The interview is by Rayne Hall, and I’ll do a review at the end.
INTERVIEW WITH FANTASY HORROR AUTHOR TYLLUAN PENRY
(compiled by Rayne Hall, 11 January 2022)
Do you ever wander around cemeteries, read the inscriptions on strangers’ headstones, and wonder what their lives were like, how they died, what families they left behind?
Oh yes. I like to piece together their stories, how many died in the same year, how many made it to old age. In Llandaff I used to recognise the names on a lot of graves, including those of children from local families. This always upset me because I knew how much their families grieved for them.
In Llandaff, the pathways in the oldest part of the cemetery were laid out so that the sun rises directly above them on the summer solstice. This suggests it’s probably much older than the present Cathedral. As a pagan, that really appeals to me, and I like to imagine the early rituals and ceremonies there.
My parents did most of their courting in that cemetery. Once they heard tapping, saw a ghostly light, and a figure in a white sheet crouched a the grave. They were terrified but it turned out to be a stonemason working overtime and adding a name to a headstone!
Has a real-life cemetery, grave or headstone ever inspired you to write a story?
The angel statue in ‘Merv the Swerve’ (my story in the anthology Among the Headstones: Creepy Tales from the Graveyard) really did exist and someone did hit the wing off with a golf ball. The idea was so funny I wrote it down and used it for my short story.
What gives you the creeps?
Living people are much creepier than ghosts. I seem able to pick up on their personalities and it can be very unsettling to know that someone is cruel to animals/children, beat their wives or are predators. But it happens and I’ve learned to deal with it. It’s still a bit spooky though.
My husband is a very good medium (someone who communicates with the dead) who eventually refused to do it anymore after the 7/7 attack on the London Underground because he was besieged by spirits who didn’t realise they were dead. It made him ill, and he had to stop. Often people don’t realise how much working with the paranormal drains us. There are times when we simply need to take a break.
What’s the creepiest place you’ve ever been to?
Grosmont Church on the Welsh Marches. The story is pure horror, you couldn’t make it up. Many of the burials were inside the church but were too shallow and by the mid nineteenth century were seeping and stinking, so people vomited up during services. Eventually the graves were exhumed, cleaned and re-buried but the entire place still gave me the jitters when I went there. It exuded an ecclesiastical dark and cold that no candles or psalms could disperse.
Tintern Abbey wasn’t really creepy, but I’ve heard monks chanting there, and even heard writing in what turned out to be the scriptorium. It was a strange, scratching noise of quill upon vellum. Also I saw a couple of monks rising out of the burial ground there which was not scary, just unpleasant.
Some spirits are thousands of years old. At the agora in Athens I could feel the original population, going about their business. They just brushed past me, not bothered by my presence, nor I by theirs although I can imagine some people being freaked out by it.
What do you like about the Horror Genre?
I think most of us enjoy being frightened, provided the fear doesn’t spill over when the book or film is over. I don’t like horror which is gory for the sake of it and prefer something a bit more subtle, something that might just happen. Years ago, BBC’s Ghostwatch was absolutely brilliant, so is M R James’ Whistle and I’ll come to you, my lad. A real shocker. Horror shows us dark possibilities within ourselves and others that we all need to see sometimes. Also it’s cathartic, and a good horror story can often cure us of our phobias and fears.
How do you go about research for the fiction you write?
Even the most paranormal stories need some research in fact. For example, I used the chapters about Wales from Antony Roberts Atlantean Britain for Guardian of the Gateway. I buy books and ebooks, and also do research on JSTOR which is an Academic site. I like to be sure something is factual before slotting it into the story. I write endless notes before I start.
For example, I researched European shamanism in A Star in the Mist, and wrote a ritual where the Brenin Llwyd conjures a pack of wolves from their skeletons. It’s not a long scene, but it took a lot of research, and I don’t begrudge the time I spend on it. It’s quite chilling, but is also rooted in some fact.
Myths and legends are also useful, because they give us a framework for what people believed. If I’m writing a modern story (like Merv the Swerve) then including traditional legends, like the long legged man in the Cwm, allows me to include later, local stories about people whose stories are now all but forgotten.
