Audio Recommendation: The Conception of Terror – Tales Inspired by MR James.

I’ve listened to audio books for years, borrowing cassettes and CDs from the library before they were readily available elsewhere. Recently, of course, audio books have boomed in popularity. I have a subscription to Audible and I’ve discovered some great authors through listening to their books. I’ve not mentioned them here on my blog, largely because I find the listening experience different from reading and I often wonder if my response to print would be different. However, given my reading is now around fifty percent audio, I thought I’d start sharing some of my recent listens.

Audible Originals are audio recordings not published in print and I’ve found these incredibly satisfying to listen to. I recently discovered The Conception of Terror, four stories inspired by MR James. I’m a huge ghost story fan and MR James is probably one of the most familiar names of the genre. His stories are dominated by intellectual puzzles and vengeful spirits. Adaptations of his works abound in film and TV and, now, four of his tales have been updated by contemporary writers.

Casting the Runes is one of James’s most popular stories and Stephen Gallagher’s interpretation has academic Jo Harrington give a damning assessment of Karswell’s journal submission which results in her receiving a curse from the vengeful occultist. Her partner, Edward Dunning, a paramedic becomes increasingly concerned for Jo’s sanity. It’s a nightmarish, fresh take on a very popular story and brilliantly acted.

Lost Hearts is one of James’s creepiest stories involving the disappearance of children in the vicinity of an apparent benefactor. AK Benedict cleverly transposed the story to a modern day tower block, Aswarby House, where teenage Stephanie is being fostered. Benedict captures the tension and fear of the children involved and its tone is slightly more downbeat than James’s story which I thought perfect for contemporary times.

The final two – The Treasure of Abbott Thomas and A View from A Hill written by Jonathan Barnes and Mark Morris – move the stories not only to contemporary settings but address modern day preoccupations. In the first story, Mika Chantry played by Pearl Mackie is a former comprehensive school teacher who now heads up history in the independent Somerton school where allegations of abuse are surfacing. In the final story, a father’s grieving process after the death of his child is being recorded for a podcast which his wife considers intrusive and exploitative. In the finest Jamesian tradition, curiosity is punished and retribution gruesome.

All four stories could be enjoyed without knowledge of the James originals but are a delight to listen to when you know the stories. Hopefully we’ll get more stories updated  including my favourite – Warning to the Curious.


14 thoughts on “Audio Recommendation: The Conception of Terror – Tales Inspired by MR James.

  1. Margot Kinberg

    There is definitely something special about creepy stories that are narrated and told that way, Sarah. The genre is just made for that format. Glad you enjoyed this.


  2. Kathy P.

    Hello Sarah. I used to love audio books, even way back when they were cassettes!!! But, after I came out of hospital a few years ago, I found that within about 10/15 minutes or so of starting to listen to one, I was fast asleep. Dead to the world. But I like the sound of The Conception of Terror. Maybe it would be so scary it would keep me from dozing off 😴.


  3. moirar2

    I just failed to post a comment I think – hope this doesn’t come up as a duplicate.

    I like MR James stories very much, so atmospheric, and have enjoyed BBC versions. The idea of updated modern versions could be off-putting, but you do a good job selling this one.


  4. Kathy D.

    You are all so brave. I see “creepy” or “scary” and I run the other way. I leave it to all of
    you to read the scary stories. If I read them, I’d have to leave the lights on all over the
    apartment and not take out the garbage at night. No watch cats or dogs here.


  5. Kathy D.

    Great. Always like to read your reviews. Liked two of the Petrona nominees, not the third. We all have
    different creep meters. When I was a teenager, my younger sister, who watched disaster and horror
    movies, later told me I walked through the room with the TV and didn’t stop if such a movie was on.


  6. Kathy D.

    I’ve noticed that about you Sarah. Sometimes I wonder how such a strong, vibrant, smart, talented English woman from such a wholesome place as Derbyshire, can like creepy, scary books (and read books about poisons).
    And here I am, in the middle of a huge city which probably has more violence than quiet Derbyshire, recoils at brutality and
    I remember I was a teenager when “Psycho” came out. My cousin, who was a year older, had seen it (she saw every movie) and was
    describing the shower scene to me. I did not take a shower for a week after hearing about it even though I had not seen the movie. (And I lived with my family then). So that’s how it is.
    However, I recommend “Conviction,” by Denise Mina. At first, I wasn’t sure about it, but it grew on me. The protagonist’s thoughts and sarcastic comments are great. And I must say that Mina has a good dose of anger at the super-rich, which I enjoy.


  7. Kathy D.

    Oh, forgot to say about the Petrona award nominees: I liked The Ice Swimmer and Big Sister. I absolutely disliked
    The Darkness. The dread because a reader knew what was coming and the ending was just macabre and horrible.
    I won’t be reading more books by that writer.


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