Ironopolis by Glen James Brown: Book Review

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It’s grim up north … actually it’s not entirely. There is a lot of beauty in the north but as Glen James Brown’s debut novel illustrates there is a bleakness to that beauty – the north has a shadow self and certain areas dwell in the shade that is cast. Places such as the Burn Estate, the central location of Ironopolis.

This is not a new book. It first hit the shelves in 2018, so it isn’t an old book either, but we are not ageist here at Folk Horror Revival and Urban Wyrd Project, we’ll happily review media of any vintage. Ironopolis missed my radar until now but here it is better late than never.

Why is it here? Is it Folk Horror (whatever that is)? It is all set around a rundown council housing estate in Teesside, so hardly … yet there is an element of connection (connection being the overlying arc of this novel) to which we’ll come. Does it then relate to our other main point of interest here, the mode of urban wyrd? Most definitely. Its name harks back to the area around Middlesbrough in the north-east of England- a region built on the back of iron and steel, on hard graft and rivulets of molten sweat. An area that was left to pick up the pieces when the arse fell out of these heavy industries. So yes, this book is an epitome of urban. The root of the word ‘wyrd’ relates to fate to destiny and within this weaving novel we see the threads of connectivity between numerous people of different generations associated to the Burn Estate, the hub of the tale and the heart of the characters we meet, some of which consider it a dark heart that beats to the rhythm of a heavy iron drum.

Set in different time periods and told in varying formats – letters, interviews, first and third person narrative and even pages from a prison diary, lives and deaths interconnect. The Burn Estate connects them and is a character in itself, albeit a senescent dying character that for much of the narrative is in a state of demolition and waiting for rebirth and regeneration – new buildings, new lives. Those that still live on the Burn in its dying throes alternately cling on to life there as long as they can or eager to leave take the offers made by the development company, sometimes uncertain of whether they will or whether they want to return to the place after it has been reinvented. But memories remain, as do lies and secrets … some very dark secrets.

Yet there is more than simply the interconnection of living jowl to jowl that binds the characters of this web of stories but something … someone… else that melds their lives. A presence older than the tower blocks and bedsits. It is this someone who takes us from the gritty social realism of the tale into the territory of magical realism. But do not be blindsided by the word ‘magical’ – the supernatural element is not some fairy godmother nor are there summery uplands to escape to. The grit sticks to sweat and blood spills and stains. The presence that haunts the locale of the Burn Estate and the minds of some of its troubled inhabitants is both weird and wyrd.

We first encounter the presence through the paintings and memories recalled of a teenage girl Una Cruickshank who lived in Loom Street on the estate in the 1950s. Coming from a difficult home, Una found some escape and expression in art. Continuing into adulthood, she became known for her paintings of misty riverbanks, lonely and quiet yet in some pictures vague figures may be present. In one picture entitled The Green Girl, this figure is perhaps more manifest. This strange female was not the invention of Una. she was known to the grandmother of Jean Barr, Una’s friend, and to many before her, yet is was an entity that Una became obsessed with as she talked to her … and not her alone.

The mysterious creature in question is known to folklorists and folk horror fans as Peg Powler. An entity I know personally from lore local to me for she is the spirit of the River Tees, one of the rivers that runs through my home county. Like Jenny Greenteeth and the Grindylow of Lancashire and Yorkshire (as well as Nanny Powler of the Skerne, a tributary of the Tees in the Darlington area), Powler is a water witch (known as Groac’h by the Breton people) – a green-skinned, pond-weed strewn hag who lures children to the edge of the river, then grabs their ankles and pulls them in to a watery demise. The disappearance of young girls is a thread that winds through the book- another haunting aspect of the novel’s locale. In Ironopolis though, Peg Powler does not exist simply in relation to the leafy green banks that nestle the Tees in its winding from hill to sea but also within a large pipe leading to the sewers beneath the housing estate and she dwells even below one of the toilets in an old folks’ home. She also at times lurksv at the bottom of a well situated on the derelict waterworks near the Burn estate. The waterworks are an urban wasteland, an edge-land where kids go to play (on one instance resulting in a bullying prank gone horribly wrong), where teenage Una used to go with men and where decades later an illegal acid house rave which did not proceed as well as hoped was held.

As the stories unfold, we meet a host of characters – Vincent, a garage owner and local gangster who has more going on in the work-pits of his motor shop than automobile repairs, his awkward, nervous son, a hairdresser with a gambling problem and her disfigured brother who falls under suspicion of being the child abductor. We meet a man who lives in a shed, another who lives in the past (a Footy Casual who obsesses over rare Adidas trainers) and an elderly Teddy Boy who used to drive a mobile library van. These details also bring the book into a phase of nostalgia, which links it to Generation X hauntology, but Ironopolis is so much more. It is kitchen-sink and gritty crime and at times is darkly humorous (the scene with the birds of prey in the retirement home had me laughing out loud). And at times it is a horror story of sorts, though the brutality of it is in human actions, the strange Great Darkness of 1968 features – a real-life event, whereby weather conditions combined with the petrochemical and industrial emissions of Teesside resulting in midnight gloomth falling at midday in combination with wild storms. (The chemical industrial landscape of Teesside, whilst producing some unsavoury pongs and earning the locals the nickname -Smoggies, has also provided inspiration for the cinematic luminaries David Lynch and Ridley Scott.)
And of course there is the subtle yet unsettling presence of Powler, like a whispering manipulative genius loci lingering under each turn of the page adding another element to the work that helps this excellent debut novel get under your skin.

