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
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.