EDINBURGH | GLASGOW | ABERDEEN | INVERNESS | DUNDEE | PERTH

Richard Wiseman – The Walter Scott Séance


Interview

Experimental psychologist tells us about communing with the great author.

Image of Richard Wiseman – The Walter Scott Séance
Richard Wiseman with death mask of Sir Walter Scott. Photo: Kenny Mathieson

Psychology professor, magician, writer and speaker, Richard Wiseman has become very familiar to Edinburgh audiences through his Fringe and Magic Festival shows. His latest project, however, is something not of this world. In the magnificent surroundings of the Signet Library, he and a select audience will contact the spirit of Edinburgh’s famous son, Sir Walter Scott. We sent Kenny Mathieson as our representative from the land of the living to see if Scott fancied writing for The Wee Review. We’re still waiting on confirmation, but in the meantime, Kenny grabbed a word with Wiseman…  

These initial shows are billed as ‘preview shows’, what are your plans/hopes for what happens next?

We will be opening the show properly during August, and then seeing what happens after that.  In an ideal world The Walter Scott Séance will become Edinburgh’s next attraction!

The Signet Library is an unusual venue for a show. What connection does it have have to Sir Walter Scott?

The Signet Library is owned by The Writers To The Signet – a 500 year old organization of lawyers. As well as being a world famous writer, Scott worked as a lawyer and sheriff for most of his life. His father (another Walter Scott) was a writer to the Signet and Scott was an apprentice member.

How did this exciting partnership with Sir Walter Scott come about? Who contacted who first and by which method?

I had already had some conversations with them about some kind of fun, interactive and unusual event. Then I heard that they had a small chamber in the basement that was connected to Scott and were open to us taking it over as a performance space.  It took a couple of months to develop the show, but now seems like a very good historical fit.

Edinburgh has many famous dead celebrities. What made a joint venture with Sir Walter Scott in particular, so appealing?

A number of reasons. First, I happen to live in his old house, and so he wrote Rob Roy and Ivanhoe in my kitchen! Also, not many people know that he was fascinated with the supernatural, and so he seems a perfect character to explore – by day he was one of the most successful writers in the world, by night he was a ghost hunter!

There have been rumours that Sir Walter can be something of a theatrical diva and quite difficult to work with, care to comment?

He has been wonderful to work with. In terms of the séance, he always tend to turn up right on cue, has never complained about the audience or tried to negotiate on the fee.

Are you now, or have you ever been, the reincarnation of Sir Walter Scott?

Not that I know of. However, I believe the novelist Hugh Walpole was a big Scott fan and thought that he was indeed the reincarnation of the great man. There again, I got that from Wikipedia.

Does this séance involve Scots facing their greatest fears, namely, holding hands with complete strangers?

Ha. Alas no. That is a Victorian invention. Instead, we stick to the tradition of Georgian ghost stories, in which ghosts make their presence known in the most uncanny of ways. It is far more about getting a shiver down your spine that a full form materialization!

If this goes very well, do you have any plans for future projects with Sir Walter? For example, ghost writing any new novels? Just think of the potential movie rights for Ivanhoe 2!

It’s a good thought. Although his books are perhaps a tad slow moving for many modern day readers. But yes, if I am able to channel his spirit, I would be delighted to dash off another couple of novels and a few poems.

How would you assess the risk of dark forces, or perhaps even The Apocalypse itself, being unleashed as a result of this show?

Low to non-existent.

In 2014, the magazine Science listed you as the 12th greatest science star on Twitter. Picture the scene. You’ve recently watched Kind Hearts and Coronets and you find yourself on a very steep staircase, with no witnesses around, just behind Neil deGrasse Tyson (listed as #1). Any unworthy thoughts you’d care to share?

Given my sense of balance, I would be more likely to trip and remove all of the people below me. Think Norman Wisdom rather than Alec Guinness.

As a scientist, what can you tell us about methods of verifying IDs for ghosts? For example, is it a worry that rather than contacting the ghost of Sir Walter Scott, you’re actually in touch with the ghost of Robert Louis Stevenson, doing his hilarious Sir Walter Scott impersonation?

Of course that is entirely possible. I used to ask all of the spirits that appeared to bring a passport, but it was tricky to read the details in red light. So right now we are just depending on goodwill in the spirit world. My real fear is that we get one of Scott’s dogs turn up because they would not have relieved themselves for almost 200 years.

Does Psychic Sally now have to worry about you offering her competition?

Not right now but we have plans.

While remembered primarily as a novelist today, Sir Walter Scott was also a poet and had a long legal career. Similarly, you are a Professor of Psychology, a magician, a YouTube sensation and a TV science pundit, who has also written many popular science books.

(a)  If you want to live well as a writer, is it vitally important to have other sources of income?

Yes. I think a multi-strand approach to life is very important in these uncertain times. Scott was, in many ways, much like the modern day freelancer (which is appropriate, because he was the one that actually created the word ‘freelancer’)

(b)  How would you primarily like to be remembered in the future?

I would like to be remembered for this interview. Nothing else, just this interview.

Richard Wiseman’s sold out preview performances of The Walter Scott Seance are @ Signet Library, Edinburgh on Sun 18 Jun. More preview performances for July will be announced soon.