DROP BEARS AND TANIWHA (Australian & New Zealand Horror News) – August 2020

DROP BEARS AND TANIWHA (Australian & New Zealand Horror News) – August 2020

By Marty Young

Who wants to listen to me rattle on, so without further ado, let’s get stuck into all the horror goodies from the far side of the world!

The Australasian Horror Writers Association is simmering along so there’s no new update from them this month, other than a reminder about the Robert N Stephenson Short and Flash Fiction Competition, which is now open to submissions. Full details can be found at: https://australasianhorror.com/competition/ (and don’t forget, the winning entries get published in Midnight Echo magazine!).

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The winners of the 2019 Aurealis Awards were announced in late July. Congratulation to all the winners, and a huge thank you to the judges for the hard work they put in! For the horror category, we had:

Best Horror Short Story: “Vivienne and Agnes”, Chris Mason (Beside the Seaside – Tales from the Day Tripper)

Best Horror Novella: “Into Bones Like Oil”, Kaaron Warren (Into Bones Like Oil)

Bes Horror Novel: The Rich Man’s House, Andrew McGahan (Allen & Unwin)

The full list of winners can be found at: https://aurealisawards.org/2020/07/25/2019-aurealis-awards-winners/

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There’s lots of interesting news out of the Well this month… Things in The Well publisher and editor Steve Dillon has announced the closure of his Australian based publishing company. Dillon has been extremely busy over the years publishing quality anthologies and collections, picking up awards in the process, but more importantly, raising money for vital charities along the way. The spec-fic industry will miss him (but see TiTW items later in this column, as Dillon isn’t quite done just yet).

Steve says “This is my last hurrah as a publisher, I’m afraid. But to celebrate the imminent closure of my literary well, trapping forever these things within, I’m giving away a 28-title paperback bundle of books… Check out the competition at the TiTW Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/569845047020503

Things

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Claire Fitzpatrick reports that her latest project is ‘A Vindication Of Monsters’, a non-fiction book about Mary Shelley. Claire says, “I’m inviting 9 authors to contribute 1500-2000 word essays on her work (not limited to Frankenstein), and her life. This can also include others in her life, for example her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, or her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and how they influenced her work. I am also looking for internal artwork related to the theme (I’m hoping for 5 pieces to accompany the chapters).

“Payment will be $50 per essay and per artwork, respectively. This will be a book similar to ‘The Body Horror Book’, in that I will compile and edit each chapter. Submissions are open now, and close October 1st; the book will be published in December. Contributors will receive an ebook and paperback copy. Please send any inquiries and submissions to claire.fitzpatrick1991@gmail.com.”

Vindication

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New Releases

Recall Night (Eli Carver 2) by Alan Baxter (Grey Matter Press), was released August 25th. This is the sequel to the highly acclaimed Manifest Recall, and is available from: https://www.amazon.com/Recall-Night-Carver-Supernatural-Thriller/dp/1950569055/

“Eli Carver is back with a vengeance! That’s bad news for some but good news for readers. RECALL NIGHT is brutal, gritty fun and a phenomenal follow-up to MANIFEST RECALL.” — Brian Keene, author of The Complex.

Back from self-imposed exile in Canada where he fled to avoid the law following the blood-stained events in Manifest Recall–the first installment of award-winning author Alan Baxter’s latest supernatural thriller series–Eli Carver returns to the states with thoughts of starting over. But an accidental encounter on a train with a mysterious woman, one he soon learns has her own dangerous past, threatens to unravel his well-intended plans.

Upon their arrival in New York, the duo quickly find themselves entangled in an ongoing war between two rival crime syndicates. And with the ghosts of his own past continuing to torment him, Eli finds himself taking the darkest of turns as he’s drawn down a perilous path into a world of ancient religion and deadly occult rituals.

EliCarver_RecallNight_flat-web

Pre-orders are now being taken for Outback Horrors Down Under, the latest anthology from Things in the Well! Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08FD74XPK

Eleven new stories from some of the best horror writers in Australia and New Zealand, including GM Hague, Robert Hood, Lucy Sussex, Dan Rabarts, Chris Mason, Tabatha Wood, and more!

Originally intended for launch at the Worldcon 2020 in New Zealand, the anthology presents an array of stories that can only really be set here in Australia/New Zealand. Written by authors who are either born or live here, providing an authentic view of some really scary scenarios…

Edited by Shirley Jackson Award-nominated author and Things in the Well series editor, Steve Dillon.

Outback

The Savage Coloniser Book by Tusiata Avia (VUW) – available for pre-order now from https://vup.victoria.ac.nz/the-savage-coloniser-book/

‘The voices of Tusiata Avia are infinite. She ranges from vulnerable to forbidding to celebratory with forms including pantoums, prayers and invocations. And in this electrifying new work, she gathers all the power of her voice to speak directly into histories of violence.’

‘Avia addresses James Cook in fury. She unravels the 2019 Christchurch massacre, walking us back to the beginning. She describes the contortions we make to avoid blame. And she locates the many voices that offer hope. The Savage Coloniser Book is a personal and political reckoning. As it holds history accountable, it rises in power. ‘

 

The Lost Sea by Toby J Nichols (Severed Press) came out on the 15th July, and is available from: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08D66CQLY

A routine helicopter muster in Queensland becomes a fight for survival 65 million years in the past.

