Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Questions, answers & mysteries with Hookland's David Southwell (Part 2)

Reprinted with permission. From the September 13, 2015, @HooklandGuide tweet: "Mr. @maximpetergriff and I are trying hard to get this rare title back into print."

Read Part 1 of the interview

Before we dive headlong into Part 2 of the Q&A with author and Hookland creator David Southwell, I want to revisit some of his quotes from Part 1 that resonated with me. It's my personal list, of course. Everyone will mine something different and precious from the in-depth thoughts, memories and stories that David has been kind enough to share.

  • "The 70s were a high-water mark for weirdness. A strange, febrile time to be a child exposed to the psychic chaff of the mass media."1
  • "The core concept of using a travel guide as a format to tackle landscape, memory, folklore and the rest of territory I wanted to cover, most of the nomenclature, it all came out in an intense 16-hour burst of work."
  • "Writers tend to carry ideas in the neglected pockets of their mind for years, if not decades. We walk along, pick up shiny pebbles of fact, glinting impressions of where we have been — stuff them into those pockets where they jostle and tumble with our imagination and then pull out these mad concepts."
  • "I grew up in this whole cycle of folklore linked to the landscape of the castle ruins, the woods, the alley behind the grand houses."2
  • "You don't need fancy intellectual words and concepts by dead French theorists to engage with place. Landscape punk is a DIY, screw-the-over-intellectualism and just heed the call-response nature of landscape."
* * *

You mention Arthur Machen at times. What other authors are favorites who have influenced you, especially as it relates to telling the tale of Hookland?

As soon as you do anything which is looking at the unreality of literature, which uses a series of short stories interconnected by common themes, anything which could be said to be magical realism, then you have to admit the influence of Jorge Borges. So Machen and Borges are in the mix of influences. As is Angela Carter for that glorious sense of gloomth which shaped me as a teenager.3 Hookland also owes a huge debt at some level to both Robert Aickman and Alan Moore. Though, there is one writer who without their influence Hookland in the form of a travel guide would certainly not exist and that is Paul Nash. He is one of the key artists, photographers and writers in terms of my influences. Alongside John Betjeman and others, Nash wrote travel guides for Shell in the 1930s. His guide to Dorset was a direct leaping off point for me creating The Phoenix Guide format as a way of painting the invisible of Hookland. Even if you have never visited Dorset, his guide is creates a powerful, lyrical sense of it in that guide. It is one of my favourite books.

Maxim Peter Griffin seems to be an individual with a very particular set of skills. How did he get involved with the Hookland project, and how does he manage to come across such amazing finds?

If I talk about Maxim Peter Griffin, I am going to say things like genius and one of the big pleasures of the whole Hookland ride so far. Everything I hope Hookland is — a playground, an adventure, a motor of the imagination fueled not by Phoenix gas, but the uroboros action of fiction eating the tail of memory, memory eating the tale of fiction — he gets and responds to.

Aside from our totally unplanned and off-the-cuff collaborations within the boundaries of Hookland, I hope that he and I will work on a landscape punk comic at some point. I'm not qualified to speak about him on his behalf so, in his own words:
Stonemason - time served
Painter - sometimes I sell things - I give a lot away
Illustrator - published
some cartography - in public places on signs on walls
typography ( lump that in with masonry )

I am interested
and I like to play
play is important

( don't bother with the ideal - eat the apple with the peel - Kurt Schwitters )

I'm a little younger than Mr Southwell but I know where Hookland is.
You can find Hookland in your local charity shop quite easily.

Hookland is a good idea.
It is a memory brew.

when I was a student I was a cleaner at the college and I had keys
-but there was a cellar at the art college that had been forgotten - it was full of every skeleton imaginable
cases full of butterflies and spiders - medieval pottery - worked flints - all sorts - for life drawing - but stuffed in this room now and forgotten -no one knew it was there - no one ever mentioned
it was just there - waiting , if you like - I spent hours in there - rooting through stuff - a mounted bat skeleton in an archive box full of lead musket balls - you can't make that sort of thing up -

That room was a fragment of Hookland, elsewhere.

Hookland is an actual place
Everything in the archive already exists
It is a matter of being there when it is found

You have talked about how Hookland is becoming its own shared universe (perhaps, in a way, like the Wold Newton Family). What are some of the mentions it has received elsewhere?

In many ways Hookland is the reverse of the Wold Newton Family. That approach — trying to retrospectively link together existing fictions in a web of continuity their creators never intended — is fun at some levels, but to me in that case, ultimately reductionist. Past the joy of geeking out by creating continuity, it doesn’t enrich. Unlike the deepening of say taking the Cthulhu Mythos as a continuity, I actually think Wold Newton diminishes the achievement and intents of Maurice Leblanc, Robert E. Howard, Dashiell Hammett and others. Their characters are wonderful enough as first imagined and written. For me, they do not need, nor in many cases benefit from, being part of the Wold universe.

Hookland was always about creating this haunted space that anyone could play in. As authors we often create spaces where we want others to feel they have lived in, but then deny them permission to stay. Permission to build and explore in their own way. It is not about continuity like the Wold Newton Family, but about giving others a pre-charged landscape to use as either leaping off point or background.

