TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, a masterpiece of modernism, reaches back into legend and forward into dystopia. First published in October 1922, the poem resonates with the grief of the Great War.
You know, ‘the war to end all wars’…
A hundred years later, we can easily empathise with that mood. But we also know that, despite our fears, humanity continues its struggle to find the goodness and the light.
I’m thrilled to announce that later this year PS Publishing UK will release our anthology From the Waste Land: stories inspired by TS Eliot (edited by Clare Rhoden), marking the centenary of publication!
Meet the stories
With a mix of ghost stories, sci-fi, fantasy and apocalyptic tales, these original stories conjure wastelands from the 1500s to many centuries ahead.
You’ll also find hope for humanity and a belief in our shared future.
Delightful, shocking, unique, extraordinary… you’re sure to find something amazing in these gems of speculative fiction.
From the Waste Land: contents
Death by Water, by Grace Chan
A Winter Respite, by Clare Rhoden
She Who Walks Behind You, by Leanbh Pearson
The Watcher of Greenwich, by Laura E. Goodin
Exhausted Wells, by Tee Linden
Rats Alley, by Jeff Clulow
Fragments of Ruin, by B.P. Marshall
Dead Men, by Cat Sparks
A Dusty Handful, by Aveline Perez de Vera
Lidless Eyes That See, by Geneve Flynn
A Witch’s Bargain, by Rebecca Dale
And Fiddled Whisper Music on Those Strings, by Eugen Bacon
Mountain of Death, by Austin P. Sheehan
Fawdaze, by Rebecca Fraser
Over the Mountains, by Tim Law
A Shadow in This Red Rock, by Louise Zedda Sampson
Dry Bones, by Robert Hood
April, by Francesca Bussey
The Violet Hour, by Nikky Lee
Keep an eye out for more news as this exciting project nears completion.
Tim Mendees is a horror writer from Macclesfield in the North-West of England. He specialises in cosmic horror and weird fiction. He has published over 80 stories in anthologies and magazines with publishers all over the world, as well as with three novellas.
When he is not arguing with the spellchecker, Tim is a goth DJ, crustacean and cephalopod enthusiast, and the presenter of a popular web series of live video readings of his material and interviews with fellow authors. He currently lives in Brighton & Hove with his pet crab, Gerald, and an army of stuffed octopods.
I’m excited to talk with Tim today … and a little bit wary LOL.
Here’s what he says!
TIM: So, where do you get your ridiculous ideas from?
This is probably the singularly most asked question I have ever received. I have thought long and hard on this over the years and I confess that I don’t have a clue. Some come to me when I see a specific call, but the simple fact is that there is no secret key to open the doors of inspiration. Most of my ideas come from the most mundane of places. I have often found a trip to the local supermarket or standing in the queue at the Post Office is often enough to get the juices flowing.
One of the things I like to do the most is turn the everyday murderous. It could be something to do with being a lifelong fan of Doctor Who where everything from plastic daffodils and shop window dummies to maggots and giant talking slugs can be a galactic threat, but I like to find the sinister in the commonplace.
I’m never happier than when I’m killing people with seaweed and oysters.
This also ties into my main influences. I’m something of an obsessive reader of H.P. Lovecraft and cosmic horror in general. The original Weird Tales alumni are literary gods to me. I’ve never found vampires and werewolves the least bit unnerving, but a tentacle-faced god infiltrating your dreams gets the hairs on the back of my neck prickling. The fact that evil can be lurking on the fringes of reality, influencing nature and turning a toilet roll into a psychotic killer, is far more terrifying to me than some bloke with a machete in a fright mask.
You have a chance against flesh and blood, what chance do you have against a carnivorous cosmos?
When I started writing, I had only one goal… to create the sort of stories that creeped the hell out of me as a kid. Raised on pulp paperbacks, I devoured everything from Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen to Ramsey Campbell and the weirder end of Stephen King. If I have made one person feel the way I felt when I first read The Willowsor The Shadow over Innsmouth, then I have succeeded.
It’s not all cosmic indifference and nihilism though.
I was also raised on a steady diet of P.G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, and Carry On… movies. I spent a great deal of time as a child with my grandparents so I ended up assimilating their taste and mingling it with the weird. I think the best description of my output that I have ever heard is someone called it the lovechild of Lovecraft and Wodehouse.
My new novella, Spiffing, is a great example of this. When I set out writing it, I wanted to get the feel of a Christie whodunnit or a Jeeves story and give it some cosmic horror goodness. It will be up to the reader to judge whether or not I’ve succeeded.
In short, my ideas come from my past and my present. The things that have inspired, shaped, and disturbed me. Everyone has these things in them… it’s just a question of bringing them to the surface.
Thank you so much Tim for this entertaining and enlightening discussion.
Sylvia Lexington-Brown now lay in an undignified heap on the top of the grand staircase at Chycoose Manor. Her elegantly sequinned cocktail dress had ridden up, showing her lacy stocking-tops. After screaming her lungs out, she had fallen into a dead-faint. The trio of drunken men had jumped up unsteadily from where they lounged and rushed to the woman’s aid.
Doctor Sullivan had placed a cushion from a chaise-lounge under Sylvia’s immaculately styled head of blonde hair and removed the choker from her neck, Potter had hold of one of her scarlet painted hands and patted it gently while Slater fanned her with a ragged newspaper.
While the three men fussed, the three women ran back to the library and hurriedly removed the masks and put their clothes back on. The sudden shock had jolted them back to reality and a deep feeling of shame. Meanwhile, the band were faffing with their instruments and looking bewildered. Each one of them was three sheets to the wind and oblivious to everything around them.
Professor Penrose was the first of the women to re-emerge from the library, she bounded up the stairs and questioned her fiancée. “What the devil is going on Frank?” Her strong yet attractive face was flushed from exertion.
“No idea darling,” Doctor Sullivan replied. “She started shrieking and saying something about Bertie being ghastly.”
“Well, that’s hardly news,” Penrose replied, rolling her blue eyes. She had never been a fan of Bertie. Quite rightly, she thought the man a fool and a bounder, she only tolerated him because her betrothed was one of his closest friends.
“That’s not what she said you deaf old bugger,” Potter mocked. “She said that something ghastly had happened to Bertie.”
“Well… has anyone checked on our host?” asked the professor.
