Review of Stormtide by Den Patrick Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Blurb

Book Two in stunning Scandinavia-inspired fantasy trilogy The Ashen Torment.

BOOK TWO OF THE ASHEN TORMENT

Steiner, blacksmith, hero, has taken a hammer to the Empire, freeing the dead and children with witchsign alike from their fiery prison. Now he plans to finish what he started.

Kimi, dragon-speaker, princess, must seek her father’s court and win the support of his armies before news of her escape dooms her people.

Silverdust, ancient, dead, journeys to the heart of the empire as a prisoner – to meet the Emperor for what he hopes will be the final time.

Kjellrun, witch, killer, still reeling from the loss of her uncle when she is ripped from her family, fears this power within her. But she must harness that force – and soon – if she hopes to survive.

Scattered by fortune, plagued by danger, Steiner’s crew rise against the dark rule that has cost them so much.

The old gods are waking.

The dragons are free.
May gods help those who bear the sign of the witch.

Den Patrick’s thrilling new series continues in the sequel to the acclaimed WITCHSIGN.

Review

Where do I begin reviewing Stormtide. I have recently being doing a reread in preparation for the final book in the trilogy. I have been blown away. I mean I thought it was outstanding the first time I read it. However this reread has enabled to examine every aspect in more detail, and notice things that I missed the first time around. Den’s writing is spellbinding I felt as if I was exploring the story all over again for the first time. He drew me into the adventure with the same hunger I wanted to read my friends again. I still didn’t notice the twists coming.

Den’s writing allowed me to get lost. To go on multiple adventures with a cast of characters that when you finish reading them you have experienced every emotion. He did this to me twice. Whether it was through sailing with Romola. The baddest pirate in fantasy, who has an air of mystery, and sweetness that makes you want to stay with her longer, or Silverdust outsmarting everyone, to the hilarious personality of Tief. Every character has something to discover. I found myself crying, laughing, and dancing with joy as this little piece of heaven enabled me to escape 2020 for a few days.

What Den has been able to build in this second installment of the Ashen Torment series is nothing short of incredible. Some fantasy series can suffer a boring second book leading to disappointment. In this case its the total opposite. The second book takes this series to new heights going into places unexplored by fantasy. I know that is a bold claim, but I stand by it. I simply can’t remember the last time I was so connected to characters. I cared about all of them. Their stories made them feel like family. The reread was like an embrace from a long lost friend and I couldn’t wait to say hello again over a pint of ale or fighting side by side against a corrupt empire.

This book has it all. A subtle magic system, enchanted weapons, dragon riders, sexy pirates, smart mouthed mythical creatures, and tormented dragons that will have you running for the hills. If that doesn’t catch your attention then let me say this no character throughout the entire narrative lost my interest, and remember this was a reread. I knew what the book was about and still I went through the same breathtaking experience. Screw George RR. Martin. Ashen Torment blows him out the water. I know this, when the trilogy ends I am going to be a wreck. This second installment is a warm hug with a deadly kiss. Read it for yourselves and get lost in a world that you’ll never want to leave. Well Done Den. You get 5 stars. Thank you for my friends. Kimi forever.

Review of Love Like Bleeding Out With An Empty Gun in Your Hand By Stephen J Golds Written By Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

An aging hitman is embittered by his career choice at the point of no return. A shell-shocked soldier in World War Two finds hope through death, reflected in the eyes of his enemy. A serial killer confesses in veiled, lurching prose. A mobster unravels at the zero hour of this mortal coil. A man reevaluates existence after discovering a suicide. These are some of the twenty-nine dark, twisted, and gritty stories by Stephen J. Golds collected here for the first time — bound taut with thirty poems of loss, love, and other thoughts that haunt you after last call.

Review

Sometimes you just need a break. A break from the seven hundred page tomes, or the four hundred page crime mysteries, and pick up a lighter read. A book that keeps you engaged, but won’t leave you feeling fried for days afterwards. That is exactly what Stephen Golds new collection Love Like Bleeding Out With An Empty Gun In Your Hand provides. It is a read that immerses you from the first sentence. Yet at the same time lets you know that if you follow the writer into his cleverly constructed dark corners for a few moments you will be rewarded when you reach the end.

This collection of poems and short stories is a beautiful mashup of grit and poetic writing that carries you on an adrenaline fuelled bender that you don’t even realise you’re experiencing until you’re halfway through, and questioning what time of day it is. This collection is unique because it isn’t just short stories that cross a range of genres. But a masterclass on how to make poems carry a narrative structure. It’s wasn’t something I was excepting as I read the short stories about corrupt gangsters, staring your own death in the face, and other taboo subjects. But it worked wonderfully. As I read the lines of the poems I found myself smiling. They bought a different angle to Stephen’s writing that enabled him to explore many methods of storytelling that helped immerse the reader deeply in his themes, as well as giving us a glimpse into how he views the different levels of darkness that exist in our world.

The poems created almost a bitter sweetness between the pages. Every one leading you to the true horrors of crime. They allowed you to breathe as you went from one hard hitting story to the next. But helped maintain your interest throughout. Yet as the pages turned I found myself getting lost in the language used. Stephen in this collection isn’t afraid to faithfully describe how some of these harrowing events would occur in the shady corners of society with blood curdling accuracy. He doesn’t shy away from how these events would not only effect the individuals involved, but also the environment in which they are committed. He goes into depth on the ripples caused by tragedy on an emotional level that I haven’t seen reached by any other author this year. Even though each story is separate they all seemed to carry a universal message. That every crime leaves a scar no matter how small. The reason this collection will be in my books of the year is because Stephen makes you care about every tiny detail that he is able to smuggle into his writing. Whether that’s the ex gangster down on his luck, to a droplet of blood tarnishing the pavement as a victim falls. You feel it all, and it will leave you scarred as you close the cover.

This collection is a celebration of what I would call Dirty Noir. Every page felt as if it had been dripped into the grime of the streets. The graffitied walls, the bars drowning in their own shit, and backrooms that only a select few know exist to whisper their dirty deeds. Stephen gets down in the trenches. The ink in his pen is the blood under the fingernails of every killer mention. This book should carry a warning when you finish reading. It should say take a long hot shower because like his carefully crafted words you can’t quite wash away the stains of the street. Love Like Bleeding Out With an Empty Gun In Your Hand is a collection every crime fan should be reading. Stephen is a rising star. I can’t wait to plunge into his blacken mind again soon. It receives five stars, and is currently sitting at number six in my reads of the year. It is going to take something spectacular to change that. Congratulations Stephen. It’s a highly accomplished read.

I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t my views.

Review of The English Cantos Volume 1 Hellward by James Sale Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

The English Cantos is a horror tale told in beautiful, lyrical style. Based on his near-death experience in Ward 17 of Royal Bournemouth Hospital, James Sale takes us on a journey into a contemporary vision of hell and heaven modelled on Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. As Virgil guided Dante, so too Dante will guide James on this incredible journey.

Review

I admit poetry is something I usually avoid like the plague. The poetry I was force fed during my GCSE years to pass exams had put me off poetry for life. The stuffiness of it all was like a migraine that wouldn’t shift. I promised as I wrote the final sentence on my English exam that if I saw another piece of poetry in my lifetime that it would be to soon.

