Forests Damned and Furrows Cursed: Book Review

Forests Damned and Furrows Cursed is a new anthology of classic Folk Horror novellas harvested by the author William P. Simmons of Shadow House Publishing.
We say ‘Folk Horror’ but all of the contained novellas were written in the late 19th/early 20th Century before the term Folk Horror was widely applied as a sub-genre or mode, therefore all are written with a purity of independence, free from the worry of whether their work conforms to a set idea or ticks all the expected boxes – a problem contemporary writers of Folk Horror may feel they face. So within these covers we are presented with 5 comparatively diverse tales, which still nonetheless should content both the casual and the more rigid readers of folk inspired horror.

The stories featured are ~
Watcher by the Threshold by John Buchan (1902)
The Novel of the Black Seal by Arthur Machen (1895)
Dionea by Vernon Lee (1890)
The Man Whom the Trees Loved by Algernon Blackwood (1912)
The Garden at 19 by Edgar Jepson (1910)

Differing from a number of Folk Horror anthologies that have collected short – short stories, Forests Damned gathers those creatures that dwell in the borderlands between short prose and novels – the land of the Novella. Outside of publisher demands (which may be of pragmatic /financial intent rather than creative) which may dictate a set word or page count, my personal belief with writing is that the story should be as long or as short as it takes to tell in the most rewarding manner. The precise amount of detail is required to describe the characters, setting and significant events. – applied to set the pace, to build suspense and either satisfy completely or to non-frustratingly leave the reader wanting more. Just enough detail for the reader to view the scene and unfolding events in their mind’s eye and to immerse in the story and be less conscious of reading a book, if that makes sense? So ideally, not so short as to appear rushed and unsatisfactory, not too long as to bloat and drag with superfluous padding. The stories in this book don’t always completely meet those aims but it is important still that they have been collected and presented again in our time as they are strong interesting stories in their own right and a vital link in the chain for any reader / collector that wishes to build a library and /or knowledge of literary fiction that falls under the umbrella of what is now rather widely referred to as Folk Horror.

Likewise these novellas are of their time which is relevant regarding their pace, style and also with reference to some social-political issues. They come from a time when there was little competition for attention in leisure time – no films, internet, games etc. So they can take their time getting where they are going and can stop to smell the roses in their descriptive manner. So as with all books and tales from different eras, may not be to the taste of all contemporary readers. In his introduction to the collection, Simmons does a good job of putting the works in context and explaining the feral nature of Folk Horror, so no previous experience of reading Folk Horror stories is necessary to enter into the wild lands contained, but it may be useful for those new to the form to read some shorter stories of both Folk Horror and of the era before tackling these long -short stories / short novels. Regarding the social-political issues within some of the tales, attitudes may raise some eyebrows and with fair enough cause; however whether they reflect the opinions specifically of the fictional characters portrayed, the author or the majority of their particular society at that time is not instantly identifiable. The reader can make their own judgement call when reading. Any issues do not overwhelm the tales, mostly they are concerned with traditional gender roles and the occasional opinion regarding foreign nations, but are mentioned purely for context of these tales being creatures of their own time. Such matters may also be of interest to Folk Horror fiction historians in their contemplation not only of tales being told but how they are told.

That overview out of the way, to look now at the individual tales contained and their creators.

John Buchan

The first story featured is The Watcher by the Threshold by John Buchan (first published in 1902). Buchan (1875 – 1940) was a Scottish polymath. In addition to being a fiction writer (his most famous work quite probably being The Thirty Nine Steps – an adventure tale of political intrigue (known more widely for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 cinematic adaptation); Buchan was an editor, non-fiction author, Unionist Politician and Governor General of Canada.
The Watcher by The Threshold tells of a man living on the Scottish moors whose studies of Justinian and classical philosophy go beyond obsession and finds himself feeling haunted by a devil. The importance of landscape in Folk Horror is well represented in this tale. I have a love of moors yet find them somewhat unsettling and Buchan’s writing sets the scene very well here.

Arthur Machen: Illustration by Andy Paciorek

Next we have The Novel of the Black Seal by Arthur Machen (1863 -1947) (which was first published as part of his 1895 collection The Three Imposters). Machen was a Welsh journalist, author, proto-psychogeographer and mystic – being a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn for a while, his personal spirituality though leaned towards Celtic Christianity.
The Novel of the Black Seal shares an element of Buchan’s tale which is also evident in a lot of M.R. James’ work that of academic study becoming embroiled in real situations of archeological, anthropological or folkloric horror. In this case case we find explorations of a subterranean site in the Grey Hills of Wales turning up more than expected. The existence and nature of the denizens of a Faerie Otherworld coexisting with our own goes against any Disneyfied Tinkerbell ‘airy-fairy’ conceptions of the ‘Little People’ of folklore and presents us with a forgotten, hidden swarthy, troglodyte race. In being of its time, perhaps the most horrific scene is implied rather than graphically explained. This works to its advantage, for in contemplation of the origins of the conception of the strange servant boy in the tale, I found myself genuinely unsettled. This tale went on to inspire both HP Lovecraft and Robert Howard in their weird fiction writing.
It was in connection to the Machen story incidentally, that I thought of the comparatively low incidence of classic tales fitting a Folk Horror vein being adapted to film during this current current Folk Horror revival. Rather than ‘karaoke’ versions of The Wicker Man, it would be good to see more of the old stories brought to the silver screen. This train of thought commuted my mind to the (criminally little-known) film adaption of a collection of Machen tales, Holy Terrors (2018) by Mark Goodall and Julian Butler (see https://folkhorrorrevival.com/2018/01/19/holy-terrors-film-review/ ) and I think that they would be perfect to adapt Forests Damned and Furrows Cursed to film as a portmanteau – an Amicus-anthology style Folk Horror film if you will.
Anyway I digress, so on with the book …

