Driving Poetry and Fiction

I don’t know why it is, but even though I like listening to stories in the car, ‘Poems of War and Remembrance’ is the first time I’ve listened to poetry while driving. As I normally drive short distances, poetry is ideal. Not only this, I’ve discovered that it’s poetry that sparks my mind with these phrases that like to live and breed in my pocket notebook. I’ll share something about my reading and learning another time, but now I’d like to share something with you all: ‘The Rainbow’, by Leslie Coulson. http://www.firstworldwar.com/poetsandprose/coulson.htm

I love reading the War Poets: Brooke, Owen, Coulson, and others. Partly, I guess, because I’m not a fan of obscure poetry, or poetry that I have to research or study in order to appreciate. I like my poetry to be quite direct, or at least mean something to me without too much research. Take ‘The Rainbow’, for instance. The first time I heard it, I was really impressed by the juxtaposition of the beautiful and the terrible. I felt a little teary. But it was when I read it aloud to my wife, that the power of the poem hit me and I had real trouble finishing. Tears welled up in my eyes, and I choked up, so that it was hard to read the final line. I think it’s the clash between the beautiful colours of life, and the terrible situation on the trenches with all of that unnecessary death, but it’s also about the rhyme, and the repetition.

In the past wee while, I’ve also listened to Philip Larkin read his poetry, after receiving him sealed in an envelope in the mail. Some lines strike something off in my mind and they follow new paths, and explore new areas, which is good. At the present moment, I’m a great fan of his poem: ‘Next, Please’. Read and listen to it here.

(Philip Larkin is now angry at me, and tells me that if people like his bloody poetry, they can buy or borrow his bloody books or find the CD recording of him reading his poetry. Yes, true. Please do.)

Another wonderful thing I listened to in the car was the audio play adaptation of Clive Barker’s ‘A Hellbound Heart’. An excellent story, brought vividly into the mind of the listener by terrific editing, acting, and sound production. I’d recommend it very highly for anyone who isn’t put off by the title. You can download or purchase it here:


But now, back to the writing. I’ll describe what I’ve been up to, in terms of writing, next time.



Craft, Terror, and the Mutants

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been published in the beautifully illustrated Pasifika issue of Flash Frontier, available here: http://www.flash-frontier.com/pasifika/#Murder . The piece is not horror, but it’s still quite dark.

I’ve just finished writing a horror piece of 300 words, which has taken me a phenomenally long period of time to write. With flash there’s always a constant balance between writing too much (and wasting words) or too little (and losing coherence). Hopefully I’ve attained the right balance between the two. But hey, if it isn’t accepted, I know I’ve learned a lot in the process, and there are lots of other places to send the piece to.

I’ve been reading a little recently, but here are some works that have really stood out for me:

No One Gets Out Alive, by Adam Nevill

You get involved in a good book, and you look up and realise hours have passed; a 600 page novel rushes by so quickly. So it was for me when reading Adam Nevill’s novel, ‘No One Gets Out Alive.’  Right from the first few pages, it was almost continuous terror. There were very few patches of calm in the story, and even then, there was always an underlying tension, some question or problem that remained unanswered. I don’t want to give away the story, but it concerns a woman named Stephanie, who due to financial concerns moves into a large mostly-empty hotel. It’s not a pleasant place.

Lost Hearts, by M R James

An old classic. A young orphan arrives at the house of an elderly distant relative, who wants more from him than what is reasonable for a foster caregiver. A chilling tale of dark magic and supernatural happenings, but with the tongue-in-cheek black humour that M R James does so well.


I watched this recently too:

Annihilation, written and Directed by Alex Garland (from the novel by Jeff VanderMeer)

I had heard a little about this movie, but having loved Alex Garland’s ‘Ex Machina’, I decided to give it a try. It was visually beautiful and thoughtful. Watching it, I was amazed. It’s a science fiction novel, but it’s truly weird and wonderful, and horrific and disturbing above and below the surface. I want to read the novel now. Partly, I guess, because I get this feeling that there is a lot more to the story than what is present in the movie. I hope everyone who watches the movie reads the book too.


Goodbye, for now,


Some Dark and Recent Reading

Book Relaxation Holiday Reading Ebook ScienceDark and Recent Reading

In the past few weeks I have read more than written, and now I will write more than read. In an effort to jog-start the writing brain, I’ll just write down a few thoughts on the works that I have read recently and particularly enjoyed.

Stories/Story Collections:

‘An Obstruction to Delivery’, Sean Adams, in ‘Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine’ July/August 2017

Although there are several other stories in this issue that I loved, I was amazed by the humour and originality of this fantasy story about an exiled underground postal service and the problems it encounters. Excellent.

