Dying Embers out now

Dying Embers out now

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.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Brittle-Birds-Anthony-Cowin-ebook/dp/B00LDZXB6G/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1410835036&sr=1-1&keywords=anthony+cowin

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

Friday, 15 August 2014

Review; The House of Three, by Lily Childs

32 Cherry Street has come up for sale, deceased estate; and Sarah is happy to be able to purchase what once was her childhood home. However, is she prepared for the memories it will bring back, or the spirits that may be released? The House of Three is a stand-alone short story from Lily Childs. It is a ghost story in the traditional sense, yet in a modern, suburban setting.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/House-Three-Short-Story-ebook/dp/B00M4M2EOC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=undefined&sr=8-1&keywords=the+house+of+three+lily+childs

Sarah and her brother Johnny go to view the Victorian terraced property, which they had not seen for twenty years. As they explore the dilapidated house, they realise that absolutely nothing has changed in all that time; and the familiar smell of roses forces their minds back all those years. Once the house belongs to her, she persuades Johnny to return, and they explore it together... and that's when the voices start. "They seemed to want to sooth her, as they did for the year before she was forced from her childhood home – a ten-year-old, an orphan."

Once they discover from the local paper how the house's most recent occupant died, their doubts begin, both about the house, and also about their own childhood memories. Their differing fortunes since adoption force them to reassess their lives. Once they have made a grim discovery, in a bedroom which was strictly off-limits to them as children, they understand that nothing will ever be quite the same again. Are their fears imaginary, or are they forming something more tangible – something with the power to threaten their very existence?

Childs has created an intriguing scenario here, with authentically flawed characters who are unable to escape the power of their shared past. The House of Three is a short but satisfying read with a powerful ending. Perfect late night reading for lovers of a good ghost story!

Review; Drive, by Mark West

I didn't mean to sit up late in order to finish Drive, the new novella from Mark West, published by Pendragon Press. I really didn't. However, once I started to read, I found it difficult to stop. It's not often I get caught up in the moment with a book; usually I get drawn in slowly, soaking up the atmosphere. Yet here I was, quite unable to put the thing down, compelled to find out what happens next.


West's writing style, which I am familiar with from several excellent short stories (The Bureau of Lost Children springs to mind, from Ill At Ease 2 which I reviewed here) is perfect for this style of breathless adventure. David finds himself in the nondescript urban sprawl of Gaffney, attending a course for his work. He offers Natasha a lift back to her flat, and becomes haplessly embroiled in a night of pursuit, escalating violence and terror. Although Drive is not a supernatural tale, the setting of a deserted town in the early hours of a weeknight works well enough to suggest dark stories of the past, such as Don't Get Lost by Tanith Lee. The protagonists become drawn deeper into a furious chase through the sodium-lit streets, trying to escape from a mysterious and threatening Audi.

"The Audi pulled up alongside and David glanced over. The driver was looking straight ahead, his hood pulled up so that all could be seen was the tip of his nose and his pursed lips. There was a person in the back, also wearing his hood, slumped low and almost out of sight".

A sense of impending confrontation pushes things along at breakneck pace, and by the time the satisfying conclusion arrived, I had to read something a little more relaxing before going to sleep... Drive is a great tale, atmospheric and exciting. Perhaps this could be the first of a series? Recommended for all lovers of a high-octane read!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Review: The Gate Theory, by Kaaron Warren

Kaaron Warren is an award-winning Australian author, and The Gate Theory collects five of her short stories, all of which have been previously published. It was first released in late 2013, and was the first publication from Cohesion Press, an Australian publisher of dark fiction.


All of these tales are darkly disturbing, and in the very best of ways. Purity kicks off proceedings, and is a great introduction to Warren's labyrinthine powers of creativity. Therese is the unfortunate daughter of a slovenly mother; she does not doubt she is loved, but she lives in a "mud-slapped, filthy, stinking home – with its stacks of newspapers going back as far as she was born, spoons bent and burnt, food grown hard and crusty..." What's more, her elder brother lives in the basement; rarely emerging and pale from a lack of sunlight. When Therese manages a temporary escape from her situation by working in a supermarket, she meets a young man called Daniel and his grandfather Calum. Their fragrant cleanliness absorbs her. Eventually, she accepts their invitation to go to a party; but is she able to find a more permanent escape, and what's more, can she ever be truly cleansed?

