Jennifer Lee Rossman Interview & Cover Reveal

Today I have the honour of hosting a very special guest, my fellow Grimmie author Jennifer Lee Rossman, ahead of her forthcoming release from World Weaver Press, Jack Jetstark’s Intergalactic Freakshow, which can be pre-ordered at a discounted rate through this link:

https://www.worldweaverpress.com/store/p157/Jack_Jetstarks_Intergalactic_Freakshow.html .

We will have a sneak preview of the cover and see the press release here (FREAKSHOW press release 8.1.18-1)  as we count down less than three months to the December release – don’t forget to add it to your festive wish list!

Jennifer, thanks for stopping here on your cosmic odyssey; what can we expect to see in your new novel?

SPAAAAAACE!!!! Oh, did you want a longer answer? Okay, it’s a space opera about the genetically engineered performers of an intergalactic carnival who turn into superpowered sideshow freaks when a certain song plays. And then they have to save the universe from an evil villain of evilness… who also happens to be the ringleader’s ex-girlfriend and baby mama.

It’s Firefly meets Heroes with a focus on found families and a soundtrack inspired by American Pie.

And there’s a sexy owl lady.

 

It’s another title from an independent press; how important do you think these are to the genre, in terms of giving new authors a start, and showcasing more diverse works that larger houses might not?

Not having been published by a large house, I don’t have any firsthand experience to compare, but I will say that I was trying to go the agent-and-big-publisher route with this book. And I got fourteen rejections before I decided to try a small publisher. I got accepted by the first one I queried, admittedly after months of revisions that my editor suggested.

I do love the intimacy of an independent press. It feels like a family, and it feels like your editors and other publishing people really have time for you.

 

How does your neurodivergence, sexuality and disability influence your writing? Do you feel it’s an advantage in speculative fiction as you have so many perspectives to view from? And as dismaying as it is to have to deal with the Sad/Rabid Puppies and the Incels, do you have to rein yourself in about countering that, and keep a balance between education and entertainment?

I think it’s an advantage in all types of fiction. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional straight white abled man. Let’s call him Chad. Chad is a great guy. He has a lot of cool stories to tell. But you don’t want to invite only Chad to your party, because Chad can’t possibly have had the same life experiences as Juanita or Tyrese or Kimi, and there are a lot of non-Chads out there that have new and exciting stories to tell in ways that Chad can’t. Sci-fi in particular is about the new and the unexpected, and sticking to stories about Chad can’t be the norm.

As you can see, I don’t rein myself in. If you come at me, I will come at you with a color-coded bibliography of proof why you’re wrong.

 

I remember you encountering discrimination online, dismissing it in style, and gaining some sudden Twitter fame – could you tell us a bit more about that?

In April, some ableist assbutt on Twitter said that handicapped parking spaces should only be valid Monday to Friday from 9 to 5, because people with genuine disabilities don’t go out at other times.

Me being a sarcastic prick, I replied “We’re disabled, Daniel, not werewolves.”

And it blew up.

400,000 likes. Retweet from Samantha Smith (Mary Winchester from Supernatural). Cosplay! https://twitter.com/OjiDannelley/status/1035388259256467456 I’m also being “forced” to write a novel about disabled monsters.

 

So viral was the Tweet in question, that it became a t-shirt. However, I understand this was completely without your permission and accreditation. Do you have any recourse on this issue?

I did get the shirt taken down, but yes, someone was selling shirts that ripped off my tweet. I consider it as an accomplishment–I did something important enough for people to want to steal!

 

Thanks for sharing all this, it’s been great to have you here. But looking further ahead before you introduce us to Jack Jetstark, what can we expect you to follow this book with?

As I mentioned, I’m writing an urban fantasy about disabled monsters, called Chairwolves.

I’m also the assistant editor of Love & Bubbles, an anthology of queer romance under the sea. We’re selling t-shirts with gay narwhals on ’em. https://gumroad.com/jayleejames

And in November, Brian McNett and I will be opening submissions for Space Opera Libretti, a comedic sci-fi anthology. http://spaceoperalibretti.blogspot.com/Preview attachment 1Freakshow_Front.jpg

1Freakshow_Front

 

 

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Live Write Story

I’ve just had the huge honour of participating in my first ever live write. I was approached by Tania Gray of the excellent PA Extraordinaires Facebook group, and so very lucky to be paired with the wonderful NJ Cole.

lw welcome

Our challenge to was to write – in real time, for an audience, over one hour – an ad libbed, ad hoc interactive story based on the following visual prompt.

lw prompt

And here’s what we came up with, with the names left in, so that NJ gets the credit where it’s most definitely due.

