Forests Damned and Furrows Cursed: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

John Buchan

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

Arthur Machen: Illustration by Andy Paciorek

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

Vernon Lee aka Violet Paget

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

Algernon Blackwood: Illustration by Andy Paciorek

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

Edgar Jepson

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

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

Faun by Moonlight: Leon Spillaert (1900)

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

Reviewed by Andy Paciorek

Dark Folklore: Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review by Andy Paciorek. First Published in Fortean Times magazine

Treasury of Folklore: Woodlands & Forests: Wild Gods, World Trees and Werewolves by Dee Dee Chainey & Willow Winsham – Book Review

Following in the footsteps of the Treasury of Folklore: Seas & Rivers: Sirens Selkies and Ghost Ships (Reviewed Here ) folklorists extraordinaire Dee Dee Chainey and Willow Winsham (the masterminds behind the #FolkloreThursday social media phenomenon) take us by the hand now like babes in the wood and lead us … er … into the woods! But fear not, you could find no better guides to alert us to the wonders and the woes of this strange sylvan kingdom.

Within its pages, upon the paper that came from the woods itself, we are introduced to many amazing arboreal creatures and woodland wanderers from forests the world over. Some of them heroes and heroines like Vasilisa the Beautiful, a fair maiden who braved the cold Birch forests of old Russia and encountered one of folk horror’s favourite supernatural witches – the iron-toothed crone, Baba Yaga, and Paul Bunyan, the giant lumberjack of the North American timber lands & his loyal companion the blue-haired moose, Babe. We encounter strange creatures such as the timid Squonk which upon capture would dissolve into nothing in a flood of tears and the human-faced tree dogs of China – the Penghou. We meet gods and demi-gods and elemental spirits of the wild woods – the Leshy, Hamadryads, Herne the Hunter, the Moss People and many many more. We encounter those denizens of dark woods for centuries – the bears and the wolves, yet these bears and wolves may be more than we dreamed and may disturbingly be more like us than we’d dare to imagine.
And we hear the lore of the trees themselves from the Dragon’s Blood Trees of Yemen to the ancient funereal Yews of Britain; from the sacred Banyan trees of India to the giant old Cedars of Canada.


The book is illustrated throughout by the charming block-print style illustrations of Joe McLaren. Images both dark and strange but with a quirky humour to them, which will likely appeal to readers of a wide age-range. Again as with the Seas and Rivers volume, some adult subject matter is touched upon but with parents’ own discretion and judgement I could see this book being popular with both themselves and their kids. I know I would have loved these Treasury books as a youngster. Furthermore I remember years ago when I was doing Tree Warden training at an agricultural college one of the tutors asked the class what it is we liked or indeed loved about trees and forests. I had numerous reasons, their role in the environment and natural habitat, their look both as pleasing landscape and for their interesting aesthetic from the point of an artist, their smell, their ambience and I also mentioned their role in folklore. At the end of the class another student approached me and asked if I could recommend any books that featured the folklore of trees and had Dee Dee and Willow’s book been available then I know it would have been top of the list. It is a great introductory book to the topic, yet it is also so diverse and so widely researched that all followers of folklore no matter how seasoned will find something unfamiliar or of further intrigue within this beguiling little book. I myself was rather bemused to encounter Tió de Nadal, within these pages. If unfamiliar with this bizarre Yule Log of Catalan tradition, then I’ll say no more and let you discover this rather odd custom for yourself within this fantastic book.
Woodlands & Forests makes an excellent companion both visually and content wise to the Seas & Rivers volume and also Dee Dee’s earlier A Treasury of British Folklore.
It would make a great little present for a loved one or for yourself for Halloween or a great stocking filler for Christmas … but maybe not put it in the same stocking as Tió de Nadal !!

Treasury of Folklore: Woodlands & Forests: Wild Gods, World Trees and Werewolves.
Dee Dee Chainey & Willow Winsham
Batsford. 2021. Hb. Illus. 192pgs.

Review by Andy Paciorek


Book Review: Treasury of Folklore. Seas & Rivers: Sirens, Selkies and Ghost Ships by Dee Dee Chainey & Willow Winsham


Dee Dee Chainey and Willow Winsham, the luminaries behind the hugely successful Folklore Thursday hashtag phenomenon on Twitter, prove their own individual talents and deserved presence in the folklore world with this enchanting book which presents a collection of strange aquatic tales gathered across the ages and across the globe; varying from Mami Wata to the Mary Celeste, from The Lost city of Ys to the subterranean rivers of London. Within its rolling pages the reader encounters both familiar figures such as Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid (one of the more frankly disturbing tales to have ever have been given the Disney treatment) and lesser-known entities such as the Funayūrei – the revenants of drowned Japanese mariners who unless placated will cause harm to living souls.

