Au­thor Tom Cox

The best­selling writer has a dead-of-night ren­dezvous with the su­per­nat­u­ral world

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents -

THE LIST

Read­ing

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.

Watch­ing

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.

Lov­ing

The first ale after a long walk.

Hat­ing

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

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