Announcing This Fresh Hell, a brand new horror anthology from the remarkable, innovative Clan Destine Press. You can pre-order this beautifully horrible book now (at a whopping 20% discount!). And yay! I have a story (or half of one) in this stunning collection of amazing tales.
From the blurb:
This Fresh Hell
A driver picks up a hitchhiker from the side of a road; a family moves in to a house that may be haunted; a visit to the cabin in the woods goes terribly wrong…
We all know how those stories end – OR DO WE? In This Fresh Hell, every story begins with a well-known horror trope but ends with a twist, bringing new life and unexpected resolutions to old ideas. Emerging and established authors from around the world reignite and subvert horror tropes in 19 wholly original, genre-bending stories.
Among these unexpected tales, a Slender Man offers help to a boy in trouble; a restorer develops an unusual bond with a cursed doll; a heartbroken influencer tests her mettle aboard a luxurious cruise from hell; a haunted house hesitates to terrify its new residents… Ranging from the chilling to the quirky, these are stories for dedicated horror fans as well as those dipping their toes into the genre for the first time.
And look at the wonderful cover by Claire L. Smith (@clairelsmxth on IG)
In this fearsome fray you’ll find a story I co-authored with the dedicated, decorated, devoted writer Eugen Bacon.
Our story PAPERWEIGHT is about a librarian, a cursed stone, a love-struck innocent (or not-so-innocent) and the fear of being buried alive…
This Fresh Hell presents stories by:
A.J. Vrana, Annie McCann, C. Vonzale Lewis, Candace Robinson, Chuck McKenzie, Claire L. Smith, Claire Low, Clare E. Rhoden, Elle Beaumont, Eugen Bacon, Gillian Polack, Greg Herren, Jason Franks, Katya de Becerra, L.J.M. Owen, Narrelle M. Harris, Raymond Gates, Sarah Glenn Marsh, Sarah Robinson-Hatch, Tansy Rayner Roberts.
I trust you’ll enjoy this marvellous collection. I can’t wait to get my hands on it and read all the other terrifying stories!
It took a little while to get my head around the possibility of more novels in the world of The Pale. A whole series of post-apocalyptic fiction? But hey! The world was all there, the characters created, and a trajectory beckoned. Plus the world always needs more books with talking animals.
All I needed to do was pick up where I left off, right?
It’s not that easy. Something I found quite testing was to check and re-check my built world, to ensure the consistency of both stories. Remember that I’d invented a highly-detailed setting, with too many characters, too many places, too much that was too clever by half (including an over-clever calendar)? Well, thanks to me being such a smarty-pants, there was too much in my head. I had to match the published version of my world, not the one teeming in my brain.
Hmm, did I mention this particular detail before? I kept asking.
I told myself: probably not.
Can I include it? I thought: Yes, but…
Can I do without it? Answer: YES!
The thing about world-building
It so happens that I know a lot more about the back-stories of the characters than will ever be published.
And that’s the way it should be. I am the iceberg. The published work is the best fraction of it.
Readers really only want to know what’s happening NOW.
They want ACTION. And they want EMOTION. They want RESOLUTION.*
*Beware generalisations. Some readers like the long way round a story
Readers don’t want to know about the hours I devoted to googling baby names as I tried to make my cast diverse and interesting. They don’t want to know about my failed attempts at tracing maps of Tasmania and putting Pale-style names in tricky terrain. And they especially don’t want to hear me arguing with myself about just how evil I can make the villain without turning science fiction into horror.
Stage 7: A Plan for Book 2
Take one ambitious time frame, add a thriving cast, lots of conflict and then make the world explode. Or at least cause the ground to shake.
I’m a pantser by nature, but I needed a plan. More, I needed – for the first time in my fiction writing – to create lists and signposts. I discovered that writing a series is like writing a thesis: there is more material than you can keep in your head at one time. You MUST be organised.
A character listwas easy enough, and here it is. I also asked for it to be included in the printed book, because many readers like to refer back as they’re reading.
A map! Fortunately, I have very talented people in my family – they’re so creative, this lot! – and @bernardjmaher listened carefully, coped with my scribbled diagrams, and voila! a map.
Stage 8: Writing Book 2
The deadline was good for me: six months to the first draft – remember that the first novel took several years to gestate.
