Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ghosts for Christmas!

Christmas and ghosts! They go so well together. Personally I like a wee bit of excitement in my life, but when I look out of the window at 4pm and see nothing but dark and rain, I don't feel tempted to go and look for it outdoors. Far cosier to sit inside with a deliciously creepy tale, whether in print or on film.

This Christmas sees a super treat for ghost story fans - a double bill from Mark Gatiss, who has directed a BBC dramatisation of M.R.James's classic tale The Tractate Middoth, and who also presents a documentary about M.R.James featuring footage from St. Bertrand de Comminges, the setting of Canon Alberic's Scrap-book. Look out for these on BBC2 on Christmas Day, kicking off at 21.30.

As a long time fan of M.R.James I can't wait to see these programmes - I have a special interest in the documentary because I visited St. Bertrand de Comminges myself in 2004, in the guise of the Ghosts & Scholars "roving reporter", and wrote a description of what I found.

You can read my article online here: - it includes a photograph of that notorious stuffed crocodile and some other pics by William Bond, who accompanied me on my visit.

The photo at the top of this post is of the interior of the cathedral, with the organ seen at the back behind the wooden chancel - a photograph which very strongly echoes the original illustration which accompanied James' story and which you can see here:

And whilst we wait eagerly to see The Tractate Middoth, here is another library-related ghost story:
Lilith's Story - set in the Library of Innerpeffray here in Perthshire, and available free in audio format to listen, share or download as you please!

I mentioned in my post of 1st November that I had spent 31st October as "writer in residence" at Innerpeffray, with the aim of writing a ghost story inspired by the location, which I would read aloud that evening (Hallowe'en) in the library itself. The day proved so inspirational (how could it not be, considering the reading room looks out over a churchyard?!) that I actually came up with three ghost stories, connected by an overarching narrative. Lilith's Story is the middle tale of the three and the audio recording was made at the event itself on Hallowe'en.

I hope in due course to have the entire "Ghost stories of Innerpeffray"available in some format but in the meantime this tale can be enjoyed on its own. I hope it will give some of the listeners a pleasant chill or two, and perhaps raise a wry smile on the face of any librarian who happens to listen to it!

Above: Innerpeffray. The library is the white building on the left, the chapel is the building on the right. 


  1. Listening to one out of 3 would only exacerbate the situation. I shall wait for your next collection.

  2. I'll let you know when the whole thing is available, Riju - but I'm not sure when that will be. Meantime, you CAN listen to this one as a stand-alone - it's not dependent on knowing what happens in the other two!

  3. What did you think of the adaptation of The Tractate Middoth? Mark Gatiss is to be commended for trying to bring the Christmas ghost story back to the BBC. As a present I received the BFI's box set of Ghost Stories for Christmas, the majority of which are based on MR James novels - can't wait to start watching them. As an expert on MR James, what do you think of these BBC adaptations? Are they faithful?

    1. Hi Emma, sorry not to have replied before - I haven't been on my blog for a day or two! I've just actually done a new post with my views about the Tractate Middoth! As regards the other adaptations - the recent Oh Whistle (2010) is not very faithful to the original at all. The 1968 version of the same story was. The adaptations of Number 13 and The Treasure of Abbot Thomas have both been shifted from their original locations of Denmark and Germany respectively, presumably for cost reasons. Number 13 has been rather interfered with (the creepy painting did not feature in the original for example, and the hand in the black leather glove is simply a bit laughable) but is still enjoyable, I think. In fact I think all the MRJ adaptations are worth watching, with the possible exception of The Ash Tree - I have only watched half of that myself so far and found it unengaging. I'd love to know what you think once you've watched all of these!

    2. I really should read some of MR James' stories first and do a proper comparison!