Thursday, June 27, 2013

Five minutes with Stephen Hewitt, 2012 Bloody Parchment finalist

A big welcome to Stephen Hewitt, whose story Kiss the Butcher's Daughter unsettled me quite a bit, which is why I reckon it deserved to be included in this year's SA HorrorFest Bloody Parchment anthology. But I'll leave it up to him to tell us a little more. 

What planted the seed for your story?

A deep love of bacon.
That, or the needle-like abdomen of a brain-injecting, story wasp.

What are some of the themes you treated in your tale?

Those themes that affected my dimly remembered school days: of boys generally regarding girls as silly one day, and rather more interesting the next; the sudden jump in sophistication and maturity that girls seem to show in advance of boys; and the general cruelty of schoolyard rumour, naivety and youth. Damn it, yeah, I was so bullied (sob). I still have no idea what girls think of boys. Should I ever find out, I know you will have me silenced…

What are the hallmarks of a great horror/dark fantasy author and story?

An aquiline profile, a ‘tache and the ability to look good smoking a pipe on the dust jacket. And that’s just La Femme Horrotica. Failing that, a great author can write something that’s about people first, and parasitical, blood-sucking tentacle-ness, second. I love a twist on reality. I’m not interested in brains exploding – unless it’s about to be my own.

It’s not about to be my own, is it?

How do you approach your creative process? 

Firstly I partake of the black lotus, Chimerae, Lovecraftia, that grows exclusively on those tundrous and necrotic slopes of The Mountains of Madness. Or, eschewing effusive adjectiva, I start off with as random a prompt as I can come up with. Then, I try and sit beside you as you read, and write as quickly, and as much off the top of my head, as I can. If I’m lucky, I get that feeling of reading a story as I write, and I’ll finish just before you do. In essence, I’m a reader in charge of the story factory. What fun. When it clicks, it’s 10% writing and then 90% editing. When it doesn’t click it’s 90% writing and then 90% editing.  

What are you working on now?

I’ve spent a while doing flash fiction, short stories and writing for computer games. I’m now trying to plan a novel, which feels like I’m stuffing a 40lb octopus into a ukulele case. Or reconstructing a Boeing 707 from a crash site: I have all these bits and no idea what happened, with enough junk left over for four other planes...

And a combine harvester.

And a tandem bicycle.

And a small collection of fondue forks.

(Yeah, like most of my fiction, it was a weird accident.)

Planning ‘large writing’ feels about as far from writing as I can imagine. I have multiple works in the offing to prevent my reader’s soul weeping thick, black tears of printer’s ink. Or is that Kindle pixels?
Ta, da.

Enough, already, I’m off for a bacon roll.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Five minutes with Lee Mather, 2012 Bloody Parchment finalist

Lee Mather seems to be turning into regular for Bloody Parchment. This year his story, Jamie's Song, met with the judges' approval and I'm happy to have him over today to chat a little more about his contribution, and how he approaches the art of writing.

What planted the seed for your story?

As bizarre as this seems, Jamie's Song was inspired by Kate Bush! The video for her song Experiment IV had a profound effect on me when I was younger. So did Babooshka but for different reasons. With regard to inspiration, the notion of "a sound that could kill" stuck with me and I shaped it into something relevant to a music loving Mancunian.

What are some of the themes you treated in your tale?

Death. Grief. The influence of music.

What are the hallmarks of a great horror/dark fantasy author and story?

I wish I knew. Perhaps a question for Joe Hill.

How do you approach your creative process?

With a blank page and a flashing cursor. I write lots of notes, sometimes an outline. I'll read up on themes relevant to the piece and I try my hardest to evolve ideas into pulling together a world that, as a reader, I would want to be a part of.

What are you working on now?

Right now, these answers. Sometime soon, a debut novel. I've had some success with shorter fiction and I'd love to replicate that with something longer. has it all. You can Tweet me, Friend me, and even buy my books from there. It hosts some free stuff too if you'd like to try before you buy.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Simon Dewar, 2012 SA HorrorFest Bloody Parchment finalist

Simon Dewar started stalking following me on Twitter a while back. He was one of THOSE guys who doesn't stop asking questions. I also suspect he might be one of THOSE guys who're worth keeping an eye on because he's going to end up doing something really exciting soon. You have been warned. His short story, The Kettle, which appears in this year's Bloody Parchment: The Root Cellar, really creeps me out because it makes me consider how we fall into a routine... and how that routine is a unique brand of hell in itself.

So, Simon, what planted the seed for your story?

The seed for my story was definitely the birth of my daughter a couple of months earlier.  I honestly felt that for about two months I'd lived on no sleep and far too much coffee and that I was just stumbling from day to day, event to event in some kinda of weird haze of caffeine induced insomnia, dirty nappies and work! As joyous a time as it was, it was also a huge and emotional life adjustment to be made. All of a sudden you can't just sleep in because a baby need to a bottle at 2am or you can't take a day off work because of all the new extra baby expenses and there's no time for holidays or date nights with the Mrs.  RESPONSIBILITY --- EEK!  I tried to capture some of these feelings and I applied the obligatory "What's the worst that could happen" or a "How can I make this sound *even* worse/harder than it already is?!"

What are some of the themes you treated in your tale? 

I guess the themes that I touched on were probably male postnatal depression, caffeine addiction/sleep deprivation and that overwhelming feeling of just barely keeping your head above water as you plow through the drudgery of every day life.

What are the hallmarks of a great horror/dark fantasy author and story? 

