10 Books That Messed Me Up Into the Person I Am

This was inspired by this article by the constantly inspiring and wonderfully provocative Gabino Iglesias: https://litreactor.com/columns/10-books-that-feel-like-exes, I have decided to write about 10 books that are important to me, and well, kind of messed me up.

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  1. The Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice

Wearing my grey and blue school uniform, I raced after high school to a bookshop in the central city of Christchurch to buy this book new. This was in my Sting ‘Nothing Like the Sun’ phase, when I insisted on being stylishly unshaven, a habit that I have carried through to the present day. Although now, peppered with grey, my face seems more unkempt than anything else.

When I got home, I started reading the real adventures of Lestat (not the dreadful lies spread by his beloved companion in the first book). After being forced to communicate with my mortal parents to consume dinner, I returned to the vampire world and remained there until I had completed the book when the first rays of sunlight tore into my eyes.



  1. Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift

Sure there’s the adventures in Lilliput and pissing on fires, but this is only a small part of the novel. There’s a lot of humorous hatred of humanity and of human stupidity too. It’s like a very amusing science-fiction/fantasy version of Robinson Crusoe mixed with cutting social criticism.



  1. Siddhartha, Herman Hesse

Despite its excessive conflation of Eastern religions, this is a beautiful short novella about enlightenment, heavily influenced by psychoanalysis. It is so visual that it is perfectly possible to after reading it several times to replay it in your head, memorising the whole thing, and I did this one evening, around the same time as when I lay on my bedroom floor in my sleeping clothing and meditated myself into a heart rate so slow I was very cold and the blood left me, so much that my parents thought I was as white ‘as a ghost’.



  1. Scaramouche, Raphael Sabatini

Comedy, acting, acrobatics and swordplay, but revenge, sweet revenge with a capital Zorro. While there’s a fair bit of racism in some of his other novels about pirates, this one was beautiful, particularly for the opening line: ‘He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.’



  1. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

One of the first science-fiction novels, with a story that appears to have been heavily influenced by the tabula rasa theory of psychology and Milton’s Prometheus, Frankenstein is also by turns a horror novel, a thriller and a tragedy. Byron, Percy, Mary and some of the other Romantics were writing horror stories at that time, but Mary’s was one of the most successful.



  1. The Complete Works of Byron/ The Complete Works of Shelley

Two works that for teenage boys are not conducive to natural communication with female humans, but instead make put women up on pedestals, write sickly love poetry, or longingly cite their praises, all the while cursing god and praising the creative force of Satan.




  1. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

I would probably have not got into this book so much except due to a visiting scholar to my university’s Russian department who read and praised the opening of the book very highly, and who read that section aloud, luxuriating in the sounds. There are a lot of French phrases in the book that I didn’t understand, but it is wonderful, for the poetry and humour of it. If you want to hear the book being read, please listen to the spectacular audiobook with Jeremy Irons at HH. I think without ‘Lolita’, we would not have the amusing and disturbing characters/monsters such as Hannibal Lecter, and the stalker Joe in Caroline Kepne’s ‘You’. It’s a thriller, a tragedy, a comedy, a travelogue, a work of detective fiction, a critique of materialism, the narrator commenting in an often pretentious and amusing way on a whole range of topics.


  1. Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut

I like this book so much, and the prose style of Vonnegut in it, that I have read it several times. Also, when I got the opportunity to go to Germany, I immediately put Dresden into my travel plans. Such a beautiful place, with nearly all new buildings compared to the cities in other parts of Germany, and we know the reason (it had the absolute shit bombed out of it by Allied forces, even though it wasn’t a priority military target, and the war was ending). Plus, ‘so it goes’ is one of the best quotes ever.



  1. Hannibal, Thomas Harris

The others were wonderful too. But this one focused on Hannibal Lecter, the gentleman of refined tastes himself. I guess giving him an enemy nastier than himself makes him somewhat of a hero in this, but we know he is not an individual we should make a point of coming close to, lest we offend him. He remains a dangerous, but charismatic individual.



  1. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

Some books get you to relive your own past history, make tears flow while you dream of events in childhood. This was one of those books for me. Of course, the story wasn’t like my childhood, with its beaches and woods. It just brought all of my past back, and helped me to relive it.



Of course, there are actually a lot more books that messed me up into the person I am. These are just a few. Given room to roam and ramble, I might add ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’ by Mark Twain, Diana Wynne-Jones’ ‘The Homeward Bounders’, Homer’s works, and Adam Nevill’s ‘No One Gets Out Alive’, along with many others.

Well, that’s it for now. Tune in for more adventures.


May Your Hopes Be Fulfilled!

year-of-the-pig-2019-1534658056LpYHappy Chinese New Year! 万事如意! May all your hopes be fulfilled!

This year I’ve set out to do a great many things. I think it’s important to take up new challenges in order to improve, and I’ve realised through learning martial arts and the Chinese language that many things are possible given persistence and time.