NJ Cole Kourtney stood in front of the mirror. She’d put on the costume as instructed, including the mask. The package had been delivered earlier that day with an envelope containing an incriminating photo of her. She had no choice

She looked awful, but maybe that’s what the person wanted. Leaving the dressing room she made her way out onto the street. There was nothing there, just a man, wearing a skeleton mask. She turned to go back, but the door had already closed behind her.

 

Jason Whittle Without a word he linked arms with her and led her out into the gloomy twilight, wishing he could take her out in the daytime, trying to find the courage to show his face.

 

NJ Cole She walked with him, afraid to do anything else. Had she seen anyone, she’d have called out for help, but there was no one. It was like they were the only two on the planet.

Her heart beat in her chest so fast that she was certain he could hear it. Her eyes darted around looking for anything familiar. She’d come to the place the usual way, but now she recognized nothing. Neither of them had spoken yet. She had a million questions, yet nothing fell from her lips.

 

Jason Whittle Ryan sensed her unease, and he hated to make her feel like this. But he couldn’t tell her, not here, not yet. She couldn’t understand until she’d seen for herself; couldn’t recognise the man he once was until she too had ventured to the edge and peered into the darkness.

NJ Cole As they walked down the street Kourtney began to recognize things again. The man held her arm more tightly, as if she were going to run. She’d thought of it, but decided not to. As afraid as she was, there was some comfort in having him with her, a presence that calmed her.

They left the main road and headed down a path. It was a path that Kourtney knew well. She started walking more slowly, hesitating. They were heading straight for the cemetery, the very cemetery that she’d spent several days a week at for the past year.

 

Jason Whittle Ryan didn’t know if Kourtney had even realized this herself yet, but he was no longer guiding her. This was her journey now; he was taking it with her, not taking her.

He changed positions to hold her hand. She accepted without flinching away, as if on some level she already knew. He looked over to see her shivering in the cold night. Shivering! And yet she felt so wonderfully warm to him, so vibrant, full of energy. And, he realized with a pang of loss, so full of life.

 

NJ Cole They continued down the path, hand in hand, until the arrived at the place she’d spend so many afternoons, so many evenings, and even some nights. She stopped there, in front of the grave of the only man she ever loved.

“Ryan Stagg” the stone said. She’d run her hands over the lettering so many times she couldn’t even count. The tears started. “Why… why did you bring me here?” Her voice cracked. She missed him so much, she could barely take it. “To torture me? Every day without him is torture. It’s my fault you know…”

 

Jason Whittle “I know it’s torture for you, little one. You grieve for him, still, as fiercely and forlornly as ever. I sense your pain; you were his doe, and he your mighty stag. Tell me, little one, what would you say to him if he were here right now?”

 

NJ Cole Kourtney fought for the ability to speak. She knew that this man was different, and that, perhaps there was a chance that he actually could get a message to Ryan.

“I’d…um..” she sobbed. “I’d tell him that I miss him so much and I can’t keep doing this without him. I’d tell him that I’m sorry for goofing around in the car and distracting him.” She ran her hand over the scar on her collar bone from where the airbag had broken it. “I’d tell him that I wish it was me here and not him. Most of all I’d tell him that if there was any way for me to join him, I’d do it.”

 

Jason Whittle Ryan opened his mouth to speak, but the words caught in his throat. At this late stage he was suddenly hesitant. Finally he said, “So you understand why I had to do what I did to make you come here, little one, even though I’m so sorry for the way I went about it.”

He looked at her again, seeing comprehension and – dare he say it? – yes, love in those tear filled eyes. “And you also understand that you only ever let one person call you ‘little one’. No one else but Ryan. No one else but me.”

 

NJ Cole She understood. The photo had been from what she’d believed to be a traffic camera. It showed Kourtney in the front seat of the car, raising her top and flashing Ryan. It had happened moments before the crash. She’d thought the person wanted to black mail her, but now she thought differently.

No one but Ryan? No one but him? It couldn’t be.

Kourtney turned toward him and looked at him, through the mask, his eyes… those eyes… “Ryan?” she asked, her voice breaking. Her hand moving to his mask, touching it gently.

 

Jason Whittle He nodded slightly, allowing her to remove the mask. He felt the air on his face once again, but most of all, he felt a wave of love for Kourtney washing over him as strongly as ever.

“I could never blame you for what you did in the car … you always knew how much I loved that. I wouldn’t have had you any other way. But I can’t come back. I wish I could. I can’t come back …”

He gestured to his own grave, now open and beckoning. “I cant come back, but you can come with me.”

