PodUK 2020 Horror Panel Transcript

Alasdair Stuart 5:33

Good afternoon, everybody and welcome to the horror panel. This is less a panel, more a cartographic expedition within which myself and my elite colleagues over here will attempt to map for you some of the more interesting and innovative elements of modern podcast audio horror. The best possible thing we can do at the top of every doomed expedition is of course, take the photo. You know, the one where people get crossed out as the polar bears eat them. [laughter]

See, same wavelength. So what we're going to start off with is introductions and I'll have all of us explain who we are and what we do and what kind of shows we work on. I'll start I'm Alasdair, your moderator for this evening. I co own the Escape Artists Podcast Network, along with my partner Margeurite Kenner. We produce four shows: Escape Pod which does science fiction, Pseudopod, which does horror, Cast of Wonders, which does YA, and Podcastle, which does fantasy. I host Pseudopod, the horror show, for a frankly, horrifying amount of time. Seriously, I don't want to think about it. I think there's, I think I'm on the Bayeux tapestry recording episode 49. In addition to all of that, I also write about the genre a fair amount, and I've turned up in several other voice acting capacities, most recently, as Peter Lukas, who is the unsung Hero of The Magnus Archives.

I'm on film. I'm on film doing this!

Alex Newall 7:06


Alasdair Stuart 7:09

Percy, whose queen, who if everyone who listened to nothing bad would have happened, not that anything bad happens at the end of the Magnus Archives season 4. And speaking of the Magnus Archives, Alex.

Alex Newall 7:21

Hi. And so I'm the CEO of Rusty Quill limited, which is a podcast production company and Podcast Network. And we generate a large number of shows the most relevant of which to this panel is called The Magnus Archives, which is a horror series that pretends to be an anthology but it's not. And and basically, I think that's as succinct as I can really get. So

Gemma Amor 7:21

Hi, I'm Gemma, I'm the CEO of nothing. I write for I write for a number of horror podcasts I write for the no sleep podcast. I co write and voice act in a horror comedy show starring Kate Segal called Calling Darkness. I am also in season two of shadows at the door which Mr. Ault is involved in and various other scary spooky shows hiding on the internet. I'm also a writer. I write books and novels and various other. That's me. This is David.

David Ault 8:24

As Gemma said, I am David. David Ault. I am a voice actor in the NoSleep podcast just 48 hours ago came back off tour for a European tour so don't quite know what day it is or where I am. But I'm also the co host of shadows at the door with Mr. Mark Nixon here. And we do ghost stories M. r. James style horror with old stuff that has been adapted and new stuff from writers like Gemma Amor. I'm also on the white Vault and various other things so yes. I'm also Byron and the buyer in Chronicles, which has been going since 2006. [awe from the audience] I know Yes, I was fresh out of university and this American guy said, Would you like a podcast.

Yes. Then they get you hooked.

Alasdair Stuart 9:23

Oh, we're gonna be fine.

So this is your elite team of completely doomed scientists who are gonna walk up to the big squamous rogos blob of horror, poke it and see what happens. And the first question I want to ask everybody and I'm going to start at the other end and work back this time is what brings you to horror as a genre in particular?

David Ault 9:49

I think I arrived at horror via sci fi probably one of the reasons I got into voice acting all those many many years ago was Doctor Who. I was - it was in the the wilderness years between 1989 and 2005. Where there was no doctor who on TV - it was it was a long, long time. And the BBC started doing audio dramas with the old doctors and I really enjoyed those and I thought, Oh, are there any other people doing doctor who audio dramas, found some people online, listened to their work, listened to others. And then I've always liked ghost stories. So yes, I got involved with darker projects, then pendant audio, and basically it's sort of gone from there, but it's a deep seated love of ghost stories and coming in via sci fi.

Gemma Amor 10:46

I think I came probably via fantasy first, my first and biding love is fantasy. I grew up on a diet of Robert Jordan and the Wheel of Time and the point horror books as well when I was a teenager And I've just always been - as a writer in particular, I'm drawn to making up things because you don't have to follow the rules. So that's why I will never write procedural crime drama because you have to know stuff and everything has to be based in an element of truth and with horror, you can pretty much invent your own landscape. Invent your own world. So. Yeah that's me.

Alex Newall 11:23

I mostly came to horror through convenience. [audience laughter]

Alasdair Stuart 11:27

That is the single most you sentence -

Alex Newall 11:31

Okay, so for me and horror, I suppose I have the most experience on the sci fi side as well actually. But in terms of horror as a medium, it is one that's interested me because I think it lead - it simultaneously, people think it's easiest one to get into because, you know, it's just like 'ah, the tropes they're there. You do the tropes and you've done a horror!' But at the same time, it also leaves you very little wiggle. room between good horror and hot garbage, which I quite like, operating in that space. But I have recently been made aware that the things that I make that aren't horror are still nightmare fuel? Which is news to me. I wasn't aware that's a thing, now I know. And so as a result I can I can work with that.

Alasdair Stuart 11:35

I came to horror ... very similar to David's in many ways. In that most of my entry point was science fiction, coupled with the fact that I was from a relatively young age, perpetrating an elaborate genetic con. I was about six foot by the time I was 13. And my voice broke really early. And that was useful, especially in a small rural community with a single screen cinema. And the nice old lady behind the counter whoat no point went, 'You're 18 aren't you sonny?' 'Yes!!!' She just kind of assumed and so I saw a frankly ridiculous amount of movies, I had no business seeing at least five years early. It left marks and very much a good way! It horribly traumatises you, but in a good way!

Alex Newall 13:20

This explains so much...!