Finding dead cattle during the muster was the first sign that something was wrong. The trees and lake were the second and third. But instead of going home, Jessie Hall, his nephew, stockman, and a neighbor investigate.

Jessie feels safe in the helicopter but when something large knocks him out of the sky and he’s forced to ditch into the water, he realizes while they might still be in Queensland they have ended up in the past when the Eromanga sea existed, pterosaurs rules the skies and what lives in the ancient forest is even worse.

To get home they’ll have to cross the prehistoric sea where the Kronosaurus hunts.

 

The Better Sister and Other Stories by Piper Mejia (illustrated by Ariel Skippen) (Breach) was released July 31.

Covering fantasy, science fiction, Shakespearean tragedy, Greek myth and a strong focus on Pacific and Maori points of view, this collection of stories looks at the complexity of the sister-trio relationship in worlds where women struggle for a voice, a place to stand and peace in themselves.

Featuring the 2018 Australian Shadows-shortlisted “Planned and Expected”.

Available from https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08D9G4G1K/

Better

Extinction Plague by Greig Beck (Momentum) – released July 28 and is available from https://www.amazon.com/Extinction-Plague-Matt-Kearns-Novel-ebook/dp/B088883SHH/

Around the world entire towns are being wiped out, a trail of boneless bodies left behind from a plague of terrifying creatures risen from deep in the Earth.

Professor Matt Kearns, paleolinguist, and a team of scientific and military specialists, rush to decipher the hidden secrets of a pair of ancient stones that prophesize the next great extinction on Earth.

In a heart-pumping adventure that begins in the hold of a sunken German U-boat, Matt Kearns travels to the lost Nazi treasure tunnels in Poland and dives deep down to sunken caves below Easter Island. Matt is fighting for his life, the ones he loves, and the existence of the entire human race.

Extinction

 

Red New Day and Other Microfictions by Angela Slatter (Brain Jar) – released September 7.

This is ‘a chapbook collection of 16 vignettes and microfictions from one of Australia’s finest authors of dark fantasy and sinister horror.’ Available for pre-order now at your favourite bookstore, or order direct from Brain Jar Press and get $4.99 off the print book price: https://www.brainjarpress.com/product/red-new-day-other-microfictions/

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Little Sneaky Bits

Rose Carlyle’s first novel, The Girl in the Mirror, has created quite a stir, with a bidding war between six American publishers resulting in a six-figure deal with HarperCollins. Not only that, but the thriller novel has been sold into four other languages, with a major Hollywood movie deal already signed. Keep an eye out for it on October 20.

Lee Murray has made history by becoming the first New Zealander to ever appear in Weird Tales (established 1923) with her Asian-NZ grimdark fairy story ‘The Good Wife.’ Keep an eye for the tale in Weird Tales 364! Congrats, Lee!!

The audio debut of ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ took place during Words Out Loud, a special podcast released July 30 as part of the Melbourne Spoken Word Festival Online (which ran until 9 August 2020). The Masque of the Red Death’ is an arrangement of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, originally published in 1842. This interactive composition rendition features spoken word performed by Jason Nahrung, with voice recording by Kirstyn McDermott, and music and sound design by Talie Helene. Listen in here: https://wordsoutloudballarat.com.au/

Aurealis #132 was recently released and is available from https://aurealis.com.au/store/aurealis-132/. This all-New Zealand issue was in celebration of CoNZealand, the 78th World Science Fiction Convention. There are short stories by New Zealand’s top science fiction and fantasy authors, articles on the history and current state of NZ speculative fiction, and reviews of 26 recently-released books by New Zealanders that should be on your reading list!

Wakefield Press has announced their October 2021 short story anthology Hometown Haunts: #LoveOzYA Horror Tales, which will showcase established and new voices in YA. Better still, there will be an open call-out across Australia for YA horror stories, with 4 slots available. Check out the full submission details at https://www.wakefieldpress.com.au/blog/2020/07/submission-guidelines-hometown-haunts/

 

Snapshot 2020 features short interviews with 220 (!!) spec-fic writers from Australia and New Zealand, and was put together by Tehani Croft in one heck of a stellar effort. It’s well worth checking out: https://austsfsnapshot.wordpress.com/2020/08/02/and-thats-a-wrap-2020-snapshot-is-done/

 

‘Australia’s premier genre film festival, Monster Fest, will return to Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth & Adelaide from Thursday 29th of October to Sunday 1st of November for 2020: MONSTER FEST – WELCOME TO THE APOCALYPSE. Once again in partnership with CINEMA NOVA & EVENT CINEMAS, 2020: MONSTER FEST will see all five cities play host to four days of diverse and highly imaginative film programming and we are pleased to reveal our first wave of programming.’ Full details, including tickets, are available at https://www.monsterfest.com.au/

 

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If you’re an Aussie or a kiwi and have horror news, or know of horror-related events or gatherings or anything else at all, let me know at martyyoung2002@yahoo.com and I’ll include it here.