 

NJ Cole She heard his words, and let them process.

Kourtney looked up into the face she’d longed to see. It looked different yet the same. She wasn’t afraid of who or what he was. She knew that her Ryan would never hurt her. He was her rock, her everything.

She closed her eyes and stood on tiptoe before pressing her lips gently to his. Her heart beat even faster, if possible. She didn’t know what was happening… was she becoming like him, or was he becoming like her? She didn’t care. All she knew was that they were together.

Forever.

lw thanks

And thank you Tania, very much. I would love to do this again some time especially if I get paired with NJ once again.

 

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Music in my Life Interview

 

Q1. Hi there and welcome to this short little interview. Let’s start with a bit about you? Where you’re from? And what you do? Author biog and picture.

I’m 42 years young and live on the edge of the New Forest with my wife and nearly teenage son. My day job is as a tax fraud investigator, which is a surprise to many who know me as an absolute softie, and as an author I cover various genres of fiction and non-fiction, including horror, sci-fi and fantasy, crime, comedy, and even sports reporting. Away from work and writing I am a big fan of sports and music. I love going to gigs and matches, play rhythm and bass guitar, and am a long distance runner – this picture is me before running the 2015 London Marathon, and I can assure you I did not look this chipper at the end!

Marathon 2015 007

Q2. Do you remember the first record/tape/cd that you bought? Why this one? Does it bring back memories I’d love to know?

You’d expect something really silly and childish, wouldn’t you? Not a bit of it – I must have been 6 going on 36, because it was ‘Under Your Thumb’ by Godley and Creme. Obviously, I liked a spooky ghost story even then – that was probably around the time I started writing them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6lOTU5jODs

 

Q3. Is there a song that could be the theme tune of your life or your personality? Is there a song that is the theme tune for any of your characters lives?

I’ve had one or two encounters with the Black Dog in my lifetime, and I often have to take special care to keep him at bay. One song that always helps is ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’ by The Eels, itself a rare moment of lightness written by someone who has known some dark times.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WiZ0eBDnLdU

The same song is one of a couple used by the characters to try and find optimism in my out of print (but hopefully to be re-released) zombie novel The Dead Shall Feed. The other is ‘Buck Rogers’ by Feeder; ironically neither of these are very well regarded by their composers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=COy_JKXtzvE

My novella Midlife Crisis is directly named after the Faith No More song, although the Talking Heads’ ‘Once in a Lifetime’ may be a better analogy for what the main character, Clayton, goes through. However my choice for this one is Sophie B. Hawkins’ ‘Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover’; reflecting Clayton’s feelings of being trapped and wishing for more excitement elsewhere. Reader, he will get that, but he might not like it …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lt6r-k9Bk6o

I have a story in the new issue of Far Horizons Magazine (which can be downloaded for free at https://farhorizonsmagazine.wordpress.com/) which is inspired by the REM song ‘(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville’, albeit with the reasons for staying away being creepier than Mike Mills’ love life.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1lioyEbVCs

REM also get a mention in my new novella Escaping Firgo, but since it is about the main character being trapped somewhere he can’t get away from, I think I’ll nominate The Animals as the soundtrack to this one: ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxNEiZhpinY

 

Q4. In your books do your main characters have favourite songs or musicians?

Yeah, we tend to let our own tastes filter through, don’t we? Therefore my books seem to be set in a parallel world; an Indie, Post-Grunge Utopia where Simon Cowell or Stock Aitken and Waterman were never born, and Pixies and Husker Du are household names!

I took this too far in the first draft of my debut novel, loading it with direct quotes of song lyrics, which I’ve since learned is a major legal no-no and a lawsuit waiting to happen. That’s toned down in the rewritten version but, in an early hint of the darkness to come, one of the characters has a shave while staring bug-eyed and snarling this harrowing Pixies song at his reflection – ‘Gouge Away’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDHidMlViMc

 

Q5. If you’re romantically involved, or have been in the past Do you have an “Our Song” one that takes you back to a certain moment? Do any of your characters have a song?

Ha! And with that question, you’ve completely derailed my Alt-Rock Crusade from the one before! Because it’s time for me to throw in a bit of Shania. My wife and I played ‘You’re Still the One’ at our wedding, which I realise now was a little inappropriate; that’s a song for long established couples and as newlyweds, ‘From this Moment’ would have been a better pick.

