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Number 13 is one of my favourite M R James stories. This is slightly odd as I'm not keen on ghosts who make impossible physical changes to things - even if I don't believe in ghosts I want their fictional representatives to at least be remotely credible. The physical change here is quite a major one, the numbered room of the title, which seems to come and go at will, baffling the resident of an ancient hotel in the Danish city of Viborg. The resident, it will come as no surprise, is a scholar, researching Christianity in early modern Denmark. His research will lead him to a rather startling conclusion regarding the shapeshifting nature of his creaky old digs.


I think I love it so much maybe at least partly because when I think of it I hear Christopher Lee's narration from the selection he did for the BBC in 2000, which is now available on Audible. The BBC also made it into one of their Ghost Stories for Christmas in 2006, which is available on Youtube. Another illustration I almost abandoned, but I have clawed it back from oblivion by throwing many digital effects at it courtesy of Procreate, Instagram and my new discovery Snapseed. Ironically (and slightly alarmingly given my status as rookie heraldic artist), I possibly found the small and very weird coat of arms (snakes as mantling! A skull instead of a helm!) particularly troublesome. The symbols around the margins are actually Icelandic magical staves, including my favourite one, to 'put fear into an enemy', which is the one on the bottom right, and now thanks to my filter frenzy, virtually indistinguishable. (Short and slightly off the topic advert: If you're ever in the Icelandic town of Hólmavik go and visit the Museum of Witchcraft which is brimming with staves, and also a pair of necropants - magical trousers made out of human skin. I bloody love Iceland.)

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This story baffled me for a long time but I think I was looking for meaning where there was none... it’s just more straightforward than I thought it should be. Or something. A young gentleman is accused of murdering the simple servant girl with whom he has been conducting a peculiar dalliance when his rich posh fiancée finds out and ditches him. The dead girl, Ann Clark, refuses to die quietly though, and plagues him right up to his execution. It’s an odd, slight story which was made into a Ghost Story for Christmas in 2019 featuring Peter Capaldi in a crazy wig as the prosecuting lawyer at young Squire Martin’s trial. This illustration was a five star hair tearer and I’m far from pleased with it, not least as the reanimated corpse of Ann Clark seems to have my face.

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Two bickering friends go on an ill prepared canal boat trip, and come across a mysterious woman sleeping on the canal bank. They agree to let her come along for the ride in return for galley duties. From there on in everything begins to get weird, especially once they decide to explore an unmapped channel. Howard’s story is an absolute gem, a masterclass in understated dread and the ending is extraordinary. Better known for her upper middle class family saga the Cazalet Chronicles, somewhat tragically going by this Howard only wrote three ghost stories (if that’s what this is - it’s certainly very odd and horrific) which were published in a collaborative anthology with Robert Aickman in the early 1960s, while they were in a relationship. I bet dinner round their gaff was an absolute scream. Another illustration I could have twiddled around with for days and I’m not massively happy with it, but I’ve really got to call time on it. It’s turned out a bit weird which I'm blaming on having a cold but that’s only fitting I suppose.


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