I have tried to create a space where others can walk inside, take what they want, but not be constrained by having their take on Hookland as tied up to part of a bigger story. There are bigger tales working through the entries in The Guide — stories that not so much just cross-reference each other, but cross-hatch to form bigger narratives — but someone using the shared universe of Hookland can happily ignore them.

The Guide functions as a bit of a bible for Hookland. If it says that C.L. Nolan died in 1937 or the Electric Messiah was lost in 1855, that is the fact that it makes a mess to contradict. However, in Hookland, facts are always there to build fictions on.

It is slowly starting to be used as a shared universe. There's a British horror film in production in the moment that uses Hookland as a fictional county merely as a layer of background in dialogue. Authors like R.J. Barker and Gary Budden have used Hookland as setting in short stories and author Tim Dedopulos is currently writing a detective novel set in the county — a glorious affair, like a 1970s occult Inspector Morse. It has been used as inspiration for tracks by musician David Padbury. I am getting a lot of requests now to use Hookland, so I’ve actually had to create a small document to answer questions that writers want to know, even if the answers are not given directly to readers. Questions like how many hours on the train is Hookland from London and what is the origin of the county’s name.

Here is an excerpt from that Hookland document, its bible, that Southwell provides to authors and creators and has agreed to share here:
What is in the name of Hookland?
Hookland if you look in an obscure legal dictionary is defined as "land sown and ploughed every year." This felt right to me. It's redolent of the English pastoral landscape, it resonates with the Old English language and its link to land and place. To me it also summons the image of ghost soil — place ploughed and sown by the cycle of birth and death. Of course, it has Hook in it. Given Hook is the name of a village in every part of England, it becomes and everywhere. There is also the oblique reference to the word hooky — to play truant — and the phrase hooky street — the place where one buys counterfeit goods.

What are your hopes regarding the culmination of your work on Hookland? A new book? Re-publication of The Phoenix Guide to Strange England? BBC series?

Hopes for a project always fall into two camps — there are the actual manifestations of the project you would like to see and then there is the way you hope your work connects with its audience. In terms of the latter, I wanted to create a guide to Hookland that not only led you into county, but into the neglected areas of your own memory. In many ways, all fiction is a magical act and Hookland is very consciously an act re-enchantment. My hope is that for readers it opens up a sense of uncanny in their engagement with landscape. That it connects them with a sense of weirdness that has been edited out of our cultural dialogue in the last few decades. If Hookland restores mystery to our anyone's sense of place, then it has done its job.

In terms of manifestations of the inside of my head, I always had the idea that Hookland would be more than a book. From the start I wanted it to be a shared universe you might get a postcard from or some other form of souvenir. Items from the Hookland Museum of Curiosities gift shop. An unreal place producing the sort of objects and ephemera we use to reinforce belief in the existence of places that we have never been to. I've never been to Boston, but I have a Boston Celtics T-shirt someone who went there sent me as a gift that makes me think they actually made a journey to see a game at The Garden. Leigh Wright and I have started to think about an album of Hookland music. Radio signals from the past that bounce back and can be picked up on an AM car radio if you drive down to where the cliffs at Nook struggle with the sea. Snippets of jingles and shows from the pirate radio stations that used to operate from the abandoned Maunsell forts just outside territorial waters and tracks reflecting the county's musical heritage between 1963-1979. From the Mod Psych and Freakbeat of the 1960s to the proto-ambient Darkscape and punk of the 1970s — I've fictional band biographies and liner notes ready, but getting that sort of project together musically is a mammoth task, so it's not imminent.

Ideally The Phoenix Guide to Strange England will manifest as it always was in a parallel dimension — a traditional travel guide you can browse at your leisure. However, I'm told it is too experimental to be published, so it might be a hard slog and a long season before it happens. I am hoping that I will be publishing an anthology of short stories written by other authors set in Hookland next year and if there is interest, I would like to put out a small volume of C.L. Nolan's work, a Hookland miscellany. If I do, it will never be an e-book, but a very limited, pre-ISBN, pre-Amazon artifact — a copy or two of which I will slip surreptitiously onto library shelves.4

I hope there will be some more collaborations. I would be heart-broken if there isn't a full set of Maxim Peter Griffin's Hookland Horror cards at some point. I'd love to see a Hookland comic book. I am open to any collaboration, open to anyone manifesting the county in a creative, playful or unsettling way. If someone wants to make an audio drama based on it or read the stories, I'd support that in the way I'd support anyone playing with material I am putting out. Hookland is so informed by the visual culture of strange documentaries, odd folk horror films of the late 1960s/early 1970s that I grew up with that I would love to see it become a basis for a fakelore documentary or a film, but in the end, others always make a decision on whether you work deserves to make that sort of translation.

Is there anything you can tell us about when Mrs. Dribbage might finally get the online gift shop up and running? Some of us, who shall remain nameless, are especially intrigued by the idea of Hookland postcards.

