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.