Category Archives: Writing

‘Tis the season to be… award-y

It’s that time of year again. Award season. Or the nominating and voting of such. It’s a time for writers to really pimp their wares for reader-voted honours, or to pray to all the gods (or none) that it will be their name on a nice, shiny trophy.

I have a love/uncomfortable relationship with awards and the award-season. I’ve been lucky enough to win two Australian Shadows Awards (short fiction & graphic novel), and that’s a pretty damn fine high, I gotta say. Yet the whole idea of pimping my work makes me all kinds of uncomfortable. Sure, it’s part of the gig ‒ I get that ‒ and I do pimp my work because I’d be a fool not to. Some authors, though, have a gift for it. Me? I will pimp the shit out of friends’ work I love, but when it comes to my own… <insert squirming here>


What I do love about the award season is discovering new work and new authors. With so many books on the market, not all of which are good, and some that really have no right to be there (I’m looking at you, unedited books with shite covers), award season hones those great reads down for me. As an editor, my personal reading time is precious, so a poorly edited or plot-hole riddled book will make me stabby.

Speaking of segues, the first lot of awards are in – The Best of Fantasy Stabby Awards, as voted by Reddit. Not only does the ‘Stabby’ have a sword as its trophy (like, what else?), but this year an Aussie nabbed one of those swords for himself. Evil is a Matter of Perspective (Adrian Collins, ed.), put out through Grimdark Magazine.

The preliminary ballot for the Horror Writers Association Bram Stoker Awards has also been announced, with some Aussie and Kiwi writers making their mark this year as well. Big up Alan Baxter for The Book Club;  Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts for Hounds of the Underworld; and Aussie blogger Adrian Bookhead up for superior achievement in blogging for Grim Reader Reviews.

But wait, there’s more! The Aussie awards are open for nominations too: Australian Shadows, Aurealis, and Ditmar. Get eligible works in, folks, if you haven’t already.

Look, there’s probably a tonne more that are open, and the social media dance of books and nominations and votes and publicity and ‘read my book’ is inevitably coming, and it can be exhausting. Thing is, if your name isn’t King, Rowling, or Gaiman (for instance), chances are you work another job (or two) to pay bills and do things like eat. So award season is the opportunity to get your name and your work out there to new readers who just may buy your book. It may put you on the radar for future book deals. It could make a writer’s life a bit easier.

Conversely, awards aren’t the value of your work. I’ll say that again: AWARDS AREN’T THE VALUE OF YOUR WORK! I’ve read brilliant pieces that never won an award or made a shortlist. I’ve written stories I thought were pretty damn good that didn’t get a look in. It can be like a punch to the gut, no doubt, but awards don’t define you as a writer. They help, sure, and those trophies sitting on your desk or shelf are suh-weeeet, but once it’s all said and done, you’re still putting ink to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

What it boils down to is: MAKE GOOD ART. That’s all you can do. And if you’re shortlisted for an award, I tip my hat to you (it’s a fabulous hat). And if not? Keep writing, my friend, it’s the act of creating that draws you back to words, not the awards. Besides, there’s always next year.


2017: Heroes and Vikings, and the Shit Year it was

If it were up to me, I’d wrap 2017 in a whole pile of monkey shit and set that bitch afire. Twice. But part of me wants to hold tight to 2017, to never let that first part of it go. There was good in my 2017, but the shit… oh, the shit. When I look back on this year, I can see the wonderful in it: the successes, the people I’ve met, and those I’ve surrounded myself with. Of that, I am thankful, but the last half of this year especially was life-changing in a way you never want it to be. The way no one ever wants it to be.

There are some things you just never get over, and the loss of my mother darkens any good this year threw my way. This is the first time I’ve mentioned her passing publicly, and I’m not going to go into how amazing she was (she’s a hero, my hero), and how hard she fought (like a fucking Viking), or how fucked-up disease is (I never knew how much I could hate a thing), or how much I miss her (there’s an ache inside that will never go away). She deserves so much more than I could ever put into words.

Writing has always been a solace, but I’m only now starting to think of words again. Small and simple though they be, it’s a start. There’s a normalcy to it that my heart sometimes fights ‒ how can I be ‘normal’ again? But I can almost feel that slap upside my head. Like I said, a fucking Viking.

2017 was the year I had my mother. It was the year I did not.

So I wrote a thing, not long before the world ripped away what was light and good. It’s nothing special, but it’s from a life to which I can never return. A life where my mother’s heart beat in fierce defiance.

I wonder at its content; it resonates now in a way it didn’t when I wrote it. And while I want to see the end of this shittiest of shittest years, I also want to hold onto it and never let it go.


