The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths ~ Review

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Stephen Prince and his project A Year In The Country are best known for their derives through the haunted areas of unusual folk music and folklore, occult British culture, pagan children’s TV shows of the 70s and 80s and the electronica of these isles such as Delia Derbyshire and Ghost Box Records. Their website charts a course through the shadows of modern culture of TV, literature, music and film, finding that which provides a more spectral, hauntological narrative of the last 50 years. Similarly, their music imprint has spawned several high quality compilations featuring artists such as The Heartwood Institute, The Rowan Amber Mill and Grey Frequency, as well as albums by Prince himself under the moniker A Year in the Country.
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‘The Corn Mother’ first (re)emerged in 2018, as the A Year in the Country music label issued a soundtrack inspired by the notorious, possibly imaginary and subsequently unreleased film of the same name. Renowned for its tortured production history and its fabled lost screenplay, the movie itself had become something apocryphal and of legend, rarely seen but oft mentioned. Described as a ‘folkloric fever dream’, how this piece of cinematic conjecture fitted within and contributed to the current folk horror trend or to aspects of psychotronic cinema has been left as, essentially, a question mark. Indeed, there has been much musing but little else solid or informative regarding ‘The Corn Mother’ to base any consideration of its urban myth upon, until now.

In its ongoing pursuit of exploring the more haunted and liminal aspects of this island’s culture, A Year in the Country has produced ‘The Corn Mother’ novella, furthering the themes and characters of this spectral and hidden world, as well as an accompanying soundtrack, entitled ‘Night Wraiths’. Both are described as being ‘explorations and reflections of the whispers that tumble forth from the corn mother’s kingdom. A place and story where fact, fiction, reality and dreams blur into one’. The novella itself is sequenced according to the cycles of the year, into four sections or seasons and 52 chapters of no more than 365 words each. This nod to nature throughout the structure of the story alludes to the rural and harvest horror that spawned the original tale of ‘The Corn Mother’. Beginning in the year 1877 in a tiny, rustic English village, we first encounter the innocent Mrs Jessop who is unfairly accused of poisoning and spoiling the crops by employing witchcraft. This initial section details the growing hysteria that descends upon the small, insular village, already unsettled by the encroaching industrial revolution and consequent unwanted changes in country life that technological progress is bringing to them. The persecution of Mrs Jessop and her subsequent revenge as ‘the corn mother’ proves both disquieting and compulsive reading.

Time then shifts rapidly on and we find ourselves in the 1970s, as scriptwriter Peter is working on a story concerning a wronged villager who causes a village to splinter, fight, go mad with guilt and eventually up and leave. Sound familiar? Arthouse director Alain, whose films sound like they inhabit a genre somewhere between the Czech New Wave and Blood on Satan’s Claw, picks up on this script, which has been named ‘The Corn Mother’, and it goes into production. Things seem to be progressing well with the movie; the character of Ellen is introduced, who is producing the movie’s soundtrack, as well as Sarah, who is to play Mrs Jessop (this asks an eerie unanswered question; how does Peter know of her, know of her name?). Each chapter is written in the first person, giving a varied perspective and a personal take on the unfolding mystery that reveals both motives and intrigue. We also hear from crooked film funder Hines, whose corrupt financial dealings result in the whole production being cancelled and all cinematic reels and work completed on the movie disappearing. All, except for those which are taken and stowed away by a certain crew member, kept safe and hidden in a basement until they eventually emerge more than twenty years later. Meanwhile, the decades roll on and the rumours circulate. There is talk of ‘The Corn Mother’ being available as a bootleg VHS. A collection of videotapes that may have an edit of the film appear and then just as quickly are gone, as if they never existed, almost as if someone or something is eliminating all trace of the film’s existence. We are introduced to Alan, a film obsessive, who spends a significant part of his life trying to track down proof of ‘The Corn Mother’s existence, attending comic cons and searching internet databases, in particular the websites dedicated to the burgeoning folk horror movement. However, as reference to the film builds, it just as quickly vanishes, deleted. The evidence that ‘The Corn Mother’ existed, is being removed, but by whom or what?

