Published in 2003, Outside the White Lines was Chris Simms' first novel and was described by Lee Child as 'one of the genre's all time great debuts'. He followed that up with another dark psychological thriller, Pecking Order, which was selected by Deadly Pleasures Magazine as a 'Best British Crime Novel' for 2004. After that Chris began a series of novels set in Manchester, featuring DI Jon Spicer. The first, Killing the Beasts, was selected as a 'Best Crime Book' for 2005 by Shots Magazine. The sequel, Shifting Skin, was released to critical acclaim in July of this year, and the third in the series, Savage Moon, is due to launch in September 2007. Chris is married with four children and works as a freelance copywriter for advertising agencies around Manchester. Below, he discusses M.R. James's 'Oh, whistle and I'll come to you, my lad'.
Chris Simms on 'Oh, whistle and I'll come to you, my lad' by M.R. James
The piece I'd like to write about is a ghost story by M.R. James called 'Oh, whistle and I'll come to you, my lad'. This disturbing tale is of special significance to me because of the memories it stirs. When I was younger my Dad used to read ghost stories to me and my two older brothers while we sat round a fire during long summer holidays spent camping down on Exmoor.
'Oh, whistle and I'll come to you, my lad' is the one that etched itself most vividly in my mind. It is the story of a stuffy academic who goes to stay in a hotel on the East coast of England. While exploring a derelict graveyard whose outer edge has crumbled away on to the beach, he discovers an old whistle. Back in his hotel room he cleans it off and reveals a Latin inscription that translates as 'Who is this who is coming?'
The Professor blows the whistle, and though it emits no audible sound, the chilling consequences of his action eventually threaten his sanity. The story doesn't rely on actual horror; as with the best ghost stories only a sketchy outline of the apparition is supplied. James then lets your imagination concoct an image that is suitably terrifying for you.
When Christmas comes, study the late night slot of the TV schedules - a superb adaptation by Jonathan Miller is often shown round this time. It stars Michael Hordern as the gruff professor who at one point adapts Hamlet's line to 'There are more things in my philosophy than are dreamt of in heaven and earth'. His arrogance is soon paid for. In just 40 minutes, the creeping sense of foreboding that makes the story so powerful is brilliantly achieved.
At its heart, the tale addresses the dangers of surrounding yourself with books and leading a solitary life that retreats ever further from the outside world. Now I find myself as an author, spending unhealthy amounts of time scribbling away alone in my attic, it's a warning I take care to remember!