Richard Skelton: Interview and Review

Richard Skelton is an artist, musician and writer from Lancashire in northern England. His work is informed by landscape, evolving from sustained immersion in specific environments and deep, wide-ranging research incorporating ecology and geology, folklore, myth and language. He currently runs Corbel Stone Press with his wife, the Canadian poet, Autumn Richardson.

217046890_205666391473998_8560323734577592772_n

Folk Horror Revival’s John Pilgrim recently caught up with Richard to make a few routine enquiries on matters of mutual interest and fascination. The responses set the scene for a reflective review by Foster Neville of Richard’s second novella ‘And Then Gone’.

FHR: Deepening the sensory connection with landscape is a central preoccupation in your work. How has your experience of landscape changed over the years and has it been different for you over the last year or so?

I’ve become increasingly interested in physicality — touch, weight, attrition, decay — and the internally transformative effect of contact. What you might call ‘contagious magic’. I’m also drawn more and more to the non-corporeal analogue of the physical. I’m not conventionally religious, but these lines from Paracelsus say it better than I can:

‘It is opposed to all true philosophy to say that flowers lack their own eternity. They may perish and die here; but they will reappear in the restitution of all things. Nothing has been created out of the Great Mystery which will not inhabit a form beyond the aether.’

As so much else has fallen away in the last year, I’ve had the opportunity to explore my local landscape more than ever before. Being restricted to a particular area has sharpened my focus, and I’ve been making more films and visual works as a result.

FHR: Please can you tell us about Corbel Stone Press – what is its purpose and how has it evolved over the years? Are there any publications or recordings which you would particularly recommend to those of a folk horror persuasion?

We publish books, pamphlets, music, artworks and editions that focus on landscape and the natural world. We’re particularly interested in the folkloric and mythical. ‘Reliquiae’, our biannual journal of prose, poetry and translations, might be of interest because, over the course of the past eight years, we’ve been trying to shed light on the other-than-human, primarily through the lens of world mythology. My previous novella, ‘The Look Away’, and its poetic companion, ‘Dark Hollow Dark’, might also appeal to your readers, as, like ‘And Then Gone’, they both present an immersion in the rural landscape that is far from bucolic.

FHR: You once buried and exhumed a violin. Can you say more about this and what you gained from the experience?

Yes, back in 2014 I interred a violin at Ouseburn, Newcastle, as part of a commission for the AV Festival. It was something I’d done privately before — albeit obliquely documented in my book, ‘Landings’ — and represents my most obvious experiment with contagious magic. I wanted the land to impart itself viscerally on the music that I was to create. It was a ritual surrender to telluric energies; an exchange with the genius loci.

FHR: We live in troubled times. Your work – whether sonic, written or visual – appears to offer a therapeutic aspect. Is this something which you have consciously developed?

It’s probably a truism to say that all artistic endeavour is therapeutic for the artist involved — so much so that for me it’s a compulsion. I feel ill at ease if I’m not working on something. But I don’t think about it beyond that. I try not to reflect on how a work might manifest whilst I’m working on it. In any case, much of what I create often doesn’t see the light of day. The process of creation itself is nearly always private. It’s a continual process, like an underground river that occasionally surfaces here and there.

FHR: What are your current projects and future plans?

I’ve spent much of the past 3 years researching a book that will be published on the summer solstice. It’s called ‘Stranger in the Mask of a Deer’, and it’s a kind of literary seance between the present and the Late-Upper Palaeolithic, some 15,000 years ago. This was the time when the land that became Britain began to emerge from the ice that covered northern Europe. I wanted to think about how humans of that time related to the land, and to plants and animals. It’s full of fear, violence and blood, but also a sense of equality and respect between humans and the other agencies of the natural world. There will also be an accompanying short film, entitled ‘Before Albion’.

Review of ‘And Then Gone’ by Foster Neville

Richard Skelton’s second novella, ‘And Then Gone’, charts the journey of a woman travelling back to her childhood home through a landscape which but for its lack of people would have been familiar to Northumberland poet Basil Bunting. The disaster which prompts this journey is never named but the protagonist’s ‘dense violent dreams/Dreamed with soul and body’ suggest perhaps the aftermath of a war; the woman returning like a ghost ‘to tell the story/Until the dawn command’1. Her special relationship with the emptied landscape is akin to a survivor and also that imagined of bog bodies, with their supposed deep involvement in the cycles of birth, death, harvest and renewal.

