I was only a couple of pages in by the time this book had me hooked. From the offset Peter Laws’ investigation into why people, like himself, are fascinated, drawn to and maybe a little obsessed by horror and other spooky or grisly weird stuff, resonated with me. I too am one of those morbid kids grown up and not grown out of morbidity. Unlike Peter Laws however, I am not a Christian church minister!! Laws’ day job is accompanied by a night shift that sees him writing reviews of horror films for Fortean Times magazine and penning dark fiction. Some may consider Laws’ dual paths as being incongruous but as he points out Christianity is full to the brim with supernatural elements; there are numerous grim and violent stories in the bible and The Exorcist is actually a very Christian film (and indeed was instrumental to Laws finding his vocation as ‘the sinister Minister’. My own childhood attending a Catholic school governed sternly by nuns already had me convinced that horror and Christianity may not always be miles apart by any means!
But what is the fascination of horror? Why does it draw some people in? Why do some people enjoy being frightened? Is it wrong or harmful to like freaky, frightening stuff? These are questions that Laws seeks answers to in some very strange places. Within the pages of this captivating book we join him in scenarios and company as peculiarly diverse as a haunted hotel in Hull, alongside howling dogs in Transylvania, in a shop in York that has amongst its various gee-gaws and oddities a curl of hair clipped from the head of Charles Manson and trapped in the toilet of a decommissioned war bunker whilst a Zombie in a wheelchair batters at the door.
The Frighteners is an intriguing book and whilst it does ask some serious questions and looks at some heavy elements such as Murderabilia (the collecting of serial killer and violent crime associated ephemera) and the matter of violence, death and dying generally, it is also a very funny book. Some of Laws’ wit is gallows humour – it has to be considering the subject matter, but it is never cruel and it gives the book a friendly glow and familiarity. Even in the cold Capuchin crypts beneath Rome among the remains of scores of dead monks, their death presented vividly for all visitors to see, the warmth of Laws’ company is ever present. He is a perfect guide for voyages of the macabre as he does not shirk away from or sugar-coat the grisly, the violent, the tragic and the horrific. He braves the questions that some may want to ask but don’t dare and he doesn’t run from contemplation of the answers. But throughout he maintains a friendly, funny, engaging and affable manner. Humour in grim circumstances can be a good coping mechanism for dealing with things or situations that may disturb us as can confrontation of our fears. An interesting topic that arises is the observance of children that have experienced trauma playing with their toys in a manner that some may find disturbing or drawing gruesome pictures, but that in fact it may be a healthy way for them to deal and process the intense disturbance to their life. And not just kids, the book ponders what is a harmless interest and what is an unhealthy obsession. A fondness for horror can be healthy, the fantasy a safe, harmless escape and channelling of inner troubles and an invigorating thrill. Rather than break societal boundaries it can strengthen them. But there are times when people have questioned whether exposure to Horror fiction such as with the moral panics that have arisen around spooky comics, ‘video nasties’ and violent computer-game could or have indeed resulted in real-life grisly crimes. The answers to such a question are complex, but it is a certainty that very many of us like scary or gory things but thankfully the vast majority of us don’t go onto mass murder or other atrocious crimes and certainly not everybody who does these things are horror fans as such. Rather than nail down solid final answers for why some people are the way they are, this book is a highly enjoyable and very interesting adventure into the dark-side. It is a book that I found myself reading excerpts from to my girlfriend (another aficionado of the frightful) which led to some interesting conversations.
The Frighteners is availableHere and from other book shops and online stores
For more information about Peter Laws creative projects visit ~
Divided into 3 sections – Hauntings, Experiments with Time and Ghosts of Futures Past; within this new work Merlin Coverley, embarks on a mission to seek out the roots and growth of the cultural phenomenon that is known as Hauntology. It is a walk that takes the author and reader down many diverse paths, foremost among them being Memory Lane.
Though it does explore the concept of hauntings and references numerous supernatural films and TV shows, this is not a book about ghosts in the traditional sense but a study of the concept of the cultural mode known as Hauntology. The word Hauntology was conceived in 1993 by the French political philosopher Jacques Derrida in his book Spectres of Marx as a portmanteau of Haunt and Ontology and relates to his concept that Marxism continues to “haunt western society from beyond the grave”. However, Hauntology has expanded far beyond its original meaning to encompass a certain aesthetic in music, media and art and beyond that a feeling. Hauntology is a nebulous creature, difficult to define but always recognised when encountered, at least on an emotional level. The wider concept of Hauntology as an art and thoughtform owes a lot to the writings of cultural historian Mark Fisher and here Coverley joins the dots between the Derradaian and Fisherian views.