The three inept men looked at each other then, almost in complete unison, answered… “No.”
“Don’t you think one of you ought to?” she asked pointedly as she fixed them with the kind of stare that headmistresses give to foolish six-year-olds.
Before one of the men could reply, their mouths gaping like beached trout, Sylvia began to stir. Suddenly, she sat bolt upright and wailed, “Oh God… Bertie!”
“What the hell is going on, Sylvia dear?” Penrose asked gently. While she had no time for Bertie, she was terribly fond of Sylvia.
“Oh, it’s terrible… simply terrible! I had been powdering my nose and when I finally returned to the study, he was dead!”
“Dead? … Surely not?” said Slater with a look of disbelief.
“He was lying on his back with a terrible look on his face, and he was smoking!”
“How could he be smoking if he was dead?” Slater stupidly replied.
“Not smoking a cigarette, you blithering imbecile,” Sylvia snapped. “He was smoking! There was smoke coming off of him… His body was smoking!”
An ensemble muttering of “Good Lord!” spread around the room and the guests exchanged horrified expressions.
The two other ladies, now fully clothed, joined the huddle on the stair landing and helped Sylvia to her feet. Nobody mentioned the dancing, but the sheepish expressions they wore announced that it was a rather large elephant in the room. Once Sylvia had regained her equilibrium somewhat, Professor Penrose took charge of the group and led the party towards Bertie’s study.
The east wing of Chycoose Manor had fallen into a state of disrepair of late. A cruel winter, coupled with the unwillingness of the owner to lift a finger when it came to maintenance, meant that it had seen much better days.
Reaching the end of the corridor and the double doors leading to Bertie’s inner sanctum, the scent of damp was joined by an even more pungent aroma. “Crikey! What’s that smell?” Stanley Slater inquired, placing a vomit-stained hankie over his mouth and nose. “It smells like someone forgot to pluck the turkey before putting it in to roast.”
“Oh, God! … Bertie!” Sylvia exclaimed and wobbled as though she was on the brink of another swoon. Potter and Sullivan deftly steadied the distraught woman.
“Tactless moron!” Penrose hissed at Stan.
“What? … Oh! … Awfully sorry, Sylvia dear. I’m sure Bertie will be alright. He’s probably mucking about, that’s all.” Slater turned beetroot red with embarrassment.
Susan Slater tutted at her husband’s idiocy then pushed her way to the front of the group. Together with Penrose, they pushed open the study door.
A blanket of smoke hung low over the cluttered room like a mist. A large desk stood at one end of the room, with a portrait of the first of the Lexington-Browns to make Chycoose Manor his home peering down imperiously from the wall above. The desk was buried beneath a vast collection of scribbled notes, maps and charts.
The antique mahogany shelved walls were adorned with relics and artefacts from the combined travels of generations of Lexington-Browns. Everything from nests of Russian dolls to Spanish bull statuettes jostled for space on the shelves. On the wall, a large collection of menacing wooden masks from darkest Africa leered down at the concerned guests.
As they filed into the room, Sylvia pointed beyond the desk. “He was over there, behind the chair.”
Penrose and Sullivan carefully picked their way over a pile of books and dislodged papers to the corner of the study.
“Well, he’s not here now,” Sullivan shrugged, running his hand through his short greying hair. On the floor where the corpse should have been, a viscous black liquid, similar in colour and consistency to tar, smoked and smouldered. Where the allegedly deceased host had gone was a complete mystery.
“Everybody, look for clues!” Sullivan boomed.
“Clues?” Slater asked, wobbling slightly. He looked like one good blow could knock him on his bony backside.
“Yeah,” Sullivan looked at him pointedly. “You know? … Clues.”
“Ah,” Slater gave him a knowing look. “Clues, got it.”
Sullivan wasn’t entirely sure that he had. Stan was far from the sharpest knife in the drawer. In fact, he had seen brighter eclipses.
Suddenly, another piercing scream assaulted the eardrums of the guests. This time it was Virginia Tailforth who had become startled. She had been edging away from the desk as the others had approached it and backed straight into a towering object. As she spun around to steady the teetering bulk, she came face to face with a particularly terrifying sarcophagus.
What larks! That sounds like delicious cosmic fun.
Thank you so much, Tim, and more power to your pen.
An Australian a writer of dark fantasy and dark fiction, Leanbh Pearson is the pen name of Alannah K. Pearson.
You will find some earlier fiction published under Alannah K Pearson. So look out for that too! It’s excellent, as I know from reading quite a bit of it.
I asked Leanbh to comment on what inspires her writing.
Leanbh: When writing dark fantasy, whether retelling fairytales or creating original works, the themes and inspiration are often found in folklore and legends.
My dark fiction writing follows a similar approach, delving into gothic horror themes, finding inspiration in how and why, we fear the dark, or the unknown monsters in our midst.
Inspiration also comes from my surroundings, often the natural world and landscapes, whether the stark beauty of bare tree branches against a thunderstorm or the press of crowds going about their day. Both of these reflect a sense of cyclical time to our world.
As my alter-ego Alannah, an interest in history became tertiary qualifications in human prehistory and archaeology. Now, when I look at my surroundings, I find inspiration there from the human past, present and imagined futures. Ultimately, my inspiration comes from how people throughout time and across cultures have understood the world around them, the mythology, folklore and legends, woven into fairytales and fables, and even used to warn why to fear the dark and the unknown.
To answer what inspires the core of my writing, it is probably the fabric of human experience, how we strive to understand our world.
Oh, I completely agree. Storytelling is founded on attempts to make sense of our lives.
Leanbh has gifted us with an extract.
Leanbh: This is an extract is from a short story “The Golden Lion-Monkey” published in Leo (Speculative Fiction Inspired by the Zodiac, #8) by Deadset Press, 2020. This is one in a series of Gaslamp fantasies exploring alternate history and LGBTQI+ characters challenging scientific and societal boundaries at the time of the European Enlightenment.
The following scene is a discussion between Lady Rosanna Corrano and her maid Delia, hinting at societal constraints. Rosanna’s alternate persona, Doctor Leo, is able to achieve as a man what Rosanna as a woman cannot.