Ironopolis is a well crafted novel that deserves to be far more widely known. Highly recommended to folks who like their ‘urban wyrd’ fix of a flavour akin to films like Dead Man’s Shoes and Kill List. I look forward to reading more from the pen of Glen James Brown.

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The Teesside Dark Day: July 2nd 1968
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Reviewed by Andy Paciorek

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Scarred For Life: Volume 2 & Looking For a New England – Book Reviews

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Both Brotherstone  and Lawrence’s Scarred For Life books and Simon Matthews’ Looking For a New England cover the same period of television and cinematic history in Britain, covering some same ground they come at it from slightly different angles, but both are very aware of the culturally powerful and distinctive time of the 1970s and 80s.

When I first heard about the Scarred For Life project, a voyage of discovery into just what haunted the formative years of Generation X, my reaction was ‘oh bugger’ as I had been considering creating a similar work. However, upon seeing their first book I was pleased that they had done it rather than me as their enthusiastic expertise for the subject is enlightening and infectious. Whilst Volume 1 covered the whole gamut of macabre and frightening stuff that beset 1970s children from spooky-themed ice lollies to folk horror TV shows to bizarre board games, Volume 2 takes a narrower focus concentrating on weird 1980s British TV.  They’re not caught short for material there by any means. They kick off proceedings with Noah’s Castle, a tea-time drama for kids, based on John Rowe Townshend’s novel, about British families hoarding food in a time of economic desperation. With reference to crime, violence, a precarious situation for family pets and the implication of teenage girls selling their bodies for food, this grim scenario is haunting in these times of Brexit and Covid. Bizarrely it was originally broadcast directly after The Sooty Show! From dog-puppet Sweep’s squeaky mischief to economic dystopia in the space of an advert break.

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Things don’t really get any lighter on our stroll down televisual memory lane subsequently as those of us of a certain age are reminded of our childhood traumas of viewing Jigsaw’s Noseybonk or Salem’s Lot (I shared a bedroom with my elder brother as a kid and during the night he would make scratching noises claiming that Danny Glick was at the window!) or being subjected to PIFs (Public Information or rather Panic Inducing Films) telling us that if Rabies did not get us it could be cigarette induced lung cancer, AIDS, or heroin (Just Say No Zammo!).  

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Scarred For Life does not need to be read cover to cover but can be dipped into randomly. I first sought out the things that personally resonated most with me – John Wyndham (the adaptations of Day of The Triffids and Chocky), Tales of the Unexpected (The Fly Paper episode which freaked me out the most, seemingly being one that many remember with a shudder), the birth of Channel 4 (its offbeat edgy early days being very vivid in my memories), ghostly dramas and odd TV plays. Strange figures on the edge of our memories return to haunt us such as the Weetabix skinheads, Murun Buchstansangur and the Chockadooby Kinder egg man (I was blocked on Twitter by politician Iain Duncan Smith for comparing him to an evil doppleganger of the latter). But there are so many more engrossing rabbit holes to fall down within this book and there are more to come. In Volume 3 we are promised a closer look at the nuclear war paranoia of the 80s and more Fortean fare such as Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World and The Unexplained magazine.

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Whereas Scarred For Life may be seen as exploring the effect that certain films and TV shows have had upon viewers, Simon Matthews’ Looking For a New England looks at how the political-social culture and music of the era affected film, and for a big part how punk rock stamped its DM boot print on media output.

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A New England does mention Fortean Times in passing, but its attention to Fortean and folk horror subject matter is peripheral and mostly in relation to edge-land figures such as Ken Campbell, Derek Jarman, Genesis P Orridge, John Michell, Nigel Kneale, Mark E Smith and a whole chapter on David Bowie. Like Scarred, New England also brings attention to Dennis Potter’s Brimstone and Treacle (both the film and the earlier television play). Potter sometimes seems rather forgotten in the annals of nostalgic televisual revisitation but this tale of the devil visiting suburbia and ‘babysitting’ a disabled catatonic woman is surely one of British TV’s most powerfully disturbing moments. Unsurprisingly the permanently disgusted Clean Up TV campaigner of yester-year, Mary Whitehouse, can be found wandering through both books like a froth-mouthed rabid beast.

Mark Lawson: Dennis Potter's message to today's TV execs – risk everything

A New England does have a chapter dedicated to Dystopia covering a host of dark dramas such as the Sheffield-based nuclear devastation TV film, Threads, the mini-series Edge of Darkness and The Quatermass Conclusion but does not delve into horror particularly. Matthews clearly knows his stuff, which sometimes feels like a machine-gun barrage of names and dates, but when the pace slows and he centres in on specific films it is very informative & engaging, suggesting that the book could have benefited from having more pages and film lists covering specific themes at the end of each chapter.