Coverley notes the cultural importance of the 1970s as a fixed point in hauntological time. Notably lying within the formative years of Generation X (or what Bob Fischer has accurately described as The Haunted Generation, which is evident in the work of Scarfolk and Scarred For Life for example) the 1970s were abundant with weird TV, strange discordant library music and were politically hard times (a ghost of which resurfaced, I think in flashbacks of Thatcher and Foot, when May and Corbyn were the UK Prime Minister and opposition leader). But Coverley turns the clock back to the 1840s when Marx released the Communist Manifesto and Charles Dickens penned ghost stories. Centring on Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, Coverley makes interesting comment on the ghosts and their repetition of the past not only within the story but within the cultural repeating of the tale by readers and viewers each Christmas. (This set me thinking of how Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman animation has now perhaps become a Christmas ghost – each year destined to be reborn and melted – an analogue ghost now haunting a digital house). The nature of haunting as a recurring point in time or a moment trapped in its environment lends itself to one of the Fortean themes to arise in the book, the theories of Charles Babbage, Eleanor Sidgwick, Edmund Gurney and most prominently in these pages of T.C. Lethbridge and the televisual drama The Stone Tape written by the recurringly hauntological explorer Nigel Kneale and first broadcast on Christmas Day 1972.
Other Fortean points of interest touched upon within the book’s meanderings include Pepper’s Ghost, J.W. Dunne’s philosophy of time, spiritualism and Alfred Watkins and John Michell’s ley-line explorations. Numerous other authors are encountered as we wind our way through the pages including W.G. Sebald, M.R. James, Arthur Machen, Susan Cooper, Alan Garner and J.G. Ballard. As with Nigel Kneale, Coverley is most interested in their use of time – how seeming anomalies of time and events can cause a person or place to be haunted.
Memory and nostalgia are key to Hauntology, but as we delve deeper it is clear that the nostalgia of hauntology is not a simple fond reverie of bygone times but in using the 1970s as a strong reference point is something akin to mild trauma, yet with a strange streak of thrill. The ghost stories of Christmas, weird TV plays, folk horror films and public information film continue to haun us. But a pertinent point is that these aspects of attention are not simply daydreams of times past but a re- living of a history that has never left us. A past that has just been buried like the fiends of horror films waiting for a sequel. It is the memories of Tomorrow’s World predicting the future that is now our present – a world not of personal jet packs and happiness machines but a present where the grim ghosts of 1970s austerity, division and unrest not only did not go away, did not stay in the past , but are risen and with us again, haunting our past, present and future. This is of course reflected in artistic expression, Hauntology as a concept may have appeared in the 1990s but it is strangely a notable aspect of our current zeitgeist. We can see its past roots in a lot of contemporary writing, film and music that dwells on the outer edge of the mainstream, but it is not simply retro, it has its originality but is haunted by the past. A catharsis of demons still needing exorcised perhaps.
Coverley’s book is thought-provoking and although rather academic is engaging, but it is theoretically focussed and therefore is perhaps not the best starting point for anyone fresh to hauntology but for anyone already immersed and seeking to dig deeper into the subject it is a great addition to the haunted bookshelf.
Hauntology by Merlin Coverley Available now from Oldcastle and other book shops/ online stores
Andy Sharp is a writer and multimedia artist. His English Heretic project has released ten albums and magazines since its inception in 2003. Andy Sharp is also a scholar of neuroscience, a translator of coded landscapes, a playful humourist, a practitioner of mimetic magic, a reflective fanatic, a subterranean explorer and a creative mythologist. His most recent work The English Heretic: Ritual Histories, Magickal Geography is published by Repeater Books. Part countercultural history of England, part ghost story and part magickal psychogeography it has been hailed as a ‘tour de force through contemporary occult and popular culture, a madly spinning windmill of the mind’ (Marcus Williamson). It is this extraordinary publication which provides the point of departure for inquiry by John Pilgrim on behalf of Folk Horror Revival.
JP: The English Heretic Collection has been described as ‘a visionary field report based on fifteen years of deep-vein travel to England’s strangest landscapes’. The introduction by Dean Kenning describes your book as the setting out of ‘magico-creative devices’ illustrating your creative intent ‘to make meaning in search of imaginal truth’. This latter description seems to lie at the heart of your work. What are the formative influences in your life which have led to this inter-twined fascination for curious landscapes and their imaginal re-making? And how has your life path been shaped as a consequence over the decades?
AS: In terms of formative experience of curious landscapes, it really comes from my memory of childhood play and that even the most mundane streets could be transformed into TV and film stage sets. I distinctly recall playing in our front garden with other kids, one particular May evening in 1974, following an episode of Dr. Who called Planet of the Spiders. I remember getting the other children to sit around and chant the Buddhist mantra that the sect in Dr Who were using to invoke the spider goddess from a distant planet. This memory conflated with my adult life in the early 2000s, when I was raising a young family. Weekends would invariably involve visits to all these commercialised ruins curated by English Heritage. I was interested in a way to subvert our leisure time (inspired by the anarchist writer Bob Black) and also to invoke the transcendent childhood capacity for suspension of disbelief.
