Getting to know Weird Bristol with Charlie Revelle-SmithPosted on: 15 Nov 2023
This week on Getting to Know, we've got a returning guest - Weird Bristol's Charlie Revelle-Smith! First interviewed on this segment six years ago, we caught back up with Charlie to find out what's changed, what hasn't, and to hear about his new book, Further Weird Bristol.
Hi Charlie, nice to see you again! As a reminder for our readers, what is Weird Bristol?
Weird Bristol started out as a social media feed on Twitter, and it was where, daily, I would just tweet about curious bits of Bristol history that I’d discovered on my various walks.
So, bits of history you weren’t familiar with, or just interesting bits that were dotted here and there about the city.
You’re originally from Cornwall, how did you end up in Bristol?
I came here in the year 2000 because I went to UWE to study English. Like so many people, I came to Bristol, fell in love with it – and have never left since then.
At the same time as feeling like you’re in a big city, it doesn’t feel quite as alienating as, say, London. The people just seem to have a little bit more of that South-West laid-back vibe to them, and things don’t feel quite as urgent as they do in perhaps more central metropolitan areas.
It feels like a city that hasn’t been overtaken by cynicism. I think part of that is that we enjoy all of the luxuries that come from living in a city – but also, one of the great things about living in Bristol is that it’s so easy to get out of Bristol. You can get into the countryside and enjoy seeing the change of seasons, get out and explore the wilderness, and feel like you can have a bit of solitude to yourself, as well.
Painted in the early 00s, Banksy's figure of Death on the Thekla ship was at first painted over by the council (without the permission of the Thekla's owners, who were understandably furious at the council.) Banksy returned soon after to repaint the mural.— Weird Bristol (@WeirdBristol) November 10, 2023
When we last spoke, we asked you your top 3 facts about Bristol that people might not know – what are they now?
The number one that surprises a lot of people is to discover that in America there is a Bristol themepark.
In Bristol, Wisconsin, every year they have a renaissance fair. It lasts over the course of a summer, and they set up a replica of Tudor Bristol – our Bristol. There’s all different areas named after ours – there’s a Clifton, and a Bedminster – and every year, hundreds of thousands of people go to visit this Bristol themepark.
It goes on for weeks and weeks and weeks, and is one of the biggest fairs of its kind in the world – and loads of people in Bristol don’t even know there’s this duplicate version of us over in the states.
The second one – for the sheer gruesome factor of it – is the John Horwood book. John Horwood was found guilty of murder in the 1820s, and was executed. The whole case itself is very interesting because there are plenty of people that would argue he wasn’t guilty of murder at all.
But the most chilling remnant of the whole case is that you can go and see the trial notes from his case in M Shed, and they’re bound in his own skin, which they leathered and then bound the book into. To be able to see something like that, it’s such a rarity – there are only a few books known to exist bound in human skin in the world.
They used almost every part of his body for something – there was hardly anything left afterwards. His skeleton was used for study, his organs removed… His skeleton was kept in a cupboard – actually not too far from this spot where we are, here in Bristol Museum – and it was only buried a few years ago when they had a funeral ceremony for what was left of John Horwood at that time.
Now, I’ve got to pick a third one, haven’t I...I would say the Queen Square Riots – which would’ve been 1832 I think. The people in charge of ruling over Bristol had managed to fix things that such a tiny percentage of the population were even eligible to vote. After these measures involving the Reform Act, it was the people of Bristol who said “We’ve had enough”.
It was a huge uprising in Queen Square – there seemed to be something of a cover-up, trying to hide how huge of an uprising it was, and hundreds of people died, but it seemed to have largely worked. There were reforms that were put through into law that ensured that more people had the right to vote. In fact, all of the times when Bristol has rioted, it seems to have had a large impact on the rest of the country, in terms of measures done beyond Bristol.
I think it was in the late 1700s, with the Bristol Bridge Riots, someone said something along the lines of “If you give the people of Bristol the slightest provocation, they will riot” – basically, don’t mess around with Bristol, because they won’t have it. I’d like to think that the spirit of that continues to this today.
You’re also an author, of course, with various novels, but you also have Weird Bristol compilation books, of which a third is coming out. Can you tell us more?
Yes, the first book in the series was just called Weird Bristol, the follow-up was More Weird Bristol, and the third is Further Weird Bristol – that’s the one coming out now. All three are based around walks you can do around Bristol – they have various stops around the way, and they give you details about something interesting that happened there, or a peculiar feature.
The book was initially supposed to come out in time for Christmas 2020 – in fact, at the end of More Weird Bristol, I ended it saying that it would be out next year. Of course, nobody could have known what 2020 was going to bring with it. The number one thing I do when writing these books is to get out on foot, exploring these places, talking to people. Obviously I couldn’t do any of that, I was stuck inside.