Vernon Lee aka Violet Paget

Next up we have Dionea by Vernon Lee. Originally published in 1890, Vernon Lee was actually the pseudonym of Violet Paget (1856 – 1935). Paget was a strong proponent of feminism but was published under a masculine pen-name. The author’s own contemplation and experience of gender matters can offer a further context to the story of Dionea, a foundling child raised in an Italian convent. Dionea does not care for the studies, chores and sewing that the nuns put her too and instead is drawn more to nature. As she gets older, her independence of thought – her perhaps even feral nature puts her at odds with the convent and later beyond those cloistered walls. Dionea’s strength of character and wild free-spirit is even seen to affect the fate of others and she is viewed with both suspicion and superstition. The return of buried paganism is a recurring element through different examples of Folk Horror, which marks Dionea’s place in this book and the Folk Horror canon, and the voice behind it is a refreshing interlude to the male, quite conservative – despite the themes, uttering of the other featured tale-tellers.

Algernon Blackwood: Illustration by Andy Paciorek

Perhaps one of the most evocatively titled of all horror stories follows next, The Man Whom The Trees Loved (1912) by Algernon Blackwood (1869 – 1951). A member of both The Ghost Club and like Machen, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn; Blackwood is perhaps the biggest name in the book among horror circles. Extremely prodigious and successful in his horror writing career, alas I find issue with The Man Whom the Trees Loved – it’s not that it’s a bad story – it’s a decent enough tale. The problem is that in my opinion, it should be a short story not a novella. There for me is an issue of repetition in the tale – if handled skillfully then a little repeating can build up suspense but I just find too much of it and dallying here. It is surprising as Blackwood knows his craft, so it would’ve been hoped that he did not opt for a ‘less is more’ approach here. As for the tale itself, it is quite poetically beautiful as well as unsettling. A woman becomes extremely concerned with her husband’s obsession for the trees that surround their country abode. It has an underlying mystical and philosophical debate about the sentience of life, (indeed all of the stories featured in this book pose a studious contemplation of the ‘nature’ of both nature and the supernatural) and it is a valuable addition to the Folk Horror bookshelves but I unfortunately cannot help but feel that it would have been a more powerful narrative had Blackwood decided to have it edited down.

Edgar Jepson

Closing the book is The Garden at 19 (1910) by Edgar Jepson (1863 -1948). Jepson, an English writer, is more widely associated to crime and adventure novels ( as well as translating Maurice Leblanc’s French tales of the aristocratic brigand Arsene Lupin into English). One of his wanderings into fantastic territory The Garden at 19 is a mixed bag. Like The Man Whom the Trees Loved, 19 could’ve probably done with being a bit shorter. It also has its eyebrow raising moments in its oddly repeated opinions of German professors and also in its portrayal of girls/women and their societal roles. Otherwise it’s a fair enough tale, reminiscent of Denis Wheatley’s Satanism in suburbia romps. The presence of that old horny deity Pan explains the book cover (featuring a painting by the, alas not familiar enough, Belgian Symbolist painter of the uncanny, Leon Spilliaert) and relates how a young lawyer becomes intrigued both by the strange goings-on in his neighbour’s garden and then by the presence of his neighbour’s niece. The character of the neighbour, Woodfell, is very clearly inspired by the notorious occultist and tabloid scandal-fodder of the time, Aleister Crowley.

The afterword of the book comes in the form of questions, an interesting addition that would perhaps prove useful for book groups, genre-study classes, and academic or personal-interest students of Folk Horror / horror literature. This and the novel approach of presenting novellas rather than shorter fiction makes this book an interesting and valuable addition to folk’s Folk Horror book collection.

Faun by Moonlight: Leon Spillaert (1900)

Forests Damned And Furrows Cursed: A Haunted Heritage of Folk Horror Novellas
Edited by William P. Simmons
Paperback, 236 pages
Published April 26th 2022
by Shadow House Publishing
ISBN13 – 798806998614