“In the country, where one can often see an entire parish from boundary to boundary, one can also often see one’s entire life. It is comforting – and painful”. (Roland Blythe, Divine Landscapes)

Just as the title itself works backwards from the last line, ‘And then gone’, one can profitably examine Richard Skelton’s book in light of its own back matter question: “Are our minds like the land? Bounded.” It is part of the deftness of touch evident in this work that the idea of mind as a narrative and the way such a narrative must break the rules of English sentence construction to communicate itself are allowed to shape this eloquent, poetical little book (205 pages of widely spaced ‘paragraphs’).

A cursory flick through the pages, a sensual pleasure not to be underestimated in this age of diminishing bookshops and physical contact, reveals beneath the thumb short, stanza-like ‘paragraphs’ which immediately made me think of ‘Vägmärken’ by Dag Hammarskjöld with its flashes of an inner history put into words. ‘And then gone’ however, is a work of creative fiction and therefore to be considered much more than a collection of pensèes. The reader, like a pilgrim, follows a path into a layered story which is very much concerned with flesh and spirit. It also has often a strong feel of initiation to it, together with the disorientation of the senses which accompany formal rituals. To understand this is the better to appreciate what comes next.

Picture a zoetrope, the vertical slits allowing only brief glimpses of images to give the illusion of the movement which is the definition of life. Between each slightly different image however, there is blackness, shadow. To slow down the movement of the zoetrope is to become more aware of the resonant space between. ‘And then gone’, as the title demonstrates, draws on the fact that there is no renewal in nature without loss; no light without shade. ‘And then gone’ also points to the erosion of things and how with that erosion come new stimuli. To continue a cinematic, or rather a theatrical analogy, the occasional Italics come across like stage directions: read in the wings and therefore contrasting the bright and thrilling light of the active stage. This is very fitting for a work which despite the fragmentary presentation (ambient sound – and the eerie silences found at old execution places, all manner of light and perfume), maintains dramatic development.

My old university tutor had a party trick, which was to take a copy of any book by Dickens and open it in the middle to show that here was to be found either the peak of action or the most telling point of the whole work. We were all quite convinced until later we discovered Dickens originally published in monthly parts, yet the habit to throw open a book in the middle and see what presents is hard to give up. Page 111 here feels like midway and we find:

His dreams now, full of her, her voice, the shape of her body. The longing of youth, a fire by the waters of adulthood. Revel in it, though it burns the skin.

The writing is never less than poetic. Rather suggestively, instead of the usual roman number IX – i.e. ten minus one – for nine, page 111 is preceded by a chapter/part marker of VIIII; breaking another rule, this time the rule of repeating ‘1’ more than three times being invalid. And this ahead of page 111. More ritual, more disorientation? But what I want to draw attention to here is why this is a particularly good book to read right now, because as of 2020 we have all developed skin hunger: we want the reassurance which comes only from human touch. As a book presented in stages, though leading to disappearance, this particular extract and where it appeared did make me reflect upon that brain surge which occurs at the ages of 14-17, and the connection to the next, higher brain level.

‘And then gone’, in spite of – or perhaps because of – its title is a far-seeing book. But it does not present a conventional way of looking any more than it presents a traditional way of laying out a book, or of organising words into sentences and those sentences into paragraphs. It is too easy to say the work is ‘impressionistic’, and in any case the details are always very clear and I have tried to emphasise that what one senses is less the light than the dark between. Certainly though there is landscape, there are textures. This is from the penultimate page:

The mist is thicker now. Rubbing at the shapes of things. Gathering about her.

And this is from ‘Vägmärken’ again:

“Only the hand that erases can write the true thing”. – Meister Eckhart.

Truth, as I think most of us acknowledge now, is likely to be found at the edges of things. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say it is something we encounter at the edges of things, as to say ‘found’ is to suggest that such a truth could be possessed and somehow carried away from such a point with us (I’m conscious of straying into Damaris Parker-Rhodes territory here, and yet the pilgrim in us all should not be neglected and journeys are no longer the preserve of saints or great visionaries). Whatever our beliefs, we aspire to self-knowledge and to greater knowledge of the world about us; we seek places of revelation (Pendle, Lindisfarne) as we seek enlightenment. Our minds do appear to us a limited territory, to go beyond which means what many term madness. If we therefore can say our minds are bounded by sense, then by playing with that sense we can go beyond our minds to a different consciousness. The temporary dislocation from our normal perceptions and everyday world (close as that is to a working definition of Folk Horror; ) one could argue is an important part of the reading of any work of fiction, as it is of any ritual initiation ceremony.

