1st November 2023
Simon is a lecturer in graphic design and he is a passionate fan of M. R. James. He talked to us about his own book, A Geography of Horror: the Ghost Stories of M. R. James and the Suffolk Landscape. He explained that his interest in the supernatural originated in his childhood, influenced by the stories of his mother and his aunt. The first ghost story that he read by M. R. James was in a collection published in 1973: The House of the Nightmare and Other Eerie Tales. He also bought the Penguin re-issue of Ghost Stories of an Antiquary in 1974 for the princely sum of 50 pence, confirming his youthful enthusiasm.
Simon gave us a short biography of Montague Rhodes James, who was an incomer to Suffolk, as was Simon himself. James’s family moved to Great Livermere in 1865, when the author was two years old, and his father became rector of St Peter’s church. It seems to have been an isolated, haunted sort of place, which sparked James’s imagination. He had started writing stories at Eton College and went on to Cambridge University where his academic career blossomed. He ultimately became Provost at Eton. James became known for his conviviality and for reading his ghost stories, either at Halloween or Christmas, the first volume being published in 1904. More books followed until M. R. James died in 1936.
Towards the end of his talk, Simon gave us a detailed overview of two of the most famous stories: ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ (published in 1904) and ‘A Warning to the Curious’ (published in 1925). Both of these tales have very strong Suffolk connections, with places, features and buildings that can still be located on a map and explored. Simon’s book does exactly this for these and other stories, with walks listed at the end, including ratings for scariness. All in all, this was an absorbing if rather spooky evening, perfect for the Halloween season.