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/
As a long-time reader of the work of Iain Sinclair, and an admirer of the work of novelist and filmmaker Chris Petit (his novel Robinson is one of the best London fictions out there), I have been aware of The Cardinal and the Corpse for about fifteen years, never with the opportunity to watch it. Until now, as someone has finally uploaded the whole thing to YouTube.
The fictional documentary is ostensibly about a search for a magical book that holds the key to an area of eat London (Alan Moore leads the search, fully bearded and doing his best attempt at acting), and a Sexton Blake detective novel The Cardinal and the Corpse, which may have been written by Flann O’Brien. At least that’s what I think is going on. In reality it’s Sinclair and Petit filming their mates and writers they find interesting in seductively shabby parts of a London now vanished. It’s an unfortunately (and overwhelmingly) male bunch, and there’s an odd amount of romanticising East End gangsters too, something familiar to anyone who has read Sinclair’s books. I’ll be charitable and say: it was 1992.
However, the film is of great interest as it features onscreen some writers (many deceased) whose work I love – Derek Raymond (I Was Dora Suarez), Emanuel Litvinoff (Journey Through a Small Planet), Alan Moore, Michael Moorcock – as well as interesting figures like David Seabrook (All the Devils Are Here), Brian Catling, Martin Stone and the semi-mythic (and intensely irritating) rare book dealer Driffield, who turned out to be a rather unsavoury character.
The biggest thrill for me was seeing the late Alexander Baron, who died in 1999, discussing Hackney and how even after he’d left it to move to Golders Green, he returned to walk the streets as ‘a kind of ghost haunting the whole borough’. Having been on Backlisted Podcast this year to discuss his phenomenal 1963 novel, The Lowlife, I would say he haunts Hackney still.
You can watch it here.
“Who are the ghosts again, us or our dead? Maybe they imagined us first, maybe we were conjured out of the deep past by other minds.”
I have a memory, from when I was perhaps eleven or twelve, attending a re-enactment show recreating life during the period of the English Civil War. The details are fuzzy. But I was with my father and I believe we were in Eastbourne on the south coast of England. I was enthusiastic about history, especially the bits involving war and violence, as many children are. Watching the re-enactors, singing a song of the era that they wished to revive, it disturbed me. I couldn’t fathom their reasons, and to this day I still can’t; not fully.
Outside the town of Battle in 2016, again with my father, at the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, I felt the same emotions, seeing the mock-Saxons and mock-Normans camped out in their muddy fields. The wood smoke fires and animal skins and authentically whittled items had a definite appeal, and created an evocative idea of the past. But we could never truly know, could we? All of it could only ever be a projection of something, a yearning, a desire enacted and performed. A desire for escape; desire for authenticity in a word now deemed fake; desire for simplicity, perhaps. The desire to be someone and something else.
I find history, and British history, a fascinating space to investigate. The endless interpretability of it and all the different versions of histories I thought I knew will keep me interested until the end of my life. All writers of fiction must have an interest in these topics. How could you not? But I lack the desire to recreate it.
In my previous post, I alluded to my worries about the rise I see in bogus folk ethno-nationalism. It seems appropriate, then, that this week I read the astounding new novel from Sarah Moss, Ghost Wall.
I was a newcomer to Moss’s work before reading this; and now I consider myself a convert to her writing and am going to track down all her backlist. The blurb to Ghost Wall immediately grabbed me:
Teenage Silvie and her parents are living in a hut in Northumberland as an exercise in experimental archaeology. Her father is a difficult man, obsessed with imagining and enacting the harshness of Iron Age life. Haunting Silvie's narrative is the story of a bog girl, a young woman sacrificed by those closest to her, and the landscape both keeps and reveals the secrets of past violence and ritual as the summer builds to its harrowing climax.
