Sunday, 2 October 2016

Interview - S. C. Flynn

Hey Everyone!

I'm delighted to be participating in S. C. Flynn's ongoing blog tour to promote his new release Children of the Different. I will be reviewing this title in a couple of weeks, but I've been very impressed by what I've read so far. Flynn kindly took time out of his hectic schedule to chat to me here at Smash Dragons. I hope you enjoy!

Also, you check out this link for more information and purchase details. I promise you won't regret it. 

S. C. Flynn, welcome to Smash Dragons. First up, tell me a little about yourself. Just who is S. C. Flynn?

I am glad to be here, Matthew – thanks! I’m an Australian – g’day mate – from a small town in Western Australia exactly the same size as Cootamundra. So I am you, basically! Don’t worry, we’ll find something that sets us apart!

I have lived in Europe for many years – London, Milan and now Dublin. My wife is Italian and Italian is my second language. One time when we were visiting another town in WA, the lady at the hotel reception heard us speaking a foreign language and asked where I was from. When I said “Narrogin, Western Australia”, she gave me a very suspicious look!

Tell me about writing journey so far? Have you always wanted to write? How has your background in blogging helped you develop as a writer?
  
I have always written, or at least made up stories. When I was about four, I used to sit in a wheatbin and make up adventures – how Australian is that?

I see blogging as very different from fiction. I have written quite a lot for newspapers and magazines, so altogether I have a fair amount of bloggy-journalistic experience. That is certainly useful when it comes to writing guest posts and self-promotion generally – and in being more in touch with the market and what other people are writing, reviewing and talking about – but blogging requires different skills from writing fiction, in my opinion.

I would say that it is certainly possible to be good at blogging and not be good at writing fiction, and the other way round. My fiction style was developed over many years of practice before I started blogging, so I think that for me, they developed independently.   

Tell me about your upcoming book Children of the Different. What can readers expect from it?

Children is a Young Adult Post-Apocalyptic fantasy novel. The fantasy aspects are influenced partly by the Aboriginal Dreamtime. The main characters spend quite a lot of time in comas, during which their spirits travel through a dreamscape called the Changeland, where time, place and cause and effect are very different from the outside world. “A surreal and trippy dystopia”, one reviewer has called it.

Readers should not expect a typical Young Adult love triangle, because there isn’t one! There are female buddies, a twin brother-sister bond between the main characters, and friendship in general. And a slight touch of romance, I have to admit…

There is a lot of action and the pace is rapid. This is a Young Adult novel, so there is no coarse language, sex or grotesque violence.

How long did it take you to write Children of the Different? Did you face any particular challenges whilst writing it?

The overall writing process – from initial brainstorming to final version via beta readers, multiple redrafts and copyeditor – took about three and a half years. I am an obsessive reviser, but there were long pauses during that time, as well.

Children is the seventh novel I have completed, although it is the first one that I am publishing. Three of the others – all fantasy, but very different from this one – are of the same standard as Children and publishable, while the other three were part of the learning curve and will forever remain hidden. Out of all that novel writing, Children of the Different was by far the easiest to write. The story came to me largely fully-formed and the first draft was done in two months – even on the days when I sat down without a clear idea as to the next scene, I found what I needed.

I had never written a Young Adult novel before, so that brought some new challenges. I think the main one – apart from not being allowed to write about sex, of course – was the need to keep the style very simple and clear, and to underline certain key concepts more than I normally would.

Children of the Different is set in a post apocalyptic Australia isn't it? Can you tell me a little bit about the world and the landscape?
  
Nineteen years before the story starts, most of the world’s population was killed by a brain disease known as the Great Madness. The survivors live in small, scattered communities, each following a different approach to life. As an after-effect of the Madness, at the start of adolescence young people enter the Changeland that I referred to before, and either emerge with special powers or permanently damaged.

The setting is Western Australia. Many different landscapes appear – the giant forests of the South West near where I come from, the ocean, the desert, the city of Perth. Advance reviewers have generally thought the setting is one of the novel’s strengths.

What was behind your decision to self publish this book?
  
I spent many years trying to play the traditional publishing game. I had two professional literary agents for long periods at different times, but they were unable to find a publisher for my writing. I was probably very close to breaking through for a long time, but it did not happen. Perhaps that was just bad luck, but I decided to do something about it.

