In fiction by authors from Stephen King to Hilary Mantel, these ambiguous figures are poised between two worlds, belonging to neither

Many aspects of horror tread the fine line between frightening and absurd. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the figure of the spirit medium, as portrayed in literature and film, should prove no exception to this rule. Depictions range from the fraudulently comic, such as Mrs Haddock in The Durrells, to truly haunted individuals like Elise Rainier from the Insidious franchise.

In researching for my novel The Shape of Darkness, I found the real-life men and women who practised this spooky trade during the Victorian era were an equally varied bunch. Some were blatantly out to deceive, others appeared deluded, while a small proportion suffered supernatural experiences that changed the course of their lives.

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