Love, Loss and Life in Between – Book Review

Title – Love, Loss and Life in Between

Author – Suzanne Rogerson

Genre – literary fiction, short stories

Love, Loss and Life in Between is a collection of short stories set across various themes in contemporary fiction. The subtitle mistakenly refers to the book as an anthology. It is a compilation of short fiction by the same author. We read about preparing for death, visiting mediums to connect with the dead, domestic violence, single parenthood, losing a child, losing a parent, adopting animals, planting a garden. Suzanne Rogerson covers myriad topics in a collection that addresses grief, hope, building connections and severing ties. The stories range from thriller to supernatural, fantasy and romance.

I loved each of the stories. Rogerson writes beautifully, and her style is warm and concise. The mixed genres make every story different and interesting in its own way. Her way of writing about human emotions and commonplace issues strikes a chord. The collection has something for all readers.

It also includes an excerpt of the author’s fantasy novel, which felt out of place with the rest of the stories, and rather tends to distract from the overall tone of the book.

My rating – 4.5/5

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Suzanne lives in Middlesex, England with her husband, two teenagers, a crazy cocker spaniel and an adopted cat that thinks she’s the boss.

Suzanne’s writing journey began at the age of twelve when she completed her first novel. She discovered the fantasy genre in her late teens and has never looked back. Giving up work to raise a family gave her the impetus to take her attempts at novel writing beyond the first draft, and she is lucky enough to have a husband who supports her dream – even if he does occasionally hint that she might think about getting a proper job one day.

Now an author of four novels including the Silent Sea Chronicles trilogy and her debut, Visions of Zarua, Suzanne hopes the dreaded ‘W’ word will never rear its ugly head again!

She loves gardening and has a Hebe (shrub) fetish. She enjoys cooking with ingredients from the garden and regularly feeds unsuspecting guests vegetable-based cakes.

She collects books, is interested in history and enjoys wandering around castles and old ruins whilst being immersed in the past. She likes to combine her love of nature and photography on family walks, but most of all she loves to escape with a great film, binge watch TV shows, or soak in a hot bubble bath with an ice cream and a book.

Social Media Links –

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Thanks to Rachel’s Random Resources for having me on board the blog blitz, and for sharing a copy of the book.

Literally Dead – Book Review

Title – Literally Dead: Tales of Halloween Hauntings

Author(s) – Multiple

Editor – Gaby Triana

Genre – Horror, anthology

Literally Dead is the first book in the holiday hauntings series, set around Halloween. Nineteen horror writers come together to create a collection of spooky tales for the Halloween season. There are stories about haunted dresses and shady bookstores, real life monsters and costumed creatures, murder victims and ghostly insects, soldiers of war and civilians affected by war. There are monsters in refrigerators, and serial killers disguised as ghosts; suspicious postcards, and corn fields that harbour more than corn. We read about scavenger hunts to collect ghosts, and ghosts that teach us how to get rid of ghosts; physical entities and demons of the mind. The crew of esteemed authors in the horror genre brings to us an assortment of stories under the theme of hauntings.

With such a narrow theme, I wondered what new ideas the writers would present for Halloween. But each one is outstanding in its own way. The collection covers a range of subjects from war to folklore, including genres of crime and contemporary fiction, with tones ranging from humor to out-and-out horror. Literally Dead brings together common Halloween tropes of haunted houses and spirits to beware of, costumes and candy, memories associated with October 31st that have nothing to do with Halloween, and presents these well worn concepts into a rich anthology of holiday horrors. I loved the touch of Chinese, Ukrainian and Welsh folklore and customs associated with Halloween, contemporary social issues and significant historic moments, nostalgia and beauty associated with a season of darkness.

