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Book review: The Sharp End of the Rainbow by Madeleine Swann

January 13, 2022

Title: The Sharp End of the Rainbow
Author: Madeleine Swann
Genre: Bizarro
Publisher: Heads Dance Press
Release Date: February 2022

The stories you’ll find at The Sharp End of the Rainbow will transport you to a dystopian wonderland full of bizarre characters who engage in even more bizarre antics. These stories will make you laugh, cry, and gag—but more importantly, they show humanity in the face of the truly absurd, and act as a mirror to the world around us.

The Sharp End of the Rainbow by Madeleine SwannThis is one of the most perfectly titled collections I’ve ever come across. Sharp is exactly what this rainbow is – a kaleidoscope of little tales with cutting endings. Some of the shorter flash pieces I did find a little abrupt. Some are oddly sweet. Swann’s believable prose and dialogue, and familiar characters draw you in, especially with the modern settings, and then turn your world upside down with threatening absurdity. Others are claustrophobically dread-filled, with that same urban mundanity juxtaposed with weirdness that’ll make your palms sweat.
It’s her historical fiction though where Swann really knocks it out of the park for me – the longer stories in this collection set in the early 20th century are skillfully written and had me both captivated and unnerved.

The Sharp End of the Rainbow is due out in February 2022.

(Disclosure: I received an advance copy of this collection from the author because she was giving out ARCs and I asked for one, but it wasn’t in exchange for a review – I just reviewed it because I enjoyed it!)

Podcast review: Loremen

January 6, 2022
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Loremen logo - copyright The Loremen!

Loremen is a funny podcast about local legends and obscure curiosities from days of yore. Join James Shakeshaft, Alasdair Beckett-King and guest comedians as they “investigate” forgotten folklore.

 

2020 was for me – as it was for many people – a total stinker of a year. So to say that discovering this podcast was a literal top highlight of my year is not hyperbole.

 

I don’t often listen to podcasts, but working from home made me turn to stuff I could put on in the background, to keep me company during the work day. This one quickly became a firm household favourite that is now given special listening time that doesn’t even involve multi-tasking, like a weekly episode of Dr Who in the ‘80s.

 

It’s not exactly a horror podcast, but it’s often spooky. It’s also often not-spooky-enough to earn more than 1 point for ‘supernatural’ on the arbitrary scoring system. What it does always contain is an abundance of niche, weird, sometimes disturbing and often hilarious local folklore and legend – and usually some poo jokes, too – delivered in a style that is at once cosy, whimsical and cuttingly well-observed. I’m British, and of roughly the same age-group as the hosts, which definitely adds to how much I enjoy this most relatable of podcasts, however from reading reviews, non-British listeners seem to particularly delight in its Britishness. (And who can blame them – it is delightful!)

 

The hosts are comedians James Shakeshaft and Alasdair Beckett-King, who are both quick witted and funny in their own right, but when they get to riff off one another they’re straight up hiccup-inducing hilarious. Once you get into the episodes, they have more in-jokes and wonderfully quotable nonsense than any mainstream comedy show could hope to aspire to (“friendly”). They occasionally have on guests, too, and through some wizardry or luck, it always works well.

 

It’s not just a fantastic comedy show, though. It’s also incredibly informative (albeit there might be some whoppers in there alongside the actual lore – it all adds to the mix!) From a horror-writerly point of view, it’s some great inspiration for source material to look up – and likewise for readers, it’ll give you a banquet of food for thought if you want to read further into any of the strange tales the Lore Boys serve up.

 

It’s also – and I feel this is a generally underrated quality – very nice. Nothing is laboured, but the Loremen manage to be so casually inclusive and respectful that it inspires certain listeners to leave one-star reviews about how they should ‘keep their politics out of it’ – which can only ever be a good indication in my opinion.