Rewind: 'Quatermass' (1979) revisited

Scarred For Life: Volume 2 – Television in the 80s
Stephen Brotherstone & Dave Lawrence
Lonely Water Books 2020
pb, illus, 530 pgs, £19.99

Looking For A New England: Action, Time, Vision. Music, Film & TV 1975 -1986
Simon Matthews
Oldcastle Books 2021
pb, illus, ind, 256pgs, £16.99
ISBN 9780857304117

Mr Noseybonk: Jumping - YouTube

Reviewed by Andy Paciorek (This review first appeared in Fortean Times magazine)

Ben Wheatley’s Earthy Liminality

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

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

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

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

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

waiting for you: a detectorists zine

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

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

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

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

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

(https://temporalboundary.bigcartel.com)

Format: A5, 54pp, paperback

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

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

Edited by Cormac Pentecost

PODCAST SPOTLIGHT: THE MAGNUS ARCHIVES.

 Good afternoon Grots and Goblins! A bit of a late to the party post here today but no worries. A good podcast is a good podcast right? 

 I was listening to what i thought would be the latest episode of Old Gods of Appalachia the other week and rather than an episode i was given an announcement that in respect of The Magnus Archives airing its very last episode they would be holding back the release date to let them have its final moment in the sun without any distractions. I had never heard of it before so i jumped over to find the first episode. 

 The Magnus Archives is/was a production of Rusty Quill. A London based production company that first began its life with the Rusty Quill Gaming Podcast. A show about role playing games so that wins points with me! The Magnus Archives was their second project that began production in 2016 and has been going strong since. It now has more than 160 episodes under its belt. Perfect for this endless grind known as a worldwide pandemic! 

 So what is The Magnus Archives about? The Magnus Institute has recently promoted staff member Jonathan Sims to the vacant spot of Head Archivist and we join him in the mammoth task of organizing the place after the chaos the previous person in his position left it in. Each episode is Jonathan finding a case in the archives and narrating it. The Institute itself researches paranormal, supernatural and unexplained phenomena so each account is an unlucky person’s account of their brush with something quite unpleasant and creepy. Ghosts, fish men, spooky trees, people vanishing in hospitals and possessed priests are a few of the subjects. Each episode is a stand alone story but from what i gather a bigger picture starts to reveal itself as the series progresses. I have not got that far myself yet but I am noticing things here and there that could possibly be relevant as I continue on. Every episode also has a moody score that accompanies the stories well. Sometimes i didn’t even notice there was any until it was too late and my anxiety had gone through the roof.     

 They may have finally called the show a wrap but it doesn’t matter. There is plenty of material to get through and from as far as i have got it seems well worth it. 

https://rustyquill.com/

https://rustyquill.com/the-magnus-archives/

Zine Review: Weird Walk issue 4

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

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

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

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

Review by SJ Lyall

Unearthing Forgotten Horrors ~300: An Interview with Darren Charles

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Unearthing Forgotten Horrors’ is a weekly hour-long delve into the darker recesses of the musical underworld. A chance to immerse yourself in obscure horror soundtracks, dark drones, weird electronica, freaky folk, crazed kosmiche and some of the most abhorrent and twisted psychedelia ever committed to vinyl, CD or cassette.

In honour of the 300th episode to be broadcast on A1 Radio on Tuesday 30th March 2021 at 7pm (UK time) Folk Horror Revival talks to our very own Darren Charles – the John Peel of Scary Music and Film Soundtracks and the voice of the consistently excellent Unearthing Forgotten Horrors …


Folk Horror Revival: Hi Darren. You are approaching the 300th episode of Unearthing Forgotten Horrors radio show on A1; could you tell us more about the show and how you came to be doing it and does that name have any connection to a certain folk horror film?

Darren Charles: Unearthing Forgotten Horrors is derived, as you allude to, from a quote in ‘Blood on Satan’s Claw’, when the Judge (Patrick Wymark) responds to the Doctor’s belief in old knowledge with the phrase “Witchcraft is dead and discredited…Are you bent on reviving forgotten horrors?” It was originally used as the name for a series of events that took place in Newcastle featuring live music performances and film screenings at the Star and Shadow cinema. We liked the idea of ‘forgotten horrors’ but my partner in crime Chris felt that using ‘reviving’ meant we sounded like we were selling tea infusions. I mentioned this in conversation with Andy Sharp of English Heretic fame and he suggested ‘Unearthing’ which instantly felt far more appropriate and was adopted instantly.

As for the radio show, I had a mix created by Jim Peters for the first event and approached a local radio station to play it as a marketing tool on Halloween, of which they obliged. Afterwards they asked if I would be interested in recording a radio show for them and so the UFH radio show was born. It ran for a while until the station closed down and we moved to our new home at A1 Radio, who we have since recorded almost 300 shows for.

FHR: Every episode you spotlight a Soundtrack of the Week amongst the great diversity of tunes you play, do you have any personal favourite soundtracks and which film / score first got you interested in cinematic music?

DC: I think it’s so difficult to pick out a single favourite because there are so many incredibly effective soundtracks out there. I would definitely suggest several Goblin soundtracks, Suspiria, Deep Red and Dawn of the Dead are all favourites, as well as Fabio Frizzi’s scores for Fulci’s zombie trio; City of the Living Dead, The Beyond and Zombie Flesheaters. Blood on Satan’s Claw, The Wicker Man, Halloween, Maniac, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Haunting of Julia, the list goes on and on.

