An Interview With Geoff Holder
Today folks Geoff Holder, has popped over for a chat. Geoff Holder has written more than twenty non-fiction books on the paranormal, the peculiar, the Gothic and the gruesome, from “The Jacobites and the Supernatural” and “101 Things to Do with a Stone Circle” to “Scottish Bodysnatchers” and nine titles in “The Guide to the Mysterious…” series, covering everywhere from the Lake District and Loch Ness to Glasgow and Aberdeen.
His work encompasses folklore, archaeology, local history, parapsychology, ghosts, forteana, neo-antiquarianism and witchcraft, with a side order of gargoyles and graveyards. He also had the honour of meeting my rather eccentric mother a few weeks back.
Hello Geoff, how are things with you?
How did your reading go in St Andrews?
It was a signing actually, in J & G Innes’ Bookshop (support independent bookshops, boys and girls!) and it went swimmingly well.
I hoped my mother behaved herself. If you ever need to know anything about anyone from St Andrews, just her and my aunt together and they will answer all your questions.
Good to know. And your mum says to tidy up your room.
Could you give the readers some background information on yourself?
I am a former fighter pilot, astronaut, palaeontologist and secret agent. Of course, for reasons of national security I pretend that in my real life I am a curmudgeonly dullard masquerading as a full-time author. In another version of reality I am a Welshman with an English accent who lives in Scotland with his French wife and a library of indeterminate nationality.
I understand despising cigarettes, but mayonnaise, why the hatred?
Mayonnaise is a tool of Satan, who clearly owns a controlling interest in the British food industry, thus forcing suppliers to insert the foul material into each and every sandwich created for human consumption. I direct your attention to Frank Miller’s graphic novel Electra: Assassin, where mayonnaise is the signature smell of the loathsome shapeshifting demon. I think Frank was on to something there.
I see you have had over thirty jobs, one of which was lasting a whole morning in a slaughter house, that wasn’t the one in St Andrews was it?
No that particular slaughterhouse was long, long ago, in a country far, far away: Wales.
When did you first become interested in the supernatural?
Aged 7, getting a book on dinosaurs for Christmas. Dinosaurs led to dragons, which led to mythology and legends, which led to the literature of fantasy, science fiction and fantasy, which led to the alleged real supernatural. Which all goes to show that books are dangerous things and should be kept out of the hands of small children.
And at what point did you realise you could turn your passion into a career?
I had three books published in 2006-7: The Guide to Mysterious Perthshire, and similar books on Iona and Loch Ness. Then I pitched six ideas to the publishers, who said ‘yes’ to all of them. So, despite being a middle-aged mortgage slave, I gave up my job and turned to full-time authordom in 2008. 26 books later, I’m happy I did it, even if my bank manager isn’t.
There appears to be resurgence in the belief of the paranormal, why do you think that is? Do you think people are more likely to believe in these matters in times of financial, social and politically hard times?
I think it’s more likely to be the case that, in a largely post-Christian society, many people now don’t have the direct route for answers to those eternal questions about death and the afterlife. Now, we may have it tough at the moment, but this is nothing compared to the situation after the First World War and the influenza epidemic, which left millions of bereaved people seeking to contact their deceased loved ones, leading to a rise in supernatural belief on a truly national scale. We haven’t seen anything like that. Hard times, however, do seem to promote belief in psychic powers – especially divination, predicting the future, acquiring ‘luck’, seeking the protection of guardian spirits, and so on.
How much research do you generally have to do for each of these books?
The research takes two to three times longer than the actual writing.
And what form does your research take, do you spend your waking hours in old libraries, or do you get out in the field?
I am the proud possessor of both a library tan and gargoyle-spotter’s neck. Desktop and library research is fundamental to what I do, but I’ve tramped the streets and fields of every place I’ve written about, talking to people and bumping into things. To do otherwise seems to me to be cheating.
And how do filter out the fact from the myth?
Ha! I’m reminded of a quote from an advertising executive: “50% of money spent on advertising is wasted. If only we could work out which 50%.” As they say in Glasgow, “Half the lies we tell aren’t true.”
