people, and on the other hand with my historical, theological work from years and years ago. I did a lot of work on Puritans and obviously Puritans thought a lot about the future, the whole millenarian movements.
So yeah, I’m interested in the way, if we want to include people in society, how we can use narratives, even the most basic narrative to help to do that.
Howard Lovy: This work on behalf of the disabled sometimes rubs up against his left-wing upbringing. Because environmental activists do not always think of how a world without cars, for example, would work for a disabled person.
But it’s this dissonance in his work that appeals to Dan. It keeps his attention that is constantly moving and changing like the beat poetry he enjoys.
Dan goes into workplaces and trains them in how to make them more inclusive. He goes into banks and teaches them how to invest money in organizations that help the disabled. Dan has taken his own painful experiences and is using them to create a more inclusive world for everybody.
It all comes down to one word, creativity, which is something that has defined his life and is the subject of his latest book.
Dan Holloway: I got into creativity through Carl Sagan, is probably the best way of putting it. I was a kid at the time that Cosmos came out first time round, and that was just the best thing ever. And I was given the book for Christmas the year it came out and I read through it all in a day, and it was like, this is what I want to do.
This sort of very imaginative, creative, nonfiction way of looking at the world differently and then of communicating the world. And then I got into competitive creative thinking in the late 1990s, and that stayed with me ever since. So, I go, and I compete in the creative thinking world championships.
I’ve managed to win three times in the last four years. Using creativity almost like a way of reprogramming the brain. So, my doctorate had a lot of work on early modern memory systems through the Puritans and through competing, I’ve got to know people who work in the neuroscience of creativity and memory and mind sports, and that sort of comes together with trying to come up with a way of training people to do the things that put the mind in a state where it can be more creative.
So, in particular, using the dopamine system to turn off the frontal parts of our brains, there’s some really great experiments with jazz musicians and battle rappers, where they put people in an MRI scanner and told them to start improvising. And as soon as they start improvising the frontal parts of their brains switch off, the motor cortex takes over. So, everything becomes automatic.
The principle behind that is we are at our most creative when we’re not thinking about what we’re doing, but it’s really hard not to think about what we’re doing, because we’re always told to judge our actions as we go along and judge our ideas as we go along.
Howard Lovy: The goal, Dan says, is not to understand his own brain. It’s more important to learn how to make connections to others.
Dan Holloway: I think it’s more trying to use how my own brain works, rather than study it. One of the chapters in the creativity book is, why it’s not useful to ask questions about yourself. I’m trying to get people to think about the world and to learn things, not so that you can recall them, but so that you can use them.
It’s really unhelpful to ask questions about the world as, what do I think about this is? It’s much more helpful if you’re looking for connections and ways to use the world to try and say, what do other people say about this?
Howard Lovy: From creativity to speed reading and yes, Dan Holloway is a two-time European speed-reading champion, the connecting tissue of his life and work is communication, that, and to keep the attitude of an outsider.
Dan has been an outsider all his life and that is where he would like to stay.
Dan Holloway: Communication, I think, is the real thing. The thing that I’ve always enjoyed doing is communicating ideas. In particular, communicating to people that it’s okay to be on the outside, and communicating to people who are on the inside of anything, that what’s outside is almost certainly more interesting and more useful and more exciting than anything they’ve got on the inside.
In the old days, that was self-publishing, but nowadays one of the things that’s always bothered me is this desperate desire for self-publishing to be more like traditional publishing, and to turn everything into a business.
We’ve lost the punk. It’s punkifying it, is what I try and remind people, that there are all sorts of different ways to do things.