The film that first got me hooked on soundtracks was probably Jaws or Star Wars, I loved both as a kid and both had these hugely iconic scores that were everywhere when I was a boy. In later years, and once I was old enough to discover real horror movies, I think Suspiria was the first to truly hook me in, it was the first time I thought of the music in a horror film as an integral factor in what made it truly scary. I also really love The Texas Chainsaw Massacre score, which I discovered around the same time. It’s such an appropriate score for that film, every time I watch it, it reminds me how much I love it.

FHR: Which folk horror film do you think has the most effective soundtrack?

As much as I love The Wicker Man it has to be Blood on Satan’s Claw for me. Marc Wilkinson’s score is astonishing, it’s so unusually sinister and queasy sounding, but it really is embedded deeply in what makes that film work so well. It has a playful devilish quality that Candia McCormack described as “wickedness itself” in the first volume of Harvest Hymns, which is a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with.

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FHR: You have a Masters Degree specialising in the History of Witchcraft, what connections do you think there are between music and the occult?

DC: I think the two are inextricably linked, music has always been a powerful tool used in ritual magic dating back as far as we can remember and so many different cultures have cited its healing properties. There is something special about the way music makes us feel. A live performance can be uplifting or heartbreaking depending on the artist/performer and how many depictions of sabbats feature dancing and songs?

I think it’s also worth mentioning the number of musicians who are alleged to have sold their souls to the devil, like Robert Johnson and Paganini, those who write music that is influenced by occult writings such as Black Widow, Sun-Ra or Led Zeppelin, and even those for who the actual process of making music is part of their magical working, Coil, Psychic TV.

FHR: You have organised several live Unearthing Forgotten Horror events and As one of the head honchos of Folk Horror Revival, you have been instrumental in coordinating live events for us too – if money were no option which musical artists or bands (active or departed / defunct) would you most like to have headlining a FHR event?

DC: Oh, now that’s a hard one as there are so many great artists I would love to work with; The Incredible String Band, Donovan, Black Widow, Coven, Coil, The Doors, The Butthole Surfers, but I think my top choice would be Comus. First Utterance is my go to album when it comes to Folk Horror sounds, it has the perfect mix of moods, it’s quite a beautiful sounding record, yet it is one of the most horribly sinister and downbeat albums I’ve ever heard. I would love to see how it comes across in a live setting.

On the other hand we have had the privilege of working with some amazing artists at our events and I still dream of the day we can finally put on a Ex-Reverie or Rusalnaia gig. I won’t list everyone we’ve worked with in the past as the list would be enormous, but a huge thank you to them all for their support, their time and their incredible talents.

FHR: What is the scariest or most disturbing music you’ve personally heard?

DC: Another difficult one, as I don’t think of any single album when you ask this question, as there are a number of records that would fit the bill for scariest or most disturbing. Suspiria by Goblin would be one contender, it’s a safe choice as it has been widely recognised as being an incredibly sinister sounding record, the film itself is particularly effective when seen on a big screen with the soundtrack booming out of a massive surround sound speaker system. It’s incredibly nuanced, but it’s not until you’ve heard it in that sort of environment that you notice many of those nuances.

Other than that, I would suggest Fabio Frizzi’s City of the Living Dead soundtrack, it has real menace to it and a very downbeat vibe. Guiliano Sorgini’s Living Dead at Manchester Morgue is another that works on an ultra-creepy level. These are all albums I would recommend for someone looking to delve into the creepy soundtrack scene. On top of this, I would suggest those mentioned earlier in this interview, as well as Keith Emerson’s Inferno, Mark Korven’s The VVitch and The Radiophonic Workshop’s Possum, to name but a few.

Outside of the movie soundtrack, I would suggest checking out some of the great electronic music around today, The Heartwood Institute, English Heretic, Drew Mulholland, Hawthonn, Pefkin, Grey Malkin, Ashtoreth, Burial Hex, Black Mountain Transmitter, Haxan Cloak, Pye Corner Audio, Nathalie Stern and the myriad of associated acts that are springing up all the time.

FHR: Thanks for talking to us. Happy 300th Episode and keep up the excellent work. We wish Unearthing Forgotten Horrors continued sonic success for many strange aeons to come.

Unearthing Forgotten Horrors airs live on Tuesday evenings at 7pm (UK time)
– HERE

An Archive of some of the previous episodes can be found HERE – Well worth checking out 🌞👍 …

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Water Shall Refuse Them by Lucie McKnight Hardy : Book Review

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When I read fiction, my mind’s eye tends to play out the unfolding narrative as a film. In the case of Lucie McKnight Hardy’s novel ‘Water Shall Refuse Them’ the setting and style adapted itself on the cinema screen behind my eyelids in the manner of a 1970s Play For Today or similar. That is far from a criticism – BBC plays such as Nuts in May, Brimstone and Treacle, Our Day Out, Blue Remembered Hills, Red Shift, Abigail’s Party and Penda’s Fen are high water-marks of British telly.