However, since we’re in our 15th year of marriage, our song is now more fitting, and here it is:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNZH-emehxA

 

Q6. When did you decide to write your first novel? Tell me a bit about the inspiration, process and of course the book. (Feel free to add synopsis, cover, links etc)

It was way back in 2004 when a friend of mine was working for Southampton TV, a now defunct cable TV channel, and was looking to commission a series of low-budget ten minute horror shockers to run late at night. In one sitting I wrote a screenplay titled BITE! and called the two main characters Jay and Alex, his name and mine, not least because I was hoping to star in it too.

The TV station had pretty much run out of money already by then though; they went out of business soon after and the film was never made. But by then I had already asked myself: what happens next? Why? Who else does this involve?, and the scene for a full length novel was set.

It had the working title ‘Bitten’ until I read and loved the Kelley Armstrong book of the same name, at which point I renamed it The Dead Shall Feed, adapted from the chorus of the theme song I’d written to accompany the screenplay:

It’s just a bite, and you just might / Think all sins can be forgiven / But they’re turning nature upside down / And the dead shall feed on the living

At one point the working title was in fact ‘Bite! – And the Dead Shall Feed’, until I realised it had exactly the same cadence as the Cillit Bang advert.

I didn’t work quickly in those days. The first draft was finished in March 2009, and it was published by Panic Press two years later. Unfortunately that company went bust shortly afterwards, and it’s been out of print ever since. I’m confident it will be published again; the rewrite has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, because I’m a very different person now from the one that wrote the first draft, but I’m sure it will be well worth it in the end.

 

Q7. How do you write? Do you plan or take it as it comes? Have a favourite place or time for writing?

I only work a three day week at present, so have Mondays and Tuesdays to myself to write uninterrupted within office hours, and really treat it as an occupation. I haven’t always followed the plan, but my main 2018 New Year’s Resolution is to be more disciplined there, and hopefully I can stick to it. Other than that it’s on an ad hoc basis, but my laptop is almost always on, and the word counts should pile up.

In terms of plotter or pantser, I’m kind of a hybrid; a ‘plontser’ if you will, in that I always have an idea of what I want to get out of a scene or chapter, but how I do so is decided in the moment. Usually I have a single, one line prompt to cover one or two thousand words of prose.

 

Q8. Do you write to music or prefer silence. Do you think that music can inspire a scene or feeling within your writing and your characters story?

I am pretty passionate about music, but rarely play anything specific while I write – my focus would inevitably shift towards it rather than the task in hand. That said, I find complete silence a little dismaying too, so usually I will have one of the TV music channels on at a low, background volume.

A lot of what I write is directly inspired by certain songs, but even in those cases I don’t need to listen to the song during the writing – maybe just once before the start.

 

Q9. What song would you like played at your funeral and why? (Sorry it’s a bit of a morbid question!)

During my visits from the Black Dog, I’ve viewed my own mortality from a purely selfish point of view: it’s only relatively recently that I’ve accepted that there will be people who love me, who will miss me, who will be upset by my passing. That now has become the hardest thing to bear; I don’t want to make anybody sad, least of all those who really care about me.

So I hope that my passing, when it comes, will be a comical one, such as would feature on Horrible Histories, or at the back of the Fortean Times, or in the Darwin Awards, and then instead of being sad that I’ve gone, people will laugh at the manner of my departure. Anyone who knows me well and has seen how clumsy I am will agree that this is well possible.

Failing that, the song of my choosing is ‘See a Little Light’ by Bob Mould. In actuality it’s about someone being in denial about the end of a relationship, but the main title line, and the fact that it’s a beautiful, uplifting song, could bring comfort to the bereaved.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDnNr6lNxvc

 

Q10. What are your Top 3 Songs of all Time? The ones you can’t live without?

Oh, the big guns now! I must have about a hundred songs in my Top 3, and even those fluctuate on a regular basis. It won’t be easy to pin these down.

I know you’re a massive Strictly Come Dancing fan, so I’ll start with my dream Strictly song, the one I’ve fantasised to dancing to and absolutely nailing; being a supposed no-hoper who suddenly pulls four 10s. I think there’s a lot of good moves that could be put to the intro and the solo – it’s the second Pixies song given here, a much poppier one from the same album – ‘Here Comes Your Man’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPgf_btTFlc

I’m going to keep my dancing pants on for the next one, and revisit the absolute zenith of the mid 90s, the golden age of clubbing. I remember finding myself at the front of the stage on a vast, but little known nightclub in Southampton, dancing to this, and seeing a sea of hands and joyous faces filling the dancefloor and reflecting my moves back at me. I still dance to this in the exact same way, only now it’s in the living room, behind closed curtains: ‘Set You Free’ by N-Trance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bcf5kzBCdy4

And finally I’m going to acknowledge my Welsh side with the last pick. I’m a quarter Welsh (chwarter Cymraeg dw i) on my Dad’s side, and that has influenced my writing considerably. Two of my books are set there: the tragic true-life tales of coalmining disasters in Aberfan and Senghenydd, and the much cheerier, family friendly crime caper Richard Pritchard and the Distinctly Unsavoury Occurrence.

