Author Tom Cox
The bestselling writer has a dead-of-night rendezvous with the supernatural world
A lot about farming and folklore. I’m particularly enjoying the oral histories of George Ewart Evans, collected in rural Suffolk in the middle of the last century.
The 1969 TV adaptation of Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, for the third time. Still a great atmosphere. Still not 100 per cent sure what’s going on.
The first ale after a long walk.
The way the internet has become the playground of mouthy pond skimmers, possessing no depth of knowledge about a Thing, yet hugely opinionated about their thinly perceived idea of the Thing.
I SPENT WINTER living in a haunted house. I say this as somebody who is sceptical about the supernatural but has a deep enough interest in it to be writing a book of ghost stories. I set out boldly – many would say foolishly – to execute the project in a very ‘method’ way, moving from gently wild Devon to an isolated farmhouse on top of an almost mountain in the Peak District, hoping it would drench the book in an extra spooky ambience. I could not have guessed just how eerie my new living arrangements would turn out to be.
Pictures and bookcases crashed to the floor regularly, in ways that defied physics. A clivia that had flowered every February for a decade remained forlorn. Investigating a leak from the cistern, I found months of black mould with dozens of slugs crawling through it. My cats seemed deeply unsettled and watched wide-eyed as larger invisible creatures crawled the walls. Outside in the deeply black dark of night and deeply white dark of day, barn doors creaked, cattle in labour cried out mournfully and lambs froze to death.
I felt a hostility to the air that I’d never felt anywhere in the British countryside, as if the night possessed fangs. I woke each morning at a quarter to four from violent nightmares, the most disturbing of which involved me walking down a corridor, fumbling for a light switch, in impossible blackness. As I reached for the wall for some balance, I felt three fleshless hands violently tickling my ribs. I began to sense that something terrible had once happened in the house, or in the place where the house now stood, at a quarter to four.
SOMETIMES YOU HAVE to move away from a place to truly realise that it’s home. I’ve been back in Devon for a couple of weeks now and, despite what for the south-west peninsula is a cold and sluggish spring, I’m feeling elated by the climate, by the sea, by my proximity to Dartmoor, where my greatgrandma grew up. I’m living in a singlestorey wooden cabin, on the site where a more rudimentary cabin without running water formerly stood. In the 1980s an Italian poet arrived with a suitcase, wrote a book here, then left. Last weekend I scattered shade-happy wildflower seeds in the small copse behind my back door, then set off with my OS map to find my local triangulation pillar, which I think is a good way to ground yourself in the topography of a new place. On the way, I saw two herons stalking the river in a manner so quiet as to seem beyond silence. Herons always seem to have a touch of the ghost about them, like they’ve slipped through a veil between worlds and we’re not really supposed to see them.
I NEED TO stop buying books. It’s a space thing, more than anything, but with every book I buy I’m also building a wall of judgement: all those uncracked spines looking down disapprovingly at me and making me more aware of what I haven’t read than what I have. I have moved house a lot, which makes you very aware of the burdensome trap that possessions can become.
I dragged myself reluctantly but necessarily to Ikea the other day and I found it hard to look at the marketplace area without seeing it as future landfill. But when it comes to books and records, I’m an uncompromising materialist. I want them around me. I know I buy far too many books but I like to think that lining my house with them wards off evil in some deeply important way.
One day I’ll probably trap myself behind a book wall, but at least I’ll be reading as I starve to death. 21st-century Yokel, by Tom Cox, is out now (Unbound, £16.99)
As I reached for the wall, I felt three fleshless hands violently tickling my ribs