Staff Interview: Ally Kersel

Dusk & Shiver - Ally

      Ally Kersel

co-founder, editor, staff writer; bog faerie


01. Introduce yourself!

Hi, my name is Ally. I’m a writer from the west of Scotland and I’ve recently moved home after far too long.

02. Tell us a little about your work. 

My work tends to seep across genres. I’d say I write mostly dark fantasy, blended with horror. I love weaving elements of Celtic myth and black comedy through my work as well. I’ve recently had a piece published in Lamplight Magazine, which is a Hebridean ghost story about a girl who is trapped in a song. I also have a horror story coming soon in Storgy’s upcoming Shallow Creek Anthology which I am very excited about.

I’ve recently finished the first draft of my novel, Harmony of Trouble – an urban fantasy set in Victorian Edinburgh. I often describe it as a “feel-good Gothic horror” because it toes a very fine line between the absurd, the cosy, and the grotesque.

I also have a Celtic-myth inspired novella on the go with the working title, Our Lady of Winter, which is about Caillie, an enby storm hag who rows around the West Coast of Scotland dropping off omens, and Gwen, a young woman who refuses to accept the hand that Fate has dealt her.

03. D&S is a dark fantasy and horror magazine. Tell us about some of the other media you enjoy in and around those genres!

Recently, I’ve been re-reading Perfume by Patrick Süskind, which is one of my all-time favourite books. The language is just so rich, always on the cusp between beautiful and repulsive.

Sealed by Naomi Booth is another book I’ve read recently that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys subtle, claustrophobic body horror. Gorgeously written and realistic enough to be genuinely chilling.

As far as music goes, I have a lifelong obsession with Gaelic songs, some of which are incredibly bleak. I’m from an area of Scotland where Gaelic culture and identity are extremely strong and this is something I always try to get across in my writing. Try coming across a song where a man returns from months at sea only to cross paths with a boat bearing his beloved to the graveyard and not want to write a story about it.

04. Have any of the above inspired your own work in any way?  

Oh, yes, particularly the Gaelic songs. My story in Lamplight Magazine, Barefoot Island Girl unpicks the trope of the “nighean donn” or “brown-haired girl”, who pops up all the time as the figure of the beloved. I wanted to write a story about a man who, with the best of intentions, sought to immortalise his lost love in song after her death, and to unpack that idea a bit – what would it mean for her if her memory was reduced to a generic, idealised figure in a song?

05. What is it about these genres that attracts you most?

I love the scope for examining the darker side of human psychology in horror and fantasy, the less than palatable thoughts that we all have from time to time. They are the perfect genres to pick apart all the skeletons that exist in your brain and in society. I also love the freedom to be able to write and be shamelessly melodramatic with lurid, ridiculous aesthetics. There is also an element of, “Well, I’m writing in my universe, so anything can happen”. That can be as flamboyant as trapping an antagonist in a pocket watch or as low-key as writing a majority queer cast in Victorian Edinburgh without queerness itself being a source of drama or tragedy. My characters go through some pretty awful things, but at least they are comfortable with their sexuality!

06. Tell us about something that frightens or disturbs you. Are you attracted to media that includes this? Why or why not?

Horror where the lines between reality and fantasy start to blur is something that genuinely scares me.

I am attracted to media that contains this because, as someone who has experienced this, I find it can be very cathartic. I write it a lot myself because it’s a way that I have of making sense of my, admittedly warped, way of looking at the world.

07. Tell us about one of your favorite fantasy or mythological creatures.

Ooh, I’m going to tell you about the caoineag (English – the weeper). The caoineag is a creature from Scottish mythology, not dissimilar to the Irish Banshee. She is usually encountered near streams or other bodies of water, wailing and crying. The sound of her weeping foretells death in the Clan. According to legend, the caoineag of the Macdonalds was heard to cry the night before the Glencoe Massacre. Her warnings were dismissed and the Macdonalds were murdered by the Campbells who were under their hospitality at the time (Red Wedding, anyone?).  

08. If you could spend next Halloween anywhere in the world, where would you want to go? Why?

To be honest, I would stay right here in Scotland. It’s been a while since I’ve had a proper Hallowe’en here and we do have excellent ghost stories.

09. What does the word ‘magic’ mean to you?

Magic to me is that little tug of the inexplicable and wondrous at the edge of your brain. It’s the tiny squirm in your head that tells you that not everything is as it seems and there are all sorts of things lurking about the edges of what we call reality. Writing is the best way I know to pass some of this sense of wonder along to other people. I can put images in your brain and make you feel things.

That’s magic.

10. What do you hope readers will get out of Dusk & Shiver?

Mostly, I hope readers get enjoyment out of Dusk & Shiver. I hope you get quivers up your spine and creepy feelings looking over your shoulder – all the clichés of cold-running blood and hair standing on end. And I hope that by reading our stories, people will be inspired to write their own so we can get this creepy contagion spreading like a rash.   

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