Review: Suspended in Dusk, Ed. Simon Dewar

Suspended in DuskI’ve been wanting to read Suspended in Dusk for some time, given all the praises flying around in my social media circles. SQ Mag (the ezine I edit) competed against this anthology in a strong field for the Best Edited Work of 2014 in the Australian Shadows Awards, from the Australian Horror Writer’s Association. Some of the eminent Australian speculative fiction authors even featured in both our works.

In Suspended in Dusk there’s monsters in the traditional guise and monsters loosely associated with human beings. There’s a tangible thread of the threat of dusk woven through this collection of thematically diverse stories, each bearing up a dark or horrific element. While the thread linking the stories is tenuous, Simon Dewar has collated some excellent pieces.

Alan Baxter’s palliative care nurse protagonist drifts dreamlike through wards, compassionate and available, in Shadows of the Lonely Dead. Rayne Hall’s Burning world is pure small town nightmare. Maid of Bone draws out the ostracised, the lonely in an intimate way Tony Bennett seems to know. Miriam Vale is seemingly picked straight from memory by S.G. Larner, and that phenomena where the stranger always knows best. Tom Dullemond perfect captures the clinical detached psychopath in Would To God That We Were There. Wendy Hammer’s Negatives is an excellently painted twin horror in a deserted theme park.

There’s other situations that are unexpected, like vicious coral zombies and devolution, in truly abhorrent settings like fat camps. Angela Slatter turns some post-apocalyptic tropes on their heads in The Way of All Flesh. Where recognisable creatures from the dark appear, the authors have tried to give their kind a new twist, a deeper meaning.

On the whole, Suspended in Dusk is a well put-together anthology. Some of the stories are reprints, if they seem familiar, but each was a piece worth reinvigorating. As with any collection, some of the pieces had a style or voice or plot that was more appealing, but that’s the downside of collected works: short stories are always compared.

Suspended in Dusk is a strong first anthology from the collaboration of Simon Dewar and Books of the Dead Press. If a creeping chill is your choice of entertainment, Suspended in Dusk won’t disappoint. It is obvious why this appealed to the Australian horror community, and its follow-up anthology will be eagerly anticipated.

The year that was, 2015

When I first wrote this post, I got to the end and walked away disheartened and depressed. I know we’re all supposed to put our positive out into the world, but the reality is when I laid it all on the table, I was disappointed with my year.

The first post I wrote was lauding all the personal successes I had this year: anything to avoid looking honestly at how this year had been for me as a writer and editor.

If you step back to look at my year, it looks pretty darn good. Adventures in the States, both short breaks and one long holiday, which was incredible. No regrets about the travel; it was an experience I won’t forget. I had two groups of wonderful writer friends who inspired me and gave me great feedback and critiques.I had this novel–I’ve written more of The Whale Singer than any other novel idea I’ve ever had–whose idea and protagonists I loved. I had two polished stories that no one had given me criticism of, but seemed to be in search of the right homes. There were ideas bursting out my ears thanks to my muse with her wanderlust.

SQ Mag had a year of wins. We won the Shadows Award, an award from Australia’s preeminent horror organisation, the Australian Horror Writer’s Association. There were international award wins and recognition from the profession by the selection of SQ Mag stories for Best of Anthologies. We’ve also had some wonderful solicited authors.

The reality is that while there were some amazing happenings this year, my writing has not been at its best. Buoyed by the confidence of placing a story in two anthologies (still proud to have worked with Cameron Trost and Black Beacon Books, and also the team at Phantom Feather Press, Alicia Ponder, Eileen Mueller and Peter Friend), I thought this year might be the time I got cracking.

However, the uncertainties in my life did not add up to a good writing practice. I felt and still feel out of control in my editorial world. My polished stories did not find homes, though one was with a big name publisher for quite a while (I’m looking at that as a pro, that it wasn’t rejected outright, but con, it was still rejected).

As a writer, there were no successes for me this year.

I’m a realist: I know you can’t win all the time, certainly not in most to all of the areas of your life. There is also much that I have to be grateful for.

That didn’t stop it being disheartening. I put a bit of myself in my stories, and I’m a rejection wuss, though am better when it comes with helpful critique from someone genuinely trying to make your work better.

So for 2016, I think my work-to idea is one step at a time.

One step for my own practice and honing my craft.
Another step for doing a little bit at a time, and forgiveness if I didn’t do what I thought I could.
One step forward with a submission at a time.
One step forward with words, a chapter, anything to progress this novel toward the finish line.

And reminding myself, there will be backwards steps too. I might go nowhere, have no more measurable success. But that if I don’t work at anything, there’s no chance my writing will ever go anywhere. And I’m really at my first step, the early stages of any writing career I want to have.

