Testimony: A True Story About Terrifying Things

I want to tell you a true story. About ghosts, and things more terrifying than ghosts. I‘m a journalist, fully rooted in the real world. I write about foreign affairs and politics, economics, the arts, science, health, archaeology. Reality and evidence-based. Remember that.

Half of all Americans now believe they live or have lived in a haunted house. Researchers attribute a rapidly increasing belief in the supernatural to the rise of paranormal-related media and a decline in religious affiliation.

I wrote my only non-fiction book Testimony about the most supernaturally-afflicted house in the UK after coming across a newspaper report where a home was experiencing massive energy bills as if the power was being drained away. The owner mentioned in passing some supernatural element which got me interested.

I went in thinking I’d probably at the least end up with a book about the psychology of living in a house believed to be haunted. That view changed pretty quickly. I called the book Testimony because I wanted to build it around the accounts of people who had experiences in that isolated Welsh house, rather than filtering it all through my third party view of events.

Using my journalistic skills, I tracked down lots of people who’d had something strange happen to them. In the end I had 24 interviews. 24 people, many of them unconnected, who’d seen ghosts, dealt with possession, a range of terrifying phenomena, the manifestation of a seven-foot tall beaked figure, more…

In these kinds of accounts, it’s easy to dismiss them if you’re of a sceptical nature and it’s just a couple talking about what they went through. They’re mistaken, deluded, deranged, lying. When you have so many who haven’t had the chance to talk to each other or who thought they were isolated victims, that becomes so much harder. With those kinds of numbers, rationally you have to accept that something out of the ordinary was taking place there…

There’s a BBC podcast out about the case now, The Witch Farm. So far I’m the only person to have written about it because it was unbelievably difficult to track down the people involved, some of whom are no longer with us or who have vanished.

If you want to reach your own conclusions, or dismiss it out of hand, I suggest you read all those first hand accounts first. You might find it harder than you think.

The ebook of Testimony is available in all local Amazon sites globally, but here are the UK and US links.

Rosemary’s Baby Redux

This is a film I come back to every year, usually at this time, as the season turns. Some old movies are very difficult to watch with current mores. Rosemary’s Baby is one that has grown to meet the times.

It’s a horror story about the patriarchy.

A suffocating, intense portrayal of a gaslit woman battling against dismissive doctors and one of the most loathsome husbands on film, played with rage-inducing slipperiness and manipulation by the excellent John Cassavetes.

Mia Farrow, who has lived this role, is so powerful as a woman besieged by the strictures of a society designed to constrain and depower her.

She fights and fights, but even when it’s hopeless there are sometimes ways to achieve transcendence if you stay true to yourself.

The paranoia in the final half is almost unbearable. There’s no blood, no monsters, only the mundane. And that’s where the real horror lies.

London’s Secret Cemetery

In Southwark, not far from the resurrected Globe Theatre, the BFI and many of London’s arts establishments, lies Cross Bones cemetery. The graveyard is set aside for “outcasts” – prostitutes and paupers – and was in use for hundreds of years from Medieval times.

It was original the burial place for the Winchester Geese, the London prostitutes licenced by the Bishop of Winchester mentioned in The Sword of Albion.

Every Halloween, there’s a ceremony at Cross Bones to remember all outcasts, living and dead. You can find an account, photos, music and recordings here.

Nightmares For Halloween # 3 – Three Movie Choices

…or three horror films I really love, but which rarely get a nod in all the lists of Scary Movies circulating at this time of year.

NIght of the Demon
My favourite horror film, and in my list of favourite films of any genre. No other movie captures such an atmosphere of dread, from the very first scenes and then growing in intensity across the entire story. Based on M R James’ short story, Casting the Runes, Night of the Demon looks luminous, with director Jacques Tourneur contrasting the deepest blacks with unsettling bursts of light.

Re-Animator
Black comedy that also manages to be truly horrific. Based on H P Lovecraft’s story, Herbert West – Reanimator, the core of the film is a hypnotic, barking mad performance by actor Jeffrey Coombs.

Quatermass and the Pit
One of the few Hammer films that still stands up well, this film about the British scientist hero’s encounter with primal fears really unsettled me as a kid. A remake of a TV serial, the success of the movie lies more with original creator Nigel Kneale’s ideas – the true source of supernatural horror – than any acting or directing here.