Thirty years ago today, two young girls on holiday with their parents in southern Cornwall, were frightened by "a nasty bird man" that they saw flying above the church tower at Mawnan Old Church, a few miles from Falmouth. Thus the legend of the Owlman of Mawnan was born, and a series of events which would continue to the present day (and which - tangentally - would be the biggest impetus that my career as a fortean has ever received), was kickstarted into action.
I first heard about the Owlman in 1986, when the first issue of Fortean Times that I ever read carried a story telling how the notorious `Wizard of the Western World`, Tony "Doc" Shiels, had been accused of desecrating Mawnan Old Church during a Hallow'een attempt to invoke His Owliness.
Then, a few days later, I read Graham McEwan's Mystery Animals of Britain and Ireland which told the story of the early Owlman sightings. I was hooked, and over the next ten years I dedicatedb far more of my life than could be considered healthy into researching the subject. In 1997 I published The Owlman and Others - a book which has sold more than anu of my other books put together, and which established my reputation (such as it is).
I have written about the pitfalls of Psychic Backlash on a number of occasions. Chasing the more arcane monsters ain't good for your mental health at the best of times, but there seems to be something far more sinister involved with certain monsters - especially The Owlman. As I wrote many years ago:
"One thing that I do know about monster hunting, however, is that those who practice it are susceptible to what “Doc” has called “Psychic Backlash”. This is a series of inexplicable and horrific outbreaks of bad luck that can overtake the hapless seeker asfter monstrous truth on his way to his goal. I never believed in it until, during the months that I was working on “The Owlman and Others” two of my pet cats died suddenly, two computyers blew up (as did two cars) and my wife left me."
So, it was with some trepidation that I reluctantly agreed when Mark North suggested that as it was now the 30th anniversary of the first events in Mawnan woods, that we really should publish the definitive version of the book as a 30th Anniversary edition.
I must say that Marky has done a magnificent job. The book is now some 350 large format pages long and is packed with rare and never before seen pictures, interviews and memorabilia.
However, I have to admit one thing. This case frightens the hell out of me, and has done for many years. There is something particularly grotesque about the Owlman story, and I - for one - am not at all surprised that one 1995 witness described it as a "vision from Hell". Six years ago I received an email purporting to be from one of the girls who had witnessed the "creature" in Mawnan woods in July 1976. She wrote: "I really don’t know why I decided to write all this down, after so many years. As I have said, someone close to me thought that I should come clean. Actually, doing so has affected me less than I thought it was going to. Reading over I believe that what happened in July ‘76 shaped my life for years afterwards.
(....) Whatever happened that July is firmly in the past, and I intend to leave it there".
Now I have published the 30th Anniversary edition, that's it for me too. I will spend the rest of my fortean careeer wandering along slightly more travelled paths, and like `Sally` wrote.. It is - for me too - firmly in the past, and I intend to leave it there.