Yet a few months back I came across a poem called Hellward by James Sale. An epic poem that dives into the nightmare that is cancer. This poem was a light in the wilderness stripping away my previously held negative thoughts towards poetry. Gone was the pointless verses that complicated the meaning of the poem for the sake of it. Instead James took you on a journey. Every word seemed to explore cancer in a new perspective, from the pain of the diagnosis, to thoughts of how you can possibility recover from this life changing experience.

The narrative felt like your own personal conversation with James as he detailed his experience with this illness. I couldn’t help be reminded of the line ” Hello darkness my old friend I have come to talk with you again.” I know that song was detailing the loneliness of depression, but James’s narrative showed both the dark and light moments you encounter as you walk a certain path with this unrelenting creature. He didn’t shy away from the fact that it can be a lonely road. That at times it can simply come down to battling thoughts of giving in, to fighting to live with every breath you take.

As I continued reading these interlocking poems that unfolded into a narrative that left me spent. I couldn’t help but be returned to my nana’s cancer diagnosis when I was twelve. I don’t mind admitting at times I had to take a break from the narrative as I had tears in my eyes. James does an incredible job of capturing the entire experience not just from the perspective of the person with cancer, but the devastating effects it has on everyone involved. James isn’t gentle as he guides you into the unforgivable beast that is cancer, and what invisible scars it leaves in it’s wake that triggers every primal fear we have as humans about our own mortality.

As you read each individual poem you can’t help but notice the influence of Dante on James’s writing. As the narrator descends into different sections of the disease. He binds the reader to every face that cancer wears, detailing every stage of the journey as if cancer or illness is becoming different personality. To amplify it’s bone chilling horror. From vivid images of no man’s land to the calmness of a crystal blue sea we are shown how every stage manifests itself to encompass all thought, but at the same time to celebrate the small victories that emerge throughout this harrowing ordeal.

Hellward is a double edged sword. It captures both the darkness, and the light of illness. Showing every emotion that humans experience when confronted with a life changing problem. The fear, the denial, the pain, the acceptance, and the redemption that can occur once you leap the final hurdle. Hellward is more than just one person’s journey through cancer. Its for anyone who has suffered trauma no matter how small. Its unapologetic in its rawness, and that’s what kept me reading. However it isn’t all doom, and gloom at it’s heart it is a human story, displaying a spectrum of truth that we can all learn from.

It receives 5 stars. It is a must read just for the prose and rawness alone. Well done James. I never thought I would say this but you had made me enjoy poetry.

I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for a positive review. This doesn’t effect my views.

Interview with Gary Donnelly(DI Owen Sheen Series) Conducted by Dan Stubbings

DS: Today I am delighted to welcome Gary Donnelly author of the DI Owen Sheen Series to my blog. Thanks for joining me Gary.

GD: My pleasure Dan. Thanks for having me.

DS: What made you decide to write crime fiction?

GD: In many ways it chose me rather than the other way round! I certainly did not set out with an express intention of writing crime or noir, but looking back it made a lot of sense for me to hang my hat there. I love reading crime fiction, and when Sheen was first forming as a character and the series was slowly taking shape, I was reading a lot of Michael Connelly (especially the Harry Bosch series), Peter Robinson’s understated and musical DCI Banks novels, Mo Hayder’s creepy tales, Ian Rankin and of course Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville’s Northern Irish crime work. So, having explained this, it probably made a lot of sense for my own novel to be (largely) a crime story.

In saying that, Blood Will Be Born set a tone for the Sheen series by also smudging those clean genre lines a bit, adding dabs of Stephen King’s supernatural eeriness, playing with romantic themes and exploring the tensions of personal issues and relationships on a wider canvas of historical, political and conspiratorial big backgrounds (my youthful love of Frederick Forsyth, Robert Lundlum and of course King and Dean Koontz).

DS: How long did it take you to write the first DI Owen Sheen book Blood Will Be Born? What was the hardest obstacle when trying to complete that dreaded first draft?

GD: I started writing in a serious way after attending an online novel writing class with the City Lit, London in, I think, mid-2014, but it was only in 2015 when I made an active decision to change my job (all-consuming and never satiated up until this point) that I found the mental space to engage and really begin. At that point I also had the impetus of knowing I had downsized my professional prospects and therefore knew that I wanted a novel to show for it! Mind you, I was still working pretty much full time so it took the guts of a year (it’s feast or famine when it comes to writing for me) before I had knocked out a first draft by August 2016 (in time for my BIG 40 which was no doubt also in the mix on some level).

So Blood Will Be Born took about a year but the learning curve was steep, and that was far from the end of it. The first draft had the bones and structure of the story as it stands but it was a hefty, overweight beast of a thing that had been written with no plan or plot until about half-way (amazing to think that as I look back at the process, but that’s the truth) and then herded into shape from that point until the end. Amazingly this process worked and worked pretty well, but not, at that point, as a crime thriller. At some level I think I was aiming for something closer to Stephen King’s The Stand meets Ulysses (pass me my smoking jacket and cravat)! To use a phrase which the journalist David Roy coined while speaking to me this week, I’d created a Sheeniverse, but fun as that was, it needed to be edited, sculpted to allow the real story to emerge.

So that process, following feedback from first readers and prospective agents, took me into early 2017. It’s something they rarely teach you about in writing classes, but it is the equally essential counterpart to hacking out the first draft. By the time I was done, I knew the book was so much the better for it, and I could say with confidence where it ought to sit on a crime thriller shelf. So the hardest part? For the first draft it had to be (and probably still is) starting with a commitment that the book is on and then writing consistently, doubts and fears be damned, until that draft is finished.

DS: What I love about the series is that Belfast becomes a character in its own right. What made you decide to set the series there? And how on earth do you make it so vivid?

GD: Thank you, I am so pleased it is brought to life for you. I am always minded of that phrase that we do not live in the past but the past lives in us, when I think about this question. The Belfast of my childhood and youth is long gone and I live in London, so I rely on the sensory memories of the past and from my visits. The freshness of the air, the ever present guarantee of rain, the crispness of the light and the beauty of the encroaching countryside as well as the sometimes dreary and sinister bleakness of parts of the urban landscape. I close my office blinds and ignore the London sunshine (so abundant when I was drafting the third book, Never Ask The Dead, it was torture), and I try to see through Owen Sheen’s eyes. I also employ little tricks when needed. An online search will give me an instant image of a place, and sometimes having it dated is even better as it summons the atmosphere I want. Sheen’s Belfast also has the feel of risk and edginess and this is something I think I turn inward to find.

I left Belfast when I turned nineteen and when I arrived in Cambridge I felt like I’d been dropped into a toy town. I could walk home after a few drinks at night and my furtive glances over my shoulder were wasted, strangers asked me questions about politics and religion with genuine interest, and with no agenda attached. Which was an eyeopener. But I suppose to quote another well-used adage, you can take the boy out of Belfast, but at some level, you will never take Belfast out of the boy.

DS: In the series Northern Ireland’s dark past is ever present. I am wondering was this a conscious decision as you can truly imagine the reality of the troubles as you read?

