Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Paranormal London: A Q & A With Neil Arnold

As you'll know, a few days ago I reviewed Neil Arnold's new book, Paranormal London. Well, Neil was good enough to take part in a Q&A about his book (which we did yesterday), and which is related below, and focuses heavily on cryptozoology. Enjoy the interview and enjoy Paranormal London!

Nick: Neil, broadly speaking, what is Paranormal London about?

Neil: I was approached by a big publisher in the UK to write a book on London within their 'Paranormal' series, and felt it was a chance to cover material rarely, if at all, published previously. They wanted the book to cover any mysteries pertaining to the capital.

Nick: You're very well known for your cryptozoological research, but Paranormal London covers other areas too, such as UFOs and ghosts. Do you have an overall interest in Forteana?

Neil: No I don't. I used to when I was around thirteen-years-old, but have become almost bored by UFOs, ghosts, etc. However, I knew that by writing 'Paranormal London' I couldn't leave out such mysteries. I think the fields have become saturated and regurgitative.

Nick: London and its surrounding areas have long histories of reports of exotic cats. Can you outline some of the cases, and your views on where the cats came from and still are coming from?

Neil: I didn't want the sightings of exotic cats to be mentioned in the book as they aren't paranormal. However, the book enabled me to cover some London stories of a mysterious nature. I've researched sightings of 'big cats' across the world since I was around nine-years old and am still surprised that it's considered a mystery. A majority of animals we see in the UK are offspring of animals which were released in the '60s and '70s when it was quite the fad to purchase leopard, puma etc. However, there are many sightings and cases which date back centuries previous, which would point to escapees/releases from private collections and travelling menageries which were in abundance across the UK. The problem is, this mystery has been lumped alongside UFOs, ghosts etc, which is ridiculous. When there are silly reports in the UK of lions, cheetahs and tigers, the press have a field day and then when these animals aren't found, they are deemed supernatural. Lions and tigers would escape from a zoo on occasion but wouldn't exist in the wilds of the UK. The US is slightly different; drug dealers are certainly purchasing Bengal tigers and these have escaped. There are sightings of black cats throughout the US and also Europe and Australia. It's a worldwide situation. I don't believe zoos or circuses are to blame. There is such a naivety to the situation in the UK. Puma and lynx (which was once native to the UK) could easily survive. There is plenty of prey and cover, and no-one is actually looking for them. In the UK, alongside the 'Beast of Exmoor' and 'Beast of Bodmin', the most famous mytsery felid is the 'Surrey Puma' which was seen in the leafy suburbs around the 1960s, although sightings persist today, but not of the same animal. There have also been a few silly headlines which I've covered, such as the Edgware tiger and the Winchmore Hill lioness. In 2001 a lynx was caught in a back garden in Cricklewood.

Nick: There's a chapter in the book on London's Highgate Vampire. What is your opinion on this mystery?

Neil: The Highgate 'vampire' was a malevolent spirit which succumbed to petty politics, press intrusion and inaccuracy, hoaxing and satanism. There most definitely was something lurking in this old cemetery in the '60s and early '70s, but inadequate research and silly headlines meant that pretty much all you read today about the case is very foggy. It's a fascinating case, concerning a seven-foot tall, black, red-eyed mass said to have prowled the Gothic Highgate Cemetery in North London. It's just a shame the term 'vampire' was applied! Reports do still occur, but there's no suggestion that a blood-drinking monster haunts the place.

Nick: What do you think about the flying creatures of London you describe in the book, such as the Brentford Griffin?

Neil: When you walk through London, it's amazing how much architecture represents monsters. And dragons feature heavily. There have been some strange reports over the years of weird, winged creatures. But again, I'm of the opinion that such things are either hoaxes or connected to the human psyche, and once the press get hold of the story it starts to get stronger, a snowball effect. If you believe in something enough it starts to happen! I doubt a griffin was seen over Brentford in the mid-1980s, but when you consider the local football team play at Griffin Park, the coat of arms for the place is a harbours a griffin, and there's also the Griffin pub. It's quite uncanny. However, one person's griffin is another's dragon. Strange, albeit snake-like flying serpents were recorded over Hammersmith in the 1700s, but clearly these aren't flesh and blood creatures. Dragons are probably the most celebrated mythical creatures which are embedded in our culture, and for some reason, they are seen infrequently.

Nick: What other cryptids roam London?

Neil: I don't like the term cryptid - mainly because a majority of the 'monsters' seen not just in London, but over the world, aren't creatures awaiting discovery, but instead are 'zooform phenomena'. London's history is peppered with stories of out of place animals, however - in the River Thames there have been reports of a shark, whales, a leather-back turtle, walking catfish and an alligator. In the sewers: giant rats; in the skies: eagles, vulture's and insect swarms; and of course on the streets: large, exotic cats, and hundreds of cases of escaped animals from baboons, monkeys, elephant's, kangaroos, wolves and wallabies. There are also so-called 'monsters' recorded throughout the capital and some hilarious monster hoaxes too.

Nick: What's your favorite paranormal story from London?

Neil: There are so many weird paranormal stories throughout London folklore. I tried to write about a few obscure ghost and UFO cases, but the weirdest paranormal stuff concerns phantom animals - the hellhound of the old Newgate prison, the spectral ape which visited a Hampstead man, the ghostly birds, mainly the 'poultrygeist' - a ghostly chicken said to haunt Pond Square in Highgate, and not forgetting phantom bears, ghost cats and the phantom assailants such as Spring-Heeled Jack.

Nick: What's next for you re lectures, investigations and books?

Neil: I have finished a book regarding 'beasts of London', which is possibly going to be published by the CFZ for their 'Mystery Animals...' series. It's a great book because it digs deeper into some of the cases in 'Paranormal London', but also looks at menageries and escapees, zoo escapees, spectral creatures, monsters and weird creatures found in the local rivers, streams and ponds, as well as giant birds, insects, mystery cats - this chapter proves that animals were purchased in abundance back in the 1960s as pets. I've also written a local book called Haunted Rochester which is where I live and known for its Charles Dickens connections, and I'm also doing Haunted Maidstone, Paranormal Sussex, Cryptozoology In The Movies, and a book on 'big cats'. I conduct several lectures a week and am often in the field mainly concerning my research into exotic cats. More information can be found at: and


Raven's Mysterious Haven said...

Well done! Cant wait to read it.
Nice interview gentlemen!
And thank you for clearing up the myth about the Highgate "vampire", Neil.
There are far too many misunderstandings in our fields of research and its a shame when things get labeled in such a way that they shouldnt be.

Neil A said...

Hi Raven, get in touch....I will send you a copy of the book,

osteogenesis said...

Enjoyed the interview and will be buying the book this weekend. Must admit the press do make a mockery of peoples sightings. Look forward to an interesting read.