There can't be too many dull moments in Nick Redfern's life. Well-known as a researcher in both ufology and cryptozoology, Nick manages to continue writing and releasing new books in amongst his field investigations and research trips into some of the stranger things that happen (or don't!) on this planet. Not to mention his regular contributions to the UFO Mystic blog. (He's also contributed a piece to Darklore Volume 2, coming soon).
Nick's latest book, There's Something in the Woods (Amazon US and UK), was released last week, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to have a chat with him about the book and his other investigations. Nick's never short of an opinion either, so I also asked him for his thoughts on the state of play in both ufology and cryptozoology. Some great discussion in this interview, so take the time to read it through.
NR: Yeah, you’re right: basically, my new book, There’s Something in the Woods, is a continuation from Three Men and Memoirs. In early 2006, my wife and I moved back to the UK for a while; and so the book is a story of my monster-hunting activities across two countries, from around April 2006 to the early part of this year, 2008. And like Three Men and Memoirs, it’s very much a road-trip style book, which is the way I like to do my crypto-investigations: in the field, and first-hand, as I feel that’s the only way to really get the answers to mysteries like this. As far as Britain is concerned, the book covers such areas as werewolves – in fact, there’s a huge amount of new material in the book on that subject – Bigfoot in Britain, which is a highly controversial, but nevertheless fascinating topic; big-cats on the loose in the British countryside; and phantom black-dogs. And in the US, the book details my investigations of a very weird – and occult-linked - werewolf encounter; classic Goat-Man-type sightings; Sasquatch; a few UFO-related incidents, including a little-known alleged UFO crash-retrieval from a Texas forest in the 1960s; a Man in Black case that has distinct paranormal, and even crypto overtones to it; and much more.
TDG: You've done plenty of field trips as part of your research. Does your interest lie in finding unknown 'flesh and blood' animals, or do you lean more towards the high strangeness cryptids that seem to be more paranormal in nature?
NR: That’s a damned good question! I think it’s fair to say that as time has gone on, my views on what some of these cryptids are have drastically changed. Like a lot of people, I got interested in all this when I was a kid: my parents took me to Loch Ness when I was 5, and I was hooked even then. And back then, for me, Bigfoot was a giant ape, and Nessie was a plesiosaur. It was all just black-and-white. But, today – and for a long time now – my views are very different. Although many cryptozoologists roll their eyes and frown whenever anyone dares to suggest that Bigfoot might be anything other than mere flesh-and-blood, there’s no doubt in my mind that Bigfoot, the Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, the Chupacabras, and many of these various “things” are just too weird. They jam cameras, they vanish in the blink of any eye, we can never catch them, and sometimes they turn up in the same places as UFOs, or where other weird activity – such as poltergeist activity and even the Men in Black – is found. Now, I would say that at least some of these things are real, flesh-and-blood animals, such as Mokele-mbembe, Megalania, sea-serpents and such like. But Bigfoot, black dogs, many of the lake monsters, werewolves: these really are something from the outer edge, in my opinion.
I’m fascinated by the idea that maybe – whether by altered states, astral projection – we can access their domain, just as they seem to access ours. Some people think I’m completely nutty when I start on things like this, but I don’t care! If Bigfoot is one day proven to just be a big ape, or if the body of a dead plesiosaur one day washes up on the shores of Loch Ness, I will be massively disappointed. I know, I just know, that what is going on is way stranger than that. And I want answers.
TDG: Can you give our readers a glimpse of this paranormal tinge to cryptozoology with some case studies? For instance, the ‘Black Dogs’ that you mention: there’s plenty of high strangeness around these sightings aren’t there?
NR: Yeah, sure. Here’s a perfect one: in Britain we get a lot of Bigfoot-type reports. In fact, there are dozens on file that span centuries. These reports, and the witnesses, are as credible as any that have come out of the United States. And I’ve spoken to many such witnesses in England, and I’m absolutely convinced of the honesty of these people when they say they saw this huge, hairy thing. But there is not a single chance in hell that a tribe or race of giant ape-men is hiding out in the woods and forests of the British Isles – that’s completely ludicrous! The size of the country, the nature of the land, and the human population size and range would ensure they would be caught in no time at all. And where is the evidence of the huge amounts of food that creatures of this size would have to ingest every day just to stay alive? Where are all the stripped trees? Where is the evidence? I’ll tell you: there is no evidence! Plus, in the UK, many such sightings have been made near old stone circles, archaeological sites, and more. So, yes, people are seeing something – but what, precisely, is a matter of debate. But a large, literal, flesh and blood ape-man: no.
