Having placed the future of my Book Chains feature entirely into the hands of my guests, I am very grateful to Daniel Pembrey for nominating Susi Holliday to join me and keep my chain of Q&A’s going.
Susi, writing as SJI Holliday, is the author of the Banktoun series which began with Black Wood and Willow Walk and will continue in the forthcoming The Damselfly – which releases on 2nd February 2017. Each book can be ordered by clicking on the title. I will have a LOT more to say about The Damselfly in the near future, however, trust me when I say you *need* to read this book!
By sheer chance (before I discovered that Daniel had nominated her) Susi and I had been discussing a Q&A around ghost stories so there is a bit of a supernatural theme to my questions.
G – Will I start with the easy one… what, for you, makes a good horror story?
SH – It’s not any one specific thing. It’s something that scares you, but not just on the surface. Not just someone jumping out of your wardrobe in the dark and shouting BOO! in your face (although that works, obviously – did I give you a fright?) It’s something that stays with you afterwards. Something you can’t get out of your mind. Something that slithers under your skin and stays there, hiding in your subconscious, ready to reappear whenever you let your guard down.
G – What do you enjoy? Is it a ghost story or perhaps a haunted house? Monsters? Psychopaths?
SH – Enjoy is an interesting word, isn’t it? Can you really enjoy horror? I don’t really know how to describe it. I do enjoy being scared, but only when I know that ultimately, I am safe. If the horror is behind a screen, or in the pages of a book, then it’s ok to enjoy it, I think. The Ring, though … when she climbs out of the TV? That’s too much. That’s breaking the fourth wall. Or those people who get paid to jump out at you on horror attractions. Sickos. I love ghost stories. Haunted houses. Psychopaths too. Monsters, not so much. Many a good psychological horror has been ruined by the appearance of a less than convincing monster.
G – Which stories have stood out for you? My personal favourites are Phantoms (Dean Koontz), The Magic Cottage (James Herbert) and always Stephen King’s IT.
SH – Excellent choices there, for multiple reasons. IT is a perfect example of my monster-hate. I loved that book (and the film) until the big reveal. Keep it in the shadows! That clown was good though. Creepy as hell. I took a photo of a storm drain when I was in the US last year. I half expected to see Pennywise’s face poking out when I downloaded it from my camera… They all float… The Woman in Black is a standout horror for me. It’s quite a short book, but written with such an air of menace that you can’t help but feel tense throughout. The Exorcist, too. They made a bit of a cheese-fest out of the film, but the book was genuinely terrifying. Religion is a great influence in horror. All that symbolism. Myths and legends. I also love Misery. Isolation. A deranged captor. A modern classic.
G – Could you recommend any stories/authors which you think more people should be reading?
SH – I don’t read enough contemporary horror. I get scared more easily these days. Alison Littlewood is brilliant. As is Joe Hill (Heart-Shaped Box, in particular). And Josh Malerman’s Bird Box is a terrific dystopian horror. That book should’ve had a lot more fanfare. Everyone should read it. EVERYONE.
G – I can remember scenes in both Black Wood and Willow Walk which were chilling and hinted the potential of a supernatural element (particularly in Black Wood). Could we see a ghostly tale from you one day?
SH – Absolutely! I scared myself quite a bit when writing certain parts of Black Wood (more about that later!) I have several horror ideas up my sleeve. Ghost stories, creepy critters… and more! I’ll get to them eventually.
G – Can you remember any of the early stories you read that made you think that you wanted to read more creepy tales? My local library had a collection of short stories: The Armada Book of Ghost Stories which I tried (and freaked my young self out) but I ordered in more books in the series.
SH – I remember that book! I read a lot of scary stuff when I was young – my mum had loads of really trashy 70s/80s horror. The ones with the scary covers! I don’t think I could read one of those now though. I seem to scare far too easily these days!
G – What scares you?
SH – I was going to go deep here, and say things like ‘something bad happening to someone I love’ and ‘the state of the world’ but I’m going to go more surface-level and say rollercoasters. I have no idea why anyone would want to put themselves through that. For fun! Madness. Pure madness. I’m also scared of seeing someone standing at the end of my bed in the middle of the night, hence why I will NEVER watch Paranormal Activity.
G – Have you had any supernatural experiences?
SH – When we lived in our old house (a VERY old house, c1900), we were getting loads of work done and one day when I was in there alone, writing scary bits in Black Wood, one of the workmen came round to tell me about what he was planning to do next, and he asked after my daughter. I laughed, in a slightly confused way, as I don’t have any children. I asked if he had maybe heard the neighbour’s grandchildren. Nope. He went quite pale then. Pointed into the dining room. ‘She was playing down there on the floor.’ He literally backed out of the house. I was then, of course, terrified. Attempting to dispel the unease, I jokily mentioned it on Facebook, without mentioning that it was a girl or that it was in the dining room. A friend who had visited a few months before sent me a message: ‘Was she in the dining room? Don’t worry, she’s happy.’
Reader, we moved out.
G – And I am now too freaked out to continue with that…let’s do some quickfire questions.
Greatest Album Ever? Can I have two? Nirvana’s Nevermind & Pearl Jam’s Ten.
Which is best: sushi or chilli? Chilli. Sushi gives me the boak.
What advice do you give your 15 yo self? ‘They’ll all stop talking about it eventually.’
What was the last book you read? Watch Her Disappear by the incredible Eva Dolan (out in Jan 2017)
Is Trainspotting correct to say “It’s Shite Being Scottish”? Only when people ask you about politics.
Which one concert would you have liked to attend (any place and time). I need two again. Queen with Freddie & Nirvana with Kurt. Both legends. Actually I need another one. Wham! Before I found out that George Michael didn’t like girls (a sad day).
Are you a cat or a dog person? I think cat. Theoretically. But I like some of those little terriers too. I’m not really a pet person.
Which one reality TV show would you like to appear on? I really hate it, but I’d quite like to be on The X-Factor, with the rest of The Slice Girls. I think Simon would love us.
Now the Book Chain question. Daniel asked you:
Maverick, Ice or Goose? The definitive, character-led answer, please. (I have no idea but I always liked Meg Ryan’s character – I’ve seen it once)
SH – SIGH. It’s Maverick, obviously. Brooding, arrogant but damaged and in need of the love of a good woman. Ultimately he would have loved to be Goose, but Goose was too nice and that’s why he had to die. I still cry at that scene. Funny story, actually. Craig Robertson flatly refused to believe that Meg Ryan played Goose’s wife. Not even sure he believed photographic evidence. This isn’t why Daniel asked me this though. He asked, because, well… there was talk of a new Top Gun with crime writers cast in the lead roles. It was possibly going to be X-rated. Daniel is obviously Maverick, so clearly this is the answer he wanted. I feel the need… the need for speed!
I’d like to nominate Mark Hill to go next. His debut The Two O’Clock Boy is fantastic. I’d like to ask him…<<REDACTED>>
Susi – thank you! Though I suspect I am going to have weird dreams about dining rooms…
The Damselfly is published in February 2017 by Black & White Publishing and you can pre-order your copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01M7RBU7W