Reviewed by Andy Paciorek

Dark Folklore: Book Review

Upon hearing of the release of Dark Folklore by Mark and Tracey Norman, I was beguiled as to what Chthonic treasures the book would contain, for there is certainly darkness a ‘plenty to be found within the world of folklore. Upon opening the book and casting my eyes over the contents listing of the 5 chapters offering a bewitching array of lore with Fortean interest, the first chapter The Old Hag: Folklore and Sleep Paralysis was of particular personal intrigue to me, having experienced numerous incidents of this bizarre state myself. The Normans provide a very good overview on the subject covering the bases of superstition, psychoanalysis and scientific rationale. Presented are numerous entities associated to the Hag-riding phenomenon aspects of sleep disturbance in world folklore, from the Hungarian Liderc to the Arabian Quarinah and the Alien Greys. The authors put forward balanced and insightful consideration of the subject, without judgement. They explain the medical processes of such unsettling experiences but don’t merely dismiss the entities envisioned rather questioning why a feeling of somnolent physical inertia and laboured breathing (amongst other symptoms) can result in visions of old crones or other strange entities squatting on the sufferers’ chests or dark mysterious figures lingering in the corners of the room. Archetypal consideration is applied here, as is the rich folklore of myriad nocturnal entities that can be found across the world in both developing and more technologically advanced societies. (An unsettling folkloric belief, not mentioned within this book, was told to me by a Filipina associate who claimed that the Batibat, an entity associated to the strange hypnagogic / hypnopompic episodes is believed in her culture to be the ghost of someone who had died in their sleep). 

Chapter two deals with The Dark Church and covers wide-reaching examples of association mostly between the Christian church in Britain and superstition and pagan influence. Discussed are foliate head and Sheela-na-gig carvings, St. Mark Eve vigils (whereby observers may see a procession of those destined to die in the following year and other wondrous delights. Here we wander down corpse roads and meet the priests of Devon who reputedly employed rather than denied folk magic. The magician-priests included Reverend Franke Parker who lore declares had the power to shape-shift and had an esoteric library that he was deeply protective of. The peculiar Parson Parker was reportedly once found at rest in a bed surrounded by dead toads.

Folk Ghosts provide the focus of the third chapter and considers the distinction that should be made more in haunt studies between ghosts that exist purely in lore and those reported to have been experienced by verifiable witnesses. Many places are said to be haunted by a phantom stagecoach or phantom black dog for instance, but how many have known contemporary witnesses of the particular phenomenon? ‘Cockstride ghosts’ – the spirits of those destined to perform some impossible or potentially eternal penance for an earthly crime are also given good attention. Weaving rope from grains of sand or emptying large pools with a leaking diminutive vessel are examples of such posthumous burdens that may befall wicked souls.

Following on in Chapter four we are entertained with Urban Legends and contemplation of their history, endurance and evolution from the era of Spring-Heeled Jack through the Edwardian case of the Cottingley Fairy photographs, to the radio and televisual panics of the broadcasts of War of The Worlds and Ghostwatch to the virtual ‘fakelore’ creations taking on a real-world presence and influence in the digital-age such as Slender Man and the Momo Challenge, perfectly showing that folklore is not simply a historical study but a living, developing part of human culture.

Dark Tourism and Legend Tripping provide the basis of the fifth and final chapter. Here, Mark and Tracey turn tour-guide and lead us to some intriguing and odd international locations and contemplate why people may be drawn to visit places of grisly repute, to witness rituals alien to their own cultures or to even re-enact certain strange historical happenings. Included here are Aokighara – the notorious ‘suicide forest’ of Japan, the Black Mausoleum of Edinburgh’s Greyfriars cemetery which bears reported activity by the Mackenzie poltergeist and the ghost tours of the Ararat Lunatic Asylum in Australia. Also covered are the death rites and rituals such as the Torajan Ma’nene funerary customs in South Sulawesi, Indonesia and the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations in Mexico. Quite a lot of lore is surprisingly covered within this relatively thin and rather charming, attractively presented book. Subjects however are frequently given a satisfying amount of considered attention rather than being skimmed over but other examples are mentioned in passing which can whet the reader’s appetite for further research. The allocation of five chapters also works well here, giving the book a tighter focus whilst still treading a lot of ground and providing plenty of scope for possible further volumes in the series, which personally I’d be keen to read.

Dark Folklore
Mark Norman & Tracey Norman http://www.thefolklorepodcast.com/
The History Press (2021)
Hb. 174 pp.
ISBN 9780750998

https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/publication/dark-folklore/9780750998017/

Review by Andy Paciorek. First Published in Fortean Times magazine

Amazing Graze: Summer Solstice Charity Donation 2022 ☀️

Thank You to everybody who voted in our Solstice charity donation poll. The poll is now closed and we are pleased to say that Yorkshire Wildlife Trust will receive £500 from our book sales profits towards their grassland appeal.

You can support more Wildlife Trusts projects by buying our folk horror and urban wyrd books at –

https://www.lulu.com/spotlight/andypaciorek

and/or donating directly at –

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/appeals

☀️Happy Solstice☀️

“Black Gate Tales” by Paul Draper

This is collection of short stories by Paul Draper is a very strong and diverse offering. Many of the stories are in contemporary settings but a few seem specifically tied to an era with the remainder in a vague but remote past. He doesn’t confine himself to the UK as well. Some take place in Europe and the Middle East and do not always have a strict Folk Horror vibe but are very compelling nonetheless. My descriptions are admittedly vague to avoid spoilers.