Some of my favorites were The Ghost Cricket by Lee Murray (a touch of Chinese folklore with a noisy cricket that refuses to be quiet even in death), The Ghost Lake Mermaid by Alethea Kontis (the ghosts of murder victims discuss racism and the law, when the color of your skin decides if your corpse gets justice), Ghosts of Enerhodar by Henry Herz (the ghosts of Ukrainian folklore feature against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine war), Halloween at the Babylon by Lisa Morton (a theatre patron tries to prevent other guests from becoming ghosts like herself), Ghosts of Candies Past by Jeff Strand (a quirky, sugary fest of long-eaten Halloween treats that return to haunt), Soul Cakes by Catherine McCarthy (the living and dead collide at a special time of the year, under the veil of Welsh folklore), Always October by Jeremy Megargee (about a ghost hunter on the look out for her replacement).

Editor Gaby Triana has done a fabulous job in curating this anthology. A wonderful collection for the spooky season that keeps the reader wanting to read more. It feels like nineteen stories aren’t enough and thirty-one would have been just right – one for each day of the Halloween month. The cover has an old-fashioned vibe with costumed trick-or-treaters and pumpkin baskets, and I love how the book emphasizes the nostalgic aspect of Halloween. There’s a brilliant piece by the cover artist that makes for an equally good read, like the rest of the stories.

Some quotes:

-He didn’t believe in ghosts and haunted houses. Maybe they believed in him.

-You weren’t supposed to run up the stairs of a house that was disproving your assertion that it was not haunted.

-Thoughts crash into my head now; everything falls into place, a well-ordered avalanche.

-An old ghost once told me that if my story faded, I would fade with it.

-The ghostly insect set up a mournful song, the wistful notes as pure and sharp as a mountain stream.

-Are you running from ghosts, or are they running from you?

-Even death couldn’t tame her – if anything, it only seemed to make her more defiant.

-This tradition isn’t to appease her ghost. It’s to keep the ghost in her place.

-Alex had always been a ghost. Long before he died.

-I’d counted twenty-five casseroles. I wondered if they were some kind of charm, or talisman. Bringing something not just to feed the grieving family, but to appease the ghosts.

My rating – 5/5

Riding Pillion with George Clooney – Book Review

Title: Riding Pillion with George Clooney

Author: Geraldine Ryan

Genre: Contemporary fiction, short stories

Beginning with the titular story, the collection takes the reader through twelve stories connected by their female protagonists in varying, everyday settings. A middle-aged woman embarks on her first solo trip abroad, a tour guide navigates grumpy travellers, a mother helps her son overcome his drug addiction, a widow tries to come to terms with her husband’s death, an elderly couple undertakes a holiday with failing health and memory, a bride is confronted with her bridesmaid’s cancer diagnosis, a teenager spends the summer taking care of her ailing grandmother. All of the stories have been published before in different women’s magazines, and it’s a delight to see them together in this compilation. Geraldine Ryan strikes a chord with her characters and situations, and the themes she explores in every story. They’re different from each other but still interwoven with the commonality of things and people we come across on a regular basis.

A Butterfly Stirring, Danny Run Home, Cat on the Mat were some of my favorites, but I thoroughly enjoyed all of them. A pleasant assortment of stories that can be read at one go, or dipped into between more serious books, or if you’re short of time for lengthier reading. The writing is candid and witty, the stories heartwarming and inspirational. I loved the conversational and uplifting tone of Geraldine’s fiction. This was my first time reading her work and I’ll look forward to more of her books.

My rating: 4/5

Thanks to Rachel’s Random Resources for having me on board the blog tour, and for sharing a copy of the book.

Music of the Night – Book Review

Title – Music of the Night

Author(s) – Multiple

Editor – Martin Edwards

Genre – Crime fiction, mystery

A collection of short stories from members of the Crime Writers’ Association, Music of the Night is an interesting music-themed anthology edited by Martin Edwards. The book has an array of crime, mystery, thriller and suspense stories, all surrounding music. I liked how the diverse set of writers interpreted the theme, using songs, music production, classical instruments, mix tapes, journalistic features on musicians and concerts, and a range of topics about the music industry. An impressive collection to dip into if you’re looking for something short and engaging. I read a story every other day, and recommend it to readers who love thrillers and crime fiction but lack the time to read lengthy novels.

