Dying Embers out now

Dying Embers out now

Monday, 26 May 2014

The ghosts of Sydney's past

Having recently joined the Historic Houses Trust, we decided to make the most of it with a day out in the centre of Sydney. A bus ride took us firstly to St Mary's Cathedral in College Street. The skies were getting darker, and as we walked across Hyde Park the rain poured down. Luckily I had brought umbrellas, but by the time we found shelter behind its huge wooden doors, we were pretty wet... and cold. We weren't allowed to take photographs inside the building, but the children loved exploring the huge space within. I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me think of the Cathedral of Saint Bavon, from Aickman's The Cicerones. There were certainly some Americans there too; but that's another story!

St Mary's Cathedral is an impressive building. The rain was just starting to pour...
St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney
One of many statues dotted about the perimeter of the Cathedral.
We couldn't get close enough to them to find out who they
represented, but this one is fairly obviously St Mary!
From there, we walked to Hyde Park Barracks, a beautiful sandstone building with a rather ugly past. Built to the order of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, it was designed by convict architect Francis Greenway and constructed by convict labour in 1819. Until 1848 it provided accommodation for convicts employed by the government. Heartbreakingly, I found out that the youngest convict ever deported to Australia was sent here, a nine-year old boy who stole a watch while living on the streets in London (no doubt just to get money with which to buy food). My own daughter is nine, so it came as a shock to realise such a young person could be sent so far and so alone. Apparently, he died at just 14, having been sent to work in the Newcastle coal mines. Such tragedies were no doubt commonplace back then.

The interior of Hyde Park Barracks. It's been well restored, with some
evocative audio/visual installations... which are quite spooky!

All this means that the sympathetically restored interior probably contains many ghosts. There are also some interesting audio/visual installations, which work very well. The visitor can look through the guards' peep-holes into the old cells and dormitories, and there are shadowy figures set up to move at the edge of your field of vision. The accompanying noises, groans and snores, add up to a spooky experience, especially with such dark, inclement weather like when we were there. Well worth a visit, and it certainly provides fodder for a scary story or two!

One of the peep-holes through which the guards would
keep an eye on those untrustworthy convicts
I'm sure some of these corridors are walked by the ghosts
of Sydney's shameful convict past!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Review: Tales of the Strange and Grim, by Andrew Hall

Tales of the strange and Grim has turned out to be one of those books I have found difficult to stop reading. I confess, I'm a huge fan of short, strange stories, and Andrew Hall has obviously shared some of my influences.

This intriguing collection opens with Mr Volinov, which introduces the reader to Hall's smoothly idiosyncratic writing style: 'In the world in a country in a city in the park old Sergei Volinov was drinking juice.' Not just any juice, mind you, but a patented elixir. For some time, Volinov reaps the benefits of eternal youth, 'a Norse god made of chiselled wood in a torn and bloodied shirt'. However, having sold his belongings (and his soul?) for a second chance at a vigorous life, the question remains unanswered; what next? In Tabitha, an unsuccessful writer gets inspiration from the strangest source imaginable, but perhaps that very inspiration has arrived just a little too late. Next up is George, the fascinating portrait of a tyrant on the English throne; but in this case, a modern-day tyrant and all that entails. The juxtaposition of 21st-century attitudes within an almost medieval framework makes for a thought-provoking and grimly humorous tale.

In what is perhaps my favourite story here, The Feathered Man takes the reader on a rollercoaster ride through the underbelly of a poverty-stricken city. Its citizens are terrorised by a 'satanic freak, prowling its towered heights and sewered depths', preying on the 'whores and drunks and criminals'. Acting like some kind of bizarre superhero, however, the Feathered Man soon clears the streets of his very sustenance; and his own success leads to his ultimate downfall. Peace of Cake imagines what might happen if works of art come to life, and what to do with the resulting intrusions into reality. You may not look at a food processor in the same way again... Stonewall is a longer story, almost a novella, in which supernatural elements are blended with traditional storytelling to produce an epic saga involving traitors, knights and tragedy. The final tale, Time Apart, brings us back to the present day. Tom wakes one morning to find he can stop time with the click of his fingers. At first, this seems to have no downside, and he exploits his luck relentlessly. Soon, however, the question must arise; what will happen for the rest of time itself?

This is a vibrant, sharply written collection, full of interesting ideas and wit, and I would recommend it for anyone who likes their entertainment slightly left-of-field. Hall's writing style is ideal for these thought-provoking vignettes, most of which could be expanded upon to great effect; my only criticism is that there could be more of it! I'm glad I discovered this author, and I'll be looking out for anything from his pen in the future.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Best reads of 2014 so far

It's been a busy and productive year for me, finishing off my debut collection of short stories Dying Embers for publication by Satalyte Publishing. However, I've also found the time to read some excellent short story collections, and a marvelous novella. (Not that I like the word novella; wasn't L'Etranger by Camus only a hundred pages, yet honoured with the title of novel?)

So in no particular order, here are some of my favourites of the year so far.

Eric Brown's intriguing collection, Ghostwriting. It kicks off with the
memorable The Man Who Never Read Novels
Tenebrous Tales by Christopher Barker includes a haunting story
inspired by the great Nick Drake. What's not to like?
Another great book from Tartarus Press,
Mercy and Other Stories
by Rebecca Lloyd treats the
reader to 16 fascinating, otherwordly tales. Review soon
The aliens are coming! You'll be intrigued by the complex,
poignant world created by Mark Fuller Dillon in
All Roads Lead To Winter
. Review soon
Enter The Dark is Light Enough For Me at your peril;
these scarily bizarre tales grab you and won't let you go.
A suitably dark collection from John Claude Smith
I'm a huge fan of Warren's work, and The Gate Theory
is essential reading. Compellingly so!
David Haynes's latest is atmospheric storytelling at its best
If you're afraid of the dark, don't read this grimly superb collection
edited by Ross Warren; For the Night is Dark focuses on
that most primeval of fears. Great writers, great stories

I'd love to review all these books and more, but there aren't enough hours in the day, so keep an eye open for the few I manage. In the meantime, I'm happy to suggest you get hold of these publications and have a good read. The Night is Dark, indeed!