A fascinating and truly inventive novella, ‘The Corn Mother’ touches upon those familiar pillars that A Year In The Country have become known for, the hauntological (and the imagined film in this tale really is a ‘past that is haunting the present’), as well as recognisable folk horror lodestones such as The Wicker Man. The story even cleverly builds in, during a ‘meta’ moment, the existence of 2018’s ‘The Corn Mother’ compilation that was actually released by the A Year in the Country label. Additionally, the text serves as a cultural and social reference point; throughout the passing of the decades; mention is made to the three-day week and power cuts of the 70s, to the Blockbuster video chains of the 90s and the subsequent rise of the internet. Nevertheless, much is also pleasingly unexplained. Prince is in no rush or pressure to reveal or join the dots, he trusts the readers to do this themselves, to surmise or imagine what machinations are at work.

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The novella comes accompanied by ‘The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths’, a soundtrack for the stories as well as a standalone piece of work. The album itself is split in a similar fashion to the novella; inspired by the cycle of the year it is sequenced into seven tracks – as in seven days of the week. Spectral, swooping electronics and ominous analogue washes create a barren, shadowed landscape to illustrate ‘The Infernal Engines’, Mrs Jessop’s walks amongst the fields and the suspicion of ever nearing industry and mechanization. ‘Night Wraiths’ stays within this era, documenting the coming of the corn mother and her lysergic revenge upon the mob hysteria of the village. Chillingly effective and genuinely unsettling, the synth pulses and growls are an adept soundtrack to the terrors in the book itself and work in a similar manner; subtle, pervasive and with a creeping sense of unease. ‘I Have Brought a Myriad Fractures and Found Some Form of Peace’ is a ghost story of a track, decaying and ebbing as much as the village and the inhabitant’s psyches were cracking and breaking under the weight of their madness and guilt. ‘Ellen’s Theme’ then takes us into the 1980s and the synth soundtrack to the long lost film, the music inspired by such compositions as featured in that period’s horror cinema such as that of ‘Halloween 3: Season of the Witch’, electronic strings hinting at the darkness behind the reoccurring melody, a pulsing and layering paranoia. Hints of Coil, John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream float on a doomed, resonating motif that circles and breathes, growing in intensity. ‘Dreams of a Third Generation Grail’ references Andy’s search for ‘The Corn Mother’ film, a spooked sense of yearning and obsession played out in the ghost-strewn harmonies. ‘They Are All Here’ charts the disappearance of any record of the film ever existing, a lonely electronic arctic wind that is framed by solitary notes and unearthly bleeps. Finally, ‘An Unending Quest’ completes the album, hinting at the cyclical and repeating nature of ‘The Corn Mother’ saga itself.

This is an original and significant piece of work, not only in its novel, singular and successful approach to folk horror and ‘imaginary’ films (tropes which, as hinted at within the book, have perhaps reached saturation point in lesser hands), but in the creation of its own self referencing  folklore. This may not be the last we have heard of ‘The Corn Mother’, her myth has been sown and will undoubtedly spring forth anew once again. Both an excellent tale of the supernatural and an effective slice of spooked electronica, ‘The Corn Mother’ is waiting in the fields for those who watch and listen. Time to gather the crops.

Available from the 16th March at www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk/shop/, Amazon and Lulu.

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Review by Grey Malkin

See also ~ https://folkhorrorrevival.com/2018/09/07/recording-our-own-ghosts-a-review-of-a-year-in-the-country-wandering-through-spectral-fields-journeys-in-otherly-pastoralism-the-further-reaches-of-folk-and-the-parallel-worlds-o/

Book review: Some Dark Holler by Luke Bauserman

Ephraim Cutler is a 16 year boy, living in the backwoods of Appalachia in the aftermath of the American Civil War. His mother hasn’t been right since his father was killed in the war, killed by a Union bullet. She blackmails him into taking revenge by killing an innocent Yankee, so Ephraim, forced to choose between killing an innocent man or the death of his mother, commits murder. To try and redeem himself, he flees into the forest, but unknown to him, there’s more powerful and sinister forces than the local townsfolk after him, and soon he has a hellhound on his tail.