With Children of the Different, I decided to try a new approach – a new sub-genre and a new strategy. I was certain that people would like my stories if I could only reach them; the response so far from advance reviewers indicates that I was right.

I was suspicious of self-publishing for a long time – as I said, I saw myself as making a writing career in the traditional agent/publisher way. So when I decided to self-publish, my guiding principle was to only do it if I could offer a product as good as the major publishers.  I hired a team of professionals – copyeditor, artist, formatter and audiobook narrator - to help me achieve that.

I would like to mention specifically the audiobook narrator, Stephen Briggs. Stephen is an old university mate of mine and has been a professional voice artist for many years in Sydney and now Melbourne. It was great working with him on this project – Stephen narrating in Melbourne and me supervising from Dublin. I love what he has done with the character’s voices and the novel generally; initial reviews for the audiobook on Audible and Amazon show that other people feel the same.

What's your take on the publishing industry right now?

I am only just starting out, but I would say that the industry is extremely varied but durable. The novel continues to survive, although there have been predictions about its death for as long as I can remember. Genre fiction seems particularly strong at the moment, supported by a constant stream of movies and TV shows. Statistics can be misleading, but the print novel appears to still be popular, alongside ebooks. Audiobooks are relatively new, but are likely to become more popular in future; they are ideal for people who commute or who want a story while they do the housework, etc.

So in short, I think it is a good time to be trying to publish and sell genre fiction.

Characterisation is so important in any good story. I'm curious, what do you think makes a good character?

Realism and consistency, I think. We all know how frustrating it is to think while reading a story “No one would do that/think that” or “This particular character would not act like that”.

At a more basic level, readers have to care what happens to a character (and even baddies have to be compelling in some way). 

I've read that you’re a fanatical jazz musician. Do you have any other hobbies that keep you fresh? 

Ha ha! Yes, I inherited my fanaticism; I was on the stage playing for money in my parents’ band when I was thirteen and I am still playing the same tunes now. When I was old enough, my father said “This is a trumpet and these are your parts to learn – first rehearsal is this evening at 7pm sharp. Opening night is tomorrow.”

Like you and most of your followers, Matthew, I am a compulsive reader. Apart from that, films. I don’t have time for much else these days.

What's your favourite book? Why?

Hyperion by Dan Simmons. A group of characters with fascinating stories, and a remarkable range of fully-realised ideas.

If you could sit down for coffee with any author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Jennifer Fallon. Her writing influenced me. I am also fascinated by the primordial connection between Australian and Antarctica, that were connected in Gondwana millions of years ago. Jennifer lives that connection, spending part of each year in Antarctica.

Who would be in your zombie apocalypse team? Why? 

Adam Roberts: he could pun us out of any situation.
Kameron Hurley: someone has to be boss.
Myke Cole: the muscle of the group.

Ursula Le Guin: a new high priestess for a new world.

Why do you think there is a surge in the Young Adult market in recent years? What appealed to you about writing a YA novel?

There are more people in the target age group than ever before. They are born using technology, so ebooks and audiobooks have become new areas of market growth. Again, technology largely drives the ongoing science fiction and fantasy film market that supports the book market.

As I said before, I have been close to making it in writing for quite a long time now without breaking through, so the large commercial market of Young Adult fiction was an attraction. 

I also enjoy the challenge of writing according to the stricter rules that apply. A YA novel must still have all the basics of a good story – characters, plot, setting – but you do not have the easy ways of getting a reaction through swearing or sex. As a writer, you have to work harder with the basics of story-telling to achieve your effects. It’s good discipline, actually.

What writing advice would you give to your younger self?

“Self-editing has more levels to it than you can possibly imagine, kid. When you think you’ve been severe on your own writing, you have – maybe - just taken the first step.”

How have you grown as a writer since you started your first novel?

In every way you can! It’s an ongoing process, I think, and maybe one that never ends.

The hardest lesson for me to learn – probably one that you have learn all over again for every separate novel you write – is pacing. My personal tendency, I think, has always been to go too fast, out of fear of boring the reader. Going too fast – not giving enough description, for example - risks not giving the reader time to adjust to the setting and feeling lost. It has been really pleasing for me that one of the aspects of Children that has been really popular with early reviewers is the sense of place. That indicates that I have learnt the lesson. For this novel, at least.

