A nod to a contemporary ghost story

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It’s a long time between drinks here on the blog – I think I should rename this little corner of the Internet ‘The Inconstant Blogger’; a faithful online diarist I am not.

Anyhoo, just thought I’d break the drought and post a quick nod to one of my long-time favourite authors Phil Rickman.

I’ve been a fan for more than 20 years (yikes!) and I’m pleased to have watched the growing popularity of such a talented and exceptional writer who has gathered about him a passionate and very active fan base of readers.

His latest book, Night After Night, is classic contemporary ghost story fare by someone who knows his terror from his horror, and when to play up each element to full effect.

I’ve just posted my review over at Amazon.com. But for the lazy, here it is:

A tightly written, suspenseful ghost story with a twist, Night After Night leaves the reader questioning what’s real, and what’s unreal.

We’re quickly drawn into the cut-throat world of reality television, which serves as the platform for a ‘Big Brother’ style program that places participants – fading celebrities, skeptics and believers alike – into a so-called haunted house for several weeks in the pursuit of ‘great telly’.

Drawn into this circus are old-school spiritual warriors Grayle Underhill (journalist) and Cindy Mars Lewis (a cross-dressing shaman), two faces already well-known in the Rickmanverse as stalwarts of his ‘Will Kingdom’ novels, Cold Calling and Mean Spirit. By the by, if ever two characters deserved more than a couple of books, it’s the colourful Grayle and Cindy (and their associates).


Rickman skillfully weaves the many strands of this well-plotted story, which features, as always, the landscape as a character – in this instance the brooding Belas Knap, a nearby neolithic burial mound.


Nobody explores the foggy, grey boundaries of crime and the supernatural better than Rickman.

Bring on the next one!

Be warned, once you read one of Phil’s books you’ll be hooked, but it’s okay because Rickman has quite the backlist so you’ll be entertained for some time to come.

If you’re all up to speed on your Rickmans then head on over to your reviewing platform of choice and share the love. Reviews help sell books, and nothing’s sweeter than word-of-mouth endorsements.

And if you’re still hankering for a fix and want to keep your head in the spooky, dark Rickmanverse, I highly recommend joining and participating in the Phil Rickman Appreciation Society (aka PRAS, a Facebook-based fan group that PR himself visits from time to time). A friendlier bunch of book lovers with discerning musical and fashion taste you will not meet…

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Easter, anthologies and Amanita

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This weekend while everyone else has been looking for chocolate eggs in the tall grass, I have been busy trying to weave together stories for two anthologies I’m editing.

I have always enjoyed reading, and there’s something rather special about pulling together the work of other writers in relation to a particular theme.

Specifically, I’ve been tinkering with the adrenalin-pumping non-fiction tome Call of the Wild, and my creepy M.R. James tribute anthology of short stories, both of which have attracted some very high calibre offerings from both new and established writers.

And while my house has (rather unthinkably) been caffeine and chocolate-free, there have been bunnies aplenty – wild brown rabbits darting across in front of our car when we nipped out for a Saturday drive (no mean feat on the Easter long weekend when my neck of the woods becomes choked with cars heading east and west).

After the rabbits zipped by (egg-less, they must have already done the bidding of the Easter Bunny), I noticed we had stopped out the front of an old miner’s cottage, and the road had turned into a dirt track. In front was a magnificent old pine tree, and gathered around its roots like a colourful skirt were lots of Amanita muscaria, pretty red and white toadstools of the kind always seen decorating faerie bowers.

Sometimes the magic happens when you least expect it.

C’mon down to Indie Recon 2015!

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If you’re a writer or editor involved with self-publishing, set aside April 15-17, 2015 to attend Indie Recon online.

Indie Recon is a global conference providing the best advice and education for independent-minded authors across the world, particularly those with an interest in self-publishing.

The conference will feature a mix of online educational seminars, workshops discussions and masterclasses; culminating in a reader-centred Indie Author Fringe Fest live from The London Book Fair’s Book and Screen Week, on Friday 17th April.