Extract from “The Golden Lion-Monkey”
The view of the city beyond the carriage window was obscured by mist or pollution and, clutching at my parasol, I considered how I was about to be paraded through the gallery as if I were an item on show like the paintings. This event felt like a charade contrived so London society might see Lord James Amsworth and Lady Rosanna Corrano in each other’s company and intense speculation could begin about our prospects. The helplessness of my situation made me grind my teeth in frustration.
“My lady?” I met Delia’s concerned gaze. A few rebellious red curls had escaped their bondage again, threatening to incite more.
“Delia,” I said, smoothing the edges of my fingerless lace gloves. “How do you manage to control my hair so skilfully when your own looks like a viper’s nest?”
“Some parts of us are easier controlled than others, my lady.”
“Well said.” I smiled. “You remind me that though I wear the accoutrements of a noble woman today, my spirit will always be that of Leo.”
“Maybe one day you can be whole, my lady,” she said, glancing at me. “There are many areas of this city where one such as yourself could live openly.”
“Disreputable areas?” I asked, quirking an eyebrow.
“Maybe,” she said with a grin. “But ones where life has more freedom.”
“Albeit also shorter,” I sighed. “No, Delia. I am as much Rosanna as I am Leo. Perhaps you could run some errands today for Doctor Leo?”
“And leave you and Lord Amsworth unaccompanied? Such a thing is scandalous, and I would likely lose my position for it, my lady.”
“Lord Amsworth assures me his elderly aunt is accompanying us.” I squeezed her hand. “This horrid gallery is her idea apparently.”
“You believe him?” Delia asked, raising her eyebrows.
“Unfortunately, yes,” I sighed as the carriage pulled sharply to a halt before the museum steps. “I imagine he is as thoughtless as everything has previously indicated.”
Delia frowned. “Are you certain you don’t judge him unfairly? Perhaps even against rationality, my lady?”
I ignored her accusation as the mech-work iron steps rolled into place. The footmen opened the door and, placing my embroidered slipper on a step, I held my hand out to the footman for assistance. Once on the footpath, I turned to Delia as she climbed more easily from the carriage, the simple servant’s attire less cumbersome.
“What could be better to inspire a woman’s fragile mind than an entire gallery of still-life paintings?” I asked.
Delia grimaced. “My errands suddenly sound much more appealing,” she waved the note I had given her in the air. “You need these collected for the auction Doctor Leo is attending tonight?”
Scanning the crowd gathered on the wide front steps of the building, I nodded in agreement to Delia, watching her quick bow of acknowledgment before she joined the flow of servants and merchants on their daily errands.
I turned to the wide front steps of the building behind me, the classical-style colonnades replicating Greco-Roman architecture. Staring up at the leaden grey sky and the soot-covered stonework, I longed to disappear into the crowd and follow Delia.
From “The Golden Lion-Monkey”, Leo (Speculative Fiction Inspired by the Zodiac, #8) published by Deadset Press, 2020.
I’ve read that anthology and I loved every story in it. Do give it a go! Thanks Leanbh for sharing.
The lure of the ocean and a love of speculative fiction combine in the works of Australian author Rebecca Fraser. But these are not this writer’s only strengths. I recently read and reviewed Rebecca’s book of short stories Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract for Aurealis magazine, using words like:
“Fraser’s insight and eye for detail imbue every story, and her imaginative scope encompasses a prodigious variety of settings and characters. Keep this little book of horrors close.”
Going forward with the idea of an inspiring 2021, I recently asked Rebecca to contribute to my blog with a reflection about what inspires her writing, and – you guessed it – a bonus FREE EXTRACT! Read on…
Inspired by Life
REBECCA: Thanks so much for having me on you blog, Clare. I always love reading answers to this question! For me, inspiration is usually drawn from multiple sources. Sometimes it’s a snatch of overhead conversation (I’m a dreadful eavesdropper, but aren’t all writers?), that inspires the kernel of a story. An article or news item might trigger inspiration, or sometimes a random sequence of words strike me as an intriguing story title. I often glean glimpses and glimmers of inciting incidents or thought-provoking situations from random sources, and little building blocks of plot and setting start to form a framework. The characters always seem to come later.
I walk a lot too—for physical and mental exercise. There are some lovely walks that surround my home on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, and when it’s just me alone with my thoughts, immersed in nature, this is usually when the threads of a story come together, or when I get resolution to a plot point that might have been proving problematic.
As far as what I find inspiring on a personal level, it’s often drawn from deep wells where people have thrown off the cloak of repression or revolted against the abuse of power and privilege and marginalisation, sometimes at enormous sacrifice and cost. It’s people at their best versus people at their worst—the human condition is a perennial source of fascination to me. Courage, retribution, and comeuppance often find a place within my stories.
I chose this piece as the events, characters, and setting are a fusion of my love for the ocean and my love of speculative fiction. Much of my work carries a nautical theme or features a coastal setting, so it was a pleasure to write in familiar territory.
I also wanted to tackle issues and themes that are relevant to today’s youth, and thirteen-year-old Curtis Creed proved a worthy vehicle to use for this. The book highlights several themes: the acceptance of great loss, the differing effect grief can have on family members, courage in the face of adversity, self-worth, self-belief, self-acceptance, and respect for our environment.
It’s set in Queensland, in the fictional coastal township of Midnight Cove. I’m a former Queensland girl, so I feel like I’ve walked the shoreline of Midnight Cove many times, and delved deep into the hidden world of rockpools. Perhaps, like Curtis, I should have delved deeper … who knows what I might have found? 😊
EXTRACT from Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean
Curtis Creed stood at the water’s edge. Come back to me, the ocean sighed. Come back to me. But he couldn’t. Not today. Not ever.
He squinted against the afternoon sun and focused on the line-up of surfers gathered out past the second break. Even though they were far offshore, Curtis’ trained eye was able to pick out their various techniques—weight transfers, body positions, timing. It was second nature. If you weren’t in the surf yourself then you were watching other surfers; scrutinising their moves, checking out their styles.
He’d stood at the shoreline for so long his feet had become anchored, buried ankle-deep in the sand with the ebb and pull of the tide. Out among the breakers, a surfer powered down the face of a beautifully formed wave before disappearing into the pipeline. Remember that feeling? the ocean breathed. Remember? Of course he remembered, but he couldn’t return to the surf. He just couldn’t.