I think another important aspect is the growth of a personal style of writing, but one which you can adapt as required. Probably all of my “mature” novels read as if they were written by the same person, which is good. For Children, however, I was able to modify that style for the Young Adult sub-genre. So: simplified vocabulary, clear and regular sentence structure, more emphasis of key background concepts than I would normally do. It’s still me, though!

What projects do you have planned over the next year or two?

I haven’t decided yet. Early reviews indicate a fair level of interest in seeing more of the world of Children of the Different, so I could write a sequel, or maybe some stories set in that world.

The main alternative would be to publish one of the novels I have already completed. I will wait and see what happens with Children.

S. C. Flynn, thanks for stopping by!

My pleasure!

You can purchase Children of the Different at all good book retailers. I recommended you go out and buy it as soon as possible, and stay up to date with all things Flynn at his blog here.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Review - Chasing Embers by James Bennett

Hey everyone!

I'm delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for James Bennett's debut novel Chasing Embers from Orbit Books. Check out my review below, and be sure to hit up the other sites mentioned below. Chasing Embers really is a wonderful read, and I can't wait to see what else happens in the great universe Bennett has masterfully constructed!


Chasing Embers caught my eye from the moment it landed at the front door. Killer cover art, and a premise that had me biting at the bit to get stuck in. So I made myself a coffee, opened the cover, and from that very first page I was hooked. 

So what did I love about it? A hell of a lot. Chasing Embers is a fast moving, yet detailed and layered fantasy that provides plenty of thrills as you read it. There are loads of creepy monsters and magical creatures to enjoy, and a rich mythology to explore. Bennett keeps the story motoring along at a rapid pace by breaking up the world building with what are arguably some of the finest action sequences I've read in recent years. Seriously, they will leave your pulse racing. What makes this book even more wonderful are it's characters. Ben is a wonderful protagonist who reminded me a lot of Atticus (from Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid series). They both share an interesting sense of angst and similar philosophical attitudes that stems from their long lives. Ben's relationship with Rose was also fascinating and at times hilarious, and I really enjoyed the dysfunctional to and fro between them throughout the book. 

Oh did I mention there's a big bloody dragon in this book? Yeah. Enough said. 

Chasing Embers is a fine work of urban fantasy. It has something in it for everyone to love. Romance? Check. Action that will leave you breathless? Check. Rich and detailed world building and monsters and magic that will delight and terrify you? Yeah, it has that too. 

I could go on and on about this book, but I won't. Go out and buy it if you dig urban fantasy, or just speculative fiction in general. I guarantee you won't regret it. 

4 out of 5 stars. 

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Blurb:

For fans of Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher comes a fabulously fun and fast-paced new contemporary fantasy series about a world of myth and legend that’s about to break loose . . .

Behind every myth there is a spark of truth . . .

There's nothing special about Ben Garston. He’s just a guy with an attitude in a beaten-up leather jacket, drowning his sorrows about his ex in a local bar. 

Or so he’d have you believe.

What Ben Garston can’t let you know is that he’s also known as Red Ben. He can’t let you know that the world of myth and legend isn’t as make-believe as you think, and it’s his job to keep that a secret. And there’s no way he can let you know what’s really hiding beneath his skin . . .

But not even Ben knows what kind of hell is about to break loose. Because the delicate balance between his world and ours is about to be shattered.

Something's been hiding in the heart of the city – and it’s about to be unleashed.

About the author:

James Bennett is a British writer born in Loughborough and raised in Sussex, South Africa and Cornwall. 

His travels have furnished him with an abiding love of different cultures, history and mythology. He’s had several short stories published internationally and Chasing Embers is his debut fantasy novel. James currently lives in west Wales and draws inspiration from long walks, deep forests and old stones . . . and also the odd bottle of wine.







Monday, 26 September 2016

Interview - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Hello Peeps!

I'm delighted to be able to bring you the next instalment in our ongoing interview series here at Smash Dragons. This week I had the amazing opportunity to be able to chat with Nicholas Sansbury Smith, a writer who has taken the thriller and military horror genres by storm in recent years. Nick graciously took time out of his hectic schedule to chat about publishing, his approach to writing, and what's coming up for his fans. 

Enjoy!

Nick, welcome to Smash Dragons. Why did you start writing? Do you remember the first piece you wrote? 