GD: Yes, I think of it as a ghost in the works, perhaps represented most tangably by The Moley, John Fryer’s tormenting demon that he must feed with fresh blood in book one. As mentioned above, I remember many things first hand, though unlike Sheen, who was subject by the worst kind of personal trauma, my experience like so many, was more cumulative. A stone added to a sack that was carried daily and to which we had become so accustomed, the weight was not consciously felt, perhaps, until it was finally lifted. Indeed, there is also a kind of trauma from watching others become victims, the sense of the near miss, attending the funeral of a friend’s father, eating my school packed lunch in a park where soldiers were stripped, beaten and murdered. These things must have an effect. And the proof of that is there in the books.

In the same way I did not set out to write crime fiction to begin with I also did not consciously begin with a view to engaging with legacy issues, but there they are! I am proud of the Sheen series for the way in which (I hope) this has been managed and cautiously navigated. Ian McEwan wrote about the importance of empathy and imagination as the essence of our humanity after 9/11. I am sure politicians, historians and others have their part to play in coming to terms with the dark past which we all shared. As a writer I have a wonderful licence to create, challenge and explore as well as entertain.

DS: In the series Owen seems to be feeling his way back into his own forgotten past, almost as if he is an outsider looking into the shadows waiting to see what will jump out. How much of Owen’s backstory did you know before you began writing, and how much grew organically as you wrote? As I love his voice throughout.

GD: Thank you again. Sheen arrived pretty much fully formed. I knew I wanted an outsider of sorts to arrive in Belfast to start up the SHOT (Serious Historical Offences Team) and Sheen was a perfect vehicle for this. In doing so, Sheen had some built in neutrality and gave me the licence I needed to engage my home town afresh. Plus, I now know North London as well as I ever knew Belfast so I was sure I could find his voice quite easily. Then, as I introduced him, and I searched for his layers, I thought about how sweetly weighted and apt it would be that he had once lived in Belfast, but has no concrete memories of that time. It was then that I had the eureka moment.

What if Sheen is back in Belfast for more than police work? What if he wants the truth about a personal issue, something that caused his family to break and leave their home in the first place? And so it went. But this did not take long. He really did come to me when I called, wearing that God awful leather jacket and simmering with anger and secrets and questions.

DS: How much of your personality do you put into your characters? Which character would you say is most like you?

GD: This is a tough question. They are all my dark progeny! Of course the obvious answer is that Sheen is closest to me. A me reinvented and turned inside out perhaps, but I never really saw it that way. To do so risks self consciousness, having my ego conflict with his journey and that would be bad. I think by definition I bring parts of myself to every character, but it is more accurate to say that they become the expression of going beyond the parameters of myself and playing like we used to when we were children. ‘Just pretend,’ we used to say before telling our siblings and friends how we wanted to imagine the game. For me, it is very much the same and when it works it really is child’s play, the characters give me the freedom to go elsewhere. When they’re good, they are better than I could hope to be. When they are horrid, it has nothing to do with me! I just tell their story. 🙂

DS: Which 3 books do you believe everyone must read in their lifetime and why?

GD: Sheen 1, 2 and 3. Haha, not really. I don’t really count myself as well read, it has always been a bit of an insecurity for me, so great question! I’ll dodge this a bit by saying read Dickens, for the love of language and his love of everyday people. Read House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski because it is reality warping, mind blowingly original. Read Dubliners By James Joyce, as a reminder of how so much quality can be distilled into a small volume.

DS: What is your comfort read and why?

GD: I will return to my favourite Stephen King time and again. ‘Salem’s Lot and It especially. There is something about King’s ranging, landscape spanning style that is so accessible, and also so intimate that it feels like a literary warm bath, like telepathy without effort. He also writes about what matters to him and what he loves in a context that is local and parochial. Favourites from my youth and the former has at least one little homage in Sheen book 2, Killing In Your Name. I wonder if you can spot it?

DS: Is there anything in your series that you would change if so why?

GD: I always want it to be better. Better written, better paced and making better use of the past as a context and character. But, I have also learned the importance of being thankful. That I wrote the series at all, that it has been published and that so many readers actually ‘get’ it and want more.

DS: Finally, what is next for Gary Donnelly?

GD: Well, I knocked out a little stand alone during Lockdown 1 which I have just edited and I will be interested to see what may come of it. Very different from Sheen is all I can say. But Sheen is not done yet, I am working on the fourth in the series and I need to crack on and do what’s needed (refer to question 2!). I always have the nets cast though, even as I work on deck. Patience is a virtue, but from experience I know I will see the lines twitch soon. And when they do, I’ll strap into the chair once more, scary as it is, and see what I can land from the deep.

You can buy Never Ask The Dead now. Check out this link https://www.amazon.co.uk/Never-Ask-Dead-Owen-Sheen/dp/0749025476 or from all good bookstores.

Cover for the third book in the series doesn’t it look glorious.

This interview was conducted over email. I can’t thank Gary enough for taking the time to answer my questions. I adore the DI Owen Sheen series. Why not buy it now and find out why.

Review of Goth Girl by Venus Grrls Written by Dan Stubbings

The new track Goth Girl from Venus Grrls is so much more than young adults being rebellious. Producing a track that your mam would say made her ears bleed. Lets be honest we’ve all been there. Sat in our room, laid on our bed rocking out to our new favourite tune, and our parents turn off the electricity. Screaming at the top of their lungs for us to turn that noise down. Instead with Goth Girl you will turn up the volume, not caring how long you will be grounded for because this track must be played LOUD.

Goth girl goes against the grain. It isn’t simply gut busting drum solos and face melting riffs. Don’t get me wrong the guitars ignite a story that send you down a path that at points during the track you wish you could abandon. As the swallow skin deep perspectives of society are laid bare to be examined in all their glory. The song is enhanced further using a tapestry of keyboard melodies that create a dark backdrop as sinister as the Salem witch trials. I couldn’t help but get lost in the relaxing beat of the keys, as they carry you away into a different culture asking you challenge the fragility of our own beliefs. The subtly of the keys added a gritty texture drawing you into an embrace that doesn’t feel quite right yet you can’t help but go with it.

The drums are light coming in slowly. Adding to the tension like a clever antagonist pushing the song to depths that will make you turn it up to levels that make your speakers bleed. The vocals is the blood that pumps the heart of this track piercing your senses like a well placed blade. Every word selected deliberately to have maximum impact. The range of textures in the lead singer’s voice will send shivers down your spine.

Goth girl is a 2.35 minute short story into the very heart of society’s misjudged stereotypes. Exploring how fragile somebody can become if they aren’t allowed to embrace who they truly are. This song is a coming of age for Venus they lay all people’s insecurities bare. Its as if in those 2.35 minutes they capture everyone’s adolescence. The hours we all spend trying to find our place in this complex world. As the minutes tricked by I found myself transported to all parts of my life still trying to figure it out but enjoying the process along the way.

This song has so many messages. However the one I took away after my several replays was this. Embrace who your meant to be and screw anyone who tells you otherwise. Goth girl is a song for anyone who has ever questioned whether they should take a risk. Goth girl will leave you in no doubt. Its a song that cherishes it’s roots but isn’t afraid to break them. Why not have a listen for yourself and find out why I can’t stop playing it.