Anyway like Ronnie Corbett, I digress. Hardy’s debut novel concerns itself with a married couple, their teenage daughter and their mentally impaired infant son taking a holiday at a rural Welsh cottage in the bid to try and deal with the aftermath and trauma of a family tragedy. They discover that the locals are not exactly the most welcoming or friendliest bunch and instead find solidarity with a teenage boy and his mother, who also being incomers to the village are not held on the best terms by the parochial families either. Indeed the mother Janet is regarded as a witch by the villagers; an accusation she does little to dispel.

Her son Mally develops a close and strangely bonded relationship with Nif, the 16 year old daughter of the troubled family vacationing in the Welsh valley and protagonist of the book. Nif is an individualist who is governed by her own rituals and way of seeing. In discussion about the book on a Twitter post, the author Dr Miranda Corcoran drew a comparison between Hardy’s debut and Shirley Jackson’s classic novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle. For me these are big footsteps for it to walk in as We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of my favourite novels. I can see the parallels between the works and furthermore without giving too much of the plot away, I think comparisons could also be drawn with that other fine example of Dark Americana /American Wyrd – Thomas Tryon’s The Other. Water Shall Refuse Them does however have a very British personality.

One of the points of comparison between Hardy’s and Jackson’s novels is the presence of an unconventional and troubled young woman as narrator and therein lies a personal feeling and also intriguing topic of thought in that whilst I like Jackson’s protagonist Merricat Blackwood, I just don’t like Nif. Yes she is an intriguing well-written character but I don’t warm to her at all. But do I need to like the main personality to read the book and enjoy it? Or any book? I think personally the answer is sometimes. For instance, I gave up on reading Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game quite soon into it as I disliked the protagonist and her husband so much. In the realm of film really disliking the central family in Hereditary and the child in The Babbadook are part (not the whole) of the reason I don’t like those films much at all. But then again I did not like the principal characters in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Blair Witch Project, Eyes Wide Shut or Misery (book and film) yet I appreciate those works overall more. Does it matter if you don’t like the characters who you will spend much time with? They don’t have to be likeable for a work to be a success – Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho is a prime example of that.

As Water Shall Refuse Them progresses I like Nif less and less. I don’t know if that is a matter of concern with Hardy, whether it is of any importance to her whether the reader likes her main character as a person. And it could just be me – other readers may feel sympathy or empathy towards Nif, but she leaves me cold from the offset. It could be the case that that she is meant to. As the story develops, without saying too much, Nif (and in some instances Mally, whom I never warmed to either) do some rather unpleasant things; so it is perhaps an intention of Hardy for the reader to question how they feel about chief characters instead of just easily slipping into a comfortable synch with them.

In regard to Nif’s actions, as someone who has immersed themselves in ‘horror’ fiction since a child it is possible to become numbed or desensitized to all manner of fiendish happenings, but there are scenes in the novel that did leave me feeling disturbed. This is a credit to Hardy’s writing as these scenes are generally quite underplayed, there is no great crescendo of gore but subtlety delivered, small yet in their way powerfully resonant occurrences that get under the skin. These traits do foreshadow the great reveal, which is not the most unexpected (though I do tend whilst reading fiction or watching films automatically ponder how I would end the narrative were I the writer of it , so do quite frequently see the ‘twist’ coming and wonder if my mind were wired differently would more fiction catch me off-guard) but the resolution of the end happenings does however throw in another swerve ball.

It is not my place nor intention to issue ‘trigger warnings’, but it must be noted that some scenes may especially upset some readers and perhaps provoke them to ask whether they were necessary or at least whether they needed to have occurred several times. That is not a question for me to answer but perhaps for the author to address and certainly for individual readers to make their own judgement upon.

So these points have caused me to mull over the book and would have even if I were not writing a review of it, so it did get under my skin and that is a credit to it. Did I like it? That I need to think over more – I didn’t dislike it, of that I’m sure. I would read it again and I don’t say that of all novels. But it is one that I will need to contemplate more as to my deeper, long-lasting impression of it. Is it a good book either way? Yes I think it is; it is a intriguing debut that makes me curious to investigate Hardy’s future works, so that’s a job well done there. It is a book that reminds me somewhat of some of Benjamin Myer’s novels – scenarios which are simple but effective and hold some moments of strong, sometimes brutal or harrowing but not overworked significance. aving grief, loss and trauma at its heart it also is reminiscent of Will McClean’s The Apparition Phase (recently reviewed on this website Here ).
The themes unearthed in Water Shall Refuse them are pertinent to the bucolic uncanny and it is a worthy addition to the folk horror fiction shelf, though because of events described within may indeed be contentious with some readers.

Water Shall Refuse Them by Lucie McKnight Hardy is available to purchase from HERE and other book stores.