Thanks for having me Matthew! Happy to be here. The first thing I ever wrote was a space opera. I was eight years old and decided it wouldn’t be any good without some illustration. What I created was a thirty page story with some pretty craptastic drawings! That book still sits in my library today and I’ll never forget a quote I would like to share... “The missile exploded and we knew we were done for.” Two pages later. “We parachuted from the plane into the trees and we knew we weren’t done for.” 

The rest is history! 

Your Extinction Cycle series has had an incredible run so far. Take me through origins of this series. How did you come up with idea for Ghost Team and the Variants?

I’ve always enjoyed books on special ops, and I always wanted to write a zombie story, but I also wanted to write a story based on realistic science that would have the reader asking, is this possible? If you look at the reviews on Amazon you will see just that. Many readers have enjoyed this story, I think, because of the science explaining the Variants. The idea for the monsters came from a lot of bad dreams, books, video games, movies, and interviews I did with my readers. I wanted to create the most terrifying ‘zombie’ I could, full with sucker, popping lips, and snapping joints.

One of the things I adore about your Extinction Cycle series is the perfect balance that you strike between military action and science fiction. How hard is it to find that perfect mix between the two? How much research did you undertake before you started writing Extinction Horizon? 

It was pretty difficult, yes. I spent a few weeks researching special forces and Ebola before I started writing the book. Then I worked with a team of active military and veterans on the military themes. For the science I worked with a biomedical engineer and a virologist. Even with all of that research and ‘dream team’ of beta readers and editors, I still made mistakes. I’m not sure the perfect mix exists in fiction. Thankfully there is a thing called hand waving in science fiction. Sometimes the author must use that to explain the unexplainable. I did that a few times in the series, including in book 6. But the plot for Aftermath is top-secret.  

What do you think was the secret behind the success of your Extinction Cycle books? 

I think I provided a story that was unique enough that it helped the series stand out in a field of the same old stories. The science really helped, too, because like I said earlier, a majority of readers seemed to find it was realistic enough to make the plot feasible. 

Tell me about your latest book Hell Divers. What was the reasoning behind traditionally publishing it when you've had such great success self publishing?

I actually struggled with what to do with this one. At one point I was pretty set on self-publishing. In the end I decided to go with Blackstone Publishing because they did such a fantastic job with the Extinction Cycle audiobooks and they had a really good marketing plan for the trilogy. We just hit the USA Today Bestseller list, and I’m thrilled things are going so well!

You're one of a growing number of hybrid authors who traditionally publish and self publish their work . I'm curious, what are the benefits and negatives of this approach? Do you have a preference, or do you make that call depending on the project?     

The answer to that is really freaking long and changes on the project, but take a look at this to see this blog post to see if it answers anything for you. 

http://discoverscifi.com/adventures-hybrid-publishing/

Tell me a random fact about yourself that no one else knows. 

I have hobbit feet. 

Who would be on your zombie apocalypse team? Why? 

My girlfriend’s Pitbull, Ace. Her grandpa, Lester. He has a great tennis swing. And my author friend Anthony Melchiorri. I’d hope he could find a cure for the virus.  

Take me through a day of writing with Nicholas Sansbury Smith. Do you have a particular routine, or is each day different to the other? 

I usually answer fans and edit in the morning and write in the afternoons and at night. I work 7 days a week, and on the weekends I usually spend my time trying to get ahead on my word count for the next week. 

What other projects do you have in the pipeline? I noticed you are contributing a story to the upcoming military horror anthology SNAFU: Black Ops (Cohesion Press). Can you tell us anything about that?

I have several more Extinction Cycle books planned (see Extinction Aftermath cover for next instalment in series), Hell Divers 2/3 and an EMP series that I’m going to self-publish later this year. The story to Black Ops is an Extinction Cycle story featuring two of the main characters. I also have the Kindle World launch of the Extinction Cycle coming up in October. We have a dozen fantastic authors that are contributing stories to the Extinction Cycle world. 

You write about some scary shit. I'm curious, what frightens you? 

The things I write about frighten me. The Variant sucker faces from the Extinction Cycle came from a nightmare I had a long time ago. Snakes also scare me, and you might see a Variant like form show up in book 6 and 7 of the Extinction Cycle. The Sirens in my Extinction Cycle are probably the creepiest monsters I've created. The most horrifying sound in the world to me are air raid sirens. That's why I gave the beasts in Hell Divers the ability to make noises just like the air raid sirens on the airships. 

