Digital Ghosts: New Gothic Storytelling in Scotland

The Scottish Storytelling Forum (SSF) is a membership organisation, dedicated to keeping the art of live oral storytelling alive and growing in Scotland – a diverse network of storytellers and individuals supporting Scotland’s vibrant storytelling community.  It’s facilitated by Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland (TRACS) and based at the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

The SSF blog series hopes to introduce you to the many different strands within the storytelling scene in Scotland and Beyond.

This month, we hear from Rebecca Wojturska, lover of all things gothic and founder of Haunt Publishing, an independent publisher of Gothic fiction in all formats and creator of a new audio book that celebrates the various forms of oral storytelling throughout Scotland. The first, focusing on Gothic horror stories.

‘Oral storytelling has a strong tradition in Scotland, with a dark vein of the Gothic running throughout. From local lore to Burke and Hare and beyond, some seriously spooky tales haunt the history of Scotland and are kept alive-and-well through, not only traditional oral storytelling and haunted tours, but also through new modes.

‘My interest in storytelling blossomed when, during holidays in the Highlands, I would watch the local storyteller, who would sweep into a pub, adorned in a floor-length black coat and wide-brimmed hat, pockets full of props, and tell us stories in hushed whispers (which somehow carried through the room). The description of romantic landscapes blended with unease and fear was perfect. I sat, transfixed, jumping at all the right moments and nervously laughing if the storyteller broke the tension they had built with dark humour.

‘Since then I have enjoyed haunted tours and events at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh, which highlight the rich tradition that storytellers preserve and disseminate. From original stories of internal horrors to retellings of classics including Poe, Shelley and Dickens, the mode of storytelling has so much to offer when it comes to preserving local history and the literary tradition.

‘Alongside the preservation of traditional storytelling, new forms are emerging; new ways of orally transmitting stories that reach new audiences further afield. It has been interesting to see the development of digital storytelling, podcasts and spoken word events, all of which serve to communicate new stories that will hopefully be passed along and down through time.

‘When I founded Haunt Publishing in 2017, it didn’t take me long to decide what my first project would be. I not only wanted to celebrate the rich tradition of oral storytelling that I had grown to love within Scotland, but also the new and emerging forms, which bring new audiences. Basically, I wanted to showcase Gothic horror stories and storytellers from across Scotland working in the form today. Whether they were historians who deliver chilling tales of the likes of Burke and Hare, local storytellers who sweeps into pubs and storytelling events, writers involved with spoken word nights, or those who creates spooky podcasts, I wanted to celebrate it all.

‘Haunt’s anthology will showcase the range of oral storytelling, and some of the best storytellers, in Scotland: traditional tales told by well-known storytellers of the past (archived recordings licensed from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Scottish Studies); contemporary storytellers keeping traditional methods alive; and writers working in newly emerging oral spaces (e.g. spoken word events, podcasts).

‘Finding the storytellers was easier than anticipated, as the Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland website and the Scottish Storytelling Forum have a wonderful directory of storytellers and strong network of active professional tellers willing to help.  I was able to browse storytellers from across Scotland and narrow my search down to the spookiest of spooky tellers. I contacted those who hadn’t already contacted me, regarding submissions, and found the process of communicating and booking easy and efficient!

‘I’m proud to have a variety of names on board, including David Brown, Pauline Cordiner, Fran Flett Hollinrake, Sheila Kinninmonth and Daru McAleece. Each celebrate different modes of storytelling and will bring fresh telling to classic tales and local lore.

‘The anthology will also contain traditional tales told by well-known, respected storytellers of the past (archived recordings licensed from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Scottish Studies), including Stanley Robertson, Betty Whyte and Duncan Williamson. It will also showcase those involved in modern forms of storytelling, such as spoken word and podcasts. These are: Fiona Barnett, Paul Bristow, Chris Edwards, Gavin Inglis, Kirsty Logan, Conner McAleese, Jen McGregor, Paul McQuade, Ricky Monahan Brown, Jude Reid, Max Scratchmann and Dave Watson.

‘Although storytelling is best served live and face-to-face, not everyone is able to encounter this, perhaps owning to disability, monetary struggles or location. I therefore decided the core format for the project should be an audio book; a one-off purchase which can help bring oral storytelling into the home, to seep into the walls and create shadows in the corners. A key aim of the audio book is to bring this listening experience to this audience as well as to listeners across the world. A print book will also be available for the avid readers amongst the story-loving community.

‘This project is (as far as we are aware) unique: the first to bring together and showcase, in a single book, many forms of oral Gothic storytelling in Scotland, old and new.’

The anthology will be released later this year. Keep an eye on and their Twitter feed @hauntpublishing

You might want to leave the lights on though whilst you give it a listen! 

About Haunt:
Haunt Publishing was founded in 2018 and is an independent publisher of Gothic fiction in all formats. Dedicated to exploring both traditional and contemporary Gothic literature, Haunt will promote global and underrepresented voices. Haunt publishes in any genre – horror, thrillers, mystery – that has a taste of Gothic. Haunt is led by Rebecca Wojturska, who loves all things Gothic. With three dissertations in Gothic literature and almost six years’ experience in publishing, she has finally combined her two loves.

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