October last year saw the release of my novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel, with Silver Shamrock Publishing. As I’ve mentioned more than once, I wanted to continue writing in that world and have done so with a short story collection – As the Wheel Turns – More Tales from the Weald. This is due to be released on 24th June, Midsummer’s Day in the UK. Click the button to pre-order.
Why have I chosen folk horror though? What is it about this sub-genre which draws me to it?
I was born in a small market town in Worcestershire and moved to Shropshire when I was 8. The place I moved to was a pub, The Cider House, situated in the middle of nowhere. My parents managed that pub until I was 17 when we moved to another pub in another small market town. My childhood was extremely rural.
The Cider House was isolated. Yes, it was busy with customers from the farming community and those who travelled over from West Midlands towns and cities, but for a kid growing up it was a bit like somewhere that had dropped off the end of the earth.
Primary school involved walking 1/2 mile to catch a minibus that went round all the farms before heading to a village school 5 miles away. Secondary school involved a walk a mile the other way to catch a bus to take us the 10 miles to school in the nearest town of Bridgnorth, see below. (When I was old enough to travel into town to meet up with friends, the bus service was cancelled – along with any social life.)
Those walks gave me a lot of time to absorb my surroundings. Walking a narrow lane in the twilight is a memory that has stayed with me. It’s always been that half-light when the familiar changes and distorts and everything becomes strange. I had the sensation there was ‘something else’ there. Trees took on twisted shapes, hedges became dark impenetrable walls, ditches became chasms. It never frightened me however, just made me shiver occasionally. The solitary cry of a crow was usually the only sound beyond the wind – apart from my sisters’ chatter – if we were talking!
I didn’t always walk. The pub had two fields and we learned to ride to occupy us during the weekend. Then we got ponies. Barney, the little Welsh Mountain, was our first and when I outgrew him, we bought Bandit. The picture above shows my younger sister on Barney and me on Bandit. We used to ride miles without our parents really knowing where we were – and there were no mobile phones!
During daylight, normality returned along with the traditional landscape idyll of rolling countryside. There was a bit more noise – tractors trundling by, milk tankers, horses from the nearby stables. You didn’t need to subvert the idyll – much as I love to – to find the darker side. There is the smell, the nearness of life and death due to the raising and slaughtering of livestock, the visibility of predator and prey when foxes massacre a neighbour’s chickens or go for a lamb. Even the visible isn’t always pretty.
There were the storms when everything fell silent. Only by being in the middle of nowhere can this affect you. Birds stop singing, trees still, everything is on pause. It’s one of the eeriest feelings. There were the days of dense smoke when farmers burned the remaining stubble in the fields – before this was made illegal.
And so it is the ability to wear two faces that has drawn me to folk horror. I can take readers on a walk down a pretty country lane and lead them to the unexpected, to traditions they thought never existed or weren’t even possible, to a people who weren’t possible.
I am also a strong believer in Mother Nature’s ability to keep the balance in the world, that if man pushes too far, she will push back. Humans have stepped outside the natural order of things, dictate how the rest of the planet lives but in the end, something has to give.
I’ve watched and read folk horror – for a general introduction and recommended read/watch list, go to Ben Long’s article – but those are not my influences much as I adore the books and films.
My influence is that childhood atmosphere, the sensations I felt, the sense of displacement during twilight, the chill caused by the hoot of an owl, the silence of the pub when it closed and everyone had gone home, the feeling of isolation, the feeling of something … else.
In the introduction to As the Wheel Turns, you will find specific references to direct influences from my childhood, to people and place.
They say write what you know, and so I have. My folk horror is that other world born of twilight and where the fiends romp in the furrows.