Saturday, May 29, 2010

Update from the "Ghosts and Scholars" Roving Reporter

On Wednesday I realised a long-held ambition to visit Marcilly-le-Hayer, in Aube, France. As I've commented before, I'm a huge fan of the English ghost story writer M.R.James, and a regular contributor to the M.R.James Ghosts and Scholars Newsletter. In fact, the Newsletter was the place where I first cut my teeth as a writer, long before I dared attempt a 100,000 word novel! My first article for the Newsletter was about Steinfeld abbey, scene of MRJ's tale "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas"; although MRJ never actually visited the abbey, part of the story is set there, so I went to see whether the abbey is really just as it is described in the story, or not, and indeed whether there is really a well there (there are several).

Since then, I have also visited Viborg (scene of "Number 13") and St. Bertrand de Comminges (scene of "Canon Alberic's Scrap-book"). Other writers have covered the British locations of MRJ's stories, and the Swedish location of "Count Magnus", and I personally hope that one day there will be a book containing the collected "Jamesian Traveller" articles!

Marcilly-le-Hayer is the scene of a story fragment which you can read here:

The plot is also summarised in MRJ's essay "Stories I have tried to write", although some details differ from the above longer version. Although "Marcilly-le-Hayer" is unfinished, it represented an irresistible challenge as far as I was concerned. It was impossible to have seen so many of MRJ's other foreign locations and miss out on this one!

Although we live in Brussels, it's still a drive of over 400km to Marcilly, so we planned to combine it with a climbing/walking trip to Fontainebleau. The trip was actually booked in February and then at the last minute both I and my husband fell ill, and there was deep snow. The combination was enough to put us off going - neither of us felt fit enough to dig the car out of snow etc if we got stuck anywhere. So we cancelled at the last minute.

School holidays rolled around again in May, so we decided to have another go. This time we opted for camping (I should perhaps have learnt from my recent experiences with the Brussels girl guides - it rained AGAIN this time, and we are still drying out wet gear...). I traded 4 nights in a tent and a lot of hours hanging around the boulders in the Foret des Trois Pignons whilst the others went climbing, in exchange for a day trip to Marcilly.

Wednesday was a fine sunny day and around noon we finally crested a hill above Marcilly and drove down to the town between rows of lime trees. I'm not going to describe what we found there, and how it relates to the story fragment, because I haven't written the article for the Newsletter yet. But I can say that I had some fruitful discussions with local residents, including a very charming lady of 91.

I thought that once I had visited Marcilly, I would have satisfied my yearnings to visit Jamesian locations. But no... before we got back to the campsite I was already leafing through my battered copy of Collected Ghost Stories, looking for new locations. "Casting the Runes" makes a brief passing reference to Abbeville. Might be worth a visit...

ADDENDUM 12th October 2012: if you are interested in reading the finished article, it is available in edition number 18 of the M.R.James Ghosts and Scholars Newsletter. Details of how to order are here:
When the newsletter is eventually out of print I shall post the article online. 

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