What is it we encounter, once we move from our comfortable world? Field, hill, forest, river are sketched across with man’s symbols from earlier traditions. And not only his symbols. Were one to note all of the psychic happenings that have been recorded across England, there is not a single natural contour would be without a haunting of some sort. Telepathy has been suggested for that age-old phenomenon of the dying being seen by loved ones, often at great distances. Psychic happenings are all around us, and within us.

‘And then gone’ is available from corbelstonepress.com in paperback for £12.00.

Note:

1. ’Reveille’, Primo Levi, Translated Al Alvarez.

Book Review: Wildwood- Tales Of Terror & Transformation From The Forest, edited by William P. Simmons

The forest is a potent symbol in the human psyche, it represents the primal, beyond civilisation, life giving but also harbouring unseen dangers. In his introduction to this collection of forest themed weird fiction, William P. Simmons notes that it can be treated in three major ways in such tales- as an eerie setting, whereby it’s remoteness allows cover for all manner of horror, a domain where witches, werewolves and demons can hide; that occult forces be born of it and act as the personification of nature, such as satyrs and elementals or that nature itself is a sentient being beyond human understanding. The tales collected here represent all three.
The tales are drawn from the late 19th century & early 20th century. Some are likely to be well known to folk horror fans, such as Arthur Machen’s The White People and MR James’ View From A Hill, both frequently anthologised but always welcome, while others are completely new to me, such as The Dead Valley, by Ralph Adams Cram, an eerie tale of a deadly landscape, high in the Swedish mountains.
The death of Pan is something often quoted, but judging by some of the tales here, he’s very much alive and lurking, Algernon Blackwood’s The Touch of Pan has him as nature personified, way beyond our concepts of good and evil, and he also turns up in Algernon Blackwood’s The Touch of Pan and E.M. Forster’s The Story Of A Panic.
The collection is rounded out with an appendix reprinting an essay on sylvan horrors by the ghost hunter Elliott O’Donnell, who, while not necessarily the most reliable source as a researcher, spins a great yarn. This makes for some eerie entertainment, with accounts of pixies and haunted trees.
This is a great collection of sylvan horror tales, ideal late-night reading, when the wind is whipping branches against your windows…

Review by SJ Lyall

Zine Review: Grimoire Silvanus issue 3

Grimoire Silvanus is a relatively new zine but they’ve put out three issues in around 6 months, which is a pretty commendable work rate. It’s not just quantity either, each issue has been really high quality. Much of their content focusses on interactions with the landscape, and in this new issue we get LB Limbrey on suburban weird, encountering the strange in brownfield and edgeland sites, haunted houses and residual ancient presences in suburban woodland. Gradior Inlustria contributes an article on the joys and trials of visiting lesser known or forgotten stones circles, what they lack in ease of visiting they can make up for in atmosphere and sense of power. In a similar vein, Quisdeus Fortis gives us an account of seeking out carvings of sun goddess on Bidston Hill in the Wirrall. I always particularly enjoy people delving into their local weirdness.

The issue is rounded out by an article on the folklore of freshwater mermaids- often the spirits of drowned women as well as supernatural creatures like the Rusulka of Eastern Europe, an article on the significance of water in tarot and one on making maps to reimagine an area. It also includes a timely reminder that there’s no place for fascists and racists in our cultural space, which is great to see (though sad it needs to be said).
This is all presented on nice, thick paper, with lots of full colour, atmospheric photographs and it looks fantastic.
Another great issue of what’s become one of my favourites of the current crop of folklore zines. Copies can be ordered here.

Review by SJ Lyall

Zines Review: Rituals & Declarations vol 2 issue 1

Rituals & Declarations was conceived as a one volume, four issue project to run throughout 2020, which would embrace the weird as a way to step outside capitalist realism and help imagine a better future. Obviously 2020 didn’t turn out like anyone expected, and the demand for hope for the future only intensified, so they’ve made the decision to carry on through 2021 (no doubt helped by the positive reaction to their previous issues), and I’m personally delighted they’re continuing their run.

