When I was eleven years old, my aunt got me this book:
It’s a book of short stories, and it’s from Marks & Spencer (US readers that's a department store) and it has a really cliched cover. I love it. I totally adore this book. The cover looks tacky now, but aged 11 in 1982 it used to give me the heebie jeebies. This bit down here: [I don't know if you can make out the red eyes in the picture]
Ghost Story collection by St Michael. Illustrated by Ian McCaig
It used to give me nightmares. Looking back it was too old for me, sorry Jackie. But I’m thrilled she bought it for me because…. Look at the Contents Page! I mean seriously, MR James, Lovecraft, Fritz Lieber, Saki, Penelope Lively, Evelyn Nesbit and Joan Aiken. Wow just WOW! I’d heard of E Nesbit, but I didn’t know she was an Evelyn, and I’d read some Joan Aiken too. I started with E Nesbit because she’s a children’s author, right? Right? Wrong. ‘Man-sized in Marble’ is one seriously creepy story. The illustration was really scary and the story kinda scared me too…… check it out.
The Joan Aiken story was a tale of parted lovers, anyone who met the ghost of the old man would jump to his death within twenty four hours. So for an 11 year old, it's a scary love story. I’d never have read it if I’d known that but I loved it. I’m most grateful for the fact that this book introduced me to MR James and HP Lovecraft, 30 years on I still love them both. A School Story is a strange one, as a child I didn’t understand it, the Music of Erich Zann is downright amazing, check out the illustrations! It isn’t part of the Chthulu Mythos, but its an intriguing haunting tale of lost streets and a madman violinist. I wouldn’t have appreciated the Mythos at 11, but this story sent me down the path of hunting out more HP Lovecraft stories.
I’ve read many other ghost story compilations and none of them come close to this one. Whoever you are, (I've looked and I can't see an editor) you are one talented editor. And Aunt Jackie, if you are reading this, thank you from the bottom of my heart. This book was a turning point in my reading and writing life (though I didn’t realise that until today).
So anyone else read these stories? Is there a better collection out there?