A few days ago, on the phone, Nina the Director asked how how I would like to adapt for the stage a certain, very famous ghost story.
“Oh,” I said. “That one. I’ve had it on my Kindle for ages, and never quite mustered the courage to read it…”
Nina, a lover of all things supernatural, ghostly, horrific, and gruesome, burst out laughing. “No, really. How about an adaptation? I know there is at least one around, but I want, you know, our own.”
Which is all very well, and the kind of idea I usually have trouble resisting – so I weighed that against memories of at least two usually unflappable readers calling themselves “upset” and “haunted” by the story in question…
“Oh well,” I sighed in the end. “If I only work at it in full daylight, I suppose…”
Nina laughed even more at first – until it struck her that I was not joking. “But… but… but…” she marveled. “I thought you liked ghost stories!”
And indeed, I do – especially old school ghost stories of the M.R. James kind – but one one condition: that I read (or hear) them before sunset.
Ludicrous, you think? Maybe – but I’ve had a few sleep-killing experiences, including the time I unwisely read James’s Whistle, Oh Whistle while sitting up late, and spent that night and the next quite unwilling to turn off the light (and thank Heaven for my insomniac father, always up for some conversation).
And then there was the collection of short stories I read while staying in my Fifteenth Century college’s guest-rooms. Considering that no one else slept there at the moment, considering the long, dark and deserted corridors, and the cavernous and ill-lit staircases I had to walk to get there, considering the gloomy November nights… well yes, perhaps ghost-reading after dark was not the smartest of ideas.
And a few other episodes – but not many of them, because I learned quite early the One Rule of Ghost Stories: Never After Dark. And that should be that, except that the story Nina has in mind seems to be, by all accounts, rather extraordinarily disturbing… I confess: I’ve dithered about it – about not just giving up an unpredictable amount of hours of sleep, but spending the same hours in that kind of skin-crawling, ear-straining unease… Oh, it always goes away, in the end – but if you’ve ever gone through the experience, you’ll agree with me that, while it lasts, it’s definitely unpleasant.
Then of course, as I should have expected, Nina didn’t take my ditherings very seriously, and the next day Marcello wrote to inform me that he’ll be directing my version of the ghost story in 2021, and how happy he is about it… And so much for free agency in the theatre.
Oh well – I could refuse, if I wanted, but I don’t think I will. There is, after all, the one exception to the One Rule: it doesn’t seem to apply to writing. For some reason, writing ghost stories after dark doesn’t affect me in the least – “some reason” being that I am in control of my own ghosts when I write them. In this case, of course, it won’t be just like that: the ghosts will be someone else’s, and I’ll be working with them second hand, as it were. I admit I’m curious to see whether it will make any difference, one way or the other.
But just in case, one thing is sure: I fully intend to never work on this one except in full daylight – so sue me.