The specific song I’m choosing recalls the Black Dog, I’m afraid, but in doing so it shows how something so beautiful can be created out of the depression. It’s ‘From Despair to Where’ by the Manic Street Preachers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFewXLjXTSU

 

Q11. Would you like to read aloud your favourite passage from one of your books? Or if you submit it here then I will read it.

https://www.facebook.com/jasonwhittleauthor/videos/p.2188252097855707/2188252097855707/?type=2&theater

 

Q12. What are you currently working on?

I’m once again attempting the rewrite of my debut novel, years – literally, years – after being asked for it, and having recently got a Master of Arts in Creative Writing, I’m also preparing a pitch for a PhD project. It’s in the supposedly less academic or literary field of football writing, but one which I feel is underrated and has scope for genuinely inspirational and insightful writing.

 

Thanks for taking part, if you want more followers/stalkers to your pages or social media links then add them below. Also if you are attending any book signings please feel free to add those.

https://www.facebook.com/jason.whittle.334

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4894166.Jason_Whittle

https://jasonwhittleblogs.wordpress.com/

http://www.jasonwhittlewrites.com/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kindle-Store-Jason-Whittle/s?ie=UTF8&page=1&rh=n%3A341677031%2Cp_27%3AJason%20Whittle

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Jason Attempts to Write His Way Out of a Paper Bag

 

It was a sunny day, on the day of the occurrence that I will imminently be telling you about, but the hitherto sunniness was replaced a dark gathering gloom of gloomy darkness when all of a sudden, completely out of the blue, and with no word of warning whatsoever the shine of the sun was blocked out by the brown papery substance that surrounded me. It was paper! I was in a paper bag!! I expressed my exclamation thus!!!

I punched the side of the bag but the paper didn’t tear. It just made a rustling noise.

“I should have you arrested for rustling!” came the voice of the miscreant who had been responsible for the circumstances of the paper baggage in which I found myself. Despite my predicament I still laughed, because it was a very clever pun that he had probably contrived this whole situation to be able to use.

“Help me out of this paper bag,” I pleaded pleadingly to my captor who had inexplicably imprisoned me for reasons which I did not know but hoped to reveal to the reader at the climax of the story.

The bearded man sneered at me in a way which I couldn’t possibly have seen due to the fact that I was still enclosed within the aforementioned paper bag which suddenly and inexplicably appeared on top of me in an earlier paragraph. “Ha ha! It’s not going to be that easy,” he guffawed with a hearty laugh of evil laughter, “First you must solve a succession of puzzling mysteries before you can piece together the pieces of the mysterious puzzle. Each will be more difficult than the last and your plight will seem hopeless until the denouement!”

I gazed thoughtfully up into the sky which I could not see through my paper prison. This would be my hardest challenge yet…

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Jay’s Four Star Plus Club 2017

Alien vs Predator Armageddon – Tim Lebbon

Aside from the sci-fi aspects, which are suitably well realised, this delivers all the thrills, suspense, sacrifice, courage and raw emotion you could wish for from a classic war story. It’s a stimulating and challenging read, the strongest of the trilogy, and a rare instance of a tie in surpassing the source material.

4 Stars

 

Behind Her Eyes – Sarah Pinborough

Word of mouth classic: gripping, taut and suspenseful, with an agonising slow burn to the big reveal. This is flawlessly written, and reminiscent of Du Maurier’s Rebecca and the cynical tone of Highsmith’s Little Tales of Misogyny, but with added sci-fi sensibilities. And try as I might, I came quite close, but I couldn’t guess the ending.

4 Stars

 

13 Minutes – Sarah Pinborough

Similarities to Behind Her Eyes in the use of an unreliable narrator, the presence of a scheming manipulatrix and a taut, well-constructed chess match of a plot building to a revelatory ending.

4 Stars

 

The Beautiful Dead – Belinda Bauer

In a world where the percentage play is to do a long-running series of Inspector Somebody, Bauer’s novels are unflinchingly original and startlingly light on police presence. This one revisits the theme of Blacklands by highlighting the relationship between a serial killer and an amateur sleuth / potential victim, and revisits the theme of Rubbernecker by getting inside a different kind of mind, that time autism and this time dementia. It also explores various emotional minefields such as bereavement, loss, loneliness and professional rivalry, interspersed with moments of genuine hilarity, and that’s even before we consider the tense and gripping main murder plot.

