Welcome back to this week’s author interview series! Today, I’m thrilled to be featuring Howard David Ingham. Howard is the Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror, which is one of my very favorite books from the last year.
Recently, Howard and I discussed their inspiration as a writer, how they chose the films for We Don’t Go Back, and what they have planned for the future.
A couple icebreakers to start: when did you decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?
I have always wanted to be a writer, right, since I was a queer and awkward teenager.
True Story. I started writing professionally because of a job I had writing manuals and marketing material for this one horse software firm years ago now. I was asked one day to design a brochure for a new product, and my sleazy boss told me to put a flowchart on the cover and make it look like a breast. In profile. Because “sex sells”, apparently. With like a voluptuous curve here. And a rounded and fulsome curve here. And a pointy bit here. I spent a week following his remit to the letter, while all the time making it not look like a breast, because at this point I still had my dignity (although some years later I’d sell it on eBay. But I digress). After a week of rejected designs, my sleazy, greasy-haired boss came and stood at my desk, staring as I mangled yet another version in Adobe. And he said, “Look. Can’t you just make it a bit more pert?” And that was the precise moment I decided that I needed to go freelance.
My favourite authors? I love Angela Carter. No one writes like she wrote. Flann O’Brien’s work is existentially terrifying and hilarious at the same time, and The Third Policeman is my favourite novel by some distance. I have always loved Jorge Luis Borges’ way with a short, short story, and he’s been a big inspiration to me. As for film writing, no film book has affected me as much as Kier-La Janisse’s House of Psychotic Women. It’s the film book I dream of being half as good as.
Your nonfiction book, We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror, is one of my very favorite books of the last few years. It has been an invaluable resource to me, and it’s also filled with witty and insightful essays about each of the selected folk horror films. You touch upon this in the book, but for those who haven’t been fortunate enough to read it yet, when did you first hear about folk horror, and what were your initial impressions of the subgenre?
Well that’s complex. But in 2016, I heard that folk horror was a thing because of several friends of mine (particularly my frequent collaborator and podcast buddy Jon Dear) who had begun to get enthused by it. I checked it out and discovered that in fact “folk horror” was a name largely given to most of my favourite films and TV plays. And that I’d always been into folk horror, since I was a kid. I just didn’t know there was a name for it until pretty recently.
I grew up in the 80s, the son of a psychic and a magician, and I caught the tail end of that period where daily horoscopes were on the morning news and TV and film were, at least here in the UK, indefinable spooky. Haunted. I grew up with Bagpuss, and Moondial, and as I got older and discovered films like The Wicker Man, Carnival of Souls and the classic BBC Ghost Stories for Christmas (which my father particularly loved), that love of the spooky and occult I’d always had thanks to a childhood steeped in occult ephemera stuck with me.
Were there any films in particular that you would have liked to include in the book but that you decided to omit? Any newer folk horror films that have been released since then that you feel would fit well in the table of contents?
There were only so many 1960s and 70s European and British horrors I could include. I decided for example that I probably could have left out The Devil Rides Out and The (1966) Witches. Tombs of the Blind Dead didn’t make it in because I have a hard aversion to zombie films.
I regret not including either Straw Dogs or Deliverance. I nearly wrote about A Cure for Wellness, but thought better of it. Arcadia literally came out within weeks of the final proof of the book coming out; Apostle and Requiem probably would have made it in if I’d left it a few months but neither is that good, so maybe I dodged a bullet there.
Midsommar, on the other hand, missed the cut by a year, but I can’t imagine not including that should I do a second edition.
So many moments in We Don’t Go Back really stopped me in my tracks, but probably none more so than your decision to include Winter’s Bone as a folk horror film. As a huge fan of the film, that selection—and your subsequent write-up—just blew me away. What is it about that film in particular that first made you think of it as a folk horror film? Considering that’s an entirely realistic film with no fantasy elements, how important of a role do you think the supernatural plays or doesn’t play in folk horror?
I think the main thing that differentiates folk horror as a genre is that it’s primarily the horror of folk, that the hauntings, or happenings, or violence are centred on ordinary people doing ordinary things in ordinary lives. For all that it’s often framed as being a more tasteful sort of horror, a kind of middle class horror (with a very middle class fan base), folk horror is stridently political and concerned with working people. The supernatural is really just a metaphor for the horrors that are visited upon ordinary people and which they visit upon each other.
Winter’s Bone is all about the horror of folk – just because the rural conspiracy isn’t pagan or supernatural, doesn’t mean that it isn’t very much a story about those exact horrors, and its chainsaw-centred denouement is quintessentially folk horror. It’s also really fucking brilliant.
We Don’t Go Back was very appropriately nominated in the nonfiction category for the Bram Stoker Awards this year. Where were you when you found out you were nominated, and what was your first thought?
