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A dolly for Christmas

by John Maguire
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Settle down for Christmas Eve as John Maguire follows the Victorian tradition of a creepy tale…

Light the candle, perhaps cradle a mug of fiendishly delicious hot chocolate, or a generous measure of an Islay Malt throw a log on the fire, baton down the hatches and settle into your reading chair.

Pick up a ghost tale this Xmas eve,  just like Dickens, just like M.R James, perhaps pick up: Dolly by Susan Hill.


With this story, the writer comes along and totally blows all other ghost story writers to hell and back, with her simple scare fest of a tale. The simplicity of the story is what makes the story. There is no need for superfluous character backlogs or divisions, her tale, does exactly what it should do, tells the tale.

Set in the damp and desolate landscape of the English fens. An unforgettable summer at Iygot house sees Edward Caley and his brat of a cousin share experiences that have a deep effect on them.

Every piece of syntax is necessary, every detail, reference, in order to lead the reader on a quest, to try to solve the ghoulish puzzle. Her writing is a rarity in that you can be reading and completely immersed without realisation.

Hill allows the reader to dive in to her words, swim calmly and before they realise almost drown, frantically come up for air and realise it is not real, it is in fact just a story.

John Betjeman boldly proclaimed, ‘M.R James is the greatest master of the ghost story, Henry James, Sheridan Le Fanu and H. Russell Wakefield are equal seconds.’ I would like to suggest that Susan Hill indeed needs to be put into this pantheon of terror.

susan hill

Her recipe for a chilling ghost story,

Start very quietly and go: one, two, three, jump. Or start with a jump and make it jumpier. But with a long story, it must have rises and falls. The Turn of the Screw describes it perfectly: you keep, turning and, just before the end, let go a bit so your audience relaxes and maybe have a description of scenery….for a false sense of security.

There is a word for this kind of artistry and it’s not one that can get thrown around too easily, in this case though it is true and the word is genius.
You must convey that you’re on the side of the innocent. Fighting malevolence…….the eternal battle between light and dark.


So this yule time perhaps give the family a gift they will never forget, after all everybody loves a dolly.

victorian xmas

Sweet dreams.


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