Sussex is haunted by stories. Sometimes it seems that folklore is confined to books, but it’s still out there. Looking at Sussex myths, ghosts and chalk, this talk will show how our world is just as strange as it has ever been. There are ghosts all around us. James Burt looks Sussex legends over the years, drawing links between them, and asking why these stories have changed over the years.
I’m giving a performance at the next Small Story Cabaret event, on 8th July at Westgate Chapel in Lewes. The theme of the night is ‘Hoof and Horn’, which means stories of magic and the occult. I will be performing a new ‘thing’:
Chalk Ghosts Sussex is haunted by stories. Sometimes it seems that folklore is confined to books, but it’s still out there. Looking at Sussex myths, ghosts and chalk, this talk will show how our world is just as strange as it has ever been. There are ghosts all around us.
Tara originally asked me if I wanted to do a version of the talk on Slenderman that she saw at the Towner in 2014. This started out as a performance at 2014’s Brighton Digital Festival and was given in a longer version at Wilderness last year. I’ve also been talking about Sussex folklore at last year’s Brighton fringe and in my performance for Two Knocks for Yes. This talk brings together a lot of those threads.
Chalk Ghosts is very much based around Sussex. It’s about what this county means to me – I’ve lived here since I was 2 or 3 years old. I’m currently making projections and recordings, and figuring out how best to use the space. I have no idea quite what this will turn out to be, but it won’t be boring.
Last Friday I spoke as part of the Two Knocks performance at St Andrew’s Church in Hove. I’d been involved in some early discussion and it sounded so ambitious that, when I was invited to participate I had to say yes.
I gave a talk about ‘The Folklore of Death and Water’. It was a deliberately bland title, playing with some of my obsessions while feeding into other aspects of the event. I was a little nervous as the night approached, particularly as the audience hit 100, but I was fairly happy with my performance.
The venue was probably the most atmospheric place I’ve ever performed. It was incredible speaking from the pulpit, the audience dimly lit in front of me. The building was sufficiently spooky to freak me out completely during rehearsals. I was talking while Curtis listened, Emily ran tech and Simon checked his kit. We had the doors locked so that we weren’t disturbed. From where I was I could see through the doorway into the church’s entrance corridor. As I described a haunting, I saw a shape move past the doorway. The rehearsal fell apart as I started laughing nervously. I’m not the sort of person who imagines seeing things.
As I said in the talk, I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe in hauntings. Even during daytime rehearsals, the effect of the performance and venue was spooky. I hope there are more of these in the future. Future events will be announced via the Two Knocks mailing list and the soundtrack is online.
This Thursday, May 14th, I will be appearing at Eastbourne’s Towner Gallery as part of their Nocturnal event. I will be talking twice during the evening, about night, sleep and dreams. The research I’ve done has been fascinating, and I am looking forward to sharing it.
There are a load of other things happening – music, mask-making, an awesome cocktail menu, video and a sound installation from Gazelle Twin. It should be a fantastic night!
It’s a month until the Brighton Fringe Festival kicks off, and I’ve been buying lots of tickets. The thing I’m most looking forward to is How to be Fat, a one-woman show by my friend Mathilda, one of the organisers of Slash/Night. From what I’ve been told so far this will be funny and provocative. She’s been blogging about her preparations, including how to be on a Diet.
Another highlight is the Late Show: Election Night Special, which will be screen the election results until 9 in the morning. I love election broadcasts, even if they’re likely to go the way I want. Hopefully I can book Friday May 8th off work, as I won’t be getting any sleep the night before. Apparently (the award-winning) Chris Parkinson is involved with this show in some manner.
I met Bill Jones through the Short Fuse nights many years ago. I loved his work and invited him to perform at a night I ran. He moved away to Stroud but is returning to Brighton with his show Graveside Manner. Another poet is John Osborn, performing his first show. John’s poem ‘Most people aren’t that happy anyway’ is one of my favourite poems.
Two things I’ve booked based on the fringe ads are The Skeleton Coast and What’s in the Punch. The first of these is a talk about an expedition along the Skeleton Coast, a brutal stretch of African coastline. What’s in the Punch is a play about the 352-year-old Mr. Punch being in a nursing home.
As ever, the Odditorium, curated by the Infamous Dr. Bramwell, offers a variety of different topics. I’ve booked tickets to their Lost Worlds of Albion and Occult Brighton events. At the end of the month I’ll be one of the speakers at the Death in Brighton event. The Spiegeltent is also hosting club nights by Copperdollar and Dynamite Booglaoo.