Kelpies (water horses) and Selkies (Seal folk) of Scotland, nymphs, sirens, ghosts, gods and goddesses galore such as Poseidon, Sedna, Hit (the Octopus Goddess of the Caroline Islands) and Arnaquagsaq (the sea mother of Greenland) and more all appear within. Superstitions abound in the sailors’ world and this book casts a net to land numerous omens heeded when setting sail. In our voyage through calm and storm, over ocean, sea, river and lake there is a wealth to be found of subjects that have intrigued Forteans for many decades such as that zone of mysterious maritime vanishings The Bermuda Triangle (which also intrigued crooner Barry Manilow enough to record a song about it) and Ignis Faatus – the fool’s fire (also known as Will o’ the Wisps, Jack o Lanterns and by many other appellations) the lights that flicker above swamplands and marshes, and in legend are said to have led many a nocturnal traveller to their own sodden grave. Cryptids such as Nessie, Ogopogo and The Bear Lake Monster also raise their heads above the surface.

It must be noted that this book is not an in-depth analysis of any particular tales or cases and should be seen as more of a port from which readers may seek to explore further or dive in deeper to other tomes. It is however a lovely little book.

As a gift book, although there are a few adult themes which are subtly addressed, I would have no qualms about giving this work to both children and adults as a present. As a child, brought up on the Usborne Mysteries, Arthur C Clarke and varied mythology books I’d have loved it. It can be dipped into here and there or read cover to cover. It is also very charming in its presentation. It has a gilt effect cover which rather than seeming gaudy, looks quaintly magical and is illustrated throughout in a block print style by the artist Joe McClaren. I look forward to their forthcoming sylvan lore book, and hopefully more titles in a series that could prove to be a contemporary equivalent of Andrew Lang’s coloured fairy book collection.

Treasury of Folklore. Seas & Rivers: Sirens, Selkies and Ghost Ships
Dee Dee Chainey & Willow Winsham
Batsford 2021 Hb. Illus. 192 pgs.

Review by Andy Paciorek

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)

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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The Apparition Phase by Will Maclean: Book Review

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The ‘X’ in Generation X (those born roughly between the early 1960s and late 70s/ early 80s) must surely refer to the X certificate formerly bestowed upon horror movies or ‘X’ as in X Files in relating to spooky paranormal mysteries. The other title bestowed by writer and broadcaster Bob Fischer upon the folk born of these times – ‘The Haunted Generation’ would seemingly confirm this.
Maclean’s novel, ‘The Apparition Phase’ is set in the 1970s and pays homage to the creepy things that deliciously traumatised those of us of a certain age. Told from the viewpoint of Tim Smith, reminiscing on his teenage years in that era, we see that as with the title of Dave Lawrence and Stephen Brotherton’s excellent encyclopedic work about those times, our narrator is indeed ‘Scarred For Life’.
The tale begins with Tim and his twin sister Abi plotting to fake a photograph of a ghost. Their inspirations for this experiment / prank are the photos that I would flick past fast and then slowly sneak back to look at in Usborne’s ‘Mysteries of the Unknown: Monsters, Ghosts and UFOs’ (despite my Catholic education and unbeknownst to the nuns, the true bible of my youth) – those being the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall (a semi transparent figure descending some stairs), the Spectre of Newby Church (a tall, skull faced monk near an altar) and the one that possibly freaked me the most, the Chinnery car (the dead mother-in law in the back seat). In creating this hoax, they stir up more than they can ever expect when they show their creation to a girl at their school who, unknowingly to them, is sensitive to otherworldly happenings.

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The most famous ghost photographs ever taken
https://tse1.mm.bing.net/th?id=OIP.HEHpQeAelAtfb_hJMxPIUQHaFj&pid=Api

As the story progresses (through events I will not spoil for you) we are taken to a paranormal investigation conducted in an old large house in the countryside. This aspect of the book is very reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ and Richard Matheson’s ‘Hell House’ novel and subsequent cinematic adaptations. But despite this familiarity, Will Maclean does mark the proceedings with his own voice and creates a page-turning tale that will evoke nostalgia in many of us Generation Xers but would also likely appeal to young adult readers now as its themes of ghosts, grief, haunted minds, mystery and coming of age are timeless.

