Last weekend the clocks went back, and today Hallowe’en seems to mark the start of the ghost story season. When it’s dark at 5pm, with autumnal weather held at a distance by the warmth and flicker of the wood-burning stove, there’s something comforting as well as creepy about sinking into tales of hauntings. At the moment I’m searching particularly for contemporary uncanny short stories, for the PhD I’ve just started; here, any ghosts are as likely to be found haunting new technologies as crumbling old houses. But I’ll find time to revisit some classics, too. Last winter I bought a beautiful Folio edition of Ghost Stories of M.R. James, which I love as much for the illustrations as for the text. In these lithographs by Charles Keeping the palette is strictly limited, the textures are rich, and the images subtle – gesturing towards the half-glimpsed horrors of James’s tales.
Uncertainty is the currency of the best ghost stories: danger is always more terrifying when it’s suggested, rather than made explicit; where the author conceals what we urgently want (and don’t want, just as urgently) to see. The leaving-out is just as important as the putting-in: as is so often the case with stories, and pictures too, it’s all about knowing when to stop.