What's your take on the speculative fiction scene right now? What do we need to do better? 

That’s a tough question. I think the answer really depends on whom you ask. For me, it’s not a question of writing better books--it’s a matter of writing unique storylines. One thing I try and always do is use a new theme that’s never been used before, but hell, I have my critics that would say I fail at this. It’s becoming more and more difficult to write a truly original storyline. Editors will tell you that virtually every story has been told and it’s just a matter of how you retell it. My goal is to prove them wrong and I think that other authors/publishers should strive to do the same thing. 

Most cherished book in your library? 

Signed copy of The Forever War by Joe Haldeman! 

Best convention experience? 

Best convention? I'd have to say San Diego Comiccon. I loved New York, but the weather in San Diego is amazing. Both are great experiences for science fiction fans. The only downside of San Diego is it's very hard to get into panels. It seemed the lines were way longer than in New York.

Best advice for aspiring writers? 

My advice to other writers is always to keep writing. There are so many distractions in this business. Both positive and negative. Focus on being creative and writing the best damn story you can. 

Nicholas Sansbury Smith, thanks for stopping by!

You can find Nick's work at all good book retailers, but here is the link to his Amazon page. Also, stay up to date with what's happening with Nick and his work by checking out his website.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Book Expo Australia - 8th - 9th October

Hey Everyone! 

The Book Expo Australia is coming up, and I thought I bring everyone up to speed regarding my schedule and appearances at it. 

For those of you who don't know the expo will be held at Rosehill Showgrounds on the 8th and 9th of October, and each day will be packed with panels, events, and plenty of author signings and appearances. 

I've heard a lot of good things about the expo, so I am absolutely delighted to be participating in it this year both as a guest and a master of ceremonies. 

As it stands my schedule is as follows:

Saturday 8th October: 

10:30 - 11:30

Confronting Issues - Authors who have written about death, murder, suicide and grief. Guests include Kaaron Warren, John Larkin, and Amanda Howard. Hosted by Matthew Summers. (Venue to be announced) 

11:30 - 12:30 

Evil is a Matter of Perspective - Authors and editors will debate that antagonists are only evil from one perspective. Take another angle and they aren't so evil after all. Come along and offer points of view and ask questions to add to the debate. Guests include Adrian Collins from Grimdark Magazine, award winning authors Lee Murray and Kaaron Warren, and yours truly! (Venue to be announced) 

Sunday 9th October:

11:00 - 11:30 

The Art of Being a Good Reviewer - While the number of book bloggers flourish their success is still dominated by the quality of the review. A good review will gain attention of the publisher and may be quoted on the book and during the publicity campaign. What makes a good review? Should you post a bad review? Should you stick to one genre or read widely? Hosted by Simon and Schuster's Anable Pandiella. (Venue to be announced) 

12:30 - 13:30 

Better Reads? Anthology Collection vs Collaborative Writing

What book makes the better read? An anthology collection of short stories or story written by a collaboration of a number of authors? Would the different style and tone of the anthology be interesting or would you enjoy the changing tone and pace of the collaborative piece? A debate featuring authors from the Refuge Collection and Northern Beaches Writing Group. Come along and hear Lee Murray, Kaaron Warren, Steve Dillon, Zena Shapter, Chris Lake, Tony McFadden and Kylie Pfeiffer debate the different methods of producing and readable book. 

Moderated by Matthew Summers. (Venue to be announced) 

I will by lurking about the show ground when I'm not at these events. You'll probably find me mostly around the Cohesion Press exhibitor stand, buying books and helping out if need be. Swing by and buy some of the amazing Cohesion titles on offer (Fathomless by Greig Beck, Primordial by David Wood and Alan Baxter, SNAFU anthologies and so much more). I'll also be on the look out for Lee... as we battle for a coveted ARC copy of Greig Beck's Fathomless. I've heard she cheats... so I will have stay frosty and ready to make a dive for the pile at the stand before she does. Don't be alarmed if you see two grown adults tangling over a book! 

So yeah, make sure you get along to the Expo. It will be a great event filled to the brim with amazing events and discussion. To sweeten the deal I'm chuffed to be able to offer you a discount on tickets. Simply go here and enter the coupon code EBTickets (use both upper and lower case) when making your purchases. 

I hope to see you all there! 

Excerpt - Red Tide by Marc Turner.

