Haunted Voices is an exciting project. An anthology of Gothic short stories by a diverse array of local voices, it is an opportunity to explore the wealth of the Scottish storytelling tradition, as well as Scotland’s rich folklore. The editor has also prioritised giving a platform to marginalised voices, including members of the LGBTQ+ community and people of colour, which is commendable. And yet, Haunted Voices is not as powerful or, indeed, haunting an anthology as it could be.
Oral storytelling can be tricky to translate onto paper. Without the nuances of voice and tone, a lot of aspects fall flat when written down, particularly when one of the main goals of the storyteller is to convey tension and atmosphere. In some cases, the transcriptions actually work quite well – they aren’t necessarily haunting, but they do convey something perhaps equally important, the personality of the storyteller. Many of these stories are written with a buoyant, conversational air, often in Scots written dialect, and are enjoyable to follow. Other stories make no attempt to be scary exactly, but interpret ‘haunting’ in an innovative way – Gavin Inglis’ ‘Soulmates’ is an excellent example of this; rather than a traditionally Gothic, suspenseful atmosphere, it touched on the tragedy of everyday life while alluding to the legacy of Gothic in Edinburgh.
Elsewhere, the storytelling is lacking. Sometimes it’s a matter of writing, with certain parts being perhaps overly descriptive at what seem like irrelevant points. This is particularly distracting in some of the poems. In other stories, the plot lines waver – we begin linearly following one character, or one narrative, and then the author zooms out and drops us somewhere else, sometimes flat-out giving us the information instead of showing us the resolution. This prevents the building of tension or of a really robust story.
It bears saying that in some cases, minor issues are largely expected for the medium. For example, some of the stories were actually told for a university archive, and transcribed in this way, so the tone wavers between the story and the academic setting. That isn’t a failing by the storyteller – it just doesn’t fit seamlessly into a storytelling anthology. Somewhat flat characterisation is also fair to find in a short story – there is simply no time to develop the full cast of characters, so some of the authors fall back on tropes such as the worried mother.
But there were still some gems in this book, particularly Paul Bristow’s ‘The Leerie’, a story about the fear of the dark set in the 1950s, and Kirsty Logan’s ‘The Keep’, an unusual and harrowing look at murder. It’s a shame that with some excellent stories intertwined with less successful ones, the anthology is not consistently as good as its best.
Image: Haunt Publishing.