My last speaking engagement for this year was at the brand new Hell-Tor Film Festival in Exeter, a celebration of Devon's horror heritage. The county is rich with legends - tales of witches, cannibals, demons, monsters and spectral hounds, to name but a few.
If you check out my previous blog post about Hell-Tor, you will see the cracking line-up of talks and screenings. Sadly, Mark Gatiss had to cancel as he had filming commitments, which was a shame, but all the talks were fascinating and inspirational. I studied "The Gothic" for my English Lit A Level many, many moons ago and the first research I carried out under my own auspices was into the folklore and history of the vampire, which is why I am so fascinated by revenants and death customs today. So the prospect of spending an entire weekend completely immersed in all things Gothic was a little piece of heaven.
Why not give Hell-Tor a follow on Twitter here?
My own talk was about Devon Witchcraft, when I shared some examples of witch beliefs from around the county and through the centuries from Tudor times onwards. You can read my pamphlet on Devon's Forgotten Witches by ordering it through The Folklore Podcast's webstore here. It's just £3.50 plus p&p for a look at some of the most fascinating of what I call the "non-sensational, unsexy" witch cases from around the county.
I found all the talks and panels fascinating - a particular favourite was Dominic Brunt, talking with event organiser and fellow film director Ashley Thorpe about the horror movies he makes when he is not playing Paddy in Emmerdale. Nicholas Vince, who played the Chattering Cenobite in Hellraiser was a wonderfully energetic and entertaining speaker and Jonathan Rigby and Stephen Volk were a delightful double act as they shared their extensive knowledge about Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles. I greatly enjoyed Dr Corinna Wagner (Exeter University)'s talk on The Gothic, seeing how the genre was represented in art - that took me back to aspects of my history degree! Another interesting one was screenwriter Stephen Volk chatting with Lisi Russell (wife of director Ken Russell) and Dr Wagner about the movie Gothic, followed by a screening. Having seen the movie previously, I very much enjoyed watching it again with the benefit of Stephen's insights about his script and the inspiration behind it. Anna Howorth from Usborne Books was chatting with Ashley Thorpe about the re-release of classic kids' non-fiction book All About Ghosts, which so many of us remember from their school library and which the two of them were instrumental in bringing back for a new generation to enjoy. Learning a little about how Usborne works was fascinating! My husband Mark, creator and host of The Folklore Podcast, gave one of his entertaining and informative talks on Demon Hounds just before Stephen and Jonathan's discussion. Although the talks and panels were all very different, they interlinked beautifully, particularly when looking at the domestic drama which underlies Gothic films. That domestic drama is exactly the same everyday interaction which underlies the witchcraft cases that I study and is one of the reasons why I prefer the unknown, less sensational cases.
I'd like to thank Ashley Thorpe (director of Borley Rectory, which has just been released on blu-ray) for inviting me to be part of such an excellent event.
If you're a fan of Gothic horror, this is a wonderful way to spend a weekend. I sincerely hope that there will be a Hell-Tor 2 next year - watch this space for news!
When I wrote WITCH all the way back in 2016, I never, for one moment, imagined it would ever be performed in London. It was written for one summer season in Boscastle, at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, where it premiered in July 2016. However, its popularity snowballed and it wasn't long before it had evolved into its own entity. It has never looked back and has never really lost momentum.
This performance was part of the Hillingdon Libraries Culture Bite festival. They have a different theme for each month and October's was History. As well as WITCH, I was also giving a talk on Tudor superstitions at the library just across from the incredible venue we had for our London premiere.
This is the Great Barn at Manor Farm in Ruislip. It is a 13th century tithe barn and I think you will agree that it is the most perfect location for WITCH.
One thing I really struggle with, the longer WITCH goes on, is emotion. It's a hugely emotive piece anyway, but as we approached the 75th performance, it kept hitting me. After this particular performance, it took me a good few minutes to regain a bit of equilibrium.
The audience was, as they always are, extremely engaged and we received some lovely comments. My favourite was from Lesley Manning, director of, among many other things, the brilliant Ghostwatch, which terrified us all back in 1992. She came up to me afterwards and said that the show was "a tour de force." I shall remember that for a long time.
The Hillingdon team were all fantastic - lovely, enthusiastic people to whom we were all very grateful for their help. Special thanks must go to Lara Marshall, the events manager, who chose the venues and accompanied us at every event. We couldn't have asked for a better experience for our London premiere!
My one regret? That I didn't take more photos!
I have been all over the place recently - quite literally, first in Todmorden in Yorkshire, then London, then Plymouth, then Exeter. All my speaking commitments for the year are now done and the last 2019 performance of WITCH is next week, on Thursday 21st November at 7.30pm at The Red Lion in Chulmleigh, Devon. Grab your tickets for our 76th performance here.
But to rewind a little... Our most northerly performance to date, in the beautiful Fielden Hall in Todmorden, Yorkshire, was part of the very first conference hosted by the Centre for Folklore, Myth and Magic, based in the town. The conference, entitled WITCH: history/legacy, was a great success, with a range of fascinating talks and the best conference food I've ever had.
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Our performance was essentially the finale of the day and it was a lovely space for the show - check out my photos! This was our 74th performance and it was wonderful to perform for such an engaged and enthusiastic audience.
We were delighted to have been invited to bring the show to Yorkshire and would like to thank Holly Elsdon from the Centre for Folklore, Myth and Magic, for all her hard work in putting together such a fantastic event and asking us to be part of it. We are looking forward to working with Holly again at some point in the future.
Here we are during the post-performance Q&A.
The following day, we enjoyed a walk up to the very nearby (it was just behind the house we were staying in!) Stoodley Pike, which burned off a few calories and cleared out the cobwebs! The view from the top of the tower was well worth the climb and was a wonderful way to end a fun and interesting weekend.
All images (c) Tracey Norman