The black dogs are another: Britain has a long history of people seeing large, black hounds with glowing red eyes. Many researchers and folklorists see them as a kind of grim-reaper type character. They appear, they vanish in the blink of an eye, and what’s with those glowing eyes? I’ve never seen a real dog like that, and neither has anyone else. Take Loch Ness too. The place is teeming with weirdness: big-cats, Men in Black, Kelpies, ghosts, synchronicities; the list goes on. Even Aleister Crowley had a house at Loch Ness! And don’t get me started on my favorite subject of werewolves: these things should not exist, and yet they seem to – in some form, at least.
So, there are many paranormal aspects to cryptozoology. Actually, the thing about all this that puzzles me the most is not so much how we define what lies at the heart of this paranormal link to cryptozoology. Rather, the thing that puzzles me most is: why are so many researchers so incredibly hostile to the paranormal theory? Why does Bigfoot have to be a giant ape? Why does Nessie have to be a plesiosaur? Why is it wrong to dare to suggest – as I do – that some of these things might actually be Tulpas? I’ve never understood that rigid “It can only be flesh-and-blood” approach. And it’s the same with Roswell: what’s wrong with suggesting theories that aren’t in the ET arena? To me, it’s baffling. Maybe it offers some people comfort to go with the other, flesh-and-blood or ET approach. Maybe it’s seen as exciting. But that’s not being objective, as I see it.
TDG: If someone is interested in cryptozoology, can you offer some good resources for getting started (apart from your own books)?
NR: Well, I always say to people that, as with ufology, cryptozoology is one of those subjects where common-sense is a vital thing to have. A lot of people in both fields think it’s important to wear a suit and tie, and have letters after your name, credentials, etc. Of course it isn’t important! That’s just being pompously self-important. And Forteana has a lot of that. Instead, being able to do solid research, in the field, is what actually counts. Having a good bullshit detector when it comes to analyzing witness testimony is vital. Staying the course, having enthusiasm, and being prepared to rough it in the woods, mountains, jungles, and realize that it can be bloody hard work are all vital issues too.
Personally, for newcomers, I’d advise them to read, read, and read: get acquainted with the history of the subject, check out the many good books that are out there. That’s a vital area: the history, the players, and the data. Try and hook-up with local groups in your area, if there are any. Go on field-trips; go to lectures and conferences. Avoid belief-systems at all costs, and just go where the evidence takes you. Listen to what other people in the field say, but don’t be swayed if your data suggests otherwise – you could be the one who cracks the mystery tomorrow.
This is one of those subjects that is so unpredictable and odd that a newcomer could blow it all wide open tomorrow, just as easily as someone who has been doing it for 50 years or more. But always stay enthusiastic. I’ve seen people lose their enthusiasm for it, and they get tired and old, and it’s sad. They get bitter that they haven’t solved it, and inside they think they never will now. I say don’t get bitter or give up and lose: just keep pushing harder and harder.
TDG: You're also well-known as a UFO researcher. How do you split your time between these two pursuits? Do you favour one over the other?
NR: I prefer cryptozoology, mainly because it allows me to get into the field, to go to exotic and interesting places, to trek through jungles and rain-forests, or to head up and down mountains. In other words, as well as being informative, it’s fun too. There’s nothing worse than being bored in what you do. And on-the-road cryptozoology is anything but boring! Now, much of the UFO research I do can be very rewarding. But, frankly, sitting in the National Archives for a week going through thousands of pages of old Air Force files is completely mind-numbing torture. But there are times I have to do that. Now the end result can be rewarding. But do I enjoy sitting in some old archive for days at a time? No: I hate it.
That said, I have great enthusiasm for on-the-road UFO investigations, just as I do with cryptozooology. I suppose it’s mainly that I have the sort of character where I get bored quickly sitting still; which is why I always have lots of projects – big or small – on the go. I get restless when I’m not out doing stuff. So, libraries and old files can be fun for just about an hour or two, but after a day or two I do feel a bit insane and fried. I would say, however, that splitting my time between ufology and cryptozoology is no problem, though, as they are so different.
I’m doing at least one more UFO book – a very controversial one due to be published next year that may actually unsettle a lot of people – but I’m not sure how many more UFO titles I’d want to do after that. I don’t think I’d ever say that my next UFO book would definitely be my last UFO book. But I’m not sure how much more, after this one, I can say or want to say specifically on the UFO subject – at least in book-length terms. Something really ground-breaking would have to come along, I think. Not just more bloody lights in the sky.