Alasdair Stuart 13:24

Oh, and it's also partially Paul Daniels' fault. [audience gasps] For those of you who don't know, Paul Daniels was kind of the avatar of TV stage magic in the UK for a really long time. And he is one half of a very curious, binary experiment with horror that the BBC carried out and which went very well. And as a result, they were terrified. Never did it again.

David Ault 13:45

Was this Wizbit?

Alasdair Stuart 13:47

No, Wizbit is the thing of the demon realms. Not to be brought forth like - Youtube Wizbit, and we're not sorry. We're not sorry. Paul Daniels famously did a Halloween special in the very early 1990s, where he finished with an elaborate escape, which was supposed to be him getting out of an Iron Maiden, which is not him having the band fired at him at high velocity but rather a very large spiky cupboard, which shut on him and apparently killed him. And they just didn't mention anything about it for like two hours and of course, being terribly British my family I've watched this and went, 'fairly certain we've just seen a man die. ..D'you want a cup of tea? [audience laughter]

And this this landed in a very similar kind of period of time to Ghostwatch. Ghostwatch, for those of you who haven't seen it, is terrifying, terrifying. It's terrifying in an insidious and really evil way. It is presented as a terrible early 90s live TV event. It's presented by the exact people you think would present a terrible early 1990s live TV event and then about half an hour in, very slowly it starts to go to hell. And the final sequence which involves these words in various stages of combination: TV studio, flames, demonic voice, talk show host.. seared themselves into my brain so the whole time I'm going along going obviously I'm science fiction guy cuz I like spaceships and nuns from hell..! Pseudopod finally let me realise that I was a horror guy wearing a space suit! And that's kind of where I am. So I'm going to jump around a little bit in order and ask Gemma my next question which is what keeps you in horror?

Gemma Amor 15:34

I think the licence to be as imaginative as you can, you can do anything with horror and I love that and I was talking to somebody at the stand earlier on today. So my jam is people based horror, I write about people first and foremost. And my main concern when I sit down to write anything is is how the characters' feeling, what are their main motivations? How do they go through their lives and why. And the decisions and the Stories grow up around the people. And sometimes the horror is almost incidental. It's something that happens around them. But with horror, you can just, it's just free licence to let your imagination run riot. And I think that's what keeps me there. And I do dip into sci fi and I do dip into the more kind of psychological thriller side of things, but I like ghosts and ghoulies and monsters and things that go bump in the night, because you can just let your imagination go. And yeah, that keeps me keeps me firmly grounded.

David Ault 16:33

Absolutely, well, everything that Gemma just said. But also I the thing with horror, and especially with ghost stories is that they are timeless. They don't have they can be absolutely present day but they can be so timeless, which I don't need to explain the word.

But that's what horror and especially audio hora.

I love the all the audio medium Simply because it leaves all of the details to your imagination. It is all there and you are painting your own pictures and you can scare yourself as much as you want to, with what you're listening to, or if it's on a book, what you're reading and so that that's, that's what I like it, it becomes a lot more personal to you as the as the devour of the horror. If you like that's, that's my Yeah.

Alex Newall 17:33

For me, I'm gonna give a sort of shorter term answer, which is that for reasons beyond my understanding, but I'm happy to know, cosmic horror is currently basically getting in vogue, which is phenomenally useful. But what that also means is - oh God, Alex has just had a brain drop from like 10 years ago. Okay, cool. So we have emergent culture. We have dominant culture and we have residual culture. As lovecraftian horror shifts from emergent to dominant, one is left wondering what is emergent next. Now what I'm what I'm getting at is -- [audience laughter]

yeah, I just channelled a 10 year younger version of me who was a pompous ass.

Gemma Amor 18:18

very intimidating.

Alex Newall 18:19

So what what is interesting to me is we all know now what's currently interesting, what's kind of in vogue and what's going there. But for horror, we are due something new. And the same way that sort of the zombie trope came in and then kind of faded and so on, we are now due one. And a lot of the time what is due next is defined by what leaves public domain because that is what allows -- sorry what *enters* public domain, because it allows experimentation within the space. So it's like, Okay, cool. This thing has become public domain, it's fair game. And in podcasting, what we are as an industry is one enormous playground where people get to make things that *no one* in their right mind would *ever* option for anywhere else. Right up until it's successful and go, 'Oh, yes, we were definitely thinking about that.' But what that means is that right now we are due a big new thing - and I don't know what it is, for horror - combined with an industry that's still able to just suddenly have 10,000 people go, 'I think it's this!', 9000 to be wrong and everyone to still be having a good time and not care. You know, like, that's why I'm here right now, if you know what I mean.

Alasdair Stuart 19:26

I'm in horror because I really like [?], especially cultural ones. I firmly believe horror is one of the most fundamentally hopeful genres of fiction there is and it's hopeful, I think in two very different ways. There is the schadenfreude element, which is well at least that's not happening to me.

Alex Newall 19:43


Alasdair Stuart 19:47

And there's also the survival element. And I mean, this is kind of an easy get, but I think an awful lot about cabin in the woods, and about the moral dilemma that breaks down very starkly in the final 15 minutes of that, and where various characters land; that idea, that kind of visceral interaction with ethics, something which I think horror does. I wouldn't say no other genre does it because I know lots of other people in those genres and I know where I live. But I think horror engages with it in a way that very few others do. And I really respond to that. And I've my dark days, I've had tremendous strength in horror stories.

Gemma Amor 20:27

I think, yeah, to add to that, I think for me personally, as well, I have been very open about mental health issues and my own experiences with them. And I feel like horror is a safe space, a safe space to explore that and I think a lot of horror fans are drawn to the genre for that reason, they find actually scary stories quite comforting for their anxiety issues. I know I do. But also you can -- ..there is a lot of horror to be found in the everyday and in your own struggles and in your own story. So I think that also keeps me in the genre because I run about these things, those things interest me and I explore my own issues through the thing, the things that I write. Yeah, I think you're Yeah.

