Dungeness, March 2019 with Gareth E. ReesRead More
I recently watched the 2018 British horror film Possum, written and directed by Matthew Holness, adapted from his own 2008 short story of the same name. Holness is well-known for the excellent horror spoof Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, and it’s fascinating to see him now playing the horror straight – and in this case, a pitch black and deeply strange example of English weird fiction.
Possum grabbed me most for its brilliant use of landscape – the remote fenlands of East Anglia have never looked so beautifully bleak. Disused railway lines, crumbling bridges, huge flat marshes, damp reservoir embankments and edgeland detritus are all used expertly, again for me solidifying the link between edgeland landscape writing and weird horror fiction. This film is a perfect example of the landscape weird.
It feels dull and redundant to describe this film as ‘folk horror’ – there are obvious nods to the atmosphere and mood of British horror and film from the twentieth century, and the original score by The Radiophonic Workshop is wonderful, but this is more than just an exercise in nostalgia. There are no weird villagers, goats, flower crowns or corn dollies – beyond the use of East Anglian landscapes, familiar from the rightly lauded BBC M.R. James adaptations, there is little here I would call folk horror. Perhaps the use of the titular puppet could be seen as Holness employing an obvious trope – but the thing is so genuinely unnerving I will give it a pass. Its mood, and the bastard setting of marsh and industrial detritus, reminds me much more of the work of weird fiction writers like Joel Lane and D.P. Watt.
It was also welcome to see the actor Sean Harris in the lead role; I have been a fan of him since the 2013 Channel 4 series, Southcliffe, which used the Kent marshes around the time of Faversham (and the first episode is even called ‘The Hollow Shore’…)
I had a very enjoyable weekend in the Welsh town of Abergavenny, for the AGM of the Friends of Arthur Machen, the society I joined last after much prompting from my friend Timothy Jarvis, one of the editors of the society’s journal, Faunus. I went to Abergavenny with Tim and the journal’s other editor, James Machin – where we decided to ascend Skirrid Fawr, a place known as ‘The Holy Mountain’ in the work of Arthur Machen. Machen, of course, was born in the nearby town of Caerleon, and I hope would have approved of our slightly hungover and breathless ascent of the hillside.
You can now listen to my interview on Resonance FM, on the Suite 212 show hosted by Tom Overton and Juliet Jacques.
I was on the show discussing Hollow Shores, Judderman and the upcoming The White Heron Beneath the Reactor, covering a range of topics including Derek Jarman, Dungeness, punk rock, birdwatching and the apocalypse. Enjoy!
Late February and the air is already full of spring, too early; worry caused by mild weather. At the harbour, the asphalt plant shimmers in a misted haze coming off the waters of the Thames estuary. The water is at low ebb, slutch visible, glistening. The sun is bright and the mist has a chilled bite. A sky unclouded, deep tangible blue. The world is unfocused, either fading in or fading out. You imagine things appearing or slipping out of view forever in the mist; a sea-giant made of salt spray and coastal haze. But nothing ever does.
A walk through unseasonable February sun to the Oare Gunpower Works, outside the town of Faversham, Kent. Gunpowder was manufactured here for many centuries, finally finishing in the 1930s.
On 2 April 1916, 108 people died in a blast at a munitions factory at Uplees, about a mile away from here.
Brian Dillon’s book, The Great Explosion, is an excellent history of the gunpowder industry in the area and the tragic accident of 1916.
I can see where it began to unravel. That summer; the one the whole country remembers. I was twenty-five-years-old, the tarmac of London oozing in the heat. Hotter than Spain, screamed the headlines. Much flesh on display.
The city was burning. Five night of riots, triggered by something so common we’d almost all forgotten it was a travesty. The police choked a young black lad squeezed the life out of him, as they’d done to so many before. It was out Wood Green way.
PK and I had taken our fair share of batterings out on the demos, and Andy once took a beating in the cells of Stoke Newington for having too much of a mouth on him. But we considered ourselves lucky – we put ourselves in those situations. I see that now. The police didn’t come looking for us.
For whatever reason, people weren’t having it that summer. Who can blame them. Push people too far, then punish them for having the gall to react – the sheer nerve of it. The put-upon of London reacted with torched squad cars, bricks through the windows of Currys, looting all those things they were told they needed to be a proper person, but could not afford.
Petrol bombs burst on riot shields, a gorgeous, compelling and frightening sight. The memories of London streets lit at night by oily flame, so beautiful. Rip it up, tear it down, smash, start again. If only it had been that way.
