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Stories that inspired M.R. James

Twelve tales of terror recommended by the master of the genre!

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Episode 79 – The Seventeenth Hole at Duncaster

PanToday we head to East Anglia for a round of golf in the company of enthusiastic James fan H.R. Wakefield. No whistling ‘ere though – you might just wake up something nasty…

  • Wakefield published seven volumes of ghost stories between 1928 and 1961, but also wrote three detective novels and two non-fiction ‘true crime’ studies.
  • He served in the military and as a private secretary to his father, a bishop, before moving to the publishing industry, where he spent most of his working life and which is reflected in a lot of his stories. He was also a keen sportsman, reflected in his stories which feature a lot of golf!
  • Much of his personal life was opaque until recently, when Barbara Rodin tracked down a living relative. The picture she painted of Wakefield was not entirely endearing. Barbara’s introduction to the Ash Tree Press edition of Old Man’s Beard, Wakefield’s third volume of ghost stories, sets out this more intimate biography (trigger warning for the tormenting of small children and cats).
  • M.R. James wrote that Wakefield’s first volume of ghosts stories, They Return at Evening “gives us a mixed bag, from which I should remove one or two that leave a nasty taste. Among the residue are some admirable pieces, very inventive.”
  • True to this description, many of Wakefield’s ghost stories contain brash and depressing misogyny. This is especially so in those stories written after his first volume and, perhaps as a result, we can’t find any of his collections in print. Ash Tree Press editions of his volumes of ghost stories are however available as ebooks and include Rodin’s honest assessment of his writing.
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Episode 78 – Brother John’s Bequest by Arthur Gray

Arthur Gray - Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and GramayeThis episode Mike and Will travel back to 16th century Cambridge to get acquainted with a rather unsavory guest at Jesus College in ‘Brother John’s Bequest‘ by Arthur Gray. Booze, burials and bell-book-and-candle are the order of the day here, with a side order of spitting. Eww.

Big thanks to Kirsty for providing the excellent readings for this episode!

Notes

  • Arthur Gray (Ghosts & Scholars)
    This excellent Ghosts & Scholars article by Rosemary Pardoe provides biographical information on Arthur Gray, as well as plot synopses for all the stories in ‘Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye’. It also contains the poem that we mention in this episode, published in 1911, which speculated about the identity of the then-mysterious ‘Ingulphus’!
  • Ingulf, Benedictine abbot of Crowland (wikipedia)
    The 11th century monk Ingulf (or Ingulphus in Latin) is where Arthur Gray borrowed his pseudonym. Ingulf’s writings were studied extensively by historians but his name became a byword for unreliability when the works were found to be a forgery, written long after his death!
  • Arthur Gray and the Ghost Club (anilbalan.com)
    This blog post discusses Gray’s most famous story The Everlasting Club, mentioning how it quickly came to be part of the lore of Jesus College.
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Episode 77 – The Man with the Roller by E.G. Swain

E.G. Swain

This episode Mike and Will put on their dancing shoes and head out to the lawn, only to encounter The Man with the Roller by E.G. Swain!

Massive thanks to podcaster Jim Moon of hypnogoria.com for letting us use extracts from his reading of this story in the episode! You can listen to the full reading, as well as all Jim’s other E.G. Swain readings here.

Note: we realised after recording that the repeated references to dancing on the lawn ire probably a bit of black humour regarding Andrew Birch who, being hanged, clearly did some ‘dancing’ of his own in relation to his activities on the lawn!

Notes:

  • E.G. Swain (Wikipedia)
    There is rather scant information about E.G. Swain available online, but his wikipedia page is a good place to start.
  • The Stoneground Ghost Tales (Project Gutenberg)
    This story and all the others in the volume can be read and downloaded for free here.
  • Stanground (Google maps)
    The real-world Stoneground can be found just outside Peterborough. The church is much as Swain would have known it. The rest of the village, not so much, but these historical maps can give you a good idea of what it was like before the modern housing and industrial estates took hold.
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