James Holden: Reflections on “Wardens”

‘One more thing, Miss White, I’m sure you’ll be okay, but if you have any bother with Mrs Randolph, please do let me know.’

In July 2012, my wife accepted a new job as the residential manager of a retirement complex in Enfield. Yes – residential manager – meaning that we would have to move into the on-site flat that came with the job.

We didn’t move in until two months later, and whilst we were waiting to move I wrote Wardens, which was included in the collection of short stories that we published last year. It tells the story of Kate who, in the aftermath of a breakup, moves into a retirement village, where nobody seems to know what happened to the previous manager. Along the way she has repeated run-ins with one of the residents, Mrs Randolph.

The story was in part based on the fears expressed by some people around us about what our lives would be like – always being on call, with our lives made miserable by a couple of domineering tenants. (It is at this point that I should stress that neither or these turned out to be true – we both love living there and think it’s the best move we could have made.)

But despite the cues the story took from my life, as a lot of my writing does, it was a really different piece of work for me in a couple of key ways. First of all was the length – the story clocks in at around 8,000 words, much longer than stories that I’d written before. Before then my stories tended to be around 2,000 words. With hindsight I guess that this is in part because prior to Wardens and the freedom that the First Story Collection would give, I was aiming to write for competitions with a word count limit of around 2,000 words. The collection provided an outlet for a much longer piece that I would struggle to place elsewhere.

Secondly, when I started writing Wardens I was doing so with a much more ambitious plot in mind. When I start to write I normally have a vague idea of where I want something to go, but tend not to do much planning on the basis that things can always be tidied up later. But the stories I had previously written tended to focus on scenarios that were much more rooted in a sort of domestic reality, such as the 2011 London riots, swinging parties or an actor on the student-union circuit. When I started writing Wardensm my intention was to write something with a focus on magic and witches, and although this didn’t materialise in the end, the plot was still based around a vague air of menace and mystery that I hadn’t previously attempted. There was a lot more plot than I would have normally included – this was in part a demand of the word count – but it did represent a very different type of story.

Wardens has given me the confidence to move beyond my comfort zone by branching out to try other forms of story beyond just writing about more conventional domestic concerns, and to write longer pieces of writing. Looking back at the story a year later I’m still pleased with it – there are a few tweaks that could be made and a couple of lines that I’d change, which is always going to be the case, and I wonder if the way the central plot unfolds could perhaps be made a little clearer or if there needs to be a little more at stake. But I think the story broadly does what it sets out to do – it creates a sense of mystery that drives the plot forward, whilst also looking at a power dynamic in a retirement complex between the manager and the residents.

And if you fancy a bit of a preview of Wardens, you can find the reading I did from the book’s launch here.


About James Holden

Brought up in Yorkshire, James has washed up on the shores of London. He spends his days working as a political geek. His short stories have previously been read by the Liars League.
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