In this issue, we have Cormac Pentecost on Edgelands folklore, drawing a path of our neglected and overlooked locations from Grendel to Unofficial Britain via JG Ballard Ballard, Alan Garner and Stig of the Dump; a fascinating liminal zone, ripe for new folklore. Allyson Shaw does a remembrance for Isobel Gowdie, and on a related note, Elizabeth Sulis Kim gives us a short story on the ignorance and hate behind witch hunting. We also have Icy Sedgwick on fetches, LB Limbrey on queerness and nature, and more- my favourite being regular Hookland contribution by David Southwell, the folklore of a non-existent place.
It’s all packaged together in a nice, glossy cover on high quality paper, with some excellent artwork. Another top tier zine that I strongly recommend.
Copies are available here.

Ben Wheatley’s Earthy Liminality

Extensive Ben Wheatley interview by “Lady Limnal” covering his career and new film.

Here at FHR we’ve been fans of Ben Wheatley for many years, having followed his intriguing and varied career path from the pitch dark comedy of Sightseers, the pseudo 70s Wyrd of High Rise, the psychedelic oddness of Field in England and above all the disturbing Urban Wyrd of Kill List.

In this interview for the Liminal Worlds project, Ben discusses his new film In the Earth.

“…when I was a kid we lived by the woods, and I think just the actual physical presence of the woods made a difference to me, and fed into a lot of stuff, and a lot of the things in Kill List are from nightmares that I had as a child, about that very specific place where I was living, Billericay.”

Full interview here
http://www.liminalworlds.org/lady-liminal-takes-a-trip-with-ben-wheatley/

waiting for you: a detectorists zine

A fanzine as beautiful and introspective as the series it lauds, “waiting for you: a detectorists zine”, is a collection of essays, interviews and papers that celebrate, discuss and speculate on the sedate yet moving series created by Mackenzie Crook.

The strange times of lockdown have led to an unexpected (but welcome) boom in small press publications as well as niche “‘zines”. In the past, such publications were very much home produced, photocopied cheap and cheerful labours of love, but print on demand, modern software and emerging virtual communities in the time of pandemic have led to many wonderful creations. “waiting for you…” is no exception to this intriguing trend and is an exquisitely produced A5 volume, printed on high grade paper. A further pleasing touch, is that the pages have a retro eggshell blue tinge, that would doubtless appeal to the detectorist Lance, given his misty-eyed appreciation of older plastics in the series finale – though the zine sadly (fortunately?) does not have “the smell of 70s”.

Amongst the essays David Colohan explores the light and shade of folk horror themes in ‘Phantom Signals’ while David Petts turns a psychogeographical eye on the almost-real landscape of Danebury, the fictional home town of the detectorists. It was also a pleasure to see longtime Folk Horror Revivalist, Jim Peters as a contributor interviewing soundtrack composers Dan Michaelson and Harvey Robinson. Elsewhere in the volume, Mackenzie Crooks lesser known fiction is reviewed by Rosemary Pardoe, while Phil Smith opines on the series symbolism. The zine closes with Carl Taylor’s review of “Landscapes of Detectorists” a collection of essays edited by Innes Keighren and Joanne Norcup.

Lovingly compiled & edited by Cormac Pentecost and topped off with Jane Tomlinsons psychedelic cover art – “waiting for you…” is a must-read for ardent (or casual) fans of the series.

“waiting for you: a detectorists zine”is published by Temporal Boundary Press

(https://temporalboundary.bigcartel.com)

Format: A5, 54pp, paperback

Contributors: David Colohan, David Petts, Jim Peters, Phil Smith, Rosemary Pardoe, Carl Taylor

Art: Jane Tomlinson, Robin Mackenzie, The Moon and the Furrow, P J Richards

Edited by Cormac Pentecost

Zine Review: Weird Walk issue 4

The last couple of years have seen a real surge in the number of zines related to folk horror, folklore, forteana and the just plain weird. While zine culture probably peaked in the 90s but had waned to an extent with the creation of social media, it never died away completely. For many, the convenience of a blog post will never replace the satisfaction of having something you can hold in your hand, read on the bus and pull out a dusty box years later. This will be the first in a semi-regular series of reviews of folk horror related zines.

