It has been supplanted in recent years by vampires, witches and other monsters, but now the good old-fashioned ghost story is back with a bang, with everyone from debut novelists to established literary stars such as David Mitchell and Gillian Flynn hoping to raise the hairs on readers’ necks this Halloween.
Flynn’s The Grownup, the chilly tale of a fraudulent medium and a possibly haunted Victorian home, which won an Edgar award in the US when it was published in George RR Martin’s Rogues anthology last year, will be available as a standalone tale for the first time on 3 November. Meanwhile Mitchell’s haunted house tale, Slade House, which began life on Twitter, arrives next week, as does Little Sister Death, a previously undiscovered ghost story by cult US author William Gay.
They will join Catriona Ward’s debut novel Rawblood, Neil Spring’s The Watchers, Andrew Michael Hurley’s word-of-mouth hit The Loney and Kate Mosse’s The Taxidermist’s Daughter, all of which describe hauntings of one kind or another. The queen of the genre, Susan Hill, also has a new book out, as her spine-tingling stories are published together for the first time, while those who prefer to get their chills the old-fashioned way – read aloud – should head to the website of author Robert Lloyd Parry who, as “Nunkie”, will tour Britain this autumn performing classics of the genre.
Not since the heyday of MR James and WW Jacobs has the ghost story been so in vogue, but why? “We’re definitely seeing a resurgence after horror has held sway for a long time,” says Mosse. “The thing about horror is that it’s not that subtle; it’s a straightforward chase about the terrible thing that’s going to get you. With a ghost story the whole thing is, ‘Is it coming? Is everything in your head?’ Ghost fiction plays on those fears – which is why I describe The Taxidermist’s Daughter as not a whodunnit but a whydunnit.”