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Pitlochry, as the dread hour approaches…


Brightly lit though Pitlochry Festival Theatre might be at night, buzz though festival-goers might around such visiting celebrities as Ronnie Browne, Gregor Fisher, and Charlotte Green, there comes a time when a hush falls over the handful of brave ones who stay behind for the storytellers’ lock-in. Collars are turned up at the suggestion of icy fingers at the neck, and there are anxious glances over the shoulder at the hint of a presence walking through the River Room. Attention is then fixed on the storytellers – actors Dougal Lee and Helen Logan – as though to draw comfort from them. But there is no comfort there. They have us under their spell!

article2This is how it is at every ‘Fearie Tales’ event during Winter Words. Eight chilling tales are read to us in four late-evening sessions. The stories themselves are selected from submissions by contemporary writers from Scotland and beyond. On Friday 12th of February I was there myself. I spoke above of a lock-in, and indeed one of the stories told to us was set at a remote inn after drinking hours, where a stranger told the small company of the nightmares that had beset him since he was a child, as we feared for his mortal safety. The scene in the cold morning light, however, was a plot twist that stunned…

To an extent you never know what to expect at ‘Fearie Tales’. I was there in anticipation of hearing client Marie Marshall’s ‘The Ice House’ – was that you, Marie, lurking by the door of the River Room, flitting away when the applause came? Really you are too shy.

article1‘The Ice House’ was read by Helen, who put layers of character into her reading. The story itself was a tribute to M R James, arguably the greatest writer of ghost stories in the English language. James himself makes an appearance in the story, as an avuncular mentor to the narrator – a young, female, law student at the time of the action – and provides, though he doesn’t realise, the denouement in the form of a letter. The story takes us, via a discussion about humankind’s deepest terrors, a sense of dread in a lonely place, and the delirium of a fever, to the revelation of a brutal crime. The construction of the story is very Jamesian – a typical Marie Marshall emulation – and the sense of period and place is perfect. I do hope there will be some way in which this story can be read more widely, whether Marie places it on her web site, where she does showcase a handful of her stories, or in a collection.

I shall be back in the River Room at Pitlochry on Saturday 20th, when another client’s story is due to be performed. This time it will be by Lucy P Naylor, the Queen of Quirk, and the action will range from a Dundee ‘pletty’ to the city’s ancient Howff graveyard.

The canny short-story-writer knows to pen and submit something written with Dougal’s or Helen’s voice in their ear, to structure their story to suit reading aloud, and to consider each actor’s strength in characterisation. Nothing facile gets through the selection process at Winter Words, and you know that by the time each ‘Fearie Tales’ session comes, that you will hear what is probably la crème de la crème of the Macabre. The festival as a whole is worth a winter break here in the Scottish Highlands.

An evening of chills in Pitlochry

Ice House

Well, more a series of evenings, as the ‘Fearie Tales’ stories get under way at the Winter Words festival in Pitlochry, on Friday 12th February. The Friday and Saturday evenings of each Festival weekend are rounded off by a brace of macabre or ghostly tales, the winners of an annual competition run by the festival organisers.

One of the most consistent story-writers in the competition is our client Marie Marshall, whose weird stories have been amongst the winners almost without a break since 2008. Her stories, each with a Scottish setting, have included:

Chagrin – in which an elderly man is haunted by the memories of an old love every time he sees anyone with red hair.
Vae Victis – the testimony of a Roman Legionary on the Empire’s northernmost frontier, of a nameless terror that comes in the midwinter night.
Place of Safety – the tale of a young man who loses his love to a magician.
On The Platform – waiting, waiting for morning, but who is the ghost and who the ghost-hunter?
Da Trow i’ da Waa – a writer, having taken a remote cottage in Shetland, finds truth in Carnacki’s saying, “There can be no safety when the monster breathes through wood and stone.”
Voices – the audio diary of an Australian academic on a Highland mountain-top, listening for Random Voice Phenomena.

This year’s winning entry from Marie is The Ice-house, in which a young woman awakens an old evil in the dunes of Tentsmuir. If you want to hear it read aloud by Scottish actor Helen Logan, make your way to the Pitlochry Festival Theatre and grab a seat in the River Room for 9.30pm.

Marie hopes to have a collection of her short stories published this year, so watch this space!