Warren is clearly influenced deeply by her surroundings, and That Girl is set in Bali, where she lived for some time; its authenticity cuts like a knife. This story works on so many levels. On the surface, it tells about the origins of a local legend, brought to the protagonist's attention by the inmate of a mental hospital. Beneath lies that individual's own tale of terror; then, the reader is confronted with abuse and cover-up, blurred by both cultural practices and the casual discrimination against women. That Girl is a complex and perfectly-formed piece.

Dead Sea Fruit is concerned with anorexia and all its horrors. The protagonist is a dentist who often treats anorexic girls in a hospital ward. She finds out she can kiss her clients to experience their very essence. "Then I kissed a murderer; he tasted like vegetable waste. Like the crisper in my fridge smells when I've been too busy to empty it." She hears the girls on the ward speaking in hushed tones of the Ash Mouth Man, and of what happens if he is kissed. But has she met the Ash Mouth Man himself? There is a strong supernatural element to this tale, and the ending is beautifully incisive...

The History Thief adds a touch of humour to the mix, in what is the most conventionally supernatural tale here. Alvin realises he must be dead when he gazes at his own body "on the floor of his dusty lounge room". As what might be called a ghost, he finds he has no real substance; but that he can find the density he needs through contact with living beings. However, this means he has to steal their memories. Can he be trusted with the lives of others? This is an effective tale of alienation, with a satisfying twist at the end.

Lastly is my favourite piece, The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfall. I often feel that a great title begets a great tale, and that's clearly the case here. The reader is taken on a bizarre journey with Rosie, who is paid to supply examples of rare dog breeds to clients. On this occasion, she is after four vampire dogs; she has to travel to the jungle on a remote island in Fiji to capture them, which is a risky process. Her journey is arduous, and compellingly told – Rosie herself is a very strong character, and she drives the story powerfully. The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfall is very much a horror story, concluding with a supremely nihilistic message.

Kaaron Warren is without doubt one of the world's leading writers of dark fiction, and The Gate Theory showcases her talent perfectly. (If you need any more convincing, check out her other superb collection, Through Splintered Walls.) Her prose is powerful, her sense of place is evocative and her imagination knows no bounds. This is the kind of book that you will remember long after you finish reading the last story.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

More recommended reads of 2014

I've read so many great short story collections this year that I feel the time has come to list some more. Certainly, it's been a bumper year so far; and there are many more collections and anthologies in the pipeline too.
So, here are some of the books I've been enjoying recently.

Errantry by Elizabeth Hand is a fascinating, literary collection. It contains
among others The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon and Near Zennor;
two cracking stories you really should not miss. Review soon
Worse Than Myself by Adam Golaski was brought to my attention by
James Everington, and his taste is of course excellent. This is a superb
collection of weird tales which will take you out of your comfort zone. It kicks
off with The Animator's House... and doesn't let up. Review soon





Superb Tartarus edition of Nugent Barker's classic collection,
Written With My Left Hand
. Contains the much-anthologised and
influential Whessoe among many other wonderful tales.
I recently reviewed Rebecca Lloyd's excellent Mercy and Other Stories here,
and so it was no surprise to me to find out that The View From Endless Street
is just as wonderful. Full of incisive, intriguing tales, it is a must read. Review soon
The Haunted Grove is a tightly written novella from Tim Jeffreys.
It's pretty compelling; I read it in one sitting. You might do too
Perspectives is an intriguing project; each story
in this collection is inspired by a piece of photography, and the two writers
(Darcia Helle and Maria Savva) take turns to provide their tales.
Some are dark, some less so; all are compelling
Of course, Supernatural Tales are always essential reading; and now
they are available on Amazon (back issues included) it's
even easier to enjoy them. Number 26 is as good as the modern
ghost story collection gets!

I would love to review all of these books, but there are only so many hours in the day. However, do keep an eye out for the ones I manage... and in the meantime, I hope you enjoy some of my recommendations as much as I did.