Gareth Rees

‘Marshman’ Gareth Rees. Photograph: Eleonore de Bonneval

Spooky goings on on Hackney Marshes are all par for the course in a psychedelic new work of fiction.

The work, by author Gareth Rees, 40, follows the publication last year of his semi-autobiographical short story A Dream Life of Hackney Marshes – about a man who has a nervous breakdown and embarks on an affair with an electricity pylon.

Marshland: Dreams and Nightmares on the Edge of London expands on some of the themes in this story, and the text is complemented by suitably weird illustrations by artist Ada Jusic.

It is being launched on Saturday 16 November, when Rees will lead a tour starting at the Princess of Wales, 146 Lea Bridge Road, at 12.45pm.

‘Dead bears’

A message advertising the walk on Facebook describes it as “an invitation to cross the threshold between waking and dreaming… discovering the druggy Victorians, dead bears, phantom factories and sinister birdlife that appear in ‘Marshland’ while in the locations that inspired the stories. Bring hip-flasks of booze and an open mind.”

Rees’s obsession with the Marshes began when he first visited the Middlesex Filter Beds around five years ago while walking his black cocker spaniel Hendrix.

He said: “I’d never really realised it was there.

“The filter beds looked like the temples of Tikal with Mayan walkways with overgrown bits.

“The dais in the middle had a fire burnt out in it like some ceremony had taken place.”

‘Narnia’

“It was like going into the back of your wardrobe and discovering Narnia,” he added.

Rees, a copywriter in his day job, had discovered what was to become his muse.

The overgrown chunk of East London flanking the old River Lea inspired Rees’s popular blog, ‘The Marshman Chronicles’, in which he delves into the history and mysteries of this wild place, telling tales of Saxon longboats rising out of bogs, occult gatherings and feral humans.

He resurrects old stories about strange happenings on the Marshes such as the time in the 1980s when the decapitated bodies of two bears were found in a waterway in the area.

Rees’s obsession with the area began shortly after his wife gave birth to their first child.

He said: “It was an escape from the canalised city. People live in these deep trenches.

“You go through turnstiles. Everything’s logged.

“You’re under surveillance and you’re under pressure from friends and work. You’re always acting.

“And then there is this place where there’s no story.

‘It was like going into the back of your wardrobe and discovering Narnia.’

“There’s no clear narrative.

“It doesn’t belong to anyone.

“It’s good for writing stories and thinking about things, but it also gives you a sense of the arrogance of the city.”

Marshland: Dreams and Nightmares on the Edge of London is published by Influx Press. ISBN: 0957169396. RRP: 8.99. The book can be ordered via influxpress.com

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