Held at Foyles Bookshop, Charing Cross, the largest independent bookstore in London, the Fringe Fest will offer exciting ways for readers to meet indie authors and discover great reads.

This year the Alliance for Independent Authors (ALLi) has joined forces with the organisers of Indie Recon to present an even bigger and better conference experience, leveraging off its highly experienced membership.

In line with ALLi’s mission to be a global organisation for authors everywhere, the event will be live streamed, so authors and readers who can’t be in London can take part online.

That means you and I can tune in and take part.

See you there!

Working holidays, writing myths, and patrons

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Has it really been more than a month since I posted on this dear old blog? What the hell have I been up to? Well, dear reader, I’ve been enjoying a bit of a working holiday.

I spent a good three weeks undertaking some firsthand research for a long-term non-fic book project, which entailed camping out in the wilderness of Tasmania.

And I’ve been busy pulling together some anthology projects, the first of which is an M.R. James inspired collection of creepy tales authored by some very exciting (several of which are very well known) authors.

It’s going to be a cracking collection, and I’m sure old Montague, if he were about, would certainly approve!

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I’ve also engaged in a bit of crime – watching it on the box, that is – enjoying Murdoch Mysteries (S1 – there’s another 7 to watch, apparently!), and some tense, nail-biting drama in the form of Broadchurch (S2), and Fortitude. All highly recommended.

The latter two series do a good trade in red herrings – more potential suspects than you can poke a stick at, but at least the plots keep you coming back for more.

Of course there have been other casualties during this fallow writing period – most tellingly the garden and the housework. It’s hard to get your work ethic back after several weeks of communing with nature, but one does have to pay the bills.

Speaking of the bills (of which there are many, I think they were breeding under the fridge!) I stumbled across a series of interesting posts about how writers *really* financially support themselves. There is a prevailing belief that most writers just write all day, miraculously making ends meet while churning out moderate to excellent prose.

Well, some do. While others can, largely thanks to inheritances or wealthy patrons (read: spouses or family trusts), plod along and write whenever they please. But most of us work other jobs. I’d urge you to read the many comments and links, and enjoy the honest revelations.

Here’s the post that kicked it all off, Ann Bauer’s “Sponsored” by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from. It’s refreshing, and it’s raw. And we’re all green with envy, Ann! Your bloke sounds like he needs cloning 🙂

Today, I am essentially “sponsored” by this very loving man who shows up at the end of the day, asks me how the writing went, pours me a glass of wine, then takes me out to eat. He accompanies me when I travel 500 miles to do a 75-minute reading, manages my finances, and never complains that my dark, heady little books have resulted in low advances and rather modest sales.

As for me – yes I do work full-time as a writer, but not for myself. My own writing is largely done on the train each day early in the morning or evening, or on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes it’s churned out during fits of insomnia. But it’s rarely if ever penned between the hours of 9-5. That time, friends, belongs to The Day Job, without which I would not be able to fund much of what I do, including living and eating.

At the moment my independently-published books break even and pay for themselves production-wise with a bit more besides, and I have a trade-published book that presents me with a nice combined ELR-PLR payment each June, equating to slightly less than a week’s pay. Icing on the passive income that is the book royalty.

I write for pleasure, and for interest.

I don’t write for profit – yet – but I’m getting there.

Why I work – so I can read and write!

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My love affair with books started as a child. In fact I still have several of those early tomes close at hand that gripped my fledgling imagination, including two dear favourites from when I was a mere eight years old: The World of Myth and Legend, and Tales ofMagic and Enchantment (both by Brimax Books, 1980).

Those two books in particular sparked my fascination with all things mythical, magic and Fortean. The fact I still have them on my bookcase after all these years and countless house moves as a child and adult is a testament to how precious they are to me, and how fond I am generally of books.

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As well as haunting libraries, I have long been a fan of garage sales, post-Christmas book chain store sales, mail-order books clubs (remember those?), independent bookshops, and now online book shopping via the likes of Amazon.com and its contemporaries.

