Dying Embers out now

Dying Embers out now

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Review: Autumn in the Abyss by John Claude Smith

Following on from this author's excellent collection The Dark is Light Enough For Me, Autumn in the Abyss provides the lucky reader with five more darkly perceptive tales, including the substantial title story.

First up is Autumn in the Abyss itself, and it sets the scene perfectly. Obscure poet Henry Coronado disappeared mysteriously in 1959, along with the truth about his poem, Autumn in the Abyss; and our agoraphobic protagonist has become obsessed with finding out the truth. However, the more he discovers, the further he strays from his comfort zone, and the closer he gets to his own oblivion. "Coronado not only confronted these monsters, his demons, he brought them into play with his words. I thought they weren't real. Coronado proved I was wrong." The idea that words themselves can change the world is taken to its literal conclusion in this memorable opening story.

Broken Teacup is next, and it came as a bit of a shock. It's a rough ride, but among the wreckage, Smith manages to keep enough focus on the mental side of the situation to keep the tension well and truly up. We also get to meet the enigmatic Mr. Liu, to whom there seems to be more than meets the eye. In fact, Mr. Liu makes an appearance through most of the stories here, providing a neat link to tie them together. In La Mia Immortalità, Mr. Liu commissions a sculpture from Samuel, an artist who is obsessed with his work to the exclusion of all else Рand his influence ensures the work of art is not quite what Samuel envisaged.

Becoming Human takes the reader on a crazy, dark ride with Detective Roberto "Bobby" Vera, who is confronted with an impossible dilemma; a copycat serial killer who is more than he seems. It's bitter, twisted, compelling, and strangely up-beat; a real accomplishment. My favourite story here must be the final one, Where the Light Won't Find You. A slighter tale, perhaps, but set so atmospherically in a down-at-heel multiplex theatre, it instantly struck a chord. Derek Jenner manages to steal into a bizarre showing of a strange film, Where the Light Won't Find You. While the film runs, he notices there is only one other patron, who has a surprise in store for him... and the strange Mr Liu has an alternative for Derek. Whether he can keep his side of the bargain, though, is yet to be seen. This tale reminded me of Mark Fuller-Dillon's superb Lamia Dance.

These are deep, visceral tales, sometimes of a challenging nature, yet Smith's skill is in the juxtaposition of the humane and the horrific; the reader is persuaded they exist so close together that they are almost one and the same thing. In summary, these are powerful, original stories, written with vivid prose that jumps off the page. John Claude Smith has given us one of the best collection of dark fiction I've read this year, and I look forward to his next journey into the shadows!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Review: Mercy and Other Stories, by Rebecca Lloyd

Rebecca Lloyd is a writer of exquisitely dark tales who I've discovered courtesy of those remarkable people at Tartarus Press. Mercy and Other Stories includes new material from her as well as stories published elsewhere between 2002 and 2014.

The opening piece is Mercy itself, which explores with subtlety and tenderness the transience of beauty, but not necessarily of love. "We all want to hold on to cherished things, for life is quickly gone." Mercy is short, sharp and sweet, and showcases perfectly Lloyd's remarkable gift for the short story. The Careless Hour is next, a more complex tale with a fascinating premise. The noises from an adjoining house take on sinister significance as the protagonist fears for the sanity of her neighbour, Michael. When he invites a girl, Catherine, for a meal, she hears enough through the thin walls to be concerned; but not enough to understand. The Careless Hour is a tale of half-truths and subtle deceptions, and grips the reader to the end.  

The Meat Freezer is a different prospect. Gary has an unsavoury past, and has been allocated a house on the rough Ackroyd estate in which to return to the community. His strange observations of a trespassing youth whom he thinks of as 'Icarus' forms the backbone of this hard-hitting story; but is it reality, or his past coming back to haunt him? The truth might just be too painful to know. What Comes is almost a haunted house story, but is so much more than that. Cath and Martin are moving into an old cottage, and confronting issues between Cath and Martin's mother, Patricia. She does not approve of the relationship nor the property. However, for a while things are fine, and Martin, an artist, finds inspiration. However, a damp stain over the kitchen door is spreading. As they tackle this problem, something is disturbed within the fabric of the house that reveals darkly powerful local folklore.

The Bath is one of Lloyd's better known stories, dealing with the desperation and pressures in a poor neighborhood. Gavin Bauble lives alone, as it would seem his wife has deserted him; "She wouldn't join in, that's all. No one's better than anyone else in Cotton Street". His home has become a shrine to the past, and is cluttered to the ceiling; but does it house something more precious, something that will have to be released?

Perhaps the most straightforward tale here, Maynard's Mountain is nonetheless compelling, and gently humorous. A poor family is initially torn apart by the careless loss of a winning lottery ticket; so Daddy decides to burrow into the side of the local dump, where the rubbish bag containing the item would have been taken. Eventually this project involves all the members of the family, each with their own tunnel; but if it is found, would this threaten their newly-found closeness? In The Reunion, a dream-like tale of a visit to a stately home (Shuttered House) to visit eccentric parents, I am reminded a little of Aickman's The Unsettled Dust; and this collection is brought elegantly to a close.