Weird Walk was probably the first zine of the current crop. It bills itself as a journal of wanderings and wonderings from the British Isles, and as this suggests, much of its content is focussed round getting out into the countryside. In the current issue (#4), we have a route for a weird walk around Glastonbury, an interview with Nick Hayes on land ownership and trespassing in England (as someone who lives in Scotland, where the right to roam is legally enshrined, this was quite an eye opener), some recommended listening for rambling through edgelands (recommended soundtracks for walks feature regularly in WW), and a piece from Stewart Lee on hunting megaliths in Lamorna in Cornwall.

My favourite article is by Zakia Sewell on growing up in Houndslow, the child of a Welsh dad and Carribbean mother, who finds a connection to a mythic Albion of druids and stone circles, away from the more toxic myths of recent times, a vision of who makes a connection can find belonging here, a world away from any kind of blood and soil bullshit.

This is all laid out beautifully in full colour, with plenty of atmospheric photos of dolmens, standing stones and the like, that makes me long for the lifting of lockdown and being able to get out into the countryside. Highly recommended. Copies of this and back issues available via their website at https://www.weirdwalk.co.uk/

Review by SJ Lyall

Wyrd Kalendar – Vampire Night

“Tonight is Vampire Night. In Romania the Strigoii or Vampires are said to leave their graves to seek out their former homes and victims. So hang out your garlic, put out your crosses… for the vampires are prowling and they’re looking for you. Be safe. And, if you can’t be safe, then dance, dance to these Vampire tunes. Happy Vampire Night!” – The Kalendar Host

With tunes from the likes of The Upsetters, Soft Cell, Gene Page, Rupert Lally, Bauhaus, Vampire Sound Incorporated, The Hues Corporation, Francois de Roubaix, Rob Zombie, Cobra Verde, Tangerine Dream, Gorillaz, Emil Richards, Beth Orton, Jonathan Elias, Radiohead, Gerard McCann, Tito and Tarantula, David Whitaker, Hot Blood, Jace Everett, Dirty Pretty Things, Barenakedladies, Jason Segel, Michael Vickers, Nouvelle Vague, Ministry, Michael Rubini and Denny Jaeger.

Interview with Gareth E. Rees

I

Gareth E. Rees is founder of the Unofficial Britain website and author of three books, Marshland (2013), The Stone Tide (2018) and Car Park Life (2019). His most recently published book is Unofficial Britain, a remarkably vivid exploration of a Britain that exists beyond the conventional and the prescribed. This is a book which peels by the layers of cultural conformity to reveal the previously hidden magic and strangeness of industrial estates, factories and pylons, motorways, ring roads and flyovers, hospitals and houses and housing estates. Noticing the strong connection to psychogeographic current which pulses through the veins of many members of the Folk Horror Revival, John Pilgrim took the opportunity to make some ‘routine enquiries’.

FHR: How have the towns and cities which you have spent time in shaped your identity and psychology – at the time and in the subsequent chapters of your life? Does the residue of place, especially the unofficial locations which you document live on in us?”

I’m half Welsh, half Scottish, with an English accent, and experience of living in Scotland, Wales, Northern England, London and the South Coast. Also I was born outside the UK. So I’ve been gifted with freedom from regional patriotism or prejudice. It means that in a book like this, I’ve been able to connect my own memories and experiences to many of its varied national locations.

The main thread of influence, particularly in my childhood, was that I lived in a threshold between countryside and city. Firstly, Kirkintilloch, just outside Glasgow, on the Forth and Clyde Canal. Then we moved to Glossop which is just east of Manchester, nestled in a landscape of old mills and factories beside the Peak District National Park.

The landscape of my youth was characterised by a mixture of industrial and rural, on the edge of things. When I eventually moved to Clapton in Hackney in my 30s, I began to walk the Lea Valley, London’s former East End industrial heartland, now a nature reserve. That was where my landscape writing began – the process which lead to Unofficial Britain.

In my first book, Marshland, I put my fascination with the marshes down to its evocation of my childhood landscapes. I believe that those early saturations of place stay with us for life – and they are valid and important no matter what that childhood environment was, be it deep rural countryside, suburban town, or urban council estate. Unofficial Britain is about looking at everyday places in which we live and acknowledging their place in our personal and collective memories.