That her father is a ‘difficult man’ is an understatement; he yearns for an unbroken and pure lineage of British identity, allegedly resisting wave after wave of invaders over the centuries. He is an amateur historian and archaeology enthusiast, and he is a racist, and he is a misogynist who believes women have their place in the natural order – he’s the hunter, they’re the gatherers. He fetishes the gruesome (yes, admittedly, fascinating) deaths of the ‘bog people’ found preserved in the north of England – the victims often young women or girls, murdered and sacrificed to the land for reasons now obscure to us. He believes the deep past was a better place and that modernity is poisonous. He beats his daughter for her perceived sleights and immodesties. He would have taken the news about Cheddar Man badly, shall we say.
Although Ghost Wall is set at some-point in the nineties, it is impossible to read this book and not see it in the light of Brexit, and see parallels with the very folk-fascists haranguing people like @FolkloreThursday online and generally irritating the hell of me.
It is a gorgeously written novel and with a real feeling of unease and tension packed into its pages, leading up to a disturbing, troubling ending that has stuck in my head for several days after reading it. Ghost Wall is an expert examination of the topics of landscape, history, gender politics, and national identity – and crucially how our attitudes to these things are all intrinsically intertwined.
I had an excellent weekend up in Chester at Fantasycon, which involved a lot of books, beer, and writing talk. It was as fun as ever, so roll on Glasgow next year! A highlight was reading with the writers Priya Sharma, D.A. Northwood and Tim Major on the Saturday night – all writers whose work I respect a great deal – and reading to a crowd of peers and contemporaries and writers I am frankly in awe of. Seriously, it’s easier reading to a hostile crowd of drunks than a group of people you respect and whose opinion you care about.
Photos appropriated from Tim Major.
I was also very pleased to get my hands on my contributor’’s copy of THIS DREAMING ISLE, a new anthology of strange fiction with a tight focus on the landscapes of the United Kingdom. As anyone who has read my work will know, this essential link between the weird, the eerie and the uncanny with place and landscape is something that obsesses me. Therefore it has been fantastic to have the opportunity to share space in a book with writers like Jenn Ashworth, Catriona Ward, Gareth E. Rees and Aliya Whiteley, as well as horror legends like Ramsey Campbell and Stephen Volk.
The introductory essay to the book, written by editor Dan Coxon, feels particularly pertinent this week. Explaining strongly how the stories in THIS DREAMING ISLE resist unpleasant notions of nationalism and nativism, both essay and book come out in a week when the #FolkloreThursday Twitter account is under attack from neo-volkish racists hell bent on imagining a pure ethnic heritage where none exists. These people are dangerous idiots, and I am glad to be aligned with writers who refuse such easy notions of the past and what landscape means. Sadly, I feel this battle is going to continue for a long time yet.
Everyone should have a listen to this recent episode of Backlisted Podcast about Adam Thorpe’s majestic 1992 novel, ULVERTON. One of the first, and best, books, to get me interested in the uncanny power of the landscapes we live in. Coincidentally, one of the guest’s is Tom Cox, whose new book from Unbound, HELP THE WITCH, just landed on my desk at Titan today.
I cannot recommend ULVERTON enough, so do go read it.
Music-wise, I have been loving the new Current 93 album, The Light Is Leaving Us All, and Grand Collapse’s brutally intense album Along the Dew, which features this apt anti-fascist song ‘Chalk and Flint’. You should listen to it.
Fantasycon is this coming weekend in Chester, and I am involved in a few interesting events and readings. Hope to see some friendly faces!
THE SHADOW BOOTH: FRIDAY OCTOBER 19TH - 8:30 PM
Enter the Shadow Booth, and you will never be the same again... Join The Shadow Booth, the journal of weird and eerie fiction, for an hour of strange and unsettling readings from their first two volumes, as well as a few new surprises. Introduced by journal editor Dan Coxon, readings by Mark Morris, Gary Budden, Timothy J. Jarvis and George Sandison.