DROP BEARS AND TANIWHA (Australian & New Zealand Horror News) – July 2020

By Marty Young

Lots of cool news out of Australia this month, plus a whole stack of new releases! So knuckle down and get reading – and please keep safe, everyone. It’s stressful and frightening out there!

 

Cancer can get fucked – but it’s not going to go away easily.

The Aussie Speculative Fiction Group are putting together an anthology called Stories of Survival, inspired by Aiki Flinthart, a member of the ASF family who is battling cancer. All proceeds will go to the Melanoma Institute of Australia.

ASF ‘have had so many offers of support in terms of cover design, reading the submissions, and editing the accepted stories that it’s been overwhelming! But now we need your stories.

‘We want stories with a theme of “survival” from every speculative fiction subgenre (though please, not too dark or gory). Try to keep them under 3,000 words, and get them to us by Monday the 28th of September.’ E-mail submissions to aussiespeculativefiction@gmail.com with the subject line ‘Stories of Survival’

More information at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/391485377996127/permalink/881136889030971/

Survival

 

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Some exciting news from Monster Fest, Australia’s premiere genre film festival:

Do you have an idea for a genre film that is both original and truly terrifying? Entries are now open for Australia’s ultimate genre film development initiative…AACTA Pitch: Isolation in partnership with Monster Pictures.

Monster Pictures are teaming up with the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) to bring Aussie writers, directors and writer/director teams an opportunity to pitch their concept for a feature that draws on the theme of ISOLATION.

Isolation is one of the most powerful tools for horror and genre movies to build atmosphere and tension from iconic contemporary horror films like The Babadook to gripping Wolf Creek, to the dystopian world of I Am Mother and recent box office hit The Invisible Man.

On offer to the winner is $10,000 in development funds and an Australian theatrical distribution agreement with Monster Pictures Distribution, as the first steps toward the project being fully financed and produced. The winner will also be invited to attend the 2020 AACTA Awards presented by Foxtel in Sydney, December 2020. More info, including submission requirements, can be found at: https://www.monsterfest.com.au/aactapitch-1/

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New Releases

Outback Horrors Down Under, an anthology of Antipodean terrors, will be released by Things in the Well Publications in August 2020. Featuring stories by Australian and New Zealand writers G.M. Hague, Robert Hood, Tabatha Wood, Dan Rabarts, Simon Dewar, Lucy Sussex, Marty Young, and more to be announced soon. Be sure to like the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/outbackhorrors/ to keep up with all the author announcements and release information, including pre-orders.

Outback

 

Marty Young’s debut collection Behind the Midnight Blinds with other devilish things (Things in the Well Publications) is also scheduled for an August release, and will contain a collection of new and previously published flash, short, and long fiction tales, with illustrations once more by long-time collaborator David Schembri (who also illustrated Marty’s two previous novels).

For more information on this exciting collection, check out the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BehindMidnightBlinds/ for all the latest updates.

Midnight

 

All the Laird’s Men by Sir Julius Vogel-nominated Tabatha Wood (Wild Wood Books) is available for pre-order at: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B08CXPTR7C

Corporal Hopkins just wants to go home. After many years serving with the Laird’s Men, he deserves his freedom. But while the long war that fractured New Britain is over, Raiders in the Scottish forests still pose a deadly threat.

Charged with dismantling a roving horde, Hopkins and his elite unit are outnumbered and woefully unprepared for the real horror that awaits them. From the shadowy depths of the great Loch Ness, an ancient evil is rising.

When the battle for survival in an unforgiving country never ends, Hopkins knows it doesn’t matter which side you’re on. In the darkness, everybody bleeds the same.

Laird

 

Car Crash Weather (Dark Crib Publications) by Matthew Tait is available from https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B08C6XNRPL/

Horror writer Michael Richards is disturbed from his daily grind by blood dripping from the ceiling, which steadily worsens.

Soon, the blood becomes Michael’s personal metaphor in a battle of denial …

Car

 

Flyaway by three-time World Fantasy and one-time Hugo shortlisted illustrator and Ditmar award winning writer Kathleen Jennings was published July 28 by Tor.com. Available from: https://publishing.tor.com/flyaway-kathleenjennings/9781250260499/

Strange what chooses to flourish here. Which plants. Which stories.

Bettina Scott lives a tidy, quiet life in Runagate, tending to her delicate mother and their well-kept garden after her father and brothers disappear – until a note arrives that sends Bettina into the scrublands beyond, searching for answers about what really happened to this town, and to her family.

For this is a land where superstitions hunt and folk tales dream – and power is there for the taking, for those willing to look.

‘In spellbinding, lyrical prose Jennings lulls readers into this rich, dreamlike world. Lovers of contemporary fairy tales and magical realism will find this a masterful work.’ Publishers Weekly

 

A Sanctuary of Sorts: & Other Stories by G.W. Cook (Brain Tree Books) was published June 27 and is available at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08BYB3XLD/. With nine bleak tales set in New Zealand suburbs, countryside, small towns and factories, GW Cook stakes his claim as a writer of edgy literary fiction with this debut collection. His deceptively simple prose portrays a broken world, where the banality of life and the intrusion of The Western Dream is the disease, and the merciless response of nature, is the cure.