Instead the school holidays dragged along—lonesome days spent wandering the shoreline of Midnight Cove or sitting high up on The Bluff, watching others chase waves. Sometimes, when the surf was really pumping, his sense of loss and failure was so suffocating it was easier to avoid the beach altogether.
Thwack. A wad of wet sand hit Curtis hard in the back, right between his shoulders. His buried feet caused him to lose balance and he pitched forward. He flung his arms out to steady himself too late, and landed in the water on all fours.
“Whatcha doing, Shark Crumb? Looking out for sharks?” The hated nickname. Loud guffaws. It was Dylan and his moronic mates. Why couldn’t his brother just leave him alone?
“Yeah, Shark Crumb. Seen any sharks lately?”
“Better get out of the water, Shark Crumb. They’ll smell your fear.”
Curtis stood up. His board shorts and the front of his singlet were soaked. He turned to face his tormentors. Dylan was flanked by Blake and Jordo, two of his mates from high school. They were fresh from the surf with wetsuits pulled down around their waists. Water dripped from their hair and trickled down their torsos. The boys had pressed their surfboards into the wet sand, where they stood upright like silent sentinels.
Then Curtis noticed Dylan was using their father’s surfboard and anger boiled inside him like lava in a volcano. The thruster stood between Blake and Jordo’s boards, a falcon between two pigeons. It was handcrafted for speed and could cut down the face of a wave like no other. Dimples of wax glinted from its surface, wax that remained from another time, applied in dawn’s first light by their father’s hand. The image sliced Curtis’ heart as cleanly as the board’s fin cut through water.
“Why have you got Dad’s board?” He was screaming now. He couldn’t help it. Didn’t care.
“What’s it to you? You never use it.” Dylan folded his arms across his chest.
“That’s not the point.” Curtis took a step closer to Dylan. “Dad left it to me. To me.” His voice was shaking now. Blake and Jordo circled like a pair of seagulls, cawing out the familiar taunt Shark Crumb, but Curtis barely heard them.
A tendon in Dylan’s neck began to pulse. He shaped up to Curtis so closely he could see the peppering of blackheads across Dylan’s nose. “Dad never would’ve left it to you if he knew you were going to turn into such a pussy.”
Before he’d even thought about what he was doing, Curtis punched Dylan in the face as hard as he could. The swing harnessed every ounce of his rage and the punch landed with a clap. Dylan fell backwards. His eyes widened with surprise then quickly clouded with danger. A droplet of blood fell from his nose and made a coin-sized stain on the wet sand.
It was time to go. Curtis turned and pelted off down the beach. Behind him he could hear Blake and Jordo give chase, but he knew he could outrun them. The stupid nickname rang out behind him, but as the distance grew the voices became fainter until they were eventually torn away by the ocean breeze.
He ran without looking back. His breath hitched in his chest. A ball of embers burned the back of his throat, but still he ran. Tears stung his eyes, but he also felt a thrill of exhilaration. He’d hit Dylan before, of course, and received his fair share back. Heck, they were brothers. They’d grown up with horse bites, birthday punches, Chinese burns, and the dreaded typewriter. But he’d never all out hauled off and decked him. It had felt good, but the brief rush of exhilaration was quickly replaced by terror at the thought what awaited him when he returned home. Especially as he’d managed to floor Dylan in front of his mates. His brother would no doubt have all kinds of retribution in store.
He decided to delay for as long as he could. As he rounded the southernmost end of Midnight Cove he slowed to a jog. Here the long stretch of beach gave way to a rocky shoreline heavily strewn with ancient lava boulders and rock pools. The rock shelf—a labyrinth of stones and shallows—skirted the great cliffs that rose to form Midnight Bluff, the town’s highest point.
The ocean’s teeth had gnashed the cliffs for thousands of years carving an alien landscape of rock face and rivulets. The rock pools closest to the sandy beach made safe watery playgrounds for children to explore with buckets and spades. Further round the headland, however, access was difficult and discouraged. The gentle waves that undulated through the bay had nowhere to go when they met land here, and they boomed and crashed over the rocks. The boulders were larger and denser, filled with ankle-breaking crevices and rock pools that were deceptively deeper than their beach-hugging counterparts. They filled and drained with the tide’s highs and lows.
Curtis knew Dylan wouldn’t follow him here. It wasn’t just the difficulty of access that would stop him, there were too many memories.
Curtis ignored his aching fist as he jumped gazelle-like from boulder to boulder. The ocean’s salt-tinged air whipped and whistled and he ventured deeper into the network of rock pools until the beach was completely out of sight.
Oh my goodness, that’s an exciting extract! Thank you so much, Rebecca, for sharing it with us today.
You can find Rebecca’s work at the links below. Enjoy 😉
Patricia J. F. Worth is a French-English translator and private tutor of English and French. Trish received her master of translation studies from the Australian National University, Canberra, where she focused on nineteenth-century French literature and recent New Caledonian literature.
Apparently this degree forced her to spend copious amounts of time in France!
I’m very glad to be able to speak with Trish today about the complex mind games she plays with 19th century French fiction, because translation for an English-speaking audience of the 21st century is a mammoth feat of writing in itself. Read on to discover the heavy-lifting required to bring these books to life for us.
Welcome, Trish, to the Last Word of the Week. Can you tell me why is writing important to you? Trish: Because I don’t like talking.
Ha! Great answer! What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?
Submit short stories to journals, keep submitting them until they’re accepted. If a story is rejected, send it to another journal the same day. Don’t wait.
Oh, that’s such good advice. There is a home for quality writing somewhere, and persistence really counts. What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?
A reviewer of Spiridion, my translation of George Sand’s novel of the same name, said:
“I feel that someone needs to point out what an important publishing event this English translation of George Sand’s Spiridion (1839) constitutes.”
Since I didn’t ask for this review, it’s even more precious as a word of praise. And it confirms that my chosen life-filler – to find and translate some of the fantastic forgotten French writing of the 19th century – is worthwhile.
It’s a fabulous niche to get busy in. Can you tell me about the time you decided you are a writer? Once when a former French lecturer read my translation of a story (after having harshly critiqued a dozen earlier), he was uncharacteristically generous in his comments, and finished by saying “You’re a writer.” That was when I knew.
