Haunted Advent Calendar Day 14 – with guest Adam Scovell

To celebrate the release of our second Self Made Hero book of M. R. James adaptations – Ghost Stories of an Antiquary Vol 2 – we’re going to be counting down to Christmas in true Jamesian style, with a new haunting image and nugget of info every day.

In our Big Cartel shop, between now and the 20th of December, you can get Vol 1 & Vol 2 together for the very special price of £15.

On top of that, we’ll be giving away a copy of the book via Twitter every Sunday in the lead up to Christmas. Check the #MRJ2GIVEAWAY hashtag for details of how to take part.

Adam Scovell is a writer and filmmaker from The Wirral, currently based in London. He is studying for a PhD in film music and transcendental style at the University of Liverpool and Goldsmiths. He has produced film and art criticism for more than 20 digital and print publications including The Times and The Guardian, runs the Blog North Awards-nominated website Celluloid Wicker Man, and has had film work screened at FACT, The Everyman Playhouse, Hackney Picturehouse and Manchester Art Gallery. In 2015, he worked with Robert Macfarlane on an adaptation of his Sunday Times bestseller, Holloway.

Adam’s first book, Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange, was released in 2017.  Published by Auteur and Columbia University Press, it is available here.

Some time ago now, an old lady that my grandmother looked after passed away. She was close to ninety, fond of cats and was a lover of the macabre. With no heirs and my grandmother inheriting her possessions, her infamously large book collection eventually found its way to me; a mixture of copious Agatha Christie, real-life murder volumes and, most interestingly, several old volumes of out-of-print ghost stories. Alongside the Fontana volumes edited by Robert Aickman, several much older volumes stood out including a volume of ghost stories by H.R. Wakefield and various old anthologies including Ghosts and Marvels from 1924. These tiny, green leathered volumes caught my eye for a number of reasons: they looked like they could be genuinely cursed, the writers they housed were largely classic authors (Machen, Blackwood, Le Fanu) and one even had an introduction by M.R. James himself.

But the thing I took away most from these books was my first encounter with the work of little known Cornish writer, R. S. Hawker. Housed quite innocuously in one of these volumes, the exact of which I fail to remember, was Hawker’s short ghost story, The Botathen Ghost, first published in the magazine All The Year Round in 1867 whilst still under the editorship of Charles Dickens. Unlike the many other stories in the these various volumes, I believed, Hawker’s story of a genuine ghostly event on the Cornish coast from the mid 1600s. Even considering its relatively simple narrative still unnerves me and renders me glad of four walls and warm surroundings away from its desolate Cornish moors. Hawker had embellished the folklore, the handed down narrative first retold the century before by Daniel Defoe, with typical nineteenth-century devices – letters and false testimony – but the man’s character was what aided his eerie story. Hawker was, by all accounts, a genuine eccentric, not the least for famously excommunicating his own cat from church for “mousing on a Sunday.” Being a parish vicar of Morwenstow and a passionate poet was a strange enough mixture to begin with but to then account for his dramatic role in the saving of shipwrecked sailors only adds to his seeming a creation by Daphne du Maurier rather than reality.

With even more relevance to Folk Horror in particular, Hawker is regarded as introducing the practice of Harvest Festival into church life in the late 1800s; that strangely ritualistic display often found in Folk Horror from Robin Redbreast (1970) to The Wicker Man (1973). Hawker later built himself a hut on the cliffs near his parish and that is where he wrote his poetry and prose, dividing his time between his creative and his religious endeavours. But, reading his unnerving short story instantly evokes the image of a winter’s night on the Morwenstow cliffs, the eccentric priest with his unusual attire of large wading boots, sailor’s woollen jumper and priest’s collar, thinking back to those strange days of the 1660s when the dead supposedly roamed the moors all around after dark. His name may not be as recognised as the many notaries of ghost stories and tales of the “wyrd” and the eerie, but as with all such things, these spirits rarely stay hidden and quiet for long.

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