On top of all this, puppeteer Daisy Jordan has just announced a new show with Jane Bom-bane featuring “song, puppetry and untold surprise” which I need to fit in somehow. This looks like being a very good fringe.
Back at the start of March, Rosy asked if I wanted to be local spoken-word artist at Hammer and Tongue in April. I suggested I reworked the piece I did for Artists, Models, Inc a few years back, “adding audio/visual elements – basically, a psychogeographical response to Brighton.” Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what I meant by that, and reworking the original piece so much that only a few sentences of the original remain.
So: I’ll be performing this ten-minute thing at Hammer and Tongue, this Thursday. Doors open 7:30pm at the Komedia Studio and entry is £6 on the door. I’m pleased with how it’s turned out and looking forward to see what the audience make of it – I’m aiming for either blank incomprehension or rapturous applause. The Infamous Muffy Hunter saw it last night and liked it, so that’s a good sign.
Also performing is Hannah Silva. Rosy has been trying to book Hannah for some time. I recently read Hannah’s book Forms of Protest; the poems are both gripping and experimental and I can’t wait to see them performed live. It’s going to be an amazing evening – and it’s the night before the Good Friday bank holiday, so you can all stay out late!
After a quiet winter, I have a few upcoming events:
On April 2nd, I will be performing at Brighton’s Hammer and Tongue as local poet. I’ve promised Rosy a psychogeographical multi-media spoken word piece about Brighton. I’m not entirely sure what that means so I am frantically working on something that fits the description. If that fails, expect something about Clowns. Tickets £6 on the door open, doors 7:30pm, show starts 8-ish.
On April 16th I will be speaking at the Catalyst Club. The Catalyst is a Brighton institution, where three people speak about their passions. The subjects in question aren’t announced until the event starts, so you don’t know what you’ll hear about, but it is always interesting. Come along and find out what I’ve been researching.
I’m waiting to hear about a Brighton Fringe event, as well as a festival booking in August, doing an expanded version of my talk, The Internet Will Destroy Us.
Slash/Night 2 happened way back in mid-February and was amazing. I organised the first Slash/Night because I am fascinated the culture of slash. The second event was organised by Muffy Hunter and Mathilda Gregory, which meant I could sit back and watch – although I was roped in to running the lights and sound, which I was brilliant at.
For me, the highlight was Helen Raven‘s talk on the pre-history of Slash. One of the things I love about slash is how it has thrived underground, with enthusiastic, generous audiences. It was good to hear about the pre-Internet slash days and to see some of the Samizdat publications. Hearing Helen Raven talk about her long career as a slash writer was inspiring too, particularly strange and creative world of Professionals slash.
Way back in September, I teamed up with Muffy Hunter, Chris Parkinson, Mathilda and Kate to put on Slash/Night, a celebration of slash fiction. For me, this was more a night I wanted to attend than one I was particularly knowledgeable about. Putting on the event was hard work (particularly when Chris had to excuse himself for a film premiere) but it all went well and I was very pleased with the night we put on.
Slash is a hugely popular genre and probably has a larger following than literary fiction. Yet it is mostly ignored or even mocked. For me, one of the best things about the night was that for some fans it was the first time they’d been somewhere they could discuss this in person.
I’ve handed over the running of Slash/Night to Mathilda and she’s put on an amazing bill for Slash/Night2. We have the novelists Naomi Alderman and Julie Cohen reading. We have pre-internet slash. We have a talk from Muffy about her experiences. We have Welcome to Night Vale slash. We even have a creator reading slash written about their own creations.
The last event was funny and filthy and this one looks like being even better. Even better, I’m not organising, so I can just sit back and enjoy the night. You should come too.
On Friday night I gave a talk at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne as part of their Ghost Worlds event. The night was inspired by both Mexican Day of the Dead and Halloween, featuring performance, music, crafts and a spoken word area.
The best real-life example that I learned about was the McCullough Effect – which I find too disturbing to try for myself.
I enjoyed being in a gallery after hours as well as catching up with some old friends; Tara Gould read a creepy ghost story, which ended just as you realised what awful things were about to happen; and Umi Sinha did a great telling of WW Jacob’s The Monkey’s Paw.
I enjoyed giving the talk and wish I had more opportunity to do things like this, but I’m not sure where the audience is for such things. I could certainly have talked for much longer about the subject.