Suffolk: Chance to complete ghost story after missing M.R. James manuscript found

THE classic ghost stories of M.R. James paint a haunting picture of Suffolk’s towns and villages.

And now, after the discovery of an unfinished manuscript in a university library, children are being invited to complete one of his atmospheric tales to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth.

The competition is being organised by Suffolk Coast – a newly-created group of local businesses keen to bring tourists to the region and will be judged by novelist Susan Hill, best known for her own ghost story The Woman in Black.

Mr James, who from the age of three lived in the rectory in the village of Great Livermere, near Bury St Edmunds, often used the county’s coastal towns as backdrops and inspirations for his stories.

The author, whose best known work, A Warning to the Curious, was set in and around Aldeburgh and is thinly disguised under the name of Seaburgh, worked as a medieval scholar at Cambridge University.

It was in the archives of King’s College, Cambridge, that the unfinished manuscript of The Game Of Bear was found.

The handwritten story concerns the curious case of Henry Purdue, a man preyed upon by a sinister cousin who considers herself somehow wronged by the family. One of Purdue’s school friends, now an elderly man, recounts the uncanny tale to another friend, while grandchildren cause havoc playing “the dreadful game of Bear” up and down the staircase.

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Ms Hill said having a previously unknown James story to read is a “real treat”.

“M.R. James was a master – a master of the classic English ghost story, a master of setting a scene, creating an atmosphere and telling a tale.”

She added: “Young people love ghost stories, so here’s a chance for them to find a great ending to a story James himself did not finish. If they get into the spirit of the thing, they’ll have fun and we will have the delight of reading their endings. I hope it leads them to a love of James himself, even if they have to wait until they’re a little older to get the most out of him.”

James enthusiast and scholar Rosemary Pardoe discovered the lost story. She said: “It was an incredible feeling to know that I was likely to be the first person to have read the story since M.R. James first committed it to paper, and I hope that a whole new generation of young people might discover his remarkable body of work through this competition.”

The winner of the competition will receive an invitation to visit James’ beloved Suffolk locations and stay in the hotel in which the writer regularly lodged, The White Lion in Aldeburgh. British children (up to and including 16 years) are offered the chance to pen a conclusion by reading The Game Of Bear and submitting possible endings at www.thesuffolkcoast.co.uk

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