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.
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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!