FANTASTS IN FOCUS: ANDY PACIOREK AND THE FOLK HORROR REVIVALISTS
The Folk Horror Revival (FHR) project is taking the world by storm. In just a few years, the movement has spawned numerous works of art and literature and amassed a significant international following. Its 11,000-member (and counting) Facebook group is both an athenaeum and marketplace of ideas, a forum in which images, articles, and videos relating to psychogeography and folklore are collectively shared and examined. FHR was created by illustrator and writer Andy Paciorek, and he is one of the many ‘folk-adepts’ leading the charge on its ecological activism front. In their charitable work for The Wildlife Trusts, Andy and his colleagues are paving the way for novel forms of grassroots organising. We spoke with him to find out more about the scope of FHR.
The Custodian: What is Folk Horror?
Andy Paciorek: That is actually a far more difficult question to answer than it initially would seem. At its core it relates to a genre of horror fiction that tends to deal with a character or characters caught up in a conflict between their moral beliefs and another often pagan, possibly ancient, core of beliefs. The term “Folk Horror”, as far as we can ascertain, was created by the film director Piers Haggard in relation to his 1971 movie, The Blood On Satan’s Claw. This film, along with The Wicker Man (1973) and Witchfinder General (1968) were mentioned in a 2010 documentary A History of Horror by Jonathan Rigby and Mark Gatiss with specific reference to “Folk Horror”. Some have taken it to mean that Folk Horror only relates to a handful of British films made in the cusp of the 1960s and 70s. Folk Horror Revival has taken a much broader, but still selective view as to other material, not only in film but in television, art, literature, music, performance and in non-fiction aspects of different global culture, customs, lore, and history.
Also whilst the roots of Folk Horror are mainly rural, its tendrils may spread into urban spaces so at Folk Horror Revival we also incorporate the related but less bucolic subjects of psychogeography and hauntology under the mantle of our dark wings. The talented young author and filmmaker Adam Scovell has written a great piece on the Folk Horror chain on his Celluloid Wicker Man website in which he investigates different subject content factors which constitute the backbone of a Folk Horror story; this helps to actually define a little more closely what we may refer to as Folk Horror but also broadens the field as to what films or books could be considered Folk Horror.
Folk Horror is however still something of an ambiguous creature, as parts of the chain may be found in films and other media that simply do not ‘feel’ like Folk Horror. The reason being, and this is a very important factor, the aesthetic and ambience of what may be considered Folk Horror. It is a look and feel that can be particularly difficult to put a finger on. For some of us it is a matter of instinct; a case of ‘you know it when you see it’. There also is a personally subjective element to it (which can make moderating the Folk Horror Revival Facebook group a busy and bizarre activity). A strange aspect of this however is that a lot of Folk Horror can be found in things that are not actually “horror” at all – examples of this can include tribal costumes, New Nature Writing, landscape painting, photography, rural customs, and fairytales. These things and more incorporate a greater and more special place in the heart of Folk Horror Revival than many aspects of a more general horror. The fact that Folk Horror is so sinuous and sometimes so difficult to pin down, is I think what makes it, at least personally for me, so beguiling and attractive. It is not controlled by a solid manifesto, but follows its own course and provides a wondrous thrill when it appears in the most unexpected of places.
C: How did the Folk Horror Revival Facebook group come about?
A: Initially all I wanted to do was to ‘like’ a page on Facebook about Folk Horror and I looked and looked several times and never found one. So in the end I made that page myself. About a year later Facebook started trying to get pages to pay to promote their content. This wasn’t a commercial venture, so I was not going to pay them money; but as non-promoted posts appeared less on news-feeds, tumble-weed started to blow across the hollow paths of the Folk Horror Page. So I turned my mind to creating a group instead. Rather than call it Folk Horror (though there was no group dedicated to the subject either) I thought more into the fact that my own work often contained elements of Folk Horror as did that of other contemporary artists, writers and musicians that I liked. There were a few blogs that were clearly attracted to the subject and movies like Kill List and Wake Wood showed that there were still filmmakers drawn to the genre. So I instead decided to create a platform for the revival of these interests; a place where the older classics could be discussed and enjoyed, but also a place where new and unfamiliar content could be shared. I wanted it to be a place where creatives active in the sub-genre and its related fields could share their work.
