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‘Screechers’ by Kevin J. Kennedy & Christina Bergling – Review

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*Disclaimer* I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

“The brilliant blue flash of the electrical storm lit the old city as the thunder raged overhead. The creature knelt in the shadows, knowing there would be no prey moving around in such conditions. The rain didn’t bother it and neither did the thunder-claps, but the giant electrical spears that sometimes came from the sky and assaulted the buildings raised concern. It had hunted with itsbrothers and sisters for the first years of its life, before returning from a rare solo hunt to watch the jagged spears tear a building apart, sending it crashing to the ground on top of its family. The creature was the only survivor and had been on its own ever since.”

Synopsis

Screechers is a post-apocalyptic fantasy novella with dark elements to it. We’re introduced to the world through the eyes of the last adult ‘Screecher’, a humanoid intelligent predator that strikes out on its own owner to later discover that the last new born of its species has survived. We also meet human twins Austin and Denver and their dependent friend Brooklyn as they strike out from their destroyed community to survive in the hostile landscape they live in. Will either of these groups survive in their new isolation? What happens when inexperienced human meets engineered killing machine?

 

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So, yet AGAIN I did not read the description well enough and AGAIN thought this was a novel and not a novella. That being said, is one of my only complaints. The world is so well set up, the characters so quickly real and three dimensional that I think it’s a shame this isn’t a chunky fantasy novel. While reading it, with the disjointed nature, the bad weather, and the predator species, reminded me of ‘The Shadowleague‘ series from Maggie Furey – always a good thing. I was a little confused as to the era of the story, whether its sometime in the future or a separate universe altogether, but as it is a a short story this doesn’t interrupt the reading experience as it would in a larger novel.

Screechers doesn’t take a deep dive into much, but you can dip your toe into what community means, what makes a family, and the tough decisions that need to made when there are no rules to follow. Bergling and Kennedy work well as co-authors, never feeling like there were conflicting styles in the narrative. I do wish there had been a little more gore/horror involving the humans, there are some great fight scenes sure, but not as much darkness as I’d hoped to see. I still really enjoyed reading Screechers however and would happily read it again.

If you’re a fan of post apocalyptic fantasy and creatures that could disembowel you by accident, you’ll enjoy Screechers and if you like it as much as I did, I’m sure you’ll be checking out the many other works that Kennedy and Bergling have put their name to in the horror genre as well.

About the Authors:

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Kevin J. Kennedy is a Scottish Horror author and editor, and a Bram Stoker Award nominee. You can find him on Twitter and on his website here.

 

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Christina Bergling is a an American horror writer from Colorado. You can find her on Twitter and on her website here.

 

Where to find it:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads

 

Do you want to see more horror in fantasy? Do you have a favourite horror monster? Do you prefer full novels or bitesized novellas to satiate your thirst for darkness?

‘Smitty’s Calling Card (Dark Retribution Book 1)’ by B.R. Stateham – Review

*Disclaimer* I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

“No one could pin anything illegal on this guy. All anyone could say for sure was the guy was an absolute merciless killing machine. He somehow could slip in, silence his victim,  and slip out and no one would know until hours later. And he had connections. Knew everyone who was anyone to be known on the streets. That was the deciding factor. That was single point for him to get this wild idea. Ask Smitty for help. The police department, the entire city, was baffled. Scared. Frozen in indecision. This madman left no traces. He left no evidence behind. He left no DNA material behind. It was like, like he was a ghost who prayed upon those who practiced the oldest profession in the world. No one knew why. 

So maybe it would take a ghost to find a ghost. No one knew why.”

Synopsis

Artie is a police detective tasked with finding and apprehending a local serial killer who has been mutilating sex workers in the area for months. But he knows he can’t find them all by himself, he needs help. So, risking his career and possibly his life, Artie enlists the help of local assassin and ‘boogie man’ of the night, Smitty, a legend among the shadows and a man who will stop at nothing to get the job done. But there’s more to just this mystery than the identity of the killer and Smitty wants to know it all.

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So, I was asked to review this book and as I do normally find some sort of morbid enjoyment from books about serial killers, I thought I’d get something out of it. Turns out I didn’t like it for many reasons, the first being that there are spelling and grammar errors constantly, I mean every other page. I stopped making notes of them because there were just too many, so many that they did sort of become background noise by the middle unfortunately. This book needs another run over by an editor.

 

 

Now onto the real issues with the plot and the writing. Right off the bat I was confused as to why a seasoned detective would enlist the help of some sort of freelance assassin – in some ways a serial killer himself – to help with his search of the killer. It all happened very quickly and without much insight leaving me feeling that the police are wholly incompetent in this story, and that’s not entirely unheard of for crime thriller books, but it was a point that took me out of the narrative. But, this could be seen as nit-picking which would be fair.