Check out the original video here: VENUS GRRRLS – Goth Girl (Official Video) – YouTube

Interview: Venus Grrrls "The music industry still has a long way to go but  our hope for the future is that it'll be more inclusive and accessible." -  Devolution Magazine
Venus Grrls

Interview with Author David Fennell (The Sleeper Series and The Art of Death) Interview conducted by Dan Stubbings

DS: Hi David thank you for agreeing to do the interview.

DF: My pleasure Dan. Thanks for having me.

DS: How did you first get into writing?

DF: I first started writing way back in primary school. I grew up in Belfast during the Troubles, which was a tough time. Our teacher encouraged us to write stories to help understand what was going on around us. Something clicked when I started writing, and this became a significant turning point.

DS: How did the idea for The Art of Death come about and can you provide a spoiler free description of what to expect?

DF: The killer in The Art of Death uses social media to catfish and capture his victims. This is a subject I really wanted to explore because it is current. Also, it reveals all of us as potential victims because of the data we show to others. An an added twist, my killer is also an artist and exhibits the corpses of his victims. Nice chap. One to introduce to your mother.

DS: The Art of Death features a strong but troubled female detective. What made you decide to write a female character, and how difficult did you find writing a female character from a male’s perspective?

DF: I write all my characters as honestly as I can regardless of their gender. All the emotions that the protagonist, Grace Archer, goes through are emotions I have experienced. Also, I’ve always loved reading and watching female leads triumph over adversity in environments that men think they control. A female detective was the right fit for this novel, pitting her against a savvy serial murderer. I couldn’t resist it.

DS: The Art of Death is the beginning of a new detective series for yourself what can we expect in the next dose?

DF: I’d love to succeed in making readers as unsettled with the book 2 as they were with book

DS: Who was your favourite character to write in The Art of Death and why?

DF: Definitely Grace Archer. Archer has a troubled past that I really enjoyed writing. You get a taste of it in the first book and more will come in the next.

DS: How much of your own personality did you put into your characters, and did you learn anything new about yourself from writing Art of Death?

DF: As mentioned earlier, some of Archer’s emotions are from my own experience and I hope I have done them justice. My partner thinks I have written myself as Archer’s sidekick, Harry Quinn. He loves to tell people that. Perhaps there is an element of truth in it. I suppose I have a similar sense of humor to Quinn.

DS: What is the best and worst writing advice you have received?

DF: Possibly the best advice is read lots of books of all genres and learn how other authors write character, story, emotion, etc. Worst writing advice is “write everyday”. Can’t agree with that one. Writing is a job that can suck the life from you. There are days when you will need to step away and do other things. Grab them when you can.

DS: Who is your comfort read?

DF: At the moment, George RR Martin, Game of Thrones. I can leave his books for months and come back to where I left off and know exactly where I was in the story. Granted, this may be largely down to the TV adaption. I also really admire his writing style and get all nerdy over it while I’m reading.

DS: Who are your influences when it comes to writing?

I’m not sure I have influences that I am aware off. Like most writers I try and keep as individual a style as I can, but who knows. Authors whose work I love include Stephen King, Thomas Harris, Ian McGuire, John Connolly, to name a few.

DS: Which three books do you think everybody must read in their lifetime and why?

DF: Three books that stand out for me are:

Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien

During my teens I read these books over and over again and always found something new that I had missed. I could not get enough of Middle Earth and its mind boggling range of characters, locations and stories. I will always love these books for what they gave me during those troublesome teenage years.

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

I think I was in my thirties when I read Wuthering Heights. A late age (I know!) to pick up one of the greatest novels ever. And it really is. I did not know what to expect when I started it and was instantly drawn into the unforgiving world of Heathcliff and those around him. It ignited a lot of emotions: anger, pity, sorrow, disgust, happiness. It has it all. One of my favourite books of all time.

I am Legend, by Richard Matheson

Richard Matheson’s post apocalyptic thriller about the last man on an earth populated with vampires is a classic sci fi novel that spawned four different movie versions and was the inspiration for many zombie films. At its core, it’s the story of Robert Neville dealing with loneliness and fighting for survival against a violent new race of people who will not leave him alone. Some are his neighbours risen from the dead! I found it both terrifying and moving. There is also a terrific twist at the end and great final line. No spoilers. Although I expect everyone has seen one or more of the movies. 

DS: What advice would you give to writers?

DF: See answer 7 😉

This Interview was conducted over email. I can’t thank David enough for taking the time out to answer my questions. I learnt so much from this interview. I hope you did aswell. You can buy The Art of Death today from all good bookstores.

David Fennell - D H H literary agency

Interview with Author Joseph Sale (Writer of Dark Hilarity, Black Gate Trilogy, Save Game and many more) Interview conducted by Dan Stubbings

DS: Today I am honoured to interview author Joseph Sale on my blog. Thanks for taking the time Joseph.

JS: My pleasure Dan. Thanks for having me.

DS: How did you first get into writing?

JS: I was very fortunate that my mother and father were both very passionate about literature, and so, from a very young age, I was inundated with stories. My father loved the classics, and we read them together before bed. My mother read 2000AD (Judge Dredd and Slaine in particular), and also epic fantasy novels. Words cannot express how important this was for me, growing up. One other important thing to note is that though my father was a writer, and my mother an artist, neither of them ever forced me down one path or another. For a time, I wanted to be a professional fencer, and did make the GB team before I realised that it was not satisfying for me; they fully supported this, and didn’t in any way try to coerce me into being “like them”.

I then wanted to become an actor, and spent a lot of time on stage in my teenage years, which I did thoroughly enjoy, but over time I realised that I was even more interested in the words themselves than in how I was supposed to say them, and I wanted to make little changes (except, of course, when I was performing Shakespeare, in which case I merely stood in adoration). It was after this stint of acting that I really began to sit down and seriously write. What I learned from acting I found useful as a way of getting into the heads of my characters, however. Although most of my experience was with poetry and plays, I found that novels suited my yearning to describe the imaginative settings that I conjured in my head. My first “proper” book was a novelisation of the epic Germanic poem The Nibelungelied. It’s still floating around on the web, though I don’t direct people to it these days! You can tell a sixteen-year-old wrote it

DS: Where on earth did Smiley come from? He has tormented my dreams.

JS: Haha, I’m simultaneously glad and very sorry to have caused you such grief. Smiley… where to begin? Undoubtedly, he is the most important character I have ever written. I suppose the truthful answer is that Smiley came out of the mirror. He’s me, though I didn’t immediately realise this. Craig Smiley is an anagram of Mr Cigy Sale – this is again something I only later discovered with a mixture of horror and delight. In my childhood, my friends and I often fashioned ourselves as epic heroes (you might imagine we were real toffs when I say that, but the opposite is true—we were penniless no-hope nerdy sewer boys—which is why we found the heroic comparison so hilarious). One was Achilles, one was Odysseus, and I was Cygnus, an often forgotten Trojan hero, who, upon death, transformed into a cygnet (hence where we derive the word from). My friends therefore affectionately called me “Cigy”. This was another “in joke” as I was the only one of them never to smoke.