Hallmarks for a great horror author is someone who can take something that we all deal with or all understand or have all experience and really bring out that which is scary or terrible about it.  Even if its a good experience, they show you it from an angle that freaks you out or they invert the whole thing and what should be good, becomes blasphemous. From a technical perspective they understand the nuts and bolts of what inspires fear and terror and can artfully use it to instill in the reader that emotion.  I read and write horror because basically... I'm shit scared of everything.. When I read a scary book or scary movie, I face those fears and I win, in the process I learn about myself, fellow man and the human condition. The great horror author can provide this experience.

Hallmarks for a great horror story for me are, basically, whether they really made me genuinely fearful.

Did my heart race, or did I get sweaty palms?
Did I sit there and think "I don't like where this is headed..." ?
Did I think "Holy shit... I wonder what is going to happen next" ?
Did I think "Noooo, dont go into the cellar... NEVER GO INTO THE CELLAR!"
or maybe: "Oh. My. God.  I bet that hurt!"  or "What the ACTUAL fuck ?!?"

If you made me think some these kind of things, you've written a good horror tale.  Above all, what I love the most is when a writer builds up tension to a fever pitch and send you out with a bang.  Recent examples of stories I've read that did this for me was Hide and Seek by Jack Ketchum, Hell House by Richard Matheson. The Books of Blood by Clive Barker were pretty decent as well.

How do you approach your creative process? 

I wish I knew a real answer to this question. Some writers put everything they think of down in a notebook they carry with them.  Stephen King once said that this was the best way to immortalise bad ideas and I COMPLETELY agree with him.  I tried doing this and I just end up with scribbles of bullshit ideas.  Every story that I've written that I've finished, seriously enjoyed writing and hasn't totally sucked was something that came on me like a bolt of lightning when I was having a shower or something mundane.  One idea that I have for a novel came to me when I was standing in line at a cafe reading a tweet by John Scalzi.  BOOM! All of a sudden I have an image of the protagonist in my head, his predicament and a fair idea about something terrible that's going to happen to him.

What are you working on now?

I've just finished a horror tale called the House of Waite which I submitted to the Fearful Symmetries anthology being edited by the illustrious Ellen Datlow.

I'm working on a pirate tale which I describe as "part Final Destination, part Pirates of the Caribbean, part Happy Feet".  Hopefully I finish it shortly and submit it to "The Sea" anthology being put out Dark Continents Publishing.  I've also started on the first few chapters of my first novel.

You can catch me on twitter:  @herodfel

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Conqueror by Conn Iggulden #review

Title: Conqueror
Author: Conn Iggulden
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2011

Long ago, nothing could have been more frightening than having a Mongol horde descend upon a town or city. But these warriors were so much more than just a marauding force on the landscapes of history. Not only did they rule a massive empire, they also assimilated many cultures and their actions still reverberate throughout history. Conqueror concludes Conn Iggulden’s series based on the life of Genghis Khan and his heirs.

The novel concerns itself mainly with the doings of the legendary Kublai Khan, who not only established himself as an emperor in the Far East, but also won a bloody civil war to declare himself supreme leader of his people. Kublai Khan is portrayed as a scholar-turned-warrior, who draws upon his somewhat academic upbringing to outsmart his rivals.

And what a ride it is. Having read the preceding Empire of Silver, I knew what to expect, but looked forward to Conqueror mainly to see how the story of the Khans turned out. For anyone who is interested in history, Iggulden certainly offers a masterful retelling and if, like me, you weren’t au fait with the details, the outcome will result in a nail-biting journey.

If military strategy, warfare and violence aren’t quite your thing, then this saga is probably not for you. The Mongols didn’t shrink from spilling blood – sometimes gratuitously so – and their acts of cruelty were tremendous.

Though Iggulden admits to taking liberties with actual history, he definitely succeeds in whetting my appetite in delving deeper into this period and I walk away with a far clearer idea of the Mongol people. Granted, pacing issues are a challenge when writing more or less historically accurate fiction, but Iggulden manages a far tighter result than in Empire of Silver.

At times I did feel that the author was manipulating readers’ opinions to prefer Kublai over his brothers (they all seem to possess some sort of fatal flaw), but that matters little in the bigger picture; this is still an enjoyable story which vividly brings history to life. Though Conqueror finishes before Kublai Khan’s rule reaches its peak, it’s a fitting and satisfying end to an action-packed series

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Five minutes with Anna Reith, 2012 Bloody Parchment runner-up

I must admit I become a bit of a fangrrrl whenever I see anything with Anna Reith's name on it. She really is that good, and I just about faint when I see her submissions in my inbox. So it came to no surprise when she turned out to be a runner-up in last year's Bloody Parchment short story competition. So, a big welcome to Anna on my blog.

What planted the seed for your story?

Courting Seraphs is loosely inspired by the concepts found in On the Origin of the World, one of the Nag Hammadi scriptures, which presents a very different version of the creation story to that found in the Bible. I wanted to take some of those ideas and explore what happened if, not only were they true, but one person was caught up in them, holding secrets that can never be shared. So… a bit like a spy thriller, but with Gnostic philosophy instead of sensitive government information.

What are some of the themes you treated in your tale? 