“A strong woman. A beautiful woman. A woman of taste and refinement. She didn’t look like a hooker. She looked like a successful business executive.”

Character description is a difficult thing to get right but a good general rule is that you only need to describe someone once. The reader then knows what they look like, they keep this in their mind, and their imagination embellishes when needed. If you are fully describing a character every time they walk in like it’s the first time they are introduced, your reader will die of boredom. They will skip forward to when you stop drooling over Charlene’s ‘divine breasts‘ because we know what she looks like and it doesn’t further the plot.

“The same raw sexual attraction which attracted men to them like freshly spilled molasses attracted ants to a picnic.”

 

The basics of the plot are fine, not revolutionary or unique, but fine, which means the story should really be in the execution and handling of the plot. Unfortunately for Smitty’s Calling Card, the cliches are abundant and repetitive. Yet another serial killer cleaning the ‘whores’ off the streets? A man with a caged animal inside that he struggles to control? High class prostitutes who are unimaginably beautiful, classy, confident, and sexy who need a whole host of men looking out for them to keep them safe because they are such fragile creatures? We’ve seen all this before and quite frankly I was bored with it before the novel even began. Stateham spends so much time making the character of Charlene so irresistible and interesting, switching from the P.O.V. of all the men to look at her, but he never gets inside her head to let the reader see what she is really thinking which is insane when you think that she is the driving force of the entire plot.

 

 

Very Important Things you need to know:

Smitty has dark eyes. His eyes are dark. He is a dark eyed killer. Why does he kill? No reason whatsoever, that’s what makes him interesting apparently. With absolutely no backstory he can kill six of the best assassins in the world with just a pen knife and multiple people report that he is a ghost and no one has ever seen him even though he is constantly wandering around town shooting people. Everyone reports that he is faceless, yet he has no qualms showing everyone his face either, so by the end of this book, he isn’t that mysterious anymore is he?

“Beautiful simply did not describe Charlene Hicks. Words would always fail trying to do so. […] Making her one of the most dangerous creatures he had ever encountered.”

Charlene is beautiful. She has divine breasts. She seems to be telepathic at times and despite being a full time medical student and sex worker, never seems tired, irritated, or aware of a murderer disemboweling her closest friends. Did I mention she is an angelic creature whose hips sway with a ‘girlish confidence’ that makes men weak at the knees? Even nuns stop to stare at her in the street – (That is an actual point made in the book).

 

If you are looking for a formulaic serial killer mystery thriller then give this one a go, but don’t expect much from this book. The characters are paper thin, the misogyny is rampant, and the idea that a group of female sex workers would have no reaction or agency whatsoever in the continuous murder of their peers, is frankly disturbing. Smitty’s Calling Card does not pass the Sexy Lamp Test, in my opinion. I think the Author has some skill and if he could only engage more with realistic characters outside his line of experience, he could write a really good book. But this book wasn’t written for women, or with women in mind.

 

About the Author – 

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B. R. Stateham is crime fiction writer hailing from America. You can find him on Amazon, Goodreads, and Twitter.

 

Links to Buy

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads

‘Sour Candy’ by Kealan Patrick Burke – Review

*I bought this book of my own volition because the cover looked cool and I want to read more Irish horror*

 

Remembering his first and only encounter with the woman prior to the accident summoned once ore dear for the well being of the child and he looked past the woman to the young man by the car, who looked back at him and gave a shrug and a single shake of his head. 

No kid here, buddy. 

Phil swallowed and looked up into the terrible face of the wounded woman as she loomed over him. He was too weak to defend himself, too dazed to understand all that had happened in the past few minutes, and was happening still. Somewhere along the line his life had jumped the tracks and he had found himself in a nightmare, and like the worst kind of nightmare, he could not move, the people around him too busy chatting, redirecting traffic, or filming the scene with their iPhone to realize the very real and possibly dangerous drama taking place on the edge of it. 

The woman looked down at him. This close he could see that the side of her face was swelling, darkening, and her lower lip had split almost down to the cleft in her chin, exposing the dots of blood on her gums. Nausea rose in her chest and he prayed he wouldn’t vomit, for surely the violence of her response would further aggravate his own injuries. 

“Don’t,” was all the self-defense he could muster. 

“Yours now,” the woman said.

 

Synopsis

Phil Pendleton is in Walmart buying some candy for his girlfriend. There’s an irritating child and an exhausted mother getting on his nerves so he leaves… and they follow. Soon, Phil finds that he has no girlfriend, a child that isn’t his though no one will believe him, and a new diet that consists entirely of sour candy. Phil has to decide whether he should accept this new bizarre and forced fatherhood, or figure out who or what this child is, and how to get his old life back.