These are wonderfully written tales, dealing with life, love, relationships and the loss thereof in a thoroughly believable way, and with a depth not present in many works of short fiction. The way Lloyd interweaves the past with the present is hugely impressive, and adds an extra dimension to her impressive body of work. This has been one of my books of the year so far.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Dying Embers official launch

Last Saturday, June 28th, saw the official launch of my debut collection of short stories, Dying Embers. It was held at Gleebooks, in Glebe, Sydney, and was part of a Satalyte Publishing "double-header" whereby Andrew J. Mckiernan's collection of short stories, Last Year, When We Were Young, was launched too.
Kaaron Warren, M.R. Cosby, Andrew J. Mckiernan, Alan Baxter
It was a great experience for me. To say I was nervous would have been an understatement, especially as I did a reading too, something which I had never really envisaged myself doing. However, I owe a huge debt of thanks to the wonderful Kaaron Warren, who introduced both our books so beautifully. She made such well-observed and complimentary comments about Dying Embers that by the time it came for me to speak, my nerves had (almost) disappeared! I am forever grateful.
Many thanks are also due in a big way to the estimable Alan Baxter, who was good enough to be the master of ceremonies for the event, which he did with great panache.

Me reading an excerpt from In Transit,
a short story from Dying Embers
It was great to meet Kaaron, and to catch up with Alan after meeting him at Supanova a couple of weeks back. It's amazing that there is such a helpful, supportive community of writers "out there", and I am humbled.
Me signing one of many copies of Dying Embers at
the launch... admirably helped by my daughter Imogen!
Of course thanks must also go to all at Satalyte Publishing for giving me the opportunity to have a book launch at all! It was such a shame that Stephen and Marieke could not make it to the event, I'm sure they would have enjoyed it very much.
Lastly I'd like to thank James Everington for providing the excellent foreword for Dying Embers. The small matter of geography meant he could not be present, but if it were not for those 6,ooo miles I reckon he would have had a good time too!

Here is Andrew J. Mckiernan's collection, Last Year, When We Were Young; if you like the idea of my collection, Dying Embers, you should try his too; darkly atmospheric tales. Click on the image for link to buy.

Kaaron Warren's fiction needs no introduction from me; she is an award winning author. If you have not read her work, you should do so without delay. Her collections, The Gate Theory and Through Splintered Walls are two of the best books I've read in a very long time. Click on images for link to buy.

Alan Baxter's latest novel, Bound, is Alex Caine book 1, and is a powerful dark adventure. Its launch is coming up soon, so be one of the first to check it out! Click on the image to buy.


James Everington writes great dark fiction, and you should definitely read his latest collection of short stories, Falling Over. It was one of my books of the year last year. Click on the image to buy.


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Dying Embers at Supanova!

Last weekend involved a lot of 'firsts' for me.
It was the first convention I'd attended; the first time I had met any of the friends made through writing and on social media during the past couple of years; the first time I'd signed a copy of Dying Embers in person: and the first time I'd met R2D2.
I arrived early on the Saturday morning. I was immediately welcomed into the fold of Satalyte Publishing by the great Stephen Ormsby, who had previously only existed to me either as a disembodied voice, a Facebook comment, or as the request for an edit. It came as quite a shock to see he was actually a living, breathing person! We made our way to the Satalyte booth, where I met Andrew McKiernan, a fellow Satalyte author promoting his own collection of short stories, Last Year, When We Were Young.

Andrew McKiernan, Stephen Ormsby and Martin Cosby on the Satalyte booth
The crowds grew, and we watched any number of superheroes wandering by. Stephen polished his sales technique, showing me the ropes, and I began to learn the basics about what it really means to sell books. It's hard work! By the end of the Sunday, we were all exhausted, yet Stephen still had to drive all the way back to Melbourne. His enthusiasm and energy is both admirable and infectious.

Signing a copy of Dying Embers
Overall the weekend was a great success for Satalyte, and I certainly gained a lot of invaluable experience. I also met some key people, including Alan Baxter, who will be at the official launch of Dying Embers at Gleebooks on Saturday June 28. More details here.

One of the more unusual visitors to the Satalyte booth...
I must admit to being a little nervous about the launch, as that will be another and even bigger 'first' for me; but, once more, it will add to my experience, and at the same time I feel both privileged and excited. See you there if you can make it!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

DYING EMBERS; details of the official launch

I'm very pleased to announce to the world (well, at least to the people who read this blog!) the details of the official launch of Dying Embers, my first collection of strange stories. This event will take place on Saturday 28th June 2014 at Gleebooks, the landmark bookshop and café in the heart of Glebe in Sydney. I'm sure it will be the perfect venue.

This will be a 'double-header' of Satalyte Publishing authors, as I am very proud to say that Andrew J. McKiernan will also be there, launching his own collection of stories, Last Year, When We Were Young. The two titles complement each other perfectly.

The event begins at 3.30pm for 4.00 start, so make sure you keep an hour or so free that afternoon. I'm sure Andrew and myself will be sociable, and more than willing to sign all sorts of combinations of each other's books!

