Tag Archives: David Schembri

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.

Review: 809 Jacob Street (Marty Young)

It’s taken me longer than I wanted to get around to reading 809 Jacob Street – for no other reason than time. I read my books in order of purchase, and Marty’s book was a little ways down on my ‘To Read’ pile. And yes, I just called him Marty, so this review will come with a disclaimer: while I was not at all involved in the production of 809 Jacob Street, Marty Young is one of my mates and all ‘round good guy. Oh, and to top it all off, 809 Jacob Street (Black Beacon Books) won the Australian Shadows Award in the Novel category a few weeks back.

Righto. Let’s get started, shall we?

And we will begin with the act of a spoiler declaration…so…umm… SPOILER DECLARATION! READ ON AT OWN SPOILERY RISK!


809 Jacob Street follows the stories of Byron and Joey Blue (and to a lesser extent, Iain and Hamish), and their interactions with the town of Parkton, or more specifically, the house on Jacob Street. I was first introduced to Joey Blue via a short story Young wrote for ASIM #48 (Joey Blue and the Gutterbreed), so I was very much looking forward to reading more about him. Joey Blue is a down-and-out blue’s singer who now spends most of his time at the bottom of a bottle — so much so, his past is almost a mystery to him. But Joey is aware there’s another part of Parkton, a much darker side that hides in the shadows. And it’s coming for him.

It’s Joey Blue with whom we start the story, and Joey’s in a bad place. His friend Gremlin is dead, but that doesn’t stop him stalking Joey and begging for his help. Joey can see those stuck in the veil between worlds, and they can see him, too. They’re aware, and Joey knows better than anyone that once the Gutterbreed are aware, there’s no end to the torment. Joey must make the trek to 809 Jacob Street.

Next we meet 14-year-old Byron who has just moved from Australia to Parkton. And hates it. His only friends are two outcasts, Iain and Hamish. Right from the beginning, there’s something off about Iain, and as the story progresses, the reader’s given glimpses into a psyche that is truly damaged. Hamish, is more an unwilling participant in his ‘friendship’ with Iain, and like Byron, seems to be carried along on the tidal wave that is Iain’s quest for answers at the house on Jacob Street.

The house has a history of blood and violence known to all in the town, and Young has made 809 almost its own character within the story. Iain taunts Byron with legends surrounding the house, and the pragmatic Byron refuses to believe the hype, which sets him on a path that can only lead to one place.

Both Joey Blue and Byron are on a collision course with the house on Jacob Street, and there’s no doubting it’s not going to end well for them. Young ramps up the tension the further into the book you read, and while I knew we were heading for a blood-soaked ending, I couldn’t wait for all the players to step over the threshold of number 809.

There’s quite a bit of backstory given, especially where the boys—Byron, Iain and Hamish—are concerned. At times the pacing was a little slow, but that could be more to do with Young’s build-up of the house through Byron’s eyes. Still..

We’re given a few chapters from Iain’s point of view, and this furthers the reader’s understanding that nothing good can come of the boy’s entering the house, but you know it’s inevitable – Iain will damn well make it so.

While Joey and Byron live in entirely different worlds, they do cross paths, albeit briefly, but this has weighty consequences toward the end of the book. There’s one particular scene—Joey’s walk up Jacob Street—that still resonates with me. Young outdid himself with this scene – it’s so perfectly and vividly described.

I’m not going to spoil the end of this book for readers, but once in that house… things don’t go well for anyone. But it’s in the house where Young really brings his storytelling finesse to the fore. Tension, action, fear, monsters, inner-demons, the dark… it’s all here, and I wasn’t disappointed.

When I turned the last page of the book, I was unsure of how I felt about it as a whole. It was a good read with great characters, and some damn fine imagery but there seemed somewhat of a disconnect between Joey Blue and the other players in the story… almost as though they were two stories spliced together that didn’t quite gel, and I think that’s more to do with the structure of the book – once Joey enters the house (about a quarter of the way into the book) he’s almost forgotten until the end.

There were a few more grammar and spelling issues than I’d have liked to have seen in the book, but that could well be the editor in me. Some of those issues, though, should have been picked up.

809 Jacob Street is on the smaller side of the novel-spectrum, and there’s little doubt in my mind that the story could well have supported a higher word count, where we could have delved a little more into Joey’s story and strengthened that connection between Joey and Byron. I’d have gladly read more, and that alone speaks to Young’s work.

I can’t finish without mentioning the illustrations provided in the book. David Schembri, who also created the cover-art, has given the book that extra dimension with internal illustrations throughout. I very much liked them, and it’s always great to see an artist’s rendering of both characters and monsters.

Overall, 809 Jacob Street is a solid first novel for Marty Young, and showcases the author’s ability to create great characters (or in Joey Blue’s case – fantastic ones), and there’s little doubt Young is storyteller who’s well on the rise (some of his phrasing is just beautiful). I’m looking forward to reading more, and if that last chapter is anything to go by, then more there will be.

