Writing

2022 Ditmar Awards

The Ditmar Awards are awarded at the Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy National Convention each year

My eligible works for 2022 Best Short Story:

◦ “A Trail of Corpselights”, Leanbh Pearson [QLD], in New Tales of Old 1, Black Ink Fiction.

◦ “ Serket’s Curse”, Alannah K. Pearson [ACT], in Scorpio: Speculative Fiction Inspired by the Zodiac, Deadset Press.

◦ “Talismans”, Leanbh Pearson [QLD], in Revolutions, Deadset Press.

◦ “The Dark Harpist”, Leanbh Pearson [QLD], in New Tales of Old 1, Black Ink Fiction.

◦ “The Dark Horseman”, Leanbh Pearson [QLD], in Legends of Night, Black Ink Fiction.

◦ “The House of the Cat-Si”, Leanbh Pearson [QLD], in 13 Lives of Alice, Black Hare Press.

◦ “The Monster”, Alannah K. Pearson [ACT], in Gluttony, Black Hare Press.

◦ “The Queen of Crows”, Leanbh Pearson [ACT], in Over the Rainbow: An LGBTQ+ Fairytale Charity Anthology, Black Ink Fiction.

◦ “The Yule Trolls”, Leanbh Pearson [QLD], in Eerie Christmas 2, Black Hare Press.

◦ “Them”, Alannah K. Pearson [ACT], in Wrath, Black Hare Press.

◦ “Three Tasks for the Sidhe”, Leanbh Pearson [ACT], in Stories of Survival, Deadset Press.

◦ “The Spreading Rot” in Haunted: An Anthology, Specul8 Publishing, 2021

◦ “Poisoned Fruit, Poisoned Reign” in Reign (Five Hundred Fiction, #7), Black Hare Press, 2021

◦ “The Haunted Ones” in Haunt (Five Hundred Fiction, #6), Black Hare Press, 2021

◦ “The Bones of a Dead God” in Bones (Five Hundred Fiction, #4), Black Hare Press, 2021

◦ “The Eldritch Woods” in Watch (Five Hundred Fiction, #3), Black Hare Press, 2021

◦ “The Hero of Silversmiths” in Avenge (Five Hundred Fiction, #2), Black Hare Press, 2021

My eligible works for 2022 Edited Collection:

Revolutions, Austin P. Sheehan [VIC], Grace Chan [VIC], and Leanbh Pearson [QLD], Deadset Press.

Scorpio: Speculative Fiction Inspired by the Zodiac, Austin P. Sheehan [VIC], Neen Cohen [QLD] and Alannah K. Pearson [ACT], Deadset Press.

Vote for your favourite works for the 2022 Ditmar Awards here

research, Writing

The Skogsrå

The skogsrå is one of the important genii loci, the spirit of the Forest from Scandinavia. She will appear to hunters mostly but also to some travellers through the forests of her domain.

The Skogsra is often described as human-like being, but with something uncanny about her. She’s often very beautiful but will have a tail or a back formed like a (rotten) tree trunk. The first morph (a tree trunk back) is common in Denmark, mid- and southern Sweden, but the tail is common in western and northern Sweden and Norway. Normally, the Skogsra has a a cow’s tail, but she can sometimes have a fox tail.

The Skogsra sometimes doesn’t appear to forest travellers as a young woman, but as an old and ugly hag. But these appearances are quite rare.

The Skogsra often approaches and tries to seduce men by various ways.

In folklore material, two types of men were most often approached by the Skogsra – charcoal-burners and hunters. Both of these groups of men were alone in the forest for long periods at a time.

In exchange for sexual encounters, a man might actually became her lover and the Skogsra could help him and grant rewards – like making sure his rifle never missed, and waking him if the charcoal stack was about to burn down. Both these are blessings made possible by the Skogsra and when the men are within her forest.