‘Behold the Void’, Phillip Fracassi

A true craftsman. Crisp and poetic sentences, cut sharp, with endings that are very difficult to predict. I enjoyed every story in this collection, but a few really stood out for me, such as the opening story ‘Soft Construction of a Sunset’, which really messed with my mind, ‘The Baby Farmer’, which was so visually evocative, and ‘Mandala’, which ratchetted the tension up really high and didn’t let up till the end. Dark and beautiful work.

The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Let me just say that my first contact with this story has been an audiobook, and it was chilling. This story is of a woman confined to a room in a holiday house to rest after the birth of her child. The room has terrible yellow wallpaper, and the tale is related in the first-person, as if from her diary. I won’t mention what occurs too much to let the reader or listener experience the story for themselves, but the story is shocking for several reasons. Her husband is a doctor and can control what she is allowed to do as if she were a young child. Her own ideas are belittled and ignored. She is not allowed to do anything that could potentially make her feel tired, and her contact with her child and the outside world is restricted. In addition, the ugly wallpaper in the room starts to function as some sort of gateway to release parts of herself or of what lies beyond. Although I don’t want to spoil the ending, I believe the story can be read in so many different ways: as cosmic horror, as psychological horror, as psychological liberation, a political and social allegory, or various combinations of these. This story really makes you think. Please read it.


Under a Watchful Eye, Adam Nevill

A richly-layered supernatural horror tale, which brings to mind M.R. James. I don’t want to give any spoilers for this one, but here’s a run-through flash of contents by way of a trailer: cosmic horror, humour, annoying flatmates, mystery, dark conspiracies, out-of-body experiences, being pursued by supernatural forces, book deals, beautiful descriptions of seaside towns, murder, cults, madness, and people with terribly poor hygiene standards. Readers who are familiar with his wonderful short story ‘Yellow Teeth’ in ‘Some Will Not Sleep’ will feel parts of this story are too familiar at first, but rest assured (or maybe you won’t be able to rest), events change dramatically after about the first two-thirds of the novel, as the mystery starts to be revealed. Just don’t expect every aspect of proceedings to be spelled out and explained in triplicate –Adam Nevill’s novels require the reader to pay close attention. There are dark horrors lurking at the edges. Thrilling.

(A minor quibble for me: in Chapter 15 the conversation between a yellow-jacketed figure and the protagonist was a little hard to follow, interspersed as it was with lengthy description. The descriptive details were necessary, but I thought there was too much separation between statement and response.)

The Wasp Factory, by Iain Banks

I returned to this after 20 years and reread it. It is a short novel – dark, twisted, and humorous, and I’m constantly finding my mind returning to parts of it days later. I’m surprised I haven’t reread it again until now. Reading this hot on the heels of American Psycho, I’m considering what would have happened if the characters in this book had access to AR-15s. The story would have ended a lot quicker for sure. It’s well worth reading, if you haven’t already and don’t mind a bit of shock and horror. Trust me, you won’t be able to predict the ending either.

That’s it for now. I’ll try not to wait so long before writing again.

Keep on rocking,


Short Readings

I’ve finished ‘American Psycho’. I have two numbers with words after them to share just now:

  1. I think I’ll need to collect my thoughts together on the book and share it with you all in a couple of days. There is so much going on in the novel.
  2. I don’t wish to reread ‘Wasp Factory’ by Iain Banks just yet. I’m not sure I can handle it straightaway.

Because of (2), and because of a desire to improve my short story writing, I have a plan of daily short story reading for the near future.

I intend to read at least a short story a day, and one piece of flash. I’ll also read short stories in Chinese in addition to this, though as to whether I can read a whole Chinese short story a day will depend upon the time I have available, as I read a bit slower in Chinese. Although I won’t only read horror (I’m going to read a couple of stories by Gogol in the next few days), I plan to finish off the collection ‘Behold the Void’ by Phillip Fracassi, and reread a few John Collier stories.

See you in a couple of days,


News and Black Tape

Startup Stock PhotosI had intended to write a review of American Psycho, but I’m not finished. I’ll hold back and see what happens and then give my review. Although I can say that the book is terrific, in both senses of the word.

A short blog today, as I’m busy finishing off a fantasy/horror story for submission. I have some good news to share though.

First of all, I managed to complete and sent away an application to NZSA (the New Zealand Society of Authors) for mentorship by an experienced writer/editor. I think this will really help me improve my writing skills more than I could do on my own.