As I guess my adolescent imagination developed, I found myself attracted more to the placement of uncanny, explicitly baroque or ancient within the mundane landscape. I did my degree in Liverpool, and I used to go past Mackenzie’s pyramid every day in the middle of the city. I was always thinking, “something needs to be done about its imaginative possibilities…”, Egyptian yet sci-fi, definitely a stargate to somewhere. English Heretic was very much an explicit attempt to trespass through these kind of portals.
From an intellectual perspective, obviously the imaginal focus comes from the psychologist James Hillman and visionary writers like Ballard. Into this brew, there’s the French alchemist Fulcanelli who read all kinds of hermetic signs from the carvings on Notre Dame Cathedral. His book The Mystery of the Cathedrals is full of erudite punning and linguistic chicanery, and that inspired my mercurial approach to all these exoteric signs and augurs.
My life path has been radically altered by the last two decades of creativity. I had planned for the English Heretic project to be a gateway of cursory research to fecundate a season of fiction based on the places I was visiting and “interacting” with. But the metafictional approach took over and the result has been these weirdly dream-like documentaries — kind of like an occult World in Action. The anthology I hope reveals the organic trajectory, and somewhere I say I seem to be now inhabiting the interstices between Cielo Drive, the witch houses of Suffolk and the false corridors of Rosemary’s Baby. So that’s the consequence, I now transmit from a countercultural nightmare of the idyll.
JP: The Blood on Satan’s Claw is well known as one of the unholy trinity of original folk horror films. Your chapter A Black Plaque for Angel Blake: Murderous Coven Leader explores several twisted aspects of this film and will naturally be of keen interest to Folk Horror Revivalists. The introduction to this chapter includes a line of particular resonance in relation to the continuing dark fascination of Blood on Satan’s Claw – and indeed, your own work more generally: ‘The sinister and the absurd often shadow each other when we follow those private contours to the most desolate geographies of our obsessions.’ Perhaps you could entice readers with a précis or your thinking here in relation to Angel Blake and your own research?
AS: I follow and conflate two threads in the chapter on Angel Blake. I visited the locations for the film back on May-eve 2005. A very atmospheric valley and woodland called Bix Bottom, nestled between the Chilterns. I used the date and the ceremonial scenes film in the ruined church as a superimposition of May tree cults discussed by Robert Graves in The White Goddess. There’s a chapter in that book called The Triple Muse, which is a brilliant occult rendering of Robin Hood, Maid Marian and mock May marriages. Graves sees these figures as the black ram and pucelle of a coven. It struck me that, presumably entirely unconsciously, the mock marriage in The Blood on Satan’s Claw was a perverse mirror of Graves’ speculations.
Secondly, Robert Wynne Simmons the scriptwriter of BoSC, consciously overlaid the case of Mary Bell as a then contemporaneous parallel to Angel Blake. I took these threads to their absurd, yet terrifying conclusion, suggesting that there are lethal pagan neuro-programmes buried in our cortical substrata, that might be awakened – by trauma .. or overheated psychogeographical excursions. This conceit itself being an occult riff and satire on John Lilly’s LSD/Ketamine research in floatation tanks, where he ‘discovered’ similar lethal programs. Mary Bell murdered one of her victims on Lammas eve and left a note on a school blackboard – “I muder [sic] that I May come back”. I play on the idea that was a hint at some sense of pagan reincarnation – sinister and absurd, obviously.
The Black Plaque scheme was really an organically evolved series of rapports with various tragic biographies. Certainly not a curated list of eccentrics, but more a sense of intrusion by restless spirits – clown demons on the periphery of a magic circle of my consciousness. In a sense a coven of obsessions. I see Angel Blake as the kind of high priestess of this inner cult.
JP: You have previously said that the important point about myth is we don’t know we’re living in it at the time. Your book maps out the working of a dazzling array of myths: classical, folkloric, occult, urban and otherwise. Now that your book has been published and you have the luxury of documented hindsight, which myths would you say have been most meaningful to you personally? And, if I may nudge this line of inquiry a little further, are there any myths which you think have particular resonance to where we now find ourselves as a society?
AS: I think the most evolved myth in the book revolves around the world immediately in the aftermath of the JFK assassination, but viewed from a medieval perspective. It’s very much already a gold standard of the killing of the corn king. By looking at the synchronicities around the day of his assassination – both Aldous Huxley and C.S Lewis died on the 22nd of November within hours of Kennedy, along with other pop culture phenomena – The Beatles’ world conquering second album also released on that day, all these explosions of significance created a whole new potential story. Moreover, we also saw the emergence of the camera as a tool of necromancy in the forensic spiritualism at Dealey Plaza. The dark room as a séance room parlour to discover all these spectres along the grassy knoll – the badgeman and all the other phantoms of our search for truth.
