New author exposes Dundonald's past with fairy tales from the dark side
Nestled between Kilmarnock and Troon, Dundonald is the last place in Scotland you’d associate with cannibalistic witches, headless horsemen and gruesome executions. However, as revealed in Suzy A. Kelly’s ‘Dundonald Tales’, the small village bore witness to some of the most gruesome events in 17th century history.
After living in Skye and North Uist to recover from ME/CFS, Kelly returned home to Dundonald in 2014 and attended the University of Glasgow. It was then that ‘Dundonald Tales’ began as part of Kelly’s MLitt in Creative Writing, a course which revealed her love of Gothic fiction and folklore and made her determined to prove there was an appetite for such literary genres in Ayrshire.
Drawing on research of real witch trials and parish records, each tale in Kelly’s breath-taking collection of short stories embraces the deliciously macabre history of her birth town, plunging the reader into a forgotten world through the stories of its people.
Kelly’s first story, ‘The Baba Witch’, is inspired by an old Russian fairy-tale and follows a young girl’s journey through Dundonald Woods to visit her aunt…who happens to be a child-eating witch. It evokes memories of the classic ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and avid horror fans may even recognise themes from ‘The Blair Witch Project’. Rest assured, ‘The Baba Witch’ is every bit as chilling.
‘Devil of Loudon Hill’ tells the story of Patrick Lowrie, the only man in Dundonald to be executed for witchcraft, and Kelly spares us no detail of his burning at the stake and its devastating effect on his body. She even consulted The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft for this tale, a database run by Edinburgh University.
However, Kelly tells me she feels “an affinity with the Countess of Eglinton”, the protagonist of her tale, ‘The Auchans Pear’, describing her as a “fascinating, educated woman, who suffered terrible loss but still retained a survivor spark”.
Her emotional connection with Dundonald’s lost people is clear in her meticulous attention to historical details and her thorough yet respectful exploration of the barbaric events and superstitions which shaped their reality.
She is now working on her first novel, which will explore the “intergenerational trauma of the Scottish witch hunts”. I already can’t wait.
Kelly’s incredible talent also won her the Imprint Writing Awards for prose in 2017 and one of her short stories has been selected for A. L. Kennedy’s Short Story Masterclass in St. Andrews, which takes place this June.
You can find out more about Suzy A. Kelly at her website, www.suzyakelly.com
Written by Lorna Wallace