4 stars


Women In Horror – Wielding The Axe Against Stereotype (Part One)

Yes, this will be a two-parter… just bear with me. Last year I penned a post on women in horror, which detailed my experiences as a female horror writer. As Screaming Ink has now slipped into the ether (may she wreak havoc wherever she goes!), I thought I’d revive the post here. In the next few days part two will go up. So without further ado, part one…

I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.” Mary Shelley.

February heralds the third annual Women In Horror Month. Established by Hannah “Neurotica” Forman in 2009, her manifesto is part call-to-arms, part raising awareness and support for those of us with the ‘XX’ chromosome who read, write, act, film, and love the horror genre.

I’m an avid supporter of recognising women in horror – hell, I am one; what I find sad and a little irritating is the need to raise awareness of the contribution women make to the genre. That we should have to push to be heard/read/taken seriously et al, because of our choice of genre is a bloody sad indictment on the industry(ies) and society.

I didn’t make the conscious decision to write horror; when I began putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), horror was what flowed, and I was damn happy about that. But I admit, I did think long and hard on my publishing name, and had a long back-and-forth with my buddy and fellow horror writer, Mark Farrugia, on the issue. AJ Spedding is genderless, and even at the beginning of my fiction writing, I understood the perceived societal belief that horror is the ‘man-cave’ of the genres. Would my horror stories be more readily accepted as AJ instead of Amanda?

Surely, we’re well past the point where ‘women in horror’ are relegated to scream queen status—don’t get me wrong, I love a good(bad) 70s B-grade horror flick—but am I deluded in my thinking that being a writer of merit is enough? Is my horror-writing success dependent on whether I have boobs? As far as I’m aware, they’re not sneaking off to write my next story while I sleep (kind of like ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’ only much classier).

I went with the name my parents gave me because of the little lady in my life. What message would I be sending my daughter by using my initials so I’m not immediately recognised as female. I want her to grow into a proud, strong woman who doesn’t put up with misogynistic bullshit. That starts with me.

zombie crop

So here I am, Amanda J Spedding, female horror writer, who has too often been on the receiving end of ‘The Look’ (you know the one, part disbelief, part confusion and yep, a little touch of horror) when I tell people the genre I write. The Look is usually followed by: “Really? No.”

Just last week I got ‘The Look’ again from the parent of one of my daughter’s classmates when she overheard me talking to a friend about an upcoming publication. “You’re a writer? How exciting!” she enthused. “Do you write children’s books or romance?”

Really? Those are my only options? Would she have offered the same genre-choices had I been swinging the Y chromosome? I doubt it. “No,” I told her with Zen-like calm. “I write horror.” Aaaand, there it was – The Look. I’d hit the double-whammy, you see. Not only was I a woman writing horror, I was a mother, too.

It’s the follow-up questions I most enjoy: “Good heavens, why?”

Now, The Look and I have been sparring partners for a good few years, so depending on how high the eyebrows rise and how far the jaw drops, I spout one of two replies: a) “It’s so much easier to explain away the sacrificial goats/virgins/widdle kittens; or b) “So I don’t become a news report that ends with ‘and then turned the gun on herself’.”

I went with my goat-response (my two cats know where I sleep). Before the woman could grab her child and flee, I asked why she thought I wrote children’s books or romance, and not any other genre. When she gave her response, I saw the realisation of her misogynistic remark settle in her eyes. “Because … you’re a woman.” There it is. She was embarrassed, which wasn’t what I wanted – education and awareness is key here if women are going to be taken seriously as horror writers.

This parent is a well-educated professional (and perfectly nice), but like most of society, has the ill-conceived belief that women don’t write horror; or that if we do, we’re not all that good at it, I mean, we grow and sustain new life and are classified as nurturers (Aileen Wuornos, anyone?), we couldn’t possibly know or understand true horror (again, Aileen Wuornos, anyone?). Society seems hard-wired into the ‘men write horror’ credo.

At a recent birthday party, I was sitting with my husband and a few fellow horror writers when one of the guests assumed my husband was the one who wrote. “Nope,” my husband told him. “That’d be her,” he grinned as he pointed to me. I don’t get offended (unless the response is offensive), nor do I go on a rant to explain the prodigious amount of female horror writers in the industry. I’m a writer. Horror is my genre. It’s really quite simple.

