Suffolk Folk Tales by Kirsty Hartsiotis

Kirsty Hartsiotis has put together the ideal collection for a Suffolk storyteller.

Kirsty Hartsiotis has put together the ideal collection for a Suffolk storyteller. Her fascination with the county and its folklore shines through her simple tellings of a wide variety of tales. The contents has been judiciously chosen, and while the stories you might expect are included - the Green Children and the tale of St Edmund, for example - the writer has found room for some quirkier surprises along the way.

Brief notes at the end of each story add a personal touch, bringing authenticity and a bit of background to the tales, though tantalisingly managing not to break the atmosphere of the story - the note about Clare priory made me shiver! It’s good to see tellings that are so faithful to the landscape - in fact, the story called ‘The King of all the Angles’ inspired a visit to Sutton Hoo, where we noticed how accurately the view from May Pretty’s bedroom window had been described.

For the most part, a sparse style leaves plenty of room for imagination on the part of the reader, and elaboration on the part of a teller; but the author’s own storymaking skill is evident, particularly when she assembles groups of tales about the Devil and pulls them into one amusing narrative that takes the reader on a tour of the Suffolk landscape. A pair of stories about dragons receives similar treatment, making two historical curiosities into a single tale with a twist. Hartsiotis shows an obvious enjoyment of some of the tales, too, bringing them to life with humour and a rhythm in the words that is not so obvious in the others - it gives the impression that she has previously performed some of them, like ‘The Dauntless Girl’, while others are merely a report on collected research.

The simple and unadorned style makes the stories very readable and a good length, but I found myself wishing for Hartsiotis’ own voice to add a little colour more often than it did; and I longed to hear the distinctive Suffolk accent, which was sadly absent from the cadence of the writing, even in most of the direct speech. Nonetheless, this collection is a gift to any teller of local tales, and essential reading for any lover of the rich history of East Anglia.