As a result of this passion, I now have books on true crime, myth and legend, war, health and fitness, biographies, psychology, archaeology, rare and extinct animals, as well as thrillers, romances, ‘cosies’, fantasies, mysteries – and too many other genres and categories to mention.

My fascination with storytelling evolved over my school years, and I eventually started writing my own stories – non-fiction and fiction – and for some years pursued the craft of journalism. I love writing, meeting people and learning new things. For a time it was the perfect job for me – days spent writing and being paid for it. Evenings spent reading the books my writing had paid for. Win!

In fact this lifestyle was pretty damn good for a long while, keeping me comfortably in books and hot chocolate, pet food and the odd new item of clothing for some time. Basically, as long as my primary survival needs were met, my career was doing its job – keeping me in books!

But as happens with many professional scribes, after some time I longed to write under my own ‘masthead’. I had my own stories to tell – true and fantastical, made-up and mythical. I wanted to take that next step as a storyteller. I wanted to be an author of books, not just of newspaper articles (or fish and chip wrappers, as my Nan used to say).

And so it was that 10 years ago I started working on my first non-fiction book, which was eventually independently published in 2010. Sadly it was too late for Nan to see, but I included a picture of her and I in the dedication. That connection was important to me.

The bug bit me, and since then I have independently published two more non-fiction tomes, and this year will (fingers crossed) be publishing some fiction.

So yes, while it’s true I work to read (wage = books), I also work to write these days.

And as a complementary passion to reading, it’s working out just fine.

(PS my dear thanks to Weezie for the inspiration for this post…and www.Grammarly.com)

Writing and the curse of the perfectionist

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Are you a perfectionist?

I am, and to be honest it’s a killer for creativity. You’re forever backtracking, self-editing, critiquing and generally smothering your creative offspring because the reality doesn’t quite measure up to the fantasy.

Attention to detail is great, but there’s a point in the writing and publishing process for nit-picking – that time is when you edit, re-draft and polish your prose, not while you’re still powering through your story.

So, fellow scribes, pens or keyboards at the ready – don’t look behind you to ruminate on what you’ve written, plough on and think and write about what will be.

And then, we’ll see…

Women writing women smashing boundaries

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Some of my favourite authors and self-publishers have banded together to promote their work as part of a box set. It looks absolutely stunning, and yes I’m rushing off to grab my own copy of this limited edition e-anthology.

Self-publishing authors and Alliance of Independent Authors members Jessica Bell, Roz Morris, Orna Ross, Joni Rodgers, Kathleen Jones, Jane Davis, and Carol Cooper all feature in ‘The Magnificent Seven’.

You can read more about this bold publishing experiment over at the blog of participating author Roz Morris.

Collectives and coalitions are shaping up as a serious marketing force for professional self-publishers – I’m keen to see how this works out for the authors involved in terms of boosting book sales and general visibility. I’m sure they’ll be blogging about it!

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Words are a lens to focus one’s mind

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‘Word are a lens to focus one’s mind’. Ayn Rand penned this, and yet I feel it could so easily have been uttered by one of my all-time favourite detectives, Sherlock Holmes.

The super-smart Russian-American novelist and libertarian heroine might have enjoyed the Baker Street detective’s piercing intellect (or not – Holmes didn’t really have a way with women).

As I write this post I’m reminded, yet again, that Atlas Shrugged (Rand’s most famous work) is still gathering dust on my reading pile. One step closer…

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Confucius says read!

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Did Confucius, China’s most famous teacher, philosopher, and political theorist (551-479 BC) really say this?

Was this position on reading one of his analects (teachings)?

I don’t know, but the sentiments certainly ring true. Read, read and read some more. Today there really is no excuse for ignorance with so much information at our fingertips.

Confucius apparently did say ‘True wisdom is knowing what you don’t know’. Or something like that.

The easiest way to remedy ignorance is to read. And the easiest way to read is to buy or borrow reading material. In doing so, you’re supporting storytelling and those that ply its trade.

In a roundabout way, Confucius said so!

Why I love my library

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John Lubbock really knew what he was on about. Isn’t this a great quote? I love it. I want it tattooed on the wall of my next house, in the room that will be my very own private library.

