Minuke by Nigel Kneale
Nigel Kneale was born in Barrow in Furness in 1922, which was then part of Lancashire “North of the Sands”, and since 1974 part of the modern county of Cumbria. He died in 2006 in London.
Neale’s family came from the Isle of Man, which is clearly visible from the coast of Cumbria. I saw it yesterday but not today as it was too rainy.
The family went back to the Isle of Man when he was six (finding Barrow too rich for their blood no doubt) and was educated in Douglas, the island’s capital. His father was editor of the local newspaper.
Kneale went to study law but got bored with the legal profession. Apparently he tried to join the British army at the start of the Second World War but was declared medically unfit due to photophobia.
He wrote short stories and read out his own story Tomato Cain on the BBC in 1946. Inspired by the reception his story got, he went to London to study acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
He then got involved in a voice acting and writing melange of a career on the broadcast media, writing his first script in 1950.
His most famous work was the Quatermass Series, a horror science fiction drama series on the BBC which was a massive success. You can find this and his later great success The Stone Tape on Youtube.
He did an adaptation of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black in 1989. He adapted some of the Sharpe novels in the 1990s which were also a great success.
He was invited to write for the X-Files but declined that job.
So, Neale was a big cheese up until recent times. His work, particularly Quatermass and The Stone Tape are canons of British hauntology these days.
Or, if I hadn’t done it northern ‘my nook’. But ‘nook’ it is to us.
This story is from the collection Tomato Cain and Other Stories published by Collins in 1949.
The book is out of print and second-hand copies are going for nearly £400. I didn’t buy one.
It was requested by a listener and I was only too happy to oblige.
The story is told as a frame story. It begins in media res where a man has gone to an estate agent (a realtor) interested in a property. By the end we learn that not only is the property cursed and haunted an on an old Norse burial site, but it is demolished and its site occupied by a scrap metal yard, so why would the guy be interested in it? He clearly doesn’t know it’s a scrap metal yard because the estate agent has to tell him.
This does seem to a plot hole, but we shall forgive Nigel Kneale this. It is also possibly that someone cleverer than me will point out how I have misunderstood this point.
It seems like a poltergeist story. We remember the Enfield Poltergeist from the 1970s which received a lot of publicity, but this story pre-dates that case, so couldn’t be influenced by it.
There was a recent long documentary on BBC Sounds about the Battersea Poltergeist, but that dates from the 1950s, so again can’t have influenced Neale.
The other hint is the old Norse (or even older) burial ground that underlies Minuke.
This idea was picked up and used in several Hollywood horror movies. It features in The Shining where the Overlook Hotel is built on an old Native American burial ground. But this came out in 1980, so again cannot be an influence on Neale.
We see this idea of archaeology creating apparitions and other supernatural events in Neale’s classic TV programme The Stone Tape which I recently watched. This came out in 1972, but the idea of archaeology holding records of strongly emotional events and replaying it, is hinted at in Neale’s story “You Must Listen” about a haunted telephone line.
There is a haunted telephone line in this story, as well as a haunted radio that plays monster noises rather than dance music.
I recently wrote an article on Medium about Phone Calls From The Dead
Other than that the story is structurally straight forward. A man tells a stranger about an event that he can’t explain. In this event, weird stuff happened.
It reads more like a Reddit true-life confession of supernatural events rather than a fictional story.
I wonder if that is what Neale wanted? His style is much more conversational and matter-of-fact then the Edwardians, and far less literary than his contemporary in the 1950s, Robert Aickman.
It is presented as ‘a funny thing happened.’ It’s not a stretch to say that if you trawled Reddit now, you might find a story very close to this being put forward as truth.
Neale also sets the story back in time. We recall the master M R James advising us that if we want to tell a convincing ghost story, we should displace it from the present, either in time. This happened, ‘way back before the war’ and Neale throws in a historical commonplace about ‘ribbon development’ which grounds the story in a prosaic and believable matrix.
Stephen King does just this and you will notice all horror movies spend a fifth of the story setting up the happy family in the new home with the dog, the kids and then the poltergeist.
Neale was their forerunner. Horror movies didn’t work like this then: they were Dracula and Frankenstein and the Wolfman.
The name ‘Minuke’ is so woefully possibly, and even likely to convey a lack of imagination on the part of the Pritchards. Someone who calls their house Minuke isn’t going to be creative enough to fool someone with a made-up poltergeist story.
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Music by The Heartwood Institute