There is plenty of material out there in fantasy, horror, and weird fiction in terms of immortality and timelessness. I wanted to touch on those things in Courting Seraphs, but from a slightly different angle. Today, we’re bombarded with a ridiculously huge volume of information, images, and experiences. Through technology, we have access to more information than we could assimilate in a lifetime, and I think that’s something that’s fundamentally overlooked in stories that deal with immortality. As human beings, do we have a finite limit for how much we can experience, and how much we can hold in our heads? And, if we cross that limit, how long will it be until we come apart at the seams?

What are the hallmarks of a great horror/dark fantasy author and story? 

What I love about horror and dark fantasy is the breadth of possibilities. We are very complex creatures and—in the right light—we’re capable of making almost anything macabre, just by the way we think about it. The shadows around the campfire, the knotted, finger-like twigs of trees against the window… these are all creations of the human mind. I think my favourite creepy tales are the ones that explore that potential within us, and let the strange and the unseen leach into the everyday. After all, what’s scarier than suddenly realising the malign in something mundane?

How do you approach your creative process? 

With coffee. No… well, yes. Ideas are a permanent swirl, and I am forever scribbling notes down on the backs of things, but as soon as I have the basic shape of a story—or at least a firm grasp on one scene that the rest of it will grow from—I like to sit down and beat it into shape. As I suffer from CFS/M.E., that can be quite laborious, but I think there’s no substitute for applying proverbial glue to the seat of the pants and getting on with it. I really only use outlines occasionally, preferring to let tales grow organically and, because so much of my work tends to involve strong characterisation, I often find that it’s the way people spark off each other that drives my stories forward.

What are you working on now? 

Right now, I’m working on a handful of very interesting projects, including a dark fantasy novel titled Making the Days, which—a little like Courting Seraphs—deals a lot with what’s real, what’s not real, and the places people fall in between. I’m also working on the first in a sci-fi series set in a large and complex universe; something of a labour of love, as the original unfinished manuscripts were left to me by my late cousin, who had been working on them for several years. I will have a poetry collection out later this year and, though it’s probably a bit early to really announce it, I have just started preliminary work on a sequel to my genre-bending glam-rock-paranormal-murder-mystery, Dead in Time, which is currently available to read for free on Wattpad, where I’ve been a featured author recently.

As ever, further details on what I’m up to can be found on my website,, where I have some further free reads available. Both Dead in Time and Black Ice: collected stories, a compendium of dark short fiction, are currently available in digital and print formats.

You can also find me on tumblr and Wattpad.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Icy Sedgwick, Bloody Parchment 2012 finalist

The talented Icy Sedgwick is not only drop-dead gorgeous, but she writes some of the most charming, inventive and enthralling stories I've encountered in ages. She's a regularly contributor to the #FridayFlash phenomenon, and I'm overjoyed that she submitted her story, Protection, to the Bloody Parchment short story competition, and that it was well received by the judges. Welcome, Icy! What planted the seed for your story?

I was listening to a piece by Mussorgsky and it ended with a tolling bell. I just sat back and listened, and the mental image I got was of a small village, besieged by some menace, and the bell was a warning that trouble was coming. The rest of it just sprang from that! I'm not particularly musical but sound has a very specific way of generating images in my head that I can turn into stories.

What are some of the themes you treated in your tale? 

I don't specifically think about themes while I'm writing, but looking back on the story, I suppose my biggest concern was that of the outsider, and how they can be treated by their society – until their unique skillset is required by that society, and the community expect help. Should the outsider get involved anyway, or refuse the help that they never had?

What are the hallmarks of a great horror/dark fantasy author and story? 

I think imagination is key to dark fantasy, and a good story should take you somewhere that you've never been before. Horror should be something that above all horrifies. Some people seem to think that means being gory or explicit, and while that's part of horror, that's also the kind of thing to which you can become desensitised, so I feel that telling a chilling story is harder. Not everyone is going to be grossed out by something gory, so you need to find that key to tapping into what freaks someone out.

How do you approach your creative process? 

It depends on what I'm doing, really! But nine times out of ten, I'll come up with an idea, roughly sketch out the beginning, middle and end, and then just go for it. I let it all splurge out, and then I go back and tidy it up. I've tried outlining my work but I get so tied up in knots over it that I end up writing nothing at all, so it's better for me to just have a rough idea where I want to go.

What are you working on now? 

I'm in the last edits stage of a dark fantasy novella called The Necromancer's Apprentice, which is essentially what might have happened if Disney had swapped their sorceror for a necromancer, and the helpful brooms for bloodthirsty mummies!

You can follow me on Twitter @icypop, and both my pulp Western novella, The Guns of Retribution, and my collection of shourt stories, Checkmate & Other Stories, are available for Kindle from Amazon.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Richard Godwin's One Lost Summer #interview

This isn't the first time Richard Godwin's visited my spot, and I hope it's not the last either. Today we're chatting about his most recent release, One Lost Summer. So, welcome, Richard. Tell us a little more about Rex Allen. What does this "star quality" he finds attractive in women stem from and why is he drawn to it?

Rex Allen arrives in a new neighbourhood in a heat wave, clearly a troubled man. When Evangeline Glass invites him to one of her summer parties he becomes obsessed by her. He is convinced she is someone other than the person she pretends to be. He is fixated by her star quality.  I will let Rex tell you in his own words, since the novel is narrated by him:
 "Stars have a rare quality, an ability to take away the smallness most men feel. They’re more corrupt than us, but the corruption is better hidden, and their appeal is a lie, the biggest drug you will ever know."

And, without giving spoilers, tell us more about Evangeline. What does Rex hope she sees in him? 