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So the first thing you need to know about this book is that it is a tiny book. Maybe I didn’t read the description properly when I was buying it but I assumed it was a full sized novel, but it is actually a slim novella, clocking in at just seventy-four pages long.

 

Once I got over that however, I found the initial diving into the story to be irresistible. I’m a sucker for catchy taglines and as you can see in the picture above, ‘Four months to the day he first encountered the boy at Walmart, the last of Phil Pendleton’s teeth fell out.’, hooked me immediately. Not to mention the great cover design – it may seem disjointed between a skull and the name ‘Sour Candy’, however it works and gives the book a dark and gritty look.

 

Instantly I was made uncomfortable as soon as the child showed up. The anxiety was instant and ever increasing as myself and Phil realised that his new reality was not something he could simply explain his way out of. ‘Sour Candy’ is a story of altered reality, terrifying and creepy children, and the horror of an all sugar diet. It’s short, sour, and will stay with you long after you’ve closed those pages. It was a story that sounded unique to me, I’d never heard the like of it before and that’s why I bought it. I wanted to try out Burke’s writing and this one grabbed me fully, my money pretty much walking out of my pocket itself.

I found the story to be well paced and enthralling, a little strange and bizarre however Burke works the story well, keeping the surrealism to a minimum for most of the novella but packing a punch with the reveal of what is really happening. Now, the ‘creatures’ that exact their torture on Phil aren’t fully explained so there are a few questions to roll around your skull once you’ve finished the story, but I didn’t feel cheated out of an answer, it much better suits the story keep the mystery intact. ‘Sour Candy’ is an unsettling story that would easily slot into an episode of The Twilight Zone.

I can say honestly that I would be happy to purchase another one of Burke’s books in the future.

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I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Sour Candy’ as an anxiety inducing nightmare of the worst proportions. Being stuck with an inter-dimensional child to look after and having no evidence to show they aren’t mine, all with that horrific fuzzy teeth feeling that too much sugar gives you, hits me right where it hurts. Burke manages to keep you enthralled in the story, throwing you right in the deep end with Phil and his inevitable and inescapable new reality. It is a short, sharp read that leaves you feeling incredibly relieved that you are not in fact Phil. An uncomfortable story of insidious and unstoppable creatures outside our realm of imagination. This novella will make you uncomfortable, nauseous, and even claustrophobic. I do recommend.

 

About the Author – 

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Kealan Patrick Burke is an Irish author currently living in Ohio, America. He has many acclaimed works and in 2004 was awarded a Bram Stoker for his novella The Turtle Boy. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Links to Buy:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads

 

Have you been infested by a parasitic child that isn’t yours? Have your teeth fallen out due to excessive sour sweet consumption? Do you know how to get sugar out of the pages of a novella? Let me know down below!

 

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact! And don’t forget to follow for more reviews and musings on writing. 

Beginner Tips for Bookstagram -Features, Followers, and What to Post

A lot of writers have had agents suggesting that they create an author account to market their work and some have been apprehensive. More accounts to keep on top of? More algorithms and rules to follow? Or could it be where your real audience is? Instagram is a great platform for sharing pictures and connecting with an audience in more than a limited character tweet, more than the random algorithm timelines of Facebook, and with much less time and effort than making YouTube videos. But like any social media you choose to put your valuable time into, it takes effort and willingness to ‘make it work’. Learning a new social media is like learning a new language – what are the features, what works and what doesn’t, how does it differ from other platforms? And having one that is an extension of your writing or business is different to having a personal account. Here are some tips and break downs to getting started on Bookstagram and see whether it’s an effort you are willing to make.

 

What is Bookstagram?

Bookstagram is the name given to Instagram accounts that center mainly around books and writing. These can be accounts from readers, reviewers, bloggers, writers and even people who are just great at taking pictures. These accounts are linked through hashstags and can be entirely based on one subject or whatever takes the persons fancy. My account is a mixture of my writing, reading, blogging, and some personal stuff – mainly pictures of dogs.

 

Why have an author/writing account

Bookstagram is for anyone who loves books, funnily enough. If you are a reader you’ll find places to discuss books and get recommendations, if you are a writer you’ll find all the readers, reviewers, and beta-readers you can handle. Instagram is a great way to get your book out there and in people’s minds. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve bought from seeing them reviewed or even just being read on Instagram posts. Covers do sell books and if you can get that cover in someone’s head – the right someone – they will buy it. Not being a published author (yet!) I use my own account to share my books reviews and blog posts, pictures of my latest reads, snaps of book launches and events I go to, and parts of my own writing process – anything book or writing related.

 

What makes Instagram different?

