A couple of years ago for reasons no one will have the slightest interest in, I had cause to leave London and move down to the South West. Despite coming from Newcastle and still self-identifying as a Geordie (can’t do much about the accent, I’m afraid), I’ve spent most of my adult life in and around our capital and its environs and it was quite a wrench. No more would I be able to just pop into town for a few drinks with my mates and share work gossip. Now I’d have to plan that weeks, if not months, in advance. I’d also spent the last decade writing under the name Tania Carver and would soon be appearing under my own name once more. This was as big a wrench as the move. Would I still have my ‘Martyn’ voice any more? What was my ‘Martyn’ voice after all this time? All my own-name books had been set in the North East and were very socially engaged, urban crime novels. What could I write about now living in the South West?
It took a while to settle in. I was told that a cap and a Batman t-shirt wasn’t the correct attire for Devon. No one laughed when I asked if locals said “High six!” instead of “High five!” after a joke. (To be honest I can understand that.) I felt, as I told a writer friend from up in ‘that London’, like I was living in the witness protection programme. But, slowly, like a kidnapee developing Stockholm syndrome I began to adapt. And as I did, my surroundings came more sharply into focus and I began to see the area for what it was and also the kind of story I would write about it.
Now this isn’t a townie comes to the country kind of bucolic weekend supplement kind of narrative. I didn’t discover my inner hippy and decide to open an artisan honey farm or some such bollocks. I didn’t get an Aga installed and make it my primary subject of conversation. I didn’t start drinking organic free range cider. It’s the opposite. Yeah, the countryside is beautiful and that but it’s also troubling and scary and deeply weird. It’s nature. And as we know, that’s red in tooth and claw. So why shouldn’t the people who inhabit it be that also? This was when I became interested in Folk Horror.
What is Folk Horror? Adam Scovell’s written a brilliant book about it. It’s the dislocation of the rural, from MR James’ ghost stories through movies like Blood On Satan’s Claw. It’s the ancient, the occult and the wyrd given form once more. As we live in an increasingly fragmented, divided and angry country, one that seems to be gripped by a collective Brexit-inspired economic and social death wish, these old stories seemed to me to hold more meaning than previously. This genre doesn’t explain what’s happening but seems the perfect metaphor to represent contemporary Britain. Especially the South West who for the most part voted en masse to leave the EU.
And with that, my ‘Martyn’ voice was back once more. Not the old one or the ‘Tania’ one, but a new one. Reflecting who I am now and where I am now. What better way to process my own experience of recent dislocation than to write about it? I did. The result is THE OLD RELIGION, coming from Bonnier Zafre in June. If I had to give an elevator pitch I would categorise it as Brexit Noir crossed with The Wicker Man and set in Cornwall, the area of the country most heavily reliant on EU subsidies. And with a hero whose real name we never learn because he’s in the witness protection programme.
Oh yes. Write what you know.
The Old Religion by Martyn Waites is publshed by Zaffre