MR James: Ghost Stories

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I am currently reading a volume of quite superb ghost stories by MR James. Recognised as a master of the genre, his are brilliantly concise tales that begin with intriguing mystery, escalate with gnawing unease and culminate in a single, bone-chilling moment of absolute supernatural horror. His use of language is exceptional, finding the sinister in all manner of everyday objects – for example books, as the protagonists are often scholarly individuals.

I recently read one of his stories, Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book, by the light of a single bedside lamp in a hotel bedroom late one night. By the time I reached the climax, my sense of dread had built to the point that I kept looking over my shoulder, glancing in the shadowy corners of the room and particularly that dark area just out of sight, leading to the bedroom door. I absolutely love spooky stories of the uncanny that have the power to stimulate the imagination of the reader in such a way.

Ghost stories – including those by MR James as well as others including Susan Hill and Daphne Du Maurier – have been a big influence on my work, including the are-they/aren’t-they supernatural elements of The Birds Began to Sing, and my soon to be released thriller/horror hybrid The Thistlewood Curse. More details on the latter soon, but in the meantime, if you are not familiar with MR James then I thoroughly recommend checking him out, especially the notorious Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad. Bone chilling stuff.

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