 

As well as the edited podcast, we’re also treated to regular live shows that stream on Twitch and Youtube, where we get to see the inside of James’s shed, and screenings of Field Reports. Field Reports are where one of the Loremen go to a site of lore-ish interest and have a bit of a walk round, and it’s amazing.

 

If all of this is to your taste, then you can subscribe for extra content on their Patreon, and they’ll also send you a container of dust (just listen to the show, it’ll make sense.) In short, Loremen isn’t just my favourite podcast, it’s also one of my favourite shows of all-time, and as a fan of both arcane folklore and absurd humour, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

 

 

 

2021 writing write-up

December 30, 2021

book-pile2Every year for Christmas my parents buy me a diary (and a box of Toffifee, if we’re talking traditions) and every year I’m relieved to transfer all of my ongoing tasks and appointments over to a fresh new journal where there’s a bit more space to breathe. Every year I also track my writing stats on the back page, and every year I mean to write up a blog post about them and, checking back through this blog, apparently never manage to.

I was reading back through the absolute tyre-fire that was last year (yeah 2022 – whatever, the bar is so low now it’s basically subterranean) and saw the multiple notes of ‘2020 writing write-up’ dotted from around the 30th December to the 2nd January, and I decided that this is the year I actually do write up my achievements.

I guess it’s no coincidence that this is the year I’ve actually started to update this blog a bit more again, which I will hopefully carry on doing.

2022 stats

  • Written – 9
  • Submitted – 107
  • Accepted – 10
  • Published – 9

One of those published works was my short story collection ‘Making Friends (and other fictions)’ though, so that’s a pretty big achievement for me as a writer.

I see a lot of writers out there who are far more prolific than I am, and who are far better at marketing as well, and I fight a constant battle with myself not to feel inadequate or a failure in comparison. But given my health and life circumstances, plus that fact that so far my solo volumes have all been completely DIY, from writing to formatting, covers, publishing and marketing, I think that I do a pretty decent job of it. I’m certainly proud of all the books I’ve produced, which I know are absolutely up to the standard of trad-published works.

So, that’s my 2021 round-up. There’s more details on my publications and acceptances on my writing page. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who has supported me and my work this year, the awesome publishers, reviewers and bloggers I’ve worked with and everyone who has read my work and encouraged me. I really do appreciated every kind word.

I have some plans on the go for 2022. I want to publish a very short, handmade run of booklets for one of my favourite stories that I’ve written. It’ll be super fancy, along the lines of my 6-word story zines, but bigger, with a hand-printed cover. I also have two novellas in the works, so I’m hoping to get at least one of those written in 2022 to try and submit to some small presses, if short stories don’t completely distract me for another year!

Whatever your plans, I wish you only the best for an awesome 2022 and I hope that your dreams (well, the nice ones) come true.

Folk Tales from the Hinterland is out!

December 2, 2021

folktaleshinterland2021gurtdogIf you’re looking for a new selection of creepy tales to cosy up with this winter season, then look no further. ‘Folk Tales from the Hinterland’ is out now from Gurt Dog Press (the LGBTQIA+ small press with the best logo going!) and features ten dark stories inspired by folklore.

My story ‘The Holes in the Air’ is one I’m particularly attached to and I’m over the moon it’s found a suitable home. It’s a tale about hagstones, and also of what is real versus what other people see and lead you to believe.


Come get lost in the Hinterland with these ten dark tales that draw on inspiration from folklore.

Clever mortals fool Death, escape peril and battle curses. Witches seduce with malicious intent and monsters trick across different centuries. A child discovers a hidden secret about themselves while a hell-hound finds their past. Love is found between fearful creatures and a rivalry between cousins comes to a bitter end.

The line between what is good and what is evil blurs, leaving you asking yourself, who is the monster here and would I act any different if placed in their shoes?

Featuring stories by: L. B. Shimaira, Jamie Rose, April-Jane Rowan, A. J. Van Belle, Toni Mobley, Die Booth, Claire Olivia Golden, Dez Schwartz, Antonija Meznaric and Eleonora Prandini.