Even back then I knew the violence, the unhappiness and unrest, was nothing new to London. This ancient city, my home, a place I knew like one of its rats, eking life out in the cracks and gaps. I had this… what’d you call a gift. A gift that isolated me.
I could see the ghosts of the all the cities London had been. I’d often catch glimpses of men and women in outdated clothing, and wonder. It was so hard to tell who was living and who was dead – with retro fashion booming, second-hand chic a thing, even skinhead fashion suffering a fashionable re-appreciation, how could I tell when anyone was from? And who was I, anyway, to pass judgment on this? Whether I was decked out, like I was back then, in the black and white t-shirts of bands from the early eighties, or smartened up in polo shirts, when the hell was I from? I burned with nostalgia for times that never really happened.
The weight of the city I lived in crushed me. I couldn’t verbalise it. It was a drug. I’d sit and watch old Pogues videos, flick through my shelves of London fiction, stare out high as a kite over the view from London Bridge at five am as the sun came up, and the knowledge of where I was, what this city was and the fact that I lived in it – I lived in it – became unbearable. Like a pill you’d taken that you knew was too strong, with the rush of emotions feeling enough to buckle me at the spine. I never knew what to call those feelings. Some kind of extra, unnecessary, sensitivity.
I saw the spriggan on Parkland Walk struggling to get free of the brickwork when no one else could; I knew the golem in Stamford Hill was real. I studied the tarot, I loved weird fiction, and took an interest in things like the collective unconscious. I had taken mushrooms, acid, even DMT down on the south coast in Hastings, an experience which almost made me believe in an afterlife.
That night as the city burned, we thought we’d nose out what was going on, try and live up to some of the creeds we claimed to adhere to. I can still see Jess, in her light denim jacket with covered in patches promoting causes that mattered in those days, plain black T shirt, hair shaved along one side of the head like the girls used to do back then. It was before we really got together, and way before it all turned to shit.
We were running down a side road off the Green Lanes, fleeing it as a whole unit of riot police done up like a dystopian enforcers marched down the street. Turks and kurds leaning out of their windows above the kebab shops and grocery stores. I have a memory of a tipped-over box of Turkish peppers, those pale green ones your cook up with eggs in a metal pan, arranged like an absurd, crushed corona on the tarmac
Some of the Turks were out on the street, tooled up with cleavers and bats that should have been hitting softballs in London’s parks. They were a community that knew how to look after themselves, and I always respected them for that. They were defending their property from the looters, people we presumed they knew as neighbours.
We ran down the alley as the Green Lanes went up in flames and came down in smashed glass and scorched brick. Jess and I had lost the others, and it felt like we were in theold Alex Cox movie, Sid & Nancy, excited and adrenalised by the fact that things were happening and for once the status quo was wobbling. We kissed in the shadow behind a green industrial recycling bin, a piece of smouldering cardboard wafting above us like a burning angel.
You were talking about the past, and the things we had done before we knew what to do. I recalled how the sun died tired in our back garden, green that stretched out like a landing strip towards the cemetery. Over the wooden fence was where the dead lived and dreamed their dreams of London, trodden on by crackheads and the men seeking sex from men like themselves. I felt the slower we went the better, easy-does-it over the fence boys, but a night of heavy drinking had impaired an already stiff and unagile body. When I fell, into the realm of the dead, my brittle collarbone snapped on a ruined grave and my head poured blood from its left side. I blacked out, and when I came to, had lost my filter and spoke openly of the things that preoccupied me but I felt too embarrassed to express in daylight. This troubled you, who ushered me through the dank and dripping tombs to where we had summoned a flashing ambulance. A man from the council was summoned to unlock the Victorian gates; all advised that trying to scale the boundaries of the necropolis a second time was foolish. The paramedics took my heartbeat, asked if I’d taken something, my chest was thudding fast and hard, so of course I had to answer yes.
But what were you saying about… what were you saying?
Because all I could think about was that night in the cemetery; the mossed statues didn't make for easy conversation. What we failed to speak of was how we got ourselves through the dark days and made it all make sense; how we tried to lighten our dark cadence, and stop ourselves sinking.
I’ve been greatly impressed with this record from 2018 by Cinder Well – The Unconscious Echo. I have been listening to it all week.
It’s very dark, doomy and atmoshperic folk, like a mixture of Lankum and Godspeed! You Black Emperor with some of the weirder parts of British 70s folk rock (bands like Trees and Pentangle), with vocals that remind me of American dark-folk singers like Allysen Callery (her album The Song the Songbird Sings is well worth checking out).