‘Winter Words’ under way

Well, it is almost Carnival time...

Well, it is almost Carnival time…

In case you’re wondering where this gorgeous carnival mask came from, it’s on sale at the shop in Pitlochry Festival Theatre. The theatre itself is always well worth visiting. As well as the auditorium with its dramatic and musical events, there is the shop, the bar, a restaurant, and an exhibition of paintings. At present the annual Winter Words festival – Scotland’s first literary festival of the year – is under way. It finishes next weekend, the 21st and 22nd of February, so if you are in or near Scotland, there is still time to plan a flying visit. You may be lucky and get a ticket for one of the events, but don’t forget there are also bookstalls and free events in the Theatre.

One of the free events is the late-evening ‘Fearie Tales’ session, where actors Helen Logan and Dougal Lee read the stories of the eight winners of the year’s competition for spine-chilling fiction. Paul has been to two of these so far, to support clients who have been among the winners, and oh what tales he has heard! A hen-pecked husband finds a replica of his boyhood home down a Scottish lane, where it has no right to be; a young woman captured by a dragon-worshiping cult; a boy encounters the fairies that have ‘tidied’ his lonely family life, and wonders whether to ask for the sister he never had; an Australian scientist goes looking for voices on the top of a remote Scottish mountain…

There will be four more next weekend. Go along, and prepare to be terrified!

Winter Words 05a

Helen Logan reads ‘Voices’ by Marie Marshall – Dougal Lee obviously knows something she doesn’t!


By the way, Paul hopes to be at the StAnza poetry festival in St Andrews from the 5th to the 8th of March, so look out for him there.

‘Fearie Tales’


Each January “Scotland’s literary year gets into gear” (said The Scotsman) with the prestigious Winter Words festival in the Pitlochry Festival Theatre. There are performances and workshops in poetry, history, fiction, memoirs, there are stories of places and people, of travel and exploration, and so on. One of the most popular events is the reading each evening of macabre short stories, with a Scottish flavour. Lights are dimmed, voices are hushed, as these Fearie Tales are read by professional actors. Scottish actors Martyn James, Helen Logan, Deirdre Davis and Dougal Lee have done the readings, the current partnership being Helen and Dougal.

Dougal Lee

Dougal Lee

Fearie Tales is a competitive contest – contestants submit their stories to the Festival, and the winners’ stories become the highlight of each evening’s entertainment. Our clients Lucy P Naylor and Marie Marshall are invariably in that number, Lucy’s tales being a particular favourite of the Artistic Director, or so we have heard. In 2010 the climax of Marie’s story The Place of Safety drew gasps from the audience; and during the reading of Lucy’s darkly humorous Cold Feet the audience “laughed in all the right places”, she said. Lucy’s story Betwixt and Between, read by Helen Logan again, started the telling of tales in 2011.

Helen Logan

Helen Logan

In 2013 Marie and Lucy were amongst the winners again, with Lucy’s Knit One, Pearl One being featured during the opening weekend of the festival, and Marie’s On The Platform during the final weekend. Lucy’s story was one of her typically humorous ones, telling how close nightclub life is to a total zombie apocalypse, while Marie’s told of a ghostly encounter at a railway station late at night – but of the two people meeting, which one was the ghost?

In 2014 the whole festival was rounded off with Marie’s chilling story with a Shetland flavour, Da Trow i’ da Waa, in which an author with writer’s block rents a cottage on the island of Yell – a cottage made from stones taken from two haunted houses, but before that from somewhere even more sinister.

Some of Lucy’s and Marie’s short stories, including Lucy’s Betwixt and Between from 2011 can be found in an anthology called Mercury Silver, published by P’Kaboo. The collection contains stories in all kinds of styles by other writers too, and is well worth downloading for your Kindle…

Marie and Lucy compete in Fearie Tales every year, along with some of Scotland’s and the UK’s finest short-story writers. Winter Words is always worth a visit. Guests have included Michael Portillo, Brian Blessed, Sally Magnusson, Tony Robinson, and many other names from literature, politics, and the media. Why not have a mid-winter break in the Scottish Highlands, and combine it with a week of entertainment and culture? Authors and short-story writers should keep an eye on Pitlochry Festival Theatre in December and January to find out about this competition.