NUMBERS are everywhere. We see them on car registration plates, telephones, clocks, front doors and buttons in lifts. They are emblazoned across advertising hoardings, train departure boards and the front of buses, as well as everywhere from supermarket tills to race bibs.

In certain cultures, some digits are considered fortuitous, while others are viewed as bad omens. It is a fascinating subject and one which Scottish fantasy author Eliza Chan has tackled in Lucky Numbers, part of the anthology Unquiet Spirits: Essays by Asian Women in Horror, published this week.

The collection looks at how women’s roles have been shaped and defined through myth and story. Chan – by her own description – specialises in writing across themes of “East Asian mythology, British folklore and madwomen in the attic”.

It is a passion that began in childhood when she fell in love with mysterious tales about selkies and Arthurian legends. As she got older Chan, now 38, became curious about the meaning behind the decorative phoenix and dragons she would see in Chinese restaurants.

“I love mythology and folklore,” she says. “Whenever I go on holiday, I will try to find a book on local folklore and mythology.”

Something Chan is particularly drawn to is examining the portrayal of women within the genre. “It feels timely with everything going on in the world. A lot of writers are trying to reclaim Greek and Roman mythology at the moment.

“Certainly, in mythology, it is almost always about the man’s story and ‘Oh, here’s a dodgy witch/temptress’. I like to look at it and think, ‘But what about her? Did she really want to be a temptress or are you just assuming she is?’

“I write short fiction and it is about, ‘OK, let’s look at this stereotype about the sexy nine-tailed fox – does she actually want to be a sexy nine-tailed fox, or is everyone assuming that is her role because it has been told from the male gaze?’”

The youngest of three daughters, Chan grew up in Dumbarton. Her parents moved to Scotland from Hong Kong in the 1970s. “They didn’t have a lot of stories,” she says. “So, I started collecting any I could find, partly as a way of figuring out my own identity.”

Her essay Lucky Numbers, Or Why 28 > 58, shares her personal experiences of discovering Chinese mythology and folklore.

“Invisible spirits pushing and pulling the threads of your life,” she writes. “Luck is finite. One person’s fortune is another person’s misfortune. Good luck can be courted, cajoled, and persuaded to get on your side. Bad luck must be avoided, head down and avert eye contact so that it passes you by.”

In the West, says Chan, seven is the most common lucky number (“It was my favourite number growing up, and I still like it for the occasional lottery ticket”), with 13 generally viewed as unlucky.

Within Chinese culture, she explains, numbers and word play are closely intertwined. “Word play is huge in the Cantonese my family speaks,” says Chan. “The word for ‘four’ sounds very similar to the word for ‘death’ and that is why four is considered bad luck and avoided.

“I remember as a child if we mentioned ‘four’, my mum would say ‘don’t say that’ – a bit like ‘touch wood’ – but I used to think it was just my mum, you know how everyone thinks their mum is a bit weird? But then I went to Hong Kong and realised she is normal.

“If there are blocks of flats, they often don’t have a fourth block. There is no fourth, 14th or 24th floor. They won’t tend to sell mobile phone numbers with a four in it and it is the same with car registration plates. It is such a massive part of the culture; they have just wiped four off.”

While four is unlucky, eight is considered good luck. “Eight sounds like prosperity – that is a good one,” she says. “You bring people eight of everything: eight oranges, eight apples. If you are giving someone money you might give them £80 or £88 or £88.88. I find that fascinating.”

Chan is deliberately careful with her word choice when discussing the subject. “‘Superstitions’ has a negative ring in English, let’s call it ‘beliefs’ instead.” An interesting aspect, she adds, is observing how some traditions have evolved in recent years.

“One of my favourites is when you burn incense or paper offerings for your ancestors or the gods,” she says. “When I was a kid, it was literally paper, maybe gold foil – these are called ‘hell notes’. You burn them and the idea is that these then go into the afterlife. It is a sign of respect.

“Nowadays, you can burn paper mobile phones and flatscreen TVs and even little planes. You can go to specialist shops and buy these paper and cardboard offerings. I think, ‘well done’ because it has modernised that tradition. Rather than let it die out, they have moved with the times.”

Exploring these beliefs, says Chan, has helped her to better understand and define her own identity. When she was growing up, that was a trickier concept to wrap her head around.

“We were one of two, maybe three, Chinese families in the whole of Dumbarton,” she recalls. “When I was younger it felt a bit more isolated because it was only me and my sister in our primary school. There was another Chinese girl who joined later. But everyone else was white Scottish.

“There is a reasonably sized Chinese community in Glasgow, but we were on the outskirts of that. The friends that I made through Saturday Chinese school were much more immersed in the Chinese community and did more Chinese events than I did.”

As a youngster, says Chan, she was more focused on fitting in with her peers than learning about her roots. “I wanted to be like my friends. I would be like, ‘Why are we not having Sunday lunch? Why don’t I have blonde hair?’

“It was only as I got older – around the time I went to university – that I started to think, ‘Actually, I do want to know more about this’. It felt sad that I didn’t know as much as I would like. You begin to realise it is nice being different and I should celebrate that.”

Often there is the assumption that our parents pass stories down to the next generation but that isn’t always possible, she asserts.

“My mum came from a rural family in Hong Kong who worked in the fields, then she came over here and worked in the Chinese takeaways and waitressing,” says Chan. “She didn’t have all of this knowledge to hand down.

“Just because your parents are from that culture, it doesn’t mean they know everything about it. My parents were busy working and making sure we had food on the table. That was their priority.”

Now a mother herself, Chan has a new-found respect for her own mother’s journey. “You grow up thinking that your parents are quite unremarkable, but then my mum would tell me about how she came to the UK knowing no English and having seen her first knife and fork on the aeroplane.”

It has also helped Chan to appreciate the freedom of her own life choices: she made the decision to ditch a medical degree to study English literature and history at university, then went travelling and taught in Japan for three years.

Since returning to the UK, she has worked as a speech and language therapist in Manchester. After landing a two-book deal last autumn, Chan is taking a hiatus to concentrate on writing her debut novel Fathomfolk, due out next year.

“There is a sense of loss for my mum’s generation,” she says, returning to our earlier thread. “She always wanted to go back. She missed the food or the culture or a certain bit of Hong Kong.

“I haven’t had to go through that. There is a different type of loss, though, in that I won’t ever understand every nuance of Chinese culture and language. But I like the celebration of being someone from the diaspora community because I have two cultures and I can have a foot in both.

“This diaspora culture then becomes its own thing. It is not a second-rate version of Chinese or a second-rate version of Scottish; it evolves to become its own beast. That is something I want to celebrate in my life and writing.”

Unquiet Spirits: Essays by Asian Women in Horror is published by Black Spot Books, priced £15.72, on Tuesday