If you are familiar with Facebook already, you are off to a good start. The ‘story’ option on Facebook was actually taken from Instagram when they bought the app, but it’s far more popular on Instagram. Other than that, the main aim of Instagram is the sharing of pictures. There are some features of the app that confused me at first but don’t have to be the huge obstacles they seem.

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-No Links- You may have noticed that you can’t post links on Instagram. This is because they want to do everything they can to keep you on the app as long as possible. Similarly on Facebook if you put a link in a post, that post will reach significantly less followers and explains why so many people write posts about something they want to link to and  add (LINK IN COMMENTS BELOW) If they didn’t do this, no one would see it in the first place. On Instagram you can’t even add links to comments, you can however, have links in your profile description eg. (LINK IN BIO)

-Caption Formatting- It took me a while to stop being annoyed at the run on lines of Instagram post captions. It wasn’t until someone suggested first writing the comments in my notes app and then copying it over to Instagram. This ensures your post makes sense and doesn’t hurt to read. And on the subject of captions, it seems to be that longer is better. It seems counter productive as we all hate endless Facebook posts, but with a well written long caption people seem more likely to interact.

-Reposting- It confused me in the beginning that you couldn’t share from other people’s accounts, but it turns out you can! You just need another app. The one I use is called ‘Repost‘ and the instructions are simple. It’s an easy way to take part in sharing competitions and follow loops as well, linking back to the original poster. Slightly more complicated than other sites, but not impossible to get the hang of.

 

How to gain followers?

Just like any other platform, followers is something you either care about or you don’t. There’s plenty of tips out there about cheating algorithms and whatnot to get more followers, but I’ve found that these are mostly just incredibly time consuming and fruitless – you don’t want any followers, you want followers that will stay. You can also ignore all the emails telling you if you pay someone twenty quid they can get you ‘real’ followers, it’s not going to work and you will lose your money. Gaining followers is all about attracting the right people, and you do that by putting out the face you want people to see and following accounts that closely resemble yours or use the same hashtags as your account.

But, for those who do want to gain some traction with followers, interaction and regular posting is the best way to go. I’ve had my Instagram for just over a year now and I’m currently at 550 followers. It’s not the thousands I could have had if I spent more time on it, but I’m pretty happy with the ones I do have. If you make your account a business one, you get access to ‘Insights’ that can tell you when, where, and who are liking your posts. I’m sure this will interest some people, but I tend not to look at them too much these days. The golden rules are follow back accounts you like, always reply to comments, and support and share other writers and readers in your circle.

 

What to post?

Post whatever is authentically you. Of course there’s always some sense of performance online but it’s up to you how much performance goes into your profile.

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It may seem like a great idea to post about your book and get it out there, but people follow authors for more than just ads, in fact ads will actually put a lot of followers off, even if they are fans of your work. You need to decide in your description what you want your page to be and for the most part, stick to that. If you want to present as more than an author, pick one or two things in your description and give regular updates on those things. There’s some debate on whether posting on too many separate subjects can make your profile look messy and put followers off, while others say that accounts who post identical pictures with the same filter on each one become too repetitive. Nothing should ever be identical in my opinion, but being too scattered and all over the place can also be a mistake. Curating the right image for you is something that may take a little time at the beginning, but is worth some thought. And no matter how private you want to make it, one or two pictures that include your face help followers to connect better with who they are following.

 

Pictures

Instagram is, for better or worse, about great pictures and aesthetic. You don’t need to be a photographer or have fancy equipment – any smart phone will do – but there are also plenty of apps outside of Instagram’s own filters that can help if you need it. Canva is a great app to create promotional material for all social media sites and can give you a professional look with no editing skills needed. With some research you can also find plenty of apps that help with personalized filters as well if you want to create your own unique aesthetic.

A major fail for pictures is blurriness, nothing hurts the eyes more, its worse than bad composition or terrible lighting even. Always make sure that whatever you take a picture of, make sure it is in focus.

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At the end of the day it is up to you how you choose to market your book, blog, or writing. It may seem like a good idea to set up something on every platform but with this you run the risk of spending so much time on social media, you never get any actual work done. Authenticity is what ‘sells’ the most and nothing is more obvious and off putting than someone who clearly dislikes or doesn’t enjoy what they are doing. For some people it’s better to have no online presence at all rather than a negative one. If you don’t like it, don’t do it.

 

 

Choosing Not to Write – Why *Stressful* Procrastination Can Kill Your Writing

Procrastination

Most people have issues with procrastination in one or more areas of their life, some (me) more than others. And in the year of our Lord 2019 there is an unlimited supply of things to distract ourselves with, each one designed to keep our attention at all costs. So, for writers and artists of all kinds, how can we avoid procrastination and get our work done? Especially since more and more of us are doing it after our usual 9-5 jobs, right when your brain is telling you that you need to relax and take a break. What if we chose to procrastinate and feed our creative minds, rather than passively accepting it and punishing ourselves for it?