I wrote and wrote and wrote. My method is to write a lot, and then edit, edit, edit. Then I add, subtract, rearrange and polish.
Characters from offstage demanded to be heard – for example, Helm, the lost tribesman. He’d always been there as Feather’s missing father, but he insisted that he had a much bigger part to play. More talking animals wanted to be heard, and many of the villains began to flex their muscles. Dystopia is like that!
Back and forth with editing. It was so much better this time around. I was more relaxed about strangers’ eyes on my imagined world, and more confident in my choices. I mus say that working with Odyssey Books has been amazing – truly life-changing.
Amazingly, within a year of launching The Pale, I was back at Readings Carlton, surrounded by well-wishers, thrilled to introduce my new book to the world.
After the roller coaster that was 2020, it’s time for a change.
Welcome back to Last Word of the Week. In the 2021 series, I’m looking for inspiration.
Each week, a different author will tell us what inspires them. Then they will share an extract from one of their books!
I’m looking forward to their encouraging words and their stories.
I’m going to launch the series
My inspiration for stories comes from family, from culture, and from nature. Our precarious planet provides us a flimsy shield from the vastness of the universe. I love to look out and in, to our own species and the precious flora and fauna around us, for insights into what it means to be alive.
The worldwide refugee crisis and Australia’s punitive response is the inspiration behind my sci-fi fantasy series, The Chronicles of the Pale. Writing these three books helped me work through my despair to find a way to hope for the future.
Here’s an extract from Book 3: The Ruined Land. In this scene, Feather of the Storm tribe arrives at the den of the canini (yep, taking wolf-dogs) of the Ravine. Oh, you can see a list of characters here if you wish.
The Ruined Land
‘I never thought to belong to such a pack,’ said Callan, one paw scratching busily behind his ear.
‘Nor I,’ commented Feather, cross-legged on the hard floor of the pack’s main den. He shifted a little as Callan leant back against him. On his other side, the half-grown canini cubs Niccolò and Rhosyn were tangled in slumber, their paws occasionally flapping against his leg in a dream run. Feather watched as Callan rose to all four feet, shook himself vigorously, and then settled again by his side with a long, soft exhalation. In the hours since they had rediscovered each other, the big white canine and the tribal envoy had been almost inseparable.
Freeing one hand to stroke a bit of comfort over Callan’s back, Feather looked around the den. From where they sat against the far wall, they had an excellent view of the astonishing company they shared. By the entrance, Hippolyta the leader of the ravine canini was engaged in serious conversation with Marin, huntmaster of the Storm tribe, and his partner Willow. Beside Willow, Jarli sat quiet and frowning, listening much more than he spoke. From the way that he leant close every time Willow spoke, Feather guessed that the Storm’s foremost couple had recognised the outclansman as the father of the twins, a man whose claim to raise them was greater than Marin and Willow’s plan to adopt. The older pair were probably trying to convince Jarli to stay with the tribe rather than taking his infants back to the less safe life of the outclan Owl. Feather was glad to be out of that conversation. The decision was Jarli’s, and it would not be easy.
For himself, his only thought was to return as quickly as possible to the new settlement of Newkeep Port, where Jana, and little Rasti, would be waiting. His father Helm, too. The easy, joyful reunion he had with his own daughter Freya, here in the ravine, had made him think again that he should make more of an effort to connect with his father. He was uncomfortably aware that he had not only failed to mention Helm’s return to Freya or to anyone else in the tribe, but also that he had avoided serious discussion with Helm during the weeks that they had laboured at the Newkeep site. He swallowed his worries. Problems for another day. It was enough to enjoy the nearness of Callan and the sense of happy community that pervaded the ravine.
In the space between the elders and the den, a handful of tribal children slept among the rest of the canini, human and canini young mingled in attitudes of casual trust while their parents guarded the ravine. He had not seen such a thing since the days when the packs of Callan and Waleen had shared their lives with the Storm. It was a pleasant sight. Lifting his gaze, Feather could see the shadows of equii – Pinto and Violeta, whom he had met within minutes of reaching the ravine. He had been told that the senior equii liked to visit the canini every few days, taking it into their round of the territory as they led the rest of the herd from pasture to pasture. It had given him much joy to find that quite a large herd of equii had found shelter here in the ravine. On their journey, he and Jarli had seem more bones than they cared to study, but Feather was sure that some of them were equii. He had feared that all of them, all who had run from their confined life in the Settlement, had perished on the unforgiving stretches of Broad Plain. That many had found safety, and that some at least of them had once more opened their minds to speech, was an unexpected but joyful discovery.