When I was writing Gods of the Black Gate, I had been through a rough patch.  My initial focus was on creating a detective story in the style of True Detective season one. However, increasingly, my focus shifted from the detective, Caleb Rogers, to the antagonist, Craig Smiley. I realised, quite shockingly, that I sympathised more with Smiley than I did with the detective. And, I began to become aware that though I imagined him to be Texan and a soldier, two things I had never been, Craig Smiley was a ciphered version of me. There was a kind of horror and wonder in that moment. Craig represented a part of myself I’d been repressing in trying to come through my personal struggles. Craig was the part of me that really, really wanted to burn civilisation to the ground, and most importantly: who would let nothing, not even the entire universe, stand in his way. Certain life experiences had led me to feel weak and powerless. Craig Smiley was my rage against that condition. He was a mortal that even the gods of the abyss feared.

The thing about Craig Smiley is that whilst he is undoubtedly evil in many ways, he didn’t just represent my “bad side”. He represented a lot of the aspects of my personality that I liked: reckless determination, an ability with words, monomaniacal focus, self-belief of a certifiably insane degree, and so on. I couldn’t hate Craig, because he wasn’t just all my evil poured onto the page. He was something more. He was a synthesis. I think, in a way, he was my mind trying to pose a solution to the problem of my life: this is who you need to become to succeed. And, in a bizarre way, that became true. Minus the sacrifices, of course.

DS: Your new book Dark Hilarity is a deeply personal book I felt was that intended?

JS: You’re very perceptive, Dan. Thank you for reading so closely. It is a very deeply personal book and the relationship between Tara and Nicola is especially true to the reality of one enduring friendship I have had since childhood, a friendship that has defined who I am, and saved my life, in many respects. Some people were a little shocked by some of the early, distressing childhood scenes in the book, but sadly these are very true to the reality we lived growing up.

At my wedding, this same enduring friend made a speech in which he said, “Me and Joe grew up inhabiting worlds known only to us.” We both cried when he said that. I think we knew that fantasy, the worlds we shared, were the only thing that had redeemed us from a truly awful fate. In some ways, the entire book came out of that beautiful line.

DS: In my opinion Dark Hilarity is your best work to date. Your growth as a writer is incredible. How long did it take you to write? What themes or ideas do you hope people take from the text?

JS: You are too kind, Dan. I would like to thank you profusely for being such a loyal and dedicated reader all of these years. It is amazing that someone is there to see that growth, and I’m glad you feel that I’m getting better, it makes the hard work worth it!

Writing Dark Hilarity was extremely difficult. Firstly, it’s the longest individual novel (or indeed book) I’ve ever written by some way. Secondly, it is, as you observed, probably the most deeply personal thing I’ve attempted. It took most of a year to draft, and months of editing. Some scenes were painfully hard to write.

In terms of themes and ideas, I think there are three key ones: the book explores the interrelationship between escapism and depression. I am not against escapism, and as I’ve said before, fantasy and imagination saved my life. But, I also recognise that at some stage we need to confront reality, and our history books are littered with people who failed to do that. Depression is an insidious, poisonous plant that grows in the mind and cannot be easily rooted out. We all respond to depression differently, and I know my resort was often to disappear into fantasy worlds, but though it helped at first, eventually it became no different to hitting the liquor bottle: a way to numb the pain rather than confront it.

Secondly, I think the book explores addiction. There are many forms of addition, and the book touches on some obvious ones, such as substance abuse, but I think it also explores subtler addictions: addiction to escapism, addiction to misery, addiction to failure. All three principle characters (Nicola, Tara, and Jed) have addictions to triumph over.

Lastly, it explores friendship, what true friendship is, and how rare it is. I have been blessed with not just one but many incredible friendship. It is, undoubtedly, the greatest blessing of my life, to be surrounded by love that just keeps on giving and shining. 

DS: The Gods of the Black Gate trilogy has so many themes it is difficult to know where to start. What inspiration stemmed the initial idea that helped spawn in my opinion one of the best dark trilogies in the last decade?

JS: Wow, knowing how much you read, that is high praise indeed. I’m so grateful. Thank you so much Dan, those words will stay with me forever.

As I mentioned before, Gods of the Black Gate initially came out of the idea of doing a kind of homage to True Detective but set in space. However, I quickly realised that there was no way I could possibly rival Nic Pizzolato’s dialogue, or the charismatic duo of McConaughey and Harrelson. Some initial scenes for the book which did not make it into the final draft, between Caleb and Thom, were very flat indeed. So, I had to do something different. Luckily, I didn’t really have to “think” of a solution, because one was already emerging in the form of Smiley himself.

As you can tell by the ending of the first book, I didn’t really imagine I would write anything further about those characters. However, years later, I had a dream in which I was Smiley… I lay in a field of multicoloured grass. Slowly, I got to my feet. There was an alien wind blowing. A small hill rose. I walked through the hill and suddenly found myself looking down on a phantasmagorical city. A realisation pieced by heart with the keenness of an arrow that this city was real, I wasn’t dreaming, I was walking in another world; and in this world I was him. Then I started awake.

The dream shook me, and over the next few days, I began to reflect on it. One of the strangest things is that Smiley had been different. He’d matured, healed slightly. The old Smiley had died, but now he was living again as something else. I realised that there was another story to be told, one that was even more focused on Smiley, and this was a fantasy epic, not a detective serial. This dream, and its accompanying revelations, became the basis for Beyond The Black Gate.

Each iteration of the Black Gate trilogy took me in a new direction; and introduced new themes. However, it was clear that there were emerging patterns to the themes, that they were organically growing out of what came before. The Black Gate trilogy in many ways reflects my personal development, from a hateful wretch who would blow up the world rather than admit he was wrong, to someone humbled and humanised—a man for the first time in his life. Some people have even read this as an evolutionary metaphor: the primal and ape-like brutality of book one giving way to a journey toward primitive civilisation in book two, and finally to true “humanity” in book three. If I had to name one ultimate and overarching theme for the series, however, it would be redemption, not evolution. I’m glad people see different things in it, however, and their reading is likely more valid than my own, in many ways.

Of course, it was never planned as a trilogy, and I almost didn’t write the last book. In fact, I can honestly say that without Christa Wojciechowski and Steve Stred’s encouragement, I might never have attempted it. With the final book, Return To The Black Gate, many times people told me not to do what I was doing: the plot sounded ridiculous, mixing the two multiverses I’d created was a mistake, there was simply no way Beyond could be continued. These doubts were like the vulture that daily savages Prometheus, punishment for his audacity in stealing fire for humankind. I pushed through them, and I will be forever proud of what I produced as a result. And, to be fair, many of the doubters admitted they were wrong, subsequently.

DS: You write both novels and short stories. What are the advantages and disadvantages of both?

JS: I write far fewer short stories than novels, which is quite funny! However, I often find that the ideas which come to me generally tend towards more expansive themes and concepts. My strength is in the “long game”. I think I’ve come to view myself as a writer who rewards patience. I’m of course working on improving my books and making them compelling from word one to the final page, but if you look at my earlier work, many people commented that those books are slightly hard work but worth the effort in the end. I’m quite happy with that, if I’m honest. I’d rather be that way around than gripping from the start but with a disappointing finale. I maintain that the ending to any story is it’s most important part.

Short stories are great for capturing a “moment in time”. They are a deep plunge into a particular feeling. They leave lots to the imagination, which is both their strength but also their weakness. I probably write fewer short stories because I am not as big a fan of reading them. There are some writers out there who write masterful short stories, stories that can take you on an immense journey in just a few thousand words; that is one of the most tremendously skillful things a writer can ever do and I freely admit that I feel I’ve rarely, if at all, ever achieved that level with a short story. However, on the flip side, I often find many writers use short stories as a veil to hide the fact they do not have an ending or answers in mind.