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I have so many notebooks I really wish I could read my own handwriting.

First, let me tell you a little story. I’ve been writing a novel for, oh, I don’t know, a million years now, and last year just before Christmas I finished my first full draft. I won’t go into exactly how I did this, though I will say I was working a very slow job at the time and was able to write at least a few hundred words every single day at work. My family are from the middle of nowhere Donegal – no internet, no phone service – and I always go up for Christmas so I figured I would get a whole lot of writing done. This time, that did not happen. My sister got internet for the first time ever and seemed to have unlimited movies on her television, so I literally watched 9 hours of movies a day, and I loved it. I don’t think I wrote or edited a single word while I was there, and I made a conscious decision not to write. I’d spent the previous few months hammering out a word count and felt like I needed a break and deserved one.

When I came back to Dublin I was focused more on my burlesque dancing and performing, getting back into singing, and supporting other artists, so editing a second draft fell by the wayside for a while. I’m sure we’ve all heard the tip that you should put your draft away for a while before coming back to it and I definitely did that and did so much better coming back with a fresh mind to edit it for querying. I’m doing that at the moment, but my time spent resting my writing mind taught me so much about how I had been sending my time previously, how much I guilted myself and punished myself for going to the cinema or taking a night off to see a friend. I realised that I’d gone back to my Leaving Cert. days where just sitting down to watch the Simpsons when I knew I should be studying gave me heart palpitation – and I didn’t really give a rats ass about the LC. Procrastination is often, though not always, a sign of underlying anxiety, something I do struggle with, a fear of failing so you don’t even start or leave everything to the last minute. But these days there’s so much more than that, so much more to distract us it’s almost impossible to stay focused on the things we really care about and thus end up feeling like we are failing, even though everything around us is designed to grab and keep our attention. We are living in a world designed to make us passive. 

 

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Why We Can’t Relax Anymore

We are all constantly on our phones, there’s no two ways about it. Even if you profess to hate social media like a lot of the people I follow on Twitter seem to think, you’re still on there, scrolling and like, comparing and judging, and it just isn’t healthy. Most of what we see also isn’t realistic. Think about it, if you follow loads of people but they only post when they’ve done something cool or a product to sell it looks like everyone is constantly doing more than you are and we all think like that! We can’t relax because we can see how much other people are doing with the same time and resources and we feel like we’re wasting our lives because we aren’t building businesses, or ‘brands’, or volunteering, or travelling. To sit and do nothing but scroll is to sit and do nothing but stress. Here’s an article from Moodpath that delves deeper into this.

And even when we aren’t on social media, we are all accessible, ALL the time. Anyone else have family who look their collective shit if you don’t answer the phone immediately? I’ve been trying for a long time to figure out how we made plans and kept them before mobiles and I honestly can’t remember. We are never actually alone anymore, and as an introvert, that sucks.

Our fear of missing out leads us to constantly pick up that phone, even when we don’t want to, even when it makes us feel bad, EVEN when we have a project that we are passionate about and want to finish – it’s so hard to stay focused. Eve calling it a project feels somewhat wrong when you’re motivation is coming from the heart, it’s so mechanical. I feel like this is also the reason why I can’t read like I used to. Even in college I could finish books no problem, but since I started using smart phones, I find it very hard to make it through a single chapter even without checking Twitter, which is insane! I even procrastinate procrastinating by watching a movie, then ignoring it and scrolling through Instagram. We can’t relax because there’s always more content to consume, always more to catch up on, ALWAYS more ‘hustling’ to do. No wonder we’re tired all the time.

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The Weight of Guilt

Do you ever sit down to watch a movie or tv show and feel guilty? Does scrolling through your list on Netflix make you feel like you are a failure? You are not the only one.

I have only recently been talking to friends about how we used to LOVE getting to the weekend because you got to just do nothing at all. Absolutely nothing. Can you remember the last time you did that and it wasn’t linked to depression? I feel like these days the only time I do nothing is when I am so overwhelmed I just can’t, instead of purposefully doing nothing and enjoying the freedom of not having a to-do list, not having a schedule, and not feeling like I’ve failed when I don’t get things done. These days, weekends are for doing the things you can’t do during the week, or for some of us, to work on what we really want to do outside of the job we need to pay the bills. For me, Saturdays are for running errands and cleaning things, Sundays are for classes I’ve scheduled, updating social medias and this blog. Every spare minute of every week day is for writing, including lunch at work. I have to schedule in time TO DO NOTHING like it’s a real chore or something, and isn’t that weird?

