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…

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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.

Hereditary

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.

4/5

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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.

Ronnie450px-Albion_Squire_Medieval_Sword_2_(6094017236)

Writing Live

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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,

Ronnie

 

Kaaron Warren’s ‘Tide of Stone’

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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 

5/5

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:

http://shop.bafflegab.co.uk/album/the-hellbound-heart

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

Ronnie

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,

Ronnie1_vpfRDvuxsO5cw1M4RB9MjQ

Some Dark and Recent Reading

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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.

Novels:

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,

Ronnie

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,

Ronnie

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,

Ronnie

The Ritual, A Pig, and Some Jogging

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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,

R