My rating – 4/5

ABOUT THE EDITOR

Martin Edwards is the author of eighteen novels, including the Lake District Mysteries, and the
Harry Devlin series. His ground-breaking genre study The Golden Age of Murder has won the Edgar, Agatha, and H.R.F. Keating awards. He has edited twenty eight crime anthologies, has won the CWA Short Story Dagger and the CWA Margery Allingham Prize, and is series consultant for the British Library’s Crime Classics. In 2015, he was elected eighth President of the Detection Club, an office previously held by G.K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy L. Sayers.

The CWA (Crime Writers’ Association) was founded in 1953 by John Creasey, and organizes the prestigious CWA Dagger Awards which celebrate the best in crime writing. The CWA is a pro-active, thriving and ever-expanding community of writers based in the UK but with a reach that
extends worldwide.

Thanks to Random Things Tours, the Crime Writers’ Association, and Flame Tree Press, for having me on board the blog tour, and for sharing a copy of the book.

Palimpsest – Book Review

Title – Palimpsest

Author – Caitlin Marceau

Genre – Horror, short stories

I was introduced to Caitlin Marceau’s writing through her short story, Gastric, from Blood & Bone – a body horror anthology, where she addressed fatphobia. In limited words, Caitlin created an impact with her take on body shaming and the horrors of superficiality. When I heard the same publisher, Ghost Orchid Press had signed Caitlin on for a collection of contemporary horror, Palimpsest was immediately put on to my to-read list.

With a mixture of prose and poetry, Caitlin takes the reader across the Canadian wilderness, local canals and bridges, frozen landscapes, and frosty tales that chill to the bone. The stories range from diseases of the mind and body, encounters with demons and ghosts, bullying and domestic violence, werewolves and shapeshifters, ice hockey and distance running. Caitlin’s prowess as a writer illuminates every page of Palimpsest, with every story different and outstanding in its own way. You know her settings are local, but her stories have universal appeal.

My most favorite from the lot was Stuck – the perspective and narrative were just brilliant. There’s absolutely nothing happening and everything happening. It reminded me of Shirley Jackson’s covert style of horror, where the real terrors are what happen between the lines. Jackson’s wry sense of humor also finds its way into some of the stories. A few of my other favorites were Infected (about ill people in denial of their illness, only to go around spreading diseases in their stubbornness), Conqueror (an ode to video games and online players, and the threats of the person behind the avatar), The Midas (the supernatural world is no match for the real world, as a deep sea diver faces off nature’s watery inhabitants), Hunger (very real horrors of cabin fever, frostbite and hypothermia).

The stories and poetry have all been featured in other anthologies, magazines, and performed live over the years. Besides Gastric, I hadn’t read any other works from Caitlin, so I was thrilled that she put together this collection of some of her finest writing. I usually space out anthologies and collections – reading a story or two between other novels. Palimpsest is one of those books that keeps the reader hooked throughout. You want to spend more time in Caitlin’s world, with its horrors and everything she offers the reader. Every single story warrants its own review. They’re all so good! And the cover is stunning, too.

Some quotes:

~He braces himself for his vision to slowly turn to black, sound to be suddenly muffled, and his light extinguished from the world.

~His words are rushed away by the wind before they can be heard.

~His bones hurt from the ice he’s convinced has begun to grown on them.

~”I really am sorry”, he says, voice anything but sincere.

~The human in me is unable to look away and the monster I’m becoming not wanting to.

~I’m going to be buried in a dress I hate, with caked-on foundation. If I was alive, I’d probably die of embarrassment.

~It looks me in the eye, and even though cats can’t smile, I’m sure it’s smiling. It looks too happy to be doing anything else.