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Our Self Worth is Tied to Productivity

I believe, and there seem to be some studies that show that people in general these days, are more anxious than previous generations. Obviously there are different types of stress and anxiety, there are different things that make our lives easier and possibly make them worse, but our constant access to everyone around us and to so many types of ‘product’, ie videos, podcasts, photography, music, books, art etc. that other people are making, it shows us that we can do those things to. This can inspire, but it can also crush your soul. Yeah you could have all that too, but you aren’t doing anything to get it. I could have written multiple books and worked hard to get them published by now, but I haven’t. I’ve wasted my time right?

No, just because you aren’t constantly being ‘productive’ it doesn’t mean you are failing. Everything you do when it comes to art is a choice, most of the time there is no one pushing us, no hearts to break if you don’t pant that picture or finish that story, we have put the pressure on ourselves and that is why it’s hard to get things done, because we are the ‘Boss’. Artists of all kinds these days are struggling to keep up with the constant demand for new content and few spend the time that they should creating something that is whole and finished. It takes so much time to write a book, or create a show, or an album, but we demand more stuff, more often. Binge culture is feeding into this and the pressure to get something out as quickly as possible is killing so much creativity.

Blindboy Boatclub from the Irish comedy duo ‘The Rubber Bandits’, has a podcast about art and mental health, and in it he points out that we need conscious relaxation to take in other people’s art in order for your sub-conscious to later create its own art. We are all filters of the world around us and the art and experiences that we consume and have. If we never watched movies, read books, listened to music, put blinkers on and only wrote our own stuff, we would never get the fuel for further art. Eventually our inspiration would run out and we would again feel like failures.

 

Coming Back After a Break

When I came back from my intentional break, did I have anxiety about writing? Of course I did! I freaked out for a bit, thought maybe I’d forgotten how to do it, had fallen out of whatever semblance of a routine I’d made for myself, but I definitely don’t regret taking that break. I watched all the movies I’d been missing because I felt like I wasn’t allowed to do anything but write for so long. I had basically been punishing myself, and though this worked sometimes, more often than not it just wreaked havoc on my mental health and made me feel like a failure no matter what.

And you know what’s really irritating? Constantly complaining that you aren’t writing, or you haven’t written enough. Your friends and family will get real tired of that, real quick, even if they don’t want to admit it.

If you are going to procrastinate and watch Youtube videos or listen to podcasts, or hel make bracelets out of coke can tabs (yes I do this), do it on purpose. Do it consciously. Focus on the things that you are using to distract yourself. Get rid of the stress, get rid of the pressure to get back to writing. Now, when I sit down to watch movies or read books I’ve bought, I focus solely on that one thing, put my own book aside and know that I will get back to it. I know that what I take from the experience of that other piece of art will feed back into mine, maybe even plug up a few plot holes, or teach me how to set a scene better.

 

Do you have a problem with procrastination? Do you feel guilty or anxious when you aren’t writing? Let me know down below. 

 

‘A Penny for Your Thoughts’ by Matt Hayward and Robert Ford – Review

Disclaimer – I was given a free copy of this book, not in exchange for an honest review, but I’m doing it anyway. 

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All photos provided by Robert Ford.

Excerpt-

‘After kicking aside a pair of underwear large enough to fit a hippo with glandular problems, that’s when I spotted the tree. The jagged trunk still smoked from lightning, and as the wind changed direction, sour air attacked my nostrils. I pressed my sleeve to my face as I jogged on over. The lone pine sat by the water’s edge, shredded by the gods. A still-flaming branch sizzled on the riverbank. But strangest of all was the crater of blackened earth by the roots. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say a tiny meteor had struck. Roots jutted from the scorched soil like tentacles, and I peeked below at the thing buried in the dirt. Rainwater rolled down the filthy glass. A jar.

My first thought turned to drugs. Could someone have buried paraphernalia for a pickup? Would that attract lightning?

Then (as stupid as it sounds) I thought: silver. Did we have a millionaire Lowback hillbilly hiding treasures outside of town? Parole officer be damned – my hands itched to find out.

I scanned the woods for hikers before hunkering down and pawing at the muck. The dirt came free in globs, gathering beneath my nails, but I soon shimmied my hands around the glass and pulled. The object popped free and I went bassakwards as the thing shot through the air, thumped the soggy ground and rolled as I scrambled to my feet and my treasure barreled toward the tributary.

“Motherfuck!”

I bolted and snatched the jar just as it started down the bank to the catfish. Then I caught my breath.

I took inventory of the woods and once more. Only the sparrows and catfish knew my whereabouts, and the hissing rain cloaked my labored breathing. I hobbled to the shelter of a canopy, squatting back-against-bark as I rolled that cold jar about my open palms.