FHR: In part, your book seems to be a challenge to the basis upon which traditional norms legitimise our experiences of the poetic and profound – is this right?

If you remove subjective notions of ‘ugliness’ and ‘beauty’, along with concepts like ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ and instead consider every object as having within it all the ingredients of the universe – then a huge world of possibilities open up, where a breeze block can be as interesting or meaningful as a rock, or where the undulations of the tarmac in a car park can be as fascinating as ripples on a pond.

FHR: Following on from this, you have said elsewhere that ‘everywhere is magical – everywhere is valid’. Pushing the logic of this a bit further it seems that this is both a personal invitation for a change in perceptions but also one which has cultural and political implications?

Yes, because it defuses this idea of an authentic pure ‘nature’ that must be revered (even though in a British landscape almost entirely reshaped by human activity since the Neolithic, it doesn’t really exist) while the places we all live are somehow sullied and unworthy. It also goes against this conservative, and often racist, idea that magic, folklore and myth belong in the rural past and to ‘proper’ British people (who also don’t really exist), because now we can see how imagination, storytelling and wonder continue in our contemporary world of industry, retail, housing estates and motorways.

FHR: Your book offers the prospect of an ‘urban reimagining’ – a chance to identify and connect to previously hidden aspects of our city environment. One example which I particularly liked was the role of roundabouts and your meeting with Stuart Silver in Glasgow and his call for urban paganism. Are roundabouts a good starting point in this respect? What are the roundabouts which you have known and loved?

Roundabouts are local lodestones in urban areas. They attract traffic from all angles then repel them in different directions. This gives them an undeniable power and influence. It is common for them to contain horticulture, sculpture, local advertising and other forms of local identity. So, roundabouts often have more to them than people think. Quite often they are situated on sites of importance – ancient crossroads, the sites of churches and prehistoric dwellings.

In the book I write about ‘the Urban Prehistorian’, Kenneth Brophy, who sees roundabouts as a legitimate fieldwork target for archaeologists. He gives the example of the Greenyards Roundabout near Bannockburn in Stirling, the construction of which in 2010 exposed post holes, Bronze Age roundhouses and evidence of agricultural activity. Sites like this offer an opportunity to peer through portals into the past. But it’s not only about looking back. Kenny believes that the roundabout has its own inherent value as ‘the latest aspect of the biography of this location’.

For an eye-opening roundabout tour, I recommend people visit Cribb’s Causeway Retail Park, just north of Bristol. It first appeared in my previous book, Car Park Life, but I make a return to it in Unofficial Britain. There are a series of roundabouts within the retail complex that have mysterious shapes and uncertain meanings – possibly relating to erogenous zones. I’ll leave it for people to get my book to find out more.

FHR: One chapter in your book draws out the terror and the anonymity of the hospital experience. Was it a therapeutic for you writing this chapter? And how might we encounter hospitals differently?

When I originally conceived of the hospital chapter, I was thinking primarily about the weirdness of the external areas – the seemingly chaotic jumble of disparate buildings, modern improvisations bolted onto the old, and the sometimes terrifying glimpses of the visceral reality – biomass chimneys burning tissue and bloody rags, tossed-away kidney dishes and signs for ‘blood letting units’. Beyond the grand facades of sliding doors and the smooth white interiors, there is a horror of sorts, in walking the back stage area. That stuff is in that chapter.

But then I bean to think about all the drama, horror, tragedy and joy that occurs within the hospital itself, which is rarely allowed to imprint itself on the disinfected and polished walls, floors and furnishings, yet which exists in the memory of those who experienced it. In moments of crisis, the hospital becomes the theatre set for the biggest dramas in our life – from birth to death – where we notice all the microdetails, the smells, textures and sounds. Then it’s all cleaned and packed away, leaving only this memory – which over time becomes a kind of fiction as we edit and shape that memory. In this way, a hospital interior is largely a psychological entity. Then when you think of the sheer volume of stories that happen in that space, it becomes an anthology of narrative that cannot be seen, but which does exist in the collective consciousness.