I am the lowest of the lo-tecs. I have an Edwardian soul. I surprise myself that I can manage Twitter. I am primarily a writer and I lack the skill sets to set up an online shop or even a decent Kickstarter. I know words, I know editing and making anything written better. It is my only barterable skill and I'd be happy to exchange it for firewood, Jura Superstition or some decent Tex-Mex ingredients, but while it gets books written, it doesn't help make Mrs. Dribbage's online version of the Hookland Museum of Curiosities gift shop happen. This means at the moment all you can get from the gift shop are hand-drawn maps of the county, bags of bay leaves from Cunning Mundle's tree or fudge — all real items if anyone wants to email me and barter something for them. I am delighted to say that I recently sold a map of Hookland to someone in Hollywood. I love the idea of hand-drawn map to a fictional English county being on the wall of Californian den. When I did a talk about Hookland and landscape punk at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival earlier this year, I think people were totally mystified by there actually being free Hookland fudge, but everyone who got some will provide testimonials that it tastes fabulous.

The idea for postcards was originally to turn some of the images into actual postcards and to send them out, complete with a Hookland postmark and a short twitter-esque line or two to those who bought them. I'm not sure there would be enough interest to do this though. I've even investigated producing playable postcard — like the old flexidiscs, but made from record-player playable cardboard — but again, I'm not sure there is enough interest to justify that sort of glorious ephemeral madness just yet.

The ultimate manifestation of Hookland for me in some ways would be to recreate part of its mythical Museum of Curiosities in an actual museum and gallery. A raft of objects and artworks, film screenings and talks representing and telling the strange stories of the county and through that telling the story of the strangeness of the 1970s, the richness of the ghost soil of English folklore. It would of course come complete with things you could actually buy in the host museum's gift shop. I cannot see it happening, but there might one day be a Hookland LitFest — a literary festival for a place that doesn't exist. The responses by other writers to Hookland have been so impressive I'm inspired to actually try and put an event like that on. After all, I never thought there would be a real, drinking in a London pub, C.L. Nolan Appreciation Society every two months. Hookland leaks in odd ways. Fiction has this wonderful way of making reality.

Finally, is there anything I haven't asked that I should have? Anything specific or important that you'd like to convey to those who are learning about Hookland for the first time?

You probably should have asked about the influence of Doctor Who, Quatermass, Nigel Kneale5 and children's TV in the 1970s such as The Changes and Children of the Stones. About physical locations that directly inspired parts of the landscape of Hookland. About how a car ride with J.G. Ballard was the turning point in my engagement with place. About who I would most like to see play in the Hookland universe. You should have asked about The Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories.

I suppose the only thing can I add is how some of the best response I have had to Hookland is from those who send me angry, scalding emails railing against me for making "dishonest stories" (as if there is any other kind), making bits of Hookland so convincing I make them "waste time" trying to find C.L. Nolan books. For a word spiv, a missive from a U.S. academic resorting to CAPITALS to tell me off for inventing Betjeman quotes "about a place that doesn't exist" suggests I might just be doing something right with my version of weird Albion.

* * *

Indeed, I clearly did not ask enough questions! Perhaps there will have to be a Part 3 with Southwell some day, delving into some more of these great and mysterious and nostalgic topics.

I'll leave you with this video from the aforementioned 1977 series Children of the Stones, a fitting way, I think, to wrap up these two posts.

Find out more about Hookland County
  • Hookland's Twitter account — @HooklandGuide
  • Southwell's Twitter account — @cultauthor
  • Wyrd Daze — the multimedia zine of speculative fiction + extraordinary music, art, and writing
  • Hookland website (still a work in progress, but with some fascinating morsels)

1. Two words: Hans Holzer.
2. Which is why kids need to get outside more these days. And helicopter parents need to let them.
3. Gloomth is a great word! It was apparently coined by Horace Wapole in the 18th century.
4. This makes me very happy. See the 2013 post "Eight awesome things you'll never find inside e-books."
5. At this point, given how many shared interests there are between Southwell and myself, it probably will not surprise anyone to learn that Five Million Years to Earth (originally titled Quatermass and the Pit) is one of my favorite science-fiction movies.


  1. This is an excellent interview. My latest interest is the ''hauntological''/folk-horror dramas and books of the 1960s and '70s, and Hookland is one of the most marvellous things I have discovered in aeons. I concur with Ballard when he says that a sense of place is vital. I think I shall have to visit Hookland sometime.

  2. You should have asked about the influence of Scarfolk - it was conspicuous in its absence

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  4. Whilst I love and follow Richard (author of Scarfolk), I've never followed Scarfolk, nor Night Vale, because when people tell you what you do reminds you of X and that you and X represent some sort of pseudo-genre, you need to protect yourself and your work from being in the wake of something if you want it to bumble along being profoundly wrapped-up in itself. And trust me, Hookland is so profoundly wrapped-up in the peak 1970s Albionic weirdness that it is a response to, it's better that it doesn't get ideas of it being anything in relation to X, just carrying on with its own bumbling. Nothing harms the originality of any work more than thinking of itself as being part of a genre or existing as a response to another artist's work.

  5. Fabulous interview. I now want to create Art From Hookland...
    The idea of punk landscape is compelling.