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Mammoth Quiz Book

Mammoth Quiz Book

Nick Holt, master quiz writer and landlord of the Stag Inn, talks to Angela J. Phillip about writing and running quizzes – and how it all started.

Hi Nick, can you tell me a bit about your background in the book trade and why you decided to start writing quiz books?

I started work in the book trade in 1986 and have worked in both retail stores and in wholesale. As a buying director of a wholesale company, I commissioned a series of quiz books with CD’s and score pads as a Christmas gift package. The company supplying the package was unsure where they would get the material so I volunteered to supply it myself. A can of worms was opened.

What would your advice be to anyone who wanted to write quizzes?

  • Remember the quizzes are for your customers/friends to enjoy and show off, not for you to show off.
  • Know your audience – if there is no enthusiasm for sport, don’t do much sport, if the audience are mainly over 40, don’t ask questions on Taylor Swift and video games.
  • Use picture rounds and audio rounds – they break up the evening and can allow you time to mark while the customers pore over the pictures or puzzles you have given them.
  • Mark the papers yourself – more consistent and fairer.

What are the biggest pitfalls?

Getting these things wrong. And taking too long is disastrous. People lose focus if there are gaps between every round – make each round fast and clear.

And the biggest joys?

There are none, it’s a bleak and joyless pastime…. seriously, it’s the event itself that is most rewarding. Our quiz nights are more like a social club than an evening in a pub – everyone chats with the other teams and visitors and occasional random quizees are always made to feel welcome.

We always hand out a mug to the team finishing in last place – a couple of those have found their way back to Germany. No shame in that – I can’t even conceive of attempting a quiz in a language not my first. Not that this is likely, they seem to be a peculiarly British phenomenon.

As the landlord of the Stag Inn, you run quizzes every Monday night. Do you write new quizzes for these nights?

Yes, although if I’m short of time I will pinch one from my library of quiz books or use an old one from my database and just update where needed.

Do you have a favourite story about a quiz question or a particular quiz night?

Most of them are unprintable. Any mention of Boris Johnson or Trump usually gets a ripe answer or two. I once invited the audience to suggest a round for the following week and someone shouted “sex toys”. The following week the picture round was handed out in a brown envelope … No one has called my bluff since.

Do you have a favourite kind of quiz?

My favourite ones are the themed ones – we’ve done quizzes for all sorts of occasions.


Are some types of quizzes easier to write than others?

Sports and music and film are the easiest – bags of material, and all have statistics and records to prompt questions.

How difficult is it to devise a quiz for an unknown audience?

Not too difficult. Just stick to very general stuff and don’t second-guess what they know. But generally, do your research – it would be odd doing a quiz without any knowledge of the likely clientele.

What is the most difficult quiz question you’ve devised?

No idea. One woman’s tricky is another man’s easy-peasy. I did a film round once where the average score was about 3 because I made it too personal to my taste – in fairness I warned them it was about my own favourite films – I s’pose I deliberately flouted one of my own rules.

Is it possible to write humorous quiz questions or should they always be serious?

Absolutely possible – I always try and include some humour and there is always lots of banter.

What is your all-time favourite quiz question?

Couldn’t possibly think of one. A classic crossword clue has always stuck in my mind. Geg (9,3). Answer? Scrambled egg. Genius in brief.

Do you have any plans for further quiz books?

I have one out in September (see list below) – it will largely be made up of the last couple of years of quizzes from the Stag.

Thanks so much, Nick. Now folks can see what goes on behind the scenes at the Stag Inn quiz nights and they can have a go at writing their own – or test themselves with one of your many quiz books (general knowledge, football, music, film).

Quiz nights at the Stag Inn – Mondays 8-10pm.

Some of Nick Holt’s publications
The Mammoth Book of The World Cup: The Definitive Guide, 1930-2018 (2018)
The Official Radio 6 Music Quiz Book  (2016)
The Mammoth Football Quiz Book  (2016)
The Mammoth Quiz Book: Over 6,000 questions in 400 quizzes to tax even hardcore quiz fanatics (2013)

New – out in September 2019
The Mammoth General Knowledge Quiz Book: 2,800 Questions and Answers (Sept 2019)


Ken Edwards and Brian Marley on the successful launch of The Grand Iota Press at the Bookkeeper Bookshop on 28 April.

Out on 2 May  #You Too by Candy Denman – a crime novel set in Hastings and featured in next week’s blog.

In the news
Extinction Rebellion and the fight to save our wildlife is dear to the hearts of many of us in Hastings. Carol Ann Duffy is coming to the end of her poet laureateship. To mark this time, she presents poems about our vanishing insect world. You can read them in The Guardian Into Thin Air: Carol Ann Duffy presents poems about our vanishing insect world.

I’m learning how to do it. That is, I’m learning on the job. I thought it might be hard because it’s not a diary. In a diary, you can say secret things, but a blog is for all the world to see. I’ve got a long way to go, but it’s fun.

One of the things that I realised anew this week was that good navigation around the site is crucial. Well, that’s fine here on Hastings Online Times because it’s all set up, but my personal blog is powered by Blogger which seems to be reducing its features rather than increasing them so I might have to find something else.

Oh, and readers of blogs are often called ‘followers’ like on Facebook and Twitter, but my blogsite doesn’t offer that feature either…. any advice, dear folks, on what I could switch to?

The writers and readers, who I meet all over the place in Hastings cafes, pubs, bus stops – and yes, in Facebook groups (and I know how many of you hate Facebook but it can be ‘oh, so good’ as well as ‘oh, so bad’) – keep me learning – and frequently laughing.

My writing – has reached the temporarily glorious plateau of finished first draft of the third novel – The Man from Another Country. Now for the dip into the dreadful depths as I start the rewrites and the edits. I will then have three unpublished novels so I shall have to (take deep breath) start on the, for me, new and rocky road to self-publishing. I’ll keep you posted.

My personal blog is at

Have fun and go gently. See you next week.

Angela J. Phillip






Posted 09:00 Tuesday, Apr 30, 2019 In: Hastings Bookchat

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