 

The View From the End of the World by Sean Williams is available for free from Andromeda Spaceways Magazine (https://andromedaspaceways.com/product/vfteotw/). From the website: ‘In order to help our passengers through these troubled times, Andromeda Spaceways is proud to present some apocalyptic short stories by Sean Williams to entertain you while we lock you in your quarters. Each story has been given a rating from eleven (hopeful) to one (get out the tissues and prepare to be depressed) so you can tailor your reading experience to how you feel.’

View

 

Protégé by Australian Shadows Award finalist Anthony Ferguson is now available at: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B08CCPBXT9/. A violent tale of the troubled relationship between three generations of men, one of whom is dead.

Protege

Ominous: A Collection of Dark Tales by Ian J Middleton was published June and is available at https://www.amazon.com/Ominous-Collection-Tales-Ian-Middleton-ebook/dp/B08BKPC7TM/. If you’re craving a hit of horror, itching for a taste of terror, or desperate for a dose of dark fiction, this collection will satisfy that burning hunger within.

Eli Carver 2: Recall Night by Alan Baxter (Grey Matter Press) is out on August 25th and up for pre-order now: https://www.amazon.com.au/Recall-Night-Carver-Supernatural-Thriller-ebook/dp/B08BX14NG7

EliCarver_RecallNight_flat-web

Dimension6 issue 20 is now available for free download from: http://ow.ly/LyCH30azLHk. This issue features stories by Simon Petrie, Charlotte Platt, Dominic Teague, and Ben Peek. Well worth checking out.

 

Aurealis #131 is available from https://aurealis.com.au/store/aurealis-131/. With stories by Joshua J Newnes, J Ashley-Smith, Davide Mana, and Dirk Strasser, plus reviews and articles and more.

 

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Little Sneaky Bits

Jason Franks drops in to let us know that all three Argonautica Press titles (plus future publications) should be available in bookstores throughout Australia and New Zealand from August through a deal with Novella Distribution! More at: https://argonauticapress.com/

 

The 9th amazing issue of Retro Sci-Fi Tales can be ordered now on Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/467328161/retro-sci-fi-tales-9), with exclusive bonus stretch goal items. This 52 page, full colour sci-fi anthology comic by Dark Oz Comics (http://www.darkoz.com.au/) features 6 stories and 8 pin-up/cover pages from 18 talented creators, all in the old-school, retro style fun of the classic era of science fiction.

 

Australian writer, editor, journalist, and former AHWA-mentor, Jason Nahrung is now offering manuscript and editing services. From Jason’s website: ‘This builds on a 30-year career in newspaper journalism, much as a sub-editor with skills in grammar, punctuation, spelling and clarity of expression, and a decade of providing editing and manuscript services to professional bodies, publishers and fiction writers. My own experience as a published writer further informs my practice.’ For more information about how Jason can improve your writing, check out https://jasonnahrung.com/editing-and-manuscript-services/

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If you’re an Aussie or a kiwi and have horror news, or know of horror-related events or gatherings or anything else at all, let me know at martyyoung2002@yahoo.com and I’ll include it here.

Midnight Echo #14 inspiration interviews – part 3

Midnight Echo 14, with the theme of things are not as they seem, is almost upon us.

To whet your appetite for this issue’s deliciously horrific offerings, Sinister Reads has interviewed the 13 contributors.

Please enjoy Part Three, which includes musings from Ian J. Middleton, Robyn O’Sullivan, Tabatha Wood and Matthew Morrison.

Ian J. Middleton, what inspired your flash fiction piece, “The Wind Chimes”?

Oddly enough, the inspiration for this flash fiction piece came about while I was at my son’s day care. The outside area is covered in home-made wind chimes constructed from old CDs and bits of junk. I was watching them sway back and forth and the thought occurred to me, what if they were made from more sinister materials?

It was originally set on the West Coast of New Zealand, mainly as it’s a bit wild and lawless over there. But I revised it to the Australian outback as I preferred the sense of barren isolation. It got me wondering what sort of person would choose to live there, and why?

It was always intended to be a flash fiction piece, with the aim of keeping it less than five-hundred words. I’m used to writing short stories and novels, so it was nice to try something different and challenging. I’ve found that boundaries and restrictions are much better at bringing out my creativity when compared to starting with a blank piece of paper. The restrictive word-count also forced me to play around with subtext and implication, which hopefully adds to the mystery and suspense by allowing the reader to fill in the blanks.

Robyn O’Sullivan, what inspired your short story, “A Tale of the Ainu”?

In the late 1980s, my sister went to Japan to work as a conversational English teacher. She fell in love with the people and the country, and stayed for about five years.

During that time, she visited and told me about many beautiful places, including Osaka Castle, Buddhist temples in Kamakura, and Kyoto at cherry blossom time. She also explored out-of-the-way places, most significantly the island of Hokkaido, the traditional home of the Ainu people.

