On Saturday 17th March I was in London, the guest of the Ghost Club. My thanks to Alan Murdie and Philip Hutchinson for honouring me with an invitation, and for providing an exemplary example of a well-organised and hospitable event. The capacity audience tolerated my antics and rants about the Jacobites and the Supernatural with good grace, and a fine time was had by all.
On the way to the talk I popped into the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road, which has now barged into my list of favourite museums. The permanent Medicine man‘ contains such gems as
amulets and headdresses made of human bone
skeletons of silver
a painting of William Price (the ‘druid’ of Llantrisant)
a piece of philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s dissected skin
several tattoos removed from dead bodies
Charles Darwin’s skull-topped walking stick
and a complete Peruvian mummy, huddled in the foetal position.
Entry into this enchanting modern day Cabinet of Curiosities is free. If you’re in the area, you really should visit.
On Thursday 22 March I’m at the North Ayrshire Heritage Centre in Saltcoats giving a talk on Scottish Bodysnatchers.
The venue, formerly the North Ayrshire Museum, is housed in an eighteenth century church, so the first few minutes of the talk – how to rob a grave, bodysnatcher-style, will start in the graveyard itself. Then we’ll relocate to the comfort of the museum for the illustrated talk on bodysnatching across Scotland in general, with many Ayrshire examples.
The event is FREE and starts at 7pm. Call 01294 464174 to reserve a seat.
North Ayrshire Heritage Centre, Manse Street, Saltcoats KA21 5AA. Map here.
Many thanks to all those who turned up on January 30th at the Arches in Glasgow for the Stage to Page workshop of scenes from the play what I wrote.
Seeing the script from ‘I Walked With A Zombie’ change from hesitant read-through to actual performance in less than 60 minutes was something of a head-churning experience, not to say a humbling one (rewrite, rewrite…). My thanks to the actors – Lucy, Lindsey, Elle, Mikhail, John and the tall chap whose name I’ve rudely forgotten – for embodying the parts so well, and to director Marcus Roche for making my words work in real time.
Further tips of the titfer to Mark MacNicol and the Playwrights’ Studio for setting up the event, and writer Chris Dolan for being an inspiring guest facilitator. It was also splendid to meet the two other writers having scripts workshopped on the night, Stewart Ennis and Cicely Gill. Their plays did have a distressing lack of zombies, I thought, but then you can’t have everything.
On Thursday 12 January I’m returning as the guest of that fine gentleman Tim Prevett on his ‘History and Mystery’ show on RedShift Radio.
From 7pm I’ll be playing and discussing brain-frying soundtrack gems from cult films such as Donnie Darko, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, The Wicker Man, Rosemary’s Baby and The Dawn of the Dead – as well as Werner Herzog’s mystical-weirdo classic Aguirre: Wrath of God.
Then from 8pm the topic changes to the Jacobites and the Supernatural, with Tim and I discussing everything from accusations that a Jacobite general sold his soul to the Devil, to the alleged magical powers of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and a host of Jacobite ghosts. In addition, as RedShift Radio is based in Crewe, I’ll be exploring the propaganda surrounding the mystical prophecies of Nixon the Cheshire Prophet.
I recently gave a talk to the Dunning branch of the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute, on the subject of the Maggie Wall Witchcraft Monument, which stands just outside the village. It was my first talk at a SWRI, and it was quite an eyeopener. Not many of my talks start with the audience singing a song (in this case, the SWRI anthem), and even fewer involve me being asked to judge the best sweeties!
Apparently it is a tradition that all guest speakers have to judge the competitions held that night. So after selecting ‘best mask’ and ‘best flower’ I had to choose ‘best tablet’. For those not in the know, tablet is a Scottish delicacy, a very sweet caramel-like confection typically made with condensed milk. Now the standard of hand-crafted tablet on display was very high, so as the judge it was of course incumbent upon me to make sure that every sample was thoroughly tested…
This was followed by a cup of tea accompanied by delicious home-made salmon sandwiches. I think that from now on I should ask for such items to be a standard part of my ‘rider’ when I give talks…
As for the talk, it went down very well, with naturally a great deal of interest in my suggestions about the origins of the Witch Monument see here – with several alternative ideas proposed from the audience. My thanks to the SWRI for the invite and the hospitality. Now, back to writing, fuelled by tablet-tastic sugar rush…
On Tuesday 1st November I gave an illustrated talk at Dunning Town Hall on the subject of ‘The Maggie Wall Witchcraft Monument’. I discussed my researches into another ‘famous witch who did not exist’, Kate McNiven, the Witch of Monzie. And as time allowed, we got some sightings of anomalous big cats in as well.
The talk started at 7.30pm, at Dunning, 10 miles south of Perth and just off the A9. The event was organised by the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute, but was open to everyone, not just members of the SWRI.
My thanks, by the way, to the organisers of recent talks I’ve given, from the Breadalbane Heritage Society to the West Stormont Historical Society and the libraries of Coupar Angus and Blairgowrie. In each case the venue was full, the audience engaged, and the Q & A session replete with interest. Enjoyable times.