Some Dark Holler is richly evocative of it’s setting, drawing heavily on Appalachian folklore. I found this to be one of the most interesting aspects of the book, seeing how traditional European beliefs had changed when transplanted to America; the hellhound is a real dog reanimated by a black magic ritual rather than the spectral hound you may be more familiar with, there’s also a granny doctor, an old woman wise in the ways of healing, similar to the wise women of old. It certainly made me want to find out more about the folk tales the author drew on. Luckily, he’s produced a book on this very subject, which is available free from his website, which I’m looking forward to reading.

The plot itself moves along at a fair old gallop, with a fair few twists and turns. Although it’s the first book in a series, it’s satisfying as a stand alone book. I’ll certainly be picking up the sequel when it comes out this year.

More info at www.lukebauserman.com, where as well as his previously mentioned ebook, the author also blogs about local folklore, so well worth checking out.

Review by Scott Lyall

“A Persistence of Geraniums” by John Linwood Grant.

Please do not be fooled by the slimness of this volume, these are tales to charm, chill, intrigue and entertain.

The collection opens two differing ghost stories. Firstly the eponymous "A Persistence of Geraniums". A wonderfully humorous ghost story with a twist. Full of witty one line descriptions which capture the nature of the characters with a cutting perfection. Following this comes "His Heart Shall Speak No More" a darker, more serious tale in the vein of traditional ghost stories. Exploring the well loved theme that some things which are found would be much better not found at all and having all of the required shivers one would expect of a tale of this kind.

It then moves on to a series of stories concerning Edwin Dry, The Deptford Assassin. No ordinary assassin in any way, shape or form. By turns he shows a social conscience, a chilling coldness and lack of emotion and a humour entirely his own. From impersonating an asylum inmate, to shrugging off a demonic possession, nothing it seems can shake his steady nerve and calm demeanor. An extremely intriguing character that I would be more than happy to read more of.

The closing story is an alternative view of Thomas Carnacki, which I will say little about, other than it shows the great Occult Detective in a very different light. Definite food for thought.

A thoroughly enjoyable read, I would be hard pushed to chose a favourite from these entertaining tales. What stands out throughout is John Linwood Grant’s skill of description and humour. With a minimum of words he makes these characters alive. A passing mention of one item of clothing or a small but telling personality trait and somehow their essence is captured. Tales with dark edges and at times a dark humour to match.

I only have two complaints concerning this book,

1. There was a distinct lack of geraniums.
2. It really wasn’t long enough.

Reading it has left me with the desire to read more of the back catalogue of short stories available and to hope that more will be forthcoming!

To say a little about the author, John Linwood Grant frequently entertains the members of the Folk Horror Revival group with his excellently funny St Botolph’s Parish Newsletters. Those of us lucky enough to be on his Facebook friends list get extra snippets from St Botolphs which are often some of the funniest things I find in my newfeed. John is also part of the editorial team behind the Occult Detective Quarterly magazine and his short stories have appeared in numerous publications. More from John can be found on his Greydogtales blog. He also likes lurchers, a lot.

(http://greydogtales.com/blog/)

The Snow Witch by Matt Wingett: Book Review

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The Snow Witch is both a haunted and haunting book. Though not a ghost story as such, it is swarming with ghosts – the ghosts of the past, the ghosts of winter, breath ghosts. From the bleak frosty shore to the black, black sea, Wingett tells the tale of a lonely, insular refugee from the east of Europe who finds herself in the cold season days of a British seaside town. There she encounters strange kindness but also becomes the victim of a harrowing experience.