The Apparition Phase by Will Maclean
Publisher : William Heinemann (29 Oct. 2020)
Language : English Hardcover : 416 pages
ISBN-10 : 1785152378 ISBN-13 : 978-1785152375

https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/1119138/the-apparition-phase/9781785152375.html

Penguin turns 75



Reviewed by Andy Paciorek

The Art of the Devil & The Art of the Occult: Book Reviews

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Demetrio Paparoni’s The Art of the Devil and S. Elizabeth’s The Art of the Occult are two richly illustrated collections of visual imagery dedicated to dark and hellish subjects and both are great additions to the weird / wyrd art bookshelves.
Both feature a fascinating array of images dating from centuries past to contemporary representation and therein lies a slight bone of contention for me with both books. For the art of bygone times I have no issue but raise an eyebrow at some of the choices for modern inclusion. For instance upon recieving The Art of the Devil I opened it at random and was presented with a full-page photo of popstar Robbie Williams adorning a pair of devil horns. For one, it being a personal thing and knowing that someone should not be judged by their looks, but I’m sorry I just don’t like Robbie William’s face. It could be that he frequently looks smug but whatever the reason of dislike, his smirk is not what I expected or desired to be presented with upon opening the book. Secondly there is ample choice for modern representation of devilish beings, many of which are depicted in the book, from the devil of the Legend film to Hell Boy, that a former boy-band singer seems a very weak choice for inclusion. The nearest he has probably come to the devil is living next door to the occultist musician Jimmy Page!
That aside there is some excellent art included in the book with a high quality of reproduction and both The Art of The Devil and The Art of the Occult score fairly well in my book for being relatively light on text. My personal preference for art monographs, exhibition catalogues and visual anthologies is large quality illustrations with a minimum of textual content.

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Giovani de Modena: Inferno c1410
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Max Ernst: The Temptation of St. Anthony 1945

On this score I would’ve preferred the dimensions of The Art of the Occult to have been a slightly larger format. Again I question some of the choices of contemporary artists included. I will mention no names but leave it for readers to make up their own minds, as they may very well disagree with me but it just seems that some totally sit comfortably with the representations by old masters featured and belong to that tradition whereas others have featured occult or devilish themes apparently on a passing whim without any deeper association or interest in the subject matter.
Regarding past masters of occult art, sadly due to usage rights not being made available to the author and publishers the book alas does not feature Austin Osman Spare or Rosaleen Norton – two of the most important and powerfully impressive artists in the field. Also missing is Norman Lindsay, whose work is sublime and exquisitely crafted, but whose own contentious and unappealing opinions and ethics in life may very well have tarred him with his own brush, making it unsurprising why publishers may choose to give him a wide berth.
Aside from certain unavoidable omissions and some perhaps questionable inclusions (which as in much of art is personal taste), for the most part both books do include some glorious and grotesque powerful and intriguing works and are worthy additions to any library of the strange and wondrous.

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Marjorie Cameron: Songs for the Witch Woman. 1951
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Carlos Scwabe: Revolte. 1900
The Art Of The Devil: An Illustrated History by Demetrio Paparoni


The Art of the Devil: An Illustrated History
Demetrio Padaroni
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published October 1st 2019 by Cernunnos
ISBN 2374951170 (ISBN13: 9782374951171)
https://www.abramsbooks.com/product/art-of-the-devil_9782374951171/
~
Art of The Occult: A Visual Sourcebook for the Modern Mystic
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published October 13th 2020 by White Lion Publishing
ISBN 0711248834 (ISBN13: 9780711248830)
https://www.quartoknows.com/books/9780711248830/The-Art-of-the-Occult.html?direct=1

Reviewed by Andy Paciorek

I Am The Dark Tourist by H.E. Sawyer: Book Review

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This book really makes you think, at least it made me think.
Following on from my recent reading of Peter Laws’ The Frighteners (review here) where in wider terms questions and considerations are made regarding as to why some individuals are drawn towards macabre subjects; H.E. Sawyer takes this enigma into a more specific territory – not that of fiction but in the physical visitation of real life sites of tragedy and trauma.

