Dying Embers out now

Dying Embers out now

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Books of 2015

Firstly, I must apologise for neglecting this blog recently. It's been an eventful six months or so, with work arrangements changing at home so that I haven't had an office in which to base myself. This has meant that I have spent more time actually writing (which I generally do while out and about; in one of my local cafés, on my laptop), which is A Very Good Thing. However, guilt has driven me to sit myself down in the lounge, while the children are (hopefully) doing their homework, and share with you some of the books I have enjoyed recently.

Alex Hamilton's BEAM OF MALICE, his first collection of macabre stories, was first published in 1966.
It includes his most famous short story, THE ATTIC EXPRESS, which appeared in one edition of the
Pan Book of Horror Stories series. This is a classic collection of tales of unease. Ramsey Campbell
called Alex Hamilton "...one of the absolute masters of the sunlit nightmare." There's no way
I would argue with that! This is essential reading for anyone interested in horror. Available here.
This was a big surprise for me. The Fiction Desk regularly publishes anthologies, and  NEW GHOST STORIES
was their first one featuring supernatural fiction. These are subtle, perceptive tales of ghostly happenings
in the traditional sense. There are some powerful stories here, all of them beautifully written and highly polished.
AT GLENN DALE by Julia Patt, CHALKLANDS by Richard Smyth and OLD GHOSTS by Ann Wahlman
stood out for me, but most of the 12 here are well worth a read. An excellent anthology. Available here.

I loved the late Joel Lane's collection THE EARTH WIRE and DO NOT PASS GO is every bit as good,
albeit brief at just five stories. However, there is as much relentlessly downbeat intrigue in those five
tales as any reader could wish for. Described as "crime stories", nonetheless these are tales of fear,
displacement and oblivion, all set in the Black Country. Available here.

This has been one of my finds of the year: OUTSTACK by Gary Couzens is a fascinating collecion
of strange stories, taking the reader to weird and uncomfortable places. These are multi-layered,
complex tales which deal impressively with displacement and loss. The sense of place that
Couzens is able to create is impressive. Review soon. Available here.

Daniel Mills has created a powerful collection of hauntingly strange tales, simultaneously harking back to the
past and creating something quite new. The stories which comprise THE LORD CAME AT TWILIGHT
are intensely unsettling and satisfying to read. They are thought-provoking and at times frightening.
Don't miss this elegantly written collection. Review soon. Available here.
Great to see such a successful annual anthology out there. NIGHTSCRIPT is edited by C.M. Muller,
and this edition includes some really strong stories by some of the best writers around: Daniel Mills,
Kirsty Logan, David Surface, Jason A. Wyckoff, John Claude Smith... This book is packed with
compelling tales. Not to be missed. Available here.

Charles Beaumont was most famous for his Twilight Zone scripts: THE HUNGER AND OTHER STORIES
shows that he did short stories very well indeed. His writing style is not perhaps for everyone, but
he had a useful range, taking in horror, fantasy and wry humour. There are some classic tales here:
THE VANISHING AMERICAN, OPEN HOUSE, THE CUSTOMERS...  a wonderful collection. Available here.
What can I say about the enduring appeal of SUPERNATURAL TALES? This doyen of the genre
goes from strength to strength and the 30th edition is no exception. David Longhorn and
Stephen Cashmore do a great job in their tireless production of such a valuable publication. Available here.
Confession time... I saw the film SECONDS many years back, but it was only recently that I realised
it had been adapted from the novel by David Ely. The good news is that this book is every bit as good as
the film. Ely's writing style is pleasantly formal and I'm pleased to say he does not waste a word.
I don't often read anything but short stories, but I'm pleased I made an exception in this case.
Unfortunately, the book's cover does not do it justice at all. Available here.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Dark Lane Anthology Volume One

I'm happy to announce that my short story STRIKE THREE is included in the Dark Lane Anthology Volume One, edited by Tim Jeffreys and out now. You can buy it as an e-book from Amazon here, but next month it will be available as a paperback too.