Beware, because once you enter the Hinterland, you might not be able to find your way home.


Gurt Dog Press publishes stories for Queer readers of Horror and other forms of speculative fiction that don’t focus on Romance as the sole vehicle for promoting LGBTQ+ identities.

Review: The Repository of Lost Souls by Jane Roberts-Morpeth

November 23, 2021

Title: The Repository of Lost Souls
Author: Jane Roberts-Morpeth
Genre: Gothic horror / literary fiction
Publisher: Independently published via Amazon
Release Date: October 2019

Welcome to The Repository of Lost Souls. A place for tales – and the people who walk within them – to step inside and rest their weary heads.

Meet the vengeful mermaid, the weary ghost. The sibling vampire and the curious child. The family damaged by war. Join the final journey of the Bone Queen.

Follow the hare.

The Repository of Lost Souls is the debut short story collection of Jane Roberts-Morpeth. Twelve short stories of birth, life, death and beyond, that draw on personal experience and the North East of England, where she lives. Some have a ghostly or paranormal element to them, others more a reflection on family lives and the places that shape us.

repositorylostsouldThis book made me cry. It’s a little collection of luminous scraps that are individually beautiful but also patchwork together to make something far bigger, complete and glowing.

Even the stories that are not supernatural or immediately recognisable as horror hold a subtler, private fear – in fact, it’s the quiet little slices of nostalgic, Northern British life that hold the most melancholy menace for me. From the vivid, visceral, child-level landscape of ‘Barflies’ with its stomach-churningly ominous ending, to the heart-breaking, understated ‘Private 48169’, the reality-based stories in this book have lingered with me even more than the ghosts and mermaids.

Every story however has in common the ability to juxtapose the mundane and the magical, painted in poetic prose that’s still restrained enough to stay the right side of purple.

Give it a chance to transport you back in time, and this little collection will haunt you forever. 

Humans are the Problem: it’s alive!

November 16, 2021

humans-are-the-problem-cover-3It’s alive!

‘Humans are the Problem’ from Weird Little Worlds is now officially available to buy.

Join with fellow monster advocates as we celebrate monsterkind in this unique collection of 22 stories from the best writers in horror today. Featuring familiar and never-before-seen monsters, this anthology highlights how monsters have been impacted by the modern world and what they’re doing to take back their power.

This anthology features:

John Langan, Lisa Morton, Michaelbrent Collings, T.J. Tranchell, J.H. Moncreiff, LH Moore, Gabino Iglesias, Philip Fracassi, Sarah Read, Gemma Files, Gordon Linzner, Johnathon Mast, Georgia Cook, Corey Farrenkopf, Christi Nogle, Patrick Barb, Justin Guleserian, Calvin Cleary, Dominick Cancilla, Leah Claire Kaminski, Auston Habershaw, Die Booth

In addition to vengeful vampires, Twitter-addicted trolls, and fearful fairies, the book also includes all new artwork from award-winning sketch artist, Mahesh Hirugade.

My story ‘Passed On’ is some well-known lore with a new take that I hope that you’ve never seen before – I won’t spoiler any more than that!

It’s not just the awesome, fully illustrated book on offer, though – you can also buy some cool merch to go along with the stories and show your allegiance with monsterkind.

Book review – Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption and Hollywood

November 9, 2021
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Title: Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption and Hollywood
Author: Danny Trejo and Donal Logue
Genre: biography
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: July 2021

Synopsis:

For the first time, the full, fascinating, and inspirational true story of Danny Trejo’s journey from crime, prison, addiction, and loss to unexpected fame as Hollywood’s favorite bad guy with a heart of gold.

On screen, Danny Trejo the actor is a baddie who has been killed at least a hundred times. He’s been shot, stabbed, hanged, chopped up, squished by an elevator, and once, was even melted into a bloody goo. Off screen, he’s a hero beloved by recovery communities and obsessed fans alike. But the real Danny Trejo is much more complicated than the legend.