I was a wee little thing when I visited my first library. I remember it well. It was in the hallowed halls of St Joseph’s primary school in O’Connor in Canberra, Australia. It was the late 1970s, so the children’s reading corner was very traditional – lots of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven, Herge’s Tin Tin, Goscinny and Uderzo’s Asterix, Jeff Brown’s Flat Stanley – and featured an enormous tube cushion in the shape of a giant snake. I loved that library, and I remember the competition was fierce for the good books, particularly the ones featuring Julian, Dick, Anne and George (and Timmy the dog!). The boys in particular were quick to swoop on any Tin-Tin and Asterix books. For my money, mysteries were  the way to go. I was green with envy over my friend Jo’s collection of original hardcover Famous Five books, which she had inherited from her mother. It was hard going trying to find all of the books and read them in order through the library, and yet the library offered me something I’d never had before: reading choices.

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My next most memorable library was on the other side of the world at Hunters Woods Elementary School in Reston, Virginia, USA. You wouldn’t get a more different collection of children’s books, which isn’t surprising given how culturally different the two countries were in the 1980s, a time when you couldn’t even watch American ads on Australian TV. It was here I discovered the likes of Joan Aitken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, and Louise Fitzhugh’s charming Harriet the Spy (which inspired me to carry around a similar notebook of frank and fearless observations for a while – to my detriment).

I also discovered Judy Blume, a then (and probably still) controversial author. She was your go-to girl for all the gory details about periods, first bras and kissing boys. Reading ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ was a rite of passage.

When I wasn’t at school, I begged my father to take me to the Reston Regional Library, where I would walk out with armfuls of books. The school holidays were heavenly. A keen reader, I’d churn through most of them in a week and insist on another trip. It was cheap entertainment, considering a few years earlier I’d been badgering my father to buy me endless copies of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden books at around $6 a pop (big money then, and when you read them as quickly as I did).

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There have been other libraries since then. Other books. Many other books. But those three libraries and their contents shine in my memory as havens for the young me, a bookish child, and opened up a world of joy, adventure and knowledge.

These days I tend to buy my books instead of borrow them. Some books I read straight away, others I shelf for a rainy day. I buy new, I buy old. I buy mass market books, and I hunt down rare and unusual tomes. I buy locally, interstate and internationally. I buy in shops and I buy online.

I almost never give away books and, after a few bad experiences, I absolutely never lend them. My collection gives me great joy. I still have books that I owned as a child – adventure stories, fairytales and compendiums of myths and legends – precious touchstones that still evoke feelings of delight and wonder. Books have proven to be constant friends to me, and even in my darkest hours (and I’m fortunate in that I’ve never had too many of those) they have been my crutch, my confidante. To live without books in my life would be akin to giving up food or water.

My fondest wish as a child was to have my own library. My very own shelfed sanctuary heaving with every kind of topic or genre that has ever grabbed my fancy, well kept and respected tomes, gently loved and, post-read, occasionally caressed. The air thick with the scent of ageing pages. I have that now – a few thousand books that line the walls of my old 1940s cottage, roughly ordered by subject, spines rebelling against anyone’s attempts to colour coordinate to any interior decor whim. This isn’t a show-pony library, it’s a reader’s library.

Books taught me about the importance of storytelling. It’s a love affair that has defined my career choices and hobbies – first as reader, then as journalist, book reviewer, editor, and writer – so it’s little wonder that I share my house with so many stories. I’m not a hoarder, and I’m not a collector. I’m merely in tune with my true nature (and yours), the primal need we all have for sharing and finding meaning in the human experience.

For telling stories.

Reynolds Price said: “A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens – second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter.”

‘Hey lady!’ I hear you say, ‘haven’t you heard of ebooks?’

Well yes, yes I have. But if someone pulls the plug on the Internet tomorrow or Amazon.com crashes, or your e-reader runs out of juice, your ebooks will be floating in the ether. My books will be on the shelf, ready to read.

In my library.