The second piece of good news is that I found out yesterday that my story ‘What Have You Done?’ has been nominated for the prestigious Sir Julius Vogel Prize for Best Short Story, an award granted by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand. Whether or not I win the award, I am really pleased that someone has put my work forward for it. It really made my day.

Yesterday at the Christchurch Buskers’ Festival I saw Tapeface, an audience-interactive mime/comedy act by the Christchurch performer Sam Wills. It is the third time that I have seen him live, although now he can command a much bigger venue, a fact that might be due to this performance on America’s Got Talent: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlaWGd1cUms Anyway, without sharing any of his recent skits, I would really recommend that if you get the opportunity to see him at a comedy festival near you. He will bring laughs, joy and wonder to your day, and uses music, physical actions and basic props to do wonderful things – although there is a bit of existential dread and emptiness hiding in his shows too. We went to a child-friendly matinee show of his, which was good, but based on the adult-only shows of his that I attended over the past years, I would have to say I enjoyed them more, as he doesn’t need to hold back and the audience, who are often required to participate, don’t either. It was still really entertaining though, and we danced the twist, badly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHGXwQeUk7M Great fun!

Bye now,


The Ritual, A Pig, and Some Jogging


This last week I read Adam Nevill’s novel ‘The Ritual’. I found it difficult to get into at first, probably because I was used to the writer’s short stories, and because I was confronted with the four male characters at the beginning of the story. However, these problems dissipated quickly after getting a little further into the story. The combined effects of rain, darkness and an impenetrable ancient forest, along with something terrible out there in the night, brings out the back-stories of the group and make you understand them even more.  Putting people in a horrible and hostile environment brings out all of their secrets, and just as the protagonist starts to feel close to his friends, everything changes, he suffers a new kind of torture, and things go from terrible to absolutely terrible for him. And, of course, the thing that prowls the forest still hunts. An excellent and atmospheric tale that gripped me throughout. Will I read more novels by Adam Nevill? Hell yes! I plan to read them all.

I also read the story ‘Pig’ by Roald Dahl. What a bleak, twisted, harsh, and cruel world! I would consider this to be a horror story, for it makes the world such a dark and unfriendly place, where anything could happen, and those without cunning are exploited and eaten. The nicest character in the story is the vegetarian Mrs Glosspan, a kind and caring person, though naïve as to the world around her. Her name is a rather unsubtle variation on the character ‘Pangloss’ (gloss over everything) in Voltaire’s ‘Candide’, a connection echoed with a quote from Pangloss ‘it’s the best of all possible worlds’ in the conclusion. Trust me, the world of the story is not. A lover of black humour, and not a vegetarian (or a cannibal), I enjoyed the story. Just my slice of bacon.

Aside from the dark tales, I’ve started reading a book called ‘Technique in Fiction’, by Robie Macaulay and George Lanning (2nd Ed.). Very interesting, and the practices, techniques and strategies are supported by examples from classic literary fiction up to the late 80s. Well worth reading. I’ve learnt a lot from it, and am returning to it for my third reading – although the last time I read it was more than 10 years ago!  Doing more short story writing these days I realise that it’s a good time to return to it.

Aside from all of this, I’ve been jogging around the block these days. I’m not one of these people who likes to listen to music while running, but I find that the regular rhythm of footfalls and breath gives me time to appreciate the things I see around me in my neighbourhood. But recently I’ve felt more drained, since the temperature is quite hot here.

A long one, this blog today. Next week I will comment on the novel ‘American Psycho, about that Trump fan and psychopath, Patrick Bateman.

What writing have I done?  Drafting when able. I’ll produce something complete very soon. The new draft of a story wants to be good as I can make it before I send it to trusted ones for feedback and slash-cutting suggestions later on.

Farewell for now,


Reading The Shining and The Little Writings I Did

SONY DSCMark Morris, in his article, ‘How Important is Characterisation in Horror Fiction’ (which I’d really recommend anyone interested in horror to read), suggested several character-driven novels. Among them, The Shining, I somehow managed to avoid reading (or seeing the film) until today, so I immediately rectified this by purchasing it at my local bookstore, along with two other horror novels in the list that I haven’t read until now, but want to: American Psycho, by Brett Easton Ellis, and The Ritual, by Adam Nevill (and I’m already a big fan of Mr Nevill’s work, having read his two short story collections ‘Hasty for the Dark’ and ‘Some Will Not Sleep’).