Review:

I hardly ever read autobiographies/biographies, but I am grateful to have read this one.

Whilst I’ve always enjoyed Danny Trejo’s performances, I initially picked this up because Donal Logue co-authored it (I really love his writing/storytelling style) and was so vocal about supporting his friend Danny – and that pretty much sums up the spirit of this book.

The storytelling is well-paced, natural and evocative. Even when it skips between years it has the effortless feeling of listening to somebody eloquent telling you, personally, tales about their life. And what a life.

I admire how unflinching this book is. Danny is not afraid to say ‘I behaved badly because I was taught to, but I learned and changed’. It honestly gives me hope that anyone can effect positive change in their lives if given the chance and that was something I really needed to hear at the time of reading this. It’s a genuinely moving book. Particularly the section about forgiving and reconciling with his mother – I’m paraphrasing, but ‘I didn’t just say I forgave her and still held onto the hurt, I truly forgave her’ particularly hit me.

Another theme of the book, toxic masculinity, I found very strong. If the hardest man in showbiz can acknowledge in his 70s how badly he’s treated women, and how badly society has let down both the boys it raises and the women they mistreat, and then learn and change, there’s hope for us all.

I’m not religious, but this book really moved me in the lessons learned, the humility shown and the happiness achieved – even if we’re not listening to the same tune we can still all dance together.  It’s a hopeful book and I would absolutely recommend it to everyone.

Links to buy:

Unfettered Hexes is out!

November 5, 2021

Yesterday I received my copy of ‘Unfettered Hexes’ from Neon Hemlock, featuring my story ‘To Hell, With Hope’ and let me tell you, I am audibly delighted!

Every once in a while a book comes along that’s just so beautiful you want to own it as an object, even aside from the stories. Trust me that this is one of those books. I mean, just look at it!

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This is such a lush, thick volume, brimming with gorgeous artwork in both colour and black and white. The layout is absolute art. The typesetting! The dividers! There are games included in it, guys! I’m getting a bit emotional flicking through this book.

And this!

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Yes, I realise I’m a font nerd but I just about lost it in glee when I saw that double ‘o’ in my name.

All of this and I’ve not even got to the stories yet.

My tale in this masterpiece is ‘To Hell, With Hope’ which is about a teen and their relationship with a demon. It’s a bit of a love letter to the comfort that both magic and pop culture can bring. I’m sharing the TOC with truly wonderful writers too, and I cannot wait to dive headfirst into their worlds.

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My story! With its own gorgeous illustration by Matthew Spencer!

To say that this book has made my month is an understatement. It’s a real privilege to be part of something so beautiful, and I’m very grateful to be included. Now – everyone go check Neon Hemlock out!

Junk Medicine – the backstory

November 4, 2021

cover-small-webWhen my story ‘Junk Medicine’, which features in ‘Making Friends (and other fictions)’ got picked up by ‘Shoreline of Infinity’ it was given a good edit, where I was advised to lose all the chunks of exposition I’d interspersed through the main storyline (thank you Iain Maloney for being a fantastic editor!)

Whilst this made the story a lot stronger, I think it does also leave a lot to the imagination, and some small points unexplained. So I’ve decided to post the cut parts of ‘Junk Medicine’ here, just in case anyone’s curious.

If this piques your interest, the full story can be read in my new collection ‘Making Friends (and other fictions)’ which you can buy here in print and here in ebook, along with all my other books. And if you buy a print copy before 5th November 2021 and use code EARLYBIRD20 at checkout, you can get 20% discount.

You can also check out ‘Shoreline of Infinity’ here, for brilliant new sci-fi and speculative fiction.


Junk Medicine – the backstory

In the beginning, the government already knew that something serious was up. We were encouraged to recycle wherever possible, but the full extent of the problem and any damage-limiting solutions were downplayed due to cost implications. Cheaper was better, right down to that ‘plastic’ blood they developed. The miracle cure.