Hello Everyone!

I'm delighted to be able to bring you this exclusive excerpt from the Marc Turner's upcoming book Red Tide. If you haven't read any of Marc's books you're missing out. They combine the wide breadth and scope of epic fantasy with scintillating and swashbuckling action more reminiscent of pulpy sword and sorcery stories. 

I love them, and I suspect you will too. Read on for Marc's introduction to this scene, and then dive on into to the action itself!

Excerpt - 

Much of Red Tide is set in a place called the Rubyholt Isles, a shattered nation of pirate-infested islands and treacherous waterways. In the following passage, one of the protagonists of the book, Galantas, is fleeing in a boat from a ship commanded by a race of people called the Augerans (also known as the stone-skins). With the enemy closing fast, Galantas seeks to escape by sailing through a notorious waterway called the Dragon’s Boneyard. Here is the beginning of the scene.

The channel had now narrowed to the length of three ships. In the water ahead were threads of what appeared to be fireweed, but Galantas knew them to be the strands of a vast underwater web spun by the creature that dwelled there—the Weaver, it had come to be called, after the spiders of the same name that infested Bezzle’s underground aqueduct. 

Its lair was at the foot of the southern heights, so Barnick steered the boat toward the cliff on the north side. As he did so, he let the wave beneath the craft recede. The slower pace would allow the stone-skins to get closer, but it would also reduce the Islanders’ chances of catching the Weaver’s eye.

The water seemed unnaturally still. Beneath the surface, Galantas could make out two towers that might once have guarded a road between the cliffs. To the west, the skeletons of four more dragons jutted from the water, while at the base of the southern bluff was a patch of shimmering blackness that marked the portal between this world and whatever hellhole the Weaver called home. 

As the boat drew level, Galantas held his breath. These were the critical moments, he knew. If the beast remained in its lair until the stone-skins arrived, its attention would surely be drawn to the larger ship.

Assuming it wasn’t already lying in wait somewhere ahead.

Time crawled. The channel was in shadow, and the air had an unmistakable chill to it. Qinta frowned at a flock of starbeaks overhead, but when he opened his mouth to explain the birds’ import, Galantas forestalled him with a raised finger. The boat crept forward. In keeping close to the northern cliffs, Barnick was forced to take the craft through the partly submerged rib cage of one of the dragons. Each bone was as thick as the trunk of a ketar tree. The boat was traveling toward the head of the creature, and as it cleared the chest cavity, Galantas glanced down to locate the beast’s skull in the water.

Only to find it was missing, the bones of the neck bitten through.

Suppressing a shudder, he looked back the way they had come. The Augerans were still following, but the wave of water-magic under their vessel had subsided just as Barnick’s had. They couldn’t know what awaited them in the channel, yet the warning in the dragons’ bones was clear. One set would have been a curiosity, two, a coincidence. Five, though . . .

The Augerans’ caution was understandable, but it stood to play into Galantas’s hands, because the lower their ship rode in the water, the greater the chance that their keel would tangle in the Weaver’s threads.

Nearly there.

“Galantas!” Qinta said, pointing toward the rent.

Something moved in the darkness, spreading through the water like a bruise. Coming for Galantas’s boat? The stone-skins couldn’t be the Weaver’s target because their ship hadn’t yet entered the strait. Nor was that likely to change if they had seen the creature too.

Time to be going.

“Barnick!” Galantas yelled. “Go, go, go!”

You can buy Red Tide online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble and at all other good book retailers. Be sure to check out Marc's other books in this series as well, and stay abreast of all his news by checking out his website. He is, as Starburst Magazine said, one of the best newcomers in fantasy right now. 

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Marc Turner was born in Toronto, Canada, but grew up in England. He graduated from Lincoln College, Oxford University, in 1996 with a BA (Hons) in law, and subsequently joined a top ten law firm in the City of London. After realising that working there did not mix well with simple pleasures such as having a life, he fled north first to Leeds and then to Durham in search of a better work-life balance. Unfortunately it proved elusive, and so in 2007, rather than take the next step and move to Scotland, he began working part time so he could devote more time to his writing. Following the sale of his debut epic fantasy novel, When the Heavens Fall, he started writing full time.

Why writing? Because it is the only work he knows where daydreaming isn't frowned upon, and because he has learned from bitter experience that he cannot not write.