References

https://folklorethursday.com/folktales/skogsra-and-huldra-the-femme-fatale-of-the-scandinavian-forests/

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Drowned Country

Publisher’s Description

Even the Wild Man of Greenhollow can’t ignore a summons from his mother, when that mother is the indomitable Adela Silver, practical folklorist. Henry Silver does not relish what he’ll find in the grimy seaside town of Rothport, where once the ancient wood extended before it was drowned beneath the sea—a missing girl, a monster on the loose, or, worst of all, Tobias Finch, who loves him.


Review

I recently read Drowned Country (Greenhollow Duology, #2) by UK author Emily Tesh.

Drowned Country follows almost directly from events of Silver in the Wood, when eccentric protagonist Henry Silver is now the avatar of Grennhollow Wood and Tobias Finch now a mortal man assisting Silver’s mother Adela in her monster hunting business. Sadly, the romance between Silver and Tobias has soured and the pair are now estranged.

Silver answers a summons from his mother to aid him and Tobias in the retrieval of Maud Lindthurst from an ancient vampire. Things are quickly discovered to not be as they seem. Maud is not a common wealthy young woman and both Silver and Tobias are soon pulled into an entanglement with the beings of Fairy.

Final Thoughts

Drowned Country was a satisfying conclusion to the Greenhollow Duology in a story that was not a classic fairytale ending but one which provided closure for all the characters.

Conclusion

A highly recommended read for those seeking folkloric fantasy and queer fiction. A great conclusion to the events from Silver in the Wood and a satisfying folkloric novella series.

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Night of the Mannequins

Publisher’s Description

We thought we’d play a fun prank on her, and now most of us are dead.

One last laugh for the summer as it winds down. One last prank just to scare a friend. Bringing a mannequin into a theater is just some harmless fun, right? Until it wakes up. Until it starts killing.

Luckily, Sawyer has a plan. He’ll be a hero. He’ll save everyone to the best of his ability. He’ll do whatever he needs to so he can save the day. That’s the thing about heroes—sometimes you have to become a monster first.


Review

I recently read horror novella Night of the Mannequins by US author Stephen Graham Jones.

Night of the Mannequins follows a group of school friends in a final summer. In what begins as a ‘coming-of-age’ story quickly turns for a darker and more disturbing route as a mannequin adopted by the group for the summer takes on a life of its own.

Soon, the bodies begin to drop and exactly where reality ends and madness takes over becomes blurred. Equally blurred are the lines between hero and monster.

Final Thoughts

Night of the Mannequins was another brilliantly twisted tale from Stephen Graham Jones- now firmly cemented as my favourite horror writer. Disclaimer: I’m terrified of mannequins. The lure for me was Graham Jones’s skilful writing. This was a delightfully dark novella where nothing is as it seems and becoming a monster was one of them.

Conclusion

Highly recommended! For horror readers of the psychological, thriller, bizarre and supernatural. A great read.

Long Fiction, Writing

Bluebells Release!!

My debut horror novella Bluebells was published on July 9th 2022 by Black Hare Press.


1917, Australia.

In the aftermath of an alternate ending to the First World War, mass frontline casualties and a mysterious pandemic have decimated governments and the environment across much of Europe and the world, Australia included.

Anna Baylon lives with her parents, scraping a meagre living in the drought-ridden, abandoned, and mostly isolated town of Berrima near Sydney, waiting for news of her older brother, Peter, who enlisted years before.

The arrival of a handsome, mysterious stranger, Nicolas de Laon, her brother’s lover, turns her world upside down.

Anna’s strength is tested when she follows Nicolas—a vampire—from the safety of her home, determined to learn Peter’s fate.

But Nicolas’s darkness isn’t confined to his vampiric hereditary. And when Anna learns the darker truth, can she forgive him?

A steamy dystopian thriller from Leanbh Pearson.

More details on how you can purchase ebook, paperback and hardcover copies of Bluebells here.