Alasdair Stuart 21:09

I want to pick up on something which Alex mentioned, which is the idea of 'the thing that's coming'. For two reasons. Firstly, because my favourite definition of horror is William Friedkin's one of how true horror is seeing something approach. And secondly, because I'm curious, it plays very neatly into one of the things I wanted to talk about, which is, why do we think horror audience is growing? Because it is.

Alex Newall 21:31

Be happy to take a stab.

Alasdair Stuart 21:33

Please do. Take several!

Alex Newall 21:36

I think certainly one element is picking up on what Gemma was just saying, which is that horror is a very useful space for you to literalise issues both of the time and of a personal nature and stab them repeatedly. By which I mean, yeah, it's really useful to have a space where allegory is not only encouraged, but accepted and a bloody useful tool. But what that means is shocker - in times of uncertainty, horror tends to do well. And it's because what you're doing is - at least what you can do, this is not the only answer by any means - is you can take The Big Questions, you know, 'are we all doomed?' and maybe bit smaller, and you know, like, questions about economy, questions about mental health, genuinely anything that's really gnawing at people, the thing that you wake up in the morning and you have that thought again and go - *deep sigh*.

And then what it does is it allows you to transcribe that onto a landscape that has A: a set of rules that you can navigate - 'don't open the door.' If you open the door, you deserve it, c'mon. And don't split up. But my point is, these are these knowable rules which help you codify this weird, scary idea that you've got into something that you can navigate because we all know how Stories work. So when a character is navigating that space, you're navigating it with them. And then the additional thing is it makes them conquerable, like Alasdair was saying about survivable is, if your world is trying to kill your characters and your world is an allegory for whatever you want to explore. If your characters are surviving that, you're taking that journey with them, you'll survive anything that you're afraid of. And I should stress that's not the be all and end all of horror. In fact, that's often not the way that I personally engage with horror, but I think sort of culturally speaking, that probably strikes a note with a decent number of people

Alasdair Stuart 22:54

Cool! Either of you two want to jump in?

Gemma Amor 23:34

I'm just trying to think of a way of phrasing it. I want to use the term humanist, but I'm not sure that's the right expression -

Alasdair Stuart 23:46

Sounds good to me!

Gemma Amor 23:47

But it's the idea that, you know, we're all human and there are certain things in our lives that drive us from the day we're born, to the day that we cease to be, and they're quite basic things. I think in times of hardship, for example, you know, we've been having a bit of a shitty time in this country lately and people revert back to those humanist principles as things to sort of comfort themselves with. If that makes - Does that make sense? I'm gabbling. I gabble. Yeah, it's Yeah. And it's about, it's about something that you can relate to, I think as a reader or a listener, or watcher, or a consumer of any kind of media. And I think the popularity increases, particularly in conjunction with things like Netflix streaming and looking for content, and they want so much content that we're now seeing much more prevalence with horror on things like TV. And I think that goes hand in hand with podcasting and everything else. So I feel like it's a human driven thing. Like we want to watch and listen and consume things that remind us of ourselves. Which sci fi perhaps you don't, it's grander, isn't it? The scale is grander with sci-fi.

Alasdair Stuart 25:01

It's almost the payoff between pragmatism and realism

Gemma Amor 25:04

You said that much more efficiently than I -

Alasdair Stuart 25:08

I couldn't have got there without you!

Gemma Amor 25:09

-- going around the houses and you got there in like one second.

David Ault 25:14

And I think it also, it also gives people control over what is going on in the horror. Because as we've been saying, we've been we've not been having a fun time recently, anywhere in the world really. And that can be very, it can give a lot of people a lot of anxiety about -- especially where you, you can't do anything about it. We're fed news with with a theme tune which is like a heartbeat and we're conditioned to take in this news and be filled with this horror that is happening out there, but we can't do anything about it! We're given the option once every --Two years, four years, once every five years to even have a go at doing something. And that puts us in a really -

Gemma Amor 26:10

- a bind -

David Ault 26:11

It is! It's a horribly helpless place. So having the opportunity either to write horror and externalise or to watch it and go along with it, but also be able to stop it. Gives us that control over over some aspect of this emotional stimulus.

Alasdair Stuart 26:34

Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, those are all amazingly great answers. I'm actually just letting that sink in for a second. All of this seems to be building up to something which we will touch on, which is the sense of there is something coming next in the field. And I'm curious before we get into the kind of nitty gritty of the logistics of voice acting, and kind of soliciting work and script writing and being the arch.. lich nemesis genius child and all of that.

You were given a cloak today..! [audience laughter]

Gemma Amor 27:10

Don't look at me!

I've never had a cloak before!

Alasdair Stuart 27:20

what do we think is next for the field?

Gemma Amor 27:24

I think you'll see more genre blending. I think Say for example, cosmic horror, folk horror, cosmic folk horror, that kind of genre crossover -

Alex Newall 27:34

cosmic folk horror, that's the answer! I bloody love that!

David Ault 27:38

Coming soon from rusty quill! [audience laughter]

Gemma Amor 27:42

You can't have that, that's mine this is copyrighted now to me! But you know, like I think people are getting much more adventurous and also, unique ideas are kind of few and far between. Now, in the field, there is no such thing as a unique idea. Everything's been done before. That's why we have tropes and tropes are enjoyable for that reason.

Alasdair Stuart 28:00

And we'll be getting to them.