So, this week I read ‘The Shining’. I would not want to spoil it for someone else, but I believe any claim that it is a classic of modern supernatural horror literature is justified. The writing style and paragraphing at times is quite unconventional, so it may occasionally require some work to work out which character’s thoughts are being presented (it did for me, anyway) – though this is also a positive aspect of the novel, as it relates to the story itself too.  There was a lot of excellent foreshadowing, and the language was both poetic and direct, with very ‘punchy’ use of verbs. The central characters and their backstories are also described with detail (particularly the father). I was also struck by the excellent pacing, which made me, particularly in the last third of the novel, particularly concerned with what would happen on turning over the page. I’m not so sure exactly why, maybe I’m getting more emotional in my refining years, but I felt a bit teary when I got to the end of the novel. Maybe this had to do with the well-developed characters, the pace of the last quarter of the book, and the shocking climax.

I would have read more last week, but I had to do a lot of marking, even take some home with me. Still, that’s all done now. More reading this coming week, eh?

Ah, but thinking back, I did do some more reading. I read another page of ‘the lobsters run free’, several times over.  It was an excellent piece of flash by Catherine Edmunds, ‘The Hierarchy of Substances’. Such wonderful poetry to it. When you get to the end, it turns back on itself and brings you back to the beginning. And then you read it again. A jewel of a piece. It’s like the TARDIS, it has so much in it in such a small thing. Maybe I’ll read it every day this week. I replayed the whole of Herman Hesse’s ‘Siddhartha’ once, visually, after reading it constantly for months on end when I was at university. I’m sure I can learn a lot about flash fiction from rereading ‘The Hierarchy of Substances’ alone, as it speaks to me now and in the present moment.

I did some writing too. I also submitted two pieces of flash fiction online. I’m working on a few more, experimenting to see where the words fall and what they can do, and there’s a horror story that’s hiding there at the back of my scalp. It wants to show itself as soon as possible. I’ll tell you how these all go next time. I’ll probably have finished reading ‘The Ritual’ by Adam Nevill then too.

Well, that’s it for now. See you next week, unless you want to chat before then.


Into the New Year With Some Reading

Greetings, and happy New Year!

This year I’m not doing a year-long course in Creative Writing. Of course, when I drive past Hagley Park near the hospital I think of the wonderful things that I’ve learnt in the course, I consider doing it again. But I’m quite confident that while I have learned a great many things, doing the course again would probably turn into a crutch, for me anyway, and I think I could learn more by freeing up that Saturday morning for my own writing. I’m quite confident I can do a great many things if I only allow myself to – and I have a lot of great notes, handouts and fine examples of short stories and excellent works of fiction that have been suggested on the course. This year I’m going to publish several short stories, and a great many pieces of flash fiction.

After Christmas I read a fair bit on a family trip around the South Island, while taking a rest from driving, and in the evenings. Here are a few works that I’d really recommend (mostly, but not all new):

the lobsters run free, being a collection of top entrants in 2017 of the Bath Flash Fiction award. I have really enjoyed reading the pieces of local Christchurch writers Nod Ghosh ‘The Cool Box’ (a great story which relates what thoughts and images rush through a person’s head) and Frankie McMillan’s ‘Reading the Signs’ (a story which brings a tear to one’s eye and which also, I believe, was included in ‘Best Small Fictions’), but I’ve also read a few other excellent pieces, including Emily Devane’s ‘The Hand That Wields the Priest’, Rose McDonagh’s ‘Pony’, and Amanda O’Callahan’s ‘Tying the Boats’. I’m still working my way through the book. I read flash very slowly, and then read the works again, but these works are ones to savour. I think that anyone interested in flash fiction should buy themselves a copy,  to read the few pieces that I have mentioned, and the others that I have yet to.

Hasty for the Dark, by Adam L. G. Nevill. A dark and rich collection of horror fiction. I would also advise the reader to enjoy these stories slowly and carefully too, provided they can deal with dark stories of madness, evil and despair. I’d advise those easily disturbed or those taking tiny little steps into an interest in horror to stay well away though, as they might not survive the exposure to these stories, which range from cults and nightmares coming too close to home, to epic world-ending Lovecraftian disasters. I’d really recommend this collection for readers of dark fantasy and horror who like to be challenged and brought to thoughts of dark dread and emptiness (Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You’ll be staring vacantly out at the night after some of these). Excellent.

The Book Club, by Alan Baxter. This well-paced novella is at times mystery, at times cosmic horror, but thrilling throughout. I don’t want to describe the story too much, but it describes what the male protagonist’s wife does after his wife doesn’t return from her book club, and realistic presents someone in shock and grief along with the reaction of other characters (including police officers) to his behaviour. I was really impressed by the way the writer kept my attention right from the opening lines to the end of the novel and with his believable characters.