H.E. Sawyer is a Dark Tourist, his time and money is spent upon excursions to places such as Hiroshima, New York’s 9/11 Ground Zero, The Killing Fields of Cambodia, the Chernobyl / Pripyat atomgrad (see also) and even deep sea diving to explore shipwrecks that lie among the fishes on the ocean floor. Within his book and visits – he questions what it means to be a Dark Tourist and the motivations and morals of such a pursuit. To some people Dark Tourists may seem like glorified ambulance chasers – sick ghouls seeking pleasure from the pain of others – Some probably are and some are perhaps shameful in actions of naïveté, as pointed out by Sawyer in his observations upon people taking less than respectful selfies at Auschwitz and other areas of mass death, but humankind is a complex race and the aspect of Dark Tourism is multi-layered and diverse in its individual motivations.

Some people maybe think it is wrong to visit such sites, that it is disrespectful to the dead and their families, but could it be a case that they just feel uncomfortable themselves at facing death and would rather not dwell on such thoughts and such places? Perhaps in some cases, but not all as individuals have different motives, intentions and expectations and Dark Tourism is a complicated business. ‘Business’ being an operative word – places like Auschwitz and the World Trade Centre memorial facilities want you to visit and want you to even buy mementos. Their motivations however are not simply dark capitalism as they want to educate people about what happened, they want people to remember and not forget and like the Hiroshima and Nagasaki rememberance centres to influence people to strive for a more peaceful world.

Like it or not, as a species humankind does have a death obsession – watch a day’s TV and see how much threat to and loss of life is covered in the news bulletins and how many lives are lost in the fiction of films and TV shows. Death is an everpresent fact of life and Dark Tourism is an aspect of that. It is not unnatural for people to be fascinated by large traumatic events that have left a mark on our collective psyche and history. Some places where tragedy has struck encourage people to come visit but others such as the Aokighara ‘suicide forest’ in Japan want tourism but promote the great natural beauty of the place as the lure rather than the fact that it has gained notoriety as a place where many people have chosen to end their own lives. Aberfan in Wales, the small mining village that in 1966 found greater prominence on the map when a pit spoil collapsed causing a flood of slurry and stone to cascade into dwellings below; most notably the local primary school, is also a matter of great consideration. The disaster claimed 144 lives; 116 of them children. Though half a century has passed, the grief is still very intense and the village seeks privacy to mourn. With other sites particularly the ones that seek visitors, the feelings of the victims’ families may be mixed; but places such as Aberfan cause Sawyer to question whether he is right and whether he has any right to visit places where the mourning is more insular.

Motivation and action are key factors in the consideration of Dark Tourism both for the individual traveller and to those looking upon them and forming their own views on the practice. Why are you going? What will you do there? What will you do upon your return? With Aberfan, Sawyer reveals that upon hearing the breaking news of the tragedy as a child, it alerted him to the fact that death may not be far away from anyone and that children are by no means immune. That moment stuck with him and though he knew nobody personally affected by the disaster it may be said that he feels a connection to the tragedy. Whilst there he mostly kept his head down, visiting the place of rest and laying flowers upon the grave of one child but in the heart intended for all. He spent time at the local library there, learning about the disaster – its cause and effect and how it was reported to the wider world. It seems that Sawyer educating himself not only about Aberfan but about all the sites, is not simply for the book – though the knowledge he shares about each location is extremely fascinating and captivating – but because he seems to feel it is right to know and understand the place, the devastating event and the people both alive and dead that it affected as best as he possibly can. He is not simply there to take selfies.

From his travels he has brought back a book – a very good book, that informs about these locations and the tragedies that befell them but also that openly questions his own motivations and his own life-experiences that may have inspired him to specifically seek out and visit sites of tremendous sorrow and death. In reading this book, it may cause others , like it did me, to question themselves as to how they really feel about such matters as Dark Tourism and if they too perhaps share a saturnine, even morbid interests, then why this may be.

But Sawyer is also honest and witty enough to to share his opinion of the cafes and facilities (including the toilet facilities) and his interest in purchasing souvenirs from the sites that sell them. He is a tourist after all – He is the dark tourist.