My rating – 5/5

Cryptids & Conspiracies – Book Review

Title – Cryptids & Conspiracies

Author(s) – Multiple

Editors – Dorian J Sinnott and Teresa L Beeding

Genre – Horror, urban legends, anthology

A fascinating anthology that features stories based on urban legends. Big Foot, Yeti, the Lochness monster, Muhnochwa, giant bugs, humans in feathers, flying children, alien abductions – an array of tales from around the world, set around conspiracy theories and monsters of myth and legend. What makes this collection interesting is that the contributing writers come together from different parts of the world, thereby presenting cultural lore and local legends. It was a fun reading experience to try and identify the known creatures, and learn about new monsters from various cultures. An enjoyable book for those interested in cryptid myths and legendary tales of the modern world. While many stories mention the creatures being written about, others only describe them without telling the reader what the legend really is. I wished all the cryptids had been identified or listed somewhere (within the story or in a separate list; by the writers or editors) for those unfamiliar with certain creatures, considering the tales are from and placed around the world. It’s a wonderful anthology nonetheless.

My rating – 5/5

Project Gen-X – An Interview with Rebecca Rowland

I finished Generation X-ed earlier this month, and was blown away by the eclectic group of writers and range of stories in the anthology. My review of the book can be found here:

As a follow-up to my wonderful reading experience of the book, I interviewed editor Rebecca Rowland, for an insight into how Generation X-ed was conceived, created and curated.

1. Hi Rebecca, Congratulations on the release of your latest book. How would you describe the experience of working on a project with other writers, versus individually writing a book?

It’s a completely different animal. In the first anthology I edited for Dark Ink Books, I included one of my own stories; I haven’t done that since, despite selecting themes or subgenres for subsequent anthologies that I incorporate most often in my own writing. It’s too difficult wearing both hats: as an editor, you have to see the work through the eyes of the reader while simultaneously having the backs of the authors who have contributed to the project. With my own stuff, I just write what I like and rarely consider how readers might respond: I trust in the editor and the press owner to assess and dress it properly for public view. When I am writing, I am in a vacuum of sorts; as an editor, I am very conscious that how I shape and promote an anthology affects all of those authors involved. It’s much more exhausting to be an editor, unfortunately, but it’s even more rewarding on some levels as long as I know I’ve done right by those who’ve contributed their work.

2. Generation X-ed is a niche genre: horror stories set in the eighties and early nineties. How did the idea for the anthology come about?

A few years ago, I made a conscious effort to read and review more independent dark fiction. I also tried to break out of my (painfully awkward, typical writer-introvert-) shell and get to know some fellow independent horror writers. What I found was that more than three-quarters of those horror authors were my age: we shared the same formative experiences in media and music and culture. I was born smack in the middle of Generation X, a group I didn’t really understand the significance of until I was well into my thirties and forties. I recall being in college and having a house-sitting gig; the homeowners subscribed to Newsweek, and the cover story was “Generalizations X,” a deconstruction of the “slacker generation.” It was the first time that I saw myself as part of a group that was united simply due to birth timeframe, but I couldn’t get behind the analysis the article put forth. Now, I look at my generation and I realize, there are touchstones we share that helped shape us into the people we are as adults: the satanic panic, the latchkey phenomenon, the Challenger explosion (witnessed live in our classrooms), the emergence and disappearance of Mtv, and so forth. The Baby Boomers have theirs; the Millennials will have theirs. I happen to think our formative experiences are the most nefarious, which might explain the wealth of horror fiction that has sprung from Gen Xers!

3. The stories cover a range of horror sub-genres from psychological and paranormal, to comedy and sci-fi. Was this intentional, to feature stories across the horror spectrum?

The Renaissance of the slasher film occurred during Generation X’s childhood/early teens, and the birth of cable television and VCRs (coupled with a looser supervision by our parents), made access to hardcore horror relatively easy. When I first conceived the collection, I did imagine it would be focused on the splatter and gore of that subgenre: the X lends itself so well to that, visually and thematically. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that our influences weren’t limited to slashers. Each of the authors chose an individual (real or fictional) who had an impact on him/her as a horror writer: the list appears at the beginning of the collection. The range makes me realize I did the right thing broadening the parameters of the fiction I wanted to include.

4. All the writers belong to the latchkey generation and have explored their personal experiences with movies, books, music, political and historical events from the era. How did you gather stories and authors for this project?

