chestnut book blog

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Spine-Tingling Halloween Ghost Stories

Witch on a broom image


With the leaves falling in earnest now and Halloween just around the corner, I thought it was the right moment for a post about books that give us a scare! Ghost stories and horrors are my guilty pleasure, are they yours? What does it say about us I wonder, that we enjoy being scared? Do we enjoy the adrenaline rush when we know it is not really real? Are our lives so comfortable that we have to get our kicks vicariously? Are we curious about what our reactions would be in unusual circumstances? Probably all of the above, but I know that I have certainly imagined myself and what my reactions would be into my favourite stories.

I remember reading an article that claimed the ghost story was dying out, but I’m not at all sure that is true. I think rather that it is just evolving from the ‘slap-you-round-the-face’ gothic horror of old (Edgar Allen Poe I’m looking at you) to a subtler, more modern take. Kate Mosse’s The Winter Ghosts is a very good example of this, as is The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Talking of more modern stories, is now a good time to mention the one and only Stephen King as well? I know he is often frowned upon, but is there a scarier story than The Shining? Even the film makes me fearful of going upstairs on my own, let along the book (which is far, far scarier I think)!

Some of my more historic treats include The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. This is on my bedside table ready for a re-read on 31st! I’ve also long had a soft spot for Collected Ghost Stories by M.R. James. Hardly anyone I mention this treasure-trove to in real live has heard of this so I’m hoping my internet friends can join me in singing its praises as a good, old-fashioned set of spine-tinglers!

It would be rude of me not to include Susan Hill’s wonderful The Woman in Black in any post about ghost stories. I’ve mentioned my love for this before, but let me restate it! This is without a doubt the best ghost story I have ever read. Modern gothic and truly terrifying! It is also one of those rare books that made the world change, just a little bit, when you finish it and realise that black print on a page made you feel more alive than you have for weeks or maybe months. I’ve also been to see this on the stage in London. It had been a very long time since I had read the book at that time and so my recollection of it was somewhat hazy. This turned out to be extremely fortunate because I had the joy of being scared out of my wits all over again! There were only three actors and almost no scenery or props and yet it was one of the most enthralling three hours of my life! If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it, and enjoy a bit of white knuckle terror go, go, go!!

Have a fun and happy Halloween! You’ll find me, ignoring my door bell, curled up with a fright-fest of books!


Top Five Books for Autumn

As the air starts to smell of bonfires and falling leaves dance around me on my walk home, my attention is drawn to particular books on my shelves. Some books are just made to be read in Autumn, curled up with a hot chocolate, and here are my choices:

1. His Dark Materials series

Maybe it is the Armoured Bears of icy Svalbard that mean this series is indelibly linked to Autumn and Winter for me, I’m not sure. But what I do know is that as soon as the clocks go back, I’ll be reaching for Northern Lights, Lyra and dust!

2. Harry Potter series

These won’t be all young adult choices I promise, but here is another series which keeps me company in Autumn. Magic, Hogwarts and Harry Potter are made for reading at this time of year. As the Hogwarts pupils go back to school and Dementors creep up in the dark, I’ll be following their adventures again this autumn.

3. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Wonderful, strange and fragile. I return to this book most Autumns. It is one where I feel I have to reread it regularly as I am never sure I have fully understood it. I love it though even though I am sure I miss many of its nuances. Please let me know if you have read this and what you think of it if you have! I’d love to know,

4.  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

The wild Yorkshire Moors call to me at this time of year and Jane in particular.

5.  The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

You have got to love a spine tingling ghost story at this time of year and Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black is one of my favourites.

So those are my choices for this Autumn, what will yours be? I’d love to know. If you need any other inspiration, here are Richard and Judy’s Autumn 2013 choices.