Evangeline is extremely beautiful and alluring. She is married to Harry, possessive domineering Harry who has a dubious past, and she throws parties every week one summer while London blazes in a heat wave. The novel is set in Shepperton, an area just outside London, close to the famous Pinewood film studios. Evangeline is extremely confident and already a star among her friends. The things she is hiding are not the things Rex thinks she is. It is not so much that Rex hopes she will see anything at all in him, he describes himself as a "an empty proposition, plundered and lost", but that he thinks she is someone else, and it is that other person he is trying to reach through her.

How does Rex (or even does he) justify spying on Evangeline? Are there any insightful incidents you can relate here? 

Much of the novel is about the irrational inside peoples' lives. I believe that despite our improbable rationalism and reliance on a scientific paradigm in the modern era we are still driven by irrational urges. Rex has to spy on Evangeline, he would even say she asked him to do it because she is addicted to attention. Again I will let Rex answer in his own words:

"I can say now I hadn’t planned the purchase. But that day the sound started again. It was as familiar as an itch. It wouldn’t stop. It was like a million cameras on a photo shoot. It was incessant, nagging, and I knew it wouldn’t let up until I stood one step away from the world.

That afternoon I ordered the Red One Mysterium X cinema camera. It shot at 4k resolution and would provide the kind of quality I needed."

The press release tells me that One Last Summer is haunting. What makes it so, in your opinion? 

It is haunting in the sense that Rex is haunted and he is trying to find his way back. The novel is imbued with the lingering scent of a familiar perfume that evokes sudden memories. Perhaps also the style in which it is written:
"I zoomed in on her, caressing her skin with the lens. I entered her world like a hummingbird penetrating a flower, my heart beating like rapid wings. She existed in my watchfulness and awoke my desire."

Is there a particular scene that stands out for you that best portrays the relationship between Rex and Evangeline?

There are a few, because much of the novel is the drama played out between them as they hold clandestine meetings and she acts out Coral for him, in the process discovering herself.  There is a key moment in the novel when Evangeline begins to ‘get’ Coral and doesn’t like it:

She stood up and walked over to me. She laid a warm hand on my shoulder and seemed to be trying to penetrate me with her green eyes.
“It’s as if you want me to pour out some hidden content of my being. You need to tell me about her, Rex, tell me about Coral.”
“She is beautiful, sensual, men desire her, and she exploits her beauty to get what she wants.”
For a moment I thought she saw the camera. She turned and looked at the dresser, then walked to the window.
“And what does she want, Rex?”
“Everything, Evangeline.”
“I see her as corrupt.”
“She may well be.”
“Because you’re corrupting me by doing this, that is what this is about. It’s like you want me to be aware of sin.”
“You’re already aware of sin when you see Michael.”
“It’s just an affair, Rex, a simple matter, unlike this. I leave him behind when I return to Harry.”
“I’ve seen you at your parties, Evangeline, you’re playing a role.”
“No, that’s what you want me to do.”
“You’re the Evangeline that Harry wants, but what about the other one?”
“There isn’t another one. You’re talking about that bitch Coral.”
As she invented her, so she found her. I knew she’d fit the part.
She left at four. I let her keep the outfit.

You can find out more about Richard Godwin at his website.
Follow him on Twitter.
One Lost Summer is available at all good retailers and online at,, The Book Depository and Waterstones.

Richard Godwin is the author of critically acclaimed novels Apostle Rising and Mr. Glamour. One Lost Summer is his third novel. It is a Noir story of fractured identity and ruined nostalgia and available at all good retailers and online here.

He is also a published poet and a produced playwright. His stories have been published in over 29 anthologies, among them his anthology of stories, Piquant: Tales Of The Mustard Man. Apostle Rising is a dark work of fiction exploring the blurred line between law and lawlessness and the motivations that lead men to kill.

Mr. Glamour is about a world of wealthy, beautiful people who can buy anything, except safety from the killer in their midst.

Richard Godwin was born in London and obtained a BA and MA in English and American Literature from King's College London, where he also lectured.

You can find out more about him at his website, where you can also read his Chin Wags At The Slaughterhouse, his highly popular and unusual interviews with other authors.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Five minutes with Diane Awerbuck, Bloody Parchment 2012 finalist

Diane Awerbuck is well known in South African literary circles, and I was overjoyed when she entered our competition last year. Her story, which appears in Bloody Parchment: The Root Cellar and Other Stories, is visceral and rather unsettling. A big welcome to Diane.

What planted the seed for your story?

I knew someone who'd had mouth cancer. They really did cut off her tongue – or the front part. It seemed...atrocious; Biblical; ultimately useless.

Most of the Obs details in the story are real: I just saw or heard them because I walked up and down that road a lot. (I've only recently bought a car.)

The Viola character is also the woman in my novel, Home Remedies, which is the story of her crazy middle age. Duiweltjie is about her later infirmity: the injury to her mouth is significant.

What are some of the themes you treated in your tale?

The disempowerment of disease; the surge of power you feel as a young person in the face of someone decrepit; the comfort of birds when you are confined; revenge; cruelty; helplesssness; memory; our inability – as Hirst has already said – to really conceptualise death.

What are the hallmarks of a great horror/dark fantasy author and story?

An image that resonates, so that when you yourself visit the place you remember the narrative. The story overlays the ordinary reality with the surreal or hyper-real. This is not to say that banality is not horrific: of course it is.

How do you approach your creative process?

I'm dormant in summer. In autumn I get lazy. In winter I get so irritable I churn out a book that purges the me-grims.