I wrote up the call for stories, letting writers know the word count range and that we were really only requiring two things: that the writer be a member of Generation X and that the horror story include something (subtly or otherwise) specific to the generation. As the submissions came in, I was pleasantly surprised: the caliber of writing and the uniqueness in story arcs made whittling the final count down to twenty-two very difficult. There were definitely some stories that it pained me to turn away, but the ones I selected all had one thing in common: they were exceptionally well-written, and they stayed in my head hours or even days after I first read them. I wish I could give a more objective analysis of why these twenty-two ended up together, but my best explanation would be it’s part luck that these gifted authors chose to trust me with their creations, and it’s part my own gut reaction.

5. While readers born and growing up in the 70s and 80s would find resonance in the references, the stories are so well written and compiled to be enjoyable for everyone. Did you have a reader audience in mind while conceiving this anthology? As an editor, how challenging is it to cater to different reader tastes when curating a collection?

So far, I’ve been fortunate enough to curate collections where the focus has been something to which I am already drawn, and I know readers are going to choose a book based on whether its nucleus is something that already jives with their preferences. I know putting out a collection that appears age-specific is risky; however, one of the nicest feedbacks I’ve received from reviewers is my commitment to diversity in style and approach, and therefore, I’ve always kept that in mind when I am cutting down the “likely yes” pile to the final lineup.

I am drawn to read anthologies myself because of the variety: I don’t expect to love every entry, and I don’t expect readers of the anthologies I curate to love every story. However, I never want a reader to find s/he doesn’t respond to multiple stories in a row. That’s a death sentence for any collection, so careful arrangement of the tales is key. Even if the stories have a common thread, I take care to either follow one story with another from a completely different subgenre, or, if the subgenres are the same, make certain back-to-back tales utilize different points-of-view, or possess similar narrators who make very different choices. That way, there really is something for everyone. There are sly winks in Generation X-ed that will resonate specifically with those who are a part of the generation, but the heart of the collection, the things that creep and unnerve and scare the bejesus out of us no matter when we grew up, is what gives it life, so I hope everyone who enjoys good storytelling will take a look.

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear – Book Review

Title – It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

Author – Dorian Sinnott

Genre – Horror

While the festive season is filled with cozy mysteries and charming Christmassy stories, this horror book brought a change to the usual Christmas reading fare. I had picked it up many months ago, and was waiting for the Christmas season to begin reading. On its surface, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear appears like a collection of short stories, each one named after the twelve days of Christmas, with a theme that follows suit. So, we have one haunted fir tree, two suspicious cats, seven screaming children, nine broken snow globes, eleven frightening whistles, and so on. Dorian Sinnott cleverly winds these seemingly unconnected tales into a novel of its own, as characters move across the different stories – a minor character in one being the protagonist in another. I loved this interweaving narrative that brought to mind Yoko Ogawa’s equally stellar horror Revenge, and Jane Borges’ cultural fiction Bombay Balchao.

A story within a story makes for an interesting reading experience, and Sinnott’s dark take on the Christmas season is absolutely magnificent. He presents the usual tropes of Santa, Mrs. Claus, Jack Frost, Elf on the Shelf, snow globes, naughty and nice children, and also brings in cultures and traditions from around the world with the Julbock and Krampus. We have a range of characters, both children and adults alongside animals and mythical creatures, as the reader is taken through ancient practices and historical events, contemporary rituals and Christmas parties.

The prologue and epilogue are written in verse, and Sinnott once again shines through as a writer proficient in both prose and poetry. I had read short stories from this author in anthologies, but this was my first full-fledged novel from him, and it’s unputdownable. A wonderful premise and very well written. Not a word or punctuation mark out of place. Definitely a writer I would want to read more from.

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear isn’t fluffy Christmas fare. It’s an out-and-out horror novel and recommended for horror readers. If you love horror fiction, do not miss this book. It’s a keepsake in the bookshelves.