My wish for 2016 for everyone is that there are at least little wins, and enough striving for better to make them feel worthwhile.

Striving for the little wins

Light the Night at Lillydale Lake


Greg and I took a wander at Lillydale Lake Friday afternoon and came across an event we had forgotten was occurring on the public holiday (in honour of football parade–what the hey Victoria?!). Light the Night, an evening walk in honour and to support people with blood cancer.

My grandfather died from his red blood cell leukaemia and we have other friends with blood-related problems. So for us, it was a no-brainer to purchase a lantern and join the walk around the lake in the balmy evening.

What a sight. The lights stretched out behind us for kilometers, each a family or couple there to represent or support someone they loved.

LightTheNight4This evening was only one across the country (except you Perth; yours is next week on the 9th, so get to it). A well organised and well attended event for the Leukaemia Foundation. Congratulations to all involved.

If anyone wants more information about the foundation’s good work, head straight on over to



Image saga update

This post relates to my previous posting on being an internet sensation.

As of today, I’ve had one response from to say that they are looking into it after my post–no doubt after it started to garner some wider attention from people who were friends of friends (we all know how that can go). It’s been another two days since their response to my post on their wall.

I’ve sent two online queries under two different sections, unsure of to which category my query related.

So, to upping the ante, which is apparently the only way to get a response out of anyone…

There’s this post over on the Facebook Page (where I got my response):
(Update 01/07/2020: This post has now been deleted. Not by me, as far as I can recall)

And also this post on Twitter:

I even posted it on Google+.

If anyone wants to help me get answers, please comment on the Facebook post or like it. Twitter users, retweet or write a tweet of your own while sharing the original tweet as a retweet. Resharing or commenting on the Google+ would be cool too, if anyone has the time.

Blood donation: other ways you might not know you’re helping

I’m a big believer in blood donation. My grandfather had an aggressive leukaemia and in the course of his treatments received bucket loads of blood. I’m sympathetic to haemophiliacs and burns victims, cancer patients, mothers and babies in distress childbirth, or those in surgery who need our blood. I try to donate as often as I can, but mostly donate plasma these days, as I feel less fatigued afterward.

I made a discovery when I came back for my first donation since I returned to Australia. When I had to sign to update my new release form, I noticed it now recorded my cytomegalovirus (CMV) status.

CMV is a herpes virus. It manifests for most as no more than a low-level cold. Around half of us have already contracted it without knowing. The largest risk is to immuncompromised people, more so for those who haven’t had it, and pregnant women in their first trimester. It can be a congenital condition, infecting 33% of babies and causing a myriad of problems where the mother has contracted CMV for the first time while pregnant. There’s less risk when the mother has had an infection.

The Red Cross Blood Service screens for it because they don’t want to give CMV to someone who hasn’t had it, or to a baby or to someone immunocompromised (like my grandfather fighting leukaemia), in the same way they screen for ABO (blood type) and Rheusus groups (that good old positive or negative next to your blood type).

But, apart from identifying those who’ve had the virus, they also use blood products to treat the mothers, by using hyperimmune globulin, which is a blood component created by our bodies in an immune response. These immunoglobulins are collected from the donors blood to be bottled and given to  Receiving this immune product allows for a passive immunisation, where someone else’s immunoglobulins fight the disease, like your own would if you had the antibodies. In the same way, nursing mothers protect their baby with the colostrum and antibodies in their milk; another great example of passive immunisation.

This realisation is important to me for one reason. My best friend caught CMV in her first trimester. We didn’t know much about it at the time because it’s not really talked about. And there’s not much in the way of treatment to allay some of the worse problems it can cause in a baby’s development.

Image supplied; copyright to photographer.
Happy little girl who is a congenital CMV survivor

Because of the generosity of many Australians who rolled up their sleeves, my friend was able to be treated and her unborn child was able to be protected.

Baby is here now, and she’s still on her journey, which will no doubt still have some ups and downs. But blood donors like you and me gave a little girl a fighting chance to beat the effects of CMV.

So I’d like to thank you if you donate, and for having tried even if you don’t fit the very strict Red Cross standards. I’d like to encourage people who haven’t thought to donate for a while, for whom it has just fallen off the radar, to ring 13 14 95 or visit to see if you qualify.

On being an apparent internet sensation

So today, my mum tagged me on a Facebook link and said, “don’t know how they got a hold of your photo.”

We always check out Christmas Island posts if we see them. And this is where she made her discovery.

There’s a photo of me, probably about 5 years old, next to a wall full of mature red crabs on Christmas Island’s Greta Beach (I think) during the red crab migration.

