The Story Keeper
A dark tale of folklore and disappearances on the Isle of Skye.
Audrey Hart travels to Skye and to the mansion of a reclusive folklorist to collect the folk and fairy tales of the local people. It is 1857, the Highland Clearances have left devastation and poverty, and the crofters are suspicious and hostile, claiming they no longer know their stories.
Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up in the bay beneath Lanerly, and the crofters reveal that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl disappeared. They believe the girls are victims of the restless dead: spirits who take the form of birds.
At first, Audrey suspects that the girls are being abducted, but as events accumulate she begins to wonder if something else is at work. Something which may be linked to the death of her own mother, many years before.
Read the first chapter free (click the image).
Read the first chapter free.
‘A chilling and refreshingly inventive Gothic novel that constantly subverts the reader’s expectations.’
ANDREW TAYLOR (The Ashes of London)
‘If you like your fiction darkly Gothic and soaked in atmosphere and if you want to sleep with the light on for the rest of your life, Anna Mazzola has just the book for you.’
RACHEL RHYS/TAMMY COHEN (Dangerous Crossing)
‘The Story Keeper is bloody brilliant. The imagery, the folklore, the sense of place, all of it combined is so intoxicating. And creepy. And compulsive. I loved it!’
ALI LAND (Good Me, Bad Me)
‘The Story Keeper is a beautifully written, meticulously researched, atmospheric book that draws you into a brooding world of folklore and social conflict and keeps you hooked until the very last page. Another cracking read from Anna Mazzola.’
ADAM HAMDY (Pendulum)
‘I absolutely loved this – it was a beautiful written, and spellbinding story which took us back to the 19th century Isle of Skye, capturing the atmosphere, mystery – and menace – of an impoverished and divided island community, riddled with superstition and driven by fear. The raw measures taken to survive, and the beliefs held to make sense of a brutal and unforgiving landscape were woven magically into this extraordinary thriller. It was a story that twisted and turned and ended with a totally unexpected finale.’
MARY CHAMBERLAIN (The Dressmaker of Dachau)
‘I tore through this…a gripping thriller set in a remote Scottish community where girls are going missing in the 1850s. The Unseeing is one of my favourite books of the past few years and this is a cracking follow-up.’
STACEY HALLS (The Familiars)
‘Anna Mazzola has written a dark, mesmerising tale. This is a raw, unflinching portrait of nineteenth century Skye: brutal, bleak and beautiful. There is so much here to love – the beautiful prose, the sense of place, the exploration of the power of stories to warn and to comfort. But above all, this is a powerful, unputdownable story that had me turning the pages deep into the night. A beautiful and eerie page-turner.’
ANTONIA SENIOR (Treason’s Daughter)
The idea for The Story Keeper came from a real case from the 1880s, the West Ham Vanishings, in which a number of young girls disappeared from the slums of East London. One of them, Eliza Carter, returned briefly before her final disappearance to tell her friends that the fairies had kidnapped her and forbidden her to return home. Her dress was later found in West Ham Park, its buttons missing, but she was never seen again.
Rather than base the novel on the real case, as I had done with The Unseeing, I decided to transport it to a different place, a place where fairy belief was still alive and well.
I needed to find a country in which many people still believed in fairies and folklore in the 1800s, a place with a rich oral history and a place steeped in magic. When I visited Skye, with its beautiful and eerie landscape, and its history of cleared people and stolen stories, I knew I had found the right place.
Although The Story Keeper is very much a work of fiction, the accounts given of the Clearances of Suisnish and Boreraig are based on real accounts of the brutal and heartbreaking scenes that took place as families were forcibly driven from their homes. You can read more here.
Part of the joy of writing the book was the number of folk and fairy tales it entitled me to read. The stories related in the novel are mainly adaptations of tales found in 19th century collections of folklore: Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland by John Gregorson Campbell (1862), Popular Tales of the West Highlands by J. F. Campbell (1890), and Folklore of the Isle of Skye by Mary Julia MacCulloch (1922).
The fairy tale that runs through the novel is my own invention, inspired by the dark and peculiar Celtic fairy tales that I’ve used to terrify my own children. Many are available here.
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