They describe themselves as ‘doomy folk from the depths’ which was enough to get me hooked.
I will be reading from my story ‘We Rip Holes in Their Paper Faces to Give Them Sight’ at the second London event organised by The Lonely Crowd at The Music Room, 49 Great Ormond Street. Featuring readings from Bernard O’Donoghue, Angela T. Carr, John Freeman, Lucie McKnight Hardy, Grahame Williams and myself.
Venue: The Music Room, 49 Great Ormond Street, WC1N 3JL.
Tickets are priced at £5.00. The ticket price includes £5.00 off a copy of Issue 10 of The Lonely Crowd and complimentary drinks & snacks.
Another great review of the This Dreaming Isle (Unsung Stories, 2018) anthology. They had the following to say about my story ‘Hovering (Or, a recollection of 25 February 2015)’.
‘Budden’s offering is a well-researched, cleverly written and prettily described tale. He has managed some impressively complex characterisation, considering that he only has a few pages to tell Iain’s story. His descriptions of this half-forgotten patch of Kentish coastline are charming and laced with a nostalgic melancholy that doesn’t outstay its welcome or romanticise the poverty that afflicts this area. Another contender for my favourite entry in the anthology!’
Read the full review at Fantasy Faction here: http://fantasy-faction.com/2019/this-dreaming-isle-edited-by-dan-coxon-an-anthology-by-unsung-stories
A fully illustrated 64-page hardback book about Dungeness, white egrets, climate change, Europe and apocalypse. LIMITED TO 100 COPIES.
White herons. Nuclear power. The desert of the south-east.
Gary Budden, a lifelong bird-lover, returned to Dungeness in Kent – famous for its shingle desert, its nuclear power station, and Derek Jarman’s cottage – in the autumn of 2018 on a bird-watching trip. In the car park of the RSPB reserve, he watched greenfinches on a bird-feeder for the first time in several years – birds once commonplace, now under threat of extinction.
Entering the reserve, he saw the bird he had come to see: the great white egret, a towering white heron among the reeds, visible to the naked eye even from afar. Common on mainland Europe, but, a rarity and a source of excitement in the United Kingdom. Until now.
As part of Kickstarter's Make 100 initiative, and working with renowned landscape artist Maxim Griffin, The White Heron Beneath the Reactor is an illustrated landscape punk essay exploring the bleak, otherworldly and captivating landscapes of Dungeness, the effects of climate change and a warming world, our relationship with continental Europe, and the looming fear of apocalypse.
The author and artist have collaborated on a number of previous projects (such as Heaven is a Marsh in Winter), as well as continuing their ongoing solo investigations into the strangeness of the British landscape. They like working together and seeing how words and images can work together; how collaboration produces something unique that neither individual would have produced.
Inspired by their favourite limited releases from obscure punk, psychedelic and folk labels, and the lavishly produced, extremely limited weird fiction books they covet, Gary and Maxim decided to create something similar. The Make 100 initiative seemed perfect for what they wanted to create. The White Heron Beneath the Reactor is a poetic interrogation of place and landscape in the current political climate; it is also a beautifully produced collector's item for the bibliophile in all of us.
The book is LIMITED TO 100 hardback copies, with full colour illustrations.
With your help, we make this book a reality.
A lovely review over on Goodreads for the This Dreaming Isle (Unsung Stories) anthology – my contribution ‘Hovering (or, a Recollection of 25 February 2015)’ had the following, very kind, write up:
Another fantastic story from Budden, who is fast becoming one of my favourite current writers of weird fiction and whose approach – being as it is so closely tied to ideas about Britishness and the mythical nature of landscape – is absolutely perfect for this anthology. It is framed as a story told to the author by a friend, and as with many of Budden's stories, it's hard to figure out whether it's entirely fictional. It feels very densely layered, a patchwork of memories and history, emphasising how a place can be shaped by what has happened there.
I have been re-listening to an old favourite of mine, Bill Callahan’s project Smog, ever since a large number of his albums were added to Spotify. I have been a fan of Smog since 1999 (which I realise is somehow, impossibly, twenty years ago) when I bought the album Knock Knock on vinyl. The song ‘Cold Blooded Old Times’ was big (in an indie, NME-single-of-the-week type way) at the time, and featured on the High Fidelity soundtrack.Read More
I highly recommend listening to this audio essay from the writer Naomi Booth, author of the astounding novel Sealed (Dead Ink, 2017). It’s part of the ‘Weird England’ series of audio essays, essential listening for anyone interested in the weirder aspects of British folklore and local customs.