Do you come up with the topic for the book, and then do the research, or do you branch off into another book’s topic whilst researching another one?
I always stick to one book at a time, but if I come across some interesting nuggets that I know will be useful for books further down the line, I squirrel them away.
Your books are based on locations on the UK, do you actually visit these places while writing the book?
See above. The answer is yes, always.
If money was no option, where would you most like to travel to write a book?
The Moon. Or maybe Mars. Yes, definitely Mars. I like a place with a bit of atmosphere.
Do you think all places in the UK have paranormal leanings, or is there a location and historical aspect to it?
I suspect if you took a map of the UK, a pin and a blindfold, every random choice would come up with a place that had something uncanny about it, although whether that ‘something’ is real or folkloric is perhaps a moot point.
Can you tell us about your Mysterious Guide to Britain series?
’ve written nine so far: The Guide to Mysterious Perthshire; The Guide to Mysterious Iona; The Guide to Mysterious Loch Ness and the Inverness Area; The Guide to Mysterious Aberdeenshire; The Guide to Mysterious Aberdeen; The Guide to Mysterious Stirlingshire; The Guide to Mysterious Arran; The Guide to Mysterious Glasgow; and The Guide to the Mysterious Lake District. Each is an intensely-researched village-by-village, street-by-street guide to everything related to folklore, witchcraft, magic, ghosts, monsters, earth mysteries, urban legends, cryptozoology and UFOs in that area. I also cover stone circles and other ancient monuments, graveyards and tombstone carvings, gargoyles, grotesques and architectural curiosities, and strange things you can find in museums and art galleries. Great fun.
Where do you think the most mysterious place in the UK is?
The brain of whichever person is sitting next to you.
You have also done a series of books on haunted Britain, do you have a favourite ghost.
I like weird ghosts. The apparition of an extinct Irish elk strikes me as especially bizarre.
In your Haunted St Andrews book, you go into great depth on the legend of The White lady, why do you think this is such a fascinating subject? When I was growing up everybody knew of the legend.
It’s what we intellectuals call the ‘Babe Factor’. Ghosts of attractive young women always attract more attention than some grumpy millworker.
Was there not also a Green Lady that had something to do with St Leonards?
The triangle of the Cathedral, the Harbour, the Pends and St Leonards in St Andrews boasts a White Lady, a Gray Lady, a Red Lady and the so-called Veiled Nun (who is an Edwardian invention). I wonder whether these female apparitions are perhaps different aspects of the same core phenomenon.
101 Things to Do With a Stone Circle, what would be your number one?
Callanish. Swinside. Long Meg and Her Daughters. The Ring of Brodgar. Avebury. That’s five number ones to start with. And I’ve only danced naked round one of them.
A recent article of yours on Lovecraft won the Thresholds International Short Story Feature Writing Competition, run by the University of Chichester, can you tell us about this?
The University of Chichester specialises in academic study of the short story. They ran this competition for an essay on a short story writer, and I entered. To my surprise none of the entries on ‘high brow’ literature won, it was my piece on a genre writer that got the nod. And I have to say I’m delighted. You can read the essay here: THRESHOLDS/University of Chichester International Feature Writing Competition 2012
Have you always been a fan of Lovecraft?
‘Nyarlathotep’ was one of my first words as a babe in arms.
With All these factual books under your belt, have you ever been tempted to write a novel?
A novel is on the slate of future projects. That, and screenplays.
Can you tell us about any future projects that you are working on?
In terms of books for 2013/14, I’ve had several commissions, taking me beyond the 30-book mark, but they’re under wraps at the moment. The next book to be published is one of my favourites: Poltergeist over Scotland, a history of Scottish poltergeists, 134 cases from the 1630s to 2012, with lots of detail never previously published. It’ll be published by the History Press in November, and I’ll be doing a series of talks based on the subject. Details will be on my website – I manifest mysteriously at www.geoffholder.com.
Geoff, I have a had a very interesting and enjoyable time chatting with you, do you have any final words for the readers?
Don’t you eat that yellow snow, near where the huskies go.
YOU CAN PURCHASE GEOFF’S BOOKS BY CLICKING THE LINKS BELOW