The research I did for my book, The Essential Guide to Psychic Self Defence has been useful too. It’s hard to believe, but in the 1970’s people would go on vampire hunts in Highgate Cemetery in London. For some it was just spooky fun, but for others it was serious stuff and they did considerable damage, digging up graves etc.. I think in the end the authorities had to shut the graveyard for a while, just to repair all the destruction!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, TYLLUAN PENRY
Tylluan Penry is a pagan solitary witch who has devoted much of her life to teaching about the Craft. She was born and brought up in a family of witches (on her mother’s side) although all they ever did was hex, i.e. they cast curses, which made childhood a horror story in its own right! When she managed to leave this tradition (and her family, though it wasn’t easy) she moved on to develop her own solitary path which she called ‘Seeking the Green.’ Over the years she has developed this further and written about many topics including Ice Age spirituality, the Anglo-Saxons, Knot Magic and Magic on the Breath.
She is married, has a large family, including grandchildren, dogs, and lives in a rather ramshackle home with an overgrown garden, together with ghosts, spirits and the Gentle Folk. There is a huge cemetery opposite her home which ought to be scary but is actually very serene and peaceful. She has always loved writing, and wrote her first (very) short story when she was six, soon progressing to full length stories. She has now written and published almost 30 books, both fiction and non-fiction. Most can be found here: https://shop.thewolfenhowlepress.com/ This is the indie press she set up back in 2011.
Some of her fiction is on Kindle under the name T P Penry. Her book in the anthology, ‘Among the Headstones: Creepy Tales from the Graveyard’ is based firmly in Wales, with a smattering of golf balls, gravestones and the Highway Code. She has always believed that creepy stories need a good pinch of humour in order to work well (at least, in her experience.)
Tylluan also has a YouTube Channel, with over two hundred videos about solitary witchcraft here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC48MN8sa7_lFsBX9v2ZAeAg/videos
ABOUT THE BOOK:
This anthology, edited by Rayne Hall, presents twenty-seven of the finest – and creepiest – graveyard tales with stories by established writers, classic authors and fresh voices.
Here you’ll find Gothic ghost stories by Robert Ellis, Lee Murray, Greg Chapman, Morgan Pryce, Rayne Hall, Guy de Maupassant, Myk Pilgrim, Zachary Ashford, Amelia Edwards, Nina Wibowo, Krystal Garrett, Tylluan Penry, Ambrose Bierce, Cinderella Lo, Nikki Tait, Arthur Conan Doyle, Priscilla Bettis, Kyla Ward, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul D Dail, Cameron Trost, Pamela Turner, William Meikle and Lord Dunsany who thrill with their eerie, macabre and sometimes quirky visions.
You’ll visit graveyards in Britain, Indonesia, Russia, China, Italy, Bulgaria, Thailand, USA, Australia, South Africa and Japan, and you can marvel at the burial customs of other cultures.
Now let’s open the gate – can you hear it creak on its hinges? – and enter the realm of the dead. Listen to the wind rustling the yew, the grating of footsteps on gravel, the hoo-hoo-hoo of the collared dove. Run your fingers across the tombstones to feel their lichen-rough sandstone or smooth cool marble. Inhale the scents of decaying lilies and freshly dug earth.
But be careful. Someone may be watching your every movement… They may be right behind you.
Purchase Link: mybook.to/Headstones
The ebook is available for pre-order from Amazon at the special offer price of 99 cents until 31 January 2022. (After that date, the price will go up.)
The paperback is already published.
A chilling Welsh tale of golf balls, gravestones, and the Highway Code
What a great build-up, what a great sense of humour, and all together an all-round enjoyable read. Creepy, yes, compelling, yes, and worth reading a few times to be sure the whole pleasure is enjoyed (the laughing while reading may make an interesting moment slip by, but going back opens it up to its own value).
Merv: A man on a mission, and he likes the quiet place, but golf and the wings of angels disturbing the dead don’t always equate to peace.
It’s a told story, a modern take on the style of the storyteller sitting around the fire and nodding the head while the pipe-smoke fills a small dark room and all faces are turned to the man with the real story, the whole truth, and he’s about to tell you.
Different, fun, compelling.
Read it, you won’t be disappointed, especially if you love the Welsh sense of place and people, and for an example of great storyteller style.