The wonderful cover art is by David Whitlam (check out his website – trust me, it's well worth a look). Also included as the opening story in this collection is THE MAN WHO HATED DOGS by the excellent James Everington. His tales of unease must never be missed!

Here is a brief excerpt from my own tale STRIKE THREE:
It was then I heard the clumsy movement from the dining room. I almost collided with the first of the four boys as they staggered through into the hallway. With their slack jaws and stares, they strained and sweated under the weight of the clock they carried between them. They had grown into stocky men, but they were less tall, far less tall, than the clock.

Eager not to impede their unsteady progress, I backed away, but not before I had a good look into the dining room behind them. The mess did not surprise me too much; oily rags and tools strewn around, cogs, springs and wheels littering the floor. However, that could not explain the smell, which may have been seeping through the huge cracks in the walls. I wondered also at the breeze blocks cemented into place right up to the ceiling in front of the windows, blocking out most of the light; it looked like the arrangement was meant to form some kind of shield. To keep something out, I wondered, or to keep something in? I shuddered. At that moment, I could not imagine ever entering that room again.

Find out what happens next by buying the Dark Lane Anthology!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Review: Knock Knock by S.P. Miskowski

S.P. Miskowski's novel Knock Knock was first published a few years back, and introduces the unsuspecting reader to Skillute, a failed logging town in Washington, where "... few events rose in significance above the routine of work, Sunday worship, and the weekend six-pack." It soon becomes apparent, however, that an undercurrent of evil exists just beneath the surface.

Miskowski is a skilled writer, and she intertwines the past and present with ease. The reader is drawn in relentlessly, ever more eager to find out how the actions of the three young girls during the 1960s can cast such a long shadow over the present-day. The local superstition of "Miss Knocks" that they unearth rings true in such a bleak setting; and, when the shocks come, they are very effective.

This is a story steeped in atmosphere, from the dark woods surrounding Skillute to the dilapidated Misty Mart local store. All the characters are well observed and darkly believable. The tension, which builds steadily throughout, is aided by the structure Miskowski uses; each chapter is told from a particular perspective, which is striking and makes the book stand out. Myriad pathways are formed, rich detail is revealed, and connections are made at different stages of the narrative.

I must admit I found it difficult to put this book down – I read Knock Knock in a couple of sittings, and I'm about to follow it up with Delphine Dodd, the next in the Skillute cycle. This kind of tale lends itself perfectly to a follow-up, and I'm pleased that Miskowsky has since added two more novellas, Astoria and, more recently, In The Light.

Lovers of intelligent, literary horror will appreciate Knock Knock as a worthy addition to a fine tradition, and it also manages to brings its own twist to the genre. It is lovingly-crafted and tense to the last page. Highly recommended.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

12 of the best reads of 2014

I've been reading and (trying to) write a lot recently, but not blogging much. So, to put that to rights at least for the moment, here is a list and summary of some books I would recommend.

