Saturday, 4 September 2010
Uncle M R James
One of the strange things about being a writer is that you end up doing events, talking about a book that is at least a year old. Very soon, I will be going up and down the country promoting The Dead of Winter, a novel I submitted to Bloomsbury in the summer of 2009. I have already submitted the 1st draft of my next novel - Mr Creecher - but that will not be published until October 2011.
This autumn is even more confused because Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror has been chosen for the Booked Up list, as I mentioned in the last post. So, before I get involved in The Dead of Winter, I though I'd talk a little bit about how Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror came about and what inspired the stories therein.
I suppose I should start by talking about M R James, as Uncle Montague is named for Montague Rhodes James. M R James has a strong association with Cambridge, where I know live - he was an undergraduate here, and was Provost of King's College between 1905 and 1918. He is best known for writing a number of classic and very English ghost stories.
But my love of M R James had nothing to do with Cambridge and began many years ago, when I was in my teens. When I first came across his stories, I lived in a large council estate on the west side of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a world far removed from that of M R James and his stories. Added to which, I did not read the stories at all - or at least not at first.
M R James told his ghost stories in his candlelit rooms at Kings as a Christmas Eve treat for friends and favourite students. The BBC decided to give us all a similar treat in the mid 1970s, by adapting M R James' stories for television. I watched Lost Hearts and A Warning to the Curious absolutely spellbound and it was only later that I noticed the name 'M R James' on the credits and sought out his stories in print. Television is not always a terrible influence.
When I thought about having a character telling the creepy tales, it seemed only fitting to make a small acknowledgment to the one of the masters of the genre by having them share a first name. The very first story he tells in my book - Climb Not - was to some extent inspired by M R James' The Ash Tree - one of the stories the BBC adapted.
Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror owes a lot to both M R James and to the BBC adaptations of his stories, but their were many more influences at work. In the next few posts I'll talk about some of those. . .