The other thing which happened during lockdown is...basically, a drinking problem, which I had going into the pandemic – it blossomed into full blown alcoholism. So last year, I thought “I’ve had enough, I can’t go on living like this anymore.” I thought I would just cut it out entirely; I got three days into cold turkey when I collapsed. It turns out you can’t just go from heavy drinking to complete sobriety – your body goes into a kind of withdrawal shock. I ended up going to the Royal Infirmary, where I was kept for a month.
I thought, as all alcoholics do, I was emotionally on top of it. I was keeping my life balance alright – but the stuff that’s going on under the surface, all the health things, you’re very unaware of. Especially the things like liver and kidneys, you don’t necessarily know anything is going wrong. So when I went into the hospital they found out that a bunch of stuff had happened. Because my liver was so damaged, my blood was toxic, so my brain was actually suffering because of it. I was unconscious for about two weeks – I had a 50/50 chance of pulling through. I then managed to catch COVID on top of that while I was in hospital!
I somehow managed to get out and have stayed sober since then. It’s coming up to year-and-a-half now of squeaky clean sobriety – I’ve actually taken to it very well. The follow-up stuff seems to be saying that everything is improving, and everything is going in the right direction. So, it seems that I had an extremely close call, but I have managed to triumph over it, which is the way that I’m looking at it – because otherwise it’s horrible, looking back to how things could have been. Instead you have to say, this is how it went, I actually managed to save myself from addiction and I am back on track.
That’s why writing this book, Further Weird Bristol, it feels like this is the final piece in my recovery. Even if it’s just something I’ve done for me – obviously, I hope other people like it – it feels very personal to me. It feels like an achievement of this life-changing event and getting myself back on track and saying “Yes, I can still write. I can still do this.” I’m very proud of it, probably more so than my other books.
If you think you or someone you know might be struggling with alcoholism, you can find help, advice, and a list of resources on the NHS website.
To move on to one of your other book series, The Bristol Murders, with Franklin Gallow – if there were to be a TV series produced, who would you cast as Franklin? Bonus points for a Bristolian actor!
The number one thing that I would want for Franklin Gallow is – he’s a redhead, a ginger. There’s surprisingly few redhead male actors in the country, so I’ve actually always been a bit stuck for who that would be.
For his assistant, Rowan Kaplan, the dream casting for me would be Lydia West. She’s a very talented young actor and I think she would be perfect for the role. So, it’s definitely something I’ve spent time thinking about.
That was fun series of books, which I wrote mostly for myself. If it was a pie chart of all the books I’ve sold, a thin sliver of them would be the fiction books – the rest is the Weird Bristol books, because they just get more attention. But I love writing fiction, and I loved writing The Bristol Murders. It felt like a nice exercise for my brain as well, and I really enjoyed spending time with those characters. I’m very proud of those books.
There’s always a possibility of it coming back – I’ve got a few ideas of how I’d like to bring them back. It all depends on how much I want to revisit them, but I think I will do eventually. Even if it’s done just for me. I think they’re characters I’d like to check in with every so often – just make sure they’re doing okay!
My novella, “My Name is Gef” is available now in paperback.— Weird Bristol (@WeirdBristol) September 20, 2023
Originally published as an ebook back in 2015, this gentle, bittersweet tale of growing up and letting go is an imagined retelling of the legend of Gef, the talking Mongoose.
You also mentioned you do a podcast earlier – can you tell us about that?
Oh, the podcast! It’s been going for several years – it’s not anything Bristol related. It’s called The Spooktator, it’s about ghosts and hauntings and supernatural stuff – taken from the point of people who aren’t necessarily believers, but do have an interest in supernatural and unexplained stuff.
It’s offering sort of rational explanations for things, but also appreciating the fact that you can enjoy the speculation without having to necessarily believe in all of it.
If you were Mayor of Bristol for the day – what would you do?
This is an absurd little dream I’ve had, about solving Bristol’s transport woes, and at the same time having a little bit of a tourist attraction.
You know those little miniature trains you can ride on? Why don’t we have those going around everywhere – up Park Street, up all of our hills, just a nice whimsical, fun way of getting about. It’s the sort of thing where people might say “Oh, Bristol! That’s famous for the Suspension Bridge, and those mini trains that take everyone everywhere.”
So that’s my solution, we need to solve Bristol’s traffic problems with mini trains!
Adorable! Thanks, Charlie.
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Patrick is a filmmaker with so much Bristol in his blood the white blood cells are graffiti'd. Educated at the Northern Film School in Leeds, he’s returned home to be a Videographer and Reviewer for 365Bristol and BARBI. When he’s not messing about with cameras, he enjoys playing guitar, spending far too much time on tabletop RPGs, and being an awful snob about cider. Have a look at his work here, or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.