A seamed glass cookie jar – the very thing Pop used as a swear pot when I was growing up. Sometimes I think he cussed just to give me pocket money, the kinda man he was. “Fuck, fuck, shit, cock, fuck, and there’s your candy. Go on up to the store and grab me some tobacco while you’re at it. Like magic.”

“Like magic,” I mumbled, and popped the lid before peering inside.

I expected a rank smell, maybe from a dead animal some psychotic child had shoved inside, but all I found was paper. Lots of paper. My brow creased. I wiped my hand on my jeans before slipping in two fingers and snatching a piece. Then I pulled a tiny, ripped scroll free and found myself surprised at the weight. Someone had shredded a notebook page before rolling the sections into tight little scrolls. The years only strengthened that fold, and once I unraveled a piece, I placed it on my knee and held it open. There lay a single penny taped next to handwriting..

“The fuck is goin’ on here?”

 


 

‘A Penny For Your Thoughts’ is available to pre-order at the links below and will be released on 1st June 2019 for your reading pleasure. 

 

Synopsis

Joe, a recovering addict fresh out of jail, finds a jar of penny buried beneath a tree, each old and wrapped in the wish of a young child. At first they amuse him, but he soon realises that the wishes he reads come true – no matter what they are. As he and his friends, new and old, try to figure out how to use the wishes to their advantage they find that everything has a price – and it’s never just a penny.

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‘A Penny For Your Thoughts’ is a novel that explores addiction, debt, greed, and secrets that refused to stay buried. It pulls the reader into a fantasy that we’ve all explored at some point – what would you wish for? Except, this novel also forces us to consider the downside – the cost of the wish. Everything has a price, it all just depends on whether we’re willing to pay it or not, and when the wish is really good, we don’t even ask what that price is. Joe and his friends go through all of these and bring the reader with them, funny, gruesome, haunting and all the while steadily increasing in dread.

Joe as a protagonist brings this story to life. Joe has a past, he isn’t necessarily a bad guy, but he isn’t a ‘good guy’ either. He isn’t the hero of this his story or any story really. His drug addiction serves as a mirror for our own addiction to our wants, our own selfishness, and our need for instant gratification at no cost – and as we all no, nothing is ever really free.

As this is the first co-authored novel that I have ever read, I was a little apprehensive about it, imagining that two writers together, particularly if I was to write with someone else, would find it challenging to merge their styles. But Ford and Hayward manage to do just that and form a cohesive narrative. At no point do I remember being pulled out thinking that I’d switched to something that felt like a different writer, a different story, a different protagonist.

I have one pet peeve about this novel that’s irrelevant to most people but I’m going to share it anyway! It’s completely only a thing that would get under my skin, and only recently as I’ve learned that this is a thing – the currency in prisons (American prisons at least) is no longer cigarettes, but ramen instant noodles. As I’ve heard in many documentaries (‘Brooklyn 99’ and ‘To Make A Murderer’) and various forms of journalism, smokes are largely banned and instead, as it’s easy to cook and something everyone and use, ramen noodles are now the currency that prisoners use to barter and stash away. We can all be glad that less people are smoking I guess.

 

About the Authors:

Matt Hayward

Matt Hayward is an Irish horror writer and musician from Wicklow with numerous publications under his belt and a Bram Stoker Award nomination. You can find my review of his short story collection ‘Brain Dead Blues’ here. He is currently working on another co-authored novel with Brian Smith and can be found on Twitter @MattHaywardIRE or at his website sundancecrow.com

 

Robert Ford

Robert Ford is an American author with myriad publications under his belt such as his novel ‘The Compound‘ and his short story collection ‘The God Beneath My Garden‘. He also has several screenplays floating around Hollywood that you may see in time. Ford can be found on Twitter @bobford

 

 

Links to Pre-order and review (ALWAYS REVIEW!)

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Goodreads

 

How do you feel about wish fulfillment stories? What would you use your wishes for if you found a mysterious jar of pennies buried beneath a tree? Are we all too addicted to instant gratification? Let me know down below!

 

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact! And don’t forget to follow for more reviews and musings on writing. 

‘Siphon’ by A. A. Medina – Review

“The cadence of the story was beautifully choreographed and flowed like a well-orchestrated horror symphony. This was original, a bit peculiar and out of the ordinary with a very strange and dark sense of humor thrown in to make it all that more eerie and fascinating.” – William Bitner Jr.

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Extract

Control is something I’ve never had.

I didn’t choose my profession – Francis did. He said the only men he respected were men with titles, and his grandson sure as hell had to have one. I had the choice of military or medical school. For eighteen year old scrawny, scared , and awkward Gary, it was an easy decision.

I didn’t choose to live where I live – Francis did. My parents owned a quaint little house on about fifty acres of land about an hour outside of Claybrook City.