I don’t know if it will change the way we encounter hospitals, only that we maybe reconsider how weird they are – this non-place that is also fundamental to our family stories of birth, death, suffering and redemption

FHR: I saw that you were recently on television talking about your love of carparks. How might you persuade sceptics to re-evaluate the appeal of car parks? I personally find multi-story carparks to be quite sinister – is this your experience?

The appeal of car parks, for me, is that they are spaces in full public view, which many of us use daily or weekly, which are also unexplored as place in themselves. Why can’t a car park be as interesting as a wood? People use them to park cars and shop, but when you walk around them, poking into the corners, searching for clues, they reveal strange energies, weird juxtapositions and hidden stories. Google ‘car park + violence’ and you’ll see tales of horror, depravities, and a society with its wheels falling off. The heart of darkness might not be at the end of a river through the jungle, but in the space outside Tesco.

Car Park Life was specifically about chain retail store car parks, but in Unofficial Britain I explore the multi-storey, which are like crumbling Norman castles – one in almost every town and city. People find them beautiful but also sinister – in the book I talk about ghost sightings and experiences, as well as the creepiness of the decay inside these unique spaces.

FHR: In the book you share accounts of hauntings, often in quite mundane settings such as council houses. What is your own view of such things and how do they shape your philosophy of how we might broaden our experience of Unofficial Britain?

I wanted to get across the idea that the supernatural can seep into, and out of, every structure no matter how modern or seemingly mundane. Folklore and myth are not fixed in a halcyon past, but ongoing. They are carried in our hearts and minds, and therefore any place can be haunted – a 60s council house, a multi-storey car park, an industrial estate. We have lived for over 70 years in an urban landscape of council estates, shopping centres, motorways, pylons and cooling towers. They’ve been around long enough to become storied with love, loss, grief, violence, sexual awakenings and rites of passage. The book is an attempt to find some of the fresh shoots of future folklore as they burst from the concrete, seeking the light.

FHR: Can you say a little more about your literary influences. Clearly Richard Mabey’s Unofficial Countryside provides an important touchstone for challenging what is considered to be of significance in our landscape. Are writers such as JG Ballard and Iain Sinclair important to you? What are the pros and cons of being influenced by other writers?

Neither of those writers are particularly important to me, although Ballard inevitably crops up in the chapter about motorway flyovers. I am mainly influenced by other people who I’ve connected to online, who are ploughing similar – or complementary – furrows. I made a conscious decision to hat tip all the influences in the book itself, so you’ll see mention of websites like Scarfolk, Hookland and Anatomy of Norbiton, artists like Maxum Griffin, Jane Samuels and Mark Hollis, writers like Salena Godden, Nick Papadimitriou and Gary Budden, academic practitioners like Phil Smith, record labels like Ghost Box and musicians like Mark Williamson. The bibliography even includes Folk Horror Revival. These are the sorts of influences I have, and I can’t see any downsides to that – they are a source of ideas and inspiration. What I produce is something very different to these projects, so I am not burdened by the pressure of trying to compete directly.

FHR: Why is it that there seems to be a growing appreciation of pylons across the country? You document your own experiences vividly in the book but there are others who are connecting to this current – Hookland for example and the cult of The Children of the Hum.

One of the themes of the book is the way that landscape features become engrained in both our personal memories and the public folk consciousness. This can happen with industrial structures in the same way as natural topographical features. For everyone alive right now, pretty much, pylons have always been there. They’re huge, imposing structures that transcend town and city. On top of that, they’re highly sculptural, with phallic and feminine qualities. Depending on their location they can be menacing, majestic, serene or terrifying. Beneath the surface there’s a lot going on with pylons, as I reveal in the opening chapter which includes Illuminati conspiracies, Egyptology and alien invaders.

FHR: You are a musician. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on how music and sound can change our experience of everyday environments. What artists do you admire – for example do you have any affinity with Brian Eno, ambient music or the Ghostbox project?

In my first book, Marshland, I used what I call ‘soundchronicities’, which are walks where you also listen to music at a volume that doesn’t drown out the external noise, creating a unique DJ mix, never to be repeated. I used a lot of ambient and experimental electronic music for that, including Eno, but also Ekoplekz, TVO, The Psychogeographical Commission and Jon Brooks. This technique allows you to open up new interpretations of a place, influenced by the mood of what you’re listening to.