To discover more about the writing of Lucie McKnight Hardy visit HERE

Review by Andy Paciorek

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Ithell Colquhoun, Ghosts and World Receivers

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Ithell Colquhoun: Genius of the Fern Loved Gully by Amy Hale

In art history discussions British Surrealism is often an under-represented topic as is one of its most important pioneers – Ithell Colquhoun. But there is more to and more to say about Colquhon than her on-off relationship with Surrealism as Amy Hale makes strongly apparent in her biography of this intriguing artist. Born in India in 1906 and apart from a period residing in Paris, Colquhoun spent the majority of her life living and working in England with most time spent between London and Cornwall. Cornwall in the 20th Century was known as something of a haven for British artists particularly the Newlyn, Lamorna and St Ives schools. Despite treading in art as well as magic circles, Colquhoun largely followed her own path. Hale divides this path into 3 areas; those being Surrealism, Celticism and Occultism and she takes us to these destinations via a non-linear route. Hale states that anyone hoping for a solid art-historical approach from her book will be sorely disappointed – I don’t think they will be. The art-history aspect of the book is built on as solid ground as that of many purely art-history tomes. Hale’s pedigree as a folklorist and anthropologist, as well as her clear enthusiasm and curiosity for Colquhoun as a subject, enrich the discussion of the art and what influenced it.

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Ithell Colquhoun – The Pine Family (1940)


Colquhoun was a graduate of the Slade School of Art, so had a history of training and was not an Outsider artist as such but she was largely self-taught in her methods and independent in her creative aims. Her relationship with Surrealism was always destined to be hit and miss as it was a notoriously fractious movement with Andre Breton steadfast in his vision of the intentions and character of Surrealism which would at times clash with artists whose own inherent drive would at times veer from his routed roadmap. A point of interest shared between Breton and Colquhoun was Automatic Art – the main feature of this trinity of book reviews. For Breton it was an art that sprung solely from the subconscious of the executor, but for numerous others it was seen as being produced by discarnate spirits, namely the dead, working through a living channel thus combining the corporeal artist and their materials truly as a medium. From within or without, Colquhoun was not content to be simply a conduit as from her painting, collage and writing we can see a very inquisitive mind and this led her to create art in relation to her spiritual and intellectual interests and indeed to create art as part of magical practice.

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Ithell Colquhoun – Gouffres Amers (1939)


The roots of tradition can be a considerable factor in certain magical paths and for Colquhoun living in and inspired by Cornwall, Celticism was an obvious avenue to explore. Her deep regard for the visionary poet and chronicler of Celtic folklore William Butler Yeats further bonded her to this path. A problem with traditionalism and indeed some magical / religious avenues is that of nationalism, which in itself could be benign but as is all too sadly evident even now in the second decade of the 21st Century can develop into something discriminatory, malign and ugly. Hale does not dwell long on this point but neither does she ignore it.

As Hale notes, in the 20th Century there were numerous occult societies and orders active and it seemed like for some people membership to them was something to be collected like esoteric stamps or mystical train numbers. Colquhoun herself passed through numerous doors, but it really does seem that this was due to her quest for knowledge and perhaps kinship – that she was exploring all available paths to find the one that best suited her, rather than feeding the ego with membership titles. But a mystery seems to remain, did she find her right path, her true spiritual and magical home or at the point of her death in 1988 was she still seeking? Hale digs deep and unveils a lot about Ithell Colquhoun, her sexuality, her artistic endeavours, her magical questing but yet Colquhoun still seems something of an enigma. Whilst more of her has been brought out of the shadows by Hale’s very impressive detective work, it is perhaps a right balance found – enough of Colqhoun revealed to further engage both art aficionados and occult scholars but not so much as to pick her bones clean and stripped of the intrigue that captivates.

3. Ithell Colquhoun, Alcove I, 1946 - ELEPHANT
Ithell Colquhoun – Alcove I (1946)


The quality of the artwork featured in the book is very good and left me greedy to see more of her work . Fortunately Fulgur Press have released Colquhoun’s Taro in Colour in book format – this would serve as a fitting companion to this volume as would indeed the biography of Austin Osman Spare written by Phil Baker, also published by Strange Attractor Press.

To purchase Ithell Colquhoun: Genius of the Fern Loved Gully by Amy Hale and to see more information on the title visit -> HERE

Taro As Colour - Fulgur Press


Taro as Colour focuses on Colquhoun’s work in 1977 / 1978 whereby she pared down the traditional idea of Tarot divinatory cards, stripping them of the usual figurative imagery and symbolism and instead presented as 78 images of vivid colour and abstract expression. They do still retain relation to the Tarot tradition. Presented with new titles and divided into elemental sets of Earth, Air, Fire and Water as well as ‘Trump’ cards. The works actually have a profound resonance. They may derive from Colqhoun’s long exploration of automatic art but they also pay heed to magical colour tradition as followed by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. As could be said of much (but not all) Abstract Art there is scope for personal interpretation and I found whilst looking at the cards that I would ‘see’ things. I think it goes beyond pareidolia and is more associated to Rorschach psychological tests whereby the subconscious becomes visible. Furthermore I could see these cards being useful for both meditative and scrying purposes.


