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Apart from having a name which looks like an anagram of itself, I was totally intrigued by this ‘legend’ from the minute I was made aware of its existence by MJ Wayland over on Twitter. The more I read about it, the more I loved the story, probably for all the wrong reasons. There had been reports of a very large angry bird type thing in the churchyard as far back as the 1920s, whose reputation was enough to attract the attention of loved up Surrealists Leonora Carrington and Max Ernst who allegedly performed rituals to try to summon the beast in 1937. But the most famous sighting of the Owlman occurred in 1976 - whilst holidaying in Cornwall, two (probably v bored) young girls caught sight of what they described as a very large bird with glowing red eyes and claws like blacksmith’s pincers hovering over the church, as reported to monster investigator, storyteller, magician and all round character Tony ‘Doc’ Shiels. A number of other sightings were sporadically recorded but dismissed as having been engineered by Shiels, who had a bit of a reputation as a hoaxer. It’s all so obviously utter nonsense, and easily explained away (er, it’s a big owl) but there’s something about it which has captured the imagination of fans of the unexplained / Surrealist painters for decades. The idea itself is terrifying, the environs evocative and a bit spooky and the name of the place is a gift, like something out of Lord of the Rings. I based this picture on an old postcard of the churchyard, and for some reason decided the Owlman should be wearing a cable knit jumper, a pair of jeans and some brogue style boots, inspired as I was by the ones my friend Ruth was wearing yesterday when we met up for a walk.

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The apparent chronic haunting over 12 years of a teenage girl, Shirley Hitchings and her family, at their home in Wycliffe Road, South London, by the ghost of the son of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, nicknamed Donald. From 1956, Donald’s ‘residence’ at the Hitchings family home in Battersea was characterised by chaos and disruption: Donald chucked furniture and household objects, levitated Shirley, set fire to tea towels, stole jewellery for Shirley, wrote letters in a peculiar Franglais and even got Shirley sacked from Selfridges. The haunting became headline news, was discussed in the House of Commons and drew the attention of Harold Chibbett, tax man by day and an eminent ghost hunter by night, who investigated the case throroughly at the time, becoming pretty much part of the family. Danny Robbins’ recent Bafflegab produced podcast series on BBC Sounds is well worth a listen if you want to know more. This drawing was one of the pulling teeth ones - each constituent part seemed to work quite well, but I found it really hard to pull everything together, which is my own fault for not planning it beforehand.

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Updated: Mar 13, 2023

This 2018 supernatural thriller has it all - a big old spooky but v desirable house in the middle of Welsh nowhere, grumpy locals, trees, the occult, tragedy, mystery, suicide, an exquisitely creepy soundtrack and titles to match, top historical magician John Dee, and the best fringe in British TV history. The owner of the fringe is Matilda (Lydia Wilson), a brilliant young cellist who finds her life upended when she witnesses the gruesome suicide of her mother just before she is due to go on the Big London Stage with her regular pianist and best friend Hal (Joel Fry). Unbeknown to her many miles away, local landowner Ewan Dean has also killed himself after smashing every reflective surface in his house. Finding a box of photos and news clippings amongst her mothers effects relating to the disappearance of a 4 year old girl more than 20 years previously, Matilda drags Hal off to the town of Penllynith to investigate, shoving aside her grief and replacing it with a zealous need for answers. Only child and creative genius that she is, Matilda proves herself tenacious, capricious, determined and single minded to the point of pig headed as she and the more reluctant Hal do their bull in a china shop routine, thoroughly disgruntling locals and the local policewoman alike, especially once Matilda has decided that she must be the missing child Carys. The discovery of a collection of very weird reel to reel recordings and black scrying mirrors in a hidden underground room in the Big House sets them on a very sinister course indeed. I haven’t managed to rewatch the whole series before drawing this, but I heartily recommend it. It’s a really meaty, mysterious, involved tale, just the right side of ludicrous, genuinely effing scary in places and at heart an old fashioned haunted house mystery. I love the titles, designed by the incredible Dan Hillier (incidentally, the ever talented spookster Richard Wells was the graphic designer on the series as a whole) and decided to try and emulate their beautiful monochrome kaleidoscopic design with my illustration. Wow, was that confusing. I enjoyed drawing this, but I could have gone on forever trying out different permutations of my rotated mirrored drawings. I’ve included the original drawing, which I like but thought the four way reflection didn’t really work. I realised far too late I’d started in the wrong place on the canvas, and should have had eight Matildas. But then she wouldn’t have been symmetrical (which I kind of liked as it makes her look even weirder). So tried to copy and rotate it, with different filters. Etc. If it was Richard who did the titles, blooming hats off to him. Check them out and the rest of the series too, obv, on Netflix.

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