Elizabeth Bowen is perhaps one of the best short story writers in the English language; and
certainly one of the most prolific. I have been working my way through this collection of 79 of
her tales for some time, and enjoying every minute. Her stories are finely-wrought and multi-layered.
Everyone who reads or writes short stories should be familiar with her work. Blog post soon.
Barbera Roden's NORTHWEST PASSAGES has been one of my finds of the year. These are beautifully
written, literary tales of restrained strangeness. Their settings are varied, from polar exploration to
abandoned amusement parks, Victorian households, a Vancouver hotel, a cabin in the woods...
Roden's imagination runs riot, and her flair for creating atmosphere means the reader
will not forget these stories in a hurry! Review soon. Available here.
Superb collection by the recently deceased Joel Lane. I find his work to be relentlessly downbeat,
but quite compellingly so, and full of original ideas and flair. He was adept at the creation of
an alternative world, where nothing is quite as it seems. Immerse yourself in these
monochrome tales of conflict and misunderstanding. Available here.
I have recently bought several of Dennis Etchison's collections that have been made
available as e-books. In THE BLOOD KISS, there is a feast of plenty. Some of the
tales within made me sit back and say, "wow, I wish I could write like that!"
are all superb, and essential reading. (Although I must admit I was at first put off by the
covers used for Etchison's collections. The stories are more subtle than they look).
Blog post and reviews coming up soon. Available here.
My good friend Mark Fuller-Dillon suggested I read some of William Sansom's short stories, and I'm
very thankful he did. This is the only easily-available collection of his I could find, and it's a little
uneven. Not all of the stories are suspenseful; some seem like nothing more than snippets of post-war
life in London; but no less intriguing for all that. Of course, this collection includes THE VERTICAL LADDER,
which is nail-bitingly good – and worth the price of admission alone! Available here.
I love S.P. Miskowski's writing; and this is a tightly written novella which tells a compelling story...
however, I'm now reading the previous installments of the Skillute Cycle (KNOCK KNOCK,
DELPHINE DODD and ASTORIA), so I will wait until I understand how they all fit
together before reviewing. Great reading. Available here.
HAIR SIDE, FLESH SIDE by Helen Marshall is an intriguing collection of beautifully-realised
literary strangeness, consisting in a world of its own making. Helen Marshall's debut collection
is tender, dark, surreal and unforgettable. Review soon. Available here.
I love this collection. I had never previously heard of William Croft Dickinson, but having read DARK
ENCOUNTERS, I can see why it has been referred to as 'Ghost Stories of a Scottish Antiquary'.
These are ghostly tales of antiquarians, historians, archæologists, and scientists, in a style similar to
M.R. James. Perfect for those cold winter evenings in front of the fire! Available here.

This is a strange one. SEELING NIGHT; A PSYCHOMANTEUM is a deeply flawed book, but nonetheless
a fascinating read. Yes, it needs decent formatting and editing (at least in the e-book version I have), but
there was something about the linked stories which kept me hooked. The main character is well-wrought,
and some of the scenes have stuck in my head. If something left-field appeals, read it with an open mind! Available here.
BEFORE AND AFTERLIVES by Christopher Barzak is a loosely intertwined collection of weird
tales set in a small American town. Eerie, thought-provoking and dark; well worth a read. Available here.
Supremely weird, creepy stories from Michelle Kilmer. LAST NIGHT WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING
is one of those books that makes you shake your head and wonder at the writer's imagination.
Nicely illustrated, too. Available here.
A great collection of the weird by Susie Moloney. THINGS WITHERED was one of those books I had
wanted to read for some time, and then thoroughly enjoyed. These are engrossing tales of the unusual behind
the façade of everyday life; of the strangeness which is glimpsed from the corner of the eye. Available here.

As usual, I will do my best to review as many of these books as I can.... but there is never enough time in the day. In the meantime, I'm pushing on with the writing. Happy reading to you!

Friday, 24 October 2014

Anthologies and excuses

I must apologise for not creating any blog entries for some time. I've been preoccupied with writing, looking after kids and house renovations. However, there are several items of good news... the first is that the writing is going well. The second is that a short story of mine has been included in an anthology. The third is that a short story of mine has been included in an anthology!

TURNING THE CUP, a ghost story concerning tasseography, is appearing in HAUNTED, published by Boo Books and available now for pre-order here. Just in time for Hallow'een!

Also, my short story STRIKE THREE will be appearing in the Dark Lane Anthology Volume One, published in conjunction with Noodle Doodle Publications, coming up later in the year.

I'm also well ahead with a number of other short stories, one about a strange kind of photography, one about a weird workplace, one about a rip tide on a beach which is not what it seems... And more. These may or may not be destined for a 'themed' collection some time next year.