Here’s the photo, if anyone is interested:

Wasn't I adorable? Those Christmas Island red crabs migrate to the sea to shake off eggs and then go back to their normal lives.
Wasn’t I adorable? Those Christmas Island red crabs migrate to the sea to shake off eggs and then go back to their normal lives.

So I have been famously in photos with red crabs before–I’m the (infant) model on the back of a David Attenborough documentary called Kingdom of the Crabs, when the larval crabs return from their sea sojourn. There’s a possibility that this is in the book my dad contributed to with John Hicks and Holger Rumpff. However, if that’s the case, Dad (who really is the only one who would have taken the photo) has not been asked.

I’m genuinely astounded at how far it’s travelled. The photo is on over 450 sites (barely one with attribution, may I add) and one site attributes it to Christmas Island Tourism, who tell me it’s not part of their media package (thanks folks!). It’s made it to Italian Huffington Post, San Francisco Times, random blogs in German, Pinterest and apparently originally Reddit. The earliest Greg and I have found is 2011. I haven’t been able to find the Reddit post with my photograph on it, nor has Greg at this stage. Viralnova seems to be the place most of the sites got it from. I have to say, it has freaked me out a little to see myself all over the world.

Despite the fact that neither my parents nor I have uploaded it, and it’s a 25+ year old photo, it’s a real lesson in how once an image is out there, it’s really hard to retain control of it. It’s also a lesson to those using images, particularly those of children; if you can’t find an attribution, it’s likely that the original owner doesn’t know it’s in use. And on the other end of it is probably a reasonably freaked out adult…

Update: Greg has now narrowed it down to a 2011 NewsCorp post. I’m going to pursue this just to find out.

Zen tea

Zen_teaTea is one of my favoured past-times. It’s bracing and calming, and hell, some cups may even be good for us (a good summary of studies from the University of Maryland). My dad would bring me gifts of delicious varieties when he came to visit the impoverished little student, back in my undergrad days. When we moved to Canada, I had an exorbitant collection I had to disperse.

I’m not a huge green tea drinker, except for the blends you get at Chinese restaurants which I can never seem to find, but my to-be mother-in-law–the master of tea appreciation and collection–introduced me to this delightful experience. She also introduced me to Tea Leaves, a shop on the main street of Sassafrass in Victoria that Greg and I always stop at. I could spend hours between the tight shelving smelling the many varieties of green and black teas, gazing longingly at gorgeous tea pots and Japanese tea sets.

On the left is a teapot containing a Pink Chrysanthemum China Ball tea from this delightful shop. The pleasure of this tea is when you put it in a clear pot, as shown. It starts as a dry, tightly wrapped little ball. As it absorbs the water, the bubbles ease from the leaves, unfurling the flower by gentle degrees. The flower is buoyed to the surface for a moment, before sinking again to the bottom.

Watching these moments of change, of becoming, block out everything. For a minute or two, there were four people in the kitchen, watching tea steep. A collective sigh as the flower sunk in the last strains of its finale.

I wish that I did that more; shut out the world so there’s only you and the art, the experience. It reminded me, yet again, that I need to go back to my writing work in an environment where its me and the story. My breath and a world unfolding.

So tonight, I leave you with the last moments of the china tea ball’s becoming, and a thought for more mindfulness in your day to day. May you find where and when you need it most.

Zen tea

zen tea3

Mentoring Opportunity

Before I tell you about the mentorship opportunity that my headline so simply announces, I feel that I should first tell you about the mentor.

I met Jodi Cleghorn online. It seems that apart from a very rare Canadian opportunity, thanks to one wonderful warm friend (and all three of the girls who I miss very muchly!), that most of my meet and greet of other authors happens online. Lucky for me, I get to meet some fine publishing industry professionals in my role as Editor at SQ Mag. Dan Rabarts introduced me to a group of others, working together on an idea of Jodi’s to help boost productivity, to get down and get more writing done. And boy, did we!

When Jodi has critiqued my work in the past, she seems able to see straight to the heart of a manuscript. She will ask you all the right questions about motivations, where you want that story to go. My work is better for having had her excellent insight.

Jodi tries new ideas, methods, makes connections with others in her field. She’s edited and published anthologies with her publication company, eMergent Publishing, which she’s revitalising with some of the funds from the program. She’s written an excellent guide to being a beta-reader.

Ok, so now that I’ve talked up this excellent writer, let’s talk about the deal. I’ll let Jodi’s own words explain her program, For the Asking:

Jodi Cleghorn, mentor of the hour


I’m not the only one who hungers for connection, for support and for the confidence that comes when others invest their belief in you.

I’m also not the only one who is constantly looking to upgrade their skills, deepen their creative connection and seek innovation in story telling.

