How does a childhood interest in ghost stories and horror grow into a fascination with the scientific study of the paranormal? And how does that in turn feed back into creating dramas about the supernatural?
Stephen Volk is an avowed sceptic, yet repeatedly drawn to telling tales of the spooky and other-worldly, in books, on stage, on film and for the small screen, working both in Britain and in Hollywood.
He will be talking about his reasons for writing in the genre and his attitude to his subject matter, beginning with the dubious success of the controversial (some say legendary) 1992 BBC Halloween “hoax” Ghostwatch – which jammed the switchboard at the BBC and caused questions to be raised in Parliament – continuing with his experience as creator and lead writer of the 2005-6 peak-time drama series Afterlife, about a troubled medium (Lesley Sharp) and an even more troubled psychologist (Andrew Lincoln), which ran for two award-winning seasons on ITV.
He will also describe how his 1920s-set screenplay for The Awakening (2011), starring Rebecca Hall and Dominic West was influenced directly by the history of psychical research.
His latest TV show also straddles the areas of fear, psychology and belief: a three-part adaptation of Phil Rickman’s novel Midwinter of the Spirit, premiering on ITV in Autumn 2015, and starring two-time BAFTA-winner Anna Maxwell Martin as C of E “Deliverance Minister” (exorcist to you and me) Merrily Watkins.
Stephen Volk’s many screenplays include The Guardian, co-written with the director of The Exorcist, William Friedkin, and Ken Russell’s Gothic starring Natasha Richardson and Gabriel Byrne. His ghostly stage play The Chapel of Unrest was presented in 2013 at London’s Bush Theatre starring Jim Broadbent and Reece Shearsmith, and his play about the Fox sisters, Answering Spirits, appeared at the Edinburgh Festival.
His short stories have been chosen for Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Best British Mysteries, and Best British Horror, he has been a Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson Award finalist, and his second collection, Monsters in the Heart, won the British Fantasy Award in 2014. His highly-acclaimed novella Whitstable, featuring revered Hammer horror star Peter Cushing, has just been accompanied by a follow-up, Leytonstone, about the boyhood of Alfred Hitchcock.