4 Stars

 

The Blade Artist – Irvine Welsh

Takes the infamous Begbie character where you’d never expect him to be, albeit hinted at in a moment of humanisation near the end of Trainspotting 2. Compelling narrative, working as both a page-turning thriller and a complex character study, complete with dark humour, political satire, and an ending that provokes not just the desire for more, but sheer desperation.

4 Stars

 

Good Me, Bad Me – Ali Land

Ingenious narrative, reminiscent of Sarah Pinborough’s 13 Minutes and Behind Her Eyes in certain ways, and Du Maurier’s Rebecca in that it has a character who is virtually never in it, but dominates proceedings through her influence on others. Also delivers a tense and disturbing character study at the forefront of a twisting plot.

4 Stars

 

Bleeding Things – Tim Lebbon

Haunting tale of supernaturalism and madness, set against the backdrop of Berlin in the last days of the war. Conveys the horror of war perfectly, using beautiful language to describe overwhelming ugliness.

4 stars

 

Pretty Masks – C.A. Bell

Intimate and deeply shocking, this is a story that goes right to the edge and keeps on going. It doesn’t shy away from getting up close and personal to the heart of the battle, both internally and externally, with unflinching depictions of extreme violence, mental illness, and sex as a weapon. And just when you think you’ve worked out where it’s going, it drags you someplace deeper and darker. This is not an easy read, but exceptionally well plotted and written, and a greatly rewarding experience when you emerge on the other side.

4 Stars

 

Autonomy – L.C. Morgan

A rare sequel that improves upon the original, this really ramps up both the external conflict between rebel humans and occupying aliens, and the internal conflict within Kyra about the loves of her life and the perceived betrayal of her people. And then the ending is completely unexpected and hugely courageous, posing fascinating questions about where the rest of the series will go.

4 Stars

 

Autonomy – Jude Houghton

Hideously bleak yet chillingly plausible view into the mid-21st Century, with identifiable characters despite the extreme situation. Builds stealthily up to a frantic finale with a twist which makes everything fall into place.

4 Stars

 

White Corridor – Christopher Fowler

In parts cosy and familiar, with amusing and likeable characters, but interlaced with fear, tension, and a fiendishly clever plot. Nothing is what it seems, the reveal is likely to take you by surprise, but it all makes sense on reflection.

4 Stars

 

The Shut Eye – Belinda Bauer

Slight crossover into spec-fic territory, and also a rare police procedural from this author as a bitter detective seeks the help of a psychic. It cleverly defies expectations at a number of turns; with the outré elements, the identity of the killer, and having such noble work done by a thoroughly dislikeable detective.

4 Stars

 

Quieter than Killing – Sarah Hilary

Skilfully plotted and beautifully written, by turns chilling, challenging, poignant and thought-provoking, with me taking some pride in guessing the killer a full two pages before the reveal! This also opens up more about the life of the protagonist, and the author too, dropping in references to her favourite TV shows, and managing to restrict herself to single line about Brexit. Best of all, it shows the weak and powerless finding untapped reserves of courage, and the seemingly villainous experiencing fear and even redemption of a kind.

4 Stars

 

Love Me Not – M.J. Arlidge

Whistle-stop pacing, framed by the time being given at the start of each chapter. It successfully portrays the anger and bitterness that can create a killer, the courage and determination of those who would stop them, and the grief and devastation of victims’ families. This is completely unflinching, and refuses to shy away from inflicting a terrible ordeal upon its main characters, or guarantee to keep them safe from harm.

4 Stars

 

The Facts of Life and Death – Belinda Bauer

Bauer absolutely refuses to be bound by genre expectations, but the crime community wisely keeps hold of her because the writing is just so good. Here, she balances writing convincingly as a ten year old girl with providing a compelling and fast moving narrative, injecting both insightful humour and looming terror, and moving effortlessly between the two to produce a plot which is complex enough but not too much. She certainly plays the whodunit game by her own rules, ready to trip up any reader who tries to outthink her. There is also plenty of emotion amongst the intellect, juxtaposing the growing pains of the focus character with loss of love and hope, as well as life. And while being firmly contemporary, the descriptions of the rugged landscape recall Du Maurier’s Cornwall or Hardy’s Wessex, and place the reader right there.

