NO market research would tell you to put ghost stories, horror movies, birdwatching and a personal account of bereavement together to make a successful book.

But they are all strands of Ghostland, Edward Parnell’s account of the landscapes and events that haunted Britain’s creators of supernatural tales – along with the things that haunt him.

Ed’s brother was an Echo man: Chris Parnell, former chief sub-editor and head of production for the Dorset Echo and the Daily Echo Bournemouth, much missed since his death at the age of 46, six years ago.

The two had been bound closer than many siblings by family tragedy. A happy childhood, coloured by a shared love of nature and bird-spotting, was followed by the premature deaths of both their parents – and Chris's first bout with near-fatal illness in his early 20s.

In Ghostland, Ed processes all three bereavements as he tours some of the most dramatic natural landscapes in the UK. He takes in the atmosphere that influenced authors of supernatural fiction such as MR James and Walter de la Mere, as well as more recent writers such as Graham Swift. He sees the places that inspired movies like The Wicker Man.

Carrying the subtitle In Search of a Haunted Country, the book is new in paperback after enjoying acclaim last year. Not only did it make the shortlist of the Pen Ackerley Award for excellence in autobiography, but it has drawn some heartening responses from ordinary readers.

“I’ve had some lovely feedback that was completely unexpected,” says Ed.

“Given its subject matter – not the ostensible subject matter of the ghost stories and the horror films but the more personal stuff, which to me was the real heart of the book – there’s always a worry. Is it just going to be too sad and miserable and are people not going to really take to that or not connect with that at all?

“The thing I wasn’t expecting is that I’ve had quite a few emails from people saying ‘I lost my mother in similar circumstances’ or ‘My father’s terminally ill in hospital at the minute and your book’s really helped me’.

“I was really shocked by that because I didn’t want it to be a miserable book, I wanted it to be a celebration I suppose, somewhat of a love letter to my lost family in some regard, but I hadn’t anticipated that.

“I think people who’ve suffered loss are the readers who really connect with it.

“And of course, I think there’s also that audience of ghost story fans and horror movie fans and they’ve generally really taken to it as well, so it’s just had a really nice reception.”

Ed, who lives in a village near Norwich, is 47 and sees himself as part of a “haunted generation” who grew up watching supernatural stories on TV in the 1970s and 80s – from movies like Night of the Demon to the BBC’s annual short films under the banner A Ghost Story For Christmas. This was the aspect of the book that first attracted an editor’s interest.

“With this book, it is an odd mix,” admits the author, who previously wrote the prize-winning novel The Listeners.

“There is all that bird watching and nature writing and then there’s literary criticism and a bit of cultural criticism and travelogue and memoir all mixed in.

“I was lucky in that my editor really liked that. Once I’d put a proposal in, I met him and we bonded over a love of rubbishy 1970s horror films. When we had our initial meeting, we had lots of chatting about schlocky films like Psychomania, this kind of motorbike zombie British film.”

Some time after that conversation, Ed realised that a large part of the book would have to deal with his family experience. “Lots of my memories of my family were tied up with watching nature or going birdwatching with my brother and things, so it seemed natural to put all that stuff in as well,” he says.

Ed’s love of supernatural fiction informs his trips to several places in Dorset and the New Forest in the book.

He visits Portland, which, along with Weymouth, featured in the 1963 Hammer horror The Damned; Dorchester, where Thomas Hardy wrote one of his few uncanny stories, The Withered Arm; and Minstead in the New Forest, where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is buried. But more often he recalls visiting the area to be with Chris and his family, birdwatching in Poole, Hengistbury Head and Badbury Rings among other spots.

With Chris gone, Ed has no one who shares memories of the same family events, and he is glad he pinned down much of their history in the book.

“That, to me, was its big achievement, that it’s some sort of record of what are now quite distant memories of my mum and dad,” he said.

“We’re going back 30 years to when they were around. When my brother was around, we would occasionally pleasantly reminisce about ‘Do you remember when Dad did that ridiculous thing?’, or some old family friends or whatever it might be.

"With my brother no longer around I don’t have that any more, so I am kind of the keeper of the Parnell fold. If I didn’t write this down, no one else would remember any of this stuff.

“Yes, it’s a book that documents loss and it’s a sad book in some ways but I hope I was trying to show that we were quite a happy bunch as well.”

There is a healing power in literature and films just as there is in nature, he says.

“Sometimes, if I’m out birdwatching, because that’s something I really did a lot with Chris, I can be a bit melancholic about that,” he says. “But actually it’s also a nice thing that I can remember him in the good times.”

* Ghostland by Edward Parnell is published by William Collins at £9.99.