If you’re a regular reader of my blog, then you’ll know that I love Aussie small press. One of my favourite small press publishers is Ticonderoga Publications. They consistently produce exceptional genre books, and it’s one of those that I’m going to write about today.
Earlier this year I attended a spec fic convention in Melbourne — Continuum 8. At that convention I went along to the launch of Felicity Dowker’s book, Bread and Circuses. (see: “The post-Continuum report”) I’ve been eagerly looking forward to reading it ever since. I finally read it last month. And it’s one of those books that I just have to tell you about.
Bread and Circuses is a collection of horror short stories. This is not the mindless, blood-and-guts sort of horror. This is intelligent, creepy, innovative horror. This is the sort of horror that really gets under your skin and makes you think about things long after you’ve finished reading it. This is horror that, despite many fantastical elements (from vampires to dragons to creepy Santas), focuses squarely on the human condition. This is the sort of horror that I would happily recommend both to horror fans and to people who don’t usually read the genre.
As with any collection there are some stories that I like better than others. But there are no bad stories in here. Even my least favourite is still a damn fine piece of writing. And my favourite? Definitely “To Wish on a Clockwork Heart”. It’s about Marc, a man in a desperate situation, who meets a clockwork fairy. She too is desperate — she needs some ‘oil’ to lubricate her before she seizes up. Of course, there is a wish involved… but there are consequences. All the fantasy/horror elements aside, the heart of the story is a very human predicament — Marc’s desire to be reunited with his daughter.
And that’s what I love about these stories — the human element. Dowker is particularly adept at peppering her stories with wonderful little observations about humanity and its dichotomous nature.
“Such kindness in people. Such evil, too. Such a lottery as to which shone through.”
Each story is followed by an Afterword in which the author tells us a little about her creative process and motivations. As an author myself, I love having this little insight into each story. I know a lot of people don’t like this sort of thing, believing that stories should be left to stand on their own without explanation. But I’m happy these Afterwards are here for those of us who are interested. And if it’s not your thing, you can always skip them.
Felicity Dowker is a talented writer and this collection is evidence of that. More please!
Final word: Highly Recommended!
Catch ya later, George
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