The authors whose work has most influenced him are Steven Erikson and Joe Abercrombie. Consequently he writes fast-paced, multi-threaded novels with a liberal sprinkling of humour; novels written on a panoramic scale, peopled by characters that stay in the memory. Or at least that's the theory.

He lives in Durham, England, with his wife and son.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Review - Tallwood by Amanda Kool

One of the greatest pleasures I have in life is when, as a reader, I discover someone new who blows me away. It doesn't happen all that often, but when it does it is truly an exciting and exhilarating.

 When I stumbled upon Tallwood I was intrigued. I love post apocalyptic fiction, and the blurb on the back of the back sounded like it would be something that I would enjoy. The added bonus was that Amanda Kool, its author, was a fellow Australian like me. So as I sat down that afternoon to start reading it questions floated into my head. Would the world collapse in a blaze of nuclear fire? Or would zombies rise up and destroy humanity and all that we hold dear? Little did I know that I was about to start a book that would not only surprise me, but also floor me with its imagination and creativity. 

Tallwood tells the story of the end of the world. A mysterious event destroys humanity over a period of a fortnight, and the survivors flee underground. Over generations those survivors evolve and adapt to their new circumstances, as they stay hidden from the other worldly beings (I won't spoil things for you, but they aren't aliens) who prowl on the surface. Now one of their underground cities faces a new threat from within, and in order to survive they must do what they have been taught not to do for generations. Go back up the surface. 

I loved everything about Tallwood. Kool has not only constructed a story of epic proportions, she has taken everything I adore about post apocalyptic fiction and made it better! The world building is, to put it bluntly, superb. I was enthralled by the quiet world Kool built in Tallwood, with the permeating silence and minimal use of prose (most of the dwellers underground use sign language) really underlining the chilling and alien tone that dominates the book. This unobtrusive world, where humanity does it utmost to stay hidden and silent, really made those moments where the shit hits the fan all the more jarring and thrilling, and had me on edge of my seat as I read. I also adored how each underground enclave felt unique and had its own identity, and the new culture that had developed underground over generations was interesting and very well thought out. The surface was also as I imagined it would be. Dangerous and riddled with looming threats, the constantly changing relationship between the two environments really added a captivating layer to an already enthralling universe  

The characterisation was also impressive throughout Tallwood. I loved all of the protagonists in this book, and I was constantly amazed by Kool's ability to depict layered and complex individuals with little or no dialogue at all. Gestures, facial expressions, and other non-verbal means of communication become extremely important in a story where any dialogue can bring in death, and Kool does a magnificent job making each individual unique and fascinating to the reader. All of the humans felt realistic and normal, and I immediately felt a bond with them as they tried to survive and eek out an existence in a constantly dangerous environment. Tallwood is not a coming of age story (as a lot of post apocalyptic stories are), with Kool focusing on a cast of individuals whose paths all cross over as the story unfolds. Where Kool really hits a home run however is with her depiction of the 'Johns', those other worldly beings on the surface. The 'Johns' are malevolent (well, for the most part), creepy, and incredibly dangerous. I adored her depiction of Jared, a 'John' who struggles with being part man and part monster. Jared's alienation from both humanity and the other 'Johns' was an interesting dynamic that really left me wanting to know more and more about him as the story raced to its conclusion. 

Another impressive aspect of Tallwood was its pacing. After a strange start, where the reader needs to persevere in order to find their feet, the book really takes off and sucks you into its quiet strangeness. Some readers have found Tallwood a little dense in parts, but I never felt this as the book seamlessly ran its course and unfolded with a conclusion that was both satisfying and open ended (I hope Kool writes a sequel). In fact, if I had one small criticism it would be that at times I would have liked a little more detail and description at times. 

Tallwood is one of the most unique books I've ever read. It is also one of the best post apocalyptic stories I've come across in recent years. Combining a strange and incredibly enchanting universe with authentic and exciting characterisation and action, Tallwood is storytelling at its absolute finest. A must read for fans of speculative fiction everywhere!

5 out of 5 stars.  

Friday, 2 September 2016

Review - Cthulhu: Deep Down Under ed. by Steve Proposch, Christopher Sequeira, and Bryce Stevens.

Australia. 

The lucky country.

Land of the Southern Cross. 

The nation where everything is venomous, poisonous, or just plain freaky looking. An ancient land filled with fictional possibility and hidden terrors that lurk just beneath its dusty plains.