At first, when the oil ran out, it was OK. The government banged on about silver linings and blessings in disguise. They pushed renewable energy – wind farms and solar power and water mills – and pretended the global economy wasn’t on the verge of collapse. After a while – and a short while, mind – you got used to it. Any plastic you got then was recycled – dug up from landfill and dredged from the ocean – so manufacturers started using other stuff too, natural stuff; wood and metal and cotton. Things started to seem higher quality. Old people liked it. There was this brief period of rose tinted, old world flavour, with concern for the environment being the height of fashion. And everything was all right. At first.

Bisphenol A. That was the chemical name. Well, one of them. It was found in that clear plastic used instead of glass and it mimics the hormone oestrogen. At first it caused cancer and genetic flaws in unborn babies. Then people adapted. By the time it filtered from the human system again, it was the lack of it that caused the damage – human oestrogen levels had lowered to accommodate the synthetic hormone and without it, there was a deficit. Women couldn’t conceive. People were tired, they were weak. That’s not all. There’s more. It was alright at first. It was almost good. For the first time in modern history, the constant rise in population slowed. Couple that with the new enforced ecological soundness and it had the spin doctors feeling pretty good about the human race’s ongoing carbon boot-stamp. But as the march of time sped up, the soup of plastic fragments in the ocean that had worked its way invisibly into our food chain, right the way up into every human on the planet, started to really make its increasing absence known. The cleaner the planet became, the sicker people got.

When it was still breaking news, the government panic-recalled products and coordinated roll-out landfill excavation. Lucky, we thought, that every single piece of plastic ever created was still in existence. Less lucky that we’d become so good at throwing it away it was often difficult to get it back again. Existing plastics went exclusively into medicine. Political rock groups wrote angry songs about supermarket bags and ten copies of every item deemed worthy of preservation were filed for posterity in official banks. The remainder was recycled back into the National Plastics Repository, responsible for dishing out pea-sized, raw plastic nurdles to the pharmaceutical companies supplying the Health Service. It all happened so quickly, said the News. We’d only been using fossil oil since 1850. It happened so quickly.

Governments debated. Black markets and cartels flourished. Desperate chancers combed the strand line for washed up litter and bounty hunters dug up private landfill. Still-developing countries laboured under their lack of access to the plastic no longer in the natural food chain. It was the dawn of a new age. A neo-Industrial Revolution: our technology reset, our plague self-made.

By 2068, plastic reached a premium value, outpricing gold. Landfill sites were the new oil fields, with property selling for unprecedented amounts. Bioscientists teamed up with agribusinesses to develop new plastics made from corn sugar, bespoke nitrocellulose based materials that would be more stable than the old celluloids that decomposed so quickly, to fill a gap in a demanding market that craved the comfort of disposability against the implosion of time.

Book review – ‘White Ibis’ by Wendy Dalrymple

October 27, 2021

White Ibis by Wendy Dalrymple‘White Ibis’ is a neat horror novella that can be read easily in a sitting or two. This was the first book of Wendy Dalrymple’s I’ve read and her accessible, enjoyable writing style had me immersed in the story from the start.

This is a horror story, but for me the true terror of it wasn’t in the supernatural elements, but the human ones. Every character is perfectly unlikable – although not impossible to feel sorry for, as they’re all stuck in such awful situations, often of their own making. It reminds me of the show ‘You’ in that respect, although the plot is nothing like. Chelsea’s dissatisfaction with her privileged life, her obsession with social media and presenting a ‘perfect’ face to the world, her desperation to belong and matter, is the true horror of this story to me – pitiful, grotesque and uncomfortably relatable. The author skillfully captures all of the characters in some very well-observed social commentary.

I thought I’d figured out how this one was going to end, but I was only partly right – the rest I definitely did not predict! The ending is satisfying and poetic, a fitting finale to a fun read.

You can buy White Ibis via Amazon here.