“In blood Skarja walks, the souls of all she’s killed the great shadow at her back!” Mira shouted above the storm’s fury as I grabbed my scythe. “My dreams do not lie!”

Too long I’d stayed; lines appearing on my wife’s face where they never would on mine. I’d run, draw Skarja away. Mira would be spared. This time, no children had I sired.

Howling winds rattled the shutters of our hut as Mira dragged me from the door. “She comes! Your name upon her lips!”

Fear for me darkened her eyes. That was why I’d loved again when I’d sworn nevermore. My kiss lingered, savouring lips I hoped would never curse my name.

“Flee,” I begged. “Wipe me from memory.” I charged into the storm. If I could get to the mountains, if—

Skarja loomed from the maelstrom, spitting my name like venom. “Evka.”

A thousand cuts glistened on her ebony skin, like lightning under the moon’s touch. I knew each one. Had delivered them with hate-fuelled rage ­‒ desperate for what she had that I did not. The shadow behind Skarja writhed as she gathered it to her, faces of the damned morphing into great black wings ‒ shredded and shrieking.

“Not Mira.” I discarded my weapon; dropped to my knees. “Please, not my Mira.”

Skarja laughed; drew me close. Wings wrapped tight tore into my flesh. “You cannot kill a god,” she whispered ‒ words we’d traded since the dawn of the world.

I screamed Mira’s name as Skarja ripped out my heart, taking it as her own. Memories shattered as my twin fled into the night with the one heart we eternally shared.

In the doorway of a hut, a woman sobbed as I gathered my scythe. She, the first harvest for my great shadow.



Art: Malfunction by Skirrill



Yes, folks, we’re edging toward that time of year. If you’re like me, the idea of heading into those outside places with those outside people and running the gauntlet of shoppers as I try to find gifts, brings not so much Christmas cheer, but Christmas jeer. Or beer. Yeah, beer would be good.

Aaanywho, for those of you who are readers, or know readers, or love readers, or can’t think of a present for a family member, a friend, a work colleague, or even your drunk Uncle Dave, fear not! From December 1, I will be reviving Festivus Book Pimping. 

As the name suggests, I will be pimping books I’ve read* and those I’ve worked on, and giving a small breakdown of what each entails, and who they’d suit. Be warned, though, if it’s romance you’re after… well, at least you’ll get to see some great covers.

Books are amazing gifts. They ignite the imagination, they can take you to different worlds, and have you live different lives. And as a present, there’s not much better than that. Except kittens. And puppies.**

All right, buckle up mofos, Festivus Book Pimping will be landing soon!

book imagination

* This is not a call out for reviews or ‘read my work!’ ‒ stay classy, people.

** Kittens and puppies are for life, not just Christmas ‒ don’t be that asshat.

The stories that keep on giving

Writers will tell you nothing much beats publication – be it a short, novella or novel. Signing that contract, getting paid (yes, you should be paid for your work), and having your story out in the world is like crack.

But what happens to those babies once they’ve flown the nest and found new homes? After a given time, well those babies come back. Most will stay filed away, but never underestimate their chance to fly off again and find new homes, new readers.

Reprint markets. Oh, they are wonderful things. One of my babies has found a new home with Digital Fiction Publishing League. Unlike children (real, human-like ones) there are a few stories of mine that are favourites, and The Whims of my Enemy is one of them. It’s a brutal story, unforgiving to all the characters within, but more so with the main protagonist. Hers is a torturous ride, filled with violence and weighed against the desperate need to survive, and what that survival may cost.

Killing it Softly 2

It seemed a good fit for Killing It Softly 2: a fiction anthology of short stories (the best of women in horror). It’s quite the title, and the editors at DFPL were not only kind enough to accept ‘Whims’ but made it the lead story in the antho, which I was extremely chuffed with. There are some fantastic authors I’m sharing the pages with, and it’s one hell of a tome. Thirty-eight stories that run the gamut of all things horror.

Here’s the blurb:

The first ‘Killing It Softly’ was just the tip of the iceberg…

Beneath the icy depths of this next installment, you’ll be plunged into a world where 38 female horror writers give you a glimpse of their inner-demons, unleashing the hell-fire they suppress in the ‘real’ world. It will disturb you to discover what really lurks inside their minds, because many of these stories delve into pain that can only be experienced by women—leaving you unhinged as you curl up with them during their darkest hour.

Post-partum depression, hording, anorexia, and mental health will be brought to light when viewed through the shadowy perspective of cognitive deception.

Sci-fi, romance, steam-punk, and fantasy intertwine with horror to deliver unsettling, chilling stories; traditional tales of witches, zombies, werewolves, and vampires will be told in twisted new ways that will shock, unnerve, and even repulse you…and within these pages, sometimes new monsters will arise from the ashes.