What are you working on now?

A novel called The Little People, about a cameraman in the film industry and a psychic. They are filming a documentary about the alleged possession of Matric girls in a Kimberley boarding school. It's also to do with the water crisis that happened there last year, and the disused mines, the weirdness of the Northern Cape, like Area 52. But in a fun, happy way.

Short Story Day Africa is also coming up in June, and I'm involved there 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Left Hand of Calvus by LA Witt #review

Title: The Left Hand of Calvus
Author: LA Witt
Publisher: Riptide Publishing, 2012

Saevius is a veteran of the arena, but as a gladiator, he’s not master of his own fate. When he’s sold to a Pompeiian politician to work as a bodyguard, he’s cautiously optimistic about his future. But this good fortune doesn’t last, as he soon finds out that Calvus is playing a dangerous game, which might have fatal consequences for Saevius. Caught up in the sticky web of intrigue, Saevius is tasked to discover with which gladiator Calvus’s wife is having an affair.

Saevius now finds himself acting as an agent for Calvus in the ludus of the lanista Drusus, who has a reputation for being cruel. Yet Saevius is unaccountably drawn to the master on whom he’s been employed to spy. No man can serve two masters, and at some point Saevius will have to betray one of them. But making that decision is not going to be easy.

While this is ostensibly a m/m tale, if you’re looking for scenes of hot, pumping action, you’re going to come away empty-handed. (No pun intended, LOL.) What you will get, however, is a story brimful of tension, and that is, in itself, a reward. Also, kudos to the author for dumping a huge reveal later on in the story. I totally did not see that one on the horizon and it put an entire different spin on the tale that left me grinning like crazy.

Most of all, I loved Saevius as a character. He’s been there, done that, and bears the scars. He’s a man who gets on with the job and has realistic expectations about people and situations. Much of his conflict is related to loyalty. Scenes where he has to get over being the new guy in the ludus and wins the grudging respect of his fellow gladiators – that was awesomely done. Also, the careful dance he has keeping both Calvus and Drusus happy – nerve-wrecking.

LA Witt makes me feel like I’m *there* in the story, that these things actually happened to *real* people. Which means that you’re not going to find larger-than-life characters here with epic stories of derring-do. Everyone’s got flaws. Everyone’s got issues. Pompeii is dirty and full of perils for the unwary. And Saevius is a man who’s trying to do the right thing while keeping his head on his shoulders, almost literally in some situations.

In any case, if you’re a big fan of historical stories set during ancient times, be it watching Spartacus on telly or reading classic Mary Renault, then this story will possibly bite you in all the right places. I am loving the living hell out of Riptide’s Warriors of Rome series, and this title just underscores the fact that they’re onto a very good thing. More please!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Toby Bennett, Bloody Parchment 2012 winner

Toby wowed the judges with the 2011 SA HorrorFest Bloody Parchment competition. It therefore comes as no surprise that he pulled out the stops and went on to win the 2012 competition. His creepy tales bear a creepy kind of whimsy that is inimitably Mr Bennett's, and he's definitely one worth watching out for. He entered two stories into the competition, and both made the final cut. That says something. (Buy links here...)

So, Toby what planted the seed for your tales?

It started with the thought of pale white fingers (white as worms) digging through someone’s wall and snow balled from there. I thought of somewhere dark and musty that might fit the fingers and The Root Cellar was born. So yeah in this case I literally did plant something in the earth – and it grew.

My second story, Wants and Needs really came out of an exercise in trying to make a new type of monster. I was enjoying playing with the different monster tropes but I didn't want to write a story about a ‘standardized’ monster. I also started asking myself ‘what really defines a monster?’ Observant readers may notice this as a kind of running theme through my work. I find it very simplistic to assume that the ugliest protagonist with the most claws is always going to be the real villain of the piece. I like to blur the lines between what’s horrific and what’s human.

What are some of the themes you treated in your tale?

Well I guess there’s the obvious theme of what happens when something sneaks through the wall to try and eat small children – and who hasn’t thought about that at some time? – but the deeper themes are about growing up and the endless cycle of change and corruption that we call daily life. Hopefully it will be apparent to the reader that this is about more than just the bogeyman; it’s about the monsters that shape us all. Oh and it’s about being scared and alone in the dark, which come to think of it, is a pretty good metaphor for life anyway.

In Wants and Needs I think one of the major theme’s I examine is how easily we can confuse our basic drives and also how selfish and cruel the ways we love can be. For an emotion that is supposed to be about others it’s amazing how many times what we call love turns out to be all about ourselves.

What are the hallmarks of a great horror/dark fantasy author and story?

A truly great horror story you say? Why anything that leaves its vict– woops! I mean reader– in a state of barely controlled panic for an hour or two after they’ve read it. If you’ve just read a story that makes you want to check under the bed or make sure the closet door is firmly shut, it’s probably a good one. I won’t define what that story should be about or how it should be written because that can be very subjective; that said, are you happy with your feet sticking out from under the covers like that? The dog’s been very quiet but that rustling in the ceiling keeps getting louder... Or is the sound coming from behind you? Stop reading and get out, get out now before… perhaps that sandwich was poisoned – it could be too late anyway so you might as well keep reading.

How do you approach your creative process? 

With flare and panache I hope (though before I get too full of myself I had to look up how to spell the word ‘panache’ … let’s hope it means what I think it means and isn’t some kind of stylised facial hair). For me the creative process doesn’t bare too much analysis (or to put it another way I don’t want to get too anal about it!) I just do what the voices tell me and they steer me right about seventy percent of the time… though I only have their word for that come to think of it.