It was also my intention from the onset that FHR would not be confined simply to Facebook, but serve as a means to produce creative work offline. I gathered a team of administrators to help not only with the moderation of the group but also to take the vision further in different directions. In a relatively short while, the group has grown, the team of administrators is growing (the work and dedication of whom is invaluable and much appreciated) and the overall FHR project is gathering in momentum. We have produced books containing a wealth of diverse talent that in donating 100% of all sales profits to charity has also really benefited the environmental protection practices of The Wildlife Trusts. FHR’s creativity has truly helped a very deserving and important cause. Our administrator Dan Hunt has worked in giving us a wider web presence and there have been great musical projects created by Jim Peters. The generous talent of our followers and contributors who have kindly submitted impressive work to our publications also can not be underestimated. We are very appreciative.
C: Strange Lands: A Field-Guide to the Celtic Otherworld is a masterpiece. Did you always want to be a writer and illustrator, or did your interests in writing develop later on?
A: Thank you for saying so. Strange Lands was a book I wanted to read, but as it did not exist, I had to create it myself. Initially, it was intended as a visual project only, but having written for various outlets including Bizarre magazine and scripting the small press / mail art comic books I used to create, writing was always something I did and have continued to do. My earlier main ambition was to be a visual artist, but with the type of work I was producing and because of my voracious appetite for reading, it became obvious to me that my work was not created for gallery walls (even though I had exhibited) but destined to be contained within books.
C: Have you ever recited or acted out any of your favourite folk or fairy tales?
A: I cannot say that I have, but at times I have been extremely sensitive to my surroundings and have had numerous anomalous experiences; the cause of which could be a matter of debate, but in the terms of experiential sensations I have at times felt part of a living lore.
C: Where did you grow up? Were you encouraged to appreciate the local culture and landscape from an early age?
A: I grew up in County Durham in the North of England. I’ve lived various places but have currently returned there, at least for a while. My mother was Italian and my father Polish and the North East of England is a culture of its own, so I have always been conscious to the idea of who I am and where I am. Genetically I am not part of one culture or nation, so have never felt patriotic to one system, and have a keen interest in many other cultures and at times have exercised my nomadic streak. However I always tend to feel the genius loci of where I am at a particular time and do connect to that, even if only at an apparently subconscious level. When I have travelled I always want to experience the true nature of that place and culture, immerse myself in it.
I come from a family that had some rural pursuits – allotment gardening, keeping hens, geese, rabbits, goats and other animals, so I grew up with a closeness to and deep appreciation of nature. I also had a very active imagination and Durham has some stunning green places so I was lucky to grow up with plenty of trees around. Dens, ramshackle tree huts and other such places were my second home and were to me at various times castles, ships, spacecraft or other things or simply dens.
C: Do you employ any daily rituals or focus techniques to help you ‘draw up’ your artistic creations from the depths of your imagination?
A: No. Maybe I should. I’m quite chaotic really. I’m subject to urges to create, rather than a daily plan. Some days I get little done, others I work extremely intensely. It all tends to come together though and very rarely miss deadlines, and if I do there is usually a very good unavoidable reason for that. The work itself I may have ideas for and use some reference material, but even so there is often a kind of automatic process going on, where I sometimes feel like a conduit rather than the creator of the work. I can get really absorbed, not in a trance state as such (as my mind may concurrently be focused or contrastingly active on other things). There’s often times I’ve looked at my work and I know I’ve done it, but no longer have the memory as such of having actually worked on it.