Here’s the description on the BBC website:
On New Year’s Eve in Allendale, Northumberland a group of men heave barrels of burning tar, kindling and paraffin onto their heads and process through the town. This is a programme devoted to the appeal of fire and flame. This is the Tar Barl Festival, Allendale’s way of marking the New Year for over 160 years. Groups of ‘guisers’ dress in costumes (‘guises’) and carry the fiery barrels on their heads. Novelist Naomi Booth presents. Naomi lives in Yorkshire, but remembers the icy cold of childhood Northumberland holidays. She finds herself strangely drawn to the fiery energy at the heart of Allendale’s New Year’s Eve festivities.
I hope that everyone has had a great Christmas and is looking forward to an exciting 2019! 2018 has been a busy year.
I have received good news, and that is that I am lucky enough to have received an Author’s Foundation grant from the Society of Authors, allowing me time to write and focus on the various projects I have planned for the coming year. This makes an enormous difference, so I cannot state how grateful I am to have received this. In addition to the funding received from Arts Council England for Influx Press, it marks a real step forward.
Today I went for a long walk from Enfield Town into the strangely hermetic upper middle class enclave of Winchmore Hill, complete with village green, and into the gorgeous Grovelands Park that led me eventually to the 1930s modernist architecture of Southgate underground station, and back home through Oakwood Park. London, as ever, continues to surprise and confound me, feeling almost infinite in its scope. It seems appropriate, then, that I was given the Tartarus Press edition The London Adventure, or The Art of Wandering by Arthur Machen as a gift for Christmas. Indeed, it was reading the introduction to that book that made me decide to explore a new, unknown area within easy distance of where I live. This section in particular reminded me of the joy of exploring London’s margins and unloved areas:
The great city both conceals and reveals a rich diversity of marvels for those who would seek them. Machen makes it clear, though, that such treasures are not to be discovered through the use of guidebooks – the great, noble and notorious landmarks of London, be they historical or literary, can be easily visited and appreciated by anyone who can read a map. But it is off the tourists’ beaten track that the really awe-inspiring and awful matters of London can be found, or can, at least, be hinted at. And just as they are often only glimpsed at the corner of the eye, or are realised after the event, they are always stumbled upon by chance.
February 12th 2019, I am running a workshop at the Idea Store in Whitechapel – HOW TO USE PLACE AND SETTING IN YOUR FICTION. All the information can be found here: https://www.spreadtheword.org.uk/events/how-to-use-place-and-setting-in-your-fiction-with-gary-budden/
ABOUT THE EVENT
In this two-hour workshop the author of Hollow Shores, Gary Budden, will talk you through how to maximise the locations you use to set your fictions in, discussing what role the landscapes – rural, suburban and urban – play in the stories we tell and how they affect the narrative.
Looking at key examples in fiction followed by writing exercises, this session will give you the tools to you make the most of your setting, be it an evocative background or the central driver of your narrative.
It was immense fun yesterday to walk the stretch of salt marshland, estuary tidal coast, pylons, mudflats, sheep, oystercatchers, rusting boats and substations that stretch between the towns of Faversham and Whitstable in Kent. The walk takes in the areas of Faversham Creek, the stretch of water called The Swale that seperates the Isle of Sheppey from the mainland, the Graveney Marshes (under threat from a potential solar power station), the Hollow Shore itself, and onto the town of Whitstable for a pint in The Old Neptune. These landscapes will be familair to anyone who has read Hollow Shores; it remains one of my favourite landscapes.
I wanted to revisit this territory that informs so much of my writing, and I took with me my good friend and brilliant writer of Marshland, The Stone Tide and the upcoming Car Park Life, Gareth E. Rees. Usually our walks are bedeviled by torrential rain and conditions only lunatics would go walking in, so it was a pleasant surprise to have gorgeous hazy blue skies and golden winter sunlight. It was like walking through a Maxim Peter Griffin picture.
Adam Scovell has piece in Caught by the River about our recent journey to the grave of Arthur Machen in Old Amersham, at the end of the Metropolitan Line.
Machen, as I write often, was a big influence on my work and ideas – especially his book The London Adventure (or, The Art of Wandering).
Read Adam’s piece here: https://www.caughtbytheriver.net/2018/10/in-search-of-machens-grave/