The Graveyard Book (full cast audiobook), by Neil Gaiman. At just under 8 hours, this is an excellent way to spend a long drive in the car. This is a full cast audiobook, so it’s like listening to an old radio play, with many terrific actors and voice actors participating. I guess it could be described as a coming-of-age story of a boy who is forced to live in a graveyard with ghosts and other supernatural denizens after his family is murdered. Despite the grim plot, there’s a lot of humour and exciting and fantastic incidents in the book, which make it suitable for anyone from 8 up who likes a good story. If you like this, I’d suggest you buy the book, or if you like the book, get this. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Well, those are just some of the things that I’ve read recently that I’ve enjoyed. I’ll try to make my blog a much more regular event in this coming year, and I’ll be sharing my thoughts on other writing that I do in future too.

Oh and while I was engaged in all this reading, my flash piece ‘These Scars’ was published in the wonderful December issue of Flash Frontier. I’m now back from my holiday and can jump about and point excitedly at this link: http://www.flash-frontier.com/december-2017-1000-words/ Hope you enjoy it, and the other stories in the issue.

Bye for now, and have an exciting and productive 2018! tree-2784155_960_720

Ending is a New Beginning

This image is a print by the Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada. It was on the front of a card given to me last night at the graduation at the Hagley Writers’ Institute . The director, Morrin Rout, although not a big fan of horror, selected this wonderful card because she thought I might like it. I do. A lot.

I got the card, with a book voucher inside it, for being runner up for the Margaret Mahy prize (congratulations to joint winners Merissa Foryani and Phoebe Wright!), and my writing portfolio was among the top six selected of those on the course. I was really pleased by all this, and it was terrific to get detailed feedback from the experienced writers and editors who looked at my work to learn from in the years to come.

My course at the Hagley Writers’ Institute is now completely finished, in terms of classes, but I’m really just beginning to be able to apply the information that I was exposed to on the course. There are lots of handouts, examples of good writing, and all of the notes taken and exercises that I’ve scrawled down.

I hope all of the writers that I’ve met on the course keep up their writing momentum and go on to do wonderful things in future, and to those who read this that I’ve yet to meet in person, may you unceasingly pursue your own creative dreams and goals.

Thanks to James Norcliffe, Christina Stachurski, Frankie McMillan, Bernadette Hall, Kerrin Sharpe, and Morrin Rout, and to all of my wonderful fellow-students and classmates, for all of their support and advice while I was on the course.


To the West and Onwards

Road_West_Coast_New_ZealandRecently I travelled to the West Coast on a solo adventure to do some writing, and I wrote a fair few first drafts of stories, poems, flash pieces and riddles. By riddles, I mean Anglo-Saxon style riddle poems, a style I’m experimenting with. It was great to live in my head for a bit, drink wine, scrawl freehand on paper for hours, and read poetry aloud, loudly. I also sat in cafes and read Dahl and Poe, and then took notes on different things I noticed. I found it sad that the Chinese tourists who visited the beach used their selfie sticks to take pictures of themselves facing away from the sea, with the beautiful lapping tongues vying for attention behind them, the salt and the sea spray flying on the sea breeze.

I’m finding it hard to keep up with all of the ideas that I’ve written down, or get down with all the ideas I’ve written down and let them possess my soul for periods of the early morning, or late in the evenings. But that’s okay. I’m sure I’ve got enough down on each of these ideas to develop them later on after I keep drafting the flash piece and horror short story I’m currently working on.

I had a terrific evening last night. Erik Kennedy, a local poet and editor, released his chapbook ‘Twenty-Six Factitions’, that the spell-check function on my computer is not too happy with, but that I think is a most amusing and stimulating collection that bursts the thought-streams free. The six guest readers, also local poets of some renown, heralded the launch of the chapbook in a fine manner.

I’m feeling more at home with the poets here now. Some poetry events due to their style and serious lecture-hall settings can be rather stiff and formal, but that event was much more relaxed. It was in a bar, the beer was good, and the people were excellently strange.

In recent news, I’ve received two pieces of wonderful news.

The first is that my portfolio at the Hagley Writers’ Institute is among the top six, which is good because this means it will be assessed by Anna Rogers, a top editor and manuscript assessor, as well as the excellent tutors on the course.

Last night I also got an email from Michelle Elvy and Sam Rasnake, the editors at Blue Fifth Review, who nominated my piece of flash fiction, ‘Sometimes, there are bears’ for the Pushcart Prize.

Next time, I’ll share some thoughts on reading that’s been keeping me awake these nights.

Bye now,