5 Stars

 

Daisy in Chains – Sharon Bolton

Real helter-skelter of a plot, with puzzles aplenty and twists galore, some of which I predicted, others not. Excellent true crime style narration too, reminiscent of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

4 Stars

 

Finders Keepers – Stephen King

This is a real book lover’s book, with literary appreciation being the cornerstone of both the narrative and the plot. It nods to King’s own works too, with The Shawshank Redemption mentioned, after the feel of it was strongly evoked during the antagonist’s prison term. The crime story unfolds in an unusual way, with 120 pages or so of exposition proving to be a joy to read in itself, before it catches up to the modern day. Thereafter, it delivers fast-paced thrills and suspense, shocking twists, and bags of heart and emotion too.

5 Stars

 

Yesterday – Felicia Yap

Highly skilled world-building, with delicious satirical touches when the characters imagine a world with memory as a hate-filled nightmare, and the caste system around length of memory working as an allegory for racial and other prejudices. Against that backdrop the characters are well realised despite, or because of, having to rediscover themselves on a daily basis, and the plot gallops along, twisting and turning as it goes.

4 Stars

 

Eat Your Heart Out – Dayna Ingram

Background: Novella about a zombie outbreak battled by gun toting lesbians, from Queer Speculative Fiction publisher Lethe Press, picked up for free at a BristolCon a few years ago.

Compelling combination of characters you really care for, brisk and humour laden narrative, smart and sassy dialogue, and some very interesting new angles on both the zombie mythos and relationship dynamic.

4 Stars

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Second Prize

“Dae I know you, pal?”

He gets right in my face as he says it, almost knocking me out with the toxic fumes. I back away, partially for the sake of my nose, but also because I’m more intimidated than I should be by a man so much smaller than myself. Then again, he was once one of my heroes.

“No, but I think I recognise you. Didn’t you used to be Rab McLaughlin?”

“Still was last time I checked.”

“I was a big fan of yours – do you have time for a chat?”

“I’ve got time for a fucking drink, if that’s what you’re asking!”

I nod my agreement and buy in two pints. I take a light mouthful of mine; Rab makes serious inroads into his before I even get to ask about his football career.

“Must have been amazing playing for Hibs,” I observe, perhaps redundantly.

“Aye, fucking barry! I used to go out clubbing and the girls were all over me. Tits half out, skirts up to there,” he cups his scrotum, “And all wanting to go home with me!”

He shakes his head in apparent disbelief even as he beams at the memory.

“That’s great,” I say, “But what about on the pitch? That goal you scored against Celtic?”

“Aye, I enjoyed that, alright!” He stands up from his bar stool to re-enact the moment. “Put through one on one with big Pat Bonner, I’ve took this big backswing and gone as if to hit it. Pat’s bought it, hook, line and sinker: he’s dived full length to his left, but I’ve just rolled my foot over it, gone past him and walked it into the net! I was looking over my shoulder and laughing at the bastard when I finally knocked it in. Celtic fans behind the goal weren’t happy. Couple of ‘em caught up with me after the game – they said I should’ve shown more respect. I wouldnae back down though, said I’d take ‘em both on, but one of ‘em landed a lucky punch and the bastards cost me a couple of weeks in hospital and a couple of months out of the team.”

“The paper said you’d pulled your hamstring.”

“So now you know the truth. Or maybe I’m thinking of another time, I was pissed more often than not.”

I nod along to that without knowing why, trying to dig up another question. “Oh, what about that second goal against St Mirren, do you remember that?”

He frowns. “Actually, no. Likesay, I was pissed more often than not.” He takes another large swig, as if to emphasise the point. “Tell you what I do remember though, that missed penalty against the Jambos. How unfair is that? All the great stuff I can’t remember, but I can’t forget that no matter much I drink.”

I wasn’t going to bring that up. We were drawing one-all at the end of the local derby against Hearts and got a penalty. Rab wasn’t the usual taker, but he must have fancied the glory, because he snatched the ball, placed it on the spot, cocky as you like, and then booted it into Row Z. One of the Hearts players got into his face crowing about it, so Rab head butted him and got sent off.

“I went on a proper one that night, I tell you! Cannae remember who I saw or what I did, but I woke up in hospital three days later with a fractured skull. I don’t know if some Hearts fan got me with a lucky punch, or if I just fell down some steps, but that was me done for the season. Done forever, actually. Start of the next season, gaffer says he wants me to go on loan to Cowdenbeath! I say I’m not playing for Cowden-fucking-beath no matter what. I stormed out of his office and spent the next few days in the pub. When I get home there’s a message telling me I’m sacked! And I’ve never set foot on a football pitch since.”

So much for his football career. “So what are you doing with yourself now, then?” I ask.