Novels are hard to write, there’s no question. They are marathons, not sprints. They require you to occupy one frame of mind for an extended period of time. When I wrote Return To The Black Gate, I had a piece of music, “Dream 3” by Max Richter, playing over and over again on repeat for months, hypnotising myself into the right frame of mind to tackle such an emotionally heavy story. However, novels are also easier than short stories in some ways because they allow you space and time to work with. I am not a great artist, though I do paint and sketch, and I guess one comparison would be the difference between having a 4’ by 3’ canvas versus an A4 sheet of paper. No doubt that you can do a lot with an A4, but the 4’ by 3’ gives you a lot more room!

DS: Which 3 books do you think everybody should read in their lifetime and why?

JS: Now you’re asking very hard questions, Dan! This is a tricky one. Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism is probably one of my favourite novels of all time, perhaps even one of the greatest novels ever written. The ending harrows and releases me. I should say that My Best Friend’s Exorcism was definitely an inspiration point for Dark Hilarity. The way Hendrix handled the friendship between Abby and Gretchen gave me heart and courage to tackle my own portrayal of a deep friendship. Masterful, human, and unbelievably well-written— this is a book everyone, even those who don’t normally read horror, should read before they die.

The Lord of the Rings has to be on there too. I mean, there will always be people out there who hate on it, who say it’s just silly fantasy, or who say it’s not well written (the Michael Moorcock brigade) but we all know it’s more than that. It’s one of the most profound stories about addiction and friendship ever written. It never fails to reduce me to sobbing. “I can’t carry it for you, Mr Frodo. But I can carry you.” Was a more heroic line ever written? Possibly not.

Lastly, every single person on Planet Earth should read the Sick trilogyby Christa Wojciechowski. Christa is one of my favourite writers of all time. She is one of the greatest writers alive today; a Gothic master reborn in our modern age. Her prose will shake you to the very root and rewire your brain. She has not yet received the credit she deserves for the power of her storytelling and prose, but I think it’s coming.

DS: What does a typical writing day look like for you and how would you describe your writing process?

JS: Recently, my writing process has changed quite a bit. At the moment, I’m actually writing by hand, luddite as that sounds! But I’m finding it very rewarding. I type up what I’ve written after I finish a chapter and then I correct it. This is a very slow process but it is producing a higher quality result, I think. I used to write in the mornings, but that has changed too, and I generally do other work: editing for my wonderful clients, administrative tasks, etc, in the morning, and then I tackle personal creative projects in the afternoon.

In terms of talking about my writing more broadly, I used to be a very meticulous planner, hence why I outlined the Five Act Structure, but now I think that I write in a slightly more “pantser” way, though I prefer to think of it as allowing the subconscious mind to populate the page with ideas. Really good writing can’t be forced. Stephen King once wrote that “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration; the rest of us get up and go to work” and he is right in one sense, but he is also wrong, in that writers do need space and down-time to generate their best ideas. Real writing doesn’t come from the intellectual “head”, it comes from somewhere deeper. The universe itself operates on this principle. Lightyears of dead and meaningless matter all serve as the necessary emptiness to produce the single fertile pinprick of Planet Earth and human life. The greatest inspiration comes from the void, when we’re listening to the internal voice, not allowing it to be drowned out by the endless chatter of modern life.

DS: Who are your influences in your writing?

JS: Tolkien has to be mentioned. Of course, he has influenced so many fantasy authors, but I think more than anything it isn’t Tolkien’s worlds that have influenced me but his writing style. I am more drawn to dark and Lovecraftian worlds that the high fantasy landscapes of Middle Earth, if truth be told, but Tolkien’s way of writing, in turn influenced by the oral poetry of the Anglo Saxons, as well as the Nordic and Germanic epics, is simply sublime to me. There is poetry and meter in virtually every line. Also, The Lord of the Rings is another book about transcendental friendship. There are more than a few parallels between Tara and Nicola and Frodo and Sam.

I’be already mentioned that Grady Hendrix was a huge influence on Dark Hilarity, but another would be China Mieville. You were one of the first people to compare me to China Mieville, Dan, long before I read any of his work, and now I have fallen in love with him, particularly his Bas Lag series, such as The Scar and Perdido Street Station. So, you once again have proved prescient! Mieville’s worldbuilding heavily influenced the scope of Dark Hilarity’s world: Dae’eshta.

I’m also hugely influenced by Clive Barker. I regard him as one of the most powerful and fertile writers of the age; the way he combines horror and fantasy into startling visions is simply awe-inspiring. His prose is spellbinding. And I think he has one of the most vivid imaginations of any writer, living or dead.

One final life-changing book for me was Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene. It’s an epic poem, so it’s not an easy read, but for lovers of fantasy, this is what I regard as the original English fantasy epic. It’s a masterpiece of storytelling that sprawls over an epic, bizarre landscape whilst also deftly weaving in an allegorical moral framework. It has some of the most incredible heroes in it, such as Britomart, who is a female knight with an enchanted lance. She sets off from her homeland ravished by the idea of a man she’s never met, whom she glimpses in a dark mirror made by a wizard. It’s Arthurian but far darker than any of the better-known incarnations of those legends. Spenser’s imagination is vast and disturbing, and his feminism is pretty astonishing, especially considering he wrote it in 1590. The monsters in this book will also give you nightmares. I regard Spenser as one of the first writers to truly bring horror and fantasy together in a compelling way.

What’s really fascinating is whilst many have mistaken Spenser’s work for an attempt to butter up the royals and the Queen (the book is, after all, inspired by and dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I), something far more interesting emerges when you read between the lines: let’s just say every glorious light casts a shadow.

DS: Who were the easiest and hardest characters you have wrote and why?

JS: I’m going to cheat a bit, because Smiley was simultaneously the hardest and easiest character I’ve ever written. I joked recently in a writer’s mastermind group I’m a part of called Let’s Get Published (which is amazing, by the way, and anyone reading this should definitely consider joining if they’re serious about their writing) that, “It was a lot easier when I had Smiley around: he would just tell me what to write.” And there’s a degree of truth in that. However, sometimes Smiley would occasionally either elude me, or want to take me down paths that would completely destroy the story, and those times were when he was hardest to write. Also, writing him was tiring. He’s a manic depressive, in many ways, as I was, and so he only occupies emotional extremes: frothing rage, soul-crushing despair, galactic triumph. He has no in-betweens, no intermissions, no brake pedal. He is absolute, in every sense of the word. That’s exhausting, after a while!

DS: What advice would you give to writers?

JS: Everyone has to follow their own path, so I don’t mean to prescribe. However, here are some things that have helped me:

(1) Read a lot. Read the genre you’re writing in. Read outside the genre you’re writing in. Keep reading. So many young writers come to me for feedback on their work and it’s clear from the first two pages that they have no idea what’s out there. We can all fall prey to cliché, but when we read widely, we can broaden our awareness, and circumvent it more readily. It also means that your work will have more influences which will give it more of a unique flavour. I am influenced by everything from Japanese anime to epic poetry; everything I absorb is then transmuted into a fuel I can use for writing. The process of discovering your writer’s voice never ends and my writer’s voice has changed over the years and will continue to change. In fact, perhaps the biggest change yet of my entire literary career is about to happen with what follows Dark Hilarity… But still, the more you read, the more informed that voice will become.