I plan to go to Geysercon 2019, the NZ Science Fiction and Fantasy convention, on Queen’s Birthday Weekend here (May 31st to June 3rd).

I’m also currently one of the judges for the Novel section of the Australian Shadows Awards organised by the Australasian Horror Writing Association (AHWA), and due to this, have been reading some wonderful fiction by Alan Baxter, Angela Slatter, Lee Murray, Dan Rabarts, Jason Franks, and others.

I’m currently engaged in the wonderfully challenging and stimulating Advanced Creative Writing Workshop run by Richard Thomas, reading through several top short-story anthologies, and writing stories as I go, learning so much from Richard and my classmates.

I’ve also improved my writing a lot recently due to all the helpful feedback and advice I’ve had from my writing mentor, Kaaron Warren.

Finally, and I’ve only decided to do this fairly recently, I’ve decided to run the local half marathon in March and enter a HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) competition in August.

These are not resolutions, these are things I’ve decided to do. The resolutions I’ve written in a little book with a leather cover, and I’m working on them too.

Wishing you all the best with all of your plans and resolutions this year. Hope you give yourself lots of challenging things to do and develop through.


An Afternoon Surprise

Sometimes what we need are some nice surprises to change our day. Being a regular purchaser of books, and a subscriber of several wonderful magazines, I’m never quite sure when book parcels will arrive in my mailbox or by courier.

Today I received a small parcel from somewhere in the US. No, I said to myself, it can’t be Fantasy & Science Fiction, because the Nov-Dec issue arrived recently. Instead it was this:


I guess I never expected to receive a print copy of a magazine sent over from the US that I had only published a few short horror haiku in, so receiving this was an absolute delight. I am also impressed because of the quality of the little magazine and the work within. That cover image by Marge Simon, ‘The Hangman Glow’ is excellent, isn’t it?

I have also recently become aware of the release of an online version of the Scifaikuest Magazine, which has another of my horrorku, available for viewing here (this is free, but if you like the look of the magazine you can order yourself a copy of the print version): https://www.albanlakepublishing.com/scifaikuest-online

I’d better get back to editing the short story I’ve been working on. I think I’ve got all of the words down. Now to excise duplicated information and notes to myself in text.

Bye now!


The Power of ‘What If?’

Neil Gaiman is doing it, Diana Wynne Jones did it, Ray Bradbury did it, Stephen King and a whole lot of other cool guys and gals are doing it. I’m doing it now. You can do it too.

Start with ‘What If?’ and write a page. Follow it until something comes out. Might take a while. Still, should be good fun. Might summon some magic.

I wrote this story, a dark fairy tale. You might like it. What if the handsome prince was a horrible person? It’s in this magazine, Breach. There are a lot of other wonderful writers in it too (Got to count myself in that circle. If I can’t be wonderful now, when can I be?) Anyway, you can find it here (oh, and it’s on special on Smashwords at the moment – fabulous!) :





And if you like it, drop a comment, or leave a short review somewhere. This is how the people who think ‘What if?’ keep rolling.

Thanks, and bye for now,


Long time, no see.

hao jiu,  bu jian. One of the most famous Chinese sentences ever to be put into English. Anyway, sorry to have been away so long. I let myself get distracted from the blog for a bit.

Oh and Happy belated Halloween! That evening I followed my fearsome children into the Halloween night, and they scared the candy out of local residents. Many apologies to the person who was not home when my children knocked, since their noise incited your terrier to a blinds-attacking frenzy at the upstairs window overlooking the street.

Today I have received word that one of my stories, a dark fairy tale, is to be published in Breach 09 in the next week or so. Groovy! Thanks to Peter Kirk, Bartholemew Ford, and to the other lovely people involved with the e-zine.

Now, onto further improving that story draft for my mentor…

Hereditary, and Stabbing My Brother

About a week ago, I watched the movie Hereditary. I’ll try to give an entirely biased and personal review here, without giving spoilers as much as I can.


This was a visually-stunning, atmospheric horror movie. The plot was very original, and it had an old school feel like the movie ‘Kill List’. It really made me think and carefully consider what was going on throughout, which is always a good thing for me.

Although I enjoyed the movie overall, one hidden relationship between the characters was a bit too obvious for me, and there was some dialogue that I felt a bit too repetitive. Often in horror movies when someone tells someone else something is occurring, when the other person looks, it isn’t; however, in this movie it was: “Look, this is happening.” “Oh yes, it is.” While this was an interesting change, it was rather noticeable, and a couple of the scenes were drawn out, particularly towards the end of the movie, because of this. This interfered with the pacing for me, and while I enjoyed the movie overall, I didn’t find myself feeling for the characters as much towards the end. There were a few chilling scenes throughout, including an utterly traumatising scene about a third of the way into the movie.

All of the actors, especially the female lead Toni Collette, were wonderful, but Gabriel Byrne’s acting seemed rather wooden, particularly in the final few scenes. The young girl was a wonderful actress, and I would like to see her in more movies in future.

