Salem literary festival

Yesterday we combined two things we love – the world of writing and ghost hunting, in a small village called East Budleigh, Devon. And we went alone. Yes, you read that right. We travelled to Devon completely unsupervised. We know. Can’t help thinking emergency services should have been informed. And maybe NASA, should we get lost and need to be tracked via satellite. Neen was set to come with us but with the arrival of her new baby, Alexis last weekend, was understandably busy. And our mum was looking after the animal army. This time last year there is NO WAY we would’ve done a reading at a literary festival on our own. It appears we have finally slain the social phobia demon and now stand victorious over its crumpled remains, capes billowing. We arrived without getting lost once. This automatically makes us suspicious. Things never run smoothly unless fate is planning a nasty surprise. We parked in a car park opposite the Sir Walter Raleigh pub. We had the prime parking space – next to the public toilets. Weirdly, even though General Pinkinton was about five feet from the toilets, we had no mobile service when in him. But we did if we stood by the toilets. When we mentioned that we only got service at the toilets, we have to stress it was phone service and we were not part of some celebrity-style toilet scandal. We had about two hours to spare before we had to set up for the festival, so we decided to find Sir Walter Raleigh’s house. In case there is someone who doesn’t know who he is, he was the guy who was a favourite of Elizabeth I, sailed to the New World (America), founded Virginia and brought back tobacco and potatoes. So he is the grandfather of chips and lung cancer.

Vicar's Mead, East Budleigh

Vicar’s Mead

The sign said his house was a mile up the road. As it was sunny, we decided to walk. We stopped en route to film by Vicar’s Mead, where the reverends of Salem Chapel lived. And stored smuggled goods. It was also once a schoolhouse and Raleigh was educated there. Whether he was taught smuggling is unknown. Then we set off on our trek. It wasn’t long before we were wading through boggy mud and thinking it suddenly didn’t seem like such a good idea. The road was just about wide enough for a car, so when cars came, we had to squish ourselves into the hedge for them to pass. People stared. They obviously weren’t used to seeing twins dressed in their Gothic finery, brandishing cameras and a look of hope. The mile was starting to feel very long and there wasn’t a house in sight. Eventually we stopped at the top of an incline and scanned the area. Nothing but fields. We’d passed a junction on the way so figured perhaps we should have turned off. We retraced our steps and headed down the junction. There were houses here. It looked promising. Until the houses ran out. Defeated, we turned back. Then the heavens opened. And we’d left our brollies in the car.

Sir Walter Raleigh

honouring the man who made chips possible

And we were about half a mile away. Wet hair we could cope with. But our dye washes out. We did not want to show up to the festival with green dye down our faces. People would’ve thought the Incredible Hulk had shown up. Granted, a much smaller, better dressed version but still. Appearing as a Marvel comic hero was not how we wanted our first festival to go. Cue a mad dash back to the car. We stopped to ask some cows and their babies where the house was but they were reluctant to speak to us. Naturally, by the time we reached Pinky, the rain stopped. But we were now sweating, soaking, covered in mud and smelling of farm animals. And the festival was in an hour. The best we could do was get pocket tissues, go into the toilets and wash our boots. And to think we’d actually taken the time to get the cat hair off us that morning. This was worse. We consoled ourselves with crisps and Red Bull then went to have our photos taken with Sir Walter’s statue. We asked him where his house was, but he was unforthcoming. Perhaps he doesn’t like conversing with peasants who smell of cow dung. We’ve always said Calamityville is a disaster. But it’s not Calamityville, it’s us. We’d planned to visit the brick cross, where a witch was burned, but we weren’t sure if we had time to walk there and we didn’t want to drive, because we might lose our space in the car park, so we practised our reading and drank Red Bull until it was time to head for the chapel.

Salem Chapel

Salem Chapel

Salem Chapel was built in 1719. It has a unique concave roof, with a recessed well and a trapdoor that is only accessible from the outside. The loft space is where smuggled goods were hidden. A locked door inside the chapel has been seen opening and a grey lady sits in the pews upstairs, where the servants used to sit. We did a brief talking piece outside the chapel, whilst trying not to get run over by the cars turning in. Never mind showing up filthy, getting squashed outside would put a real dampener on the day. We met local poet John Payne outside as well as Rosemary Smith’s (who organised it) husband, Mike. We met up with Margaret James, who we met at the Exeter novel prize and she took us upstairs to where the grey lady is seen. We conducted a brief EVP session amongst the pews then were joined by Su Bristow, who won the Exeter novel prize. We didn’t get a chance to speak to her at the prize-giving (it was her son who we told about our snails’ mating habits) so it was nice to finally talk to her. While we were up there, we suddenly realised we had 2 mins to get set up as the festival was about to start. Even when we’re early, we always manage to be late.

