Reviews | Written by Michael Coldwell 03/01/2020



Having written numerous books about ‘magick’ and the occult on his way to becoming one of the UK’s leading authorities on the dark arts, Nathaniel Harris tells his own extraordinary life story in this highly entertaining first volume of his autobiography. A true outsider and outrider to this age of conformity, his memories of growing up in rural Essex amid a culture of witchery and alternative parenting inevitably takes in all manner of oddness including paranormal happenings, murderous aunts, kiddie fiddlers, bullying, and mad hippies. And death, of course - lots of it.

Science fiction and fantasy loom large: Tom Baker-era Doctor Who fuels Harris’ fertile imagination; a chance encounter with the teenage daughters of 2000 AD writer Pat Mills leads to him being mythologised in the pages of the legendary comic and, while dealing with frequent beatings from his violent stepfather at home, he sees potential escape in the discovery that his real father is a TV and movie visual effects guru who wants to re-connect with his long-lost son.

The other key culture strand here is music: the broiling cauldron of punk, skinhead and goth that delineated the youth clans of the mid-‘80s is evocatively re-fired and so becomes the book’s virtual soundtrack. Every accidental/on purpose punch in the face Harris gets at an elemental gig by notorious Scottish punks The Exploited in 1984 is received like a bruise of honour. If you ever experienced the dark energy of bands like Coil, Psychic TV, and Current 93 back then with friends surrounded, this will bring back a lot of ghosts.

Throughout proceedings, our diminutive (anti) hero gets himself into all manner of bizarre scrapes and there’s real relish in the telling. At its weirdest points, the story sends us down the kind of the Gothic English rabbit holes Clive Barker used to dig, minus the pinheaded Cenobites, of course, although you sense they - or creatures very like them - are standing just beyond the thin walls of the caravan Harris is forced to live in at the bottom of the garden when his parents expel him from the house, Harry Potter-style.

For a story that couldn’t be more removed from the safe fixations of Mr WHSmith himself, Nick Hornby, there’s something undeniably Hornby-esque about Harris’s urbanely direct style and his deployment of comedy to best communicate the emotional roller-coaster of growing up.  Because for all the fire, ire and portents of stranger things to come, this is really about a boy.