Review: Midnight Echo (12)

I’m delighted to share my review of Midnight Echo (issue 12), theAustralasian Horror Writers Association’s magazine.

Issue #12 features over 50,000 words of the finest horror from Australia and New Zealand, including fiction and non-fiction. This issue showcases the winners of the 2015 and 2016 AHWA Short Story and Flash Fiction Competitions, and is edited by Shane Jiraiya Cummings and Anthony Ferguson.

My thoughts:

This issue of mainly short stories contains writing so polished it gleams. All the stories are taut and punchy, and many ooze that essential quality of the entertaining horror story, wit. The magazine is filled with originality composed by authors with suitably twisted minds. Of note is Angela J. Maher’s ‘Effigia Malo”, a gothic tale about images in an old book coming to life; and the bizarre and hilarious ‘Mechanical Cat’ by Rebecca Fung.

Most of the stories in this magazine could have found a home in any literary journal; on the horror spectrum they are soft core. The hint of dread is there in the atmosphere but the reader will find no gore or terror or slasherpunk, there is little to invoke revulsion and the paranormal receives the lightest touch. Many of the tales are set in domestic situations.

Two nonfiction pieces provide some interesting discussion. The first by Anthony Ferguson, ‘Mick Taylor and the Tyranny of Distance’, explores how much Australian horror is rooted in landscape. In the second, ‘A Shared Ambition’, Kyla Lee Ward discusses sources of inspiration in horror and the need for an abundance of ideas.

Overall, the stories set out to disturb rather than shock or revolt. I would recommend this magazine to lovers of literary fiction and appreciators of well-honed and perfectly written compositions as much as I would fans of the refined end of horror shorts.


Review: Stripped to the Bone: portraits of Syrian women by Ghada Alatrash

I’ve taken a short break from horror to review Stripped to the Bone: portraits of Syrian Women by Ghada Alatrash, a short story collection peppered with beautiful poetry, and set for the most part in Syria.

“Set between war-torn Syria and the West, Stripped to the Bone explores issues of identity, love, strife, courage and resilience in seven fictional portraits of Syrian women. Syrian-Canadian author and translator Ghada Alatrash is a Doctoral Student at the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary She has an MA in English Literature from the University of Oklahoma. One of her goals is to amplify the voices of the marginalized through her writings. She translated and published a collection of Arabic poems in English, entitled So that the Poem Remains.”


Stripped to the Bone  opens with the natural yearnings of Zahrah, a single woman ageing and in need of a husband, who fills her heart with Hollywood movies to escape her edge of survival existence in a war zone. Then there’s the story of Reem and Mayyada, two women both unjustly imprisoned and forced to endure torture and rape. Here the abuse of a zealot brother is juxtaposed with the almost faceless and arbitrary violence of the prison officers, Alatrash making observations relevant to all women everywhere.

In Stripped to the Bone ancient traditions are portrayed alongside modern values and lifestyles as Syrian women hold on to what is precious and beautiful while adapting to modern ways. In ‘Hanaan and Salaam’ the author tackles homophobia, in ‘Lama’ multicultural relationships, as those Syrians who have fled their homeland adapt to their new lives.

Written in gentle, ironic and often sensual prose, this collection oozes intimacy. Alatrash infuses her stories with pride and anguish, pride in her culture and anguish over the cruelties meted out in the name of God and country. But above all, Alatrash is concerned with the unjust war Syria endures, a civil war with all too powerful interested parties, a proxy war involving America, Russia and Saudi Arabia and their various allies: a bloodbath. In this collection, the geopolitics of Syria forms a translucent backdrop, Alatrash leaving it to the reader to educate themselves if they wish. Of concern for the author is the impact all of the various injustices have had on women’s lives.

In ‘Um Jaad’, a story of a Syrian woman travelling to visit her sister in Homs who has just lost her little boy, Alatrash writes:

“More deafening than the screams was the silence of the world.” It was her sister “Who lived the pain of the atrocities erasing Syrians off the map.”

Interwoven in stories that invite reflection and at times confront the reader with harsh and horrifying realities, is beautiful verse, verse that depicts the Syrian soul, verse to savour and revisit time and again.

Stripped to the Bone is a questioning and intelligent book, at once romantic, poignant and passionate. A huge sadness pervades the collection, a sense of loss of culture, of heritage and of all that is meaningful and valuable and important in women’s lives. The reader will take away the thought that what continues to happen in Syria should never have begun. Timely and significant, Stripped to the Bone is a must read for anyone wanting to understand Syria from within, from the perspective of the everyday domestic lives of its women.