I think one of the overarching myths that dominates social media is that of Narcissus. This whole idea of pathological narcissism maybe needs revisiting from a more sympathetic perspective. It’s a pity James Hillman isn’t around, as I’d be very interested in his take. He was always adamant that the “Gods are in the disease”. We could say that the whole notion of posting selfies at fun and exotic locations might not actually be such a vain thing. It might be an attempt via technology to ensoul us in the world, or ensoul the world in our image. A more sympathetic view of our mythic foibles might prevent them emerging in a toxic light and subsume them as part of the whole human condition.
JP: JG Ballard is clearly a writer of great significance for you. What do you think he would have made of the viral world in which we are now living? More generally, I wonder if you have any thoughts on how the current pandemic might amplify or change the course of some the currents which you have been writing about?
AS: Ballard’s final two books Millennium People and Kingdom Come were concerned with what he called fascism light, these odd cults of the radicalised middle class. He was definitely onto something that’s manifested in the anti-vaxxers, anti-mask marches and the burning down of G5 transmitters, so I’d imagine that would be his interest.
There’s the story “The Intensive Care Unit”, that he wrote in the 70s, about a family that had never actually met each other. Their whole lives were mediated by television. I mean this is basically government policy in 2020. And when they did meet they killed each other. I think that is very much a warning of the fall out of these very necessary privations, that they’ll be an epidemic of social malaise and real difficulties readjusting following the pandemic.
But there’s also an emancipatory desire that we are less inclined to admit to… that we don’t actually want to be part of the capitalist machine, you see this in his story “The Enormous Space”. Could it also be that there might be an egalitarian epiphany against the machine as a lingering side effect of the lockdowns?
In terms of my own currents. I was actually reading a whole bunch of British Dystopian fiction in the lead up to the first lockdown. John Christopher’s The Death of Grass was frighteningly relevant. I’ve had to postpone a lot of travel plans across the UK this year, but have been exploring a lot of London locations. The city emptied, creates something like 28 Days Later for sure. Again, it’s spotting the small dislocations in the landscape that provide the germ for more hyperbolic visions. I was walking near Tottenham Court Road in the summer, absolutely deserted apart from a gaggle of Deliveroo riders. I checked out some locations and walked up to Warren Street, only to see one of the Deliveroo riders taken out at a junction by a massive black BMW, with blacked out windows. Immediately you’re in a cross between Death Race 2000and one of Ballard’s final novels… where the only sport available is to cruise about in your car looking for hapless delivery people, the only people out and about in the lockdown world. I’d imagine that BMW was probably remote controlled from a Wii console by a gleeful family in a living room nearby. Thankfully the rider was OK though, and I’m sure it was an accident, but…
JP: The act of writing is an inherently creative activity in which the writer creates new worlds: both imaginary and, potentially, real. Similarly, through the act of composing and performing music composers and musicians also enable new experiences and ways of being. Magick of course has been defined by someone who might know as the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with the will. Through the English Heretic project you have been actively engaged in creative practices across all three of these domains. Reflecting on your own your experiences, including those in your book, what reflections do you have on the similarities and points of connection between these different facets of creativity? Do you see yourself as ploughing a deep and largely solitary furrow or are there writers, musicians and practitioners who you see as kindred spirits in a shared endeavour?
AS: I always had a tendency toward creative synaesthesia, where one working in one medium inspires another. A piece of writing suggests a soundtrack, or a collage provokes some literary idea. English Heretic’s been a complete exhaustion of this tendency, and as I wrote in a recent mail out, the music and writing are undergoing a period of conscious uncoupling… I think I’ve taken this heavily codified creative form as far as I want to. To a degree, the mixed media format approach has made me appreciate more the discreet differences between music and writing. That they operate best when playing to their strengths. Music being a constellation of fractured phrases and irreducible emotions.
With regard to magic practice and fiction, they are so intertwined in my experience, that they might well be the same operation. The kind of writing employed in English Heretic is fuelled by disciplines such as astral projection or active imagination. Together with the physicality of place that has definitely given me access to this uneasy “dangerous archetypal reality” that Artaud called for. Dangerous not in some kind of morally or politically transgressive way, but certainly in a psychic way. The precipices here are marked – “Danger of paranoia and madness”. Luckily though, there’s a touch of Garth Marenghi about all “these dangerous archetypal realities” to break the fall.
In this sense that leads me onto kindred spirits – not so much in the writing, it feels like a private and idiosyncratic world view, eccentric but in a sense sublimating all the potentially overwhelming signals. That said, though the approach might be different, there’s the US website We Are The Mutants that I feel taps into a kindred critical perspective on Cold War pop culture. A serious attempt to look at the midden of the 70s without the rose-tinted spectacles of comfy nostalgia. That there is really para-political half-life in this radioactive material.