The tale is infused with humanity at its rawest, its nastiness but also its generosity. Like a favourite author of mine – Ray Bradbury, Wingett skilfully paints a scene in words with painterly strokes; in my mind when reading I could see the twinkling of the model village lights in the darkness of the drawn in evenings and feel the bite of frost upon my fingers. I found myself immersed with the events playing out in my mind like images upon a cinema screen; for me that is the mark of a skilled writer. Also adept and engaging are the characterisations of the figures prevelant in the narrative – from the enigmatic otherworldliness of Donzita, the enduring grief of Celia, the shy awkwardness of Eddy, the wilful desperation of Vee and the low, selfish cruelty of Riley.

At times The Snow Witch is raw, unafraid to confront the unkindness of life but it also shines the beacon of hope and illuminates magic and maintains its air of cold, ethereal beauty throughout.

The Snow Witch is available to pre-order from here and here

Review by Andy Paciorek

Review: Spirits Of Place

‘Spirits of Place’ is an anthology journeying into the minds, places and memories of spirits-of-place-kindle-covertwelve writers as they attempt to put into words the emotional and cultural residue implied by a location dear to them. It’s not merely the hard geography of a location but its evolution though folk history which is of interest here. This isn’t another book of psychogeography essays where the landscape is explored and meaning extrapolated from the usual tired rambles of London and Paris, ‘Spirits of Place’ puts a human face onto local mythology and shows that the devil (and assorted other spirits) is almost certainly in the detail as it’s often the little stories that provide the biggest connections to a place. In all cases careful research goes hand in hand with the writer’s emotions and experiences providing the reader with more than enough information to spark further investigation.

This project, derived from a day of lectures in Liverpool in 2016, has been carefully curated by John Reppion to include a refreshing diversity of writers with the essays contained covering a lot of ground both physically and metaphorically. From Bryndís Björgvinsdóttir’s background in Icelandic Elf-lore and how its interfering with modern road and building construction, to Vajra Chandrasekera’s personal account how Sri Lankan spirit folklore evolves to retain its relevance in a rapidly changing socio-political landscape, to Maria J. Perez Cuervo’s piece on the moving of King Philip II of Spain’s Spanish Capital to a mountain local myth says contains the caves that the Devil lived in after his fall from Heaven, the span is ambitiously global telling very human tales which derive (as all things do) from the land.

Of the writers included, the three most known to me, Warren Ellis, Iain Sinclair and Alan Moore don’t disappoint in their submissions. In ‘A Compendium of Tides’ Ellis paints a vivid picture of strange frequencies plucked throughout time from the aether of the Thames Estuary, with the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery and its dangerously deteriorating stockpile of wartime bombs hanging, like a Damoclean sword, threatening turn the area and its history back into atoms and background static. Sinclair leaves behind his beloved London to travel to Palermo, weaving an almost a film noir narrative about his visit to the Capuchin Catacombs, with the journey full of stories that lead him on a deep meditation into its place in the Sicilian psyche. And, having been fortunate enough to see Moore perform the piece his essay ‘Coal Dreams’ was based on at the Sage in Gateshead back in 2010, it’s great to see it finally documented as his contribution. First leading the reader through his own previous personal involvement with Newcastle and the mental and physical journey it has taken to get him there, then setting about re-imagining Newcastle and its environment by reframing its history using it’s pre Christian backdrop in an enthralling riposte to J B Priestley’s damning of Newcastle in ‘English Journey’, invoking Antenociticus (a Roman flavoured variant of Caernunnos) in his temple in Wallsend by way of brimstone-fired visions of the painter John Martin, Mary Shelly and Bovril.

None of the essays in this tight packed anthology overstay their welcome and the high level of writing prowess across the book makes it a joy to read, even if you manage to find an essay topic which doesn’t immediately float your boat. The general tone and connection to the theme does remain even throughout which goes to show that no matter where you are, if you concentrate on any place long enough, you can start to see the ghosts infused within the brickwork and the angels in the architecture. This book fits wonderfully into the growing movement towards the re-enchantment of location and will be of great interest to those fostering a deeper connection with the landscape.