I was sitting down, taking a rare breather on a Saturday afternoon, and I got a message from a really lovely guy – a HWA member – called Ben Monroe who was the guy who urged me to submit the book in the first place, and without whom I’d probably never have had the stones to. Anyway, Ben congratulated me for being nominated, and then a few minutes later I got a phone call by Steve Horry (who drew the wonderful cover that isn’t unrelated to the book getting noticed long enough for people to consider it for awards) who literally stopped driving his car, full of his family, and stopped in a car park so he could be wildly excited for me.
I thought, no way, there must be some mistake. Especially since in the preliminary ballot there was some heavyweight academic writing.
Then I saw that It’s Alive was also nominated and the world righted itself, because I knew right then there was no way that book wasn’t going to win. But because of that, I just enjoyed what I had. I think that getting nominated for something like the Stokers with a book I wrote, edited, print designed and self-published is a special thing.
Just once, and just for the first time, I won at self-publishing.
What are your hopes for the future of folk horror? Or do you think there even is a strong future for folk horror?
I think when Rolling Stone (or whoever it was) does a profile on Black Philip, the phenomenon is at its peak and I think we’re in a late stage of a latter day folk horror boom. We’re going to see an increasing number of very derivative films – we already are, in fact, I mean Apostle was basically just a frantic game of Folk Horror Bingo, for example. Back in the 70s, folk horror was an accidental genre. It wasn’t that people deliberately made folk horror films, they made films that fit the preoccupations of the time and years later people started calling them folk horror. I mean if you want to be a purist, literally the only folk horror film made before about 2010 was Blood on Satan’s Claw, because that’s the only one that got called that before then. Now, though, people are treating it like a brand, like a Thing, and that means that we’re getting films that fit a formula.
It’s not over, because in a sense these conversations are never really over, but I suspect that in a couple of years the mainstream will find a new sort of horror movie to be excited about.
But not before Kier-La Janisse’s documentary about folk horror Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched comes out, because I’m one of the talking heads in that one and I’ve always wanted to be in a film and I’m proper excited about that.
I’m looking so forward to your next nonfiction book, which is all about identity horror. What can you share with us about that project?
Identity Horror is a term that I came up with independently, but I am about 99% certain I wasn’t the first to come up with it, which is probably a sign I’m on to something.
The Question in Bodies, which is one of several I’m working on (I’ve also got a companion to We Don’t Go Back on the cards and a book called Cult Cinema, which is about bad religion in film) is the title of the project. Body horror is part of it, but it’s also about how that affects who we are. I identify as nonbinary, pansexual and neurodiverse, and a lot of this stuff speaks to me, since a lot of the films I’ve been looking at are about the challenge to human identity in the face of existential threats – inner changes reflect external traumas. Your great book The Rust Maidens is very much an identity horror.
The films I’m looking at are often queer, and they actively queer the human self for better or worse, with odd penetrations, or psychological transformations. You get films about parenthood, gender, race, sexuality. Films featuring doppelgängers and brainwashing. Cronenberg is a touchstone, obviously (Videodrome! eXistenZ! Crash! Shivers! The Brood!) but you can see the themes in a surprisingly large range of movies. Like Possession, with its crazy marriage break up, tentacle infidelity and disease-God; or Upstream Color, where identity theft is something that literally happens to a couple of people who share its trauma. A lot of these films might have difficult content, so you’ve got The Skin I Live In, which I’m still not sure is transphobic or transadvocate, and Lucille Hadzihalilovic’s Evolution where body horror and weird hybridisation is a vehicle for extreme child abuse, making for a super queasy film. And as for Tetsuo, you can sum it up with one word: drillpenis.
Anyway. I’m still staking my claim as to why identity horror is a valid subgenre. I’ll be working on this for a while yet.
You’re also a fiction writer. What are you working on in terms of fiction at the moment?
I’m always writing short stories, and recently I did some for a role-playing game called Threefold and another one, a folk horror game called Solemn Vale.
As for my personal work, the last thing I put out was a collection called this is not a picture. I’m about halfway through resurrecting an abandoned dystopian scifi comedy horror called P Squared, which I stopped working on first time because it was the most depraved, vile and unsettling thing I’d ever written. It’s about the commodification of human identity, and it’s sort of deliberately extreme, all splattered with blood and semen. It’s got a time travel temp agency, a character who accidentally sexually harasses themself, doppelgängers, clones, non consensual brain surgery and ridiculous amounts of sex and violence. The last chapter I edited has a scene where a university department commits an explosive mass suicide, and the slang term a character uses for this is a “hard Brexit”, which I guess is where my head is right now.
Where can we find you online?
You can find me at Room207press.com, but also at M4DeathTrip.podbean.com, where Jon and I are about to begin a new season of podcasts. I’m all about the crowd funding, so I guess I would be remiss not to mention patreon.com/HowardDavidIngham, where most of my blog writing finds its home first before being released out into the wild.
Tremendous thanks to Howard David Ingham for being part of this week’s author spotlight!