“What’s it fucking look like I’m daeing?”

“Oh, right. Sorry.”

“Dinnae be sorry pal, I like it here. As long as some doss bastard keeps buying my beer, I’ve got everything I need in this bar. I tell you what though, I could have been a wealthy man today.”

“Oh yeah, footballers today earn millions.”

“I’m not talking about football, pal – what is it with you and football, there’s more to life you know! I’m talking serious business here.” He lowers his voice for the first and only time, “The skag. I’m no fan of that shite myself, my poison’s – you already know well enough what my poison is. But my mate Rents and a few others, they got a load of it off some guy. We all went down to London, right posh hotel, to sell to this proper rich bastard. He’s got these personal bodyguards and everything, big suitcase full of cash, and it felt more big time than playing for Hibs ever did. We got twenty grand or so, I forget how much exactly, ‘cos I was drinking the whole time, but it worked out as a few grand each, nae bother. We gave it to Rents to look after ‘cos no one else could be trusted. One of us was a complete skagheid who might lose it all, one was a conniving bastard who’d rip us off given half a chance, and another was a complete psycho who’d slit your throat for a ten pound note, never mind a backpack full of ‘em. No one even asked me, cannae think why, but that was their mistake ‘cos when we got up next morning, after a bit of a session the night before, Rents was gone, and so was the money. All that way for nothing, and we never saw him or the cash ever again.” Another swig of his beer. “Fuck it though, good luck to the bastard, wherever he is.”

Rab drains the last of his pint and stares at a spot on the wall for a minute, before turning back to me once again. “Dae I know you, pal?”

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BristolCon 2017

The ninth running of the Bristol Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention took place on the Saturday before Halloween, and for the second year running I was there as a panellist. Last year my appearance was in the 12 o’clock slot, but this year was much later – in fact I had to ask them to bring it forward, because it coincided with my train home.

So it was reset for 6pm, which meant I could take part, but it also meant that unlike last year when I could get it out of the way early, the nervewracking spectre would cast a shadow over the event. I also lacked 2016’s protection, when I was flanked by Jo Hall and Sammy Smith.

Nevertheless, there was fun to be had, and people I was looking forward to seeing. And I had extra time to do so once a late running train kiboshed the first panel for me, so I went to the dealers’ room, specifically the Grimbold Books table, to meet up with my stablemates from this BFS Award winning publisher.

By 11am I was with the programme, starting with the sadly Snarf-hating Jen Williams’ interview followed by Steve McHugh’s reading and subsequent panel appearance in which spiders were revealed to be the most terrifying creatures in this or any other universe.

After that I switched to Room Two for the only time, a scientific panel predicting a future which could be very bleak indeed. Although the consensus was that humankind will get through it, because we always do.

And until the end of the world as we know it, I’m going to keep on augmenting my signed book collection, and the mass signing came next. I was very happy to add titles by Anna Smith Spark, Paul Cornell, Janet Edwards, Joel Cornah, Ellen Croshain, and Pete and Emma Newman to my growing list. It was also quite amusing for me, coming at a time while I’m working on a story in which a crazed book fan murders the authors of his signed books to increase their value.

Getting into mid-afternoon, I saw the panel on mapmaking in SFF, moderated by Grimbold’s own Sophie Tallis, and featuring another Grimmie in Joel Cornah, after which I moved away from the panel room for refreshments and to listen to some soothing theremin music as my own appearance approached. This in turn led to my favourite moment of the entire convention, when as many of the Grimmies as we could find gathered together for a photo opportunity with the BFS award trophy. I’m so proud of this group, not just for the quality of their books, but for the way they’ve opened their arms to me and made me into a family member in a world where I’d previously felt like an outsider.

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The 5pm panel passed me by a little bit as I psyched myself up for my own appearance, where I was joined by Danie Ware, Elizabeth Jones, Nick Hembery, and the moderator Jo Lindsay Walton. These late panels are always tough, with many people having already left or decamped to the bar, and the remaining panellists and punters alike starting to run low on energy. However, I think it went well; Jo surprised us with some smart bomb questions, and crucially, both myself and Nick remembered the prefix “award winning” when we mentioned Grimbold Books. And at the very last moment I remembered to recommend the Phineas and Ferb episode “Nerds of a Feather” as an alternate take on our debate about the divisions between Sci-Fi and Fantasy.

I needed a quick getaway after that, but just had time for a quick goodbye with Jo Hall, along with a see you next year, when she will be a Guest of Honour! That in itself makes it unmissable, regardless of its proximity to FantasyCon.

 

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