It’s Bloody Murder, and all for a song

This is a guest post by Clio Gray, who you can see right here in the A Song of Death event on Saturday September 15th

Hands up everyone who thought that flash fiction was a modern invention? And yet it’s as ancient as the hills, or at least as ancient as the ballads that used to be sung up and down those hills.

Think of Lord Maxwell’s Last Goodbye, The Border Widow’s Lament, Jock o’Hazeldean, Dick o’ the Cow. And I’m not making that last one up. It features a spot of castle rustling, a bit of a fight, and a fool outwitting his master.

Ballads incorporate the whole gamut of human experience, many of them in just a few succinct verses. Common themes are thwarted love, jealousy, betrayal, rape, murder, war, cross-dressing women going to sea…

The practice of telling story through song is the backbone of oral tradition the world over, and is particularly strong here in Scotland. Many ballads preserve actual historical events, as in The Battle of Otterbourne or The Sang of the Outlaw Murray, or contain enough material for a gory crime thriller, like the brother who murders his sister’s lover by thrusting his rusty blade right through the floorboards and into the bed they are lying in. It almost breaks your heart when she wakes up next morning and declares him the sleepiest man she’s ever seen (Clerk Sanders).

We’re going to be exploring some of these stories in A Song of Death at the Bloody Scotland Festival, and any other historical traditions and tales have inspired novelists Alanna Knight and V.M. Whitworth.

We’d like to  know what ballads you remember, and why. What’s the most blood-soaked one you’ve heard of? The most moving? The funniest? Or do you know one that has a special meaning for you? Why not tell us on our Facebook page?


If you can tell us the ballad from which the following line come from, you could win yourself two tickets to A Song of Death:

“…and out she’s ta’en a knife, and put it her own heart’s blood…”

Email your answer to by Sunday 19th August. We’ll pull a winner out of the virtual hat. Please note that we can’t enter any correspondence.