In terms of music, I tend to feel kinship with records that achieved results that I’ve tried and by my own reckoning failed to achieve. A couple of standout examples:
Mount Vernon Arts Lab – Seance at Hobs Lane. I am still astounded at how this record manages to create these perfect psychogeographic soundtracks. Pieces like “The Black Drop” and “Warminster IV” absolutely execute that sense of creative synaesthesia. I think Drew’s skill was not to rely on a heavily codified take on the people and places he was scoring.
Justin Hopper/Sharron Kraus – Chanctonbury Rings. The whole package here with Ghost Box achieves something I never feel like I’ve been able to execute. Obviously Julian House’s artwork creates part of its hermetic appeal, but the call and response between the spoken word and the musical annotations is very poised, neither tread on each other’s toes, and it creates a completely convincing radio documentary broadcasting in the early afternoon on a Bakelite radio in a sun suffused Belbury kitchen.
JP: In one of your chapters you refer to Peter Carroll’s book on chaos magick Liber Kaos and introduce his concept of an imaginary time dimension known as ‘shadow time’. You quote Carroll’s dictum: “If you can convincingly alter your own creative memory then you will modify your future creative actions as a consequence”. There’s a fair degree of complexity to this, but perhaps you could share a fairly straight forward example of how this thinking has played out for you in relation to your English Heretic project?
AS: This quote was actually an adaptation of Carroll’s dictum: “If you can convincingly alter your own memory then you will modify your future actions as a consequence”.
I’ve never really been into magic to fulfil personal desires, whether cursing or seducing, this always feels a bit creepy and stalkerish. Pretty early on, I felt the real use of this kind of “results magick” was to hack our own subconscious for purely creative purposes. So here, I am saying – we have our creative memory of influences, but what if we “hack” those, how would this change our creative output “now”. An example might be: say you want to make an album but instead of creating a playlist of music that you want to inspire the sound, write a set of songs as an imaginary playlist for your work. Keep this private, thereby holding the tension of creative sacrifice, and listen to it solidly for a couple of years, before making your new music. That said, I’ve never had the time to do this, explicitly for the project!
During EH, it’s been more a process of creatively hacking the present, rather than an imaginary past. I did a fake pathworking based on text abstracted from Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds that really did achieve some weird hack and took the project on a massive detour into WWII hauntings. I think this is the closest to that dictum I’ve strayed. I am interested in using occultism within fiction and metafiction. I’ve recently re-read Burroughs’ Cities of the Red Night and his use of the Picatrix in that book is fascinating. Basically, the cities are an invocation for lucid dreaming from the Picatrix. Cities of the Red Night is fuelled by very hyper-realised rituals, all that sex magick that Clem Snide does, that are not just fiction but magickal operations in the process of writing the book.
JP: One of the locations which you document in your book is Orford Ness in Suffolk. Having been there myself I can entirely understand why this place should exert such an influence on your imaginative experience. Other writers and artists too have documented the Ness in recent times including Robert Macfarlane, Adam Scovell and Drew Mulholland. For those who aren’t familiar with Orford Ness, could you give us a flavour of what they might encounter here and how your imagination and the physical location have intertwined?
AS: Orford Ness feels like a massively “coded landscape”, a term Ballard uses a lot; very much like some of the terrains described in The Atrocity Exhibition. The buildings, angular, like dolmens or Buddhist cemeteries, their names cryptic and threatening, “The Black Beacon” etc. All these situated on a sparse shingle spit. They are like chess pieces in a dangerous game.
So very interesting from a military psychological perspective, but I also play on the place as a power centre of destructive occultism – what Robert Anton Wilson describes as illth – vast technological investments to bring about annihilation. Orford Ness was where they tested the detonators for the British Atomic bomb project. So conceptually, I’ve fused a Ballardian reading of the place with that of the occultist Kenneth Grant, who was obsessed with the Qliphoth – the shells of humanity’s progress and dayside.
My friend Agnes Villette recently introduced me to the idea of nuclear semiotics, the need to preserve a cautionary folklore against nuclear facilities that store radioactive waste. I am kind of doing a similar thing with Orford Ness, looking at its occult purpose from the far future, what these bizarre buildings might really mean – the stone pagodas that absorbed the detonation shocks will one day look like the temples of a concrete animism, because that’s what they are… future memories of an innate belief in a martial religion.
JP: My final question is ‘Where next?’ for English Heretic? What would you like to achieve and what are your hopes for how people might engage with your work?
AS: Well the anthology closes English Heretic, the offer of doing an anthology came from Tariq at Repeater, at probably just the right time for me. I had just left Suffolk to live in London, the whole notion of Englishness was something that had soured with Brexit. I’ve always been a massive Europhile. But I am busily writing the end papers for the country. I had intended to do a final zombie apocalypse for the project but have decided to write under my own name. There’s the first draft of a duology completed.