Spirits of Place is published by Daily Grail Publishing
For more details, visit www.spiritsofplace.com

Review by S.: of the Psychogeographical Commission.

 

 

 

 

Review: Hours Dreadful & Things Strange

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Fans of folk horror, hauntology, psychogeography, visionary ruralism, the urban wyrd and other such strange edges will proably be no stranger to the name of Adam Scovell or perhaps his thorough and impressive website Celluloid Wicker Man

Adam is a writer and filmmaker currently based between Liverpool and London He has produced film and art criticism for over twenty publications including The Times and The Guardian, runs the Celluloid Wicker Man website and has had work screened and given lectures at places as esteemed as Cambridge University, The British Museum, The BFI, The Everyman Playhouse, Queen’s University – Belfast, Hackney Picturehouse and Manchester Art Gallery.

Within his first book for film and media publishing house Auteur , Scovell wanders forests and fields to unearth answers to the thorny question  “What is Folk Horror?” It is quite a task for folk horror is not simply a subgenre of horror but is a subgenre of various other genres and subgenres and it is also conversely unique in itself.
The Unholy Trinity of films, Blood on Satan’s Claw, Witchfinder General and The Wicker Man do of course get thorough necessary attention, but this book gives cause for any of the opinion that folk horror is a 3 movie phenomenon, much cause to think again.  Scovell, the creator of Scovell’s Chain – a system of defining elements of folk horror succeeds in outlining and showcasing diverse examples of folk horror and related fields, but does not hammer its legs down with iron stakes in too rigid a definition allowing folk horror to continue to wander myriad paths and remain as an evolving entity.
Kwaidan, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Ballad of Tam Lin,True Detective, Penda’s Fen, Quatermass, Children of the Stones and many many other films, tv shows are given the full (Owl) service and prove that folk horror is not limted to the British Isles as some folk would kid you believe. .

For all fans and scholars of folk horror and related sub-genres this book is indispensable. Scovell proves himself an excellent writer as the level of research and consideration in this book is impeccable yet it is not at all dry and is a captivating, flowing read for every body interested in the subject matter, not only those involved in academic field studies.
Many examples of folk horror are investigated and discussed (as such beware of spoilers for films and Tv plays you may not have seen yet) and also their relation to akin subjects such as the Urban Wyrd, Hauntology, Backwoods Horror, Ruralism and Southern Gothic.
This book investigates its subject matter with a contagious passion and does extremely well to explain a subject that is nebulous and still evolving. Whilst concentrating mostly on film the book also explores such matter as Public Information Films and the design and music of the Ghost Box label.
As well as being a very worthy addition to Auteur’s film study publication ouvre it is an essential read for all fans of folk horror and the sinuous other company it keeps.

Folk Horror Revival looks forward very much to reading further books and watching new films in future from Adam.

Hours Dreadful & Things Strange is available from Amazon and other book stores.

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Book Review ~ Myth and Masks: Artwork by Paul Watson 2013 -2015

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Myth and Masks: Artwork by Paul Watson 2013 -2015

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Myth and Masks by Paul Watson is an evocative work; described as ‘Shamanic’ in the foreword by David Southwell – a word he does not use lightly but it is a word that accurately describes this book. Myth and Masks is a transformative journey, a gateway into an Otherworld.
Within its pages are mainly photographs but also included are drawings and prints as well as writings by the artist about the inspiration, history and creative process of his work and subject matter. Intriguingly Watson questions whether the masks he creates, which feature so prominently in his work, are part of the art. He states seeing them more perhaps as preperation or costumes for his photography. For me looking inward at his work, the masks are both elements and subject matter of a larger work but I consider them also beautifully strange artworks in themselves.