What are you working on now? 

I’m quite excited about my current project, without giving too much away I am working on a serialised novel with my fellow author Benjamin Knox… Alright I’ll give it all away, it’s a futuristic dystopian setting where a large part of a mega city has succumbed to a plague that turns its victims into shambling distorted monsters and if early indications are anything to go by it’s going to kick gluteus than a low GI diet… what? Oh it’s gluten? Story’s still going to be cool though… the voices told me.

To date I have written seven novels and a collection of short stories check out the kindle store on Amazon to get your paws on my work.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Five Minutes with Zane Marc Gentis, Bloody Parchment 2012 finalist

There's no denying that Zane Marc Gentis has a way with words. Indeed, his short story, Heirloom, which appears in Bloody Parchment: The Root Cellar and Other Stories, he ventures forth into some truly unsettling territory indeed. So, Zane, what planted the seed for your story?

It’s probably a little creepy to say a story about a taxidermy girl was inspired by my girlfriend, so I’ll insinuate it instead. We were getting ready to go out, and she’d been working on her hair and said it had a ‘rag-doll’ quality to it. That set some of the creative cogs in motion. Cursed dolls and animated puppets are an old horror staple, so I knew there was something else I wanted to do with the concept, but wasn’t quite sure what yet. It wasn’t until I saw Coraline again and remembered that a taxidermist friend of mine uses buttons for eyes that all the pieces came together.

What are some of the themes you treated in your tale?

I wanted to write a story that was Lovecraftian in theme without being obvious. One of his central tropes is a distinguished family with a dark secret, Rats in the Walls being a good example. In this story that takes the shape of the deceased uncle with a collection of weird and eerie artefacts.

At the same time, I liked the juxtaposition of beauty and horror. Something that looks beautiful yet represents the monstrous is more interesting to me than straight-up frights. In this story’s case, what you see isn’t disturbing, it’s knowing what the object represents. Horror isn’t necessarily tied to external objects, but internal concepts or notions. True horror, in that sense, is something that we carry with us, and comes from inside.

What are the hallmarks of a great horror/dark fantasy author and story?

I’m biased in favour of body horror. The loss of control and subversion of normality really sell it to me. That’s probably a dead (ha) give-away that I’m a control freak and moving the sandwich meat out of alphabetical order scares me more than vampires ever will.

Part of the seduction of horror in general is that a happy ending isn’t assured. That means there’s the possibility for tragedy. If you have characters the reader can empathise with, the tragedy begins to matter. Their struggles and tension then become our struggles and tension, the frights and failures become that much more real.

How do you approach your creative process?

It generally starts with a single idea or question. This idea worms its way around in my head, and I play with it, adding more as the inspiration grows. Often I’ll cannibalize elements from my unpublished works.

At some point, the inspiration becomes too much and the idea needs to express itself. You feel like you’re going to explode if you can’t get it out with writing, or drawing, or…something. So I sit down and start writing until it’s done.

Typically the end of the story comes first in my head. Then I pick a beginning, and pin-point a few essentially landmark moments in the story. The rest of the plot writes itself as the writing veers between the landmarks. I like to give the piece the ability to surprise me, and find it comes out a lot stronger for it.

I wait between rewrites, giving myself emotional distance to be able to work out what’s good and what’s garbage in the current piece. Once something halfway decent has been achieved the rewrites stop and the edits begin.

I’d like to pretend I have a more sophisticated method, like something an intelligent person with seven middle names and twelve titles might have come up with. This is the method that’s worked so far, so I’m sticking by it.

What are you working on now?

The current WIP is a novel called Letters to Kitty. Our protagonist wakes up in a bathroom without any idea who he is, where he is, or whose blood is on his hands. He’s plagued by visions, and being hunted by beings who appear to be more than human. His quest for identity becomes a race for his survival as he puts together the pieces of his past, present and future. The reception from my beta readers so far has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s a stand
alone novel with the potential for two sequels and an expanded world, but right now I’m focussed on just finishing it before I plan too far ahead.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The River Witch by Kimberly Brock #review

Title: The River Witch
Author: Kimberly Brock
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books, 2012

One of my favourite authors, Alma Katsu, recommended this book a while ago, and upon reflection, I can see why she did. The River Witch did not turn out quite the way I expected it to (for which I am very grateful), and while I feel the novel could have benefited from having its various arcs tightened, it will nonetheless stay with me for a long time.

Roslyn Byrne is a broken women, an ex-ballerina fallen from grace who’s suffered an accident and a miscarriage—all of which have conspired to drive her into seclusion. When she rents a house in Manny’s Island it is to find healing and a fresh current for her own life. While this is the ultimate result of her sojourn, she also plays a massive part in the lives of the family there. At times I felt she verged on being wangsty and overly self-indulgent in her misery; other times she came across as a bit of a manipulative busy body. I’ll be honest and say I personally didn’t like her at all, but I enjoyed watching her find her feet as she is a compelling narrator.

Damascus lost her mother at a young age, and her father Urey has been distant, leaving much of her upbringing in the hands of her aunt Ivy. All she has left of her mother is an envelope containing pumpkin seeds (those giant ones) and all throughout one summer, she focuses on growing these massive pumpkins in order to find some closure (and direction) in her own young life. She’s a confused, angry young person, but her quiet determination to grow her pumpkins hinted at a resilience and a strength of character beyond the ordinary. Some powerful imagery just there.