You may even discover that women can not only write good horror…but in some cases, can do it better.
So if you’re of a mind, and looking for some killer short stories to while away the hours, then check out Killing It Softly 2 ­‒ there’s a little horror out there for everyone.

And for you writers out there, remember there is more than one life to the stories you’ve sent out into the world. Let those babies fly again!

Writers, Retreats, and Insane Asylums

It’s been just over a week since I returned from a Writer’s Retreat held at Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum at Beechworth. Yep, you read right – a writer’s retreat held at an old insane asylum. It was as awesome as it sounds. Five days sequestered with other writers in a hauntingly (and quite possibly haunted) beautiful asylum is the stuff of inspiration. And personing. I did a whole lot of personing.

What made this doubly excellent was the other writers in attendance, all but one of whom were very close friends, so it was a catch-up of epic proportions. This also meant that we were all comfortable throwing around ideas and points of view, and engaging in general shenanigans. But we were there to write, to have that uninterrupted time some of us seldom get when at home. And it was glorious.

Writing is often a solitary endeavour where you live in your created worlds among created people. But put a bunch of writers together, and it’s a whirlwind of book discussions, plot summaries, story ideas, and why synopsis writing is the tenth circle of Hell. There’s joy in this cacophony; the rise and fall of voices, the quirks and strange paths conversations take that would make no sense to non-writerly folk but which feeds the soul and the muse of those who bleed ink. They will tell you why your story necessitates the killing of a character (beloved or otherwise) then offer a plethora of options on how to do so that would land them on any federal watchlist.

Just being among fellow scribes is enough to invigorate, enough to drown out that writer-imposteritis but we were also fortunate enough to have the wonderful pocket-rocket Kylie Chan providing workshops all through Saturday, which were fantastic, but always there was time to write. There’s not a lot better than sitting in a nicely heated room listening to the clack of keys in the silence as worlds and people are created – individual galaxies within a shared universe. It’s kinda cool.

But when we weren’t writing, there were historical tours of the asylum, and one very late night there was also a paranormal investigation. As much as I would have liked to go on the paranormal investigation, when it’s -4˚ outside… well, I’m staying where the heat is. Those that took up the challenge had a great time despite the sub-zero temps.

We ate, slept and created together… wait, let me rephrase. Look, we bunked down in the same room, wore pretty much all the clothes we’d brought with us when it was time to venture outside – hell, I even wore my slippers out to dinner because damn it was cold. We took the piss out of each other, we laughed, and we revelled in our own and each other’s weirdness.

And the location was everything. The asylum has a melancholic beauty about it.  The history is both shocking and sad, with desolate and worn-down buildings that hold memories that are like scars. For my mind, pain and suffering has a tendency to linger, to echo long after people are gone, and I don’t doubt there is fear and horror etched into some of the walls, the cells of the asylum.


Too soon the time was over, and I had to take a tiny plane home, but those five days were like manna from heaven. I came away with so much more than just a honed story premise and structural architecture (and glow-in-the-dark skeletal gloves), but a renewed vigour for writing. I can’t wait to go again next year. And I can’t thank all the people involved enough, but let me try.

To Geoff and Dawn for organising and running the reatreat – you two work immensely hard not only on Asylum Ghost Tours but Cohesion Press as well. You two rock. (Special shout out to Mandy and Leah for all they did over the five days as well.)

Now I’m going to list the writers at the retreat – they are an amazing bunch and you really should be reading their work. They’re incredible and diverse storytellers, and there should be something in here for everyone.

Kylie Chan

Devin Madson

Marty Young

Andrew McKiernan

David Schembri

Fiona Shearer.

And for all those writers out there, find a retreat, a place that evokes inspiration and puts you around others who not only share your passion to create, but will encourage and badger you to do so.

Whispers in the Void

A couple of months ago, Mark Lawrence launched this year’s Battle of the Bards competition ‒ write a flash fiction piece (300 words or fewer), for a chance to win signed books from some of the giants in the grimdark/fantasy genre.

My friend, Devin Madson, won that comp with her incredible piece ‒ Between Lanterns and Corpses. It’s a brilliant story, and I was so chuffed she’d won. You can read it here, along with the short-listed entries. For those familiar with Devin’s work, this story is set within her Vengeance trilogy universe, and this post explains the origin of the winning flash piece. You should be reading her work, she’s quite the storyteller!

I, too, gave the competition a whirl, but alas, no free books. While a ‘loss’ in the literal form, it was a win in the time-to-write column. Yes, it’s only 300 words (good words, I think), but it was more the act of creativity that soothed my soul ‒ that’s always a win.

