Spooky Scottish reads for Halloween: Part One (short stories, wee reads and dark tales)

If you’re looking for some creepy reads to get you in the mood for Halloween then don’t worry, we’ve got your back. Here’s a HUGE list of scary Scottish books across the whole spooky spectrum. This is a mix of everything from Scottish writers, publishers or just set in Scotland, but hopefully there’s something for everyone.

Short Stories

There are so many incredible and creepy short story collections by Scottish writers so no doubt a fair few will have been missed from this list, but it’s a good place to start.

Mayhem and Death by Helen McClory

“Descriptively mythical yet recognisable stories woven from dark and light, human fear and fortune…A silent documentary through a terrible place….Mary Somerville, future Queen of Science….A coven of two. The book also includes novella Powdered Milk, a tale for the lost.

Scottish Ghost Stories by James Robertson

A classic, solid collection of Scottish ghost stories from the incredible James Robertson – his first book in fact. There are some famous stories here – like Glamis Castle or Major Weir (the subject of James’ The Fanatic – another ScotLitBlog recommendation!) – and others that may be less familiar. All are pretty creepy.

Uncanny Bodies (Anthology)

This is an anthology of work meant to unsettle you. As the blurb says, “the uncanny is a place where you feel at home – until home turns against you. It’s a city where the streets can’t join up. The uncanny alienates your own body from you through medical advances, such as prosthetic limbs or cardiac defibrillators. The ‘uncanny valley’ is a landscape where robots try to imitate you. This anthology gets beneath the skin and into the depths of what it means to be human in an age of machines and genes.” Sounds guid, aye?

Haunted Voices (Anthology)

Haunted Voices was the first output from Scottish indie publisher Haunt. It’s packed with stories from some of Scotland’s best storytellers and you can expect ‘monstrous tongue-eaters, shadowy demons, haunted video tapes, wicked priests, strange shapes in the darkness, a retelling of Poe’s The Raven… and more.’

Tales for Twilight (Anthology)

Tales for Twilight is a brand new anthology from Birlinn with stories ranging across the centuries from James Hogg to James Robertson. They say: ‘Scottish authors have proved to be exceptionally good at writing ghost stories. Perhaps it’s because of the tradition of oral storytelling that has stretched over centuries, including poems and ballads with supernatural themes. The golden age was during the Victorian and Edwardian period, but the ghost story has continued to evolve and remains popular to this day.’ [I pre-ordered this one as soon as I found out it existed!]

The Open Door & Other Stories of the Seen and Unseen by Margaret Oliphant

Talking of classics.. This “forgotten” collection of stories by Margaret Oliphant, who was big in the 19th Century but less so since, could be up your street. ‘From suspenseful hauntings to strange tales of afterlife and the emotional echoes of ghosts beyond simple frights, Oliphant’s stories possess a unique style and nuanced voice to deliver stories thoroughly unnerving and unforgettable.’

Things we Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan

This is one of my favourite short story collections. This is a collection of dark stories of fear, violence, domestic claustrophobia and desire. As the blurb says, you should expect stories about…’a woman is unnerved by her isolation alone in a house in Iceland; another can only find respite from the clinging ghost that follows her by submerging herself in an overgrown pool. Couples wrestle with a lack of connection to their children; a schoolgirl becomes obsessed with the female anatomical models in a museum; and a cheery account of child’s day out is undercut by chilling footnotes.’

Look Where You’re Going Not Where You’ve Been by Steven J. Dines

I’ve not gotten to reading this collection yet but it sounds incredible and I’m excited for it. The blurb says, ‘The past is never far behind. If we do not leave it, if we insist on carrying it with us to the end…that end is a monster. This stunning debut collection of dark, literary fiction drowns the reader in its themes of grief, regret, love, and hope. A family is torn apart by tragedy and misadventure, their future creaking under the weight of judgment. Old men play at being ghosts while a young boy sees real ones wherever he turns. A wandering immortal desperately seeks an end to his pain. Intimate, unflinching, and poignant, these eleven tales of the broken and the unmade include the two previously unpublished novellas, dragonland and This House is Not Haunted.’

Poetry and Micro-Fiction

Sometimes you need your scares short and maybe not-so-sweet – so here’s a couple of suggestions.