Roslyn is renting the old family home where Damascus and her father used to live, and the girl is drawn there and enters a complicated, almost mother-daughter relationship, with Roslyn. Urey is a ghost who hovers at the edges of their lives, somewhat threatening, but also tragic, for his inability to provide an emotional connection with those close to him in the aftermath of his wife’s death.

Brock’s voice is rich and textured. She weaves a wonderful, tactile world with a wealth of imagery; it’s easy to immerse oneself in Manny’s Island and be reluctant to leave. Her description of The Sacred Harp music was fascinating, and led me to do further research into an American cultural tradition I’d never heard of before (go look up the music, there are plenty of fascinating resources online). Magic underpins the milieu, always suggesting that there might be more to the story than one initially expects—haunting; downright eerie at times.

Ultimately this is a story about coming to terms with one’s past, and also people’s expectations and finding one’s own identity, perhaps despite what one thought of others’ expectations. It’s a coming of age story, and a tale of personal alchemy. It’s about accepting the past but not being shackled by it. It’s about burying one’s dead and finding a fresh current. It’s about finding one’s identity. It’s about taking a definite step. The River Witch is rich in symbolism of growth, rebirth and harvesting, and running through it is the inexorable flow of a river. Perhaps to try to look too deeply into this story is to rob it of meaning, and I suspect each of you who go on to reading The River Witch will take with you something slightly different from the telling.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Benjamin Knox, Bloody Parchment 2012 finalist

Benjamin Knox is another visitor to my blog who needs very little by way of introduction. Plainly put, he writes some of the creepiest stories I've yet had ooze their way into my inbox. The tale that appears in this issue of Bloody Parchment: The Root Cellar and Other Stories taps into two of my greatest fears: relentless aliens who like to snack on humans... and spiders. Trust me, if you don't have an arachnoleptic fit the next time you walk into a spider web, you'll be reminded of this story.

What planted the seed for your story?

The opening scene just popped into my head when I was thinking about fear. What scares me? What would just be an awful situation to find oneself in? It seemed a natural combination of personal experiences fused together to create a nightmarish scenario I'm quite proud of.

What are some of the themes you treated in your tale?

Fear, of course, this is a horror story. Over and above that however there is a little in there about hopelessness and the sense of being overwhelmed by the world around you. Something I think we all suffer from, from time to time. But mostly I just wanted to tell a ripping good yarn.

What are the hallmarks of a great horror/dark fantasy author and story?

Eye of the Beholder and all that. Personally though, I think a story or an idea that lingers with you long after you've turned the last page and put down the book is a good sign. A concept that sits in your mind, nagging and worrying at you. Like evil mimes standing around your bed while you sleep.

How do you approach your creative process?

I divine my ideas from bird signs and animal entrails...

Not quite.

I could write reams about this, as I'm sure could many authors. Basically I behave like Pooh and have a good long ponder, ruminate on multiple concepts, play with ideas and scenes. It's a little like shifting. Eventually I fix on one or two ideas that I not only like but feel I want to write.

As far as the writing itself goes, I have a good idea where it's going before I begin, key scenes in my head. Then I begin chronologically, scene by scene, chapter by chapter, but there is plenty of room to play and let my imagination have a little fun. I know where I've got to get to, just not how I'm going to get there.

That's the fun part.

What are you working on now?

So. Many. Things.

I have the odd habit of pushing multiple project at differing stages at the same time.

I'm just putting the finishing touches on a few mini-collections of short stories, each bound by a theme and collected under the general title of Penny Dreadfuls after the 19th Century forerunner of the pulp magazine.

The first two collections Bizarre Pulp and Creeping Madness should be released soon. If you like my story Strands in the latest Bloody Parchment anthology you'll love these.

Body Horror Triptych will appear a little later as well. With more in the works.

Other than that, Toby Bennet - whose story The Root Cellar is the title story of this year's Bloody Parchment anthology - and I are working together on a super secret Zombie project together. It's my first time collaborating and so far we're off to a raring start. Let's Just say it'll be totally unlike any zombie story you've read before.

If you like being creeped the hell out, badass babes, blood and guts, and some truly grotesque imagery, then stay tuned.

For further strangeness visit Benjamin at his website:
Amazon Author Page
or on Facebook: Benjamin Knox, Author

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Girls Who Score edited by Ily Goyanes #review

Title: Girls Who Score
Editor: Ily Goyanes
Publisher: Cleis Press, 2012

Hazards of my day job, I’ll bet. Of all the dozens of books that land on my desk for review each year, this was the last I would have chosen to read, but in the spirit of trying something completely different and quite far out of my usual chosen genres, this slim volume provided me with much enjoyment.

Those who know me will understand fully well that I am possibly *the* most unsporty person around. In fact, I absolutely loathe sport with a burning passion that equals my hatred of pink legwarmers and peanut clusters. That being said, I shoved aside my personal misgivings and plunged headfirst into this collection.

First off, just absolutely delicious and WOW. Although my interest in erotica is cursory—as in I edit erotica should a manuscript get passed my way—but editor Ily Goyanes has successfully brought together a diverse selection of tales that made my little bi-flavoured heart go thumpity-thump.

From locker room shenanigans to love found while running in the countryside or skating competitively on ice, the ladies whose stories are told here are contrasting and varied. What they share in common is the exhilaration of physical expression. And for once I have to admit it was lovely to read about women who are so very different from the world with which I’m familiar.