You can purchase a copy here

Review: Demons, Devils and Denizens of Hell: Vol 2

I’m thrilled to share my review of Demons, Devils and Denizens of Hell: Vol 2, and anthology of horror stories compiled by P. Mattern, edited by Ztina Marie and published by HellBound Books.

“Another anthology of otherworldy delights, tales of horror, dread and hellish inhabitants, – all lovingly compiled by award-winning author P. Mattern.

Our second journey into the darkest recesses of Satan’s pit has superlative tales of nefarious delight by: Andrew MacKay, Ryan Woods, PC3, Richard Raven, Dante Crossroad, Josh Schlossberg, Brianna M. Fenty, Paul Lubaczewski, Marcus Mattern, R.L. Chambers, Gerri R Grayson, John T. M. Herres, James Nichols, Feind Gottes, P. Mattern & Lynne Ligocki Gauthier, R.L.Chambers, Richard Alan Long, Jaap Boekestein, James H, Longmore, Savannah Morgan, DJ Shaw, Bill Evans, Sergio “ente per ente” Palumbo, Jay Michael Wright II, and the incomparable Stephanie Kelley.”

As a reader of short stories I’m hard to please. I’m looking for substance and depth. I want to know the author has thought long and hard about character, setting and life in general. I’m not interested so much in being shocked or horrified. I’m interested in how the author is pulling it off. I want to be impressed. Also, I want wit. I guess that makes me hard to please. Especially regarding an anthology, a book readers will delve into when the fancy takes them, sampling rather than reading from end to end.

I opened Demons, Devils and Denizens of Hell: Vol 2 not knowing what I was to be treated to, save each story was destined to be either revolting, terrifying or both. What I discovered was a delight. Demons, Devils and Denizens of Hell: Vol 2 brims with cracking reads; the hallmark of the volume, strong writing. From the thoroughly revolting, edge-of-seat horror-crime story ‘Duplicate Counterpart’ by John T.M. Herres, to the mysterious and compelling, and ultimately shocking ‘There Shall Be No Night’ by Josh Schlossberg, and beyond, there is much to savour between the covers of this anthology.

Each story is distinct. James H. Longmore’s ‘My Possession: An Introspective’, a presentation of the state of mind of a sales executive turned writer wrestling with his inner demon called Dave, provides incisive wit and dark hilarity. As does ‘Beauty is the Beast’ by Gerri R. Gray, her protagonist, Vanity de Milo, a macabre twist on the children’s fairy tale the story alludes to.

Quoting from ‘The Huntress’ by Savannah Morgan, gives a taste of the sort of writing to be found in the anthology:

“Guts and entrails fell out like gruesome chunky soft-serve ice cream from a dispenser on the fritz.”

No matter the genre, sentences like that make a reader like me tingle.

Feind Gottes foreshadows his dark tale, ‘Black Lodge’, with some powerful imagery:

“A simple black lodge in a forgotten wood where ghosts feared to haunt but memories were free to crush a man’s soul.”

Like the other stories in this anthology, Gotte’s tale grips to the very last sentence.

The authors of these dark tales have stretched their imaginations, brought to bear their wit and drawn on their many and varied insights into the human condition. Not only that, they’ve applied themselves to the task of writing, and writing well. The result is a must read.

Buy your copy here.

Check out more from HellBound Books here


Review: On the Job by Sandi Wallace

I’m delighted to present my review of On The Job by Australian crime author, Sandi Wallace.



“The highs and lows of cops on the job. The cases that make them, break them, bring them laughs, maybe even love. Police on the beat, working one-officer shops and seasoned detectives pursue a cunning home intruder, a full-moon prankster, false friends, vengeful partners. Adrenaline-charged car chases, unsanctioned surveillance, intense interrogation. The impact of a child’s tragic death. The import of unearthing what happened to an infant and her mother. Lives saved and crooks captured. This gripping collection of Sandi Wallace’s award-winning short fiction–“Busted,” “Silk Versus Sierra” and “Losing Heidi”–along with new and never-before released verse and stories, includes “Impact,” a finalist in the international Cutthroat Rick DeMarinis Short Story Contest. ”

As ever with Sandi Wallace, each story in On The Job has the reader settling into a relationship of trust from the first paragraph, confident that the journey will satisfy. Wallace is a courageous writer, tackling the confronting and hard-hitting with sensitivity and depth of understanding. Her protagonists, the cops ‘on the job’, are sharply crafted and authentic. Wallace’s storytelling draws the reader up close, experiencing the reactions of investigating officers as they solve crimes and bang to rights the perpetrators.