Anyway, that's it from me for now. I'll post updates about how things are progressing.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Review: The Brittle Birds, by Anthony Cowin

Mathieu is haunted by a pivotal incident from his youth, in which his brother Dominic pushed him into a stream. While retrieving his catapult from the icy water beneath a bridge, he sustained some injuries which changed his life. But were those injuries caused by the legendary Hohokw bird, which supposedly lived under the arches of the bridge? The Brittle Birds is a short horror story by Anthony Cowin, published by Perpetual Motion Publishing. It's a story of the lasting effects of childhood trauma, and the coping mechanisms of the brothers as they grow older and realise there can be no escape from the past.


The brittle birds of the title gradually infiltrate Mathieu's life. He sees them everywhere, even under a microscope in a "chilly chemistry lab" when he's at school. Eventually he becomes convinced that they threaten his very existence, and that of those all around him. It seems that this obsession will be his undoing, yet the reader hopes against hope. This is a very well written short story; Cowin successfully builds tension, using the metaphor of the unearthly birds as harbingers of doom. In just the right amount of well-chosen words he conjures a tale which is both deceptively simple yet more than the sum of its parts, and its assured prose lends it atmosphere in spades. Each reader will make something different of this intriguing story, and its ambiguous, open ending will leave you deep in thought.

Monday, 18 August 2014

The ghost of Crookhaven Lighthouse

A while back we took a couple of weeks' break, down the NSW coast at Currarong. Unfortunately, I managed to get rather ill while down there (pneumonia caught from my daughter, but that's another story...) However, as I recovered, we went on a few walks. One such foray was to Culburra Beach, a small, rather remote village. From there we walked north, towards Crookhaven Heads, past the entrance to the Shoalhaven river. In winter, this is a wild, wet and windy place. We didn't see anyone else on this walk, apart from a couple of sea fishermen way out on the rocks off the heads.

The track from Culburra Beach to Crookhaven Heads is rough and remote
We followed the track into the headland, across increasingly rough ground. Eventually we climbed between trees, and we were intrigued to spot a sign telling us there was a lighthouse further along. It could be said we were in the middle of nowhere by then (or perhaps I should say "the back of beyond?") so we were fascinated to encounter a clearing, in the middle of which stood the Crookhaven Lighthouse.

Or perhaps I should say, the ghost of what once was the Crookhaven Lighthouse. I've since found out that it was first built as a wooden structure in 1882, then demolished in 1904 when the current building was commissioned. It is now in a dilapidated state, severely vandalised. It's a shame, as in Australia lighthouses are generally restored and looked after well; however, due to its remote location, Crookhaven Lighthouse has always been vulnerable. It was fully renovated in the 1990s, apparently, but you'd never guess. Without an on-going plan for upkeep, it quickly deteriorated once more. All the glass and the reflectors have been broken or removed. Inside, there is access to the miniscule living quarters, but not to the spiral stairs which still wind up the tower.

We noticed an oppressive atmosphere about the place, no doubt partly due to it being such a dreary and overcast afternoon. In the past, the headland was cleared regularly, allowing the light to shine out across the sea; but in recent years the scrub has been allowed to grow unrestrained, surrounding the lighthouse from all sides. In the 1990s, a clearing was established around the building itself, but nonetheless the impression the visitor gets today is that of isolation and decay. Strangely, the sea, so nearby and so loud on that occasion, could not be heard from around the lighthouse at all.

We left the lighthouse and followed the track further along, into the trees and down the other side of the promontory. There was a lookout there, from which we enjoyed a spectacular view. It was clear why a lighthouse was needed in that area. We could see basalt ridges spreading out threateningly just below the surface of the water, for a very long way – who knows what hazards are hidden from the seafarer's view? Once we'd made our way back up to the lighthouse, it had started to rain, so we barely said goodbye to the sad old building as we hurried back towards Culburra. Perhaps one day soon Crookhaven Lighthouse will be restored and looked after properly. I'm sure it could become a tourist attraction and bring some benefit to the area. Right now, however, it's just a ghost of its former self.

There's an expansive view of the treacherous coastline from the lookout
The lighthouse in its original state, 1908