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.

Midnight Echo Issue 14 cover reveal

The Australasian Horror Writers Association has revealed the cover artwork and Table of Contents for the 14th issue of its fiction magazine, Midnight Echo

Guest edited by Deborah Sheldon, the issue’s theme of “Things are not as they seem” will feature new fiction, poetry and artwork, as well as stories by the winners of the 2018 AHWA Short and Flash Fiction Competition.

Deb has interviewed all the authors and artists about the inspiration behind their contributions and asked cover artist Greg Chapman about how he created the cover art for the issue:

“There’s something about shop windows at night that always terrified me as a child.

Streets at night are scary enough, but there’s something unfamiliar about a shop window in the middle of the night. You’re tempted to put your face closer to the glass, to get a closer look, even though your brain is telling you not to.

The cover art is me trying to capture that sense of the theme of the issue – ‘Things are not as they seem’. Peering into one of these shop windows is akin to looking into another realm. The shop mannequins appear even more sinister, traced in shadow, frozen like prisoners. The light from the street only shows you so much and your mind wonders keenly about what lies further inside the store.

Worse still, if the light is just right, you might just see your own reflection and it feels like you’re trapped in the darkness too.

The image I’ve presented tries to capture that sense of the unknown. It’s inviting you to come closer and see what lies within.

If you’re foolish enough you might just see something looking back. :)”

The full table of contents for ME14:

Cover art and design by Greg Chapman
Editorial by Deborah Sheldon
The Grey Witch by Chris Mason (short story)
Local Knowledge by Rebecca Fraser (poem)
Heartbeat by Liz Simrajh (short story)
Death is an Empty Mirror by Erol Engin (short story)
Alive! by Gregory Long (flash)
Sea of Blood by Brian M. Quinn (artwork)
Keep Them Close by Renee De Visser (AHWA Short Story Competition winner 2018)
The Nymph by Hari Navarro (AHWA Flash Fiction Competition winner 2018)
Cymon by Denny E. Marshall (artwork)
The Wind Chimes by Ian J. Middleton (flash)
A Tale of the Ainu by Robyn O’Sullivan (short story)
Red-Eye by Tabatha Wood (short story)
The Netherwhere Line by Matthew Morrison (novelette)
Contributor Biographies

ME14 will be published in e-book format last this year.

Sinister Reads chats to David Schembri

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your latest story?

I’ve been submitting stories since 2006 and was influenced by my judgment role in the Australian Shadows. During that period I was exposed to some excellent work and to the format of the ‘short story’. Over the years I’ve been published in several anthologies and magazines, both in print and online.

This new book in my second horror collection of short stories, showcasing previously published work and some new pieces also.

What differs most about ‘Beneath the Ferny Tree’ compared to ‘Unearthly Fables’ (2014), is that it has longer works and also features a genre poetry section.


What inspired you to write this story?

This collection was inspired by a conversation I had with the publisher. They were discussing their open submission call and invited me to submit a proposal early in 2018. After hearing that they were interested in a new collection, I leapt into work on compiling the stories and artwork samples. I was very excited to submit my work to them as they had reviewed my first book highly a couple of years ago.


What’s the most important lesson you have learned about writing?

Writing is a waiting game.

Plain and simple.

Release or submit your project when you are ready and have gone through the blood, sweat and tears.  If you’ve missed an opening market for your story? Then find another or hold onto the work until another market opens up. Then, when it’s published, you can pride yourself on a job well done.

Things come to those who not only work hard, but are patient.


What does the horror genre mean to you?

It might sound strange, but the horror genre means ‘fun’ to me. Am I sounding weird? Good.

When ever I pick up a horror publication or movie, I rub my hands to together. It’s like buying a ticket to a super crazy, out of this world, roller coaster that others tell you to avoid because it’s too scary. Horror is fun, when it’s done right of course.

I buy the ticket and take the ride. J


Who is your favourite author and why?

Oh, this question again! There are so many!

Clive Barker.

He wasn’t the first horror author I read. In fact, I was reading a lot of other greats for years before finally picking up the Books of Blood. When I dove into Barker’s earlier horror works, it wasn’t the horror, creatures or worlds he created that hooked me, it was the humanity behind his characters. The way one can follow the protagonists and even empathize with Barker’s villans, is what I found so unique, making me go back to Barker again and again.


Where can people read/purchase your story/novel?

Some free samples of my earlier work can be found on my website:


‘Beneath the Ferny Tree’ is available here for purchase in both digital and print editions: https://books2read.com/u/b62N6Z

Most retailers have the book on sale now, so please have a look.

Dymocks Book stores in both Rundle Mall (Adelaide) and Knox City (Melbourne), will be stocking the book shortly. Look out on my Facebook and website for announcements when it hit their shelves.

You can read a sample of the book here:

Book excerpt: Beneath the Ferny Tree, by David Schembri


Are you on social media? Please supply links

Come on down to my Facebook page anytime. I do my best to post regularly so ‘like’ if you wish. J




Sinister Reads chats with Claire Fitzpatrick

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your latest story?