As for music, I’ve been working on a project called Nightmare,a subversion of Max Richter’s Sleep, for about three years. That might get released in 2021, though I am not hurrying it, obviously! I am doing some music with Grey Malkin, a couple of singles, we hope, but there won’t be any more English Heretic music. I’ll keep the site and name on the web as a place to keep folk updated on new work. In reference to the question about “shadow time”, I am really looking forward to seeing the vines and moss grow over and around English Heretic, because I am sure there will be new and horrific spores waiting in the creative soil of its decay.
I really hope folk find the work “psychedelic piracy on the high seas of history” as I mentioned in the book somewhere. That these are dream documentaries from an occult parallel – Panorama. That satire can be libidinal, satyre with a “y”. I also hope they enjoy and appreciate the writing style as that is as important and as crucial to the magickal formula to me as the content.
JP: Thank you so much Andy for your generous engagement. On behalf of Folk Horror Revival, we wish you all the very best for the future.
The book The Horned God: Life, Death & Rebirth ~ A Telling ~ written by Bard Cerannon and illustrated by Scott Tyrrell, John Ridgway, Shaun Durham & Tony Jennison will be published soon by Wyrd Harvest Press.
It includes blank colouring pages by Scott Tyrrell, which are shown here coloured for example but of course feel free to choose your own colours.
Purchasers of the book can download all 27 of the coloured Scott Tyrrell images Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Wyrd Harvest Press books explore the landscapes of Folk Horror and related realms in film, tv, books, art, music, events and other media and also psychogeography, hauntology, urban wyrd, folklore, cultural rituals and costume, earth mysteries, archaic history, hauntings. southern gothic, ‘landscapism / visionary naturalism & geography’, backwoods horror, murder ballads, carnivalia, dark psychedelia, wyrd forteana and other strange edges. Sales profits from FHR / Wyrd Harvest Press books sold in this store will be charitably donated at intervals to different environmental, wildlife and community projects undertaken by the Wildlife Trusts.
It was through the music and spoken word of Andy Sharp’s English Heretic project that the writer John Alec Baker came to my attention. In his books The Peregrine (1967) and ‘The Hill of Dreams’ (1969) Baker treats us to nature writing that goes beyond the mere observation of the natural wild and into the realm of feeling and art in his lyrical visionary-bucolic prose. It was with great intrigue and little surprise in venturing into the pages of Sharp’s own book ‘The English Heretic Collection’ (Repeater Books. 2020) to find that his writing too is cloaked in many colours. Described as “a visionary field report based on fifteen years of deep-vein travel to England’s strangest landscapes – with a host of tragic players” the Collection is as much about people as it is about place. Like J.A. Baker, Sharp does not content himself with mere surface but digs deep into his own psyche and cerebral-emotive reaction to place and observation; but with his wider scope of subject matter, he digs further still – into the underbelly of people and deep down into the underworld of place and mind. For this is what this book is – a katabasis – a descent into the Underworld – whether it be the Asphodel Fields that classical Thanatologists pondered upon, or Вирій that lies beneath the tainted earth of the atomgrad of Pripyat or the very soil beneath our feet.
In his journeys both physical and psychical Sharp encounters numerous wraiths and shades – as diverse as Kenneth Grant, Fulcanelli, Robert Graves, Winston Churchill, CG Jung and HP Lovecraft yet there is one psychopomp whom even when not fully present can be felt persistently gazing over the voyage from the saturnine shadows. That watcher is the author and explorer of dystopia and experimentation- James Graham Ballard. And if JG Ballard is the spirit guide then his 1970 book ‘The Atrocity Exhibition’ and its 1973 deeper investigation into a theme therein, ‘Crash’ are the travel guides. Yet whereas the many A to Z roadmap children of Breydenbach & Reuwich’s ‘Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam’ prepare us for the journey, ‘Crash’ is an atlas of the aftermath.
