Phil Rickman

Phil Rickman

Phil Rickman is a British author best known for writing supernatural and mystery novels, often based on conflicting forces of paganism and other religions.

Rickman was born in Lancashire in northern England. He worked as a journalist for BBC World Service TV and BBC Radio 4. His first novel, Candlenight, won critical acclaim and gained Rickman the title of Britain's next great horror writer. He followed up with four more standalone novels, then began the Merrily Watkins series. The Merrily Watkins books, about a down-to-earth female priest of the Church of England employed as an exorcist, created a distinct new genre of crime thrillers with supernatural and spiritual causes. He occasionally writes under the pseudonym Will Kingdom. Rickman is married and lives on the Welsh borders, and currently has a radio show on BBC Radio Wales about books, "Phil the Shelf".

Rickman's novels often involve Celtic mythology, native earthworks (especially stone circles), and oppositions of various spiritual forces. Characters often carry over from one novel to the next, usually as minor characters in one or more novels and major characters in another. Novels generally revolve around small towns and their spiritual legacies, often interwoven with current political issues. Most of his novels address the tensions between "locals," the longtime residents of rural areas, and "incomers" who have recently moved to the area; these conflicts have a socio-economic dimension reminiscent of gentrification, but in Rickman's hands they often assume a supernatural or spiritual aspect as well. Music is also an important theme in many of his books, from fictional bands to Nick Drake.

The Early Novels

"Candlenight" is set in the strangely idyllic Welsh village Y Groes and in the gritty, bleak town of Pontmeurig (based, says Rickman, on "Bettws Cedewain, near Newtown in Powys" and on "Llandovery in Carmarthenshire" respectively [] ). In Pontmeurig, English "incomers" face hostility; yet in nearby Y Groes, the English couple Giles and Claire are welcomed with utter serenity -- and find that they are the only "incomers" in the entire village.
*Rickman draws on various aspects of Welsh folklore, including the "Gwrach y Rhibyn" (witch of Rhibin), the Bird of Death, the "toili" (phantom funeral), and the "Canwyll Gorff" (corpse-candle) which gives the book its title.

"Crybbe", published as "Curfew" in the United States, concerns the arrival of New Age enthusiasts in the eponymous Welsh border village of Crybbe. Crybbe is a fictional town, but Rickman suggests that curious readers visit "Knighton and Presteigne in Powys, Clun and Bishop's Castle in south-west Shropshire. It isn't really any of them, but you'll get the idea." Rickman also concedes that Stephen King's "Salem's Lot" was an influence on "Crybbe". [] This novel introduces Joe Powys, who also appears in Rickman's novel "Chalice", and Gomer Parry, a regular in the Merrily Watkins novels.
*The novel features dowsing, ley lines, and the magical experiments of John Dee, as well as a version of the supernatural black dog (sometimes called the Gwyllgi) which appears in much British and even American folklore.

The Merrily Watkins Novels

"The Wine of Angels" introduces Merrily Watkins, the new -- and female -- parish priest for the town of Ledwardine, in Herefordshire, as well as her bright, sarcastic daughter Jane, their formidable neighbor Lucy Devenish, and the withdrawn musician Lol Robinson.
*Three notable influences on this novel are Ella Mary Leather's "Folklore of Herefordshire", the poetry of Thomas Traherne, and the music of Nick Drake.

In "Midwinter of the Spirit" Merrily becomes the official exorcist for the diocese of Hereford; although she continues to be the parish priest of Ledwardine, she finds herself spending a lot of time in Hereford, particularly at Hereford Cathedral, in the course of her new -- and terrifying -- duties.

In "A Crown of Lights", Merrily tries to negotiate a conflict between Neopagans and charismatic Christians which erupts in Old Hindwell, a village near Radnor Forest.
*The title refers to the Neopagans' planned celebration of Imbolc.

"The Cure of Souls" features an apparently haunted hop-kiln in Knight's Frome, a village on the River Frome in the Frome Valley. Prof Levin and Simon St. John, characters from Rickman's novel "December", both appear.
*This novel draws on |Roma folklore, including the legend of the mulo.

"The Lamp of the Wicked" concerns murders surrounding the village of Underhowle, near Ross-on-Wye, close to the border of Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. Moira Cairns, a character from Rickman's "December" and "The Man in the Moss", appears.
*Phil Rickman calls this "the Cromwell Street novel" [] ; it also draws somewhat on the practices of Aleister Crowley, including sex magic, and discusses the use of sigils.

In "The Prayer of the Night Shepherd" Merrily's daughter Jane is working at Stanner Hall, a hotel on the English-Welsh border (near the village of Kington) which may or may not have been the model for Arthur Conan Doyle's Baskerville Hall.

"The Smile of a Ghost" takes place not in Herefordshire, but in Ludlow, a town in Shropshire; the mayor of Ludlow requests Merrily's help after two suicides occur in the reputedly haunted Ludlow Castle.

"Remains of an Altar", another Merrily Watkins novel, is based around the Malvern Hills area of Herefordshire/Worcestershire.

Cast of characters

Apart from Merrily Watkins, numerous characters appear in multiple books.

*Merrily Watkins - female protagonist, Anglican priest and Deliverance Consultant.
*Jane Watkins - Merrily's fiercely intelligent and strong-willed teenage daughter, navigating her way through growing up as the Vicar's child along with the usual pains of love and teenage angst
*Lol Robinson - sometime love interest of Merrily, singer songwriter with a scarred past
*Gomer Parry - a tenderly-drawn portrait of a local man who would otherwise have been lost in himself in encroaching old age, but who has become Merrily's confidante and protector of "the little Vicar" and Jane. When Gomer's glasses start to shine, something interesting is always about to happen...
*Danny Thomas - ex-musician and now local handyman.
*Annie Howe - An ambitious police officer with a fast track career, who has little sympathy for supernatural explanations or Merrily's interference
*Frannie Bliss - A more sympathetic, but slightly lower-ranked, police officer
*Andy Mumford - Down to earth polcie sergeant
*Sophie - Formidably efficient secretary at the Bishop's Palace
*Bernie Dunmore - The bishop in charge of Merily in the later books - a man close to retirement who probably wouldn't have been promoted to bishop had an unexpected vacancy not needed filling as a result of an early book's events
*Prof Levin - legend of the music industry, now running a recording studio in the border country and intent on resurrecting Lol's career
*Simon St. John -
*Nick Drake - real-life British singer-songwriter of the 60s and 70s, dead at the age of 26, whose influence permeates the novels so greatly that his presence is felt almost as a living character


*Candlenight, 1991
*Crybbe (US Curfew), 1993
*The Man in the Moss, 1994
*December, 1994
*The Chalice, 1997

The Merrily Watkins books

*The Wine of Angels, 1998
*Midwinter of the Spirit, 1999
*A Crown of Lights, 2001
*The Cure of Souls, 2001
*The Lamp of the Wicked, 2002
*The Prayer of the Night Shepherd, 2004
*The Smile of a Ghost, 2005
*Remains of an Altar, 2006
*The Fabric of Sin, 2007
*To Dream of the Dead, 2008

As Will Kingdom

*The Cold Calling, 1998
*Mean Spirit, 2001

As Thom Madley

*Marco's Pendulum, 2006
*Marco and the Blade of Night, 2007

External links

* [ Official Website]
* [ Phil the Shelf official website]
* [ Interview from The New Writer, September 1997]
* [ Interview with counterculture]
* [ Interview with BBC]

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