In Unofficial Britain, I didn’t use music in that way, but I do write about some of the ways that pylons, underpasses, power stations, motorways and other modern structures have been expressed in music, poetry and film. So I write a little bit about Ghost Box Records, and touch on other genres too – for instance, the M6 feature in multiple tracks by Half Man Half Biscuit, while the building of the M1 was subject of a radio folk ballad by Ewan MacColl.

FHR: Finally, what three unofficial places in Britain would you recommend visiting?

That’s a hard one to answer. The main point of the book was to avoid obviously extreme or interesting locations and show that there is fascination in the everyday. We all live in places that are full of magic, weirdness and stories, if we can just dwell in them a while, look closely, and allow our imaginations to roam. So really I wouldn’t recommend visiting three specific places in the map – but instead visit three types of place near you and see what happens. I’d recommend: an underpass (ideally beneath a roundabout); an industrial estate; and a multi-storey car park. Go there, wander, poke about, and get the feel of the place. See what happens. You never know.

The Occultaria of Albion

A folk horror `zine series exploring the weird & unusual in Albion – reviewed by Jim Peters

I imagine that a fair percentage of you are, like me, a fan of the local guide to an area’s myths, legends and hauntings – the sort of slim publication you can pick up in the Tourist Information Centre, library or small local museum shop. Sometimes you can pick up a second hand copy which approaches the subject matter from a slightly different angle to a modern version and of these it is those from the late 60’s-70’s that are the most pleasing. There is something about this period that sets it aside as a high tide mark for all things folkloric, esoteric, occult and otherworldly and this is reflected in these wonderful little guide books. Written by people with local knowledge (“for local people – we’ll have no trouble here”) and a willingness to believe in the stories they heard as they were growing up, they present the most farfetched and dark tales with a non-judgmental innocence punctuated with groovy artwork, long lost fonts and, if you are lucky, a handful of adverts for local attractions and tradespeople.

Recently there has been a resurgence of self-published magazines which take a look at the same subject matters but do so in a studious, serious style for the already converted and while they are a refreshing sign of people’s changing tastes and the rise of folk horror and other dark topics in the public’s conscious they don’t have quite the charm of those small run local guides of yesteryear. Their production and the quality of the end product is very impressive indeed and makes for a thing of beauty but they look more like the coffee table read of Jerry and Margo than the 70’s charm of Tom and Barbara’s rustic kitchen table…..for that you need to visit Scaraby and pick up a copy of The Occultaria of Albion.

This charming, oddball publication is the brainchild of writer Richard Daniels and illustrator Melody Clark in which `the damned and dusty files of (the hidden, haunted Lincolnshire village) Low Scaraby are opened, releasing a howl of unsolved mysteries and oddities.’ The perfect size, length and subject matter to enjoy with your afternoon cuppa on an autumnal day.

Lower Scaraby was introduced us to in Richard’s wonderful short story collection Too Dead For Dreaming (previously reviewed by FHR) and each edition of The Occultaria of Albion focuses on a different aspect of the Folk Horror landscape and legends of the countryside around the village. We are treated to tales of a tiny model village with its own inhabitants and urban myths in the Isle of Drumgunnan issue, the portentous psychedelic summer gatherings at Wickstead House, Highway robbery and UFOs on the A2358 and all manner of other wyrd folk horror wonderfulness with hopefully plenty more still to come.

You can get your back issues and keep an eye on future releases on Richard’s Plastic Brain website:

( The Plastic Richard Daniels )

The Plastic Richard Daniels

Expect literary weirdness!

And you can also support them through Patreon and get all manner of goodies for your time and effort…as it says on the Patreon page –

Come; step through the fog and the velvet drapes and into an Albion which has always existed, though only ever glimpsed in the shadows. If you become an OCCULTARIA of ALBION KNIGHT (OAK) means you are part of an exclusive group of men and women – yes, in centuries past you would have been burnt as a heretic but today, you are a seeker of truth!

Note: the OA Trauma Helpline has now been disconnected. You’re on your own.

( Occultaria of Albion is creating a zine series exploring the weird & unusual in Albion | Patreon )

Occultaria of Albion is creating a zine series exploring the weird & unu…

Become a patron of Occultaria of Albion today: Get access to exclusive content and experiences on the world’s la…

[WritingResource]
[Occultaria of Albion]