The story I wrote has also brought into sharper focus one of the characters of my WiP, so I’ve gained another win (two ticks in the win column ‒ I’m on a roll!). Writing tight forces those essential traits, the… trueness of a character and lets the world see it.

So, if you’ve read this far, then perhaps you can read another three hundred words.

Whispers in the Void

Wren knew this wasn’t the last of the dead they would stitch beneath her skin. This night the soothsayer would be forged into the finest jewel, and Wren would carry that hateful woman for all time. Already the sickly-sweet scent of roasting flesh clogged her throat.

Anointed in oils, Wren had been left to commune with the souls she carried, but never had their voices been quiet. Never had they let her be. Silence, how she craved it. Nights undisturbed. Days, her thoughts her own. But the people had cut and carved and delivered their dead ‘til she was a shadow within a shell. Infested. Infected. The slow death of self.

Escape was all she had. And freedom meant retribution. With no Journeywoman to replace Wren, the clan’s spirits would be unprotected. Ripe for the Undergod’s pickings.

Beneath the Spirit House, blisters bloomed on her skin as she dragged herself past the furnace where the soothsayer sizzled and spat. May the Undergod never shit you out. Wren stifled a cry; lances of fire a thousand-fold speared through her, the spirit-gems enraged at being so near their creators. Life-eternal they’d been promised, yet prisoners they’d become in an unwilling crypt.

They blazed their fury, but freedom meant pain. They would soon understand.

At the slag pit’s egress, the light of day stung her weeping blisters, and glinted off the jagged spears of metal below. Thousands of spirits she’d been burdened to carry. She would carry no more.

The drop from her perch was steep, and the dead began to beg. Without her, they were just whispers in the void.

Freedom beckoned. Her life her own, however fleeting.

No longer the caged bird she had always been, Wren smiled as she pushed from the edge, and for a moment, she flew.


Art by: Dimitarsizce

Tag, you’re it.

My absolute loathing of the dialogue tag ‘opined’ is no secret. (By all the gods, Baxter, if you start tagging me with that shit again, I will steal your dogs.) If you’re using ‘opined’, or another wankerish dialogue tag to push home to the reader some kind of pretentious point your character is making, then you need to take a look at your character’s dialogue because it should be pretty clear they’re voicing their opinion.

Dialogue tags serve a few purposes. For example, they identify the speaker, they break longer pieces of dialogue, and they can also be used to further enhance emotion. And yes, that third point should be used sparingly – if you can’t convey emotion through dialogue and action, then a dialogue tag telling the reader so, doesn’t really cut it.

Use ‘said’. Almost always use ‘said’. Of course there are going to be exceptions to this ‘rule’, but the beauty of ‘said’ is that it’s invisible. It ensures the emphasis is on the spoken word, on the emotions put forward within those words, and the honesty and/or sub-text behind it.

Dialogue is the voice of your characters, and I’m not just talking accents and inflections here, I’m talking a deeper sense of self. When a character speaks, they reveal a lot about not only themselves but the situation/scene they find themselves in (do not use ‘he/she revealed’, if the characters says it, trust me, it’s revealed). You don’t need a fancy-shmancy dialogue tag, it’s distracting, and removes focus from speech.

Sure, there are times when ‘said’ isn’t going to cut it, but choose words that impact the dialogue, eg. whispered, muttered, shouted, screamed. These dialogue tags up the ante, but use them sparingly or they’ll become repetitive. No, put down that Thesaurus – use ‘said’.


Same applies with ‘asked’. If there’s a question mark at the end of your dialogue, it’s safe to assume the reader understands a question is being posed – ‘asked’ becomes redundant (don’t use ‘posed’ either, that’s redundant as well).

Look, I understand there are a lot of ‘rules’ to writing and grammar and all that comes with storytelling, but as an editor and a reader, I’m telling you: let the dialogue do the work for you, and let the dialogue tag (if you need one) become invisible. It’s the characters’ voices we want to hear, not the way you tell us they spoke.

Show the reader through dialogue, through action. It falls in line with ‘show don’t tell’. You want the reader to know the character is angry? Don’t use: ‘he/she said angrily’, show us through the narrowing of eyes, the gritting of teeth, or punching a wall, for example. Then use ‘she/he said’. The emotion and/or sense the character is trying to put forward is far more visual, far more visceral, and the reader will be far more engaged than having a character opine at them (you use that, and I’ll cut you).

For a far more polite understanding of the above, check out Devin Madson’s vlog on this very subject: Almost Always Use Said, it has some wonderful insights as to why you shouldn’t fancy up your dialogue attributions.

So, the next time you’re writing dialogue, remember to make that attribution invisible so the voice of your character holds the power it should.

(Seriously, Baxter, I will steal your dogs.)