I love ghost stories.
They were the first form of genre fiction I ever read, before crime stories, or science fiction, or sword & sorcery, and to this day, I still love a good ghost story.
So, this being the season and all that, here’s a very general list of names you might want to check out.
Best ghost story novel: Peter Straub, Ghost Story, with Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House a close second.
To this day, I still prefer Straub over King (sue me), and right now I am re-reading Ghost Story for a project to come. You can’t get a better modern take on classic ghost stories.
But I think it’s in the short story format that the genre has given us the best chills.
So, let’s see.
The Obvious: The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James, and Carnacki the Ghost Finder by W.H. Hodgson. Also, anything by Algernon Blackwood, who was more varied in his horrors, but still had quite a few spooks in his stories. There’s a lot of fine editions of these stories out there, and you can find almost all of these authors’ production on the Project Gutenberg pages.
The not-so-obvious: F. Marion Crawford and E.F. Benson. Both authors (that I often get mixed up, in my old age) have a fine catalogue of great ghost stories. Crawford’s The Upper Berth gave me nightmares as a kid. Just like Oliver Onions, strangely forgotten, and yet once considered on apar with James, Crawford and Benson can be found on Project Gutenberg. There are also some excellent collections published by Wordsworth Classics.
Again in the Wordsworth Classics (and in a number of other editions), you can find the supernatural stories of Edith Nesbitt (that was not just a children’s books writer), and if you are looking for more women writing spooky stories, you might want to check out the excellent series of Gothic and horror collections published by the British Library. The Mary Elizabeth Braddon collection might be a good starting point, but the whole series is absolutely great – and while the ebooks are really cheap, the paperbacks are a beautiful and highly collectable treat for book fetishists.
My latest discovery is H. Russell Wakefield, who became Bishop of Birmingham in 1911, and is today almost forgotten. Influenced by both James and Blackwood, he was highly praised by the likes of Lovecraft and Derleth. One of his stories, The Third Shadow, appeared in a later issue of Weird Tales, with a fantastic Hannes Bok cover.
Once again, there are a few very cheap collections out there, and a wide selection of stories can be found online for free.
This is probably how I will spend the night of Halloween – with a fine pot of tea, my sometimes feral cat and a bunch of H. Russell Wakefield stories, while the countryside outside is dark, cold and dreary.
Have fun, out there!