In Haunt

By Emily Oldfield

The fourth in the series of ‘Manchester Folk Horror Festival 2’ interview articles on the HAUNT Manchester Blog – seeking to interview each of the members of the festival’s panel discussion, which has been organised by Julian Holloway (Lecturer in Human Geography at Manchester Metropolitan University) on behalf of HAUNT Manchester, and he will also be Panel Chair.

Manchester Folk Horror Festival 2 follows on from its 2018 debut, still continuing at the same venue of The Peer Hat, falling on the Saturday 2nd February 2019 (panel taking place 3pm - 4.30pm). Whilst the wider festival will explore Folk Horror culture and creativity of all kinds including performances, music and film, the panel discussion will be in front of an audience, with academics and experts discussing topical themes in the genre.

The panellists will be Julian Holloway himself (Manchester Metropolitan University) who is also Chair, Andrew Michael Hurley (novelist and author), Chloé Germaine Buckley (Manchester Metropolitan University), James Thurgill (University of Tokyo), Darren Charles (Folk Horror Revival) and Morag Rose (The Loiterer's Resistance Movement and University of Liverpool). This article focuses on Andrew Michael Hurley.

Andrew Michael Hurley is an award-winning writer, and Lecturer in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. He previously spoke to HAUNT regarding the dark inspiration of Northern landscapes, and his work often explores themes of rural unease and disturbed communities – with 2014’s The Loney and his most recent Devil’s Day, published in 2017, being two novels highlighting this.

“The wild and lonely places are also full of old fears, ghosts, unknowns. And it's that duality which, for me, provides an endless conversation,” – Andrew told HAUNT last year, and it is that wildness, as well human responses to it, which permeates his debut novel The Loney. Bleak North England coastlines, wind-battered bays and unusual local traditions set the scene for the book, indeed encountering the landscapes Andrew himself explored as a child.

 Although he has also lived in both London and Manchester, it is the wilder environs of the North, especially Lancashire, which Andrew often returns to: the place where he grew up. Themes of superstition, otherness and secrecy also emerge – considered by some as striking examples of the modern Gothic, whilst also encountering aspects which could be very much considered Folk Horror. Hidden rooms, faith as superstition, primal fear, crawling unease amidst communities.

The Loney was first published by the small independent Tartarus Press in 2014 – but it's strange story of a pilgrimage to a local shrine, a mother’s craving to cure her son’s mutism and some unnerving local activity, was quick to captivate readers - with the book winning the Costa First Novel Award 2015. It also went on to be published by John Murray, gaining the titles of Debut of the Year and Overall Book of the Year at the British Book Industry Awards in May 2016.

Devil’s Day, published in 2017, delves further into the intricate horrors which can arise out of superstitions and strange rituals in rural communities. It follows the story of John Pentecost, a man returning to the farm where he grew up, aiming to help collect the sheep from the moors as winter sets in. Yet ‘Devil’s Day’ is also approaching, a local tradition which involves luring the ‘devil’ down from the moors and ensuring the survival of livestock against evil. These processes of purgation, seasonal unrest and encountering rural wildness, with roots in the Celtic rituals round Samhain, fill the narrative with a visceral and unnerving impact.

 With Andrew likely to be revisiting a number of these themes in his upcoming appearance as a panellist at Manchester Folk Horror Festival 2, HAUNT Manchester decided to speak to him to find out more…

Hello Andrew. How does it feel to be part of the upcoming Manchester Folk Horror Festival 2 and why do you think an event like this is important?

“Hi Emily. I’m really looking forward to being part of the festival, as I think out of all the labels which are applied to my writing, ‘folk horror’ feels like the best fit. What I always enjoy about attending events like this is seeing how something like ‘folk horror’, which might be seen as a niche genre, is interpreted in such a wide-ranging way.”

Landscape
Your work often considers Northern locations and their traditions. Were you actively conscious of Folk Horror being an element of this, in terms of The Loney, for example?

“I wasn't actively conscious of trying to make my work fit the mould of a particular genre - I’m quite resistant to thinking in genre anyway - but I certainly had in mind what might be termed ‘folk horror’ novels and films. Certain MR James stories were influential, like The Ash Tree and A Warning to the Curious, O Whistle and I’ll Come to You; the story and the 1968 film. And I seem to remember watching things like The Blair Witch Project, Haxan and The Devil Rides Out, as well as revisiting the BBC Ghost Story for Christmas and films that gave me sleepless nights when I was younger, like Crowhaven Farm and Children of the Corn.

“In any discussion of folk horror, The Wicker Man inevitably comes up and from quite early on, it was one of the comparisons made with The Loney, I think because they both deal with one of the key elements of folk horror, which is the outsider coming into contact with a community still answering the questions of life and death with superstition and rituals that are often violent. The places where these events occur are almost exclusively rural and unmodernised – moors, farmland, valleys, estuaries, coastal backwaters, of which there are plenty in the north of England. It would be hard to write about these places without gesturing to the folk horror tradition in some way.

“The locations for The Loney and Devil’s Day are inherently bound up with stories of the supernatural because they are areas where folklore remains firmly connected with the identity of the place. Perhaps this is because there is a sense of there being something in the land itself. A spirit or force which is unknowable. The land is not ours and never has been. It’s a thought that’s there in Ben Wheatley’s film, A Field in England. We are intruders. We are powerless.”

Can you tell us a little more about your own interests in Folk Horror?

“I think I can safely say that it stems from childhood. The books that I picked up time after time were always those in which the real and the fantastical sat side by side, or were intermingled. I’m thinking of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Elidor, The Box of Delights, The Hounds of the Morrigan. I liked the encounter with the weird in fiction, but also in real life too. Whenever I went on holiday to the Lake District or the Yorkshire Dales the only thing I wanted was a book of local ghost stories. After reading them, the places I was made to visit were transformed. Now and then occurred in the same moment. These places were full of ghosts and murderers and savage cats.

“The stories that we share as children about the woods down the road or the waste ground by the river are all folk horror stories, a means of mapping the place where we live. And it’s this localisation which interests me, or really how place and people create very particular, peculiar stories. This is predominantly what Devil’s Day is about.”

Branches

Your latest novel Devil’s Day considers the character of John Pentecost and his return to the family farm, along with the communal rituals used to keep evil away. This evidently still has the capacity to scare and unnerve a modern readership… why do you think this is?

“There’s a strange blend of comfort and fear in folk horror. For the outsider encountering the seemingly archaic, it isn’t necessarily an act of discovery but rather rediscovery, in that the practices of the community into which they stumble often trigger off a folk memory, aptly enough, of belonging and tribal protection. But these are necessarily overwhelmed by confusion and bewilderment. To find a society so in tune with the natural world, still so intimate with its nuances and caprices is, to most of us, entirely alien. Part of the horror in ‘folk horror’ is perhaps rooted in the lost relationship with nature, which makes it a genre that seems more important than ever.”

Photograph of Andrew Michael Hurley: credit to Hal Shinnie

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