My recent visit to Scarfolk has not only left me with a vague sense of unease, it has also provided me with a great demonstration of an almost pure form of fictional world building. As the web site for the Scarfolk Council, a creation of screenwriter Richard Littler, explains:
Scarfolk is a town in North West England that did not progress beyond 1979. Instead, the entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum. Here in Scarfolk, pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science; hauntology is a compulsory subject at school, and everyone must be in bed by 8pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever. "Visit Scarfolk today. Our number one priority is keeping rabies at bay." For more information please reread.
Hauntology is a critical theory, but also a kind of artistic genre that takes elements of the past (sounds, texts, visuals), strips out their original context and meaning, and recycles them into a new contemporary work. It’s a decidedly highbrow concept, though its application—in electronic music especially—is accessible, if a little creepy in its aesthetic (haunting is definitely the right word for it).
The blog for the Scarfolk Council applies these ideas to fiction. The site provides updates from a town increasingly infiltrated by the bizarre and sinister, all wrapped up in a jarring 1970s visual style.
What’s especially interesting about the Scarfolk Council, though, is that it is a work of fiction without story and without characters (at least without continuous characterisation) in a format that would have been near impossible before the web. Individual posts are not arranged chronologically (dates are cherry picked from all over the decade) and primarily feature public awareness campaign posters (‘If you suspect your mummy and daddy have been replaced by almost identical imposters call NOW’), sound recordings (‘In the playground with the music room window open, 1975’), television (the BBC’s 6-hour programme ‘We Watch You Watching Us’), and books (Spontaneous! Human Combustion).
The effect is weirdly compelling and the site is a hit with writing luminaries including Ian Rankin and Warren Ellis (the British writerly one, not the Australian musical one).
I’m often asked if writers should turn their fictional work into blogs. My stock response is that, regardless of how good it is, nobody wants to read your novel as a blog. I stand by that statement, but Scarfolk proves that a blog can be used as a vehicle for fiction when the writer respects the form and conventions. Sure, there’s no story, but Scarfolk doesn’t really need one. As the Council says: “Visit Scarfolk Today. You may never leave. So mote it be.”
* Okay, it's a completely obscure title, but there is a link. It's this shortwave radio broadcast from a numbers station. Best listened to late at night, completely alone.