Not many blushing brides will walk down the aisle in an old psychiatric asylum.
But for author Susi Holliday, it just felt right.
Susi’s desire to get spliced in a place none of us would want to even visit wasn’t some teenage goth dream.
As a kid, she grew up listening to her mum’s tales of working as a nurse at Rosslynlee Hospital, the now-abandoned psychiatric facility near Edinburgh.
Susi, 44, kept the theme going when she married Jamie, 46, in an old asylum in London in 2009.
And in the run-up to Halloween, she happily recalled her spooky big day.
She said: “I’ve always liked slightly weird things, so when we were trying to find a wedding venue we looked at all the normal places and nothing was really jumping out.
“We came across the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building in Wandsworth, which is a big, beautiful gothic building that used to be an asylum and orphanage.
“It’s now apartments for artists, with two courtyards where events and weddings can be held. It was old and crumbly and had a really good atmosphere.
“When we found out what the building used to be, it made it much more appealing. We decided the wedding had to be there. It was the perfect choice.”
Susi, who grew up in Haddington, East Lothian, and now lives in London, has drawn on her passion for creepy old buildings to write The Lingering, a spooky psychological thriller about a commune set in a haunted former asylum.
Her interest in buildings with dark pasts was first sparked by her mum Alison’s career as a psychiatric nurse.
She said: “I must have been quite a strange child, because I was always interested in hearing stories about the places where she worked.
“She started out as a nursing assistant when she was 16 or 17 so this was back in the 70s, when things were quite different to how they are now.
“The places where she worked sounded really bleak but I was fascinated by them.
“A couple of years ago, when I was thinking about writing The Lingering, we went for a drive to Rosslynlee Hospital, where she used to work.
“It’s all boarded up now so you can’t get in any more but my dad and I had a good look around.
“We got into the grounds as far as we could and got a real sense of the place. It’s a really grand old place and it got me thinking – what if only a handful of people lived in this spooky building?
“That’s where the inspiration for the book came from.”
The Lingering tells the story of married couple, Jack and Ali Gardiner, who move to a self-sufficient commune in search of a fresh start.
Rosalind House, where the commune has been established, is a former psychiatric home with a disturbing history, and the newcomers’ arrival sets off a chain of unexpected and unexplained events.
As research for the book, Susi spent a week in a real-life commune in the north of Scotland. She said: “It was quite a modern set-up but at its core was this belief system that’s very spiritual.
“They’ve got a list of guidelines that the people who live there are meant to abide by.
“I was interested to know what went on there on a day to day basis.
“I found it quite a peaceful experience. I could see why people went there.
“The people I met weren’t quite sure what they were meant to be doing with their lives so they went there for a more peaceful existence that wasn’t reliant on commuting to work and technology.
“The reason I wanted to spend time there was that I’d always thought these communes sounded a bit weird and hippyish. But it’s actually a nice place and it’s peaceful and the people are happy. It’s not a cult – and that’s what I wanted to get across in the book.
“The scariest part is the sense of isolation of a small group in a big building in the middle of nowhere.”
Susi – who writes as SJI Holliday – was well-placed to write about ghostly goings-on in The Lingering, since she used to live in a haunted house.
She said: “Jamie and I bought an old house in Surrey just after we got married. It was built in 1900 and was a complete wreck so we literally had to pull it apart and rebuild it.
“One day, I was chatting to the roofer and he glanced into the dining room and asked if my daughter was around.
“I told him I didn’t have a daughter and that there definitely weren’t any children in the house.
“He looked a bit confused and said there had been a little girl in our dining room, under the table drawing. He was pale, and I could feel the blood draining from my own face as he was telling me the story.
“One of my friends is interested in supernatural stuff, so I messaged her and said ‘Guess what? The roofer has just told me there’s a ghost in the house.’
“My friend said, ‘Yes, the little girl in your dining room.’ She’d also seen the girl when she came to the house for a barbecue in the summer.
“You get used to a house’s creaks and noises and, during the night, you’re able to navigate all the nooks and crannies in the dark and not be worried.
“But after this happened, it was all just a bit scary. Jamie and I wanted to move immediately but we were in the middle of doing all this work so there was nothing we could do. We had to stay until we were finished. It was a very strange feeling.”
Susi, who has a day job as a pharmaceutical statistician, added: “I don’t know if I believe in ghosts, but I don’t not believe in them.
“I suppose I’m a ghost agnostic. If someone was to show me the evidence of their existence, then I would be interested.
“I think my scientific background makes me want to find proof, and something concrete that makes sense.”
lThe Lingering is out in eBook now and in paperback on November 15. The book’s launch takes place at Waterstones West End in Edinburgh on November 14.
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