And surprisingly enough, I’m not the only one looking for creative and sustainable ways of building an art-commerce model of income to support myself – in this case it’s the double whammy of not just funding myself as a writer but also a small press that wants to pay  authors well.

This has culminated in the conception of a mentorship program that draws on my own experiences, skills and accumulated insights. My vision is to be the curator of a supported creative space with the benefits of one-to-one personalised attention and small group interaction.

If you want to know more, head straight over to Jodi’s post detailing the initial offering. I know she will be posting more soon, detailing more of what it will involve.

But you have to apply; there’s a form. Get in soon, Jodi will be choosing a select four by Sunday, the 6th of September to start the following week.

I can honestly say that you won’t regret working with Jodi and her eagle eyes.

Review: Justice by Sarah Ciacia

justice-sarah ciacia

A few words before I begin my review: Sarah and I have connected over the internet, due to a wonderful mutual friend who put us together due to our mutual interests (love of writing and dogs, the city of Melbourne…). However, I bought this book, so I have no other obligations to this review. And it’s very tardy. Sorry Sarah. 

Justice begins the story of a victim; Justice is beaten by her father, demoralised at school, plagued by suicidal ideation. However, this isn’t to be Justice’s lot, as she fights back and kills her father. It provides her with freedom and a new lease on life, although she keeps looking back at the high price of her liberty.

For once, Justice is able to be the young woman she was held back from: one with her own style, and not so crippled by her self-doubt and depreciation. The people around her begin to notice.

Justice is a dark fiction novel for the young adult market. There’s some graphic scenes, and this book comes with a trigger warning for rape and murder. It has good flow and readability for a short novel.

Although some previous reviewers found her relatable, Justice so brimmed with bitterness, or alternately, bleak detachment–in a justifiable way, given her experience of life–that I found it hard to relate to her. She’s nuanced and flawed, with moments where you see the pure teenage girl in her; while it’s great for the realism, it’s not always great for being able to relate.

That being said, the despair of being a teenage outcast is very accurately portrayed in this book, so there’s much to relate to for teens negotiating the tumultuous time that is adolescence. And Justice certainly gets herself into troublesome situations like only a teenager can.

While I know there is a sequel in the works, for me the book would have been better served by telling the whole story within this novel. Not to spoil it for anyone interested, but the end leaves a lot of threads hanging. Like all the other readers, I will have to wait until the sequel is done to have the answers I so often prefer.

Justice is a strong first novel from Sarah Ciacia, which leaves you wanting to find out what happens to Justice. I’d recommend this novel for mature young adults and older who enjoy the grimmer side of literature. If you’re interested in the novel, you can find purchasing options here.

Writing update for May

I know it’s been a little while since I posted or updated. Life has been tripping away for this writer over the last few months.

While I must confess that not much writing has been done, there’s been some positive author career steps last month for this scribe. As of the 31st of May, I have two stories in for consideration at different places. I’ve tried to place a short, sweet little flash I wrote a while back, Perfect Match, in a publication with a wonderful ideology. Thanks to help from my wonderful mum, I got it sent in for consideration with The Big Issue’s Short Story edition. A physical submission; a little hard for me to send from Canada to get there in time for its closing 1st of June.

I’ve also given The Lane of Unusual Traders another go. A wonderful, collaborative world building project from Sue Wright and the rest of the team at the Tiny Owl Workshop. A great project with free shorts which you should check out immediately! Which reminds me, I still need to work on placing the wonderful story that I wrote for that last time, which didn’t quite fit with the vision of the Tiny Owls. Wish me luck.

On the editing front, I’ve just sent of a great Lovecraftian-related novel by a new author for IFWG Publishing, Shaun Meeks. Great to have a Canadian on the books now, and he’s been great to work with. It’s a great, fun read, and I will update you all closer to the release date.

Related note, if anyone is in the Hawkesbury River area this weekend, the lovely Paula Boer will be selling her great Brumbies series at the Tom Quilty Cup. I worked as an editor for Paula’s work and it’s a great NA/YA about Australian rural life with gorgeous illustrations from Rowena Evans and some great new covers to top it off. If you’re in the area, drop by: Paula’s writing comes from lots of equine experience and she loves to talk that kind of shop.

Otherwise, SQ Mag is going along well. We’re on a little submission hiatus, and finally getting through some backlog, whittling away the numbers waiting. There’s some names I know waiting, and I can only say, soon! Very soon.

Currently, I’m jobless and travelling in the US, which is great and a wonderful adventure. I’m going to try and post about some of our stops over the next couple of days. We’re heading home to Australia in August.

Happy mid-year everyone! Hope all your travels are happy and uncomplicated.