Mark Norman on Folklore

Folklore

Mark Norman is a folklore researcher and author based in Devon, in the South-West of the UK. His book on Black Dog Folklore, which can be purchased from the Folklore Podcast website, remains the only full length study on the subject by an individual author, and he holds the UKs largest archive of data on the subject. Mark is also the creator and host of The Folklore Podcast, which is enjoyed around the world and has had approaching ¾ million downloads since its launch.

Mark is currently writing a new book for The History Press, which is due to be published in Spring 2020, as well as a newspaper column and other articles. He has contributed to a number of anthologies.

Folklore

Tell us a little about the motivation behind your Folklore podcasts?

As a folklore author and researcher, and a Council member of The Folklore Society (the UK’s primary academic society for the subject) I found myself considering opportunities for getting more people interested and engaging in the subject. The #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter was not the big thing that it is now back then, although it has since demonstrated a real interest in folklore, and hence I thought that there was a niche to address.

The podcast has never been about making money (although it does need to cover running costs to remain viable of course) but it was a way in which I was able to draw upon my contacts to offer free access to some of the world’s leading experts in the fields of folklore and its associated subjects for those who would not normally have it.

Which Folk story do you find the most enjoyable?

My particular interests are in traditional beliefs and customs in the UK, and my primary area of research is into ghostly apparitions of Black Dogs, which have been reported for nearly 1,000 years in various ways. So I don’t tend to work with the story aspect of the subject as much as, say, a storyteller would, or someone studying myths and legends. For me, the most interesting stories are those of the people. Why did someone decide that crushed earthworms were good for a particular disease? Why were people accused of witchcraft when farm animals didn’t behave as they should? It’s the social history of these beliefs and customs which is fascinating.

Does Folklore ever suffer from translation issues as it is converted from Medieval to Modern script? Are there examples of things being disputed?

That’s an interesting question. It is certainly the case as with all historical documents that translation issues can occur. Also, because folklore and folk tales were primarily distributed by oral means rather than being written down in our older past, then they would naturally change and develop organically through this process.

However, issues of disputed facts are not such a problem within folklore as they are for scientific researchers, or those trying to offer ‘proof’ of something. The reason for purely that the main thrust of folklore is examining the reasons why people may have believed something, why a ghost story developed and how a custom has changed over time – and not whether it is accurate or ‘proves’ something. In most cases, therefore, we aren’t bothered about something being disputed or contested; we are more interested in the mechanism of the change.

What can Folklore tell us about the past?

This is a question for which an answer could conceivably have an open end! In a nutshell, it can tell us a lot about the ways that people lived and interacted, both with each other and with the landscape, and how those processes change.

How did you get interested in Folklore?

Like many children of school age, I had an interest in the supernatural and those stories of allegedly true events, rather than fictional ones especially. This developed into a desire to collect these stories and either contribute them to others, or archive them. My particular interests consolidated to those that I have now – local-level traditions and customs – and the rest is (social) history!

How do you go about planning your podcasts?

That depends on the kind of episode that it is. Some I write myself on particular topics, and for those it is the same process of research and writing that I have for my newspaper column, magazine articles or books. For those that are interviews with other experts, then it is again a matter of research and reading around their subject, and liaising with them for a set of questions which help to move the interview forward, followed by writing a top and tail for the episode.

Recently, I have interviewed a few authors who use folklore in their work (not just non-fiction by fiction authors too). The last episode at the time of writing was an interview with best-selling Icelandic crime writer Yrsa Siggurdardottir for example. Her books are not primarily about folklore but they draw on Icelandic lore in many ways. These episodes have been popular and I am always happy to receive review copies of books from authors whose work ties in with the areas of folklore and might be suitable for interview or feature on the podcast.

One of the areas that my website is looking at currently is the way that history is interpreted and presented to the general public. How do you go about deciding how to portray the different Folk stories?

In my case, the ethos of the podcast is to present the information to listeners in an accessible way. My audience is global and so I try and keep things easy to understand without ‘dumbing-down’. We live in a world that is rich in history, culture and diversity and the podcast tries to celebrate that whilst informing at the same time.

What advice would you give to an aspiring podcaster?

Pay no attention to numbers. There is constant discussion on podcast groups online about audience numbers. People bemoaning the fact that only 30 people a month listen to their show while others get 300 or 3,000. Unless you are trying to create a business (and I would advise against that as a podcaster) then it doesn’t matter. If people are enjoying what you do and you are enjoying reaching them, then you are seeing success. Then you can work on spreading the word. There are well over 600,000 podcasts to choose from. Like an author, a TV producer or anyone else working in the creative industries, all you can do is hope for the best and persevere.

Author Biography

Mark Norman is a folklore researcher and author based in Devon, in the South-West of the UK. His book on Black Dog Folklore, which can be purchased from the Folklore Podcast website, remains the only full length study on the subject by an individual author, and he holds the UKs largest archive of data on the subject. Mark is also the creator and host of The Folklore Podcast, which is enjoyed around the world and has had approaching ¾ million downloads since its launch.

Mark is currently writing a new book for The History Press, which is due to be published in Spring 2020, as well as a newspaper column and other articles. He has contributed to a number of anthologies.

Personal links:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/marknormanfolklore
Twitter: @Mr_Mark_Norman

Podcast links

Website: www.thefolklorepodcast.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/thefolklorepodcast
Twitter: @folklorepod

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.