• haychley

an interview with Weird Norfolk

I am super excited to write this blog post where I (virtually) interview the wonderful Siofra Connor and Stacia Briggs from Weird Norfolk.

Weird Norfolk is a fantastic podcast all about the folklore, paranormal events and magical goings on in Norfolk in the East of England. As I live in Norfolk myself, I’ve been lucky enough to go to a live recording of one of the podcast episodes before and I can say it was a truly spooky and memorable night!

You can read all about Weird Norfolk here and listen to their spooktacular podcast here. I took part in the Weird Norfolk challenge last year for nearly two weeks and although not my finest drawing, it was great fun to do! I often listen to Weird Norfolk when I'm printmaking and get lost in a magical world of lore.

Without further ado, let’s dive straight into a pool of mystery and wonder as I pose my first question…

How did Weird Norfolk begin?

Siofra: I’ve always been interested in the strange and unusual, so I had been collecting snippets of weird stories from the newspaper archives at the Eastern Daily Press whenever I was working in there. My workload had changed a bit so I put forward the idea of a regular feature exploring the weird and wonderful folklore of Norfolk. I knew that Stacia loved the same sort of thing as me and asked if she would mind helping with the project. Thankfully she said yes and the rest is history. 

Stacia: Siofra and I were drawn to each other like odd magnets and could often be found in our strange corner of the office at the EDP debating whether a dog-headed man or a man-headed dog would be more terrifying (there is an obvious answer to this question, and we use it to judge people). It was a natural progression to take the strangeness to a wider audience, luckily the wider audience accepted us. We are no longer in our corner which is a shame, because we had a Weird Norfolk shrine filled with trinkets and it was awesome.

If you had to pick one, what would be your favourite tale from Weird Norfolk? 

Siofra: This is so difficult as I think every story is special. I do really like the cursed goat’s head of Stumpshaw Fen though. It has a special magic as it is fairly modern and I managed to track down some original photos. 

Stacia: I love them all, but the Gildencroft Bogey is special to me because part of the story was told to me by my Mum, who was kept in line by threats from my Nanna about visits to naughty girls from the Bogeyman - it’s a Norfolk nightmare passed down through generations and reminds me what weird stock I am from. What would you say is the most terrifying tale from Weird Norfolk?

Siofra: Again, it’s hard to pick one because everyone finds different things scary. I think the scariest story we’ve ever been told was the female ghost seen in Biddy’s  Tea Room in Norwich (listen to https://audioboom.com/posts/7405254-weird-norfolk-an-evening-of-strange-tales-at-biddy-s-tearoom for the full story), closely followed about the manifestation at the old hospital (https://audioboom.com/posts/7417523-weird-norfolk-ghost-stories-at-the-merchant-s-house). I think that the fact that the stories are told by witnesses makes them really scary. 

Stacia: I think it’s the goat’s head of Strumpshaw because it genuinely appears to have been cursed - Siofra always says she’d like it to be found again, I’m quite happy for it to stay in hiding.

If you had to have a tattoo of a Weird Norfolk creature, what would it be and why? 

Siofra: I actually already have a Weird Norfolk tattoo. My friend Gemma Correll drew us a Black Shuck for an exhibition we held at The Forum. He was so cute, I just had to get him tattooed. I also have a Bellarmine Jar (witch bottle) by Yallery Brown. Not strictly Weird Norfolk, but the bottles have been found in buildings across Norfolk and one is on display at Norwich Castle Museum. 

Stacia: I think I’d have a montage, which is a bit of a cop-out. My friends David and Martin’s wedding invitation was designed by an artist called Paul Bommer and featured a beautiful tree. I’d love him to design something similar filled with all of our lovely creatures.

If you had unlimited funds for Weird Norfolk, what would you do? 

Siofra If we had unlimited funds I would LOVE to organise a “Weird Norfolk” festival. Maybe a one or two day event with speakers, films, workshops and tours. It would be amazing.

Stacia: I’d like a theme park: think the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland on amphetamines: the first ride we’d open would be a reimagining of the Great Yarmouth snail ride as a ghost train and it would pass through the ruins of East Somerton, follow the fiddler and his dog through the tunnel at Binham and end up in the haunted caravan in Great Yarmouth to book-end it nicely. Imagine the merchandise. Do you have a favourite ‘weird’ book that just sparks your spooky imagination every time you read it?

Siofra: This probably sounds weird, but when I’m not researching for Weird Norfolk, I don’t actually read that many books. I tend to read comics.  I’ve read some really spooky comics though! One of the creepiest is Wytches written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Jock, I think about it often, especially when I’m around really old trees.... I also really like Harrow County by writer Cullen Bunn and artist Tyler Crook, it’s kind of creepy and looks at American Folklore. The Hellboy universe is also great for some paranormal shenanigans with a sprinkling of folklore. 

Stacia: I suppose it would be the Weird Norfolk Bible, Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain from The Readers' Digest - my parents had a copy and it’s an endless box of delights. I used to be obsessed with the seasons and festivals section and want to celebrate everything - my Mum and Dad weren’t quite so keen to host a Lammas-tide party or St Clement’s Day. On a similar note, I always read The Magpie and the Wardrobe: A Curiosity of Folklore, Magic and Spells by Sam McKechnie and Alexandrine Portelli at the beginning of each month: it’s packed with beautiful pictures, ideas of how to celebrate seasonality and folklore and it has become a real ritual in itself over the years.  Have you ever been genuinely scared whilst in the field researching a story for Weird Norfolk? 

Siofra: I’ve never been really, really scared when we’ve been out and about. We tend to go during the day so that instantly makes places a lot less spooky. I did find the cellars at Houghton Hall very atmospheric and I found my imagination getting a bit carried away. When I’m in places like that I tend to wind myself up be thinking “what if that moved” or “what if I saw something now”.  I think the only place I’ve ever felt uncomfortable was when we went to look for the Beast of the A1075. The story of the Beast is on my top 5 creepy stories, so knowing we were  in the beast's territory made me feel quite unnerved. 

Stacia: This will sound insane, but the ghosts and creatures don’t frighten me and nor do the locations we go to. I am happy in the dark and strange places. What scares me most is appearing in front of cameras and the live events we do! I am getting better, but performance terrifies me - being watched is my dark and strange place! If you were stuck in a lift with a WN creature what would you most and least like to be stuck with? 

SiofraHmmm, least like would probably be Bigfoot. I hear he’s a bit stinky! Or may be one of the shrieking ladies from Northrepps and Aylmerton. I think their shrieking would get tiresome. Most like would probably have to be a Hikey Sprite. Mainly because they are so rare these days that it would probably be the only chance I’d ever get to talk to one!

Stacia: I think the poltergeists are the creatures/spirits that I’d least like to be stuck in a lift with. You can’t see them, but they’re intent on making your life a misery and you never know when they’ll wreak havoc (they probably made the lift get stuck in the first place!) As for the creature I’d like in the lift with me, I’d quite fancy a chat with a woodwose, just to ask them what they actually are. Green man? Bigfoot? Hirsute hipster?

Lastly, what does the future hold for Weird Norfolk? 

Siofra: Well, we are planning on having a book come out this year. We haven’t been talking about it much because we don’t want to jinx it, but we are getting closer. We’ve commissioned an amazing illustrator for the art and we've pretty much decided on all the stories now. Fingers crossed it all goes to plan.

Stacia: More stories, more podcasts, more live events, the book and, of course, the launch of our Lore of the Land podcast, which is kind of Weird Norfolk Does Britain and gives us the chance to go on tour!

A huge thank you to both Siofra and Stacia for taking the time to answer these questions, be sure to have a listen to their podcast!