Interview with SJI Holliday

 

You have always had a darker streak running through your stories and The Lingering is your first supernatural thriller. Are you planning on writing more horror thrillers?
I think so… like you say, there is always a dark streak. I have lots of ideas, and I’d quite like to do something occultish, but it’s hard to come up with original takes as there are so many over-done horror tropes (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as they’re done well).

Your mum worked as a psychiatric nurse and you found that highly interesting as a teenager. Would you say she gave you more than enough inspiration for mental illnesses and characters to use in your stories?
Yes. Although most of the things she told me were about bad nurses… it’s really awful what used to happen in these places.

Would you say that the pharmaceutical industry is sometimes also part of the problem? Whipping out new medication and working hand in hand with doctors who often prescribe too many meds too early instead of recommending therapy with a psychologist first?
Ouch. I work in the pharmaceutical industry, so I will be careful what I say here – but I think it’s more about overworked GPs, to be honest. There is not enough mental health provision – I’d say in the UK, but I am sure it’s the same in other countries. People fall through the cracks far too often.

The Lingering is set in an abandoned asylum and you said you visited the old facility, Rosslynlee, where your mum used to work. Did you also research about how terrible these institutes treated their patients some decades ago?
I’ve read lots of things about mental healthcare in the past as it’s something that fascinates me. We say that the Victorians didn’t understand, but things aren’t completely better now, are they? Treatments might be better, but diagnoses are often difficult, even now.

There is this notion in The Lingering that dark events from the past can linger (see what I did there?) due to souls that have been mistreated and are unable to rest. You said two people verified you had the ghost of a girl in one of your previous houses but you and your husband never saw it. Do you think there are people with very fine antennae that can feel and/or see what others can’t?
That’s something else that fascinates me. If ghosts exist, why can’t we all see them? I do think it is something to do with the individual psyche. I am open to experiences, but haven’t see things – although I have felt things, in certain old places. Atmosphere is a big part, but I have spoken to people recently who claim to see ghosts in the day time, in random places – so who really knows?

You visited a commune for a week and said you found the experience very peaceful. Did you meet people there whose characters or stories you used for The Lingering? Was that commune more modern than you expected or rather behind the times?
The place I stayed is very modern, in that it is basically a village, where lots of people live/work and support their own ‘cause’. They do courses in new age therapies and they own a holiday park, I assume, to help fund their activities. But there was very much a feel of the people all being there because they wanted to escape from ‘normal’ life. I didn’t use anyone in particular, more that feeling of people from all sort of backgrounds, thrown together in an isolated place.

The commune in The Lingering has very different people, do you think that even if we leave our old lives behind we can never really escape ourselves? Or that a new start in such a group can prove a godsend for people who want to change their lives?
That’s a great question. You hear of people in trouble moving away ‘for a fresh start’ – to mend relationships, get over break-ups, bad jobs, all sorts of things – but I think it takes more than a locational shift to change your mind-set. You can change that without going anywhere at all, but it’s a hard thing to do. I don’t think it’s impossible though. And yes, for people who have lost their way, community living can be the thing that saves them.

Having psychological problems and talking about it is now a common thing in our modern society. What do you think it was like for people to be stigmatised back then and just locked away for the rest of their lives just because society deemed them not functioning and doctors didn’t have the insight they have nowadays?
Terrifying. I think it still is now, to an extent. When something is going on inside your own head, it can be very hard to seek help, or even to accept that there’s a problem. Knowing there is help is great, but sometimes people just aren’t able to reach for it. Back then, it was a million times worse, as there were things that could never be discussed, for fear of a diagnosis of madness. I hate to think how many women were locked up for PMT…

Was it any different for you to write The Lingering compared to a ‘normal’ crime thriller? Did you need to do more or less research for the story?
It was fun because it was the first thing I’ve written for a while without any sort of police investigation in it, so I was free to do what I liked. I did more research though, because I read a lot about the psychology of the supernatural, communes, and other types of psychology that I can’t really mention without spoilers!

You are also a huge horror fan, are you happy that genre is momentarily on the rise again? Why do you think it is that despite the genre being so very popular people often regard fans of the genre as ‘different’ or ‘not right in the head’ to like such stuff?
I think it’s like any genre that people claim not to like – they don’t like because they don’t really know enough about it – crime fiction detractors think it’s all cops and murderers, horror fiction detractors think it’s all slashers and gore – there are so many other things going on in genre fiction, and I personally hate all the labels! I think it’s time for a resurgence because it hasn’t really been big since the 80s but now there’s a chance for new authors/filmmakers to give it some fresh blood.

Which horror movies/books do you think have been underrated and should find a larger audience?
Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. It’s brilliantly original and very, very creepy – and I kind of stumbled on it. I don’t think many horror novels get a huge push, which is a shame. As for movies, it’s getting close to the time where everyone should be watching/re-watching Black Christmas (1974) – it’s a classic psychological slasher-flick with a couple of top horror actors in very early roles. Highly recommended winter viewing!

 

Lingering blog poster 2018 (1) (1)

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