James’ powerful tales telt in the hame tongue

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James Spence has breathed some newfound life and vitality into several well-known folk tales from the Scottish Borders in his new book.

And all it took was to tell them in the fashion they were written in the first place – using the language of the region.

James, whose early life was spent “roaming ower the fields” in Jedburgh, now lives in the capital. His love of stories – and in particular stories of the Borders country – was inspired by his father.

In his introduction, James says: “These stories span the centuries frae way back in the mists o time tae local tales o characters frae mair recent times.

“I’ve arranged this book with the earliest appearing first, then doon through the ages till we reach the early 1900s.

“This shows how the nature of stories has changed as folks’ beliefs and challenges have changed.”

Some of the characters – such as Tam Linn and Thomas the Rhymer – have appeared in many a Borders ballad, while others such as Whuppity Stoorie (definitely a Rumplestiltskin-esque tale) and the Ootlandish Knight are perhaps less well documented.

But in every one lies humour – sometimes dark, sometimes light – as there is something frivolous and informal in reading words laid down in your own tounge.

Take ‘A Border Wizard’ for example, when Michael Scot was confronted with a serpent: “Michael gave it such a wallop with his stick that the serpent was split in three afore it kent what had happened”.

Or in ‘The Waters o Life’: “When the Prince sclimmed intae his bed there was nae slimy slairgit critters o any sort wriggling in alongside him”.

For any non-Borderer who might have trouble with either of these examples, there is a handy glossary of terms in the back of the book, but the tales do have a wider appeal.

As James wrote: “There is a richness an a depth o wisdom in this collection that surprised even me, which leads me tae believe that these stories will appeal tae everybody that appreciates the power o folk tales.”

James, who also illustrates the tales, will appear at the Borders Book Festival on Thursday, June 16.