In creating the masks, Watson was inspired to investigate the role, history and nature of masks more deeply. Gazing upon his masks, his photos and graphics, they tantalise the viewers’ eyes and impregnate their mind with questions – what do these masks represent? What do they reveal and what do they conceal?
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They are not mere costume – they are ritual, mythical, mystical. There is a theatrical narrative suggested in the still images. Stories dying to be told.
Dying … an apt word, for within these book pages we find the Badb Catha, the Death Mask and the Crow. The imagery of the crow goddess as rendered by Watson is reminiscent of the Plague Doctor masks of medieval times; but it is not confined to an isolated historical pestilence but is an eternal archetype. The Crow – devourer of carrion, a memento mori ~ a reflection of death in life.
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By placing the masks upon models, Watson puts life into death; the empty sockets of the mask are given a glint of life in some images but in others they eyes remain hidden, hinting at greater mysteries.

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Life and death are intertwined as revealed in the Ivy Mask. Ivy is an evergreen plant, a reminder that life continues through the greatest adversities but it also reminds us of its presence in tumbledown graveyards or clinging to the crumbling ruins of abandoned weather-beaten buildings. It speaks of life beyond death.
There is perhaps an element of sex that buds beneath the surface in some images also. The nudity is not overtly erotic in the imagery. It is not the bodies perhaps here that draws the carnal aspect of the mind in but the masks. There can be something enthralling, oddly sinister but alluring, something fetishistic too about masks. Sex and Death frequently go hand in hand. In the realm of folk horror, death has been portrayed several times as an act of fertility and therefore rebirth or new or transformed life.
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We look at the masks and they gaze back at us with whispers of life, death, rebirth and of change. The element of change is of course integral to masks; they change the appearance of the wearer and as such change our perceptions of them. Another chapter in Watson’s book deals with that archetypal mythic character – the Shapeshifter.
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Within his writings that accompany the imagery, Watson seamlessly draws in considerations of sources such as ancient myth, fairy tales, witchcraft, folk customs, hauntology and the ‘English Eerie’. Literary luminaries such as Robert Macfarlane, Marina Warner, Warren Ellis, Martin Shaw, Robert Holdstock and others take their place.

Visually and textually, Myth and Masks is an intriguing, evocative work and one that I recommend a place on the bookshelves of Folk Horror Revivalists.

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  • ISBN : 978-0-9934736-0-9
  • Pages: 128
  • Format: Hardback, high-quality litho-printed, sewn binding
  • Price: £24.99 exc. shipping – ONLY AVAILABLE FROM http://www.lazaruscorporation.co.uk/shop/38
  • Size: 252mm × 196mm (approx. 9.9ʺ × 7.7ʺ)
  • 28 colour plates, 3 b&w plates
  • Foreword by David Southwell (of Hookland Guide)
  • Each copy of this initial print-run of Myth and Masks comes with a free, hand-printed linoprint by Paul Watson of the Blindfolded Seeress, exclusive to this book.

    Myth and Masks: Artwork by Paul Watson 2013–2015 is a volume of Paul Watson’s artwork from 2013 to 2015, focusing mainly on photography but also including drawing and printmaking. The stark and dramatic images are complemented by an edited selection of his writings on myths, masks, and the “English Eerie”, previously published on his Artist’s Notebook blog during the course of creating these pieces of artwork.

    These selected pieces of Paul Watson’s artwork show his development of an intertwined host of primal characters, drawn from his imagination, but strongly influenced by the English landscape and the myths and legends that are embedded deeply within that landscape.

    The accompanying written pieces show the artist’s exploration of, and research into, the wider subject matter of what has become known as “the English Eerie” that runs in parallel with the creative process.

    What others have said:

    “The book takes the reader on a journey through the last two years of his work, touching on subjects as eclectic as the English eerie, folk-horror and psychogeography, with every stop in between. In addition to the beautiful colour plates of Paul’s work, the book includes several essays focusing on the inspiration behind his work along with ideas of myth and folklore, creating together an engrossing volume that will lead you to another world.”

    – Willow Winsham, FolkloreThursday website, 2016.

    “Highly recommended: a treat for the eyes and the imagination!”

    – Jane Talbot, author of The Faerie Thorn & Other Stories