Gemma Amor 28:01

Yeah. But you can have a new take on an old fashioned trope. And one of the ways of doing that is by blending the genre. And I think that's where we'll go. I think we'll see a lot more crossover between, like I said, those kind of sub genres, if that makes sense.

David Ault 28:23

I'm certainly thinking Armageddon, just in general.

Alasdair Stuart 28:28

Possibly also in fiction

David Ault 28:29

and also Yes, possibly. Yeah, I think that with films like Midsommar, and what was the other one?

Alasdair Stuart 28:40


David Ault 28:40

Hereditary, that's the one! Sort of bringing back Wicker Man style ideas - Yeah, I'd go along with the folk horror, but I'm just thinking what's out there in the world today. How can that be reflected because it was about 10 years ago that that was that huge swell of - like weather films. [panel agrees] Then suddenly everything was being destroyed by cold or wind or tornadoes or something. And there's just a huge swell at the time and as we look at the world today, I think probably more personal horror -

Gemma Amor 28:41

Plague stories -

David Ault 29:19

plague stories but yeah, I think personal slash folk slash... slash.

Gemma Amor 29:26

But everything cycles as well - trends cycle, and like David said you'll have a spate of disaster moviesand then a spate of something else - it'll all just go through the various cycles and then come back to slashers probably in about 10 years time if you're talking movies

Alasdair Stuart 29:44

There is there is one thing I've seen a little bit of evidence for and I think this will be fascinating, which is we might actually be in the time period where Lovecraft is successfully contextualised, his corpse separated from its bones Those bones salted and buried in multiple locations across the Earth, lest he rise again! We are a couple of weeks out I think from the release of a movie adaptation of The Colour Out of Space, which is one of the genuinely very good Lovecraft stories directed by Richard Stanley who directed Hardware which is a film which feels like you have contracted a fever while you're watching it. And starring Nicolas Cage(!) [audience laughter]

we might be off to the races here my friends! All joking aside, there are multiple projects which seems to be approaching Lovecraft in a in a very kind of clear eyed .. way, 'wild eyed and hasn't slept for two weeks' way, which are engaging with very negative elements of his past and his beliefs and finding something positive that they can tear off those bits to get to and I would... One of the core frustrations of this field, I often find, is that it's its tendency to feel the very strong gravitational pull of Lovecraft in particular. And I, I like new things. I like things which have been created by people who don't look like they could conceivably be my brother, or the uncle that we really don't like to talk to. I like those stuff as well. I just like new things a lot, too. And I would be really interested and very hopeful to see the field kind of going that direction.

Gemma Amor 31:24

I think that's a good point as well to mention representation in horror. And horror diversifying through for example, women in horror, much more obvious movement now of women writing horror, doing very well. And all sorts of different diverse voices; Latinx horror, the full works and if you hang out on Twitter at all, you'll see various different hashtags and, and things trending and I think that will influence the genre as well hugely as we move forward.

Alasdair Stuart 31:50

And even better because there's always a tendency with foreign language material to assume it's terribly worthy, and it's not, it's all -- there are just as many greasy cheeseburgers with foreign language subtitles on them as there aren't. There's a Netflix show called Diabolero, which is literally Supernatural just in Mexico. And it's exactly as much fun as that sounds, so that there's so much great stuff out there. And one of the upsides of the late stage capitalist consumer culture, we are all trapped in is it's much easier to get to. So yay!

Alex Newall 32:24

if I may, I know we wanna move on, but you know me, I can't shut up! And I think with the risk of sounding like I'm trying to devalue horror - I'm not - that there is a reactionary element to horror as well, which is one of the ways that you can see the shape of things to come in terms of horror, is you look at the way of the shape of what's what's big at the moment. And horror is going to deliberately try and do something different to that or underwhelm now or break it apart into little bits. So take a look around you what what you seen a lot of at the moment - what's that? Disney owns the world? And it's all superheroes as far as the eye can see? My instincts say that as much as I would love a brand new Monster, it's not gonna happen. It's not the way it works. But what realistically I think you're going to start seeing is, the more that we lean into this homogenised model of storytelling, where -- and people rejected stuff like the dark universe, you know, the Tom Cruise one where basically when they went, 'cool, we'll make horror the way that we make all the other stuff that we make!' and everyone went 'nope, hate it. Don't do that.'

And I think that as a result, if you just take whatever's there, and invert it, you're at least gonna start getting the shape of things, I think, which means that I totally agree with you in that I think you're gonna start seeing probably a schism, if I'm honest, where I think you're going to see a lot of people still pushing for the huge scale like, you know, 'I sneezed and the world ended! Explore.' But also that real nitty gritty, grounded focused one and bringing in some of the more older styles like certain things coming back into circle where it's like, it is a very tight family drama. Well, one of the characters was dead all along or whatever. My point being that it's far more focused rather than the huge sprawling stuff, which is everywhere all the time.

Gemma Amor 34:09

I think less so perhaps with podcasting though and with audio drama you you have much more diverse material that tends to reach your ears before things reach your eyes on the screen. That makes sense. Yeah,

Alasdair Stuart 34:23

definitely. And further to that, I'm curious as to what tropes in audio, in audio horror, make the panel kind of sit up and pay attention.

Alex Newall 34:35

Audio specifically?

Alasdair Stuart 34:36

Audio specifically. We are at PodUK!

Gemma Amor 34:37

Well, I mean, from my perspective, probably from David's, we we are no sleep people. And we are big lovers of the creepypasta. So the creepypasta trope, I guess, is a trope.

Alasdair Stuart 34:48

Could you explain that just in case any of the audience don't know what it is?