It would have been good for the book to come with a set of cards as it is not the cheapest purchase by any means. But you have to take into account that this book is a limited edition – 1200 copies in runs of 300 different cover designs. Each pertaining to one of the elemental suits Earth (indigo) Air (yellow) Fire (Red) and Water (Blue) – make sure if ordering to make preference in the notes on order box at checkout and subject to availability that will be fulfilled. I did not read that part so ended up with a colour I wouldn’t have picked, but don’t mind as I see the colour that fate ended up giving as interesting in itself like the ‘random’ selection of a card. And the book is very nicely presented. Each card gets its own page – off which they sing with vibrancy. The book also is mainly visual. There is no textual interruption save for card title and division of suits within the book but it is opened with a great introduction, again penned by Amy Hale.
Ithell Colqhoun: Taro As Colour is available to purchase from – Here

Taro As Colour - Fulgur Press

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Not Without My Ghosts : The Artist As Medium – various artists and writers

Not Without My Ghosts - Cornerhouse Publications

Ithell Colqhoun is one of the artists featured in this charming little book (with a quote from Amy Hale in reference to her) that marks the touring exhibition of that name curated by The Hayward Gallery and The Drawing Room. Concentrating on art created through or in relation to spiritualist channeling, automatic and trance state composition the show featured work from William Blake; Cameron; Ann Churchill; Ithell Colquhoun; Louise Despont; Casimiro Domingo; Madame Fondrillon; Chiara Fumai; Madge Gill, Susan Hiller; Barbara Honywood; Georgiana Houghton; Anna Mary Howitt; Victor Hugo; Augustin Lesage; Pia Lindman; Ann Lislegaard; André Masson; Grace Pailthorpe; František Jaroslav Pecka; Olivia Plender; Sigmar Polke; Lea Porsager; Austin Osman Spare; Yves Tanguy ​and​ Suzanne Treister​ with ​The Museum of Blackhole Spacetime Collective: therefore spanning time from the Victorian period to the present day. A lot of the older art however looks ahead of its time. This is particularly true when it comes to works of an abstraction style.

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Barbara Honywood – Album Page XIV (1860s)


Though Wassily Kandinsky (1866 – 1944) has oft been credited as the pioneer of Abstract Art, it is clear from the earlier works of artists such as Georgina Houghton (to whom we will return in greater detail shortly) that this isn’t the case. Because women featured significantly within the earlier creation of abstract art it must be asked whether their gender is the factor in them remaining largely unknown until now and this is a matter broached within the essays featured in the book, those being Spiritualist Sisters in Art by Simon Grant, Spirit Voices, Women’s Voices: Art and Mediumship by Susan L Arbeth and Infinite Redress: Politics in Spiritualism and Medium Art by Lars Bang Larsen. Within a lot of Victorian opinion, women were perceived as being more generally ‘sensitive’ and therefore often more prone to hearing spirit voices and more ‘passive’ therefore more suited to being used as a channel for the dead to communicate with the living through art – so a question arises as to whether such clairvoyant conduits can be considered the creators of these work or merely the channels for the true dead artists.

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Madge Gill – Abstracted Flowers (undated)


Some such as Madge Gill (whom is most often categorised as an Outsider Artist) credited her work to the spirit Myrinerest whom would ‘possess’ her. Notably the name Myinerest comes from ‘My Inner Rest’ which for people like-minded to Breton, whom attributed Automatic Art to the inner subconscious rather than the influence of spirits from outside, can give cause to consider the works of interest and study and not just to sceptically disregard them if they feel uncomfortable with notions of the occult or supernatural. Gill is probably most widely known for her renderings of haunting faces caught within swirling monochromatic maelstroms of patterns or scrawls, but an image of hers displayed within this book shows an abstracted rendition of plants executed in a mix of earthy and rich deep colours. Stylised botanical specimens, swirling patterns and strange faces are well represented within this book.

For further information and to purchase a copy visit -> HERE

World Receivers: Georgiana Houghton. Hilma Af Klint. Emma Kunz

World Receivers: Georgiana Houghton - Hilma af Klint - Emma Kunz |  Amazon.com.br

The third of the books reviewed here today, World Receivers, takes a closer look at 3 mediumistic painters and also 3 experimental filmmakers whose work draws association to the spirit-influenced art-forms via the essays and editorship of Karin Althaus, Sebastian Schneider and Matthias Mühling in relation to a 2018/19 exhibition at the Lenbachaus gallery in Munich.

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Georgiana Houghton – The Spiritual Crown of Annie Mary Howitt Watts (1867)

Before Kandinsky, Kupka and Mondrian who all recognised a spiritual aspect within the abstract painting they were long credited with creating in the 20th Century, there was Georgiana Houghton, born in England in 1814. Houghton did receive some artistic training but the details of which are not known. Whatever she learned at art-school will have been at odds with what the spirits guided her hand to do. Following the death of her sister Zilla in 1851, like many people within the Victorian and later Edwardian period Houghton turned to Spiritualism for guidance and comfort through their dark journey through grief. By 1860 Houghton was a practicing medium herself. Initially using a planchette (a wooden wheeled device into which a pencil can be placed and guided by unseen hands enable the medium to render art or writing) Houghton requested that the spirit of her sister Zilla or her deceased brother Cecil guide her hand but neither could apparently do so. However Houghton testified that the spirit of a departed deaf and dumb artist by the name of Henry Lenny was able to work through her. The work created was of a vastly different manner to the precise and naturalistic representative art of the 19th Century. Resplendent in kinetic swirls, sweeps of colourful energy and only sometimes depicting instantly recognisable forms such as faces or flowers, the art of Georgiana Houghton was radically different for the time and even when Kandinsky first experimented with abstraction nigh on half a century later, the disintegration of form into shape and colour would still be too avant-garde and beyond comprehension for many observers. In 1871, Houghton exhibited her work at a personal financial loss to, beyond the more sympathetic fellow spiritualist observers, a rather bemused, sometimes indignant audience. Not until the 21st Century has her work gained greater attention suggesting that whatever her spirits had to say was ahead of her time.

