Books

Top 5 books inspired by folklore, chosen by Scottish novelist LA MacRae

The debut novelist, who was brought up on the coasts of rural Argyll and the East Neuk of Fife, selects her favourite fiction inspired by folklore

Image: Iván Támás from Pixabay

Folklore has provided novelists with endless inspiration. Here are five books selected by LA MacRae that have roots in the stories of yore.

The Snow Spider by Jenny Nimmo

A childhood favourite that has stayed with me. Set on a remote hill farm in Wales, this is the first book in a trilogy of extraordinary children’s stories of grief, mystery and magic which draws heavily on Welsh folklore.

Fair Helen by Andrew Greig

A wonderful novel based on the Scottish ballad Fair Helen of Kirkconnel, which relates the tragic outcome of a doomed love triangle. Set between Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders in the late 16th century, Greig conjures a hugely suspenseful tale of love, bitter feuds and political intrigue. 

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

Written by Oyeyemi at the age of only 18, this is a lovely, unsettling and quietly heartbreaking book inspired by the Yoruba myth of abiku, spirit children. 

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

A Victorian detective tale whose protagonist Bridie Devine is tasked with investigating the disappearance of a six-year-old girl. Wildly imaginative writing which draws, among other things, on the Irish legend of the merrow, or mermaid.  

Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist  by Margaret Fay Shaw

In 1929, Shaw arrived in the island of South Uist from New York as a girl in her twenties. She would spend the next six years lodging with sisters Pèigi and Màiri MacRae, taking photographs, documenting local customs and collecting Gaelic songs. This book is beautiful, elegiac and evocative. 

And Now the Light Is Everywhere by LA MacRae is out now (Hodder & Stoughton, £22). You can buy it, and some of these titles, from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.
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