The standouts for me were:

Mrs. Pendelton’s Corpse” a dark humored tale that would be right at home among the Lore tellers of the turn of the 19th century.

“The Puppeteer of Prague” set in the city of a hundred spires shortly before the second world war. It evokes the best of Kafka and even a bit of Magic Realism.

“The King of Gorse” is my absolute favorite of the collection as I have a weakness for stories of this ilk. Draper has uniquely employed his own tools to steer the story clear of a formulaic telling.

“Twenty Steps to the Ditch” will appeal to anyone who has ever made the difficult trek back home after a long night in the pub. What one imagines in their stupor along the way turns out to be a grim reality in this offering.

One story that completely broke my heart was “The Undertow” which deals with the multiple levels of grief.

“The Fourteenth Day” was equally saddening. At first read it appears the story was a bit open ended but anyone who has watched international news can gleen what is to come. There is no outright horror save what humans are capable of doing to one another and the slight supernatural current of cosmology children create for themselves to deal with it.

Even though all of these stories would make great radio dramas or film shorts they stand on their own as excellent stories to be read or told. I highly recommend for anyone who loves a good story.

Archive 81: an Urban Wyrd Review

Archive 81 is a 2022 Netflix series developed by Rebecca Sonnenshine based upon the podcast of the same name created by Daniel Powell and Marc Sollinger (which I have not listened to as of yet, so cannot compare in this article).

Its premise follows the recruitment of Dan Turner (Mamadoudou Athie) as an electronic media conservator tasked with restoring fire-damaged videotapes shot by missing film maker Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi).

The show encompasses numerous elements of the Urban Wyrd. Apparently the term Urban Wyrd has caused confusion amongst some people, so it may be worthwhile to briefly explain the concept again here.
The Urban Wyrd designation was created and first contemplated by author & film-maker Adam Scovell on his Celluloid Wickerman website and was developed /investigated further in the pair of multi-contributor Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd books published by Wyrd Harvest Press.
The Urban Wyrd is not ‘folk horror in a city’ though elements may sometimes be shared, and it was in reference and relationship to folk horror that the discussion first arose.

Urban Wyrd is not a genre, but a mode that relates to the incidence of the Uncanny, the Weird and the Eerie with specific relationship to the built-up environment, particular buildings, liminal edge-lands (such as motorway motels, service stations and sometimes suburbia) and/or to technology (including analogue and outdated forms).

The Urban Wyrd is frequently to be found where concepts such as Hauntology and Psychogeography occur on film, literature, music and art (both in the original academic remit of these subjects and in the development of their pop-cultural aesthetic).
The Urban Wyrd mode may therefore be applicable to narratives and/or imagery featuring haunted houses, uncanny urban geography & architecture (including transport stations and underpasses etc.) as well as haunted media (photography, digital, video etc) and also to supernatural, folkloric and/or occult excursions/infiltration into the modern world. Psychological relationships to the environment or technology may also be a factor. Concepts of time are also frequently a consideration.

(As with Folk Horror), ambience, aesthetic and that certain ineffable something that you may struggle to verbalise but know when you see, hear or feel it may also be apparent in items featuring modes of Urban Wyrd.
The concept of the Urban Wyrd is not a strict label or manifesto but more-so a feature or features that can be used to associate different films or media that share these similar themes, aesthetics or elements. Although it can be a topic for academic study, the designation of Urban Wyrd can and should be more widely and generally used as a handy way for people who like one film or book or song or artwork using the motifs described to find others featuring them that they may also enjoy.
Many of these elements just mentioned can be found in Archive 81.

Without giving too many spoilers away, a resume of Article 81 follows.
Dan is employed by a company named LMG to go to a remote complex to repair and restore a quantity of damaged video tapes filmed by Melody Pendras – a young woman who went missing in the 1990s following a fire at the Visser building, an apartment block built on the foundations (and history) of a former mansion belonging to the enigmatic Vos family. Melody is drawn there on a tip-off that her birth mother who abandoned her as a baby was a resident there. Family history plays a role within this drama which follows several different narratives apparently separated by time but united by people and place. As Dan delves further into his work he discovers a link to his own family and realises his task is far more than just being a regular job.

The show flits between found-footage and several story-lines occurring at different periods of time and also dream-narratives. The footage itself and its strange qualities is reminiscent of Koji Suzuki’s ‘Ringu’ (adapted to film in 1998 by Hideo Nakata and remade in 2002 by Gore Verbinski as ‘The Ring’) and whilst being quite a creature in its own right, Archive 81 wears its inspirations and influences on its sleeve. Rather than being derivative though a further meta narrative is added to the mix giving another layer for viewers and fans to mull over. We see references to movies as diverse as ‘Solaris’, ‘Night of the Living Dead’, ‘Ministry of Fear’ and even ‘The Secret of Nimh’. Stephen King’s 1977 novel ‘The Shining’ is referenced and similarities can be drawn between the show and Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 cinematic reworking of King’s book. The Visser Apartment/ Vos Mansion bears similarity with ‘The Shining”s Overlook hotel with its winding corridors, dark history, art-deco soirees and the feeling that the building is haunted not simply by the people that died there but by its own brooding character. Association can also be drawn to Ira Levin’s 1967 novel / Roman Polanski’s 1968 film ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ with its mysterious apartment neighbours and occult ritual occurrences. Indeed there are elements of Polanski’s other Apartment Trilogy films ‘Repulsion’ (1965) and ‘The Tenant’ (1976) to be found in Archive 81’s make-up also.