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The Dark Matter of Natasha

Publisher’s Description

Natasha stalks the quiet streets of dead-end Lunar Bay like doom in a denim jacket. She’s a grim reminder that some teenagers can never escape the ever-tightening noose of their lives. Burned out and benumbed by a traumatic past, dogged by scurrilous small-town gossip, she finds solace in drugs, sex and Slayer.

When a naïve transplant crosses her path, he’s drawn into shadow and doubt. With his girlfriend ghosting him, Natasha’s fresh introduction to her half-lit world is darkly appealing. Now faced with confusing quandaries—connection or convenience, relationship or exploitation—can he help any of the women in his life? Or is he just helping himself?

The untold tragedies of Natasha’s lonely life may be more than he can handle. And in a town whose history is littered with dead girls, there may be no happy ending for anyone.

A tar-black coming of age story, this gritty psychological thriller from Shirley Jackson Award-nominated author Matthew R. Davis, eloquently chronicles the crushing gravity of small-town hopelessness, the double-edged catharsis of sex, drugs, and heavy metal, and the brutal weight of youth’s first lessons in accountability.

What horrors have Natasha’s flat eyes witnessed? And how far will she go in pursuit of the one tiny spark of hope that still flickers in her haunted heart?


*** I received a free ebook in exchange for an honest review ***

Review

I recently read The Dark Matter of Natasha by Matthew R. Davis, an Australian horror and dark fiction author.

The Dark Matter of Natasha follows a teenage protagonist as he navigates poverty and the isolation of a small town, always wanting something more in a place that can’t offer much. After a confusing sexual incident and subsequent rejection by his girlfriend Caitlin, there’s a real sense of abandonment and that the life he’d hoped for is slipping away from him. Then he meets Natasha and everything changes.

Natasha is alluring in many ways. She’s someone he doesn’t understand, someone who seems to accept him regardless of his naivety, insecurities and how different he is from her. But Natasha is a greatly flawed. She’s someone who’s seen the worst of the world and it’s betrayals. She’s hardened and jaded by life and expects nothing but more of the same from it. There’s a sense of hopelessness to her and a waiting out the clock despite her young age.

It’s hard to discuss how our protagonist changes over the course of the story without giving away major plot developments as spoilers. But after a series of catastrophic events occur, he’s changed in ways he can’t ever recover from. Although he and Caitlin remain together, their marriage is a cold one and bound by shared experience rather than any love remaining between them.

Final Thoughts

The Dark Matter of Natasha is a complex novella that is both a coming-of-age story and one of desire and trauma. In an exploration of the bleakest natures of human experience and how repeated trauma reduces human capacity to a shell of itself, a hardened and emotionally distant one fuelled only by memory. Despite the dark undertones to the story, there are such clearly defined characters.

Davis makes us witnesses to how despite her indifference to life, Natasha changes lives forever. But the trauma that seemed to only belong to Natasha at the beginning of the story is a creeping thing, almost a character in itself, to where by the end our protagonist and Caitlin exist but no longer seem to truly live in the world. Davis shows us the spreading tide of trauma and hopelessness from a small community that has indelible effects on those who survive it.

Conclusion

A powerfully written and intense dark fiction novella. Trigger warnings are necessary for psychological and sexual abuse and suicide themes. A recommended read.

Long Fiction, Writing

Fantasy on Four Feet Release

Fantasy on Four Feet edited by Clare Rhoden was published on June 28th, 2022 by Black Ink Fiction.

The anthology includes novelettes from various authors on animal-human companionships including my fey spy and her fox companion in “Black Fox and Bitterbind: The Chancellor’s Promise.”

You can purchase ebook and paperback copies of Fantasy on Four Feet here

research, Writing

Folklore of the Cursed Aye-Aye

In Madagascar, a highly unusual endangered nocturnal lemur is associated in regional as taboo or fady. The bizarre habits, secretive nature and distinctive appearance of the aye-aye fills some Madagascan peoples with the horror and dread at the sight of it. This has often lead to the slaughter of aye-ayes.

