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!
Our London Premiere 30.10.19
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.
Why not give the Centre a follow on Twitter here?
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
I'm delighted to have been asked to give a talk about Devon Witchcraft at this fantastic new film festival in Exeter, which is influenced greatly by the folklore of Dartmoor. My talk is at 12pm on Sunday 10th November at the Exeter Phoenix - details can be found here.
As well as some of Devon's more famous witchcraft cases, such as The Bideford Witches, I'll be sharing details of some fascinating examples from across the county. Cocoa, charms, cards and calves' hearts abound in this exploration of some little known alleged witches. Can these strange events be explained away rationally, or are there some things which defy explanation? Join me on 10th November and find out for yourself....
The Hell-Tor festival boasts a superb line-up of guest speakers, including Mark Gatiss, Stephen Volk and Jonathan Rigby, plus Anna Howarth from Usborne Books, talking about the re-release of All About Ghosts from their Worlds of the Unknown series that many of us loved as kids (if you're that old, which, sadly, I am). There are screenings of Ken Russell's Gothic, Hellraiser (with a talk by Nicholas Vince, who played the Chattering Cenobite) and Borley Rectory, by festival organiser Ashley Thorpe, which has just been released on Blu-Ray with an impressive set of bonus features. Check out the full details on the website here and make sure you pick up your tickets before they sell out!
Todmorden, here we come!
Once again, this blog has been horribly neglected, so I have rather a glut of news to share.
First up is our 74th performance on Saturday 19th October in Todmorden, West Yorkshire. This is our most northerly performance to date and will involve the three of us, the set, some overnight bags and our small(ish - she's growing!) stage manager all piling into a car and going on a road trip.
As you can see, there are some excellent speakers at this event and a really varied programme. We're absolutely delighted to be performing WITCH at this event, because the attendees are bound to make the Q&A afterwards very enjoyable.
The event has SOLD OUT, but I believe that it will be being live Tweeted by some of the attendees, so if you're interested, please head over to the hashtag #TodmordenWitch19 and follow the action!
our london premiere!
I have some extremely exciting news! WITCH has just been confirmed by the fantastic Culture Bite festival. We will be performing in the beautiful Great Barn at the Manor Farm Site in Ruislip on 30th October 2019 at 7.30pm. The Great Barn is a stunning venue and could not be any more perfect for WITCH - have a look at the photo and you will see what I mean.
So not only are we celebrating our London premiere, but the fact that it will be our 75th performance. I am stunned that the show hasn't lost any of its momentum and seems to be going from strength to strength. Every time I think it has reached a pinnacle, something else happens which takes my breath away.
I will be sharing ticketing details as soon as they become available - this will be ticketed via Culture Bite, rather than Circle of Spears, so keep checking back for more news about this exciting milestone in Margery's adventures!
a new study now available
I have been rather neglecting my websites over the summer holidays - many apologies. Recently, my current works-in-progress have also been carefully laid to one side to make way for a new project, which you can buy here
And no, I promise that this wasn't just a procrastination exercise. I was preparing for a brand new book event in nearby Tiverton in Devon. Crime in the Countryside, which took place on 14th September 2019, was a celebration of crime fiction and crime writing and I decided to examine some of Devon's unknown witchcraft cases. It was a chance to think about the concept of "crime" in a different way.
As soon as I started researching, I immediately fell down a rabbit hole of playing cards, calves' hearts and cocoa, amongst other things. The stories were so fascinating that I knew I'd never be able to restrict myself to a half-hour talk. Well, I did, because that was what I had to do! However, to accompany and enhance that talk, I have produced a pamphlet where I share the full details of these cases and offer analysis, suggestions and insights into what may or may not have been going on. CARDS, COCOA AND CHARMS - DEVON'S FORGOTTEN WITCHES was a great project to work on and I have very much enjoyed putting the pamphlet together. I hope that you will find these cases as fascinating as I do!
Many thanks to The Folklore Podcast for featuring Cards, Cocoa and Charms - Devon's Forgotten Witches in the online shop.
a chat with the prof!
One of the many enjoyable and fun things I get to do as part of my work is to chat with some brilliant and inspirational scholars. Today, I had the pleasure of catching up with Professor Marion Gibson in her office at Exeter University, where we were recording a new episode of The Folklore Podcast. Find out about Marion here - and if you're on Twitter, follow her @witchesetc.
My husband Mark Norman, who is the creator and host of The Folklore Podcast, was interviewing Marion about her recent book Rediscovering Renaissance Witchcraft, which covers many intriguing iterations of witches from Macbeth to Matthew Hopkins to Eastwick to Dennis Wheatley to Sabrina. And if that sounds cool, wait until you hear her job title - she's Professor of Renaissance and Magical Literatures!
Marion is one of the lecturers who has used WITCH as theatre-in-education for her students, so it was great to catch up and spend some time listening to her talking about her inspirations and sharing her thoughts on various topics. The podcast episode will be released at the beginning of April and it's well worth a listen because we talked about so many different aspects of witchcraft - there's some Charmed in there, The Witch of Edmonton, Amicus and Hammer Horror and a couple of excellent reading recommendations from Marion, so keep an eye on The Folklore Podcast's website (link above) and make sure you give "Rediscovering Renaissance Witchcraft" a listen!
Professor Marion Gibson and myself in her office at Exeter University - which has an impressive set of bookshelves which immediately inspired bookshelf envy! (They run the length of the room and are ceiling to roughly waist height and they are FULL!) Image copyright is my own.
Mark and Marion in mid-discussion (Look at the shelves. LOOK AT THEM!) Image copyright is my own.
margery is back for 2019!
I'm delighted to announce that Margery is back!
Circle of Spears has just confirmed that we will be bringing WITCH to South Devon for the very first time on 6th April 2019. We're doing two performances at Torquay Museum - 2pm and 7pm. These will be our 63rd and 64th performances. Tickets will be available very soon from the Circle of Spears website here or from the museum.
We have also been invited to support the fantastic work of tapestry artist Anne Jackson at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen in Bovey Tracey, Devon, on 2nd May at 7.30pm. This is the second time we have supported Anne's work and we're very much looking forward to performing in the fabulous gallery space at the Guild with Anne's beautiful tapestries as our backdrop - it adds another layer of poignancy to Margery's story. Check out the Guild's website here.
guest blogspot at blue jinni media
I am delighted to have been invited to be a guest blogger on the brilliant Blue Jinni Media website, chatting about how I use history and folklore in my fiction writing. It was interesting to actually sit back and consider how I write. Most of the time, I either have a written plan or an outline in my head and simply crack on with the writing.
I talk about WITCH and also about my new title, a collection of fictional creation myths for the world I am creating in my High Fantasy series The Fire-Eyes Chronicles, which you can check out here. The creation myths feature some familiar aspects of Norse, Swedish and British folklore, providing an anchor for the reader in an unfamiliar world of elves, dragons, goblins and trolls.
Check out my blog post and, while you're there, have a look at the rest of the site - there are some great posts and podcasts to enjoy from hosts Dedra L Stevenson and Rodney Harper, as well as guest authors.