ALASDAIR Donaldson is really not the ideal guide to his former Oxford college.

Visiting New College with the much travelled barrister is a distinctly creepy experience – more than sufficient to put off any undergraduate from staying behind over the holidays.

Pointing to the college’s magnificent Bell Tower, he tells the story of John Quinbey, an eccentric former college member, who in the 17th century was locked up there until he died of starvation. Then there is the college ghost, the Black Scholar, known to stride backwards around the deserted medieval cloisters.

If pressed, while not himself a believer in ghosts, Mr Donaldson wonders whether he may have come across the spectre. He said: “It was at around 1am, out of term-time. I walked into the cloisters and was confronted by a dark figure under a tree. When I looked again it was gone. A college night porter, without any prompting told me he had had a similar encounter.”

It all helped make New College the perfect place for the young A.N. Donaldson to study Philosophy and Economics before embarking on his legal career in Lincoln’s Inn.

Since the age of 12, he has had a passion for ghost stories, in particular the writing of Montague Rhodes James, the Provost of Eton School who came to be regarded as Britain’s greatest writer of ghost stories.

When Mr Donaldson, who lives in London, finally settled on writing his own story of necromancy, witchcraft and gruesome goings-on, it is little wonder that he returned to his old college for inspiration.

And it turns out that the 30-year-old writer has used an array of real life characters from New College’s history in his first novel Prospero’s Mirror. Two former college wardens Michael Woodward and Herbert Fisher, the statesman and historian, are featured, along with the sinister Quinbey.

He even brings in his real life literary hero M.R. James, who travels up from Eton to Oxford to investigate the inscription on an ancient stone mirror found in the college’s vaults.

Although renamed Old College, there is no doubting from the description of the quadrangles, gardens and references to Wykehamists where the story is based. Well it could – if you moved much of the action to 1665 with the city’s streets full of disfigured bodies in carts, well-fed rats and zombie-like men, women and children covered in swellings waiting for death to put them out of their misery.

For this is the time of the Great Plague and in Mr Donaldson’s novel at least, Oxford experiences just as much horror as the London of Charles II, with colleges forced to slam shut their heavy gates.

Mr Donaldson said: “It is such a fascinating period, particularly in Oxford. “I think people forget just how important Oxford was at the beginning of the science revolution. “ Future projects are on the horizon including a travel book – he can claim to have visited more than 60 countries – a biography of the political philosopher John Locke and a horror story set in Russia, which surely cannot be more chilling than the cloisters and quads of his old college.