"The Auld Mither" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Unnerving

Written by William Meikle
2019, 103 pages, Fiction
Released on February 20th, 2019


Scottish exile William Meikle must have had a hankering for the ‘auld’ country when he wrote this entertaining short novella a few years back, which has just had a welcome rerelease on Unnerving. The prolific Canadian resident has an outstanding range of titles under his belt; the majority occupy the pulpier end of the horror spectrum, but there are literary treats also, including The Ghost Club: Newly Found Tales of Victorian Terror, which we gave the maximum five stars back in 2017. The Auld Mither sits somewhere in the middle; Meikle abandons the giant monsters and explosions and delivers a superbly crafted supernatural tale, of which my major criticism is that it is too short.

The story is set around a small rural town, Inverurie, in the north east of Scotland, coincidently about twenty miles from where I grew up. I particularly enjoyed revisiting a town I have passed through many times and have very old memories of, such as watching ET in their local cinema (long gone now) in the early 1980s. Meikle is a Scotsman, but I’m fairly sure he does not originate from the north east and so I wonder whether he has ever visited Inverurie? Probably, but it’s not exactly on the tourist route! Willie does mention a taxi rank outside the train station, which one of the characters uses; in this day and age a punter might be standing there for quite a while!

The Auld Mither (translated as Old Mother) is based on an obscure folktale which appears in old Scottish and Gaelic writing. She is usually portrayed as an ancient crone with magical powers and a real unpleasant streak. Meikle uses this basic background and plants his version of the hag in the Inverurie area and the locals all know exactly who she is.

The Auld Mither has an outstandingly brutal opening chapter. George Duncan is restructuring his abattoir and is in the midst of revealing (and revelling in) how exactly this is going to play out with his partners when something appears and horrifically murders everybody in the room, chopping them into mincemeat. The story then centres upon the murdered man’s children Lucy and Dave Duncan, who arrive for the funeral and help with the ongoing police investigation. As siblings go, they do not get on and Dave hated his father, and with good reason, which is revealed in flashbacks. There is also a police procedural element to the story as we follow the investigation with Detective Inspector Roberts, who even though he used to work in Glasgow, had never seen anything as horrible as the murders he has to solve.

Dave Duncan may well be the son of one of the bigger farmers in the area, but the locals do not see him as one of their own, as for much of his youth was in exile, attending boarding school for and thus knows little of the local myths and legends or any part his father might have played in riling the Auld Mither.  Although quite short, the story still covers a lot of ground, has some good scares and atmosphere, with an authentic and convincing local setting. It’s very easy to read in one sitting.

We’ve all seen the classic horror comedy An American Werewolf in London when the American tourists go into the local pub and are greeted by total silence and unfriendly looks; yes, Scottish pubs can be like that for strangers too! This story has a scene which recalls the John Landis film when Dave says the wrong thing after a few pints and mentions the local superstition that nobody wants to talk about.

The dialect in the north east of Scotland (Doric) is very harsh and would be incredibly difficult to transfer to paper for a story such as this, so Meikle wisely writes in broader Scottish, which is good enough for this story. Sadly, old folktales such the Auld Mither do not seem to catch the imagination of children these days, whose lives are dominated by electric devices, so it is good to see writers bringing them back to life in their fiction, especially one as obscure as this.

When I was a kid, we lived close to a very small village called Aberchirder (known locally as ‘Foggie’), which has its own very localised legends and ghost stories, many of which were probably never committed to paper. My father used to spin wonderful tales and I remember, as a boy, cycling past a ruined old schoolhouse called Blacklaw, which he said was haunted. I used to genuinely speed up going past this particular building!

On one level The Auld Mither is a quality supernatural tale with a strong emphasis on Scottish folklore, and on a personal level it nostalgically takes me back to my childhood when my imagination ran riot and the old hag might have lurked under the bridge, or around any darkened corner, when I was cycling home from school or out playing with friends.


Overall: fourstars Cover
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Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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