C: You’re clearly involved in a lot of cross-disciplinary projects. Can you give us an idea of what to expect from Wyrd Harvest Press and the Folk Horror Revival movement in the coming months, and–if possible–years?
A: There are some very exciting plans ahead for WHP and FHR, which are reaching into the next few years and quite possibly beyond. At this stage I have to only hint at some of the things which are in planning / production until there is further progress and definite confirmation on some factors. Regarding books – Following on from our multi-contributor Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies book and The Carnival of Dark Dreams (written by the Northern Irish author, traditional storyteller and University lecturer DR Bob Curran and illustrated by me) very soon we will be releasing a book entitled Folk Horror Revival: Corpse Roads which is a 560-page anthology of poetry and photography. Whilst there are quite a few famous dead poets in there, the bulk of the book is new literary work from a multitude of contemporary poets. To incorporate poetry into the Folk Horror spectrum to me felt a natural thing to do and whilst poetry is perhaps not as popular generally as it once was, the response of the quality and quantity of submissions to the book cements in my mind that it is an important factor of Folk Horror Revival.
Our London administrator, Jim Peters, is currently co-ordinating a book entitled Folk Horror Revival: Harvest Hymns which is a collection of essays and interviews relating to Folk Horror and related areas in music from traditional folk songs through to experimental electronic music. It is coming together really well, and certainly is looking to be be a must-have title for those who have any interest in this musical area.
A second volume of Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies incorporating another great collection of interviews and essays is planned for release in the not too distant future. Already gathered for this are contributions from great talents as diverse as Susan Cooper the author of the impressive Dark is Rising sequence of books, the historian Professor Ronald Hutton and Pat Mills the creator of such seminal comic book works as 2000 AD and Misty.
Also beyond the horizon—past the cornfields and copse of trees—loom numerous other books including Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd – a study of psychogeography, hauntology and other more technological / urban areas which still bear an affinity to Folk Horror. Folk Horror Revival: Ancient Rituals and Folk Horror Revival: Modern Rites are planned respectively to be anthologies of both classic and contemporary tales of Folk Horror accompanied by new illustrations by a great melting-pot of talent.
Wyrd Harvest Press will continue to publish works by singular authors or collaborators including a poetical work by Tim Turnbull and Phil Breach, a book of short stories collectively known as the Wyrd Kalendar written by the Black Meadow creator Chris Lambert and illustrated by me. Also planned is a quirky book of kid’s poetry and short tales by a small group of creators– which already seems to be developing of its own inclination a bit of a drift towards the world of goblins, but should also include other wyrd and creepy nuggets of ghastly goodness. Also I’m quite keen for Wyrd Harvest Press to release new versions of old folklore book titles such as Wirt Sikes’ British Goblins or Robert Kirk’s The Secret Commonwealth. I’d rather like to illustrate those myself or perhaps collaborate with a small sect of other graphic artists. So we plan to make book shelves creak with our vision and 100% of all Wyrd Harvest Press book ales will always continue to be charitably donated to projects undertaken by The Wildlife Trusts. Beyond the books, we are also currently looking into more musical output and also live events. The FHR administrator Darren Charles and myself have been investigating putting on an event in Newcastle Upon Tyne that will incorporate film, lots of live music, art, and poetry/fiction readings.
A similar live event is under discussion for London and also in the capital. Jim Peters is currently sorting out details for hosting a seminar of academic talks on subjects relevant to the the sphere of FHR at a very notable venue. If all goes to plan, we hope also to have an academic presence at a significant seat of learning in the North of England too. Darren Charles and myself will be also delivering a presentation about the Folk Horror Revival at a symposium about Landscape and the Occult at Cambridge University in the summer.
As we also have an impressively creative and keen FHR administrator presence in York, Edinburgh, and America, it is entirely possible that things created by us will make themselves visible in these locations too. So if we notch Scotland and the United States to the Folk Horror Revival bedpost, we will be further forward in our plans for world domination – domination in a cool, charitable, and creative way of course.