The Glory of the Lord Painting | Georgiana Houghton Oil ...
Georgiana Houghton – The Glory of the Lord (1864)
Hilma af Klint - Altarpiece No. 1 Group X, 1915 | Trivium ...
Hilma af Klint – Altarpiece No. 1 Group X (1915)

Hilma af Klint (1862 -1944) is another Spiritual Abstraction painter whose light has finally glowed stronger, years after her own passing over. This is however largely of her own doing, requesting that her spiritual works be kept secret until at least 20 years after her death. A graduate of the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, Klint created accomplished pieces of more traditional art for commercial purposes but her hidden work was something else entirely. As with Houghton, the death of a sibling, Klint’s sister Hermina, proved the catalyst for both her spiritual and artistic development in 1880. Her growing interest in Spiritism, Theosophy and after a meeting with Rudolf Steiner, the esoteric philosopher and clairvoyant, his Anthroposophical Society was to have profound influence upon her artistic oeuvre. Bold colours and geometric shapes were common motifs of her Automatic paintings. It wasn’t until her aptly named ‘Paintings For The Future’ exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, New York in 2019 that the light of Klint burned with a stellar intensity. Proving to be one of the most successful exhibitions hosted there to date, perhaps in these strange days the strange art of Hilma af Klint has finally found its right audience.

Ten Things You Might Not Know about Swedish Artist Hilma ...
Hilma af Klint – Altarpiece No. 2 Group X (1916)


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Emma Kunz (1892 – 1963) the third of the Spirit artists showcased in this book had an intriguing manner of working. Going into a trance state she would swing a pendulum over large scale graph paper and plot dots along her momentum and then in single sessions which could last through the night she would join those dots. The results were spectacular. Like a human Spirograph, Kunz would create stunning geometric designs. Sometimes she read her pictures as answers to spiritual questions but sometimes they served another unusual purpose. The pendulum of Emma Kunz was not used only to guide the creation of art but as a tool in the treatment of ailments for as well as being an artist and clairvoyant, Emma Kunz was a healer. The book World Receivers features a fascinating short piece by Peter Burri who recounts how Kunz saved his life as a child after he had become badly poisoned by iodine consumption.

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Emma Kunz – untitled (undated)

The book World Receivers culminates with essays and images on and from the experimental film artwork of John & James Whitney and Harry Smith, but it is the work of the 3 female artists of the spirit that carries most weight and focus and is presented with great care and respect in this lovely large book which can be obtained -> HERE

The trinity of books reviewed here compliment each other very well and all are great additions to both the Occult / Spiritual and Art bookshelves.

Reviewed by Andy Paciorek



Podcast Spotlight: Haunted.

 

 Hello fellow Revivalists and welcome to the Folk Horror Revival Spotlight. This week we kind of move in a different direction. Kind of. Depends… Anyway. Like many of us that follow the Folk Horror Revival we perhaps had our first taste of it through ghosts and tales of hauntings through books like The Usborne Book of Ghosts and if you were really unlucky, or lucky, that traumatizing show Ghostwatch. Things that go bump in the night. Ghostly apparitions that appear at the top of the stairs. Screaming skulls. Children talking like old men and animals that can speak. So with that in mind let me introduce you to Haunted.

 Haunted is a podcast that collects real life stories of the paranormal from all of us average everyday people that come from all walks of life and from all over the world. Danny Robbins is a comedian and has lots of tv and radio show writing credits under his belt. How he has found himself investigating the paranormal I don’t know. Maybe we could interview him and find out.    Each episode is an interview with the eye witness, or witnesses. As they recount the experience to Danny he explores the circumstances surrounding the event. He goes on site to where they happened, explores the social and political environments of the time (trust me, it’ll make sense when you listen) and speaks to skeptics, paranormal investigators, psychologists and other professionals about the rational explanations. There is part of me that wants to punch these people but  another part just wants to curl up in a ball and hide from the reality of how fragile our minds are. Another thing I happened to notice is the wide range of people interviewed. A South African wealthy businessman tells his story in one episode in a very serious manner.

 I actually listened to the whole series in a binge. I found every episode fascinating and just couldn’t stop. Actually I’m lying. I did stop. I was doing a sleepover at work and thought it best not to freak myself out when I was the only staff member in a residential unit. That’s exactly how these things start! They are all a must listen but the most recent two part episode ‘The Night Shift’ is really a stand out for that very reason! If you ever happen to have read the book Will Storr Vs The Supernatural I think you will enjoy this.   

 As an aside I should point out that Danny is currently recording a podcast for BBC Radio 4 called The Battersea Poltergeist. A case that he discovered while recording Haunted that was far too big and complex for just a couple of episodes. It is part investigation, dramatization (with Detectorist Toby Jones lending his voice)  and interview and will definitely be covered in a future post.    

http://dannyrobins.com/

https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/haunted/id1299841207