It’s just about Christmas time, which in my house means it’s time to read some ghost stories.* I love the English tradition of reading or telling spooky supernatural stories at a time when many people feel comfortable in the warmth of family love and nostalgia for childhood. This year, it is particularly fitting to mention the work of Robert Aickman, a modern master of the English ghost story who seems to be on the cusp of a rediscovery.
Those who have never heard of Aickman would do well to check out this half-hour appreciation from writer Jeremy Dyson that aired on BBC Radio today. Dyson calls Aickman “the best writer you’ve never heard of.”
Aickman’s books have mainly been out of print for years, so it is true that he is not widely read. Is he a great writer? I suppose it depends on taste. For me he is. And he has influenced popular writers like Neil Gaiman and Ramsey Campbell, as well as a small army of scribes writing for independent presses.
Aickman’s tales tend to eschew spectres in flowing garments in favor of unsettling nightmare situations that seem streamed directly from the unconscious. His best stories give the impression that the world is haunted in a way that feels emotionally real and yet always slightly out of grasp. As an interviewee in the radio show says, ”I’m not sure I that I quite get it; I just know that I love the atmosphere.”
The good news this Christmas ghost story season is that Aickman’s entire eight-book catalog of what he called “strange stories” is coming back into print from Tartarus Press, albeit in limited editions. Mentions of his work have also been popping up in popular media, including the Huffington Post and the Independent. He is even tweeting (@RobertAickman); quite a feat considering he died in 1981.
* For me any time of the year is the perfect time to read ghost stories. The Christmas ghost story tradition just gives me one more excuse to push them on my family.