Enter stereotype number two: “You don’t look like a horror writer.” Now I’m not sure what a horror writer is supposed to look like (I didn’t get the memo). But we come in all shapes and forms: short, tall, blond, brunette, bald; a diversity of ethnicity and beliefs, and, surprisingly … drum roll please… female and male. Shocking, I know. We’re just like everyone else, it’s more we tend to exorcise our ‘demons’ onto the page. It’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Stereotypes suck, and more often than not, they’re way off-base. No one woman is a stereotype, just as no one man is. We’re all individuals, and we each come with our own qualities and our own crap. I’m sure male authors who write romance are subject to the same genre-prejudice, but I don’t write romance, I write horror and I love it. I love putting my characters in terrible situations, pushing them to (and often past) their limits, and giving them shitty decisions to make. I want to invoke the ‘what would I do?’ response in the reader; I want their heart to hammer, their gut and their sphincter to tighten, and I want them to be compelled to turn the next page all the while dreading it. That’s my rush.

(From comic ‘The Road’; script: Amanda J Spedding; artwork: Montgomery Borror; lettering: Nikki Foxrobot)

I’ve read a lot of posts lately about the under-representation of women horror writers (here’s another); how horror anthologies are skewed toward male authors over female. Peter Tennant from Black Static has broken down some of the anthologies he’s read here. It makes for some interesting reading. There are, however, always exceptions to the rule: one of the first horror anthologies I was in: Festive Fear (Tasmaniac Publications), had 7 female authors out of the total of 14 – a 50/50 split seems pretty rare, though.

There are some fantastic female horror writers about, especially in Australia, and I was lucky enough to be mentored by the truly gifted and extraordinarily nice, Kaaron Warren (she’s a mum, too). What I learned from Kaaron was invaluable – and that she’s smashed through that ‘man-cave’ wall and is setting up house, continuing to pave the way with the likes of Gemma Files, Sarah Langan and Sarah Pinborough, only brings more recognition and awareness to the ability of women in horror.

As member of the Australian Horror Writers Association (and former committee member), I love this genre – it’s where I like to lay my machete, and we encourage and support anyone, regardless of gender to join our community. And a great community it is. There’s no gender bias – we’re writers, plain and simple.

Changing the preconceived ideas of women in horror is going to be a long, hard slog, but the skill and talent I’ve seen out there will break down those walls. Women have been fighting for equality for … well forever, really, and when it comes to writing, it’s been an uphill battle.

When Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, many believed it was her husband Percy Shelley and Lord Byron who had more than a hand in it – Germaine Greer tackles one such moron here (although I don’t agree with her assertion Frankenstein is crap). Then there’s the HG Wells vs Florence Deeks plagiarism debate on The Outline of History, and the alleged assertion Macmillan & Company passed Ms Deeks’ manuscript on as they wanted a male author. (Note: all Ms Deeks’ litigations were summarily dismissed, but there seems to be an overwhelming amount of evidence to support her claim). Scroll to the bottom and read here; and the author of this post – Jonathan Bailey – states Deeks lost her court cases based on her gender.

So to finish this … essay off, where does that leave us? With an amazing amount of female horror writing talent, and a growing awareness of the strong and wickedly loud voice of women horror writers. Publishers, editors, readers, film directors, producers et al, will see an ever-increasing number of women’s names attached to the horror stories they’re reading, and they’d better sit up and take notice.

I’ve only been writing horror for three years, and I’m proud to say that to date, I’ve never experienced gender-bias in the industry (that I’m aware of). I’m also proud to shout from the rooftops that some of my strongest supporters are men: my amazing husband Eddie who supports me (and my genre) wholeheartedly, my Dad (who’s too frightened to read my stuff but demands a copy of every publication), my brothers (who are both proud as) and the three men with whom I share this blog (big up Marty, Mark and Dave!).

Fighting against the gender bias in publishing, and the misogynistic generalisations of horror being a man’s world is an ongoing battle, but one that is seeing a lot of play in the media. Here’s hoping it’ll give those who need it, the kick up the bum they deserve. As for me, I’ll continue to write the best horror that I can, safe in the knowledge that I have the unending support of my friends and spec-fic community – no matter the chromosomes they carry.

Virgin Post

Let’s be clear: this is the first post out of the gates of my new blog, not a post from a virgin (my kids are beautiful, but no one’s going to believe an immaculate conception story…).

So here we go…

While I’m not new to blogging, this baby is all mine, and will continue to grow and develop as I do. I was part of the awesome ‘consortium of the imaginarium’ that was Screaming Ink – a joint blog with the very talented Elizabeth Bathory, Marty Young, David Schembri and Mark Farrugia. But we’ve all put our big-girl (and boy) pants on and struck out on our own. I packed a lunch and thermos of coffee for my adventure (and an obligatory sword, but that’s for another post…).

While this blog will be filled with my ramblings about all manner of things (and I should probably put in a disclaimer, but hey, why not live on the edge?),  be warned that writing, publishing, reading, and editing will no doubt take up a fair amount of space.

With February being ‘Women in Horror’ month, expect a post on that in the near future, what with me being a woman who writes horror. And with all the chatter on social media about women ‘ruining sci-fi’ and all that other crap, it’s extremely unlikely I won’t wade in guns blazing (or swords swinging).

Well, that’s me then — cherry broken!

As you were…