Little wonder the stories here have won awards. Wallace charms her readers with tales that not only grip, they present socially realistic worlds, especially of rural Australia. There can be no doubt the author has done her research. These are stories that linger, long after they are read, and after experiencing the works of Sandi Wallace I, for one, will never imagine rural Australia in quite the same way again. This collection does not disappoint.

Find the author here.

Buy here. 

I’d like to thank the author for my review copy.



Shopping List 2 – an outstanding horror collection


“HellBound Books Publishing brings you an outstanding collection of horror, dark, slippery things, and supernatural terror – all from the very best up and coming minds in the genre. We have given each and every one of our authors the opportunity to have their shopping lists read by you, the most wonderful reading public, and have the darkest corners of their creative psyche laid bare for all to see…

In all, 21 stories to chill the soul, tingle the spine and keep you awake in the cold, murky hours of the night…”

Mine is called ‘Ignominy’

About a year ago I signed up for a free online creative writing course as research for running my own. In those ten weeks participants were invited to write the bones of a short story. I came up with plain Jane on a train. Yeah, I guess I was feeling a bit cynical and detached as I was really just being a spy, but I jumped through the hoops and engaged anyway.


Then I tinkered with this Jane and her train journey, and the more I did, the darker the story became. The result is ‘Ignominy’, a dark tale about a train journey, describing where Jane has been, who she meets, and what happens as a result.

I ended up loving Jane so much I employed the same style in a novel-length work, which I am hoping will be published next year.

You can order a copy of this anthology, available in all formats, and enjoy all the other dark tales it contains here.

The anthology is also live on the HellBound Books Publishing app!



Artefacts and other stories by Rebecca Burns

I’m delighted to share my review of Artefacts and other stories by Rebecca Burns



That dandelion. A flash of stubborn yellow in a dark box of space. It had promised sunshine but had tasted sour. Artefacts. A dandelion. A mayfly. A family, bereft. Items and mementos of a life, lived hard and with love, or long, empty, bitter. In these sharply drawn and unflinching short stories, Rebecca Burns unpicks the connection between the lives we live and what we leave behind.

My Review

The short story form is hard to master. There are many strictures and the word length alone demands taut and pointed prose. Few can manage the heights of Alice Munro. The reader waits for that release of breath as the author provides an astute observation or an elegant and original turn of phrase. Which is why, when I read this latest offering from Rebecca Burns, my mind was switched to critical.

Yet from the first, Burns satisfies the aspirations of the short-story reader, with sublime writing and masterful control, finely balanced with moments of apt poetry.

“She soothed his craggy face into easy, jelly smiles.”


“A quick tongue ready to cut through the fudge of clerical life.”

Alice Munro writes of everyday life in Canada. In a similar fashion, Burns turns her attention to the everyday lives of her characters, many set in the period of the world wars, others in the collieries of central England. All her stories are told with sensitivity and compassion. If there was one word to sum up this beautiful collection, it is depth, for Burns has plumbed to the nadir of her own self in the writing, at once never failing to miss a moment of irony. Highly recommended.

Find out more about the author  –

BUY Artefacts and other stories


How I started writing horror

A year ago today I shared my review of Liam Brown’s Wild Life, after being invited by Legend Press to be part of the author’s blog tour. (Read my review here)

Liam Brown Wild Life released by Legend Press

Wild Life is a disturbing read, dark, gothic, raw. It falls into that tradition of dark fiction the British do so well, one that includes Iain Bank’s debut novel, The Wasp Factory, a book I read shortly after it was published in the 1980s.

By the time I was reviewing Wild Life, I had just finished writing my first work dark fiction. I was yet to enter the realm of horror in any real sense. I didn’t identify as a horror fiction author. I still had my head up in the literary smog, born of my own pretensions.

The descent has been slow, necessary, painful and illuminating all at once.

Now I’m completing my second work of dark fiction. Unlike the first, it sits more firmly inside the genre, fulfilling the expectations of horror fans. I have my first short story that I have labelled horror, out there in two competitions. I realise I can identify another two of my short stories as horror, along with many others that are certainly dark. They are both published in my collection, All Because of YouWhen I wrote them, I didn’t think of them as horror. I didn’t get what dark fiction meant.

My muse did. She knew where she was heading. For years I’ve been struggling to label what I write as falling into this genre or that. Is it a thriller, a mystery, maybe suspense as that seems to be a catch all? And there she was, stirring her grim brews in the dungeon of my mind, claiming all of my ideas as though they were nothing more than seasoning.

Dark themes enter all my work. There’s nothing light and airy about what I do, even when I venture into other genres. It’s why I’m drawn to authors like Ever Dundas and her smashing debut Goblinwhy every so often I think I ought to move to somewhere cool and dank and dim.