It does help to get that sort of feedback, I agree. How much research is involved in your writing? More than anyone (other than another literary translator) would believe. Since I can’t make anything up and my words have to mean precisely what the author meant, the research is never-ending. After reading the original text and deciding firstly that I’m capable of translating it and secondly that other readers will love it as much as I do, I then read everything available about the author, I read some of his/her other works, I search for any of them in English translation. I have to buy books from second-hand bookshops in France because they’ve often been out of print for decades. There are always obscure or outmoded words and expressions that send me digging deep to find their original definition; this can involve not only Internet research but visits to libraries and visits to French experts. And as I work my way through the translation there are countless occasions when I stumble across a word that the present English equivalent doesn’t seem to fit. This is when old dictionaries are opened, to find how the words have changed their meaning over time. And then there are the many trips I’ve made to France to walk and write in streets resembling those in my stories. When translating more modern literature, specifically from New Caledonia, I read a lot about the colonial history and the ongoing social tensions, I read all the arguments for both sides, the indigenous Kanak and the French settlers, and watch interviews and read news articles relevant to the story I’m working on. The New Caledonian author whose writing I translate lets me ask her questions. But I’m on my own when it comes to long-dead authors.
How do you get feedback about your book before it’s published? Until now, for the past eight years, I’ve had a trusty and willing reader, a retired academic with time to read my drafts (for free) and spend an hour or two with me discussing the changes needed. But he has just died. Over the years, to give him a break, I’ve asked a few other French speakers to help, but they always stress they have limited time available. It looks like I might have to start paying someone for their time…
Oh, and it sounds like you need someone quite specialised, too. That must be tricky What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done? To do the Honours year in French I had to spend a semester in France. I was middle-aged and hadn’t been overseas for 20 years, and now I had to go to a strange country and live alone, leaving my husband and three teenage sons here to fend for themselves. I feared my undergraduate-level French would not be good enough. I was scared out of my wits before I left. But if I had chickened out I would not be translating French literature today.
That’s an amazing achievement, I’m impressed. What kind of reader would like your books? Readers of quirky old writing. Those interested in 19th-century France, 19th-century fantasy. Readers looking for delicious French writing (in English translation) from the era of Baudelaire, Flaubert and Hugo. Readers interested in New Caledonia and Vanuatu and stories from colonised Pacific islands.
Thanks so much for speaking with me today, Trish. Your work is absolutely fascinating!
Australian author Mark Smith lives on Victoria’s Surf Coast, where he writes novels and stories, and runs outdoor-education programs for young adults. His first novel, The Road to Winter (2017), attracted the attention of many literary judges and has since been adopted as secondary school reading here in Australia. Its themes of a dystopian future, survivalism, compassion and the struggle against injustice in its many forms are deftly packaged in a gripping and sparely written tale, with not a word too many. It’s almost poetic in its emotional intensity.
Mark’s second novel, Wilder Country, won the 2018 Indie Book Award for Young Adults, and the final book of the trilogy, The Land of Fences, was published to acclaim last year.
Hi, Mark, thank you so much for speaking with me today. Here’s a tricky question: what would readers never guess about you?
I hated reading when I was young! I know a lot of authors are brought up in houses full of books or they are turned onto reading by a sympathetic librarian, but at the age of fifteen I’d never read a book. I knew how to read, I just didn’t have the inclination. I was very much an outdoors boys and I always associated reading with being closeted indoors. Then, when I was fifteen, I had a horse riding accident that left me with a badly broken neck – so suddenly I had to spend a lot of time indoors. My mum was an avid reader and she got me started on books like Storm Boy and I Can Jump Puddles. Discovering reading could transport into other worlds and other people’s lives, I progressed quickly to Catcher In The Rye, Steinbeck and George Johnston. By the time I returned to school six months after the accident I had read about twenty books and my outlook on learning and reading had changed completely.
That’s a very extreme version of book love! Do you think that creative writing courses are valuable?
Writing courses are hugely valuable. Though I have never studied writing at a tertiary level (a Victorian university rejected my application to do a PhD in Creative Writing last year because they didn’t consider twenty published short stories and three novels adequately met their selection criteria!), I have completed a number of short courses at places like Writers Victoria. As much as anything, I think they help expose the areas you need to work on in your writing. They are also valuable in creating writing networks that can support you through your successes and inevitable rejections!
Good grief! That uni needs to take a good hard look. I also love the Writers Victoria courses and have found them very helpful in practical ways, while my degree was helpful in craft ways – a good supervisor is worth a few thousand rejection letters! What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?
No one wants to hear it, but there is no silver bullet, no secret to success other than hard work and perseverance. When I started writing I had stories rejected for twelve months before one was accepted. Other than that, my own mantra for writing is: “Don’t let the words get in the way of the story.” If you are writing to impress, you are probably not writing well. Also, draft and redraft until it is the best possible piece of writing you can produce then – and only then – send it out into the world.
I love that, thank you Mark. Very happy to hear it! You talk about perseverance – do you have a go-to routine for writing?
I like to get up early – about sevenish – and write for at least two hours before breakfast. I can generally bang out a thousand words, if not more, and it gives me time in the rest of my day to do other things I love, like surfing, riding, reading and planning for appearances and workshops. I am more clear-headed in the morning but I use the rest of the day to mull over what I’ve written. I do a lot of what I call writing away from the desk. This is just thinking through scenes and descriptive passages, considering how I might improve on them. I can do this while I’m riding my bike, surfing or walking the dog on the beach. When I get back to the desk the next morning, I know what I have to do to improve what I’ve written the day before.
I agree; a lot of writing happens inside your skull. What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?
Because my first book, The Road To Winter, is taught in schools around the country, I love hearing from students who have discovered reading through my books. I like to tell them about how I was also a non-reader until I was fifteen. I also like the fact teenagers are brutally honest. On a visit to a large boys school a couple of years ago, a student waited back after my presentation to talk to me about The Road To Winter. I asked him what he thought of it. He replied, “Well, it’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but it’s not the worst!”
That’s high praise from a teenager, I suspect. How do you feel about reviews?
I know some authors say they don’t look at reviews and that they don’t take them to heart, but I think most do. Good reviews are great and bad reviews – of which there will inevitably be some – can wound. The best advice I ever got regarding reviews was that I should never take them personally. The reviewer is criticising your work, not you. And, in the end, it’s just one person’s opinion. This is particularly true of Goodreads reviews. Most are not from professional critics, just readers with an opinion. My favourite one star review from Goodreads was a short and simple one for The Road To Winter: “I hate it!”
