ONE genre of fiction that has seen a renaissance in recent years has been that of the ghost story. Led by Susan Hill, author of The Woman in Black, books like Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney and Kate Mosse’s The Taxidermist’s Daughter have been huge successes.

One of the leading lights of the new generation of ghost writers is Neil Spring. His bestselling debut The Ghost Hunters was turned into a TV drama for ITV, while his follow-up, The Watchers, focused on the Broad Haven Triangle – an area in Wales known for UFO sightings and other mysterious goings on.

“I have always delighted in reading ghost stories,” Neil told me when I caught up with him earlier this week. “At Oxford I wrote my philosophy thesis about paranormal events. That led me into exploring the subject more widely through fiction.” For his new novel, Neil has turned his attention to a location not far from Salisbury – the abandoned village of Imber. As with Neil’s previous books, The Lost Village is a deftly woven delight, with enough spooky surprises to give the hairs on the back of your neck a good workout.

I asked Neil why he was drawn to Imber as a setting for his new book: he explained he’d visited when he was younger and that it had always stuck with him. “Imber truly is a creepy location: remote, dangerous and eerily deserted. In many ways, Imber is a monument to the horrors of war. The story of the village is a story of sacrifice.”

Imber, certainly, is a village with a remarkable story to tell. Hidden away on Salisbury Plain – ‘Little Imber on the Down’, as the saying goes, ‘seven miles from any town’ – it has its origins as a Romano-British settlement and is mentioned in the Domesday book as Imemerie. By the 1850s, the village was 440-strong, but the agricultural depression of the 1870s and 1880s saw this number start to dwindle.

By 1931, the population had shrunk to just over 150.

It was the outbreak of the Second World War, however, that was to prove fatal for the village’s future. In September 1943, the 3rd Armoured Division of the US started using Salisbury Plain to prepare for the invasion of Europe. Imber had always been protected from army manoeuvres, with a 1000-yard safety zone ringfencing the village to protect the residents. But as practicing intensified, the security of the village could no longer be guaranteed. On November 1, 1943, the villagers were called to a meeting to be told they had 47 days to leave.

The residents knew that by leaving Imber they were doing their bit for the war effort: what was less understood was what would happen next. The villagers believed they would be allowed to return after the war: the War Department claimed no such assurance had been made and continued to use it for training purposes. There followed two decades of protests and legal battle, culminating in the Imber Protest Rallies of 1961 and a subsequent public inquiry that sealed the village’s fate.

The result has been the creation of a ghost village. The perfect setting, then, for a ghost writer looking for a location for his new book. “Tales of the supernatural don’t have to terrify,” Neil told me, “they can be beautifully sad, and what happened to Imber and its residents, in many ways, was just tragic. Noble people, who had left those homes behind for a greater good; who had gone peacefully, with fortitude and courage. There was something irresistible to me about that idea. You read about haunted houses all the time. But a haunted village? I just couldn’t resist.”

Neil Spring is appearing at Salisbury Literary Festival on October 26, 7pm at the Guildhall. Tickets are £5, with all profits going to the Mayor’s Charity, the Alzheimer’s Society. For more information visit Sarum College Bookshop or