Haunted Advent Calendar Day 22 – with guest Paul Cornell

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.

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.


Paul Cornell is an award-winning writer of novelscomics, short fiction and non-fiction, as well as a TV screenwriter for Doctor Who and many other series.

Paul’s supernatural crime series the Shadow Police is set in a modern London haunted by the past. Book three, Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?, a sequel to London Falling and The Severed Streets, is out now. Visit the books page for info and sample chapters.

Join Paul’s Mailing List for email updates.

Dead of Night (1945) is an anthology horror movie, directed by Basil Dearden, Alberto Cavalcanti, Robert Hamer and Charles Crichton. It’s the one everyone remembers for ventriloquist Michael Redgrave and his living dummy, but there’s lots more to appreciate. The framing sequence, which starts out as a portrait of modern(ist) Britain, gradually resolves, through tiny details of acting and direction, into an actual nightmare. The sequence set at a children’s Christmas party rounds up some really good child actors to create something dark and gothic. The haunted mirror story is especially powerful, keeping you looking and looking at a gap, expecting at any moment to see something enter it, a very primal fear placed in a very everyday household.

There’s a story about a premonition of death which uses the repetition of an everyday phrase to chilling effect, and solves to set up the theme of repetition in the production as a whole, and… there’s also a ghostly golfing story, which critics tend to brush past, because it’s light and silly, but, for example, M.R. James knew the value of a bit of comedy along the way to the chills, and it sets us up for how hard the dummy story at the end is going to punch us. The whole thing has a nightmarish quality that seeps in gradually. It’s one of those gleaming products of post-war Britain, showing off a hopeful strength, before the debt set in. It’s the perfect thing for 11pm on a holiday night in autumn.

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