My rating – 5/5

Navigating the World of Short Stories – An Interview with Alexander Raphael

A few months ago, I had the chance of hosting the book Always Never, Rarely Sometimes on its blog tour. I loved the varied tales and their assortment of memorable characters and imaginative dialogue. On reaching out to Welsh-Mexican writer Alexander Raphael, I was thrilled when he agreed to do an interview feature for Tomes and Tales.

INTERVIEW WITH ALEXANDER RAPHAEL

1. From journalism to poetry and short stories, your writing career spans the spectrum of genres and forms. How do you navigate the different styles? Do you have any preferences for a particular form?

I think it all starts with a love of language. I’ve always loved the way different words can set a scene or describe a person, whether that’s in fiction or non-fiction, news or creative. And then it all comes down to audience really. In journalism it’s about being informative, accurate and succinct. Whereas when I write my stories it’s about entertaining and being imaginative. There’s no set deadline, word limit or fact check. Instead, it’s all about ensuring each story has two things: flow and crunch. I’m drawn to writing short stories in particular. It’s a genre that fully allows sharp openings and twist endings and tight dialogue.

2. You have Welsh and Mexican heritage, have grown up in London, and have studied American literature at university. How have these different cultural experiences influenced your writing?

I know, quite the mix. It’s been everything really. I learnt Spanish at a young age and regularly visited Mexico growing up, so always had those influences. And living in London and being only a few hours drive from Wales meant another set too. Having such different backgrounds has meant I’ve always had an inquisitive nature and an interest in the world outside of my daily life. I like to think that comes across in my writing.

But influences come in unusual ways. Growing up, I had plenty of bookshops and libraries near me and more books than you could imagine at home, but the one that ultimately inspired me most was given to me by my friend Jorge in Mexico. I discuss it more in my piece “Before the Embryo”, but it was a book that made me want to write. I wanted people to read my work and have the same response I was having to the stories I’d just read. And it was a book I’d never have found at home.

3. Always Never, Rarely Sometimes is your third book, and second collection of short stories. How do you go about compiling stories for collections? Are these stories written over the years and then published together, or do you write them specifically for the book?

I was a huge fan of anthologies growing up, and reading the best works by the best writers in once place was wonderful. That included ones grouped by genre, era or often just the favourites of a group of editors. I would tend to read them out of order, usually choosing by title. Titles have always been important. They’re the first thing you notice about a story and should intrigue you without giving anything away.

When writing my own collection, I do try and have a theme or an overall concept. I think of short story collections like albums. Often, they reflect where you are at that moment in time, the artwork on the front is a part of the work, and you wonder which stories would be “the singles”. Curiously though, it’s never been as simple as a story being written after the previous one was released. One project often overlaps into another, so I was writing some stories for this latest collection when working on my second book Illusions, Delusions. Two of the stories were written at college and “There, Unthere” was the first thing I wrote after my first book The Summer of Madness. And that was before what I’d even thought about what to release next. I believe that gives you more variety and more flexibility. It means only the strongest stories are included, each one has a distinct tone and style and a wide array of characters are covered.

4. The themes and genres are diverse within the collection. What kind of readership did you envision while creating the book?

I never write with a particular person in mind. In fact, it usually takes me a while to think of myself as a reader. When reading back my own work, I read it first as a writer, then an editor and then later on as a reader. What’s been fascinating, and something I take as a big compliment, is that people’s favourite of the seven stories have been different. There’s never been a pattern of certain group of people liking one story and another group dynamic preferring others. It all comes down to their individual preferences and experiences. Stories like “That Beautiful Girl” and “Lies and Secrets” take place within one scene whereas “The Prankster” and “Lucky/Unlucky” take place over a period of time. That same mix applies within Always Never, Rarely Sometimes. Whether a person prefers romantic or dark, funny or sad, hopeful or cynical, I wanted there to be something for every reader.

5. Your writing is known for its blend of powerful dialogue, humor and imagination, ranging from the mundane to the magical. What influences you to decide between prose and poetry, considering you’re adept at both forms?

I started off writing poetry before really getting into short stories and have written a few poems since. My poetry is so different as it’s the only form I still write by hand and the only one where I’ll start writing without a title in mind. I never begin writing a story unless I have a title and it’s extremely rare that I change it.

