Phil Rickman is a British author best known for writing supernatural and mystery novels, often based on conflicting forces of paganism and other religions.
Rickman was born in Lancashire in northern England. He worked as a journalist for BBC World Service TV and BBC Radio 4. His first novel, Candlenight, won critical acclaim and gained Rickman the title of Britain's next great horror writer. He followed up with four more standalone novels, then began the Merrily Watkins series. The Merrily Watkins books, about a down-to-earth female priest of the Church of England employed as an exorcist, created a distinct new genre of crime thrillers with supernatural and spiritual causes. He occasionally writes under the pseudonym Will Kingdom. Rickman is married and lives on the Welsh border, and currently has a radio show on BBC Radio Wales about books, Phil the Shelf.
Rickman's novels often involve Celtic mythology, native earthworks (especially stone circles), and oppositions of various spiritual forces. Characters often carry over from one novel to the next, usually as minor characters in one or more novels and major characters in another. Novels generally revolve around small towns and their spiritual legacies, often interwoven with current political issues. Most of his novels address the tensions between "locals," the longtime residents of rural areas, and "incomers" who have recently moved to the area; these conflicts have a socio-economic dimension reminiscent of gentrification, but in Rickman's hands they often assume a supernatural or spiritual aspect as well. Music is also an important theme in many of his books, from fictional bands to Nick Drake.
Candlenight is set in the strangely idyllic Welsh village Y Groes and in the gritty, bleak town of Pontmeurig (based, says Rickman, on "Bettws Cedewain, near Newtown in Powys" and on "Llandovery in Carmarthenshire" respectively. In Pontmeurig, English "incomers" face hostility; yet in nearby Y Groes, the English couple Giles and Claire are welcomed with utter serenity...and find that they are the only "incomers" in the entire village.
Rickman draws on various aspects of Welsh folklore, including the Gwrach y Rhibyn (witch of Rhibin), the Bird of Death, the toili (phantom funeral), and the Canwyll Gorff (corpse-candle) which gives the book its title.
Crybbe, published as Curfew in the United States, concerns the arrival of New Age enthusiasts in the eponymous Welsh border village of Crybbe. Crybbe is a fictional town, but Rickman suggests that curious readers visit "Knighton and Presteigne in Powys, Clun and Bishop's Castle in south-west Shropshire. It isn't really any of them, but you'll get the idea." Rickman also concedes that Stephen King's Salem's Lot was an influence on Crybbe. This novel introduces Joe Powys, who also appears in Rickman's novel Chalice, and Gomer Parry, a regular in the Merrily Watkins novels.
The novel features dowsing, ley lines, and the magical experiments of John Dee, as well as a version of the supernatural black dog (sometimes called the Gwyllgi) which appears in much British and even American folklore.
The Wine of Angels introduces Merrily Watkins, the new...and female...parish priest for the town of Ledwardine, in Herefordshire, as well as her bright, sarcastic daughter Jane, their formidable neighbor Lucy Devenish, and the withdrawn musician Lol Robinson.
Three notable influences on this novel are Ella Mary Leather's Folklore of Herefordshire, the poetry of Thomas Traherne, and the music of Nick Drake.
In Midwinter of the Spirit Merrily becomes the official exorcist for the diocese of Hereford; although she continues to be the parish priest of Ledwardine, she finds herself spending a lot of time in Hereford, particularly at Hereford Cathedral, in the course of her new...and terrifying...duties.
In A Crown of Lights, Merrily tries to negotiate a conflict between Neopagans and charismatic Christians which erupts in Old Hindwell, a village near Radnor Forest.
The title refers to the Neo-pagans' planned celebration of Imbolc.
The Cure of Souls features an apparently haunted hop-kiln in Knight's Frome, a village on the River Frome in the Frome Valley. Prof Levin and Simon St. John, characters from Rickman's novel December, both appear.
This novel draws on Roma folklore, including the legend of the mulo.
The Lamp of the Wicked concerns murders surrounding the village of Underhowle, near Ross-on-Wye, close to the border of Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. Moira Cairns, a character from Rickman's December and The Man in the Moss, appears.
Phil Rickman calls this "the Cromwell Street novel"; it also draws somewhat on the practices of Aleister Crowley, including sex magic, and discusses the use of sigils.
In The Prayer of the Night Shepherd Merrily's daughter Jane is working at Stanner Hall, a hotel on the English-Welsh border (near the village of Kington) which may or may not have been the model for Arthur Conan Doyle's Baskerville Hall.
The Smile of a Ghost takes place not in Herefordshire, but in Ludlow, a town in Shropshire; the mayor of Ludlow requests Merrily's help after two suicides occur in the reputedly haunted Ludlow Castle.
Remains of an Altar, another Merrily Watkins novel, is based around the Malvern Hills area of Herefordshire/Worcestershire. Its main plotlines focus on an apparent haunting by the composer Edward Elgar, and disputes over whether a housing estate should be built across an alleged ley-line in Ledwardine.
In The Fabric of Sin Merrily is asked to investigate a report of haunting in a house owned by the Duchy of Cornwall (ie, The Prince of Wales), in a village with links to the Knights Templar.
To Dream of the Dead picks up on the events of The Remains of an Altar, in particular the proposed building of a new housing estate in Ledwardine, in the light of real world archoelogical discoveries in the West Country around the time of the Altar's publication.
Apart from Merrily Watkins, numerous characters appear in multiple books.
Merrily Watkins - female protagonist, Anglican priest and Deliverance Consultant.
Jane Watkins - Merrily's fiercely intelligent and strong-willed teenage daughter, navigating her way through growing up as the Vicar's child along with the usual pains of love and teenage angst
Lol Robinson - sometime love interest of Merrily, singer songwriter with a scarred past
Gomer Parry - a tenderly-drawn portrait of a local man who would otherwise have been lost in himself in encroaching old age, but who has become Merrily's confidante and protector of "the little Vicar" and Jane. When Gomer's glasses start to shine, something interesting is always about to happen...
Danny Thomas - ex-musician and now local handyman.
Annie Howe - An ambitious police officer with a fast track career, who has little sympathy for supernatural explanations or Merrily's interference
Frannie Bliss - A more sympathetic, but slightly lower-ranked, police officer
Andy Mumford - Down to earth police sergeant
Charlie Howe - Retired policeman, father of Annie Howe. Now a local councillor, who may have broken the rules while he was in the force, and Andy Mumford was his assistant.
Sophie Hill - Formidably efficient secretary at the Bishop's Palace
Bernie Dunmore - The bishop in charge of Merrily in the later books - a man close to retirement who probably wouldn't have been promoted to bishop had an unexpected vacancy not needed filling as a result of an early book's events
Prof Levin - legend of the music industry, now running a recording studio in the border country and intent on resurrecting Lol's career. Levin initially appeared in one of Rickman's pre-Merrily novels
Simon St. John - Troubled fellow vicar, whose earlier history had featured in December
Nick Drake - real-life British singer-songwriter of the 60s and 70s, dead at the age of 26, whose influence permeates the novels so greatly that his presence is felt almost as a living character