Saturday, 10 September 2011


Hauntings by Susan Price
          One of the jobs keeping me from house-work is turning my two collections of ghost stories, Hauntings and Nightcomers, into e-books.
          This started me thinking about ghost stories and their appeal in general.
          I know I’m not alone in considering M. R. James one of the greatest writers of ghost stories ever.  I remember reading several of his stories, one after another, one dark winter’s afternoon, while alone in the house.  I was in the kitchen, making a snack, when I heard a quiet, stealthy scratching from inside a cupboard…  After I’d dropped down from the light-fitting, I discovered that the noise had been made by a bundle of crumpled plastic bags expanding.  Ever since I’ve thought James’ stories should carry a health warning: ‘One story a day.  Do not exceed dosage.’
M. R. James
          Something I hadn’t appreciated until recently was that James is considered ‘the father of the modern ghost story’ because he did away with Gothic trappings of dungeons and ruins, and set it in what was – for him – the modern world.  He thought this necessary because he wanted his reader to feel : '”If I'm not careful, something of this kind may happen to me!' His modernity is easy to overlook now, because James’ antiquarians in bath-chairs seem so quaint and old-fashioned to us.
         I have nothing against the Gothic, but I largely agree with James on this.  I have set ghost stories in the past – 'Davy', in Hauntings, is one – but most of mine take place in the present, or what was the present when I wrote them.
          The world is a very strange place. The very fact that each of us is alive and self-aware is strange beyond all understanding.  One thing that a story of the supernatural can do is show this ever-present strangeness, to throw a spotlight on the strangeness that exists alongside, or hidden underneath, the everyday.  That’s why ‘Beautiful’, in Nightcomers, is set in a huge shopping mall – I wrote it after hearing my brother, who worked in one, describe what the place was like after-hours, as he made his way through it to the bus-stop.
          It’s why The Landing Window is set on a modern housing estate (even if in an old house); and why Coming Home Late’ is set in a block of council flats.  (And consider that there is more than one meaning to ‘late’.)
          Like James, I want my readers to think this might happen to them!
Nightcomers by Susan Price
          I’m also with James when he says: Reticence may be an elderly doctrine to preach, yet from the artistic point of view, I am sure it is a sound one. Reticence conduces to effect, blatancy ruins it…’  Somewhere he comments that he could  make a reader physically sick, if he chose, but he scorns to do so, because it’s too easy.  It’s far more difficult, he says, to write something that is eerie, unsettling – or haunting, which is why I gave my collection that title.  Don’t come to my stories for all-out, gross-out horror.  No – I don’t want to sicken  you.  I want to get under your skin, to stay with you.
          In short, to haunt you.  It’s for you to say whether I succeed, but that’s my intent.
         Find my e-books for download here.

         And I know you're waiting for Blot - 



Joan Lennon said...

How true - sometimes that genius idea really IS just a dead bird. Sigh.

madwippitt said...

Yes, James is brilliant - I keep a paper copy on the bedside table (yes, stupid, not guranteed to help wth sleeplessness!) and an e-copy on my Kindle. Very strange though, as when I went looking for the paper copy a couple of years ago, the helpful lady in the shop said that people rarely asked for him - they always wanted Henry James.
Love the Nightcomers cover - will you be able to keep it? - I remember it catching my eye in the library, and picking it up and thinking ... hmmm, I'm sure I know this author's name, before the penny dropped and I realised you were the Sterkarm person!

Katherine Langrish said...

Oh brilliant Blot...

I love the sound of your ghost stories. And I love James! My favourite may be 'Casting the Runes', but it's hard to pick. Did you see the BBC adaptation of 'Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You' last Christmas - which, despite a stellar cast, totally messed up that taut and terrifying tale?

Susan Price said...

I've got James' complete works on my kindle too!
But no, I didn't see the new adaptation of Whistle and I'll Come To You - even the title is eerie - because I was warned off it. I prefer to remember the old adaptation with Michael Hordern, which was b/w, and slow, but built to quite a pitch of scariness.
But my favourite James story... That's hard to pick... What's the one where the young squire murders the idiot girl? Something Martin, or Martin Something. That is very creepy.

Susan Price said...

Oh, and to answer you, madwippit - I won't be keeping the old covers for my e-books. They are great: two of my favourite covers for my own books, but I prefer to have new ones for this new venture. Saves me the faff of writing to publishers and waiting for ages for them to reply, for one thing.