Hiya. I’m Claire. I’m an author of speculative fiction and non-fiction. I won the 2017 Rocky Wood Award for Non-Fiction and Criticism for ‘The Body Horror Book,’ which I produced, edited, and co-wrote. I work for the government, which means I obviously have no soul. I have a six-year-old daughter who is starting grade one this year, which is crazy!  I’m a submissions reader for Aurealis, and I run Oscillate Wildly Press, a small indie publisher. My collection ‘Metamorphosis’ is due to be published by IFWG Publishing sometime this year, which is just awesome. Um…what else, what else, what else? I have pet cacti. They don’t have names yet, but they’re pretty great pets. They don’t scream in my face or poke me when I’m sleeping like my daughter does. Sheesh. That kid. Gosh, she’s a handful. My latest story is ‘Metamorphosis,’ published in Midnight Echo 13 (title story of my collection). The story is set in the near-distant future where puberty, or growing up, is monitored as a form of population control. ‘Metamorphosis’ follows a theme I have used within a few of my stories – the fear of parental abandonment coupled with Peter Pan Syndrome. I write a lot about child/parent relationships, and I consider this story part four of my short stories ‘Madeline,’ (first published in ME 11), ‘Synthetic,’ (first published in Breach Issue 6, republished in Phantaxis Issue 7), and ‘Scarab’ (first published in Breach Issue 7), a quartet of sorts. This story leans more towards SF, though contains elements of body horror, which is what I generally write.

What inspired you to write this story?

When I was a teenager, I read the book series ‘The Shadow Children’ by Margaret Peterson Haddix. The idea of hiding people away, of pretending people don’t exist, always interested me. One day, out of the blue, I was on a bus and started thinking about the book series. But this time I started thinking not just about population control, but body control – the control of how a body develops, how it grows, how a child becomes an adult. So I just started writing, and ‘Metamorphosis’ is what I came up with. I liked the idea that puberty was more than just the usual changes that occur in the body, that it was something out of your control, literally – that if you didn’t go through puberty you became something else, something monstrous, something to be hidden away and examined. I also sprinkled ideas of ‘be careful what you wish for’ throughout the story. There are consequences for growing up too fast, which are very real in ‘Metamorphosis.’

What’s the most important lesson you have learned about writing?

Always be open with yourself, and truthful. A good story has parts of its author within it. Go beyond ‘write what you know’ and write who you are, what you’re afraid of, what concerns you, what excites you. Almost all of my stories are in some way autobiographical. Always add a little bit of you into the mix.

What does the horror genre mean to you?

Gosh. Horror is something that is flexible, malleable, and adjustable. It is something to be pulled apart and put back together. What scares people so often changes. The horror genre should not only scare you, but excite you, encourage you to ask questions. I think of it as the agnostic of the writing spectrum. Horror is akin to Solipsism – you can never be sure what else is out there, only what’s inside your own mind. And that’s the scary thing. Horror encourages exploration, internal investigations, and philosophical questions. Why are we scared? What makes humans scared? What makes a human? Horror is usually metaphorical, and taps into our inner most fears and desires as individuals and as a society. The scariest monsters in this word are the humans themselves. Hmm. I think I’m scared of myself.

Who is your favourite author and why?

See, my favourite book is ‘Black Foxes’ by Sonya Hartnett, but that’s not horror. Overall, I love Clive Barker. I think he’s incredibly creative. I love that is work, his imagination, is limitless. His universe is so immersive. His writing is not only bloody but supernatural, religious, erotic, romantic. He writes such beautiful and terrifying prose. Clive Barker encourages questions, encourages fantasies, and turns humanity inside out. And for me, that’s what it means to be human.


Where can people read/purchase your story/novel?

Midnight Echo 13


Are you on social media? Please supply links

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ClaireJean1239

Twitter: @CJFitzpatrick91

Instagram: wetoo.arestardust

Website: www.clairefitzpatrick.net/


Sinister Reads chats with Alister Hodge about his new release – Plague War 3 Retaliation

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your latest story?

I’m a horror author, and I also work as an Emergency Nurse Practitioner where I get to deal with the everyday traumas of real life. My latest book is PLAGUE WAR 3 RETALIATION, published through Severed Press. This novel concludes my trilogy that was preceded by PLAGUE WAR: OUTBREAK, and PLAGUE WAR 2: PANDEMIC. For fans of apocalyptic and military horror, the Plague War series is an action packed journey following a group of survivors through the downfall of Australian society, to an eventual military fightback against the zombie masses.

What inspired you to write this story?

After reading ‘World War Z’ by Max Brooks and a number of different Grimdark titles, I decided I wanted to write an apocalyptic story with real life grit on the pages, and a book that would explore the events through eyes of the civilian, health, army and police workforce confronted by the situation.

What’s the most important lesson you have learned about writing?

Some days it comes more easily than others, but if I stubbornly keep my arse parked in the chair, I’ll manage to get words down that will progress the story (even if I need to heavily edit them later).

What does the horror genre mean to you?

A chance to explore the best and absolute worst of which humans are capable.

Who is your favourite author and why?

This changes frequently. I recently completed Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law series and hugely enjoyed it.

Where can people read/purchase your story/novel?

The Plague War series is available via the Severed Press website, or on Amazon as an ebook / KU / paperback.

Are you on social media? Please supply links





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