Graham Hurley

Graham Hurley

First up was international thriller writer and crime writer Graham Hurley. We were fascinated about his talk of the publishing world, the TV world (he had a successful career in TV) and learned to avoid long lunches with publishers. He also talked about the research he did for his books, which included spending 6 weeks with police officers and joining them on a dawn raid.

John Payne

John Payne

Next up was local farmer turned poet, John Payne. He read from his poetry collection Waves of Life. He was followed by Mal Peet, who was very entertaining. His research involved buying a book from a charity shop then making everything up. That sounded like our kind of research. Apparently he is seen a goal keeping guru in America, despite not knowing anything about the subject, having again, made it up for his book. Then a woman called Audrey read a passage from Rosemary’s book. She ended by saying “there’s never anything horrible in Rosemary’s books.”

Mal Peet

Mal Peet

Audrey reading from Rosemary Smith's book

Audrey reading from Rosemary Smith’s book

We started by saying “we wish we could say there’s nothing horrible in our books, but we’d be lying.” As Graham and Mal had talked about their research, we decided to do the same. Except ours included setting fire to heather and trespassing an abandoned summer camp. The joy of horror writing is we get away with making stuff up. If we did research, we’d end up in jail. We talked about our love for all things horror and humorous, our animal army and the disaster that is Calamityville Horror. We read an extract from Bleeding Empire, our Horsemen of the Apocalypse novel. Luckily people laughed throughout our introduction and reading and we got a big round of applause afterwards. Graham even said we upstaged him 😀 Everyone at the festival was so nice. Loads of people came up to talk to us and we even sold some books, which was a bonus. We didn’t expect to sell any. Disenchanted was the most popular as people wanted something that matched the humour of Bleeding Empire, which isn’t published yet. We’ve been invited back next year and have even been invited to two more festivals next year! Two different people came up and said our writing reminded them of Terry Pratchett, which is a huge compliment!

C L Raven

festival goers

Sir Walter Raleigh's house

Sir Walter Raleigh’s house

After the festival ended, we headed back to the car, stopping by All Saints church to film a piece about the smugglers. Then we drove to Sir Walter Raleigh’s house. Turned out, we were about 3 minutes walk away when we turned around! We curled our fists and cursed the skies. Unfortunately the house isn’t open to the public so we had to contend with a photo outside. Then we drove to the brick cross, parked in a layby and scampered across the road to stand by the cross. It’s in the middle of very busy crossroads. A witch was burned to death on this spot in 1580 and possibly buried there. Which would make sense – witches and suicides were buried at crossroads to stop their spirits being at rest. This is also the spot where criminals were suspended in chains and left to die. We did a session with the crystal, getting strange looks from passing motorists who have probably never seen someone standing on the cross before. Maybe they thought we were trying to summon a crossroads demon. Each time we asked questions to the witch, the wind became really strong. We’d stop and the wind would die. We’d try again, the wind picked up. We concluded maybe she was an air witch and was trying to communicate through the wind. Unfortunately, weather responses are beyond the power of Google translate.

brick cross, East Budleigh

brick cross

As we drove back, the M49 was luckily open. We wished it wasn’t. The stench of sulphur was nauseating. Then we encountered a sulphuric smell on the Severn bridge. There was only one plausible conclusion – a demon had manifested. Demons are always accompanied by foul stenches. Then we had the proof we needed that this was indeed a demon manifestation – at the toll booths on the bridge, we were behind a lorry transporting HELL energy drink. Now to get this demon to do our bidding. Does anyone have a copy of Controlling Demons for Dummies lying around?

Watch our reading here


  1. Totally brilliant! Sounds like you had a fantastic time (despite the rain) and three cheers for your solo adventure! “When we mentioned that we only got service at the toilets, we have to stress it was phone service and we were not part of some celebrity-style toilet scandal.” LOL…. Fabulous 🙂

    • thanks! We were thrilled to be asked and we’re so glad we’ve done it. It was a fantastic experience.

  2. Haha, what an entertaining post! Sounds like a great festival. Look forward to reading your books now

    • thanks Vikki 🙂 We had a brilliant day and can’t wait to go back next year.

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