I will let slip that my absolute favourite-favourite in this collection was Cymone’s Dominatrix. I was *not* expecting an ancient Roman setting and two gladiatrices… Considering my absolute current adoration of Riptide Publishing’s Warriors of Rome series. No contest.

So, for what this collection of short stories is, it wasn’t what I expected when I was given the book by one of my editors, but it far exceeded my expectations. If you’re looking for a selection of beautifully crafted stories about those girls who’re not your typical femme fatale, then don’t hesitate to lay hands on this title.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

SA Partridge, Bloody Parchment 2012 finalist

SA Partridge needs very little introduction here on my blog. She is one of South Africa's best-known authors of YA fiction, and this is the second time that she's been a South African HorrorFest Bloody Parchment finalist. Her story, Jethro Mackenzie and the Devil is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at contemporary conspiracy theorists and blogging.

Over to you, Ms Partridge. What planted the seed for your story?

My story is about a conspiracy theorist blogger, so I guess the idea stemmed from my love of the X-Files, which is my favorite show ever. The story also features a personification of the Devil, which is my little imagining based on classic representations from film, like the forked tail. It's a fun little story that I enjoyed writing and I hope that carries across to the reader.

What are some of the themes you treated in your tale? 

Conspiracy theories, theology, the social media revolution and the changing face of the media itself. I think the three tie together so well. I wanted to write a story that captures the here and now.

Why a park bench?

A park bench seems like the logical place for the Devil to materialise. After all, in film, the park bench is the classic setting for espionage to take place.

What are the hallmarks of a great horror/dark fantasy author and story? 

The ability to create tension and fear without having to resort to body horror or cheap scare tactics. The name Lovecraft screams to mind, doesn't it?

How do you approach your creative process?

I just write. When a story grabs me I start writing and let the words guide me. I don't stop till it's done, and then I go back and rewrite until it shines. I heard an interesting theory that writers are mediums through which stories are born. I like that description a lot.

What are you working on now? 

I am currently working on a novel. I am always working on a novel. I have a new young adult book coming out in August called Sharp Edges, about six friends that go to a music festival but only five come back. I have two more waiting to be published. I'm pretty much a human production line.

Find me on Twitter @sapartridge and Facebook
You can link to my blog via my website

Monday, June 3, 2013

Five minutes with Colin F Barnes #interview

Recently I sold a short story which appeared in the Urban Occult anthology (Anachron Press) edited by  Colin F Barnes. It was a bit of an odd story, half-written on a whim, but playing with a flirtation between occultist and media that I adore and loathe by equal measure. So, today I'm happy to invite Colin over to chat a little more about this anthology. Welcome, Colin!

Now all anthologies start off with an idea. What sparked off Urban Occult

It's quite difficult to remember really. I have various ideas daily. Usually they spin out from conversations I have with people. I think one day I got thinking about occult fiction and it came to me that I'd like to read some that are contemporary and set in an urban situation.

An open call for submissions can be a bit of a free-for-all. What were you looking for in submissions? 

A strong story that fits the theme, or at least compliments the theme is what I look for first, and then it's the quality of the prose and finally a voice. If a story had those three things then it would stand a good chance of being an acceptance.

What has some of the feedback for Urban Occult been? 

Of the readers that have come back to me about it, it's been overwhelmingly positive. As an example, here's a few quotes from some of the reviews:

"Like a modern, slightly darker, homage to Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected there is some fine fiction on display her" — Paul Homes (The Eloquent Page).

"I don't read many anthologies, but knowing the quality of fiction Anachron Press releases, I couldn't help but gobble this one up. And I was not disappointed: URBAN OCCULT is simply one of the best anthologies on the market" — Dave Thomas (Editor at DarkFuse).

"This book runs the gamut of what can fit in this genre, and I found myself enjoying each and every story on its own merit" — Stephen Ormsby (Goodreads and Amazon Reader).

What other anthologies have you worked on/are working on? 

Before Urban Occult, I have worked on a number of anthologies, such as:
- City of Hell Chronicles, a horror collection of linked horror stories.
- Day of Demons, a dark fantasy anthology
- Crime Net, a small collection of cyberpunk/crime stories.

I have plans to do another anthology at the beginning of 2014 and at the moment I'm considering that might be a follow-up to Urban Occult. I had a lot of submissions for that one, and it seems to be a subject that garners a lot of interest.

If you could sit an aspiring author down for a little heart-to-heart chat, what would you say? 

The first thing I would say is to drop the word 'aspire' and just get on and write. I'd also advise to go to a class or a workshop and learn the basics of story telling, and from then just write every day and keep improving. Too many writers don't actually write all that much. You can only get better if you write more.

What are the five cardinal sins you keep seeing in submissions which are automatic form rejections?

I don't if there are five particular sins as such that I look for, it's generally a combination of various factors. For instance, if a story is on theme and works but some parts of the prose are clunky, I'll often give editorial feedback and give the writer a chance to fix it. Complete rejections are usually:

1. Off theme
2. Excessive violence for no reason
3. Zombies or other overused tropes
4. Ignoring the guidelines
5. An absence of style/skill

Who are three authors in SFF/H you reckon folks should keep an eye out for.

That's a tough one, there's so many writerRen Warom and KT Davies. Another name I'd recommend is a seasoned writer among the small press, and someone who I think who writes some of the best psychological and period horror: Mark West.
s doing interesting things, including your good self. Although if you were to put the thumb screws on me I'd offer up two writers who I've published before:

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