(2) Write regularly. I used to advocate writing every day (and used to write daily after my twelve hour shifts at a call centre, without fail) and for some people writing every day is a good practice. Nowadays, however, roughly three times a week works well for me. If you write regularly, you begin to train your mental muscles in the same way as an athlete regularly training before a competition. You cannot expect to write at your best if you leave it months between sitting down to write. You need to be kind to yourself and warm those muscles up and practice. Of course, I understand that time (and indeed energy) is limited for many of us, but writing is worth making the time for, as it will improve every other aspect of your life. Or at least, it has for me. Writing has undoubtedly been a healing therapy. It helps me focus. It de-frags and cleanses my mind. When I stop making time to write, other things begin to fall apart.

(3) Join a writing group. This is quite important. It will give you accountability partners, but it will also give you good times sharing experience and sympathy with other like-minded writers. It generates creative frisson. I’ve mentioned it before but I highly recommend Let’s Get Published. It’s affordable, friendly, and there’s an amazingly good community there. They do weekly write-ins (which makes carving out time for writing even easier), as well as courses on the craft of writing and also the publishing process. Even if you don’t sign up for a professional and paid group like this one, I recommend any writer having some kind of writing community around them. Like I said, without the support of others, I might never have written Return To The Black Gate.

DS: Finally, what is next for Joseph Sale?

JS: I’m currently working on a new book called Virtue’s End, which is unlike any book I have previously written both in terms of style and substance; I think it will be a big surprise for some. I can’t say much more about it other than it’s fantasy and undoubtedly the most imaginatively ambitious thing I’ve ever done. I won’t say it’s my best work, because my readers get to decide that! But I’m very excited to share it with the world and see what they think.

This year I’m also going to be releasing Dead World: Desecrated Empires, which is my dark fantasy narrative role-play game; although to say it’s a “game” is to diminish just how crazy it is and all it encompasses: lore tome, bestiary, world-building toolkit, and a way of taking friends on epic, cathartic journeys, all in one! I should say that an earlier version of this game formed the logic that underpinned my novel Save Game. It’s co-written with my two awesome friends Robert Monaghan and Edward Kennard. For anyone who loves Dungeons & Dragons, it’s simply a must (this is very cheeky, but I honestly think it’s better, and I’m not the only person saying that). There is also going to be some non-writing related Dead World content in the works; I can’t say too much, but look out for some unusual storytelling issuing from the Mindflayer’s domain in the future!

Lastly, I’m going to be doing some pretty cool things with my Patreon, The Mind-Vault, this year. Patreon has been an awesome way for me to connect with fans, to share never-before-released content, and to show a little bit more of my personality and life; to show people what’s behind the social media veil, the real person informing the fiction. If you’re subscribed to my Patreon, you get to hear about all these awesome projects first, and sometimes participate in them! You also get a monthly dose of never-before-seen fiction and videos. There’s already more than 30,000 words of content on there and it grows month by month. If you would like to have a front row seat, and possibly become a co-conspirator, in Mindflayer’s attempt to take over the world, then the Mind-Vault is the place to be!!

I’d like to thank you profusely for taking the time to interview me, Dan. You have asked some of the most searching questions of any interview I have ever done. Thank you.

This interview was conducted over email. I can’t thank Joseph enough for his mind-blowing answers, and for taking the time to answer my questions. It was an absolute pleasure getting to do this. Please check out Joseph’s work today.

Review of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S Villoso Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

A queen of a divided land must unite her people, even if they hate her, even if it means stopping a ruin that she helped create. A debut epic fantasy from an exciting new voice.

“I murdered a man and made my husband leave the night before they crowned me.”

Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-Yaro, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore her nation apart. Her upcoming marriage to the son of her father’s rival heralds peaceful days to come.

But his sudden departure before their reign begins fractures the kingdom beyond repair. Years later, Talyien receives a message, urging her to attend a meeting across the sea. It’s meant to be an effort at reconciliation, but an assassination attempt leaves the queen stranded and desperate to survive in a dangerous land. With no idea who she can trust, she’s on her own as she struggles to fight her way home.

Review

Sometimes you discover a book that brings much needed freshness to a genre. Well that is exactly what K.S Villoso has produced with her incredible debut The Wolf of Oren-Yaro. This book contains most of the aspects of fantasy that I crave. Epic sword-fights, in depth world-building, morally grey characters, and secrets that can collapse the norms of society at any moment.

What makes this story stand out in my opinion is that Villoso isn’t afraid to slow down the pace of her narrative to allow us as readers to take a breath, and explore Queen Talyien her main protagonist from a range of different angles. Through these slower periods, we are given important information about her personality and history of her families deep ingrained beliefs. This helps the reader to form a clearer perspective of what truly drives Talyien to achieve her goal of trying to reunite her nation. As well as shed light on her complicated legacy from her father’s actions. The voice of Talyien shines through on every page from what excites her to her frustrations. Villoso dumps us in her head, and takes us on a journey that is full of bloodshed, and treachery. Yet at the same time is able to explore her vulnerabilities that make her so easily lead. I couldn’t get enough of her. You can’t help but want to hear her story.

I have to admit during the first few chapters I was worried the story was going to be to predictable. That it would follow the story arcs of many previous fantasies. I couldn’t have more wrong. There were elements that were familiar like betrayals, and family rivalries but they were done with twists that you didn’t see coming adding a new flavour that made you continue reading.

This story contains so many intriguing threads that you feel as if you are floating on an ocean unable to see your hands under the surface. The world is a submersion of the senses. It is as if Villoso has written a personal love letter to the Philippines. I adored this aspect of the book it was so refreshing for me as a reader to be able to explore a different culture, and environment I haven’t encountered previously in fantasy. I was swept aside by the new myths and creatures we were introduced to. They are so well written that you can almost reach out and touch them.

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is a highly accomplished first novel. That challenges the norms of fantasy, by incorporating a different blend of cultures, and ideas that enables it to stay true to the pillars of fantasy that the vast majority of readers have grown up with, but injects some added spice that leaves your brain stinging well after the event. At times I was shocked this was from a debut author as it was so well polished. I look forward to reading the next installment, as I can’t wait to jump back into this world. One thing I would like to see more of is exploration into side characters back stories as the cast of characters assembled truly held my attention throughout. It receives 4 stars.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

Review of Green Fingers By Dan Coxon Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Blurb

A series of micro-collections featuring a selection of peculiar tales from the best in horror and speculative fiction. From Black Shuck Books and Dan Coxon comes Green Fingers, the nineteenth in the Black Shuck SHADOWS series. 

Review

Green Fingers is a short story collection that captures our time perfectly. It is a collection that challenges how we should be viewing nature. From the perspectives of darkness and light, as well as beauty and decay. To examine how humans have allowed themselves to disregard the sheer power nature possesses over our every movement. It was almost as if Dan had taken a scalpel to the surface of our planet, and began cutting into it to show us how it bleeds, and how it is fighting back. At times it felt as if you were hearing the earth scream through the pages. Usually when it comes to short story collections, I find myself only enjoying a select few. However with Green Fingers I couldn’t stop reading. Every story dealt with different themes around the destructive force of nature and how us as humans should be giving it far more respect.

