An insider's guide to the county's best kept secrets
INTERVIEW WITH PIERS WARREN, AUTHOR OF BLACK SHUCK,
A SUPERNATURAL THRILLER SET IN NORTH NORFOLK
We’ve all heard of the Hound of the Baskervilles, set in the wilds of
Dartmoor, but many believe the book’s inspiration came from the Norfolk
legend known as Black Shuck. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took a golfing
holiday in West Runton and Cromer in 1901 where he heard the tale of
our Norfolk devil’s dog and a year later his book was published. Over a
century on the Norfolk legend lives on, this time through the eyes of local
wildlife film-maker Piers Warren. His supernatural thriller – Black Shuck:
The Devil’s Dog – is set in the village of Blakeney where Harry, its central
character, is taking time out to bird watch. Staying at the Watch House
by Blakeney Point, home of the seal colonies, he finds himself in the path
of a phantom hell hound, a spectral portent of death patrolling the coast.
Was Piers influenced by the Hound of the Baskervilles? How did
the idea of his thriller come about? We caught up with him over a coastal dog walk to find out...
“I wasn’t particularly influenced by Doyle’s book as the Norfolk legends of Shuck are vivid enough. I’d heard these tales around 10 years ago and they were so evocative they stayed in my head. For a long time I thought of it in terms of a movie but then it occurred to me to write it as a thriller based around Blakeney – the area of Norfolk I know best. Now I’m hoping the book will be made into a movie”.
Harry appears to be based on yourself, is there much likeness?
“More than many people realise. Many of Harry’s past adventures and traumas were based on real things that happened to me. In that sense it was quite cathartic writing the book”.
How did you get into wildlife film-making?
“I’ve had a life-long passion for wildlife and conservation and so when I started working in multi-media in the 90s, I managed to introduce more and more wildlife projects until it took over my life! In 1999 I started WILDEYE which is now known as The International School of Wildlife film-making (still based in Norfolk) and is one of the achievements I’m most proud of”.
Your career history is varied and fascinating –which have been your favourite adventures?
“Discovering the wildlife of East Africa comes to mind first, and getting to know the wonderful Maasai people. But having said that, it’s pretty hard to beat floating in a boat in Blakeney harbour on a sunny day, listening to the birds calling – curlew, oyster catcher, redshank ...”
Having been all over the world, what makes Norfolk so special to you?
“The space, the big skies, the amazing wildlife and lack of motorways – I love it here”.
Was it important for you to really capture the essence of this area of the Norfolk coastline and do you think you achieved this?
“I wanted the book to be very real in terms of location, and as the coastline from Morston, through Blakeney and Cley to Salthouse is my favourite part of the world, it was no hardship to do the research. I have known this area for many years and have explored it by boat as well as on foot. I even stayed at The Watch House (on the shingle spit between Cley and Blakeney Point) on my own before writing the book so I could get every detail accurate as well as soak up the atmosphere. And yes – I did hear strange noises at night! It was also important for me to describe the wildlife of the region, and how better to do this than through the eyes of Harry, a fellow wildlife film-maker”.
Can tourists actually re-live the steps Harry took in the book and experience the setting themselves?
“Yes definitely. I would recommend visitors first read Black Shuck and then explore the Blakeney and Cley region where they will find things just as described in the book. You can visit the deli Picnic Fayre in Cley for example and feast on many of the delights mentioned in the story. It’s even possible to have a stay at The Watch House – if you’re brave enough!
Through your work you’ve experienced many wildlife escapades; can we expect another Harry adventure in the making?
“Yes – Harry returns to Norfolk and more spooky goings-on ensue. But I have to finish the book first!”
Finally, as we walk, I notice your eyes wandering – do you really look for paw prints in the sand?
“Yes of course! And there are plenty! The best ones are the really large ones on freshly exposed sand with no sign of the maker – watch your back, you never know when Black Shuck is about...”
Thanks Piers Warren, you’ve changed our relaxed Norfolk dog walking days forever now!
Black Shuck is available via www.black-shuck.co.uk (paperback or kindle) and in many Norfolk bookshops.
(Samantha Boulter of Heacham wins our competition of a signed copy of the book - congrats Sam!)
Thanks To Piers Warren for taking the time to chat with us and for supporting Finest of Norfolk.
Check out our other Norfolk related book features:
Isobel's Son by M J Knox (coming soon)