Goodness, that is succinct. Has your work been compared to other writers?
Because I’ve written a YA dystopian series, my books are most often compared to John Marsden’s. To be honest, I am honoured to be mentioned in the same sentence as him. I was lucky enough to interview John at a festival last year and I found him to be a very humble and engaging man. He read my books in preparation for the interview and was very complimentary of my writing. My favourite comparison though comes from a review of my third book, Land Of Fences, by Fran Atkinson in The Age that said “…there is almost a Winton-esque lyricism when Smith writes about the big blue and the coastline that features regularly.” I am a huge Tim Winton fan and his writing has influenced me more than any other, so that quote now sits on the pinboard by my desk, for easy reference whenever I doubt my own abilities.
I agree with her – there is a very Australian lyricism to your books which is reminiscent of Winton. Can you tell me about the time you decided you are a writer?
I started my career as an English teacher and I always had this little inkling in the back of my mind that I could maybe try writing. But, like most people, I didn’t do anything about it for years. I was in my fifties before I enrolled in a short story writing course taught by Emmet Stinson at Writers Victoria. Melanie Cheng was in the same class and we’ve been friends ever since. After lots of rejections, I began to get my stories published in a few journals and anthologies. But I still didn’t dare call myself a writer. Then I was lucky enough to win the Josephine Ulrick Literature Prize for a short story called Manyuk. With prize money of $10,000, it was one of the richest short story prizes in Australia. I didn’t realise at the time, but that’s as much as a lot of first time authors get as an advance on a novel. But, having won the prize and banked the cheque, I very tentatively started to call myself a writer. A three-book deal with Text Publishing confirmed it three months later.
Wonderful! How do you get feedback about your story, before it’s published?
I don’t show my drafts to anyone until I’m convinced I need a different set of eyes to read them. For each of my novels I have sought the advice of my local bookshop owner. I took a risk and did this with my first book because I knew she would be a speed reader (and therefore get back to me quickly) and she knew the book trade intimately so she would be able to tell me whether the novel had legs or not. As our friendship has grown, I’ve also encouraged her to be utterly ruthless in her feedback. Her instincts have been spot on every time!
She sounds a treasure indeed. Is it easy for you to meet other writers?
The best thing about becoming a writer is meeting other writers. We are a pretty small community in Australia and we need to encourage and support each other. I go out of my way at festivals and gigs to introduce myself to the other writers and I try as much as possible to attend their launches and events. Social media also facilitates this interaction – follow your favourite writers and let them know you like their writing. I have “met” a large number of fellow writers on social media, some of whom I’ve yet to meet in person. Following them also keeps me updated on their new releases and the events they have planned around them.
I completely agree. The Australian writing community seems to be very supportive and I love interacting with fellow writers online … like right now! Did you have a big break in writing? What happened?
This is an easy one to answer because my first manuscript was picked up off the slush pile at Text. I knew nothing about publishers so I simply chose the one who published my favourite authors and sent the manuscript to them. Text have a house policy of all its employees reading off the slush pile on Friday afternoons. One of the senior marketers picked mine up, loved it and the rest is history!
That’s wonderful, and a great practice by a publishing company. I’m so glad that your book was plucked out of the slush because it’s marvellous. Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Mark, and more power to your writing.
Mark Newman is an award-winning writer from the UK, who is a master of the intense and difficult art of the short story. In this interview, Mark shares his perspective on reading and writing and how he tested his writing through entering – and succeeding in – writing competitions.
Welcome, Mark, it’s great to talk with you. I first heard about you because we share a publisher, but I now know that you have a substantial CV as a writer of awesome short stories, and that you’ve been winning accolades for a while now. Let’s talk about how you got to be the writer you are.
What was your favourite book as a child?
Mark:The Magician’s Nephew by CS Lewis. I loved the whole Narnia series, and still go back to them every two or three years just for that hit of nostalgia. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is, of course, a classic, but I always loved The Magician’s Nephew for that first glimpse of the White Witch in Charn, the rings and the pools between worlds and the attics that ran between the houses. All kids ever want to do is find secret places. I don’t really think that feeling ever leaves you.
And that sense of possibilities in hidden spaces – I agree. You seem to be quite productive – do you have a go-to routine for writing?
I wish I did. Wouldn’t that be nice? I’m not really a routine person, though I see the sense in them. I just wait for sentences and ideas to drop through the ether, write them down until there is enough there to make a story out of, spread them out in the right order and fill in the gaps. It’s a wonder I ever write anything, to be honest.
Ah, the magical ether. Stories are a kind of wonder, even to the writer. What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?
Getting shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Award was pretty amazing. Seeing your face on a TV screen and blurb about your story scrolling through alongside other amazing writers was surreal. The Costa Book Awards was a weird experience – I don’t really belong in the same room as Dame Diana Rigg! It’s nice to get shortlisted for a competition that is judged by other writers as the Costa is, and the Retreat West competitions that I did so well in at the start of my writing, it really makes you feel you are doing something right.
Yes, winning is so affirming. I hope you took selfies at that awards night! Is writers block a thing for you?
Absolutely. I’m paralysed by the blank page and the blank gaps between the good ideas and good sentences. I wish writing felt like a good thing but it often feels like pulling teeth. The satisfaction comes when you read back something that works, but it’s often a long road getting there. But, it’s writing, isn’t it. It’s not brain surgery, I can’t really complain, I don’t have to do it.
It is often difficult, and we don’t have to do it, but then again we don’t seem able to stop! Those ideas still fall out of the ether, I find. On another tack, what do you think about covers, and do you have any say in yours?
We all have favourite books that have awful covers but it doesn’t really affect how we feel about the book. It’s the words inside that really matter, but a cover for a new author is super important. We’ve all picked up books because we like the covers and passed by covers we don’t like. I was asked for my opinions about the cover for My Fence is Electricbut, unlike some novel ideas I have where I have quite strong ideas for covers, I didn’t really have any thoughts about what I wanted. My publisher, Michelle Lovi, designed it and sent it to me and I was so scared opening up the file, but I absolutely loved it. Simple and beautiful – hearts and barbed wire, sums it all up perfectly!
Did you have a big break in writing? What happened?