So what do you get when you combine all of this with the mythos of H. P. Lovecraft? A brilliant and thrilling tome, that's what. 

I've been on a bit of a Lovecraftian and Cosmic Horror adventure this year. I've snapped up every story that I could find, consuming them with glee and gusto into the early hours of every morning. So when I first stumbled across Cthulhu: Deep Down Under I was beside myself. A Lovecraftian anthology focused entirely on Australia and its neighbours... holy shit... take all of my money!

I obtained a copy, jumped right in, and lost myself in a haze of eldritch violence, thrilling plots, and other worldly weirdness. And did I mention the amazing artworks that accompany every single story in the anthology? Pure... fucking... awesome. 

Cthulhu: Deep Down Under literally has everything. Scintillating action, mysterious locations and events that defy explanation, and a raft of protagonists and antagonists that will suck you down into the deep dark holes of the Australian landscape. Every single story (there are 24.. I won't mention them all in this review) stands out, and every single one of them enhances the anthology in unique and wonderful ways. Aaron Sterns opens the book with 'Vanguard', a tale that wouldn't look out of place on the big screen. Imagine SOG (Australian version of SWAT) operatives going toe to toe with cultists, troubled detectives trying to protect their only witness, and a ball clenching cultist assault on a safe house and you've only just scratched the surface. Sterns sets the bar high, and every story that follows reaches it. I adored Jason Fischer's 'The Dog Pit', with its nods to Australian history and its great protagonist (The Dutchman), and I was enthralled by Kaaron Warren's 'In the Drawback', a mysterious and creepy tale exploring what happens when the tide recedes and never comes back in. Jason Nahrung's 'An Incident at Portsea, 1967' also impressed me, creepily reimagining what happened to Harold Holt when he went for that fateful swim and I also loved G. N. Braun's dark and terrifying tale 'Depth Lurker', where after a mining accident a rescue party uncovers a monster of cosmic proportions. 

Some of the other notable stories in this anthology include 'Where the Madmen Meet' by T. S. P. Sweeny, a dark and terrifying story of soldiers returning from war changed and under the influence of something sinister, and 'Darkness Beyond' by Jason Franks, a fantastically moody and creepy piece about a Port Arthur prisoner and his encounter with a strange beast. I also loved the short piece 'Dreamgirl' by Stephen Dedman, where an indigenous woman gets her revenge on the son of a mining magnate by stranding him in another dimension, and it was also wonderful to see David Conyers at his best with 'Impossible Object'. Robert Hood once again proved how talented he is with 'The Black Lake's Fatal Flood', a tale that delighted and freaked me out at the same time. In fact I can't think of any stories in this anthology that disappointed me. The editors have done an outstanding job in assembling a cast of writers and artists who not only fulfil the brief, but smash it out of the park. Every single contributor not only brings a distinctly Lovecraftian feel to their work, but also a wonderful touch of Australia. The inclusion of Australian history, locations, and vernacular into the Lovecraftian mythos added an incredibly fascinating layer to what is already a detailed and vivid universe, and I was enthralled by the nods that were made towards issues such as land rights and the impact of mining on the environment. 

I mentioned the artwork earlier, but I have to mention it again. It is, to put it simply, jaw dropping. Talented artists such as Greg Chapman, Andrew J. McKiernan, Lindsay C. Walker, and Macelo Baez all delight and terrify with their pieces, and each sets the tone for the story to come. I was over the moon to see every story has a piece of art to accompany it, and it made my reading experience so much more special seeing the stories come to life in wonderful pieces of art. 

If I had one small criticism it would be that there are a number of editing and spelling oversights throughout the anthology. I can, however, overlook this issue as it's only a small amount. 

Cthulhu: Deep Down Under is a special anthology. It is special because it not only entertains you, but also takes you on a terrifying and thrilling journey into the darkness. All of the stories are riveting, and all of the artwork is outstanding. Mixing the ancient and burnt landscape of Australia into a melting pot filled to the brim with Old Ones, cultists, dark tomes and strange creatures not only works well, it works brilliantly. There are some amazing Lovecraftian anthologies out there, and Cthulhu: Deep Down Under ranks up there with the best of them.

A truly superb anthology, and one that I am stoked to have sitting on my shelves.  

5 out of 5 stars.