With my short stories, people that know me well can recognize little parts of me within the text, whereas in my poetry I tend to write in a more distant style. So whereas in my stories there are characters and motives, in my poetry it tends to focus completely on the beauty of language, inspired by something like a sunset, the changing of the seasons or my response to an artwork.

But like with so many creative forms, there can be overlaps. I had this idea of an old man meeting his romantic match at a cemetery. The idea had flow but not enough crunch. I didn’t really know how to run with it, so I decided to make it into a poem. Rather than being a flat story it became “Death = New Life”, a poem full of vibrant energy.

6. The cover of Always Never, Rarely Sometimes is a collage, which doesn’t reveal anything in itself, except that it’s a collection of different ideas. What’s the story behind the cover? Was it intentional not to have it reveal too much about the book?

My first job was in a library so I know all about the power of a strong title and a striking cover in people’s first impressions. And like with music, the artwork should be part of its identity whilst still being symbolic. With The Summer of Madness, the pink sunset worked. It was a gorgeous skyline reflecting the beauty and joy that can be found in summer life where the days are longer and people are more free spirited.

For Illusions, Delusions one image worked too. The story “After Life” was the first one written and that’s what led to the whole book. I’d written this metaphorical story about four old men playing cards whilst reflecting on their lives and I had written nothing else like it. I knew I had to get into that same mindset and write others. It didn’t happen overnight but I was able to get there. A writer talking to his protagonist, a person looking back over their life like a questionnaire, and a story made up entirely of puns were ideas that were encouraged because I wanted to have that same creative energy in other directions.

Whereas with Always Never, Rarely Sometimes, there was never that pivotal story. As mentioned earlier, they were written at different times and at different points in my life. That’s why my initial idea for the cover was far simpler. It was merely going to be the book’s title in purple lettering with a black background. I didn’t want to reveal anything, I wanted readers to be intrigued enough to find out more. But having a very talented (and very patient) designer who was always pushing for more creativity meant a breakthrough was inevitable. When she sent over some images, I noticed the possibility for a montage and from there we both collaborated as to which image to use for each story. Hope did a great job.

7. The collection has a wide range of characters. Are these traits based on people you know? How do you sketch your characters?

There’s a quote by Horace Walpole. “Life is a tragedy for those who feel and a comedy for those that think”. It’s a quote I take into my writing. Human beings are so flawed and complicated and that’s why they are so entertaining.

When I write, there’s no fixed way of sketching a protagonist. Sometimes it starts with the character itself, other time it starts with the premise and then the character follows. The main thing is whether they have portrayed enough so that the dialogue helps build the character. Whether you like or agree with the beliefs of the character you’re writing, you have to convey the concept that they think a certain way and their words and actions follow on from that.

And no, I don’t use traits on people I know. The world is so big and full of history that’s what interests me more. That’s why I’ve often included a character reading a newspaper or a magazine. There’s a huge world outside of their own filled with all kinds of things going on.

8. Unlike novels and novellas that are extended forms of one story idea, short story collections require the writer to churn out myriad ideas for each story. How has your experience been writing both your books – switching genres, being innovative and impactful within a limited word count?

I’ve never seen a short story as a word count as such. I’ve always said that writing a story is like driving a car. You can have the keys, be at the wheel and know where you’re going, but it’s your passengers who will dictate the flow and the route of your journey.

When I first envisaged The Summer of Madness, it was only going to be a few pages. But the more I wrote the more I had to write. More things had to be explained and more voices of the supporting characters had to be heard. What helps is that I rarely change the beginning or the ending of a story. Even if you take a few scenic routes, if you know where the story is going, you feel you can trust the characters and plot lines.

As for writing itself, I write stories I would want to read, which makes them more fun to write. I know exactly what I’m looking for and what I need to avoid. Switching genres is one of the best bits. It means you get to use a whole different set of words, characters, styles and storylines.