‘That was a good thought of yours, Callan,’ he commented, indicating the visitors.
Callan looked away, hiding some emotion. ‘For them, I daresay. There was no future for them out on Broad Plain. I don’t know that they’ve added much to our comfort, though.’
Feather smiled at the back of Callan’s head. ‘They have rediscovered their language, and they are safe. Knowing that must be counted as a benefit to all of us as well. Their lives are precious, and worth saving.’
‘Hmm.’ Callan sent a look back over his shoulder, his face creased in the semblance of a grin. ‘Trust you to find some good in that. As long as they don’t completely strip the ravine, I suppose there will still be food for all.’
They stayed silent for a while, enjoying the contentment of their reunion. The afternoon was fading, and Feather noticed a ripple of movement as the next detail of lookouts left to take up position at the pinch point of the trail. A good sentry post, but also a death trap, by everything Callan had told him. He returned Freya’s wave as she returned from her turn on guard, glad that he had seen no sign of the ravening horde of giant vulpini as he and Jarli had crossed Broad Plain. They had encountered only carcasses. In fact, it looked as if the vulpini had grown to excessive size and then suddenly died, all their life force sucked out of them by the freakish growth spurt. Interesting.
Just as the thought stuck him, he saw the humachine Hector join the group by Hippolyta. The big silvery creature sat at the leader’s feet, accepting a bowl of stew which one of the Storm youngsters handed him. Feather stilled his hand on Callan’s back. ‘And that one,’ he said softly. ‘What is he? Who is he? Can we trust him, Callan?’
‘Ah!’ answered Callan. ‘That is Hector of the Ravine. Mashtuk adopted him. He is to be trusted, yes.’
‘He’s from the Pale,’ murmured Feather, frowning, although he heard the faith and affection in his friend’s voice.
This year I’m sharing some bookish ideas for end-of-year gifts, for yourself or others.
I recently heard society philanthropist Lady Primrose Potter interviewed. She’s an interesting person. One comment that stayed with me was that if you love something and you want it to last, do everything your power to support it.
We all have different amounts of power.
Lady Primrose is an important patron of the arts in a number of fields. While I don’t have that kind of might, I can give my love to books in other ways.
I buy books, I read books, I review books, I recommend books, and I do my best to help fellow authors with purchases, reviews and shares. I know how much effort goes into writing.
But buying books costs money
Which is wonderful if you have it. If you don’t, you can truly support books (and authors) for FREE – see the tips at the end of this post. It all helps, truly!
Books to Buy
There are so many good books out there! If you need help deciding which book to buy for a particular person, I recommend that you check out the reviews and recommendations from the independent booksellers such as
You will be able to see my short reviews and ratings of the 89 books that I’ve read this year, and the 300+ that I’ve rated on this site since joining in Dec 2016. Feel free to follow my reviews on Goodreads into 2021 and beyond!
You choose the source: e-books are of course online, and print copies can be found via online retailers, department stores, OR YOUR HEROIC LOCAL BOOKSHOP.
My courageous local bookstore is Benns Books of Bentleigh. They supported me throughout lockdown with local deliveries to my door, yay. Their excellent Christmas Gift Guide is here.
Free bookish gifts for authors
Finally, some suggestions to cheer up the writers in your life with some free love.
Use the local library, because authors get a tiny percentage of a cent for each borrowing.
Suggest titles for your local library to buy, because authors will get a little percentage of the cover price for every sale.
Use a free reading platform to rate the books you read, such as Goodreads, BookBub, or Voracious Readers. If you happen to ever buy anything on Amazon, you can probably post a star rating or even a review on there too. These days, ratings and reviews help sell books.
Share the books you have. The author won’t get another sale but they will get another reader, maybe with a word of mouth recommendation or a library borrowing of their other books. Chances are that the person you lent the book to wouldn’t have bought it or even found it on their own.
