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.
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/
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!