There are also non-film associations that can be found in Archive 81 which will be of interest to those curious in the different aspects of the Urban Wyrd mode and also in wider aspects of the occult and paranormal outside of fiction.
The inclusion of Spirit Photography and Psychic Art works on both an aesthetic and narrative level. The name of the art group as Spirit Receivers and the examples of much the art shown seems strongly to allude to the book ‘World Receivers‘ which details the works of Georgiana Houghton. Hilma Af Klint and Emma Kunz – three artists of the 20th Century whose paintings were conducted through spiritual mediumship. (Another good book on that subject is Not Without My Ghosts and for Spirit Photography an excellent book is The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult).

In reference to pop-Hauntology (ie. that form associated to examples of popular culture as explored by Mark Fisher rather than the original political-philosophy form devised by Jacques Derrida) Archive 81 features strongly there both in aesthetic and topics covered. The attention to analogue technology, the literal ghost in the machine and genii loci – spirits of place; brings to mind ‘Ringu’ as mentioned previously, but also Nigel Kneale and Peter Sasdy’s 1972 TV play ‘The Stone Tape’ and the Electronic Voice Phenomenon {EVP} experimental studies pioneered by Friedrich Jürgenson, Hans Bender and Konstantin Raudive) have a strong hauntological quality as does the element of the movement of time that occurs within the unfolding tale. This is continued in the sound design brilliantly crafted by composer Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow (one of the geniuses behind the Excellent Trip-Hop outfit Portishead). The combination of atmospheric music, drone and other aural invocations and evocations helps to induce a sense of unsettling perception – almost to the verge of inducing anxiety in the viewer (I myself have found myself ear-worming the prayer-song); this attention to sound likens Archive 81 to other films with significant Urban Wyrd content such as ‘Sinister’ and ‘Berberian Sound Studio’ (which also share the themes of uncanny elements within the actual media of film and video), and also to the works of David Lynch. The stilted slow dialogue also is reminiscent of the cinema of David Lynch and some of Stanley Kubrick’s work (‘The Shining’ and ‘Eyes Wide Shut’) however at times it does heighten the awareness of it being acted and therein lies a question as to how well the show was cast. There is another point however that lots of viewers have seemed to take issue with and that is the season’s finale. Again without giving away Spoilers, I personally don’t have a problem if that is how the show ends totally, although I do have a question /issue as to one of the character’s actions which culminated in that conclusion. The ending however does allow potential for the narrative to resume and develop further if Netflix decide to green light another season.

All in all, I enjoyed the series, it ticked numerous other interest boxes of mine and I was impressed by its techniques aimed to unsettle. Aesthetically I liked it, though for some of the special effects I personally would have opted for a more Less is More approach and it has inspired me to give the original Podcast a listen.

Reviewed by Andy Paciorek

Happy New Year + New Merchandise

Happy New Year to all Revivalists – Hope it is a good one.

To mark the dawn of 2022 – here are two new designs at our online RedBubble merchandise store –

Available on various items and garments in various colours and cuts.

Browse all our available designs -> here …

Interview with Stephen Rutt

Stephen Rutt is a writer and amateur naturalist, specialising in creative non-fiction prose and birds. He won the Saltire Society’s first book award, as well as a Roger Deakin award for his debut book, The Seafarers. His second book, Winteringwas one of The Times’s best nature books of the year for 2019. 

Stephen Rutt

Stephen’s most recent book is The Eternal Season: Ghosts of summers past, present and future, which has been described as combining ‘lyrical meditations on the abundant beauty of British summer with measured, poignant and vital reminders of the unsettling effects of global warming’. The book charts the many ways in which the season is becoming deranged by a changed and changing climate: the wrong birds singing at the wrong time; August days as cold as February; the creeping disturbances that we may not notice while nature still has some voice. It is both ‘a celebration of summer and a warning of the unravelling of this beautiful web of abundant life’. 

Folk Horror Revival has a strong affinity for the natural world and is a committed supporter of the Wildlife Trusts. In light of this and noting the distinct whisper of hauntology associated with The Eternal Season, John Pilgrim took the opportunity to ask Stephen a few questions about his writing and what inspires him.

The Eternal Season ~ Stephen Rutt

FHR: What were you hoping to achieve when you started to write The Eternal Season – and how did this turn out by the time of publication? 

SR: I wanted to write a sort of almanac. I have a bit of an obsession with old almanacs, I scour charity shops and second hand bookshops for them, most from authors I’ve never heard of. Observations of historic wildlife are fascinating to me, partly for how they’re framed but also for what they found: they seem like a great starting point for trying to work out where we’re at currently. Often the most banal passages illustrate how far things have changed. And then as the ideas for this sort-of almanac of summer were settling in my head in the autumn of 2019, I was reminded by the incredible exuberance of hawthorn berries that year that to take a selective timespan of nature is or can be misleading. There are no neat cuts to be made: it really can only be contemplated properly in the whole. This isn’t new, this was my re-realising the truth of John Muir’s seeing nature as a universe of hitches. And then I wanted to explore, taking those old almanacs as a starting point, the way that seasonal writing hasn’t really properly responded to the anthropocene. 

