Long Fiction, Writing

Reimagining Norse Myths

One of my projects I’m working on at the moment is a reimagining the Norse Myths and involving my favourite Trickster folklore. I’m focusing on the god Loki and the events recounted in the myths leading up to Ragnarok.

I’m also fascinated by the roles of Odín and his selection of the best warriors fallen on the battlefield and how Freyja, goddess of desire takes the other half the best fallen warriors and is a leader of the Valkyries.

My love of Trickster folklore and legends includes one of my favourite Australian Trickster figures, Crow. Together with Loki, there’s a new story added to those known in the Norse myths.

In remaining ragnarok in a new way, I’ve ncorporated Icelandic and Australian-esque natural landscapes to create a new version of a mythos of ice and fire with tales from the Australian Alps to the desert heart.

reads, Recent Reads

The Twisted Ones

Publisher’s Description:

When Mouse’s dad asks her to clean out her dead grandmother’s house, she says yes. After all, how bad could it be?

Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more—Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants…until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself.

Alone in the woods with her dog, Mouse finds herself face to face with a series of impossible terrors—because sometimes the things that go bump in the night are real, and they’re looking for you. And if she doesn’t face them head on, she might not survive to tell the tale.


Review:

I recently read horror novel The Twisted Ones by US author T. Kingfisher.

The Twisted Ones follows the protagonist Mouse who is given the unfavourable task to clean out her holder grandmother’s house after her death. It is no surprise to Mouse that no one liked her grandmother, especially not Mouse. The only person Mouse shared any similarity with was her step-grandfather Cochrane.

While cleaning out the house Mouse finds her grandmother’s hoarding was far beyond anything she had expected. The only room in the entire house that hasn’t been filled with junk is Cochrane’s room. What she does find is Cochrane’s journal which contains the madness of a man falling into dementia and the sane writings of a man who believed in folklore of white people he’d known about in Wales and the standing stones associated with something he calls the twisted ones.

Pretty soon Mouse encounters the terrifying reality of the things Cochrane had been describing. And even sooner, she is drawn into a world that cannot exist and the monsters called the twisted ones. Accompanied by the neighbour from the hippie commune, Mouse and her dog venture into the madness of Cochrane’s world and hope to escape it- knowing that he did not.

Final Thoughts:

The Twisted Ones is skilfully written, enjoyable and terrifying. An intriguing combination of folklore and horror with the right amount of gore, terror and mystery to create just the correct balance to make it fast paced and exciting. Kingfisher writes with a talent that makes it seem easy, the characters are all unique and secrets revealed with perfect timing.

Conclusion:

A fantastic read for anyone who enjoys horror, folk horror, dark fiction and a good character driven story. Highly recommended!

reads, Recent Reads

Burnt Sugar

Publisher’s Description

Decades after the incident in the woods, Gretel has forged a good life in a small village, running a bakery and taking care of her brother and the stray, bedraggled women who find work as her apprentices. Business is good, and when it’s not, Gretel took more from the witch than a knack of making sweet treats and gingerbread, just as her brother returned home forever changed by the torture he experienced.

The book of magic hidden beneath the stairs has kept Gretel and her household comfortable for years, but it also calls to Gretel in the night, demanding she return to the woods and replace the witch they killed. For years, she’s been resisting, determined to keep Hansel and her apprentices safe.

Then Hansel’s drinking goes too far and Gretel realises her brother is dying. Finally, the seductive call of the book’s magic might be too strong to deny…


Review

I read Burnt Sugar (Never Afters, #1) by Australian author Kirstyn McDermott.

Burnt Sugar follows the well-known Grimm fairytale characters Hansel and Gretel in the decades after their abandonment in the forest, and stumbling on the witch’s cottage. The tale of Gretel’s servitude to the witch while Hansel rotted behind bars. That is where the familiar tale we know ends and a new reimagined one begins.

Gretel is now an older woman and her brother Hansel a town-thug and drunkard. After what they both endured in the Witch’s cottage, the siblings have gone down two very different paths in life. Gretel manages a bakery and is haunted by memories of burning the witch alive so she and her brother might escape. Stranger still is the book of witchcraft she stole from the cottage and the gems that frequently appear. In a town that is hard on the poor and wretched, Gretel adopts those she can and provides handouts for those she can’t – the memory of being a starving unwanted child one that is still fresh.

Final Thoughts

Burnt Sugar is an intriguing “what if” novella that offers a conclusion to the tale of Hansel and Gretel. There are some aspects which are unanswered – such as the hands that push at Gretel’s back – reminiscent of the witch’s own ending. Whether this is deliberately unexplained or not it is unclear. Regardless, this is a deeply emotional and thought provoking idea of what might have happened once two children expected lost to the forest, stumbled back to their village and how their lives would have altered from the experience.

Conclusion

A fascinating literary reimagining of the Grimm’s fairytale of Hansel and Gretel. Definitely worth reading for those who enjoy a historical fantasy. A solid fairytale reimagining for those curious to know what might happened after Hansel and Gretel escaped the witch and the forest.

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

reads, Recent Reads

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.

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/

reads, Recent Reads

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!

reads, Recent Reads

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.

reads, Recent Reads

The Path of Thorns


Publisher’s Description

Asher Todd comes to live with the mysterious Morwood family as a governess to their children. Asher knows little about being a governess but she is skilled in botany and herbcraft, and perhaps more than that. And she has secrets of her own, dark and terrible – and Morwood is a house that eats secrets. With a monstrous revenge in mind, Asher plans to make it choke. However, she becomes fond of her charges, of the people of the Tarn, and she begins to wonder if she will be able to execute her plan – and who will suffer most if she does. But as the ghosts of her past become harder to control, Asher realises she has no choice.


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

Review

I recently read The Path of Thorns by Australian horror and dark fantasy author A.G. Slatter (aka Angela Slatter).

Asher Todd contrives to organise a position as a governess at Morwood grange to educate the three children. Hired by elder Mrs Leonora Morwood, despite her son Luther Morwood running the estate. Asher is haunted both literally and figuratively by her past and a terrible plan to seek revenge and destroy the Morwoods.

Enacting her plan becomes harder when Asher reveals her skills as a cunning woman, a witch and healer. Soon, the struggling people of the Morwood estate and local Tarn rely on Asher for their care. Caught between her loyalty to the Tarn and her desire for revenge against the Morwoods, Asher’s hand is prematurely forced unleashing a dark tide of magic, regret, desire, and rage.

Final Thoughts

The Path of Thorns skilfully blends fairytales and folklore to reimagine an equistitely detailed dark Victorian world. An beautiful and deadly world of witchcraft and ghosts, dark magic and desperate actions. A tale of unrequited affection with dark consequences, The Path of Thorns is rich with complex characters, a dark and twisted fairytale set in the dark fantasy Sourdough world.

Conclusion

A highly recommended read for lovers of dark fantasy, horror, gothic horror and ghost stories. The Path of Thorns is a well-written and beautifully executed novel. A must read!