Where Decay Sleeps by Anna Cheung

As I write this list I’m not 100% sure if Where Decay Sleeps is out yet – though Haunt’s site says it will be shipping in October so it’s close. They say of it “[the collection] lays 36 poems on the undertaker’s table, revealing to us the seven stages of decay: pallor mortis, algor mortis, rigor mortis, livor mortis, putrefaction, decomposition and skeletonisation. Readers are summoned to walk the Gothic ruins of monsters, where death and decay lie sleeping. Tread carefully through Satan’s garden. Feast your eyes on the Le Chateau Viande menu (before your eyes are feasted upon). Read the bios of monsters on Tinder. Discover the unpleasant side effects of a werewolf ’s medication. Blending traditional Gothic imagery, modern technology and Chinese folklore, Where Decay Sleeps is the debut poetry collection from the haunted mind of Anna Cheung.’ Sounds dead good eh?

Love, Pan-Fried by Gray Crosbie

LOVE, PAN-FRIED is a bundle of tiny stories about shape-shifting, love, loss, our strange relationship with our body and everything in between. While not all creepy, it definitely has its moments and it’s perfect if you’re after something small and strange.

Dark and Twisted Tales

Scotland has a wealth of stories that fall into the vague category of “dark and a bit weird” – here’s some of our favourites but you wouldn’t have to dig far to come up with so many more.

Under the Skin by Michael Faber

Is it sci-fi? Is it horror? Is it dark and twisted? Aye, all of those probably, and well deserving of its place here. Blurb? ‘Isserley spends most of her time driving. But why is she so interested in picking up hitchhikers? And why are they always male, well-built and alone? An utterly unpredictable and macabre mystery, Under the Skin is a genre-defying masterpiece.’

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

The debut that introduced Iain Banks to the world with a bang…literally. There’s a lot to be disturbed by with The Wasp Factory so proceed with caution. ‘Two years after I killed Blyth, I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different reasons and more fundamental reasons than I’d disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did my young cousin Esmeralda, more or less on a whim. That’s my score to date. Three. I haven’t killed anybody for years, and don’t intend to ever again. It was just a stage I was going through.’ 

The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh

An absolute classic – with a sequel coming next year! The Cutting Room is definitely not to be missed. ‘When Rilke, a dissolute auctioneer, comes upon a hidden collection of violent and highly disturbing photographs, he feels compelled to discover more about the deceased owner who coveted them. Soon he finds himself sucked into an underworld of crime, depravity and secret desire, fighting for his life.’

Read our review here.

Bitterhall by Helen McClory

The second spot on this list for Helen McClory but she’s brilliant so tough…’Bitterhall is a story of obsession told between three unreliable narrators. In a darkening season in a northern city, Daniel, Órla and Tom narrate the intersections of their lives, from future-world 3D printing technology to the history of the book, to a stolen nineteenth-century diary written by a dashing gentleman who may not be entirely dead. An interwar-themed Halloween party leads to a series of entanglements, variously a longed-for sexual encounter clouded by madness, a betrayal, and a reality-destroying moment of possession.’

Read our review here.

Glister and The Dumb House by John Burnside

John Burnside has written a fair few books that come nicely under this category. Two we want to highlight here are Glister and The Dumb House. Glister is the story of Innertown, and the young people who live there. ‘Every year or so, a boy from their school disappears, vanishing into the wasteland of the old chemical plant. Nobody knows where these boys go, or whether they are alive or dead, and without evidence the authorities claim they are simply runaways. The town policeman, Morrison knows otherwise. He was involved in the cover-up of one boy’s murder, and he believes all the boys have been killed. Though he is seriously compromised, he would still like to find out the killer’s identity. The local children also want to know and, in their fear and frustration, they turn on Rivers, a sad fantasist and suspected paedophile living alone at the edge of the wasteland. Trapped and frightened, one of the boys, Leonard, tries to escape, taking refuge in the poisoned ruins of the old plant; there he finds another boy, who might be the missing Liam and might be a figment of his imagination. With his help, Leonard comes to understand the policeman’s involvement, and exacts the necessary revenge – before following Liam into the Glister: possibly a disused chemical weapons facility, possibly a passage to the outer world.

and The Dumb House?

As a child, Luke’s mother often tells him the story of the Dumb House, an experiment on newborn babies raised in silence, designed to test the innateness of language. As Luke grows up, his interest in language and the delicate balance of life and death leads to amateur dissections of small animals – tiny hearts revealed still pumping, as life trickles away. But as an adult, following the death of his mother, Luke’s obsession deepens, resulting in a haunting and bizarre experiment on Luke’s own children.

