Norfolk writer on trail of Black Shuck
Wildlife expert and writer Piers Warren has faced hungry lions – but fears a phantom dog. RICHARD BATSON finds out his first novel for adults, based on the Norfolk legend of Black Shuck.
Eyes blazing red amid the windswept darkness an evil hound confronts a startled wildlife film-maker on a remote coastal shingle spit.
The dog is the stuff of legend and terror which has haunted the East Anglian coast for centuries. The man is a world-wise explorer whose courage and sanity are tested to the limit by the heart-stopping moment.
The scene is from a new spooky novel set on Blakeney Point. But the fiction has links to fact, because — like the main character Harry Lambert — writer Piers Warren is also a wildlife cameraman, who has spent time, and been scared, at the scene of the spine-chilling action.
Piers, 50, came to Norfolk with Bloodhounds as an RAF controller of missiles bearing that name at West Raynham, before a different type of dog caught his imagination.
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He stayed to run music then multi-media recording studios before taking up filming - turning a lifelong passion for wildlife into a career.
But as well as happy hours spent at locations such as Blakeney Point he was also fascinated with the legend of Black Shuck, the hound whose sighting sparks doom and death.
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He had already penned a children's book The Hatters Go West about an eccentric family's camper van road trip from Norfolk to Wales. But the Stephen King fan was inspired to write a book which combined the spectral hound with the atmospheric Norfolk location and slices of his own life.
Book hero Harry, and Piers, both suffered the traumatic death of a wildlife camera team colleague, and failed marriages - and a terrifying stay in Blakeney's isolated Watch House.
In the book, Black Shuck — The Devil's Dog, Harry has traumatic nights in the house with knocking and scratching, and unexplained movements of objects and ...well, bolt the door and read the book.
Piers planned to spend four nights at the same place, to savour the atmosphere and enable him to describe it in full detail — but, despite having sample dangerous creatures and places in his filming career, left after just two.
'It was very spooky — there were all kinds of strange noises,' he admits. 'It's one of the most isolated houses in Norfolk, about two miles from the nearest building. I wanted to know what it felt like – and it felt so spooky that I meant to stay for four nights but came home after two! There are the noises of the wind and the sea, and I heard footsteps on the shingle — maybe it was a bird, but I have also, on several occasions, seen dogs around there ...
'I certainly have had strange experiences with big dogs at night, and I'm definitely a believer in how legends grow and how not everything can be explained.'
But his darkest black dog moment was inland at Lyng, near Dereham.
'I was taking my daughter to the car in the pitch dark when I felt a presence, rushed forward to grab her and felt two massive paws on my shoulder, and turned around to see a massive black dog that immediately disappeared,' he said.
'I have been within a metre of a lion dripping with blood from a zebra carcass and I felt safer. I ran and scooped her up and the dog fled, but we found later that my friends' guinea pigs had all been killed. It all fuels the imagination.'
Alongside running his Wildeye company, which combines publishing, a linked website and newsletter, Piers runs an international wildlife film making school at Whitwell Hall, near his Reepham home, but is keen to write a second thriller and 'more adventures for Harry'.
His previous books have been predominantly factual and include 101 Uses for Stinging Nettles, and British Native Trees - Their Past and Present Uses, with his best seller so far, How to Store your Garden Produce, shifting 70,000 copies.
Now the wildlife expert, used to revealing real-life wonders, has shifted his gaze to what might be out there, in the dark, lurking just out of sight ...
l Black Shuck - The Devil's Dog is published by Wildeye Publishing, priced �7.99 and is available through shops including The Book Hive in Norwich.