I went to see Alison Moore speak at Loughborough Library in Leicestershire (UK). I had wanted to be an author for nearly 20 years and had written numerous starts to novels and then been unable to progress. She detailed her route to publication and spoke about the importance of writing short stories and entering competitions for her to find out if she was heading in the right direction. She got an agent early on from doing this as well and it all spread out for her from there. She andSusan Hill are my all-time favourite authors so I listen to anything they have to say! The first short story I wrote was highly commended in a competition and I was approached by an agent from one of the biggest literary agencies in London. Nothing came of that (apart from some great advice) but it gave me the confidence to keep going.
That’s a great story, thank you. What kind of reader would like your book?
Short story fans. People who love Susan Hill and Alison Moore. As I said, I’m a big fan of theirs and I think it shows! Same kind of mood.
Is it easy for readers to find your book?
Not at the moment. The global pandemic situation has resulted in my launch event and follow-up events being cancelled and distribution problems mean it’s been hard to get a paperback copy of my book in the UK. It can’t be helped, it is what it is. My book hardly matters against what is going on. The eBook version is easy to get and The Book Depository have copies in stock at the moment. And I have a box full in my front room so if you live in the UK contact me on Twitter if you want to pay through PayPal and I’ll send you one!
Tricky times indeed – I hope things improve for all of us soon. Is your local bookstore thriving?
My nearest local bookstore is Kibworth Books in Leicestershire (UK) and it’s nine miles away. I’d be there all the time if I lived in Kibworth or drove. It certainly seems to be thriving though and long may it continue.
More power to bookshops! Thanks so much for speaking to me today, Mark. Congratulations on My Fence is Electric, and all the best with your writing.
Chrystyna LUCYK-BERGER is the author of the award-winning, RESCHEN VALLEY series, and this year she released a collection of short WWII stories called Souvenirs from Kiev, based on the lives of her relatives from Ukraine,
Starting on May 5th, Chrystyna’s new novel Magda’s Mark is featured in The Road to Liberation, a six-author collection of novels dedicated to commemorating the end of WWII.
Chrystyna is an American ex-pat living in Austria (yes, Austria in Europe – not Australia!) and apologises to the proper English speakers for her American “spelling” mistakes.
Thank you so much for joining me today, Chrystyna. You have an impressive list of novels now. Can you tell me about the time you decided you are a writer?
Chrystyna: I was in the second grade and Mrs Sharon Davis “made” us write stories. Around Halloween, she told us to write a ghost story. At that time, I was really into haunted house and ghost stories – I was reading way above my level and things that were probably not really meant for a 7-year-old.
I compiled a hodgepodge of impressions (read: I plagiarized) and on the day, we were all told to sit in a circle on the floor. One kid after another stood up and read their “paragraph” to us. I tried to pay attention, but everyone was bored, and squirming, and poking at one another and giggling about this and that. You know how it is? Then Mrs Davis called my name.
I stood up with about six sheets in my hands. I saw her raise her eyebrows; I saw the jawline tighten. I was really nervous – chunky kid, glasses, a nerd, really – but I stood up and started “telling the tale” so to speak. A minute or so into it, I realized something was really wrong. It was quiet; absolutely silent in the room. When I looked up from my story, I saw everyone – including Mrs Davis, her face beaming full of pride – was paying attention. I went home and told everyone I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.
That’s brilliant! What a great story. You obviously have a great imagination, but how much research is involved in your writing?
I write historical fiction and so I do a lot of research. I read somewhere that a historical fiction writer reads an average of 35 books before they’re done with one novel. That sounds about right. My mother is a history buff. She’s now involved in my research: she prepares the research for my history and culture blog and she does all the groundwork for my new books now.
A lot of my invested time (and money!) is spent visiting the settings in my books as well. So, for the Reschen Valley series, only for the purposes of writing the six books, I’ve been in South Tyrol probably fifteen or sixteen times. I travelled to Ukraine and lived in Poland while writing the Ukrainian stories. For Magda’s Mark, I just managed a trip to the Czech Republic and the town of Litomerice before the Corona shut-down. I hope to go again before we republish the book as a standalone. It needs another gust of Czech wind in there.
How wonderful to visit all those places. I hope we can all travel again soon. How do you deal with plot holes – if you ever have any!
I plot these days and still I manage to get stuck because I have a tendency to overcomplicate things. This is something very true about my nature, period. I’ve been fighting hard to simplify, simplify, simplify in all aspects of my life. It’s working pretty well for the most part; I chalk it up to über-50 wisdom. However, when I’m writing intensely I can still get tangled up in the weeds. My husband is my sounding board and 90% of the time he is the reason I get unstuck.
I love a handy husband! What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?
It’s insane, really. I’m actually “writing” four horses across the river at once. I’m rewriting the first half of the next Reschen Valley installment and still have to draft the second half by mid-July; I’ve got some smaller rewrites to do on Magda’s Mark before it gets published as a standalone (some of my readers have already begged for an expansion of the story); I have another WWII novel forming in my head; and the last installment of the Reschen Valley should come out sometime next year, too. And then? I’d love to tackle my 16th-century Ottoman series that I plotted in 2017!
Wow, I think you need to be locked down to get all that done! What do you think about covers, and do you have any say in yours? I think they are wonderful.
I might have the most remarkable and unique relationship to a cover designer out there. Ursula Hechenberger-Schwärzler was one of my first trainees when I started to doing corporate trainings in Austria. She and her colleagues became my first friends here. She was working as a graphic designer, then left for Australia to do her master’s in photography. When she returned, I hired her to do the branding for my company and she’s been working for me since and is also one of my dearest friends. When I decided to go Indie, I asked whether she thought she might be able to design my book covers. We did everything: research trip to study English book covers in Zurich bookstores, storyboard for the Reschen Valley series, costuming, finding the models, photo shoots, coming up with the final titles, everything. She happened to travel to Ukraine to work with a dog sanctuary and had photos of Kiev available when I put out Souvenirs. She went to the Czech Republic with me for Magda’s Mark and we spent almost a week together as she shot scenery and architecture and I did my historical research. She’s so fully invested in the projects!
That’s wonderful. What a great partnership. Where do you write?