Gemma Amor 34:51

So for anybody that doesn't know what creepypastas are, they're short internet based stories. And the NoSleep podcast in particular started by adapting the subreddit - so there's a subreddit with a load of very short, creepy stories written by whoever wanted to upload one. And it grew from there. So I think from my perspective, I am very fond of a creepypasta, I'm fond of a campfire story and I think that is a trope that will never die. And you can see it with the multitude of YouTube channels dedicated to it. Hundreds of podcasts out there that all do that kind of 'let's tell a scary story around the campfire'

Alasdair Stuart 35:26

it's a gleeful refusal to contextualise that I love about them. It's just 'here is a horrible thing that's happened, the end.'

Gemma Amor 35:38

and it's usually first person as well. So 'I went to the store and somebody chopped my head off the end.' And that's actually really enjoyable because you can relate to it and it's very easy and quick to digest and you can have fun with it. So I think that's my favourite trope - was that the question

David Ault 35:55

On the flip side, the long form claustrophobic, atmospherics slow burn ghost story or horror that builds up over time which is definitely the Jamesian style of shadows at the door that we enjoy but the white vault and things like that is a very claustrophobic slow burn - it's a bit like The Thing but even longer so that that's - The Long Thing. Yes.

We're being filmed Gemma!

So yes.

Alasdair Stuart 36:34

I was actually just about to say I'm really glad you brought that up(!) [laughter]

David Ault 36:40

Come again?

Alasdair Stuart 36:42

maybe later!

Gemma Amor 36:43

I'm getting real hot here..!

Alasdair Stuart 36:45

It's been a long day..! There's actually a new version of The Thing being - yeah. Which means one of two things: it will either be the equivalent of a three minute guitar solo, which is what really good Blumhouse movies tend to be, or will be the equivalent to three minutes of lift music guitar solo, which is what the other Blumhouse movies tend to be!

Gemma Amor 37:11

very sceptical.

Alex Newall 37:14

Okay, here's one that I I personally like playing ... which is on the sound design side. Let's go into the audio bit hard. I really like - so I don't - it's easy to say what I don't like then come back from that. So what I don't like is grossly overproduced; you know, I went up to the door - [loud creaking door imitation]. 'I stepped across the floor, *clonk clonk*. It's like, great, fabulous, you found a Foley kit, cool(!) What I real - Sorry, sorry! [laughter]

Alasdair Stuart 37:49

You're among friends! [laughter]

Alex Newall 37:50

Okay. There are no specific culprits I have in mind there -

Gemma Amor 37:53

It burns!

Alex Newall 37:54

All I mean though is that people who feel that, you know, it tends to come with jump scares, you know, open the door and there was a monster!! Blargghh!

Gemma Amor 38:01

I like a good jump scare! Especially with audio.

Alex Newall 38:03

See I don't mind - I like an *artful* scare. What I don't like is, ynow, 'welcome to th - BLARGH, got ya! Rargh!'

David Ault 38:11

Scare me like one of your French girls.

Alex Newall 38:13

Yeah exactly! But what I do like a lot is when people put the effort in to make something very calm, very measured very grounded and they treat the audio the same way that you treat the actual horror content itself, which is: the audio is perfectly normal in every way. Apart from this one... weird thing.. And as the story progresses that one weird thing grows more prevalent, much like the ghost in the room - you know the M R James thing of: you take the thing in the background, you slowly make the background overwhelm the foreground - that in sound, I love it where I listen to something and go ' that sounds kind of real!, and then I forget that I'm listening to horror for at least 15 minutes and then stuff gets weird and I realised it was weird for the last 10 minutes. That's what I like I think, but that's a very 'me' answer.

Alasdair Stuart 39:11

Good one though. I mean in terms of kind of horror tropes that excit me than any of you who are in the only audience this morning know that any story which involves letters and a sea monster, I'm dying happy, frankly. In terms of stuff which audio drama audio horror podcasts do very well. Honestly, everything that people in this panel produce has something in it which I really really respond to. NoSleep's wonderful ability to not only commit to creepypasta as an aesthetic but as an approach and the way that they use that to filter the lens of old school 1950s EC horror comics. You know, where, again, it just: here's a horrible thing. Can we stop it? No. Ahaha!

Alex Newall 40:00

This year 2020, that's your takeaway for this panel!

Alasdair Stuart 40:05

The White Vault, which is genuinely one of the best slow burn horror stories I've ever encountered, when you get to the end of the first season and I'm terrified! Five things have happened. But I'm terrifed! [laughter] It's an amazing show! Calling Darkness which, yes,

Gemma Amor 40:22

- we kind of take all of those tropes and gleefully stuff them into every single episode, as many as we can get in so that we can make fun of them

Alasdair Stuart 40:31

You have a self-aware narrator, as well.

Gemma Amor 40:33

We do have a self-aware narrator, yes.

Alasdair Stuart 40:34

As a kid who grew up watching Danger Mouse, self aware narrators are *it* for me. They're just so -

Alex Newall 40:41

How is that your go to? How is *that* your go to?!

Alasdair Stuart 40:45

Did you ever see the old school Danger Mouse -

Alex Newall 40:47

I do, it's just of all the choices -!

Alasdair Stuart 40:51

We don't have time to explain how Danger Mouse is an archetypal piece of late 20th Centure horror! Leave it with me. Also, M R James; I mean, I know I was busting on old dead white guys earlier - Well, Lovecraft is Lovecraft, screw him. But M R James is, if you're going to do horror stories, do M RJames - or ghost stories rather, do M R James for God's sake because he wrote hundreds of them. And they're all great. You know, and those four shows, and the one I do, because I also do a horror show, do a really, really good job of of kind of exposing some of the really interesting and positive elements of the field and doing it in fun and very and varied ways. And I mean, I, if you don't, if there are any of these shows that you don't listen to and you're remotely interested in the field, you really should, because you'll find something incredibly different to what you already encounter. And some of it you'll hate, and some of it will lead you down roads you never thought you'd go down and find out much more about your tastes and I love that stuff. As a journalist and as a podcaster. It's endlessly positive experience for me.