Almanacs present a vision of nature as a place of ordered happenings, a fixed schedule of emergences and migrations, which may well once have been true, but nowadays isn’t. Hence I had to begin on the Solway Firth, as storm tides threatened natterjack toad habitat, then in Liverpool where a blackcap – a common summer migrant warbler – had been spending the winter in my friend’s mahonia. This in particular is an increasing phenomenon that has actually led to blackcaps that winter here beginning to evolve differences from those that spend the winter in the Mediterranean. That destabilising was something I had planned to trace out… all the way until March, when lockdown hit, I was marooned in Bedfordshire instead of Dumfries and Galloway, and my planned research trips lay in tatters. The book benefitted from it though. It meant the rare stuff was out and I was refocused on the everyday, the common place and what was at hand in the fields and woods around, which were nothing special. I still found special things of course – and to return to those old almanacs, what they found and what I couldn’t, well that began to haunt me. By the end of the summer, when I was able to return to Scotland, I found that this had completely shaped my thinking.

As I turned to think about the role of climate change in all this more directly (it is woven everywhere of course) at the end of the book, I began to be a bit more hopeful. All I have as a naturalist is my observations. I am not alone. There are myriad naturalists observing, calculating, noticing the changes, expanding our knowledge of nature and what’s changing. That, I think, is where hope lies most of all. The absolute dedication and belief of conservationists thrills and inspires me.

FHR: The Eternal Summer can be seen as a hauntological meditation on summers past, present and future. Our memories of summers past shaping our sense of loss of summers yet to be. Different conceptions of the future are now playing out. Some are dark, yet others offer hope. As the American philosopher and baseball coach Yogi Berra has observed with great insight ‘the future ain’t what it used to be’. A sense of nature’s abundance slipping away is probably much more part of a younger generation’s experience and future anticipation – although of course The Silent Spring was published in 1962. How did writing the book help you to grapple with these sorts of issues?

SR: Nature is full of hauntings and full of the haunted too. Some of these on a basic, emotional level, some requiring a bit of knowledge. I’m still of a younger generation and I’ve grown up with the idea of loss in nature. Birding has been my obsession for half my life and in that time it seems like the narrative arc of it has headed inevitably (irretrievably?) towards loss. Not just loss as in absence but a loss of abundance. I don’t know if I agree that there’s a sense of abundance slipping away, because to me it slipped away before my time. For some of the haunting presences in the countryside, I need to educate and remind myself of it, like a snag that I can’t quite move beyond: it may be pretty but where are the turtle doves, and when did they disappear from here? 

I should say also that there is obviously still abundance in the countryside, and these are things worth celebrating. Often though these tend to be new species, spreading in response to a changing climate, conservation work or habitat creation. Which is great, but I worry it can hide what’s happening. It’s only normal to be distracted by something new. It’s easier to focus on presence than absence, even if absence has a way of being naggingly, insistently present. I was left with hope, though, on finishing the book, which surprised me. There’s an incredible seam of hope that runs through conservation to Greta Thunberg and the school strikers for future, people like me who grew up never needing to learn about climate change because it’s just always been there as the great impending threat. 

We have people doing inspiring things on every level, from the borderless world of the climate to looking after incredibly tiny, niche species. For us in-between, noticing and witnessing the species we find, the landscapes we see, the changes happening and how we talk about it: that’s a pretty good place for us to start. That’s what I wanted to say in the book. I offer no solutions and no answers, just an attempt at thinking and understanding.

FHR: Can you say a bit about your interest in folklore and why you draw on this? If you’d like to do a third and final one that would be ‘What projects have you recently been involved and is there anything in the pipeline which we should watch out for? Answers can be really brief if you wish as you’ve given great detailed answers to the first two questions.

SR: Folklore is fascinating. One of my guiding principles is that as birders, ecologists, naturalists, whatever, that we like biodiversity. I like a cultural biodiversity too. It’s never just the science, or the folklore, or my experience of nature in my narratives. Everyone’s experience of nature is valid and folklore is another expression of that. Where it interacts with science or experience: that’s gold. Also, when I was a teenage birder it wasn’t something I spoke about (except for online, forums and social medium were a godsend then). It was very easy to feel alone in my interest at that age. I’m always looking back, wanting to know the deep history of human interest in wildlife too, deeper than Gilbert White and organised birding. We’ve always looked at animals and thought things. I love that. I long to know what the Pictish thought about birds. 

FHR: What other nature writers do you admire?

SR:  Kathleen Jamie is the contemporary I most look up to. Her essays are something else: clear and thoughtful and wild and with an unparalleled way with words. I was an undergraduate when she became professor of poetry at Stirling. I was too shy to take her classes. As someone who is only capable at prose, I’m in awe of those who can master it and do poetry and criticism too. Recently I’ve been reading novels again. My literary diet has been nature heavy over the past decade and sometimes there’s just a comfort in being swept along in a plot-rich novel. I’ve been reading Le Carre’s A Perfect Spy and the way he gets the details without being overbearing is perfect. I’ve been reading a lot of Graham Greene too. Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is the perfect dark nature novel. 