Recommend our books. You have access to readers that your writer friends will never meet, especially if you are a member of a book club. More readers is always better for writers, even if it isn’t more book sales. See above: borrowing from the library helps support us too!
Invite us to talk to your book club, especially virtually in these times of virus. We would love to go viral online! Zoom me in, Scotty.
Drop us a line. Let an author know, by email or tweet or Facebook follow, that you enjoyed our books. One of the most satisfying email I ever received was from a reader who told me that my book The Stars in the Night had helped her understand her grandfather, a veteran of WWI. This actually made me cry. All my efforts were worthwhile!
Share our Beautiful Covers: Instagram and TikTok are great platforms for sharing lovely images of the books you’ve enjoyed. #booklove, #bookstagram, #amreading are all useful. Oh, pro tip: if you wish to tag, please tag the title or the publisher, not the individual author. Some algorithms will demote a post that tags individuals as a friend-share, not a customer recommendation. Hey ho.
Enjoy Reading. Keep it going. Like many other industries, publishing has struggled with new releases this year. Online launches sell about a quarter of the books sold in real-life launches. Love your books and pass on the love.
Happy Reading! I look forward to seeing you in 2021.
You might remember my previous posts about being happy with a book. In Part One, I covered how to choose a book that’s likely to give you joy. Then in Part Two I posed some questions about whether the book’s writing quality met your expectations.
Today I’m going to dig a bit deeper into the final response to the book. Was this book successful? Did it deliver what I wanted?
First let’s recap this how to be happy project:
Clare’s three questions for being happy with a book:
Was this book a success? … thoughts about plotline, characterisation, suspension of disbelief, resolution, afterglow
This post is about how to reflect on the success of the book you just finished. You might be considering recommending this book to a friend. You might want to write a review, or perhaps you have a task to review it. Time to think about what was good.
My reviewing rules
I read in excess of eighty books every year, and a lot of other material too. My reading is for pleasure, for learning, to support fellow writers, and to write reviews. My reviews appear on Goodreads, here on my website, in Aurealis magazine and on the Historical Novel Society website.
I don’t review every book I read. You might see that my Goodreads average rating is quite high, because I concentrate on rating and reviewing only those books that I really enjoyed. Plus the ones that deliver what they set out to do.
What if it’s awful?
If I really don’t like a book, then I try to think: Who would like this? For example, I don’t like gratuitous or graphic violence, but some readers love that kind of story. I might say that it’s ‘a book for lovers of action who don’t mind graphic violence’.
Or perhaps I’ll choose not to review at all. I don’t like giving low ratings or over-critical reviews, because I know how much work goes in to writing a book. Most books find their audience. We don’t all have to love all of them.
Some questions to ask
Now you’ve finished the book. Hooray! What are your thoughts?
Some readers are quite intuitive about how much they enjoyed a book (or not) and happily land on a star rating. Others could use some structure to sort out their reactions, especially if the book is complex.
If you would like a tick list of questions, I happen to have one right here LOL!
Does the plot makes sense, with all loose ends tied up?
Are the characters believable and engaging? Did I care what happened to them?
Did the story pull me in? Can I accept its world building? EG its magic system, its police procedure, its logical structure, its historical recreation, its planetary set up and so on.
Was the end satisfactory? Perhaps not all is resolved, but the story is complete.
How did that book make me feel? Your expectation of feeling relies on what you’ve been promised: a chilling thriller, a sweet Regency romance, an exciting adventure in deep space? Your lasting emotional response to the book says a lot.
You could do worse than give each of these criteria a number from 1 (weak) to 5 (excellent) before deciding your final star rating for the book as a whole. [HINT: authors love star ratings]
These criteria also provide beginnings for a text review. [HUGE HINT: authors love text reviews!]
Before you reach for the next delight from your TBR pile, a final thought could be: who would I recommend this book for?
The reading community is very diverse. Even the book you really don’t like will be just right for someone else. And that’s OK!
What’s even better is for you to give them the heads up that you’ve found a book just right for them. The ‘if you like X, then you’ll like this’ statement can be very helpful not only to other readers but also to authors.
[LAST HINT: authors love you to recommended their books to readers who will like them!]
I’d love to know if you have any techniques for rating and reviewing books that you could share with me. And of course I’d love to know how you make yourself happy with a book.