The literary terrain covered in ‘The English Heritage Collection’ lies between Graves’ ‘White Goddess’ and Ballard’s ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ – the physical land explored takes us from Boleskine House on the banks of Loch Ness (the accursed abode of figures such as the occultist Aleister Crowley, rock guitarist Jimmy Page and the sausage scammer Dennis Lorrain) to Orford Ness, the military atomic experimentation base in the shingled spit of the Suffolk coast. From Rendelsham Forest where the legend of UFO encounter or possibly psychological warfare testing persists within its roots and branches to the shrunken heads and other archaeological and anthropological hordes of the Pitts River Museum in Oxford. The train of thought takes us further from English shores also calling at stations such as Hiroshima, Chernobyl and the war-scarred jungles of Vietnam. Stops are also made at celluloid stations taking in films such as the folk horror classics 1968’s ‘Witchfinder General‘ and 1971’s The Blood on Satan’s Claw’ – the latter drawing an interesting parallel with the strange and tragic Mary Bell murders of 1968. ‘The English Heretic Collection’ is as much of a mind trip as it is a gazetteer of the obscure and through the magical endeavours of Sharp has hints of a grimoire also. Covering as much ground as it does in its stream of consciousness the book is like a Ronnie Corbett monologue on acid – that is not a complaint. Sharp’s word-play is entertaining, part magical – part mischief. I enjoy his puns – the name English Heretic itself with its mission of dedicating black plaques to places obscure and people intriguing and other witty examples such as ‘Wish You were Heretic’ and ‘The Underworld Service’. And that is what the book is like – an Underworld Service transporting us the readers to strange destinations. Its meanderings wind and weave and remind me of intoxicated conversations with like-minded friends in pubs at the times before the pandemic and hopefully again after. And that’s another good thing. Sharp is very well-read and very well-educated holding an MSc in Neuroscience, so at times the book may dip into academic territory, but the diversity and spellbinding nature of the subject matter and Sharp’s wit and poetic word-craft ensure that ‘The English Heritage Collection’ is an entertaining rather than dry read. It is also very worthwhile checking out English Heretic’s musical output to add a further dimension to Sharp’s vision.
‘The English Heritage Collection’ is released on October 13th 2020 from Repeater books – repeaterbooks.com/
To mark National Poetry Day claim a 10% Discount on our book Folk Horror Revival: Corpse Roads – Revised Edition
A revised and improved edition of the classic Corpse Roads – a voluminous anthology of haunting poetry by past masters and contemporary talents. Fully illustrated throughout by a wealth of atmospheric photography by various artists. Includes additional poetry, photography, new cover art and refined layout design. Sales profits from this book are charitably donated The Wildlife Trusts environmental conservation and community projects.
Folk Horror Revival is pleased to announce that the winner of the poll held on this page is Derbyshire Wildlife Trust – Feel The Buzz – bee protection project who has received £600 from the sales profits of our Wyrd Harvest Press books.
Thank you to everyone who voted and especially to those who bought or worked on our books. 🐝
Purchase our books here – Profits from sales in this store are charitably donated at Solstices to The Wildlife Trusts
Local history books have always been a great source of folklore and Fortean material and it is always a pleasure to delve into one which concentrates on the weirder aspects of certain locales. A fine addition to the canon is Mysteries of Portsmouth by Matt Wingett.
Covering the area of Portsmouth, an island city on the south coast of England, we are of course treated to sea monsters and maritime tales but there is a wealth of other oddities that have come to haunt the lore of Pompey (as the city is affectionately known) so within its splendidly illustrated pages, Wingett treats us to UFOS, Egyptian curses, spiritualists & fortune-tellers, witches and many ghosts as well as other diverse oddities.
There is a much data covered verbatim from old newspapers which is culturally interesting to see how strange phenomenon was covered by local press in bygone times and the book will be of interest to local historians and other people from the area as well as visitors, folklorists, Forteans and other curiosity-seekers from further afield.
A thoroughly interesting, well researched and nicely presented addition to the British folklore shelves.
Jackie Morris is a British writer and illustrator whose work is informed by a deep love of the natural world. Her books have been published in fourteen languages and The Lost Words, which she illustrated was voted the most beautiful book of 2016 by UK booksellers. She lives in Pembrokeshire by the sea and is fascinated by bears and myths of transformation. Folk Horror Revival’s John Pilgrim was pleased to catch up with Jackie last year to make the following enquiries about her world.
FHR: Let me firstly provide a bit of context for those Folk Horror Revivalists who may not be familiar with The Lost Worlds by quoting from the cover jacket of the book.
“All over the country, there are words disappearing from children’s lives. These are the words of the natural world — Dandelion, Otter, Bramble and Acorn, all gone. The rich landscape of wild imagination and wild play is rapidly fading from our children’s minds. The Lost Words stands against the disappearance of wild childhood. It is a joyful celebration of nature words and the natural world they invoke. With acrostic spell-poems by award-winning writer Robert Macfarlane and hand-painted illustration by Jackie Morris, this enchanting book captures the irreplaceable magic of language and nature for all ages.”
FHR: The Lost Words has enchanted many people in the deepest sense of the word. Can you share some stories about the effect which it has had on people. How has their understanding and experience of the natural world changed?
JM: Since the launch of The Lost Words at Foyles in 2017 it has taken on a life of its own. Robert and I are both astonished and heart-glad at the way it has been taken into people’s hearts and homes. There have been so many tales sent to us, of how people have shared it with loved ones living with dementia, of how it has helped people to cope with depression, of how it links generations in families, how teachers respond to it, and children also.
It has an amazing wild life. I love how people send us pictures of the book outside in the world, tucked up with children, the work that children have done with the book as catalyst.
FHR: The introduction to The Lost Words warns us that the rich landscape of wild imagination and wild play is rapidly fading from children’s minds. It’s been inspiring to see the efforts that have been made to make the book freely available to children through schools and libraries. Can you tell us some more about this?