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead ~ Olga Tokarczuk

FHR: What projects have you recently been involved and is there anything in the pipeline which we should watch out for?

SR: Wigtown book festival will be publishing my latest project soon: a short manuscript about life and literature of saltmarsh, called The Saltmarsh Library. I’ve been jointly running walks across Wigtown Bay, out to the mud and creek dipping with Elizabeth Tindal for this year’s festival. It’s the most amazing, magic place. Because of the timing of the project, conceived in the first lockdown and finished in the second (here, it was the third for England), I really delved into what place means and how we interact and think about it, and what it means to be there in a habitat that is well described in ecology textbooks, yet is also nothing like that in real life. After that: just ideas, and no time to make anything of them yet. But always keep an eye on my social media.

Programme for 2019 Wigtown Book Festival

Twitter: @steverutt  Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/steve.rutt/  

Web: https://stephenrutt.com

FHR Winter Ghosts 2021 running times

Just a few days until Winter Ghosts 2021 event: FHR’S got Wyrms this weekend on Saturday 27th of November in the Met Ballroom, Whitby

Tickets are still available for £13.00 and can be bought from https://bit.ly/3rfnLXj

Here is a rough running order for the day:

13:00 – 13:30 Sarah Caldwell Steel ‘Bewitched: A jewellery addicts guide to enchantment’

13:35 – 14:15 Doc Rowe ‘Be there Dragons, Dying or Devine Gods in our Sacred Groves…?’

14:20 – 14:50 Shrouded Republic Performance piece on ‘The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies’

14:55 – 15:55 Richard Freeman ‘Dragons: More than a myth?’

16:00 -17:00 Hazelsong Theatre ‘Wyrms and Dragons of the Northlands’

17:00 – 19:00 Break for food and sound checks

19:00 Chris Lambert of Soulless Party ‘March of the Meadow Hags’

19:45 – 20:30 Everyday Dust

20:45 – 21:30 Nathalie Stern & The Noize Choir

21:45 Attrition

More info on all the acts can be found here:
https://folkhorrorrevival.com/2021/10/20/folk-horror-revival-presents-winter-ghosts-2021/

In addition to this, on Sunday from 13:00-16:45 at Flowergate Hall is Winter Ghosts 2021: We have Wyrms Ghost Stories, a collection of original and published Ghost Stories being read all for the price of piece of cake!

Also the art exhibition at Flowergate Hall will be running until the 28th of November. More information about the art exhibition can be found in the following article:
https://folkhorrorrevival.com/2021/10/15/in-search-of-wyrms-and-other-beasties/

We hope you can make it!

Whitby: Winter Ghosts

Wandering the weird in the North Country, Borders & Pennines

Whitby: North Yorkshire

On the 27th and 28th November 2021 Folk Horror Revival will again host a Winter Ghosts event at the Metropole Ballroom in the haunting coastal town of Whitby (Tickets available HERE)
In addition to the beguiling talks and bewitching music that will delight your senses, Whitby too is both a beautiful and strange place to visit especially in winter when the streets are not mobbed with people … well not live ones anyway.

Join me now whilst I reminisce on just one haunting eve I spent at Whitby and tell a winter’s tale of some of the North Sea town’s haunted history.

Following the proceedings of the first Winter’s Ghost event several years ago, I stayed over for an extra night in The Stoker Room of the weird and wonderful La Rosa hotel, a place (and room) I had previously spent a great Yule break with…

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Folk Horror Revival Presents Winter Ghosts 2021.

Saturday line up.

Solitaire International | Solitaire & Jewellery Magazine- GJEPC India

Sarah Caldwell Steele – Proprietor of The Ebor Jetworks, Gemologist, Jewellery Designer and expert in all things Jet from its chemistry, through its history to its folklore

The Doc Rowe interview: "I've gone to places and missed the ceremony by 19  years because they only do it every 20 years and I'd got the date wrong" -  Jon Wilks

Dr Rowe – Folk lore expert. Dr ‘Doc’ Rowe has been documenting British Cultural tradition for nearly sixty years using video, film and photography as well as audio. His unique collection of contemporary and historical material on the traditional culture of the British Isles and Ireland is now housed in Whitby. The strength of the collection lies in its ongoing ‘serial’ fieldwork and regular contact with communities where individual events flourish – hence the material is at once wide-ranging, first hand and constantly updated. A long-term council member of the Folklore Society and Oral History Society, he regularly broadcasts on aspects of folklore and tradition he has also written a number of books and his photographs are regularly published. A teacher, photographer, broadcaster and performer, one major inspiration stems from working with Charles Parker in Radio documentary from the early sixties and in later theatre productions. . As well as a number of one-man exhibitions, he joined artists Alan Kane and Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller in a British Council travelling exhibition ‘Folk Archive: Contemporary Popular Art from the UK’ [2005 and still touring internationally]; he contributed to ‘British Folk Art’ [Tate Britain, 2014] and, more recently, ‘Lore – the Living Archive’ is an Arts Council funded travelling exhibition that curated material from the archive alongside contemporary artists who drew creative inspiration from the archive itself. www.docrowe.org.uk