And that leads me on to one of my last questions, which is, I'm going to put my panel on the spot a little bit here and ask them to talk about one or two of the shows they listen to, but not all of them! And why they like them? And Mr. Newell has thinky finger, which leads me to believe he's imminent. So.

Alex Newall 42:22

Oh no, don't mind me!

Alasdair Stuart 42:23


Alex Newall 42:24

Audio specifically?

Alasdair Stuart 42:25

Ideally -

David Ault 42:27

And horror specific?

Alasdair Stuart 42:29

horror specific, if possible, if we could stick to what if we could stick to audio drama as kind of the outer boundary? That would be great. Oh and we're going to do questions for the last 10 15 minutes, if anyone has one.

Gemma Amor 42:41

I was a big Black Tapes fan before anything else. So Black Tapes was long form single story, and you can really - every episode had a new layer and a new scary element to it. And we won't talk about the ending, but we will talk about the fact that they re-released the last series and we named the last episode The mid season finale. So there is hope

Alasdair Stuart 43:06

there's more of it. Yeah, there's like six more.

Gemma Amor 43:09

Oh, they're out now?

Alex Newall 43:09

yeah. They dropped them -

Gemma Amor 43:11

Happy days! So I mean, I, I've listened to so many podcasts, it's impossible for me to talk about all of them but I'm a huge NoSleep podcast fan actually, like, I write for the show, but I was a fan first and foremost, and there's thousands of hours of content that I wade through, I listen to Shadows at the Door. I listen to The White Vault, I listen to Magnus, I listen to Pseudopod.. I listen to pretty much all those names that you know and love. I also - a non horror one which really influences me, which I know we're not supposed to talk about, is a little show by Ian Chillag called Everything is Alive, which is a series of interviews with inanimate objects. And the first episode is about a can of coke called Louie and his main desire in life is to be drunk. He's been kept to the back of the cupboard for 20 years or something, and it's the most existential stuff I think I've ever listened to. And actually I like to diversify, because I think horror should be informed by different genres and stuff as well. That's me getting myself out the way.

Alex Newall 44:14

I think I have like 1.1 - bear with me on this one, follow me! And so for the one, it's an easy one, although it feels like a trite answer for a panel, which is Pseudopod because I was listening to Pseudopod before I'd ever made anything. And Pseudopod does one thing specifically, really, really well, better than anyone which is curation specifically. And what that means is if you're interested in the field, you can just tune in and pick a random smorgasbord of the Pseudopod stories and go that's interesting I've not seen that. I know that, I know that - oo, what's that? But my point is is that it is someone going out there and going, you should see this. You should see *this*. It's like having your own dedicated personal librarian for the genre. That's cool. I liked that. I also enjoy making Alasdair awkward. So I will continue!

[laughter] But it is - what's useful is because of the very nature of the the format, that anthology of shorter of fictions - occasional slightly longer - it exposes you to far more very quickly. So if I'm being brutally honest in a way he doesn't know, I learnt horror from him and Pseudopod. Ssh!

[audience awes] The point - yeah! tThe trick is to look *this way*. [laughter]

My .1 is going to be one where.. I think people would be shocked to know this of me: I found the very initial stages of Welcome to Night Vale very interesting. And I think as it progressed as any project does, when it progresses over a certain length of time, it begins to - what's the word like, like, I'm trying to say it in a way that doesn't sound horrible, but fossilised? That's not right.

Alasdair Stuart 46:08


Alex Newall 46:09

Ossified, thank you yeah, what it does is it goes 'this works'. So that comes up again. And then that comes up again. But the longer that you run you run out of options unless you grab two things, smash them together and hope that something comes out. But very early Night Vale, where it didn't really know what it wanted to be yet trod a far more interesting line for me. And it took some real hard turns where I was like, I'm happy I'm happy I'm happy - everything's terrible. As it progressed those corners softened or so I have to confess I lost interest, not because the show's poor, but just because that initial - especially genuinely right the first five or so, genuinely I was like, oh, what are you? But I don't think I can recommend that as the whole thing. But certainly the start of that caught my attention.

Alasdair Stuart 46:55


David Ault 46:56

And there was a British version of that called Gallowtree, Welcome to Gallowtree. Which is still going now but it is the British version of Night Vale - certainly started that way. I had to get my iPod out to just to look through my podcast list. And the one that I've sort of, zoned in on is called Down Below the Reservoir, which -

Alasdair Stuart 47:16

Oh, good choice!

David Ault 47:18

It's beautiful. It is horror and poetry smashed together with a gorgeous Irish brogue. So it is the most poetic podcast that does horror. So that's that that would be my my suggestion. The Caledonian Gothic was similar for the Scots, but Down Below the Reservoir would absolutely be my choice. Just I'm going through - Unseen Hour which is horror plus the goon show, which is Yeah. Darkest Night. Darkest Night was brilliant. Yeah. Blah, blah, blah Hidden Frequencies, which is kind of Yeah, that's Oh, what is it? Yes, it's - but what's the

Gemma Amor 48:12

Oh, it's Yeah, Hidden Frequencies is like the Twilight Zone.

