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Fair Helen

by Andrew Greig

An old Border ballad galvanised into vivid life. Take a pair of star-crossed lovers, an engaging, canny narrator, bags of atmosphere and an artist's eye for the landscape of the Scottish borders. Gritty, gory in places, and wildly romantic. I read it in one sitting on a long train journey and was transported to another place and time.

Extract

Together we shouldered the gate closed and double-bolted.
We stood gasping and grinning in the lee of the fence, rather chuffed with ourselves. Adam's arm on wee Alec's shoulder, Mrs Smeaton beaming, hair awry. Jed and Dand laughing quietly, Snood coiling spare rope, smiling at the ground. So this is family, I thought. Warm eyes everywhere. Us agin the storm. One of those moments of harmony and affection, as though an underlying good order of things had been revealed.
"Jed, you should be with people that can afford better walls," Janet said.
"Whit would be the fun in that?"
Amid our laughter, Dand put his great paw round his wife's waist. Her hips inclined to his. Then she turned to look at Adam, her hand went up to tenderly brush mud from his cheek.

Parallels

Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders by Walter Scott
The Steel Bonnets by George MacDonald Fraser
  • Lock the Door Larriston - a ballad sung by Maddy Prior
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