JM: It began with a tweet from a lady in Scotland who saw how the book could connect children to nature again. She made it her mission to crowdfund to place a book in every school in Scotland. Her success snowballed into several other campaigns, and I think the Explorer’s Notes, which are a wonderful guide to using the book in schools, also helped with this. Now almost half of the UK schools, hospices over the whole of the UK, care homes in Wales and other institutions have been gifted the book by what has grown to be a great community of crowdfunders. Their energy and enthusiasm for the book and for working beyond its pages to reconnect the lives of children and adults to the more than human world around us all is wonderful.
FHR: The notion of wild imagination and wild play is one that strikes a chord – are there signs of hope in rekindling wildness which you’ve become aware of?
JM: The young people who are rising up against the ignorance, arrogance and greed of older generations gives me hope. The new wave of politically minded and erudite youngsters put our politicians and their self-serving party politics to shame.
FHR: What role does myth and folklore play in your artistic practice and experience of the natural world?
In the same way that some people see themselves as set apart from the natural world, when they are in fact only the tiniest part of the wonderful biosphere, so are storytellers the new myth makers. As a species we are hardwired to learn through the power of story.
I write, I illustrate, to try and make sense of the crazy world we live in, and my hope is that in so doing I help other people to do the same. And there are some powerful minds working in the field at the moment. Richard Powers’ Overstory is a case in point, teaching people to see, really see, and seek out the trees that every day are taken for granted.
FHR: Having been being fascinated by peregrines as a boy while on holiday in Pembrokeshire I loved your book Queen of the Sky. For those who aren’t familiar with this book, could you say a little about the themes which you explore here?
JM: Queen of the Sky is a book about how a friend of mine found and rescued a wild peregrine falcon and released her back into the wild. It’s a story of great patience. A love story in a way, but one where something is loved so much that the person who loves it sets it free, to be as it should be. It’s a story about respect. And if H is for Hawk is a tale of how a woman was saved by a hawk, this is a tale of how a hawk is saved by a woman.
FHR: What landscapes particularly inspire you?
JM: Terrestrial. Including the ocean, above and below.
FHR: I read that you have been learning to work with wood engravings. How has this been for you?
JM: I’ve moved away from wood engravings. My eyesight is perhaps not good enough for the fine detail. But also my language is liquid and sumi ink has taken over as my medium of choice. But as with everything it takes a lifetime to master. But I am learning.
FHR: In his book Being a Beast Charles Foster relays his experiences of seeking to live as animals such as badgers and foxes. I’m not sure whether you would want to go as far as eating worms as Foster has done, but I sense that through your art you are seeking to bring us closer to animals as fellow spirits?
JM: I’ve not read it yet. I wanted to be a bear when I was young, but would happily become an otter. And most of my work is about shapeshifting.
FHR: To what extent do you think it is important to acknowledge that despite its beauty nature is also ‘red in tooth and claw’? Are there dangers in projecting human characteristics on to animals?
JM: I’m not a fan of ego-centric anthropomorphism if that’s what you mean. Is nature ‘red in tooth and claw’? That implies some morality? It’s not always kind. But we know so little about the world around us. It has so much to teach us. We just need to listen.
FHR: Which fellow artists and writers do you admire?
JM: So many. I love Robin Hobb’s books. Robert Macfarlane is an exceptional writer, and I need to explore Richard Powers more. John Irving has long been a favourite of mine. Katherine Arden, James Mayhew, Brian Wildsmith, Chagall, Tunnicliffe, Alan Garner, Shaun Tan, Frieda Kahlo, Tom Bullough. Nicola Bailey, oh, so many. Picasso. Look at me with my gender imbalance of people who spring to mind! (Though Robin Hobb is a woman, who writes under a gender-neutral name, because many men don’t read books by women.)
FHR: What are you working on at the moment and what projects would you like to take forward in the future?
JM: I’m working with the finest group of musicians to make a cd/lp and show built around The Lost Words. I’m working on a book that was written almost a century ago, writing a forward to re-introduce it to the world and painting images to decorate/illustrate it [now published as The House Without Windows]. I’m working on a book called The Keeper of Lost Dreams that I hope will be a catalyst for dreaming and a solace for troubled souls in our curious and turbulent times. And I am beginning to work on a new book with Robert, but that’s under wraps at the moment until we understand more of what it is that we are making [Ed: this has now been published as The Lost Spells; other recent publications include Mrs Noah’s Garden, with James Mayhew, published by Otter-Barry Books and The Secret of the Tattered Shoes with Ehsan Abdollahi, a wonderful Iranian illustrator, published by Tiny Owl.]
I’m also trying to take time to open my eyes to the wonderful wild world around me, wide as wide can be, and understand what is important, what time is, and how to live.