David Ault 48:15

Twilight Zone. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Alasdair Stuart 48:20

Excellent. I have a couple. There are two produced by the same company with this fun name, 'Zoom Doom'. One is a show called Mirrors, which is initially a ghost story. And it's a ghost story set in three different time periods, with the 1960s, 2018 and 2019, with three different women being haunted by the identical ghosts. And the second season does one of the best jobs of unpacking and exploring and rebuilding a premise I've ever encountered. It's extraordinarily good and Zoom Doom have this incredible capability to take a very simple premise and do unbelievable stuff with it. The other show is a thing called the Six Disappearances of Ellen McRae. And it's about a young woman on a family holiday. And she steps to go out for a hike, she steps up onto a rock and she dies. Or she disappears. Or suddenly they're in a desert and she's walked off, or she's abducted by someone, or suddenly they're in a New York street, and she's run over and killed, and six people witness her disappear. At the same time. None of them can agree on what happened. And it is the closest to a modern version of Picnic at Hanging Rock I ever encountered. It has that monolithic sense of something completely supernatural and alien, just under the surface and I really respond to that. There's also a show which I've been frantically googling for the last five minutes and maddeningly that I can't remember the name of, I'll put it on my Twitter feed and hashtag it with the hashtag so hopefully folks can find it, which is a Canadian series about a small town with a local monster.

Gemma Amor 49:59

Oh is that Black Wood?

Alasdair Stuart 50:00

I believe it might be

Gemma Amor 50:01

Yeah, no, I listened to that, it was really very good. Superb production quality,

Alasdair Stuart 50:06

Oh god yeah, and again, just unpacks itself.

Gemma Amor 50:08

So yeah, very nice as a tale of local teenage journalists kind of exploring the local monster. And it's done brilliantly, but I don't actually think there's a second series, I'm not sure

Alasdair Stuart 50:19

I will dig in because I might be thinking of another one as well and I'll put them both on the feed. Um, I would like to thank my incredible panel for being as exactly as erudite and articulate and perceptive as I knew they would be. And we're going to throw the floor open to questions if anybody has a mic.

Gemma Amor 50:35

Is that one of those throw mic thingies? Spongy mic!

Alasdair Stuart 50:41

Okay, for those of you who don't know, this is a throwable microphone.

It's really hard and heavy(!)

It's squishy! And I covet these things quite openly.

Audience Member 50:55

Um, I don't do horror. Like my family, my family would genuinely, when I said oh, I'm listening to the Magnus archives, my family went What's that? And I said, it's a horror podcast and they all went, who are you and what have you done with Kai? So what - what do you think - because I've spoken to other people as well and they don't touch like movies or TV that is horror. But they found that they've really enjoyed things like Magnus Archives and Pseudopod and other horror podcasts. Do you think - do you think that there's anything that in particular brings people into this specific way of presenting horror or?

David Ault 51:37

the number of people that have said that they fall asleep listening to the NoSleep Podcast [laughter] is amazing. Even I fall asleep listening to NoSleep Podcast

Alex Newall 51:49

It's very chill!

Gemma Amor 51:50

It's very relaxing

David Ault 51:50

Exactly! And part of what you were saying earlier Alex, about the the audio production not being too 'smash' or too jarring, it's basically like going back to childhood and having a story being read to you as you go to sleep. But yeah, that it was just amusing

Gemma Amor 52:16

I think there's a lot to be said for how much control you have as a listener. And I think when you're watching a film or you're in a cinema watching a movie, there are no trigger warnings, there is no respect for your particular personal traumas or any of that - you're either in there or you're not. With podcasting or with audio drama, you can choose to engage on whatever level you wish and I think a lot of people are able to access and consume horror in audio format more comfortably than they can in other mediums if that makes sense. I also think the audio community cares a lot more about those sorts of things. I know when we we do Calling Darkness, we have a an intro that sort of states that there are some certain themes. It's a comedy show, but there are still themes that you might not want to engage with. And I think as a listener, you should have as much control as you need so that you enjoy what you're doing instead of, you know, feeling unnecessarily unsettled or upset.

Alex Newall 53:14

I think combined with that as well is - and it has been brought up a few times today, which is that podcasting as a medium is probably one of the most intimate entertainment products you can really engage with, because it's happening 'here'. [points to head] And so as a result, building on what you just said, what you have is control of the situation. So you can bail, take a break or skip chunks and it'll be fine, combined with the most one of the most immediate ways to engage in the genre. And I think there's some interesting stuff being done in VR, in fairness, which hits the same boat where you can just go 'Nope,' I'll go back to it and it's still immediate, but I think podcasting does that in a way that doesn't require an outlay of, you know, £4000, and I think a combination of those factors certainly make it a lot more accessible.

Alasdair Stuart 53:59

I'd like to build on all the other stuff the panellists have said, and add in as well the fact that podcasting is this - there always a kind of very pleasingly subversive element to listening to a podcast, because it's both intimate and passive; you can be doing something else as well. And more than once with with certain shows, I've got to a: 'I'm not sure I like this', and then I take my headphones off and concentrate on the washing up and it becomes a - as everyone said, the control is very much in your hands all the way through and I really dig that

Audience Member 54:29

there's also an element - because the audio medium is uniquely visual in your own mind, does your own mind provide it's own filter mechanism whereby the visual build etc - you get shock horror 'stabby stabby' etc that's possibly overwhelming and another kind of thing that you - y'know, it's been imposed upon you rather than you drawing it from within your own experience your brain is its own protection - it gives you that level of protection that you love, or are just at the edge, where you're as uncomfortable as you want to be

Alasdair Stuart 55:01

The volume control is always in your hand. It is kind of great. Who's next?

Audience Member 55:13

You said earlier about horror kind of getting involved with other genres. Do you think in terms of audio drama, there's a chance that other mediums within the genre will kind of get involved - like stuff like RPG podcasts and improv? Do you think there's a chance? Obviously, there's a lot ofhorror elements in those, especially .. gaming.

