Bread and Circuses

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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Dracula down under

Vampires! Lots of them! And they are in Australia. In our past, our present and our future. Thirty-three blood-sucking stories in one huge book — Dead Red Heart.

Lately, I’ve been hearing talk that the vampire has had his day in popular fiction, at least for the time being… That the sparkliness of some recent vampires has dulled the appeal of the blood-sucking genre. And yet they keep showing up. From the recent YA novel Department 19 (reviewed here) and its upcoming sequel, to a new picture book by Margaret Wild and Andrew Yeo, called Vampyre. Despite what some people may say, I don’t think there’s any danger of the fictional vampire fading into obscurity.

I’m particularly enamoured with vampire stories set in Australia. Apart from a simple interest in my homeland, the concept of vampires in ‘a sunburnt country’ is rather fascinating. One of my favourite vampire novels is Narrelle M Harris’s Melbourne-based tale, The Opposite of Life. I’m told that a sequel is on the way, and I’m very much looking forward to it. Then there’s the Sydney-based Solace and Grief by Foz Meadows. The sequel, The Key to Starveldt, comes out in October.

But while I’m waiting for these two sequels, I’m satisfying my bloodlust with Dead Red Heart. Edited by Russell B Farr and published by Australian small press publisher Ticonderoga Publications, it contains stories from writers both established and new. Even I feature in its pages with a little story called “Vitality”, about a vampire and a hill hoist.

Dead Red Heart is large book, and I’ve got a stack of review books to get through, so I’ve been dipping into this anthology rather than working my way from cover to cover in one go. I’ve been picking out a couple of stories between each of the novels I’m reading. I’m not even half the way through but I am enjoying it immensely. Despite the common subject matter, there are such a variety of stories. My favourites so far are Felicity Dowker’s wonderful tale of vampires, tattoos and revenge, “Red Delicious”, and Jeremy Sadler’s take on the Ned Kelly story, “Such is Life”.

“Such is Life” deserves a bit of a special mention in that it is the author’s first professionally published story. So I asked Jeremy to tell us a little about his publishing experience…

It did not feel real until the book was in my hands. I had sent my story, “Such Is Life”, off into the wild with the expectation that I would never hear about it again. Though secretly, deep inside, metaphorical fingers were crossed.

Everything I’ve written up to this point that appeared in the public domain has been self-published. From various fanzines to a partnership in producing Frontier: The Australian Science Fiction Media Magazine, to articles and reviews on the Internet, it has always been my hand that has delivered my words to the world.

This makes it a momentous occasion for me when someone else deems something I have written as worthy of publication. I never anticipated my first “professional” published work would be Australian vampire fiction — but then it seems so appropriate.

The book in my hands finally gave substance to the excitement, and there was a certain joy in re-reading what I had written, as if it was new. It sat among fabulous company from notable authors. How could I not be pleased?

Now it’s a matter of using that excitement to feed more writing and having more items published, and to enjoy even more “now it feels real” moments.

My thanks to Jeremy for sharing his “now it feels real” moment with us. If any other first-time authors would like to share their experiences, leave a comment. And if you’ve got a favourite vampire book you’d like to tell everyone about… yes, you guessed it… leave a comment!

Catch ya later,  George

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