It’s Wednesday evening and it's slowly getting dark outside. I’m sitting in Waterstones on Argyle Street to attend a book talk for a new short horror stories collection by Glaswegian author Kirsty Logan.
To begin with, Logan reads an excerpt from the book. The first story is of two boys - twins, one a regular, healthy child, the other made out of horsehair. I start to suspect that the book might not be your average ghost story collection. Its tone is dark and twisted, which doesn't seem to match up with the bubbly and chatty character in front of me. Kirsty says that she isn’t easily scared of typical "spooky" characters. As the theme for this book, she has tried to discover her own true fears, which, she admits, is not an easy thing to do.
The book starts with a short introduction from the author herself, set in a remote Icelandic village without any distractions. From short passages interspersed between the stories, we can observe how the book was written, which provides a break between the individual tales. Logan stated she wanted to add this additional dimension to the collection to give the reader a feeling of comfort, reminding them that these stories are just that: stories, imaginary things that shouldn’t scare us in real life. However, as the book progresses, the narrative grows scarier and the boundaries between fiction and reality slowly disappear, leaving the reader increasingly in the dark.
Even though the book isn’t very long, it took Logan almost two years to write. No wonder - constantly thinking about your fears and watching horror movies as a part of one’s "research" must get a bit much at times. Logan admits that the characters in each tale are named after famous horror movie characters, but as of now no-one has discovered all of them.
The book is divided into three parts, each one connected to a specific fear. Firstly, we have The House, stories about boundaries and limits. In Birds Fell From the Sky and Each One Spoke in Your Voice, we follow Sidney, owner of a shop full of 90s memorabilia. He hears a mysterious telephone ringing at night, even though he realises that this is impossible. One day, the presence of an unsettling customer reminds him that you can never fully forget your past.
The second part deals with children, pregnancy and the fear of being a parent. My personal favourite was a short story called The Only Time I Think of You is All the Time, the closest we get to a ghost story within the collection. The tale follows a woman who is being constantly followed by the presence of something named Brigitte. The woman feels as if there is no immediate danger, but Brigitte’s mumbling, the touch of her hands and her moving of objects still gives our protagonist no space to live in peace. The only place where Brigitte cannot find her is in a dark pond at the end of the garden. But what happens if her hiding place is discovered?
Many of the stories in Things We Say in the Dark are written in an unusual way. There is one in the format of a questionnaire, with the absence of answers serving to build tension. Another concept is a short story that seems like a regular recollection of a day on the beach, but with the footnotes (already an unusual addition to a work of prose fiction) telling an entirely different tale. These playful forms are intriguing not only for the reader but the author herself. “I had to experiment with form to not get bored of myself. It is important to take your work seriously, but equally important is to know how to make fun of yourself.” says Logan.
So, if you’re still looking for the perfect book to read during the Halloween season and you’ve had enough of classic ghosts and haunted houses, pick up a copy of Things We Say in the Dark. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Things We Say in the Dark is available online and in print now. Get it directly from the publisher here: https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/111/1117908/things-we-say-in-the-dark/9781787301535.html