Hello! I’m Verity Holloway. I write speculative fiction and weird history. I also edit CloisterFox Zine (https://twitter.com/cloisterfox).
Come and talk to me about spooky stuff on Twitter (https://twitter.com/Verity_Holloway)
Where did you come from and where are you going?
This time around, I was born on the Rock of Gibraltar. I’m ambling towards Gnosis.
What preoccupies your mind these days?
I’ve just finished writing a folk horror novel, so I’m back at the bottom of the mountain, looking up. I’m juggling a lot of projects right now, and waiting for some things to come to fruition, including a short film and a graphic novel. I’m impatient!
Name a favourite taste, touch, sound, sight and smell.
Taste: Atomic Fireblasts
Touch: Velvety dog snout
Sound: A tree full of crickets on a warm night
Sight: The sea where it hits the rocks at Europa Point. Some of the earliest human remains were discovered in caves at that site. The sea is extra-specially turquoise there, luminous.
Smell: When my husky is dozing and she smells of warm popcorn
Describe one of your most vivid dreams or nightmares
When I was about six, we lived in a Royal Navy married quarter in Portsmouth. Those places are never lovely, and that house was particularly odd. My mum tried to shield me from it at the time, but years later she told me about the key flying off the mantlepiece, and the doors and cupboards opening by themselves. A big painting of a warship fell off the wall and missed me by about two seconds.
In that house I’d repeatedly dream of meeting my doppelgänger on the stairs. It was absolutely terrifying, though not a lot happened in the dream. I’d dream that I’d woken up, and I’d walk out of my bedroom and see my double in my pyjamas standing on the landing staring impassively at me. There’s a painting by my favourite artist, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, called How They Met Themselves, where a couple are collapsing in horror at seeing their doppelgängers. I saw it decades after living in the house and it brought those nightmares back.
Have you ever had an uncanny experience?
There’s a Thing in the toilets at the London Hospital in Whitechapel. About eight years ago, me and my boyfriend dropped in to have a look around – it’s a historic building and I like that sort of thing – and before we left to get our train, we looked for the loos. You have to go down into the basement, down a staircase with a wooden banister. I touched this banister and felt a horrid sensation up my arm. Nothing wrong with the wood, lovely actually, but the longer I had my hand on the banister the worse I felt, like something disgusting was coming up through my hand. I didn’t say anything. What could I have said?
Me and my boyfriend parted ways to the ladies and gents. You know when you blunder into a room where people have been talking about you and they all fall silent and stare at you? I felt watched. The toilets were empty, but I felt the need to check each of the cubicles. When I was sure I was alone, I went into the last one. Despite what my eyes were telling me, there was a strong sense of someone waiting outside the door by the sinks. It wasn’t a benign feeling. I wanted to get out of there ASAP. As I was washing my hands, I kept checking the mirrors and looking over my shoulder because it felt like the mirrors wouldn’t tell me the truth. So I hurried to the hand drier, and the moment I turned my back to the room, someone was up against my back, over my left shoulder. It was a man, not quite as tall as me, squared up and smiling like a drunk picking a fight. I knew all this without seeing him. I knew instinctively not to react. If I reacted, he’d be pleased and he’d escalate. You know how people say you must never, ever run if a bear is stalking you? That.
As calmly as I could, I dried my hands, turned around with my eyes to the floor, and walked out. Then I realised I’d have to touch that horrible banister again. Anything was better than that toilet, though, so I tried to ignore the feeling coming up through my hand. Curiously, the thing, the man, didn’t follow me out of the room.
My boyfriend was at the top of the stairs. He’s hard to rattle, but he looked very sober and couldn’t leave the hospital fast enough. “I’ve just had the weirdest experience.” He said there was no one else in the men’s toilets, but someone was behind him, up against his back. He couldn’t see this person, but he knew they were a man, smiling very widely. My boyfriend instinctively knew he had to stay very still and refuse to react. He knew this thing was a practical joker of the cruel variety, but it couldn’t do any real harm beyond causing fear. We still talk about it, years later.
So, no matter how badly you need a wee, never, ever visit the loos in the London Hospital.
How does your sense of place affect the way you express yourself?
I’ve never had a sense of ‘my’ place. That comes from being a Forces kid and constantly moving. You’d be somewhere for six months then pack everything, say goodbye to your friends, and never come back. I’ve always turned to the inside of my head for stability. Mervyn Peake had the same problem, so when I found Gormenghast as a kid I felt at home. Titus longing to see what’s beyond the castle, and Steerpike wanting to escape the hellish kitchens – those characters felt familiar, and I find in my own work I’m constantly looking at the sensation of being trapped, of not fitting in, being at odds with the environment and looking for someplace new.
What has particularly touched or inspired you recently?
My dad’s been digitising his photographs from Antarctica when he was there in 1983. I keep thinking about the abandoned Norwegian whaling stations. The whalers left in the sixties and all their things were still there as if they’d just stepped out – all their clothes, their coffee cups. Polar exploration is so interesting to me, even though I hate the cold more than anything.
Tell us a good story, anecdote or joke.
In 1840s London, a hat-maker advertised his products by having a giant wooden hat attached to springs which were then mounted onto a man’s head, and then that man was paid to run up and down Regent Street all day. I just find myself thinking about that giant wobbling Victorian hat and laughing to myself.