One of the books in Ireland’s possession was Nine Ghosts by Richard Malden (1879-1951), in a 1947 edition published not long before the death of the author. Given that Ireland was drawn to the uncanny world of Arthur Machen, this and other volumes of ghost stories were maybe to be expected on his bookshelves. For other reasons too, Malden may have appealed to the composer. He was a Church of England chaplain, with a distinguished career that included stints as Principal of Leeds Clergy School and Chaplain of H.M.S. Valiant during the First World War, eventually becoming Dean of Wells Cathedral.
Malden was educated at King’s College, Cambridge, where M.R. James was Provost, and the settings for his own ghost stories are, like those of James, primarily East Anglia and Cambridgeshire. He is one of many writers who have been captivated by the unique atmosphere of the East of England, with its flat expanses, open skies, samphire and seagulls, as well as its mysterious, old qualities. In Rose Tremain’s Sacred Country it is a landscape of fields, woods and church spires, while in Alexander McCall Smith’s La’s Orchestra Saves the World, there are villages whose names have forgotten meanings. M. R. James set several of his ghost stories there, as he felt the ancient landscapes of East Anglia offered particular ghostly resonance: ‘A Warning to the Curious’, for example, turns Aldeburgh into the dykes and gorse of the fictional Seaburgh.
Thus there are several reasons why Ireland might have been attracted to Malden’s nine short ghost stories. They are eerie, ancient and filled with the spirit of place. And the type of precise locating used in The Thirteenth Tree imbues them with a realistic atmosphere similar to the composer’s own ‘real’, uncanny experiences in the English countryside:
‘My room was on the first floor at the back of the house, overlooking a part of the garden which I had not seen before. Immediately below me lay a gravelled terrace, bounded on the far side by a stone balustrade. On the other side of this, at a lower level and reached by a flight of steps, lay a small formal garden. In the middle was a circular stone basin, where I hoped there might be a fountain. Round the edge stood a number of dark clipped trees–yews or cypresses I could not tell which. There were twelve of these: one at each corner and two in between. On the far side was a low stone wall separating the garden from the park beyond. Very white it looked in the moonlight; almost as if it were newly built. About the middle there was a dark patch; ivy or creeper I supposed.’
The complete set of stories can be read HERE.