On a trip back to Australia, my sister told me stories of the Ainu culture and traditions. She brought photographs, postcards and souvenirs that provided an enticing insight into this group of indigenous dwellers, who have been dominated by the Japanese since the late 18th century. I was fascinated and began to research these people and their customs.

The word Ainu means “human”. The Ainu people regard things that are useful to them or beyond their control as kamuy, which means “gods”. In their daily life, they prayed to and performed various ceremonies for the gods. Types of kamuy were both varied and numerous, examples of which include:

  • Nature – gods of fire, water, wind and thunder
  • Animal – gods of bears, foxes, spotted owls and grampuses
  • Plant – gods of aconite, mushroom and mugwort
  • Object – gods of boats and pots, as well as gods that protect houses, gods of mountains and gods of lakes.

The Ainu, being “human”, were considered to be the opposite of these gods.

The more I read about them, their intriguing way of life, and the near-destruction of their culture due to the Japanese assimilation policy, the more hooked I became: to the point where I would dream about them and imagine what might happen if I were to find myself living amongst them.

I was enchanted…

Over a period of many months, a story began to germinate in my mind. It took many forms before I finally thought I had something that was an honest culmination of my flights of fancy. The result: “A Tale of the Ainu”.

Tabatha Wood, what inspired your short story “Red-Eye”?

Most of my ideas for short stories seem to hit me out of nowhere. They squirm around in my head for a while until finally I relent and commit them to paper. “Red-Eye” was one of the few which was slightly different.

I emigrated to New Zealand from the UK just over two years ago. Part of the last leg of my journey was a red-eye flight from San Francisco to Auckland. I was wide awake and emotional, thinking (worrying) about my new life ahead. As is usual for me in these situations, I pulled out my phone and started writing.

“It’s a strange feeling being this high up over the world surrounded by so many sleeping strangers. Trust, that’s the biggest feeling.”

When you are in an aeroplane you have very little control over your journey. You trust the pilot to do his job; you trust the engine not to fail. You are swept along from A to B, often without even feeling the movement. A night flight is pitch black; you can look out of the window and have absolutely no idea where you are in the world. That realisation only served to highlight the disjointedness I was feeling, and the enormity of what I was doing with my life.

“Red-Eye” is about journeys, both literal and emotional. The main character is whatever you want them to be, perhaps affected by your beliefs or philosophies. Who they are and what they do is essential to the journeys we take in our lives and the paths we choose to discover. Yet wherever we go and whatever choices we make, our final destination is inevitable.

For me, “Red-Eye” explored the lack of control I felt. I had put initial events into motion and they had tumbled, giant snowball-style, gathering in speed and size until I had no choice but to roll with them or be crushed. I had no way of knowing if I had made the right decisions. I had to trust that I had.

You might not feel all of that when you read it; indeed you might see it only as it is – a chance encounter between a group of travellers who chose to take a red-eye flight. I hope, even then, that it sparks something in you, or makes you think about your own journey in some fashion. A to B; we take a few more steps each day. The important part, I think, is making all those steps worthwhile.

Matthew Morrison, what inspired your novelette “The Netherwhere Line”?

“The Netherwhere Line” is the story of teenage runaways, Jed and Hope, who find themselves inexplicably on a train where the only way to pay for passage is to surrender their memories to the Conductor. Can they reach journey’s end before they lose themselves completely?

The story was initially prompted by a submission call for another horror anthology. But I didn’t feel it was ready enough by the deadline, and so hung onto it a little longer.

I latched onto the idea of a somehow sinister train conductor fairly early on. As a kid, growing up with Sydney’s trains, I was always intrigued by these uniformed guards who seemed to have the ability to command when the train moved and the authority to decide who could and couldn’t ride. They remained apart from the commuting riff-raff in their tiny, metal cabins – enigmas to the mind of a young boy who spent too much time with his imagination.

But what if, I thought, my conductor’s power was absolute over his passengers? And what if there was more at stake for them than merely being late for school or dinner?

I’d recently had the pleasure of journeying aboard a steam-and-cog railway on Tasmania’s west coast. Crawling through temperate-rainforest high above a river gorge was a sublime way to pass the day. But it struck me, as we delved further into the Tasmanian wilderness, that I placed a lot of trust in the train’s authorities to deliver me safely to my destination, wherever that was to be. Especially so for a journey I’d never before undertaken.

How would my characters feel, then, if they truly had no idea about the nature of the journey they were on? And what if that journey seemed to stretch on indefinitely?

I can’t remember from where I conjured the Conductor in his final form. I like to think, as always with my mis-creations, that he is part-Clive Barker aberration and part-1970s B-grade schlock monster. (Thank the muses for a misspent youth!) There was probably no single moment when he came to be – just a series of tweaks and twists, each darker and more unsettling, until he disturbed even me.

Finally, music always plays a large part in my creativity – often placing me in the mind of a character or in the flow of the story. Each piece I write gets its own mix tape. This one included Neneh Cherry, Moby, Concrete Blonde, Portishead. But it was, of all things, a Joe Jackson song which inspired the storyline of the runaways. The excitement of being in love and escaping together – of leaving everything and everyone behind, if only for a short time – felt compelling enough to drive Jed and Hope through the ordeals that lay ahead. Enough even, perhaps, to help them face the truths that await at the end of the Netherwhere Line.

