CREATED BY - JAMES BURT
GENRE - FLASH FICTION SET IN THE SOUTH DOWNS, ENGLAND | FOLKLORE | GHOST STORIES
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN - UNITED KINGDOM
A5/28 PAGES/BLACK & WHITE/PAMPHLET
PRICE - £2.00 + FREE SHIPPING FROM THE ORBIFIC ETSY STORE
Started in March 2020, “The South Downs Way” is a series of zines collecting short flash-fiction written by James Burt, set along the South Downs Way, with the fourth issue released in January 2022. The stories cover a range of genres and are generally standalone tales, but there are some recurring characters across the zine’s run creating a longer narrative. According to creator James Burt, the stories are “written to have the feeling of a walk, of stories from other travellers and the sense of places passing. Memories combine with history and folklore to give a unique view of the Sussex Landscape”. The tales are annotated with the map references of where precisely they take place along the Way, and can often be dark and contain adult themes, inspired by the landscape and folklore of the South Downs, while others are based on real events.
The South Downs Way is an area dotted with remains of ancient settlements and famous landmarks such as the Long Man of Wilmington and Chanctonbury Ring. This sense of timelessness comes across strongly in the fiction, which can be very moving, with tales of lost people (and their lost dreams) walking the route, and the people they meet along the way.
The Devil himself appears in the second issue, a collection of tales which recount the Devil’s life, told in chronological order, in relation to the Sussex countryside. We see Old Nick land on Earth, tempt Jesus and join him in his last days. There are also some stories related to the longer narrative. The third issue, subtitled “Crossing Paths”, is a dark collection of stories about fateful meetings with diverse beings, from fortune tellers to robot poets, while part four, “Weird Tales”, is the darkest yet, featuring phantom hitchhikers, a vengeful black dog, walking corpses and an auction of ghosts, amongst other grisly frights.
James Burt is an excellent writer, there’s no doubt about that. The stories aren’t long, with some being a couple of paragraphs, but they’re always just the right length. Reading the first four issues, it is a joy to recognise recurring themes and characters, including “Sam”, “Gary” and “The Walker (who can be many people), as their narrative is steadily built over the course of the stories. These are affecting tales, well-written and honest, and well worth setting time aside to read.
All issues are currently in stock, with issues 1-3 available as a bundle priced at £5.00 with free shipping. James Burt's website can be found at ORBIFIC.COM.
James Burt also produces a standalone companion title linked to “The South Downs Way” entitled “A Foolish Journey”, featuring twelve new stories about the life of a fortune-teller called Sam who featured in the main zines, alongside a reprint of a few earlier stories for context. Being about a fortune-teller, the Tarot features prominently and the Devil makes a reappearance; this is a dark trip but it ends on a positive note.
"A Foolish Journey" is also available from the Etsy store, priced at £3.00 with free shipping.