Burnt Island and The Existential Detective by Alice Thompson

Here’s another two-for-one recommendation deal (don’t say we’re not good to you) as Alice Thompson is one of our favourite unsettling story writers. Here’s two set in Scotland for your reading pleasure. In Burnt Island, ‘struggling writer Max Long arrives on the island to work on his next novel. There he encounters bestselling author James Fairfax, whom Max suspects of not being the real author of the book that has made his fortune. Furthermore, Fairfax’s wife has gone missing. In a desperate bid for success, Max decides to compromise his talent by writing a horror bestseller. Recently divorced and increasingly mentally unstable, he witnesses disturbing visions that take the form of the horror he is attempting to write. Is Max losing his mind – or his soul?’

Read our review here.

And in The Existential Detective, ‘William Blake is a private detective. When he is asked by an eccentric scientist to investigate the where-abouts of his amnesiac missing wife, Louise, Will finds himself entangled in layers of deceptions and disappearances that lead him inexorably back to an unsolved mystery in his own past: the loss of his young daughter Emily. The case takes Will to brothels, nightclubs and amusement arcades in the Scottish seaside resort of Portobello. Identities become con-fused as his sexual obsession with a nightclub singer becomes entwined with sightings of Louise, his own torturous memories, and new visions of the lost Emily.’

The Long Drop by Denise Mina

I wasn’t sure whether to include this one as it also falls under crime, which by its nature is dark and not really what we’re aiming for on this list. But it’s included anyway because it falls kind of outside the usual crime story and into fictionalised account of a true story. ‘William Watt wants answers about his family’s murder. Peter Manuel has them. But Peter Manuel is a liar. William Watt is an ordinary businessman, a fool, a social climber. Peter Manuel is a famous liar, a rapist, a criminal. He claims he can get hold of the gun used to murder Watt’s family. One December night in 1957, Watt meets Manuel in a Glasgow bar to find out what he knows.’

Whirligig by Andrew James Greig

Whirligig is another novel that comes under the crime umbrella but I think it’s just strange enough to also feel at home on this list. ‘Just outside a sleepy Highland town, a gamekeeper is found hanging lifeless from a tree. The local police investigate an apparent suicide, only to find he’s been snared as efficiently as the rabbit suspended beside him. As the body count rises, the desperate hunt is on to find the murderer before any more people die. But the town doesn’t give up its secrets easily, and who makes the intricate clockwork mechanisms carved from bone and wood found at each crime? Whirligig is a tartan noir like no other; an expose of the corruption pervading a small Highland community and the damage this inflicts on society’s most vulnerable. What happens when those placed in positions of trust look the other way; when those charged with our protection are inadequate to the challenge; when the only justice is that served by those who have been sinned against?’

Read our review here.

Little Eve by Catriona Ward

I’ve had Little Eve on my wishlist for awhile now so if you’ve read it I’d love to know your thoughts! Blurb? ‘New Year’s Day, 1921. Seven mutilated bodies are discovered in an ancient stone circle on a remote Scottish island. The victims are ‘the Children’ – members of a nature cult ruled by the charismatic, sadistic patriarch, the adder. The sole survivor of the massacre, Dinah, claims that Eve is the murderer, apparently drowned while attempting her escape. Yet as Eve’s story of the years leading up the massacre intertwines with Dinah’s account of the aftermath, a darker, stranger truth begins to emerge. The Isle is all Eve knows. Hidden from the world, the Children worship the Great Snake who dwells in the ocean, dance in the stones at dawn and offer their blood in sacrifice. The adder’s word is law. When Eve is forced into the world beyond the Isle her faith and love are tested by unexpected friendships that make her question everything. As she begins to see through the adder’s macabre fictions, the world Eve knows collapses. Does she lose her humanity with her belief? Does it drive her to kill?’

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone

Last but not least here’s another 2021 published dark and twisty treat. ‘Cat’s twin sister El has disappeared. But there’s one thing Cat is sure of: her sister isn’t dead. She would have felt it. She would have known. To find her sister, Cat must return to their dark, crumbling childhood home and confront the horrors that wait there. Because it’s all coming back to Cat now: all the things she has buried, all the secrets she’s been running from. The closer Cat comes to the truth, the closer to danger she is. Some things are better left in the past…’

We hope you enjoyed this run down of some creepy recommendations to make your Halloween a little more on the spooky Scottish side. There’s loads more suggestions to come in part two so keep an eye out for it.

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