Product details

  • Publisher : Headpress
  • Language: : English
  • Paperback : 292 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1909394580
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1909394582

Reviewed by Andy Paciorek

Chernobyl: A Stalker’s Guide by Darmon Richter: Book Review

All photographs except film stills – © Darmon Richter

Growing up in the 1970s and 80s amidst a plethora of media threatening a grim dystopian future, my generation’s minds were prepped with facing the fallout of nuclear disaster in films ranging from ‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’ to ‘Threads’ to ‘When the Wind Blows’ and then on Saturday 26th April 1986 the wormwood star fell and science-fiction became fact – Chernobyl happened…


At the beginning of his beautifully bleak creation, the book ‘Chernobyl: A Stalker’s Guide’, author and photographer Darmon Richter primes us with “Atomic Cinema” – a brief look at how the splitting of the atom had fuelled the dreams and nightmares of creatives. From ‘Tarantula’ to ‘Dr Strangelove’ to ‘The Incredible Hulk’, radiation has provided inspiration to a multitude of stories, but it is one tale in particular that provides a backdrop to Richter’s book and indeed is inspirational to its title.

Stalker (1979) – directed by Andrei Tarkovsky


That film is Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 artistic masterpiece ‘Stalker’. Scripted by the brothers Boris and Arkady Strugatsky and adapted from their 1972 novel ‘Roadside Picnic’. The film follows a journey made into a forbidden exclusion zone by a writer and a scientist alongside their guide, who is known as a Stalker. They seek for a room somewhere within the Zone that is said to have the power to make wishes come true. Whilst that is not the case within the exclusion zone that exists for 1000 square miles around the epicentre of the Number 4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, covering areas of Ukraine and Belarus; people still have a curiosity and desire to enter the zone. In the 34 years that have passed since the grievous explosion at the power-station (that ironically occurred during a safety test) ejaculated radioactive particles into the air, water and soil, ‘disaster tourism’ has become a considerable industry in the area. There are legal tours that follow certain strict measures and routes led by guides but there are also illegal excursions into the zone, where off-route paths may be trod. other things seen and explored – the guides for these clandestine visitations are the Stalkers.

Richter employed the services of both the official tours and the illegal Stalker led missions that take him to the surrounding villages, the abandoned atomgrad city of Pripyat, the radiated Red Forest and even into the heart of the power-station itself, which was in the process of being decommissioned at the time of his visits having continued to produce electricity for some time after the disaster using the other reactors on site. The doomed reactor 4, source of the accident, is now entombed within a domed sarcophagus, its second shielding cover since the disaster.



Pripyat is a ghost city, (or was until tour buses began to drive its streets), its inhabitants forced to move far away, but in its premature urban decay, nature has taken hold and surprisingly thrives, but although Richter’s camera mostly catches the desolation and loneliness of the Zone, within his writings we find he has company.
Chernobyl: A Stalker’s Guide is as much about people as it is about place. Richter is interested in the Stalkers and their motivation in following a role in life that in numerous instances leads to arrest but more deeply in the risk to their health and longevity that they potentially expose themselves too on recurring occasions. He speaks to some people who remained or have returned to live within the zone, for there are some whose lives are tied to the place and fear starvation more than radiation, people such as the babas – grandmothers; old ladies whose families who survived the Holmodor a genocide by famine during the Stalin era that claimed the lives of at least 3.3 million people and the Nazi invasion and whose spirit will not surrender to the Chernobyl disaster. He talks to people who were involved in the operation following the disaster and who survived the conditions that claimed the lives of many other liquidators and other operatives either quickly and dramatically through high levels of radiation exposure or slowly claimed over time by the cancers that grew within them. He asks those who were involved in the operations their opinion of the 2019 HBO television series ‘Chernobyl’ and for the most part their answers are favourable, saying that not all elements were factually accurate but that overall it was a fair enough representation, although one man interviewed remains bemused as to why they depicted him within the show as having a thick moustache when he has always sported a clean-shaven look.


Chernobyl (2019) – Directed by Johan Renck. Written by Craig Mazin

Richter’s book is a great addition to the Chernobyl media. It is very informative regarding the specifics of the disaster and to the clean-up operation but it is far from a dry read, his own experiences on stalker-led visits read like an adventure story and his interviews with the people whose lives are touched everyday by the 1986 catastrophe are engaging and bring a poignant presence to the areas that he captures within his evocative photographs; for as well as being a satisfying, thought-provoking read, ‘Chernobyl: A Stalkers Guide’ is a handsome, visually rich book that would make a great companion to Jonathan Jimenezs ‘Spomeniks’ and will sit comfortably on the shelves of any psychogeographers, urban explorers and Stalkers everywhere.

Chernobyl: A Stalker’s Guide available now from ~
http://fuel-design.com/publishing/chernobyl-stalkers-guide/
and other book stores

Review by Andy Paciorek