Four years ago, my husband and I finally moved into our dream house. Some people would balk: we live in the mountains of Austria, in the middle of woods and field, on a hiking trail. We bought a holiday home where we live year-round. Our heating is a tiled oven, we have a huge outdoor area where we practically live half the year, and we renovated the hut in a way that the walls and ceilings never feel as if they are about to crash around us. We have learned to live more simply, get by with a lot less, and to simplify (remember, it’s my motto). I work from my office or in the garden or in the Stube, the traditional Austrian “living area”. I also run a coaching and training business, where I teach business communication courses and do consultations, so I actually do go out and mingle with people. I need that as much as I need my peace and quiet. It’s a great balance!
That sounds wonderful. Do you send out newsletters to readers?
I do! I have three segments: a Morning Coffee with Chrystyna that goes out once a month and provides an update and more personal view of me and my work. Then a Free-Books Fridays segment that goes out once or twice a month depending on the cross-promotions I do with other authors. And there is a Historical and Cultural Background segment that deals with some aspect of my WIP or most recent release. I have also done author interviews in these segments, which you were a part of last year featuring your novel, Stars of the Night.
Yes, I remember gratefully. And readers can sign up for these goodies at your website, using this link. I’ve signed up just now.
The Road to Liberation Collection (featuring Chrystyna’s story Magda’s Mark) was released on May 5th and the ebook is only 99 cents until May 11th. It’s a great deal for six novellas in one book.
I first met Meg Mundell during last summer’s Australian bushfire crisis – a virtual meeting as we looked around at the devastation of the land, livelihoods, homes, habitat and wildlife, and the deaths. We engaged in a group called Writing for the Environment. Now I’m speaking with Meg again, in the early stages of another unprecedented, life-changing event, this one the global Covid19 pandemic, now so close to everyone’s home.
Meg Mundell is a writer and academic. Born and raised in New Zealand, she lives in Melbourne with her partner and young son. Her second novel, The Trespassers was named Readings ‘Fiction Book of the Month’ for July 2019, and has been optioned for a TV series. Her first novel is the critically acclaimed Black Glass (2011), and Things I Did for Money (2013) is her debut short story collection.
Welcome to Last Word of the Week, Meg. Can you tell me why writing is important to you?
MEG: Writing helps me to make sense of the world – the whole strange, confusing, wondrous and mysterious mess of existence. I also enjoy the craft of knocking out words, with all its frustrations and small satisfactions: the feeling of making something. Putting letters on the page, wrangling with a line, breathing life into a character, hacking out a parallel universe using the beautiful tool of language…it makes me feel alive.
How wonderful – great writing images there. Can you tell me about the time you decided you are a writer?
It wasn’t a conscious decision, more something I just knew from very early on. There’s one vivid memory. When I was a preschooler my parents would sometimes take me to work with them, and at my dad’s workplace there was this room full of typewriters. I’d sit there for ages banging out misspelled words, just enjoying the sight of the letters slamming onto the page. One day my dad’s workmate poked his head in. “You’re very busy,” he said. “Are you going to be a secretary when you grow up?” I remember the question annoyed me. “No,” I said. “I’m going to be a writer.”
A secretary, LOL. How much research is involved in your writing?
A lot! I love research. But it’s easy to get sucked down wormholes. Sooner or later you have to stop researching, just dive in and write the damn thing. Working on my latest novel, The Trespassers (UQP 2019), I spent hours researching sailor’s tattoos, sea monster myths, marine pollution, Irish and Scottish slang, future fuel scenarios, pandemic containment strategies, bioterrorism, the psychology of germophobia… My browser history looked so dodgy: how long does a body take to rot at sea? What drug stops hallucinations? How do you kill someone with a crowbar?
Early on in the research process, I also visited the Point Nepean Quarantine Station, on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. It’s an amazing site – beautiful, idyllic, but with this undercurrent of trauma, grief and sadness. Echoes of all the suffering this place has seen, especially in the immediate aftermath of its creation back in 1852. Visiting that site was a key moment that inspired me to write the novel.
Perfect preparation for the world we live in, too. I love your search history. What five words would best describe your style?
Great words. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
Crewed a boat from New Zealand to Australia in my 20s, with zero sailing experience and a sleazy cowboy of a captain who refused to let us wear life jackets. Two friends invited me along. For the whole nine days I was seasick, and so heavily dosed up on Scopolamine that I started hallucinating: I heard mermaids singing and had long conversations with flying fish.
Each of us did an 8-hour watch, steering over these huge ocean swells, 8 or 9 metres high at times, with only a thin wire clip-line connecting us to the boat. Out on the open sea, you’re nothing. Steering up and down those waves, trying to keep the boat upright, was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Sheer terror, but hugely exhilarating. That trip planted the first seeds of The Trespassers.
That sounds absolutely terrifying, but what a fantastic basis for a story. Congratulations on the TV option for The Trespassers, too. A thrilling achievement What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?
Figure out a plan for my next book – non-fiction, I think. Publish some academic articles, a couple of essays, maybe some long-form journalism. And like always, write some dubious poetry nobody will ever lay eyes on.
It’s great that you have something just for you. I believe writers have private voices too. What do you think about covers, and do you have any say in yours?
Covers matter a lot to me: my brain really latches on to images. So far I’ve been extremely lucky to have been allowed a lot of input on this front. I love the cover we ended up with for The Trespassers: that jellyfish is so eerily gorgeous, almost otherworldly. Menacing, but delicate too. It suggests so much.
Yes, it’s absolutely perfect. Where do you get inspiration or ideas from?
Places: their different moods and atmospheres, the things they’ve witnessed. Human beings: their words and actions, their hidden selves, the things they come up against and how they cope. Love and compassion: the way they’re thrown into stark relief during dark times. Injustice: things that make me angry. Dreams, memories, poems, photographs, paintings. Exploring old abandoned buildings. Glimpsing other lives through a train window. Words and phrases, mysterious patterns. A certain slant of light, a strange doorway, a word carved into a tree. A funny incident. It all goes into a big compost heap in my brain. It’s a mess in there, but there’s always material if you dig around.
That’s a beautiful piece of writing in itself – a prose poem about inspiration. Thank you! Do you write in more than one genre?
Always. In my fiction I like to plunder elements from different genres – literary fiction, thriller, crime, spec fic, even historical fiction. I tend to resist rigid categories, and enjoy playing with genre conventions – using those tools to create something slightly off-kilter, something fresh and hopefully surprising.
And succeeding. Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Meg, and more power to your pen.