9. Any favorite short story writers or story collections you would recommend we read?

Roald Dahl was probably my favourite. In fact, “Motive, Murder, Method” is the story I would have submitted to him for his TV show Tales of the Unexpected. His writing was so consistent and so funny. He had such a macabre sense of humour and a dark sense of morality. The good guys (usually) win out and the bad guys tend to have all kinds of twisted punishments. Pretty much all his work is worth reading.

I am a big fan of the original series of The Twilight Zone, so any of the writers featured in there (or on Alfred Hitchcock Presents) such as John Collier, Ray Bradbury and Charles Beaumont. They wrote of such fantastic premises, often filled with imagination and paranoia and foreboding.

Dorothy L Sayers and Dorothy Parker have quite the collection and their work lingers long after you read them. I liked the playfulness that often features in Saki, O Henry and James Thurber’s work. I don’t tend to read collections as such, as I was often introduced to their work though reading them in anthologies or recommended specific stories, so I wouldn’t set one collection as such. And I can’t forget the gothic brilliance of Shirley Jackson.

For more information on Alex Raphael and his works, my book feature on Always Never, Rarely Sometimes can be found here.

Ichor Stains – Book Review

Title: Ichor Stains

Author – Renaldo Pavrey

Genre – Horror, short stories

Ichor Stains is a work of experimental fiction that blends fantasy and horror, with elements of folklore and the supernatural, combined with medical science and the mundaneness of everyday life. The author explores a variety of themes, each story dark and edgy in its own way. The book is a collection of fifteen stories that span from railroad tracks to an obsession with noodles, a ghost fetus and an imaginary friend, studies on rats and corpses hidden in walls, unassuming contract killers and downright creepy optometrists.

Disabled kicks off the collection with a quote from Gunter Grass, and transports the reader into the bustling crowds and chaos of Mumbai city – the story unraveling while we’re stuck at a traffic signal. Forty Minutes and a Railroad Track follows suit with a train journey that starts with a quote from Agatha Christie. The merging of classic writers with contemporary stories is a delight for the reader. Silent Treatment moves back and forth in days and years, as justice is served. Timelines is another story that moves across place and time, and untangles the web between strangers and friends. Poncho, My Friend is a dark take on body shaming.

Noodle was one of my favorite stories, narrated through the symptoms of a guinea worm infection. Two Dogs is a twist on a Native American saying that addresses the duality of human nature. Plasticity is a brilliant piece written from the point of view of a doll trying to understand humans. Fetal Attraction is written backwards, as the reader tries to put the pieces together and unravel the story on Patau’s Syndrome. The Infatuation is a mix of epistolary and screenplay. Return is a beautiful piece set at a cemetery and narrated through musical notes. Cling Wrap and The Sink will make you look at the kitchen in new ways. Stone and In Sight are pieces of flash fiction that nicely connect the bridges of the longer stories.

The prologue and epilogue are stories in themselves, featuring the hunt for a serial killer, or quite possibly a trip into the macabre mind of a writer. I loved how the book is stitched together – right from the dedication to the author bio, including the front and back cover images that are photographs clicked by the author himself. A book to be devoured from start to finish. Ideal for readers who like dark fiction.

Some quotes:

~I searched for faith – in the land, but it was fissured; in the water, but it vaporized; it the air, but it was ablaze.

~News doesn’t come cheap and city people can seldom afford it. It is not unusual to have a group of strangers poring over your shoulder or glaring across you the moment you unfold a newspaper; that is considered the brotherhood of the city.

~They say when fruit is ripe for the picking, it is time to pluck it and eat it. Have you ever considered the possibilities if the plucked fruit ate back?

~It’s as if he had locked his personality away in some twisted impound, immune to the laws of regret and restitution.

~Months had gone by, and the ink inside my pen had dried up; just like my ideas.

~I felt like an abandoned mill; the edifice stood, but with a total lack of substance.

~Once you begin believing in absurdities, an act of atrocity isn’t far behind.

~My thoughts are serrated blades, cutting across my mind, making it bleed into my eyes.

My rating: 5/5