Dan linked the stories in a way that took you on a rollercoaster ride through the horrors nature can produce. Yet in the same breath showed you nature’s beauty in mind-numbing detail. The construction of the stories in this way enabled Dan to tap into a primal fear. A fear of the unknown. A fear of a power that is far greater than ourselves. Even when Dan was showing the reader the beauty of nature there was always this undercurrent of darkness that at any moment something beautiful could contain a deadly bite.

One story that stayed with me long after closing the book. Discussed an old couple who are isolated on a snow covered mountain in the depths of winter. At first the story seemed as if it was going down the usual routes. That is until they come across a half dead man trapped in the snow not far from their cabin. I have to say I was transfixed as this couple are made to challenge everything they think they know about the nature world after meeting this man. It seemed to capture every fear humans hold about the nature world in no more than six pages. It was utterly mind-blowing.

Not any of the stories within this collection preach to their reader. What has Dan has done by crafting this labyrinth of stories is plant a seed. Wanting us to dissect these stories. To enabled us to get within touching distance of what nature used to be to us as humans. Asking us to see how disconnected we have become with both the beauty and chaos of the natural world.

Green Fingers is an examination of our past. As well as what the future may hold for us and our planet if we continue to ignore the horrors that we are subjecting nature too. These stories may have links to horror, supernatural, and myths that may make you not view nature in the same way again. But one thing that was deeply clear to me upon finishing this collection was all the stories are human in more ways than one.

This is an expertly executed examination of nature’s power and how humans are nothing more than drops in the ocean. It receives 5 stars. A must read for everyone.

I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

Review of Witness X By S.E Moorhead Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Blurb 

SOME CRIMES CAN’T BE SOLVED IN ONE LIFETIME.

THE PAST. Fourteen years ago, the police caught a notorious serial killer who abducted two victims during the month of February. He was safe behind bars. Wasn’t he?

THE PRESENT. But when another body is discovered, the race is on to catch the real killer before he abducts his second victim. Neuropsychologist Kyra Sullivan fights to use a new technology that accesses the minds of the witnesses.

THE FUTURE. Will Kyra discover the person behind the murders, and if so, at what cost? And how far will she go to ensure justice is served?

This is the story of how Kyra tries to save a past she cannot change and a future she cannot allow. A genre-bending thriller for readers who enjoy books by Clare North, Stephen King and John Marrs.

Review

I finished Witness X in a frenzy. I feel almost compelled to reread it just to enjoy the complexity of the plot all over again. Sarah has establish a world that is as smooth as a V8 engine. Every word specifically engineered to stir your imagination. I can’t put this book into a genre. It flows like water touching on many genres that it is impossible to contain. From deranged serial killers to high tech futuristic crime solving machines this book has something for everyone.

Don’t worry though this book isn’t another dystopian novel where the world burns. So if you’re looking for zombies, deadly viruses, or mazes full of creatures then I am sorry to disappoint you. However if you like soft sci fi concepts with some gruesome  murders then pull up a chair and find out why I couldn’t get enough of this sci-fi noir.

The book follows Kyra Sullivan a neuropsychologist who invents a  new cutting edge technology in 2035. This technology allows her to access people’s memories. To witness a scenario through their eyes. When we are introduced to her she is desperately trying to get the technology approved to be used in the criminal justice system. However she is being blocked at every turn. Plus to complex matters further the military are involved looking into ways the machine can be used for their own perverted agendas.

Unfortunately for Kyra these complications aren’t the only difficulties she has to manage  in her daily life. The constant shadow of her sister’s graphic murder looms over her. Even though her killer was arrested fifteen years ago and found guilty. Kyra can’t shake the feeling that they may of got the wrong man. Furthermore she has become the guardian of her sister’s daughter Molly. An unruly teenager who causes her stress throughout the narrative as they both struggle to process their grief. Some of their scenes are my favourite in the book. The reason being is because they are both head strong, and push eachother’s buttons creating an incredible tension throughout when they come onto the page. Making you wonder who was going to snap first. However at the same time they deeply care about eachother’s wellbeing. Sarah handled their scenes with a delicate tenderness that made you powerless against not sympathising with both characters. Unfortunately for Kyra her complicated relationship with Molly is put on the backburner when her worst fears are realised. A scenario she hoped would never happen her sister’s killer David Lomax escaping from prison. Soon she is pulled back into a world she thought she’d left behind. As the bodies start to pile up time is of the essence. However when evidence surfaces that Lomax was nowhere near the latest murder site. Kyra’s doubts from the original investigation take on a whole new meaning.

Kyra is forced to face her fears returning to a job that almost destroyed her, a former lover in the shape of her superior Tom Morgan which causes no end of problems as she hasn’t forgiven herself about how their relationship ended. As well as confronting her feelings about her sister’s murder and how it impacted her entire family. We are shown both her inner and external strengths. As these situations hold many painful memories for her and yet she faces them head on. Her strength is truly put to the test when Lomax is recaptured and he says he will only talk to her. As their interactions unfold we are taken into a dark mind. A mind fixed on one thing revenge. Without Kyra realising she is soon drawn into the centre of a twisted game of cat and mouse, where she is the prey and the hunter is breathing down her neck. Could Lomax truly be innocence? Has he been rotting in a cell for fifteen years for crimes he didn’t commit? Or is there something deeper that Kyra is missing? Kyra is the only one who can make sure that justice is served.

This book never stopped asking questions. There were so many times where I thought I had it all figured out, and then Sarah would throw a curve-ball. Either by putting a clue on the bodies you won’t expecting, or something I wish was used more often in this type of genre. Which is adding a chapter from the killer’s perspective. This was a massive plus point for me as it let the reader experience his motivations, and feelings as he carried out these horrific crimes. Whether the chapter focuses on his stalking of the women to reveal their routines, or written when he carries out the kill itself. Sarah takes the reader into his warped mind as effortlessly as riding a bike. She writes her villains superbly. Even though he was pure evil. In his deranged mind there was a purpose to everything he did. I looked forward to his chapters the most the closer we got to the conclusion. The reason being was because of how Sarah wrote the chapters you could almost feel him unraveling as the net closed in.

My only criticism was the relationship between Tom and Kyra. Unfortunately for me I found myself becoming frustrated with their dynamic as the story continued. I don’t know if its because I have read some other relationships that followed similar patterns recently, but I would of preferred their past relationship to be toned down. They are well fleshed out characters and had more to offer to the story than their relationship allowed. I would of preferred a more supportive angle applied to the narrative instead of them butting heads over past mistakes. This is only personal opinion and the relationship is well written.

If you’re looking for hard sci-fi with complex futuristic technology, strange alien spacecrafts, or a crime thriller where Jack Reacher would be happy to take a leading role. Then this doesn’t hit the mark. However if you want some lighter futuristic concepts with a multi-layer murder investigation that results in a mashup that reminds me of Final Cut meets City of Bones. Then this is for you. Well Done Sarah. It receives four stars on the rip-roarer scale.

I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t effect my views.