I mean, isn’t love, in the end, supposed to be able to conquer all?

MIDNIGHT ECHO 14 will be published in digital format on Amazon at the end of the year.

Click HERE for more information.

Midnight Echo 14 inspiration interviews – part 2

Midnight Echo 14, with the theme of things are not as they seem, is almost upon us.

To whet your appetite for this issue’s deliciously horrific offerings, Sinister Reads has interviewed the 13 contributors.

Please enjoy Part Two, which includes musings from Gregory Long, Brian Quinn, Renee de Visser, Hari Navarro and Denny Marshall.

Gregory Long, what inspired your flash fiction piece, “Alive!”?

It is not a particularly fresh idea that everything has a cost and that the cost can be more than mere money. So, it is not surprising that stories are frequently based upon the unexpected price we pay for our needs and desires. “Alive!” is no different. It is a story about the cost of a second chance at life.

The origins of “Alive!” lay in two of my earlier unpublished pieces. The first was a fantasy novel called Tempting in Shade. In this novel, one of the secondary plots revolves around mindless clones born from giant flowers and used as slaves. Towards the end of the story, they are stolen from their masters and imbued with the spirits of departed witches and wizards who then escape to a brand-new existence.

The second was a short story called “Restored”. This told the tale of a woman dying of cancer and the lengths undertaken by her obscenely rich husband to prolong her existence. While it was quite cathartic to write (a personal tragedy was unfolding at the time), the story itself tended to ramble at almost 4000 words.

Both of these sat for quite a while collecting metaphorical dust on my hard drive as I undertook other endeavours.

Then, as I started outlining a new novel, I found myself frequently thinking about this theme of death and continued existence. An urgency filled me. I needed to write something immediately. I could not wait for the new novel to express my thoughts. So, I just started writing. My first response was a witty (and perhaps crude) little piece about a sex robot on Mars. Don’t bother trying to figure that out. If it ever gets published then you will understand the connection.

My next response was “Alive!” But with “Alive!” I went back to “Restored” and tried to deconstruct the original story. What was I actually trying to say? Had I lost the point of the story somewhere in that big jumble of scenes and characters? Could I express the same story in under 1000 words with just one scene and two characters?

It was a tough ask and even having sold the story I still um and ah about it. But then I have never ever been truly satisfied with any of my creations and I probably never will. That said, I hope “Alive!” gives the reader pause to think about the cost of at least one potential method for extending existence. Would you pay it?

Brian Quinn, what inspired your artwork “Sea of Blood”?

“Sea of Blood” is a throwback to my teenage years in a sense. A tribute to Frank Frazetta with heavy and defined musculature, and a fantastical subject matter. I used to have several of his posters on my walls. Midnight Echo being the publication of the AHWA, we need something broodingly dark and horrific. The creature I guess is a werewolf; I think that is what I intended when I started. I used mostly human anatomy but went a little “above and beyond” with imagining what a werewolf would look like. I think the creature looks plausible – something you might see stalking a roadside when you are driving home late at night and later cause you to double-check that your house doors are locked.

I enjoy creating art because what I consider my final piece is rarely what I envisioned at the start. (Though I never consider my work finished – if I didn’t have deadlines, I would never get anything done.) It makes it that much more exciting for me. I just go with wherever my paint brush leads me. I plan somewhat my pieces but always leave room for that creative spark to strike during the process.

I’ve been in a moon phase as of late. Most of my horror or fantasy pieces that I have created in the last couple of months have a moon in them. Brings a sense of mystery to the piece. I put some lightning in the sky; also reflected in the water to add another dimension to the piece and give a dynamic sense of energy in motion. You can feel the hairs on your arm rising from the electrostatic charge in the atmosphere.

I think the overall look of the piece is what I intended: the raw, horrific power of the creature, the dynamism of the lightning bolts in the occult moon and the terror of the blood-red water – what are those masses in it and how did they get there?

Renee de Visser, winner of the AHWA Short Story Competition 2018, what inspired “Keep Them Close”?

My short story is actually inspired by a real place – a little country cemetery just down the road from where I live. In fact, most of the story is inspired by real events. There really are little wooden crosses dating back to the late 1800s, most of which are of the same family, and, sadly, most of which are of children. And, just like my story, when we pulled over to have a closer look, we were lucky enough to have a local resident couple fill us with the history of the place and of the people buried there. All of that went into the story, so you could safely say that the beginning of my short story is mostly fact. Even the soft little teddies are real, gifted by some kind local.

Then there is the setting. I grew up in an historical part of North Western Sydney near where the first stone church was built, and old cemeteries are some of my favourite places. I’ve always been inspired by places and settings, and this place was so tranquil and peaceful, and oh so quiet! You could almost hear a pin drop. Or a bell jingle.

Of course, the rest is fiction, inspired by being a new parent myself, with everything that goes with that. Kids are creepy; any parent will tell you that.

And so, it all came together: a cute little cemetery in a picturesque rural setting, my daughter toddling around the little white crosses in blissful naivety of what lay below her feet. A little macabre perhaps, but nothing untoward there. Nothing that you don’t see in other small country towns that have enough historical significance to be preserve their graveyards.

