Horror Podcasting: Cyber Folktales at the Digital Campfire

Posted by Danielle Hancock on April 09, 2015 in Blog, Danielle Hancock tagged with , , , , ,

This is a blogpost about precisely what it cannot provide – a sense of sound, tone and rhythm; a lone voice to be shared with a group. So, for a moment, try to forget the page.


And listen with me.


Chords are struck on a banjo, a low voice tells a homespun tale, short but enthralling in its horror and simplicity; they assure us that this story is absolutely, one-hundred percent true, that it really happened to the teller, or his friend, or his friend’s friend; at the story’s close, those banjo notes return, alongside the invitation to tell your own creepy story, to listeners unseeable in the darkness. You’re not at a campfire, or even a slumber-party. You’re listening to the sounds of horror podcasting. Welcome to the digital campfire.


Oral campfire tales, folk and ghost stories are the birth-place of modern horror and gothic fictions. Stories about where we are from and what happens there after dark, purportedly to us or people we know, passed along and changed a little with each telling, are for many of us the first road into scary stories – either through our own ‘camp-fire’ experiences or through written stories which seek to garner such atmospheres. The intimacy and ‘truthfulness’ of the verbal yarn inform the confessional story-teller frames of Victorian Gothic, from Wuthering Heights to The Turn of the Screw. These texts offer narrators who have seen ‘true’ horrors, and want to tell their tale. In Gothic’s literary and cinematic evolution, not only the folk ‘manner’ of telling but also what was originally told, personal and culturally-shared folk-tales, often became appropriated, authored and finalised. Great literatures consumed small stories, their individualisms sacrifices to the formal narrative. The multitudinous, adapting voices which forge the very stuff of horror and Gothic were superseded by one silent canonical text for all. With this died a sense of cultural ownership of these tales, and each personalised, ‘truthful’ account that makes our spines shiver so wonderfully at the campfire.


As horror podcasting grows, so returns the cacophony of voices, and communal, often collaborative sense of home-brand scary storytelling that made Gothic and horror fictions so special in the first place. The No-Sleep Podcast, a self-defined  ‘online version of telling spooky stories around the campfire’, was an early forerunner in the field. It runs on a simple premise. Each week a lone voice tells a single tale, with an absolute understanding that what is told will be presented and received as true ‘experience’. No Sleep’s stories are spreading wild through the internet, and they’re inspiring other campfires to light.


Pseudopod, Drabblecast, Tales to Terrify: they’re all horror podcasts shaped by the sense of shared listening and communal tale-telling – amateurs not only welcome but encouraged. Anybody can send in their story, and anybody can tell the tale: authorship is fluid in this space. All you need is a mic and a computer. These casts feature authors published and obscure, sometimes re-claiming characters or tales from fixed canonical texts, and making additions and alterations along the way. In these podcasts the creation as well as reception of creepy tales is paramount. Alongside its weekly ten or fifteen minute listener-contributed tales, Drabblecast runs a weekly ‘drabble’ (meaning brief story) competition, encouraging more reticent listeners to broach the story-telling field with just 100 words or less. Here even ‘rejections’ are not lost – they’re appropriated within the offshoot podcast, Dribblecast, where slush-pile stories are re-worked and shared in a true return to the nebulous shape-shifting folk tradition. One week’s Drabblecast asked listeners to write a series of ‘bedtime’ stories, based on a listener’s own bedtime stories, that he wrote for his son and couldn’t quite transform to a cast on his own. Stories pass from hand to hand, are told and retold.


As homemade tales spin out across the internet, the local folk-tale becomes global – a mass media in its bare oral form for the first time. Each week offers new potential in the horror-podcasting realm: an urban legend from Connecticut, a ghost story from Liverpool, a horror tale from Alaska, told by anyone, and heard, perhaps, by you. My next post will take us a little further into the realms of horror podcasting and the digital campfire, to the matter of scene-setting and shared space – until then, just take a seat and listen.

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