Shrouded Republic – A performance piece inspired by Rev. Robert Kirk of Aberfoyle author of “The Secret Commonwealth: A Study in Folklore and Psychical Research.” Project Lono is a collaborative collective of musicians and poets experimenting with audio scapes that blend verse, storytelling, song, music and live and recorded sound effects. The Shrouded Republic has been created by Bob Beagrie, Sara Dennis, Kev Howard, Peter Lagan, John Dunleavy and SJ Forth. https://projectlono.bandcamp.com/album/the-shrouded-republic-the-whole-trip

THE DRAGONS OF ALBION by Richard Freeman - The Archaeology and Metal  Detecting Magazine

Richard Freeman – Herpetologist, Cryptozoologist and leading expert all things Dragon.

Richard Freeman is a former zookeeper who has worked with over 400 species of animal and has a special interest in crocodiles. He is a full-time cryptozoologist and is the Zoological Director of The Centre for Fortean Zoology, the world’s only professional organization dedicated to searching for unknown species. He has searched for cryptids n five continents and has investigated creatures such as the yeti, the Tasmanian wolf, the orang-pendek, the giant anaconda, the Mongolian deathworm the almasty, the ninki-nanka, the gul and many others. He is currently planing a series of trips in search of giant,man-eating crocodiles. He has lectured widely on cryptozoology at venues such as The Natural History Museum and the Grant Museum of Zoology. He has written a number of books on cryptozoology and folklore as well as horror fiction. His interest in strange creatures stems from a love of classic Doctor Who.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Freeman_%28cryptozoologist%29

Adventures in Cryptozoology

Hazelsong Theatre – Talk on John McKinnell with attendant, vaguely tame Wyrm or two. Tales of Wyrms and Dragons have woven their way through the folklore of the North of England and of the borders for generations. Drawing upon a multitude of sources Andy Bates and Linda Richardson will explore these stories and their origins and will track them to their roots in Norse, Anglo Saxon and Celtic literature and iconography Andy and Linda will be accompanied in their presentation by an imposing and unpredictable Wyrm of significant sinuousness.Andy Bates is an archaeologist, a craftsman, a musician, a puppet maker, a writer and performer. He has walked the hills of Northumberland, its fields and its river valleys for decades. He has listened to the voices of wind and water telling their stories and those of folk long gone and those still vital. He has delved into its earth and has witnessed its cradling of the bones of the ancestors. He dug at the Bowl Hole. For Andy and for the troupe, rock cut spirals and waterfalls are songs waiting to be sung. https://bamburghbones.org/projects/hazelsong/

Chris Lambert of The Soulless Party.
A solo piece from the wordsmith and wanderer of The Black Meadow. A mystical place that lies within the wilds of Yorkshire. Author of the Wyrd Kalendar, Chris will fright and delight with his dramatic and immersive storytelling.
Chris is part of the soundscape collective The Soulless Party which also features Kev Oyston.

https://thesoullessparty.bandcamp.com/
https://wyrdkalendar.blogspot.com/

Stream Everyday Dust music | Listen to songs, albums, playlists for free on  SoundCloud

Everyday Dust. Electronic musician using synthesizers and mosstronics to soundtrack strange stories. https://soundcloud.com/everyday-dust

Music | Nathalie Stern

Nathalie Stern. Of Swedish origin but now living in Newcastle, Nathalie served her apprenticeship in guitar-based bands such as Candysuck and Lake Me, before looking to traditional Swedish folk roots and more experimental sounds for her debut solo album ‘Firetales’ in 2010. https://nathaliesternmusic.bandcamp.com/music

martin.attrition.London.thumb

ATTRITION are pioneers in a darker electronica…Carving out a unique slice of the creative underground for over two decades, fueled by a succession of critically acclaimed albums…selling over 50,000 to date…the band has toured all Europe and North America, Mexico and Asia, appeared at major festivals and had their music included on a number of film soundtracks….
Formed in 1980 by Martin Bowes and Julia Waller in Coventry, England, influenced by a mix of punk ideology and experimental art aesthetics, they emerged as part of the early ’80’s UK Industrial scene alongside contemporaries Test Department, Coil, Legendary Pink dots, In The Nursery, Portion Control et al.
Their music is an undefinable marriage of dark and light…of futures and pasts…probing unexplored sonic landscapes with an eclectic marriage of experimental and traditional sound, of electronics and acoustics, of male and female….
https://attritionuk.bandcamp.com/

Art Exhibition at Flowergate Hall from 30 Oct, please note that all pieces exhibited will be for sale. More information about the art exhibition can be found in the following article. https://folkhorrorrevival.com/2021/10/15/in-search-of-wyrms-and-other-beasties/

Sunday – Ghost story readings at Flowergate Hall.

Tickets are £13.00 and can be bought from https://bit.ly/3rfnLXj