In other regions of Madagascar, it is considered fady to eat certain lemurs, which means that local taboos can actually shield and protect specific species. The aye-aye’s most striking features likely lead to its persecution.

Aye-ayes are medium-sized nocturnal lemurs and are mostly black but have large, highly mobile ears for tracking minute sounds. They’re also the only primate with continuously growing incisors which make them look rodent-like. Most notable of the aye-aye’s unusual physical features is it’s long, thin middle finger which is used to tap rapidly on decayed wood where their sensitive hearing helps detect insect larvae beneath. They then gnaw holes into the wood with those rodent-like teeth and use the long, skeletal-like finger to skewer and scoop out insect larvae.

According to the local views of fady, anyone who has an aye-aye point its long spindly finger at them, will be met with ill-fortune.

But the aye-aye’s eating habits may also contribute to their unpopularity with rural villages. Aye-ayes raid common Madagascan crops like coconuts, lychees, and mangos. This has led to viewing the aye-aye as a crop pest. But aye-ayes also eat seeds from the ramy tree (Canarium spp.) which grow tall and undisturbed near tombs in the Samanioana region where it is considered fady to cut them down. Aye-ayes are found in the peaceful sacred burial sites and surrounding forest, nesting and foraging without much human disturbance. Unsurprisingly, the aye-aye’s preference for the areas surrounding tombs may have inadvertently caused villagers to associate them with death and bad luck.

Other regions only consider the aye-aye fady when it enters a village.  Locals feel uneasy about an animal intentionally displacing itself from its home in the forest to enter a village. Essentially the unnatural act of entering a “human space” from the forest is what creates the bad omen.  They believe the only reason an aye-aye would display such unusual behavior is to foretell illness as the harbinger of death.

The degree of fady varies from village to village and the response to an aye-aye sighting. Regardless, fear is ingrained into this fady. In some northern regions of Madagascar, locals fear any sightings of an aye-aye. If an aye-aye is spotted in the forest, locals believe someone in a nearby village will fall sick and possibly die. If an aye-aye is found in the village itself, sometimes the entire village is abandoned as everyone living there won’t risk sickness and death. Unfortunately, the most common response to seeing an aye-aye is to kill it, hang the carcass or tail from a pole by a crossroads hoping that by moving the aye-aye further from the village, it will protect everyone from sickness or death. There’s also belief that passers-by may unknowingly carry the bad luck away with them when travelling past the carcass.

Aye-ayes are an essential part of Madagascan biodiversity. The challenges of habitat loss, persecution as a crop pest and the damaging effects of fady accelerate their declining numbers. Because aye-ayes are very rare, sightings of one only reinforce the fady through storytelling. One conversationist intended to rewrite that story.

The late primatologist, Dr. Alison Jolly, authored a children’s book titled, “Ny Aiay Ako” (Ako the Aye-Aye) with the book distributed to children’s schools throughout Madagascar to teach and inspire a love of these lemurs. The book’s protagonist, an aye-aye named Ako, transforms fear into fascination and children are inspired to protect this unusual lemur. In fact, the success of the first book led to a six book series, each about a different species of lemur.

Today, the Lemur Conservation Foundation (LCF) continues Dr. Jolly’s work with the Ako Project. A set of 21 Ako Lemur Lesson Plans and accompanying Ako Educator’s Guide were designed to highlight the biodiversity of Madagascar. Educators can use activities featuring characters and themes from the Ako book series to teach about lemurs and their environment. Each teaching kit includes all six of Dr. Jolly’s storybooks and the materials needed to inspire a love of lemurs and encourage conservation action in Madagascar. The Ako Project is now worldwide with all lesson plans and materials available to download free on LCF’s website at http://www.lemurreserve.org/ako-project/. For conservationists, this project is the first step to dispelling the damaging folklore by empowering children with knowledge and empathy for the aye-aye.