It is interesting that many of the particularly disturbing scenes occur in the first part of the movie. Some of the words written on walls served as section breaks, which was an interesting technique. In this respect it was similar to the wonderfully-disturbing movie “Antichrist”. We know when we get to ‘Pandemonium’ something particularly bad is about to happen.



Recently I also got to fulfil one of my life goals: stabbing my younger brother with a longsword. Of course, he got to hack my head off a few times immediately after, but I got better. We were both wearing protective gear and all of the deaths were virtual ones, but after you see the sword bend after a stab, or get mildly dazed by being hacked in the head, you can imagine what fun training in HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) really is.

Actually I’ve been fighting with my brother in martial arts duels since about 8 years old, duelling with longswords is probably just a natural evolution of this tendency. Reading Joe Abercrombie for the last few weeks might have influenced me a little too. I’m reading ‘Half a World’ at the moment, the sequel to the excellent ‘Half a King’, which are Norse-inspired fantasy novels. His prose, plots and characterisation are all excellent. Enough to drive a person into sword-fighting.

Will post more about my writing and the reading next time. I’m doing an  course.


Writing Live


I recently received good news: an email notifying me that Breach magazine have decided to publish two pieces that I produced recently: a sonnet, called ‘Traumatic Reflections’ in the next issue, and a short dark fairy tale, ‘Prince of Despair’, in a later issue, possibly Issue 8. It’s always wonderful to get some news that there are other people out there who appreciate what you are doing (thanks Peter and Bartholomew!). Otherwise, there is a tendency to believe that the last few times that you were published happened because of some weird anomaly. I guess this feeling might be the same for everyone, at any level.

What I’m learning from doing what I’m doing – and that’s basically anything that I feel like – is that it’s really important to just write about the things that really hit you. Of course, some people may not like what you write about, but it’s important to be true to what makes you live, in the most electrical sense of the word. The words sometimes burst from your brain and scatter themselves about. What matters is that there is magic and muscle to them. The writing can be better, the ideas can be better expressed, but there always needs to be a constant process of learning, getting better, running with what makes you go, and kicking that fuel tank into the fire.

Read a short story that really ripped into me in the last few days, ‘Red Rain’ by Adam-Troy Castro in the latest version of ‘Nightmare Magazine’ (will be online too in less than a week – check it out). It is constant shock and tension from start to finish, and visceral beyond belief. Who knew second person questions could make such an excellent story? Obviously he did. This story left me traumatised.

Tomorrow I will attend a workshop on Flash Fiction. Should be fun. Always something to learn.

Until next time,



Kaaron Warren’s ‘Tide of Stone’


Quite recently, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to read ‘Tide of Stone’, Kaaron Warren’s dark new novel. Having never read her work before, I didn’t know what to expect, but a few paragraphs in, I was enthralled by the poetic prose and original world of the story.

Let’s look at it, without delving too deeply. I don’t want to spoil too many of the book’s secrets and mysteries.

The book is set in an Australia similar to the present one, in a small town called Tempuston – and yes, that is ‘Tempus’, Latin for ‘time’. Time is of central importance in this novel, for many reasons practical and symbolic (which will become apparent as you read and reflect on the novel), but in particular due to the fact that the nearby Time Ball Tower, situated off the coast, has a large ball that drops every day at exactly 1.05 PM. It is also important because within that tower are held a host of terrible criminals granted eternal imprisonment due to a process that grants immortality and a continuous chain of jailors. A large number of people in the village serve or have served as ‘Keepers’ to watch over those imprisoned within, but each can only serve for a single year.

At the beginning of the novel we discover the protagonist, Phillipa Muskett, is about to start her one-year service within the tower as a Keeper. The first part of the novel is her looking forward. She thinks that the tower will change everything about her life, an impression she gets from many other people who have served in the tower. But the advice given by her friends, family, and other members of the community, who have served as Keepers, is often cryptic or contradictory.

The previous Keepers have written reports of their time in the tower, which are shared with Phillipa before she moves in. These accounts make up roughly the middle third of the novel. Although the reader may at first believe that this means there could be a lack of forward drive in the story, this is far from the case. The different accounts and perspectives make the novel richly-layered and complex, allowing for greater depth and appreciation of the tower and granting an understanding of the events within the past. Some sections are truly shocking, made more so due to the development of our understanding of the tower through history. The accounts also foreshadow and introduce ideas that come later in the story. These reports also allow us to understand the different personalities and experiences of both the Keepers and inmates, all of which impact on Phillipa’s accounts later on in the novel. In this novel, the historical background is as important as the movement forward in the present day. Everything has its purpose within the whole.

This book is quite unlike anything I have read before, and raises important questions about time, aging, justice and morality. Every time I think about the novel, I think of more significance to the events detailed within.

If you like horror, dark fantasy, dark literary fiction, or can handle disturbing themes, you need to read ‘Tide of Stone’. You can get it on Amazon, or at the publisher’s website: http://www.omniumgatherumbooks.com/paperbackorder/tideofstone 


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,