At Breaking the Glass Slipper, we love supporting indie publishers and authors. One of our favourite indie publishers in the spec fic space at the moment is Unsung Stories, who are publishing challenging, unique speculative fiction narratives, with a healthy representation of female authors.
One such author is Verity Holloway, whose gothic-inspired Psuedotooth was released back in 2017. We asked Verity about gothic narratives, dream sequences, and chosen ones.
What is it you love about Gothic stories? What initiated this love?
In Gothic, you have the ancestral home. “My family have lived here for generations”. That was fascinating to me – having roots. We were a Forces family, so while I was growing up we moved sometimes twice a year. Houses were always unfamiliar, and that was spooky, especially as I was the only child. One house – a Navy married quarter – had a ghost my parents tried to keep from me. It threw a key across the room, opened doors, dropped pictures from the walls. I had a very intense dream that I met my doppelganger on the landing, which terrified me. And then we moved. And then we moved again. New schools, new people. And because Gothic so often introduces a protagonist to an unfriendly environment like this, and then she’s left to explore it, those stories always felt familiar. They’re strangely comforting.
It sometimes feels like Gothic narratives feature more interesting female characters than many other speculative fiction sub-genres. Why does the Gothic lend itself well to female protagonists?
The Gothic has always been derided because of its appeal to women. Effeminate was always the word attached to it by nineteenth-century critics, even when the authors were male. Perhaps that’s because you don’t face an adversary in the Gothic, you don’t square up. Threat comes at you from strange angles. Gothic offers a lot for female readers because it centres on the home, or at least a house, and houses have to be run. It’s not a traditionally heroic thing, running or being stuck inside a house. But Gothic makes it that. There are always secrets, always suppressed feelings, and where a man of that period could say “I’m going to stay at the club tonight!” and storm off, a woman couldn’t. Her frustrations seethed away inside those walls, offering a different kind of narrative.
Dreams feature heavily in Pseudotooth. But dreams can be tricky narrative devices to use without falling into cliché. How did you approach writing dreams while avoiding the common pitfalls of them?
I’m a big fan of altered states of consciousness. As a narrative device, you do have to be careful with them. You must have a good reason to use them. However, I do think dreams are truthful things. They’re a natural part of life and they do affect your waking hours. I’ve certainly have dreams that have changed my actions the next day – put me in a foul mood or given me anxiety. Once or twice I’ve had dreams that have predicted the future, whether by accident or otherwise, and it’s been very disconcerting. I see them as another branch of realism. With Pseudotooth, it’s three very different people desperately trying to understand themselves in a world that doesn’t seem to want them. Dreams are just another way of understanding yourself, I think.
We recently discussed the Chosen One trope in one of our podcasts. I know you aren’t a fan of this trope either. What do you see as the biggest issue with the trope? Can it ever be employed in a positive way?
I grew up with ‘80s fantasy movies where the Chosen One is pretty much mandatory. I can remember sitting in front the video player with my friends and all of us saying “Why is the chosen one always some American boy?” We could see the holes in it even at eight years old, but it’s only when you grow up that you see how political it can be. It was the end of the Cold War – of course, the saviour of the universe is an American boy! But I loved those stories and used that trope in my own games. Writing Pseudotooth, I found myself wondering what would happen if you were convinced you were a Chosen One and then totally wrecked it. What if you truly believed you were the only one who could fix things? And of course, so many people across history have wholeheartedly believed that, and it’s always been a disaster. I find it interesting that we still cling to the Chosen One trope in light of that. It’s like superheroes – as long as we can wait for them to turn up, they kind of absolve us of guilt for our own inaction. As for being a positive thing… I do like what Star Wars is doing at the moment, with Rey as this heroic ‘nobody’. It keeps flirting the possibility that she has Skywalker blood – genetic destiny – then pulls that out from under us. I think it’s interesting to see such a huge franchise engage with the problems of the Chosen One.
Pitch Pseudotooth to us! Why should we read it?
The question I’ve been dreading! Pseudotooth is Gothic, it’s fantasy, it’s a network of scars running all the way from the Russian famine to modern Suffolk. It’s a priest hole full of secrets and the smell of gasoline. Most of all it’s about finding your place in the world, whichever world that might be.
Born in Gibraltar in 1986, Verity Holloway grew up following her Navy family around the world. Always on the move, dealing with the effects of her connective tissue disorder, Marfan Syndrome, she found friendly territory in fantasy, history, and Fortean oddities. Her ‘delightfully weird’ novella, Beauty Secrets of The Martyrs, was released in 2015, and in October 2016 Pen & Sword published her first non-fiction book, The Mighty Healer: Thomas Holloway’s Patent Medicine Empire, a biography of her Victorian cousin who made his fortune with questionable remedies. Unsung Stories published her novel Pseudotooth in March 2017, and she is currently writing a series of blogs about her recent heart surgery. Find her at verityholloway.com and on Twitter as @verity_holloway.