I know its not Halloween yet but I thought today I would mention Ghost Stories and spooky tales today, which seems a slightly spooky coincidence as when I was looking for perfect images on the internet I noticed that it would be Mary Shelley’s 213th Birthday today which I didn’t know. Ooooh spooky! Anyway, today is less about horror and more the chilling which has come up in conversations and the like a lot of late. I always think if a good few people are talking about it then it must be something in a few peoples consciousness, then when it comes up on a podcast and in my weekend reading I kind of think its worth bringing up.
Actually I think ghost stories have been on my brain subtly for a month or so since I went and saw the brilliantly jump-out-of-your-seat scary ‘Ghost Stories’ in the West End a while back. I haven’t been that scared in a theatre since the first time I went and saw ‘The Woman in Black’. I was talking with my friend Vicky, who I went with and is also a big reader, afterwards and we were saying how rare it is a book can scare you. It isn’t on the whole a medium (no pun intended) that can make you jump out of your seat, or look over your shoulder when you are reading alone at night, or is it?
‘The Turn of the Screw’ by Henry James tends to be a book that everyone mentions if you talk about ghostly tales. I am going to admit to you all I didn’t really like it. I read it a while back (I think from the small review you can tell I was trying my hardest to be nice, hence minimal) with Polly of Novel Insights and I just remember feeling really underwhelmed. Having said that, a scene with a face at the window did make me jump, it’s just a shame the rest to me was a bit boring with rather melodramatic peaks now and again (I have nothing against melodrama but I do tediousness).
In a big emailing conversation last week I asked the other judges of The Green Carnation Prize one of the judges started talking about Ira Levin’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (for reasons I cannot explain yet) and so the subject of ghostly tales came up. Apart from the mention of M.R. James and Mary Danby classic ghost tales aren’t that easy to come across, they tend to be in anthologies and most of those are sadly out of print. In fact Paul Magrs himself has done a great post on the wonders of a selection of second hand ‘Pan anthologies’ which look to be exactly what I am on the hunt for. Drat’s and bother to book buying bans.
I then listened to the Guardian Book Club podcast and who should be on it but Sarah Waters talking about ‘The Little Stranger’. Now that book, which has grown on me over time, sadly didn’t scare me or thrill me in the way I hoped it would, but her discussion on old ghostly tales and the state of the modern ghost story interested me because really modern ghost stories do seem to be thin on the ground don’t you think? Supernatural is incredibly popular, you can barely move in a book shop without seeing a vampire (on the shelves rather than in the aisles looking for prey) but these books aren’t scary (sparkly vampires for example), and horror as a genre has never really chilled me. A ghost story is less about blood and gore and much more about atmosphere and suspense.
In fact apart from Susan Hill, with ‘The Woman In Black’, ‘The Man in the Picture’, ‘The Mist in the Mirror’ (which I haven’t read yet) and the forthcoming ‘The Small Hand’ which looks like it could be amazing, I am struggling to think of any modern authors who write brilliant ghostly tales. Oh, apart from Michelle Paver whose forthcoming adult novel ‘Dark Matter’ sufficiently scared me this weekend, but as its not out until late October I shall say no more till then. I can say its put me in the mood for more things that go bump in the night in my fiction.
So where are the best modern ghost stories, and again I mean chilling rather than a horror blood fest, do you know of any? I have heard Paul Torday’s ‘The Girl On The Landing’ is quite spooky, has anyone read that? What of the golden oldies, who haven’t I thought of? Which tales have genuinely chilled and scared you? What are the best anthologies?
I have just realised I could have made this into a problem for The Prose Practise! Oh and if you want some fabulous old 70’s (I think, maybe 80’s) chilling viewing today then take a look at what I found.