READING: SATURDAY OCTOBER 20TH – 9PM
I’m reading with two fantastic writers – Priya Sharma (author of All the Fabulous Beasts) and Tim Major (author of the upcoming Snakeskins, that coincidentally I edited).
STRANGE FICTION - SUNDAY OCTOBER 21ST – 1PM
I’m on a panel discussing strange fiction with Andrew Hook, Duncan P. Bradshaw, Georgina Bruce, James Everington, and Jan Edwards. Surreal and twisted narratives designed to defamiliarise you are often the places where we find the most risk taking and innovation. Our panel explore strangeness, and weird writing that refuses to submit to the patterns of a genre or a specific theme.
‘He reads on the brickwork: “NF FUCKS MEN”. And is not displeased.”
– Iain Sinclair, Suicide Bridge
As readers of my work will know, I have a long-standing interest in British subcultures, especially those that sprang from the original punk and skinhead movements in London. I read a lot of literature on the subject; anyone looking for books that deal well with this stuff, I would recommend Stewart Home’s mashups of genre theory and Richard Allen-style pulp (books like Defiant Pose and Red London), John King’s novels, Human Punk and Skinheads, Robert Sproat’s title story from the collection Stunning the Punters, and the work of Laura Oldfield Ford.
Despite being published in 2010, I only heard about Max Schaefer’s novel Children of the Sun (Granta) very recently, when I was re-reading a 2013 BBC article about the notorious and feared far-right skinhead Nicky Crane. The title of the piece was, The secret double life of a gay neo-Nazi. A fascinating hypocrisy, and the core contradiction that fuels Schaefer’s intriguing, and at times brilliant, novel. To me, it’s glaringly obvious that the hyper-masculine world of far-right skinheads has a homoerotic component, but this is an idea that fascism necessarily cannot support.
Children of the Sun focuses on Tony, a closeted neo-Nazi skinhead and his life from 1970 up into the nineties – via racist attacks, prison stretches, Skrewdriver and Brutal Attack gigs, battles with AFA, and clandestine homosexual encounters in dank London toilets – and James, a middle-class gay guy in the mid-noughties fascinated by Nicky Crane and the fascist skin subculture, who gets sucked into the swamp of neo-Nazi imagery and the often bizarre occult theories running through it.
The novel spends a lot of time in dark and murky areas, and with unpleasant characters. Ian Stuart – founder of explicitly racist band Skrewdriver and the Blood & Honour group – appears frequently, as do politicians like Nick Griffin, and even Savitri Devi. Devi, for what it’s worth, is the woman who believed Hitler was an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu bringing on the Kali Yuga. Obviously.
I was aware of much of this history prior to reading the book, and am sadly all too aware of the legacy of fascist punk and skinhead bands that continues to this day. So the book isn’t for everyone, but essential for anybody interested in the hidden, violent and often strange history of the battles between the far-right and the anti-fascist movement in Britain.
For anyone interested in delving a bit deeper into this stuff, I would recommend reading Stewart Home’s analysis of the Oi! scene here: https://www.stewarthomesociety.org/cranked/street.htm
And the deeply unpleasant Skrewdriver here: https://www.stewarthomesociety.org/cranked/skrew.htm
Both are chapters from his book Cranked Up Really High: Punk Rock and Genre Theory, made available on his website.
For information on Savitri Devi and her batshit Nazi-Hindu beliefs, I’d recommend this radio documentary: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09b19y4
For a fascinating, fair and measured approach to skinhead culture, Don Letts’ BBC Four documentary is essential.
A brilliant night last night down in Shepherd’s Bush watching Current 93 perform their new (and very melancholy) record The Light Is Leaving Us All. The accompanying visuals, as you can see from the photos below, were amazing – eerie, disturbing and very powerful.
It was great to be attendance with writer friends such as Justin Hopper and Timothy Jarvis, Brian from Swan River Pres, and many more. A great night!
‘There is a writhing worm in all of us, waiting to be freed.’