Being the next of kin, I own the house. Francis hated that house and refused to live there. I rent out this shitty townhouse, in shitty downtown, to take care of his shitty ass… Well, figuratively shitty.

I examined the bathroom. My clothes were scattered across the floor. Feces, blood, and vomit smeared along the scuffed tile and dusty baseboards. Shower-water, and what smelled like piss, pooled up at the foot of the tub and around the base of the toilet.

I couldn’t even control myself. ‘

 

Dr. Gary Phillips, the resident hematopathologist at Claybrook Medical Center, is a lonely man struggling with the duress of an all work and no play lifestyle. Burdened with the an unhealthy infatuation with his co-worker, a burning disdain for his boss, and an abusive relationship with his grandfather, Gary just can’t catch a break.

That is, until a workplace accident ushers in a bizarre, but empowering experience that evokes a new sense of self , forcing repressed memories to surface while encouraging him to pursue his fantasies with unconventional methods.

 

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‘Siphon’ is the story of disturbed and delusional man who holds no power or control in any aspect of his life, and suddenly finds the strength to act, to take what he wants, when a new urge takes a hold of him – the urge to drink blood. Him being a hematopathologist is convenient in that respect but as repressed memories begin to surface, it may be that he was destined to find his calling in blood.

If you are looking for sympathetic characters to really feel for you won’t find it with this book. Dr. Phillips is a thoroughly unlikable character and it took a few chapters to realise that he was supposed to be. If you can go into ‘Siphon’ knowing that you aren’t supposed to like him however, the story is much more palatable. Probably the wrong word to use there really, but here we are. What would today be described as an ‘incel’, a morose and secluded man who feels no power in his subordinate job supervised by a much younger man, no courage to ask out his attractive co-worker, and no fortitude to stand up to his grandfather, the man who raised him and who calls the shots in both their lives – it is not unkind to describe Dr. Phillips as pathetic, but rather apt, and this explains the stranger events of the short novel.

At times it can be an uncomfortable read, but that is the point of horror, to make us uncomfortable. Like Hitchcock’s Rear Window, ‘Siphon’ plays on all of our voyeuristic tendencies and though your stomach may turn at the events and even just the thoughts of the protagonist in this book, you do keep reading, and you keep looking through his eyes. You might briefly wonder how his young work colleague could tolerate him for a second, how even a sex worker self medicating on drugs can see past the atmosphere of weirdness that surrounds him, but again maybe they don’t. Maybe the smiles he sees are plastic, the acceptance he feels a product of the fear they feel around them. It seems almost inevitable that they are but as we only see things from his perspective, we can only take the story as it is.

 

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Being as disturbed and unhinged as Dr. Phillips is, he presents as a classic unreliable narrator. You may believe that he sees the people around him as he claims to, but can you believe the supernatural elements or are these just another part of his fantasies? Is there really an entity pushing him to drink blood or is that simply a scapegoat for his own actions, an excuse to act out his darkest fantasies? Even his claims to the women he has slept with, clearly meaning to sound unfortunate yet involving scenarios that are unlikely given his personality and general hygiene, could hardly be considered embarrassing when the only two experiences he has could be taken directly from a porno script – teenage friend’s older sister and college threesome? Woe is me. Dr Phillips does not come across as a man you can take at his word. This unreliable narrator side to the novel did have me thinking of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho on more than one occasion, but with a much more submissive energy to it.

The horror of ‘Siphon’ is Medina’s refusal to shy away from the gruesome details of Phillips life. From vomit and feces, to menstrual blood and rotting corpses, if you have a thing for bodily fluids then this novel will peak your interests. You are with him every step of the way, probably wincing, almost definitely not eating, and truly horrified that there are people like him out there, and we are the unsuspecting victims he feels entitled to. Anyone who thinks that referring to a woman’s eyes as ‘mossy ponds’ and thinks it’s romantic must be messed up.

 

Overall, if you have a strong stomach and search for the darker side of horror, if there is such a thing, ‘Siphon’ might just be the book you are looking for. But if you need a happy ending, or someone to route for, I’d be a little worried if you found that in Dr. Gary Phillips, just saying.

 

About the Author –

medina

A. A. Medina is a writer and reader of strange things who believes in the power of stories to inject mystery, joy, and even fear into our every day lives. Living in Arizona with his wife Samantha, their fat cats and a dog, he also co-runs the fiction magazine Aphotic Realm. Follow him here on Twitter

 

 

Links to ‘Siphon’ (ALWAYS LEAVE REVIEWS!):

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Goodreads

 

What do you think about the unreliable narrator trope? Do you avoid books that have unlikable characters? Let me know down below!

 

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact! And don’t forget to follow for more reviews and musings on writing.