Caledonia Dreamin – Strange Fiction Of Scottish Descent edited by Hal Duncan and Chris Kelso. Book review

CALEDONIA DREAMIN – STRANGE FICTION OF SCOTTISH DESCENT, edited by Hal Duncan and Chris Kelso, Eibonvale Press, p/b £9.50

Reviewed by Stewart Horn

The Scots tongue is hoachin’ with stoatin’ words. It’s a part of the nation’s cultural heritage that generations of pedantic schoolteachers have failed to eradicate. This book is a celebration of that heritage. Each story is based on, or inspired by, a uniquely Scottish word, and the results are by turns hilarious, confusing, intriguing and horrifying.

The editors’ introductions demonstrate their love of the subject matter and are entertaining essays in their own right. Their definitions of each word are highly amusing: one suspects that if maukit is in the OED, the definition there isn’t absolutely f***ing filthy. Cludgie likewise is defined here as facilites for urination or defecation; shitter.

But even aside from the fun element, this is a very strong anthology. There a feeling that the authors really ran with the idea, and had a ball doing it. They use their words gleefully, like a schoolboy swearing and knowing he won’t get into trouble. Having the word that each story is associated with helps the reader identify themes too, making some of the more outlandish pieces more accessible. And because it’s not restricted to any one genre every new story is an adventure. There is fantasy, futuristic sci-fi, horror, some mainstream fiction and some really weird stuff.

Neil Williamson starts us off with a musical interpretation of the word Wersh, then Wendy Muzlanova’s Maw explores the word clarty so thoroughly I wanted to wash my hands after reading it. Two authors chose maukit as their word and went at it in spectacularly different ways, T. J. Berg telling a folk legend so convincingly I wondered if it was real. Sroggy and cludgie both inspired horror stories and Douglas Thompson used sweirt as a springboard into an imaginative and kind of sweet post-apocalyptic love story.

The book stays eclectic and original right to the end, and I loved it. For anyone Scottish or, with Scottish connections, this is a brilliant book. The recognition and associated nostalgia are wonderful. But it shouldn’t just appeal to a Scots audience: there’s enough humour and inventiveness to entertain anybody.

I intend to order another three or four in time for Christmas.