– From The Salvage Song of the Larks, and Other Stories, by Michael Ashman
I have a story in the latest Coffin Bell Journal that you can read here.
I have a piece today in The Quietus, looking back at the film adaptation of Watership Down on its fortieth anniversary in relation to Michael Moorcock’s ‘Epic Pooh’ essay, the music of Fall of Efrafa and Richard Adams’ claim that the story has no allegorical aspect to it.
You can read the piece here.
I was pleased to contribute to the excellent ‘A Personal Anthology’ series run by Jonathan Gibbs. The concept is simple – a writer chooses twelve pieces of favourite short fiction and explains why others should read them.
‘Black County’ – Joel Lane
‘The Stains’ – Robert Aickman
‘The White Cat’ – Joyce Carol Oates
‘The Husband Stitch’ – Carmen Maria Machado
‘Wide Acre’ – Nathan Ballingrud’
‘An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk According to One Who Saw It’ – Jessie Greengrass
‘The Horse of Iron and How We Can Know It (And Be Changed By It)’ – M John Harrison
‘Four Abstracts’ – Nina Allan
‘The Man Whom the Trees Loved’ – Algernon Blackwood
‘The Cheater’s Guide to Love’ – Junot Diaz
‘The Last Clean, Bright Summer’ – Livia Llewellyn
‘The Unwish’ – Claire Dean
You can read it here.
'This is not just a brilliantly written collection; it is written with passion and anger and hope. It’s a common term of praise to say that a piece of fiction raises many questions. Budden’s work doesn’t just raise questions; it warns of the dire consequences of neglecting the human need for a connection with nature, and points the way towards a love of one’s home landscape and folklore which is free of dubious political connotations.'
A wonderful review today for HOLLOW SHORES in Litro. Thanks to Aiden O'Reilly for a perceptive and insightful review.
Read the whole thing here: https://www.litro.co.uk/2018/09/book-review-hollow-shores-gary-budden/
'Gary Budden has been directly instrumental in raising the profile of psychogeography, new weird and strange fiction within a distinctly British context. His own stories, recently showcased in his debut collection Hollow Shores, engage with place, class and memory at a gut level, seeming to morph into something else even as we encounter them.'
I'm very touched to have been mentioned in this fantastic new essay – 'Home to Roost' – by Nina Allan (The Race, The Rift) concerning THIS DREAMING ISLE, the new anthology of weird and dark fiction from Unsung Stories. It make it's Kickstarter target in 12 hours! But they've added stretch goals now, with the potential of Rob Shearman, Alison Littlewood and Kirsty Logan joining the lineup...
Very happy to announce that I have a story – 'Hovering (Or, a recollection of 25 February 2015)' – in this upcoming anthology THIS DREAMING ISLE from Unsung Stories. It's crowdfunding on Kickstarter now! All the information is here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/291030539/this-dreaming-isle-an-anthology-of-dark-fantasy-anRead More
On Saturday 18th August, 2018, Adam Scovell took a trip to the end of the Metropolitan Line to to find the grave of visionary writer Arthur Machen (1863-1967) at St Marys Church in Old Amersham. Machen has been a key influence on my own thinking about place for many years, especially his book The London Adventure (Or, The Art of Wandering), as well as his weird fiction like 'The White People', 'N', 'The Three Impostors' and 'The Great God Pan'.
We then set off on a six mile-ish round trip through the Buckinghamshire landscape of bleak ploughed fields, patches of green woodland, soaring and magnificent red kites, eerie and empty farmland.
We passed through the village of Chalfont St Giles, stopping to see the cottage of John Milton (closed, opposite Milton's Indian Restaurant), and navigating our way through subdued suburbs, interpreting signs that were more hindrance than help as we walked under towering pylons in yellow fields, passing a marquee for a posh-girl's birthday party, through an equestrian centre flitting with barn swallows, before back to Machen and then the tube.