References:

Folklore Thursday, Madagascar Superstitions & Taboos: Fighting the Aye-Aye Fady, https://folklorethursday.com/folklife/madagascar-superstitions-taboos-fighting-the-aye-aye-fady/

Duke Lemur Center https://lemur.duke.edu/discover/meet-the-lemurs/aye-aye/

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A Dead Djinn in Cairo

Publisher’s Description

Egypt, 1912. In Cairo, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate disturbances between the mortal and the (possibly) divine.
What starts off as an odd suicide case for Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi leads her through the city’s underbelly as she encounters rampaging ghouls, saucy assassins, clockwork angels, and a plot that could unravel time itself.


Review

I recently read A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djèlí Clark after many recommendations for this alternate history series.

Fatma el-Sha’arawi is a Special Investigator for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. A flashy-dresser in male attire, she is unrepentant in a very male-dominated world.

Once she begins investigating the strange suicide of an ancient djinn – an unlikely case of death for djinn- she’s soon led to the City of the Dead in the slums of Cairo after reports of increased ghoul attacks.

In the City of the Dead, Fatma discovers another horrible death of an angel and clues to a cult active in Cairo. Soon, aided by a sultry assassin, Fatma el-Sha’arawi is in a race against the dawn to save the world from a cataclysmic event.

Final Thoughts

A Dead Djinn in Cairo is an amazing novella set in an alternate Cairo during 1912. The world building is fantastic with airships, clockwork angels, automaton servants and the magnificent but terrifying djinn.

Conclusion

A perfect short read for fans of alternate history, steampunk, dark fiction, horror, queer fiction and a fantastical blend of all genres. Highly recommended!

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The Old Dragon’s Head

Publisher’s Description

Constructed of stone and packed earth, the Great Wall of 10,000 li protects China’s northern borders from the threat of Mongol incursion. The wall is also home to a supernatural beast: the Old Dragon. The Old Dragon’s Head is the most easterly point of the wall, where it finally meets the sea.

In every era, a Dragon Master is born. Endowed with the powers of Heaven, only he can summon the Old Dragon so long as he possess the dragon pearl.

It’s the year 1400, and neither the Old Dragon, the dragon pearl, nor the Dragon Master, has been seen for twenty years. Bolin, a young man working on the Old Dragon’s Head, suffers visions of ghosts. Folk believe he has yin-yang eyes and other paranormal gifts.When Bolin’s fief lord, the Prince of Yan, rebels against his nephew, the Jianwen Emperor, a bitter war of succession ensues in which the Mongols hold the balance of power. While the victor might win the battle on earth, China’s Dragon Throne can only be earned with a Mandate from Heaven – and the support of the Old Dragon.

Bolin embarks on a journey of self-discovery, mirroring Old China’s endeavour to come of age. When Bolin accepts his destiny as the Dragon Master, Heaven sends a third coming of age – for humanity itself. But are any of them ready for what is rising in the east?


*** I received an ARC in exchange for a voluntary review ***

Review

I recently read The Old Dragon’s Head by UK author Justin Newland.

The Old Dragon’s Head follows protagonist Bolin, a worker on mending the Old Dragon’s Head, a part of the Great Wall associated with the head of Old Dragon who embodies the wall. But Bolin has an ability to see ghosts and prophecies, including the loss of his fiefdom’s Prince of Yan in battle.

To restore the balance of power in China, the Emperor’s Dragon Throne can only be earned with the aid of the true Old Dragon, Laolong. Eventually Bolin accepts the reality and responsibility of his supernatural gifts and becomes Dragon Master to help protect China’s Empire from the coming war.

Final Thoughts

The Old Dragon’s Head explores a fascinating era of Chinese history and the use of historical fantasy elements works well – the supernatural invading reality and threatening to drive Bolin into madness. Unfortunately, the writing style lacked immediacy and engagement, characters feeling two-dimensional. The world-building and historical knowledge was exceptionally well detailed though.

Conclusion

A recommended read for those who enjoy historical fiction, historical fantasy, alternate history and strong paranormal elements. A detailed historical read.