I started writing as soon as I got back home, and it pretty much wrote itself. Which, I think, is the best kind of story. I hope you enjoy it.

Hari Navarro, winner of the AHWA Flash Fiction Competition 2018, what inspired “The Nymph”?

The central inspiration for “The Nymph” draws from the actual brutal murder of the daughter of a long-time family friend. Although this was the catalyst, the actual story combines imagery from a number of jarring events that have affected me over the years.

I grew up exploring the rugged Taranaki (New Zealand) coastline, and I remember once stepping into the carcass of a long-dead sheep that was wedged and rotting in a rock-pool at low tide. The image stayed with me and infused with a conversation I was to have with a friend many years later.

She told me about a girlfriend of hers that had taken her own life by drowning and how the friend would return to her in a recurring nightmare. In the dream, my friend would imagine her lover calling out as her body and mind slowly flaked away. She described for me the great passion they shared, and I remember even then that I pictured her as sad and lost creature of the sea.

I originally wrote the story from the perspective of the nymph being a man. But this just didn’t sit right with me as it seemed I was hijacking the inspiration behind the story and then stamping my own gender upon it. I had not suffered the violence and trauma that these women had; not just the victim but also the mother and girlfriend left behind.

So, I got back in touch with my friend and I asked her opinion. She was adamant that the draft that I sent her must echo the essence of her dear lost friend and that, in her eyes, the character should be a woman. So, I switched the gender of the nymph and also added in aspects of the actual relationship that my friend had passed on to me. For example, the Anaïs Nin reference is taken directly from the conversation I had and was used with her blessing.

Actually, the most worrying thing about writing and then offering this story for consideration was my use of a certain word. It is an understatement to mention just how divisive this word can be and it was added and then removed more times than I can remember. Again, the final decision to include it came down to yet another phone call to my old friend. I asked her if she and her friend ever used this word in the same context as I had used it. Her answer was that they most definitely did, and that, in fact, she still very much does. So, the word remained.

I think this taught me a lesson about being true to my characters. A lesson I have not always followed and looking back I now very much regret these instances. It’s a betrayal. We are what we are and we speak as we speak. He said.

Denny Marshall, what inspired your artwork “Cymon”?

The drawing is a few years old & I have no idea what I was thinking at the time.

All I remember is that I left room at the top & right for text in case it was used for a cover.

And, of course, since it is a horror drawing, I wanted it to be scary.

I have done lots & lots of drawings these last few years and have no idea what inspired me except for what inspired me on the day I was drawing them or a few days after. Most I don’t remember.

Just like to draw.

MIDNIGHT ECHO 14 will be published in digital format on Amazon at the end of the year.

Click HERE for more information.

Midnight Echo 14 inspiration interviews – part 1

Midnight Echo 14, with the theme of things are not as they seem, is almost upon us.

To whet your appetite for this issue’s deliciously horrific offerings, Sinister Reads has interviewed the 13 contributors.

Please enjoy Part One, which includes musings from Chris Mason, Rebecca Fraser, Liz Simrajh and Erol Engin.

Read about the inspiration behind the cover artwork HERE

Chris Mason, what inspired your short story “The Grey Witch”?

I grew up in the sixties in the northern suburbs of Adelaide. The towns along the foothills were semi-rural, and I spent a large part of my childhood exploring the local area and getting up to stuff I probably wasn’t supposed to. My first school was no bigger than a postage stamp. When it closed, I was moved to a brand new and slightly larger school, just up the road. It had a quadrangle and an oval. Beyond the oval was a creek, and a hillside covered in vines. At lunchtime, I’d go down and hang around the goalposts and listen to stories spun by the other kids. One of those stories was about a grey witch who roamed the hills with a crossbow. I can’t remember all the specifics, but at the time I was spooked and the story stayed with me. Like all good stories, it did its job – which I suspect was as much about keeping us kids out of the creek and within the boundaries of the school as scaring us all witless.

Fifty years on and I am amazed how little has changed in the area where I used to live. Suburbia has caught up, but all the bones are still there. I’ve been back to the school a few times and it’s like stepping into a little pocket of the past. The last time I walked across the oval and checked out the creek, it occurred to me – despite everything I’d achieved in my adult life – that in this place, I still felt like the little lost kid with thick glasses and frizzy hair, who’d so desperately wanted to fit in.

Those formative years, especially the ones spent playing and telling tales in the schoolyard, have lingered on in my memory for longer than I’d ever imagined. Is it any wonder these early experiences keep creeping into my writing? The story about the witch is as real to me now as it was way back then. Do I really believe she’s going to hunt me down with her crossbow? Well…no, not anymore, but then I never saw her (unlike Libby Beckwith who jabbered nonsense for days, after crossing the creek). Does my stomach do a slow churn whenever I drive by my old school? You betcha it does.

“The Grey Witch” is a work of fiction. I’ve taken a bunch of old memories and embellished them, added a load of extra bits, and then seasoned it with some straight-up lies. But, here’s the thing…the past is tricky. It has a habit of taunting us. I think it waits patiently for us to forget so it can hit the repeat button. And that is quite possibly the real reason I wrote a story about a witch who lives at the top of a hill.