But, as far as crypto is concerned, I’ll do that forever: I love it. And I have a lot of other Fortean interests I want to write about in books, too. As long as I have the enthusiasm, and something new to report on, I’ll do it. The day it all feels like a 9 to 5 job, or I feel I don’t have anything new to say, I’ll be gone in a flash. But I truly don’t think that will ever happen. Plus, there’s actually not much else I can do. Aside from when I worked for a couple of years as a fork-lift driver and a van-driver when the writing went quiet, I can’t actually do anything else aside from writing. So, it’s Forteana or death – and hopefully it’s the former!
TDG: Where do you see these two topics – ufology and cryptozoology – heading in the future? Many people have remarked that the ‘first wave’ of researchers is slowly disappearing. Who do you see stepping up to take their place; the ‘next generation’ so to speak (besides your good self!)?
NR: This is an interesting question, as it’s one that has been the subject of discussion on more than a few blogs lately. Personally, I think new blood in ufology is vital – but on one condition: namely, that the new blood is open-minded. I’ll tell you what I mean: in my view the old, Keyhoe-type of ufology dominated by classic flying saucers and soil-sample-grabbing aliens is over; utterly gone, aside from in the memories of people who were in the subject at the time. The phenomenon is clearly changing to mirror the people of then and now. Yet, there’s so many people – even some relatively young ones – still stuck in the old nuts-and-bolts, vehicle-interference, radar-visual dominated era. But much of the old-guard doesn’t want change: it wants the good old days to go on forever. Well, they won’t go on forever – and they shouldn’t either, because investigating the subject in the old ways hasn’t got us any answers, at all, in 60 years. Yes, we have more reports and more sightings and more testimony, but actual answers? Nope: not a single one.
However, while it would be great to inject a whole load of new blood into the subject, it’s only going to work if the new generation is open-minded enough to not just be clones of the older generation. In other words, merely being younger is not enough on its own. There has to be a willingness to not be confined by one theory. In life in general, there are 70-year-olds whose minds are full of wonder and new ideas, and there are 17-year-olds who have already made their mind up – on all sorts of things. So, yes, we definitely need new people. But they have got to bring something new to the table, and not be caught up from day-one in the “Flying Saucers from Outer Space” era because that’s never solved anything and is clearly redundant.
And, broadly, the same applies to cryptozoology, too. Who’s it going to be that flies the flag for the future? I haven’t got a clue! Although, I suspect like most revolutionary changes it will suddenly burst forth and sweep away the old. And, of course, there’s also the very real possibility that there won’t be enough young, new people coming along, and the subject will begin to fade away until it’s seen by future generations as just that “weird stuff” that people thought was cool in the mid-to-late 20th century, and in the early part of this century. Kind of like how old-time spiritualism and research into fairies and mermaids is perceived today.
TDG: Well on that note - are some of the classic topics becoming obsolete? We’ve just seen the 61st anniversary of Roswell, a topic you’ve written about previously (Body Snatchers in the Desert). Is it worth continuing to look into this case, and others of that period? In cryptozoology, after decades of searching for Bigfoot, Nessie et al, is it perhaps time to call it a day?
NR: Well, what I do think is that the more and more time passes, the less chance we have of resolving the older cases. That isn’t being defeatist: it’s just a fact! Look at Roswell: something clearly happened, and I’m personally convinced it was something highly controversial, and probably a down-to-earth event rather than ET. But, look at the cold, hard facts: nearly all of the players are dead, the government steadfastly refuses to say it was anything other than Mogul balloons and crash-test-dummies, and we have no official files on the case to suggest otherwise. So, short of someone on the inside leaking the goods to us, we are at complete stalemate. So, in a sense, a case like Roswell is obsolete because – no matter how significant it could be in theory – in practice it isn’t going to go anywhere anymore. And loftily demanding that the government “tell us the truth” is utterly laughable and naive. Plus, witness testimony alone for Roswell will never prove ufology’s case: only a corpse or an undeniable old file will do that. I have mentioned to other people that I see Roswell as a ufological Jack the Ripper: everyone has heard of it, it happened a long time ago, there are a lot of theories, everyone is dead (mainly), there are countless books on the subject, but the mystery never gets fully solved and laid to rest. And as more time passes, so does the chance of resolving it. So, yes, move on and recognize the fact that there are hundreds of more recent cases that are equally worth looking at, and possibly more so.
As for Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster and other such creatures: no, I don’t think it’s time to call it a day; but as with ufology, a radical new approach is needed. The fact is that Bigfoot is beyond weird: there’s far more going on than a big old ape lumbering around and conveniently never getting caught. So, it’s not the searching that should stop in either ufology or cryptozoology: it’s the nature of the search, the approach taken, and the mindset that needs to change. Whether that actually happens, however, is down to the relevant communities. It would be as depressing as hell if in 2108 or 2208 the dominant questions are “How do we prove that aliens crashed at Roswell?” Or “How can we catch a Bigfoot?”