Gemma Amor 55:33

I guarantee, I guarantee somebody is out there making that show right now.

Alex Newall 55:40

I am aware, I'm aware of at least one,

Gemma Amor 55:42

Podcasting is so accessible, it really really is. You need a room full of friends or you can be a lone operator, you need a halfway decent mic, access to the VIP software as a starting point. I'm not saying that those are the things that you should stay with throughout your podcasting career. But it's incredibly accessible. It's a lot easier to make a podcast than it is to go off and write a book, trust me I know, or to make a movie, you know, in terms of initial outlay and how you can teach yourself to do things. So I guarantee Yes, there will be. It's because it's so much more accessible. It's so much easier to experiment with those other mediums and yeah, there's got to be at least 10 of those out there.

Alex Newall 56:22

Though, to play devil's advocate on the flip side of the coin, there is an aspect to consider which is: 'I'm not a fan of horror.' Okay, cool. So that means that - let's let's assume I am not a fan of horror, you're not gonna listen to this thing. I am not a fan of gaming, therefore, you're not gonna listen to this thing. The danger that always comes with the genre blend is - the dream is all the fans of this show engage with the fans of this, great. There is a dark side to that which is that your horror fans don't like gaming so they don't listen, and the gaming fans don't like horror so they didn't listen. And then you're left with.. Gary.

Alasdair Stuart 56:54

And Gary is lovely.

Gemma Amor 56:57

But the joy of podcasting is not everyone has to like it! If you wanna make a podcast for Gary, then go knock yourself out! Gary will love you!

Alex Newall 57:04

Gary will *adore* you forever because you made the perfect show as far as Gary's concerned.

Gemma Amor 57:09

Nobody makes a podcast to make money or be famous. Come on. That's like, that's - [laughter]

right. So you make it because you love it. You make it because it's a passion project. And that's why you should pretty much do everything creative, I think. And so if you want to make that super niche thing, you know, somebody will make it. Yeah. Yes is the answer.

Alasdair Stuart 57:33

If no one in this room is using the hashtag 'justiceforGary'... [laughter]

Gemma Amor 57:40

Poor Gary.

Audience Member 57:46

So the BBC have belatedly got into horror podcasts. Have you listened to The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and The Whispering Darkness and if so, what did you think of them?

Alasdair Stuart 57:56

I listened to a case of Charles Dexter Ward, and I really liked it. Like I was saying earlier, my, my kind of entry level with Lovecraft is, are you doing something strange with it, which would probably have pissed him off? [laughter] And I really liked its willingness to completely engage with a very modern storytelling framework and with the kind of weird and wonky bits of the story. So yeah, my initial thing was 'Oh, it's Charles Dexter Ward again, great(!)' And then I listened to it and was very pleasantly surprised So yeah, I really thought that

David Ault 58:34

I very much enjoyed it. But I also thought we've been doing this for years

Gemma Amor 58:41

yeah, I haven't and I think my - I'm so invested in indie podcasting and in Yeah, independent producers and genres that I consume so many podcasts that it's difficult sometimes to, to go to the more commercially -- does that make sense?

Alex Newall 59:00

I have to confess I also haven't listened to it but not for any reason beyond I didn't get around to listening. And I'm quite disorganised in how I spend my leisure time. So

Alasdair Stuart 59:12

It's worth pointing out, Alex sleeps 15 minutes every 37 hours

Alex Newall 59:17

But recently achieved a high score in Beatsaber so like my my work life balance is -- [laughter]

Audience Member 59:29

with the growth of things like the BBC Murmurs podcasts where they're seeking out independence, do you think there's a horror podcasting is influencing beyond the immediate genre or outside podcasting or with the big publishers?

Alasdair Stuart 59:45

Yes. Alex.

Alex Newall 59:51

I think what some of the bigger players are starting to notice is that the interest is there and If the interest is not catered to it will cater to itself. And that's what has been happening. Gary really wanted that gaming horror show. Gary made that show, turns out a lot of people wanted Gary's show, Gary does well. And I think that it's reached the point now where - not just in horror but in other mediums as well = genre fiction in general, I'd say is sort of hitting its stride really, and certainly in terms of bouncing into larger like production spaces. And, and I think it's a case of let's all be horrible, cynical, sceptical bastards like me. People like money, successful things are more likely to make money. As a result, you can expect that if the thing that you like has become popular, large entities, are gonna start getting more invested in it. I should say that I'm kind of separating out BBC a little bit because it doesn't really have the need for money in the same way. Kind of survives on its own. But certainly on the private side, you're going to start seeing more of like - bad example, it's not horror but like Wolverine, the Long Night and all of that kind of thing. Because they know the demand is there. And you're going to start seeing bigger players starting to just make more of the shows that you would normally associate with indies and especially in podcasting.

Alasdair Stuart 1:01:21

And to some extent, you're already seeing that with Luminary

Alex Newall 1:01:24

Good example of of poor execution. Absolutely. Yeah.

Gemma Amor 1:01:27

Yeah, I agree. I think if you're a statician and you're looking at download figures, and you look at some of the biggest shows out there and see that a lot of them are in the genre, then it makes sense to cater to that in your own audience. I don't, again, I'm hesitant because I'm not as experienced with the BBC side of audio as I'd like to be. But that's.. I agree.

Alasdair Stuart 1:01:53

Two minutes off the end of our time, David?

David Ault 1:01:54

I was just gonna say yeah, it seems like we are in a way the proof of concept stage for these bigger companies to come in and and make their money off it. So that was basically all I was gonna say. Lying Town made the jump from podcasting to the TV -

Alasdair Stuart 1:02:19