 

Rebecca Fraser, what inspired your poem “Local Knowledge”?

Things are not as they seem. This idea underpins much of my work and provides the bedrock for many of the stories I like to write, as well as the ones I like to read. The words that are left unspoken. A subtle shift in atmosphere. An undercurrent of foreboding you can’t quite put your finger on. The dark shadow capering in your periphery; static when you turn your head. The too-nice neighbour with the too-sharp teeth. Gaslighting. Deception. Ambiguity. Misplaced Trust.

It was the very premise of things are not as they seem that sparked and shaped my poem “Local Knowledge”, combined with a recent trip to Vietnam. After exploring the beautiful chaos of Ho Chi Minh City, we travelled north to Danang, and then spent six days exploring nearby Hoi An, an ancient atmospheric port town abundant with historical and cultural merit.

The drawcard of coastal towns and cities, for me, has always been their beaches. I have an enduring fascination with the ocean (you’ll find a lot of my fiction set in salt or freshwater environs), and continually speculate on what might lurk beneath the depths – seen and unseen.

Hoi An’s beaches are idyllic. Tranquil, crystal waters with gently rolling waves, local fishermen going about their business in iconically-shaped coracle boats, The Cham Islands – a rocky collection looming fifteen kilometres offshore. Village children playing, dogs sleeping in sand the same colour as their fur, tourists (like me) mixing and mingling in the local way of life. Returning smiles. Swimming in the warm waters of An Bang Beach. Cold local beer. Barefoot walks on sole-burning sand.

I was completely beguiled by Hoi An, from Old Town to her beautiful beaches. They were so lovely the writer in me couldn’t help speculating what if things were not as they seemed? “Local Knowledge” was the result of that speculation.

When Deb Sheldon put the call out for submissions for Midnight Echo 14, “Local Knowledge” seemed it might be a good fit for the theme. I’m so glad it’s found such a great home. I hope you enjoy reading “Local Knowledge” as much as I enjoyed writing it.

 

Liz Simrajh, what inspired your short story “Heartbeat”?

The inspiration for this story started in 2011 when I suffered a heart attack. I was in a fragile place, conscious of my own mortality, feeling every twinge and every pain in my chest. It was a time of enormous stress and there were days I thought if I went to sleep, I wouldn’t wake up. I went from being a relatively healthy person who rarely took a painkiller to someone who swallowed a bucketload of pills every day to stay alive.

One particular tablet my doctor prescribed was to help me stop smoking. This tablet, widely used on mental patients as a mood stabiliser, made you quite ill if you gave in to temptation and lit up. There was also a wide range of side effects that weren’t talked about and I suffered dreadfully from some of the worst. To the point where I could have become the world’s worst serial killer.

This experience sparked the idea of how medications impact our lives, can change our personalities, drive us to do things we wouldn’t normally do, even cause hallucinations. I wanted to explore how mental health issues are often caused by the very medications we take to stay well, and how their effects may leave us walking a fine line between sanity and madness. Modern medicine can make ordinary people wear a mask to hide the monster inside. This is the core of this story.

It’s heavily drawn from my own experiences and it’s taken me eight years to finally fit all the pieces together. The old adage of write what you know applies here. What is the truth and what is fiction? I’ll leave that up to the reader. To this day I still feel every twinge, every pain, every single heartbeat. I still swallow a bucketful of pills every morning. Nowadays, I steer clear of the bad ones.

 

Erol Engin, what inspired your short story “Death is an Empty Mirror”?

Writing about what inspired a particular story is rarely as interesting as the story itself. I would rather have readers wonder about what might have inspired a story. A case in point: one of my favourite horror stories is Franz Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony”. What could possibly have inspired such a twisted, demented, and truly horrifying tale? I can’t possibly imagine. And I wouldn’t like to find out that it was anything less than sheer genius. But in all reality, the inspiration was likely to have been something pretty mundane: Kafka was a conscientious insurance claims adjustor. I would rather keep my fantasy, my ignorance, than have it shot like a clay pigeon out of the sky – especially by something as prosaic as the truth.

I’m sure you will agree that my story is not quite “In the Penal Colony”. And I’m not sure that anyone would really wonder about what inspired me to write it. But here goes: I never liked, and still do not like, mowing the lawn. And sometimes I wonder about Nature: whether it might like to do away with us before we do away with it. That got me started. By the time I was finished, I found out that the story was also about the influence, bad or good, that fathers can have on sons (parents on children).

Beyond this, I wanted to see if I could write what I thought of as a Stephen King style daylight-horror story, like “Lawnmower Man”. I’m not sure that I succeeded: quite a lot of the story takes place at night, for one thing. But that’s half the fun; you can’t always tell what might happen, even in your own story.

Inspiration doesn’t happen once, and not always just at a story’s inception. If you’re lucky, it can happen all the way through.

And even after you think you’ve finished.

MIDNIGHT ECHO 14 will be published in digital format on Amazon at the end of the year.

Click HERE for more information.