A big "thank you" is due to all at Satalyte Publishing, who have put in such a great effort to ensure Dying Embers has entered the world in such good shape. There is an event page on Facebook here.

I will post more details when they are available. I hope to see you all there!

By the way, if you can't make it, you can always pop in to the Supanova Pop Culture Expo, Sydney (June 13th-15th), where I'll be at the Satalyte Publishing table. I'll be more than happy to sign copies there too.

Monday, 26 May 2014

The ghosts of Sydney's past

Having recently joined the Historic Houses Trust, we decided to make the most of it with a day out in the centre of Sydney. A bus ride took us firstly to St Mary's Cathedral in College Street. The skies were getting darker, and as we walked across Hyde Park the rain poured down. Luckily I had brought umbrellas, but by the time we found shelter behind its huge wooden doors, we were pretty wet... and cold. We weren't allowed to take photographs inside the building, but the children loved exploring the huge space within. I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me think of the Cathedral of Saint Bavon, from Aickman's The Cicerones. There were certainly some Americans there too; but that's another story!

St Mary's Cathedral is an impressive building. The rain was just starting to pour...
St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney
One of many statues dotted about the perimeter of the Cathedral.
We couldn't get close enough to them to find out who they
represented, but this one is fairly obviously St Mary!
From there, we walked to Hyde Park Barracks, a beautiful sandstone building with a rather ugly past. Built to the order of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, it was designed by convict architect Francis Greenway and constructed by convict labour in 1819. Until 1848 it provided accommodation for convicts employed by the government. Heartbreakingly, I found out that the youngest convict ever deported to Australia was sent here, a nine-year old boy who stole a watch while living on the streets in London (no doubt just to get money with which to buy food). My own daughter is nine, so it came as a shock to realise such a young person could be sent so far and so alone. Apparently, he died at just 14, having been sent to work in the Newcastle coal mines. Such tragedies were no doubt commonplace back then.

The interior of Hyde Park Barracks. It's been well restored, with some
evocative audio/visual installations... which are quite spooky!

All this means that the sympathetically restored interior probably contains many ghosts. There are also some interesting audio/visual installations, which work very well. The visitor can look through the guards' peep-holes into the old cells and dormitories, and there are shadowy figures set up to move at the edge of your field of vision. The accompanying noises, groans and snores, add up to a spooky experience, especially with such dark, inclement weather like when we were there. Well worth a visit, and it certainly provides fodder for a scary story or two!

One of the peep-holes through which the guards would
keep an eye on those untrustworthy convicts
I'm sure some of these corridors are walked by the ghosts
of Sydney's shameful convict past!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Review: Tales of the Strange and Grim, by Andrew Hall

Tales of the strange and Grim has turned out to be one of those books I have found difficult to stop reading. I confess, I'm a huge fan of short, strange stories, and Andrew Hall has obviously shared some of my influences.

This intriguing collection opens with Mr Volinov, which introduces the reader to Hall's smoothly idiosyncratic writing style: 'In the world in a country in a city in the park old Sergei Volinov was drinking juice.' Not just any juice, mind you, but a patented elixir. For some time, Volinov reaps the benefits of eternal youth, 'a Norse god made of chiselled wood in a torn and bloodied shirt'. However, having sold his belongings (and his soul?) for a second chance at a vigorous life, the question remains unanswered; what next? In Tabitha, an unsuccessful writer gets inspiration from the strangest source imaginable, but perhaps that very inspiration has arrived just a little too late. Next up is George, the fascinating portrait of a tyrant on the English throne; but in this case, a modern-day tyrant and all that entails. The juxtaposition of 21st-century attitudes within an almost medieval framework makes for a thought-provoking and grimly humorous tale.

In what is perhaps my favourite story here, The Feathered Man takes the reader on a rollercoaster ride through the underbelly of a poverty-stricken city. Its citizens are terrorised by a 'satanic freak, prowling its towered heights and sewered depths', preying on the 'whores and drunks and criminals'. Acting like some kind of bizarre superhero, however, the Feathered Man soon clears the streets of his very sustenance; and his own success leads to his ultimate downfall. Peace of Cake imagines what might happen if works of art come to life, and what to do with the resulting intrusions into reality. You may not look at a food processor in the same way again... Stonewall is a longer story, almost a novella, in which supernatural elements are blended with traditional storytelling to produce an epic saga involving traitors, knights and tragedy. The final tale, Time Apart, brings us back to the present day. Tom wakes one morning to find he can stop time with the click of his fingers. At first, this seems to have no downside, and he exploits his luck relentlessly. Soon, however, the question must arise; what will happen for the rest of time itself?

This is a vibrant, sharply written collection, full of interesting ideas and wit, and I would recommend it for anyone who likes their entertainment slightly left-of-field. Hall's writing style is ideal for these thought-provoking vignettes, most of which could be expanded upon to great effect; my only criticism is that there could be more of it! I'm glad I discovered this author, and I'll be looking out for anything from his pen in the future.