Thursday 31 January 2013

#justimagine Author Jonny Rowland on Fusion and more spandex than intended

My interviewee is Jonny Rowland whose story, The Flight of the Magician, appears in the Fusion anthology.  Jonny tells me he considers himself a person who plays against type. He is a graduate of the University of Warwick’s MA in Writing, which makes him the only Arts student in a family of scientists and nurses. He also is an autistic adult who has absolutely no interest in mathematics. He hopes writing stories like The Flight of the Magician will help him continue to redefine boundaries.

When did Jonny learn that his story would be published and how did he feel? He says, ‘I was surprised to learn from the Fantastic Books YouTube feed that The Flight of the Magician was to be published. It was a story I had been tangling with for a while, and it seemed like I would not be able to find a place to tell it. Being published felt like being given a boost up over a wall.’

And what was his main reason for entering the competition? Jonny tells me, ‘The opportunity to be published was the main draw for me. I feel that the writer’s market right now is driven by personality, and I wanted to make an impression on people. Having my name in a good anthology is definitely a step towards that for me.’

Of the other Fusion authors, he says, ‘For me, writing is about learning new things about yourself and others. I have learned a lot from the works of other contributors, and I hope that there is something in my work that inspired them as well.’

I ask how he found the editorial process, working with the team at Fantastic Books to polish his story for publication. Did he find it helpful? He says, ‘Definitely: working with the editorial team to fine tune the story made me feel like a true author. I am new to the market, and working as a contributor gave me much needed experience with talking to publishers.’

When I ask Jonny to recommend something to ease the tedium of a long journey, he is not the first of the Fusion authors to mention Tolkein. He says, ‘Always a tricky question for me. My current choice in long-haul flight literature is Tolkein's The Hobbit, though Neil Gaiman’s supernatural road-trip novel American Gods comes a close second.’

Along with all the interviewees, I invite Jonny to put himself in the shoes of a space scout for an alien race. He has discovered Earth and learnt its history. Would he recommend that his people make contact? His answer makes me smile and has shades of the engaging style of The Flight of the Magician. He says, ‘Yes – assuming we could comfortably share the same atmosphere. Being unable to breathe puts a dampener on meet-and-greets! I imagine that the meeting would be the equivalent of galactic babysitting, though - the aliens watching the humans, hands on hips, and saying, “No, you get to play with cold fusion when you’re older.’”’

Now I want to know what writing projects Jonny has underway. He tells me, ‘Currently, I have been writing my pseudo-scientific deconstructive superhero novel The Incredible Story of No Man. It’s a mercurial piece full of action, love and more spandex than I had previously intended. I hope to have it finished by April – hopefully I can present it to Fantastic Books at that time.’

I know they’ll only too pleased to see it land on their doorstep, Jonny.

Learn more about Jonny on his blogsite
, which also contains links to his Twitter feed, where he aims to deliver fortnightly updates on his latest work.

#justimagine Author Sarah Cuming on Fusion and a wealth of literature hidden in secret corners

My interviewee is Sarah Cuming whose story, The Star Worker, appears in Fusion. Sarah lives near the New Forest and loves going on walks to wake up her creative side. Landscapes often crop up in her work, in this case the icy wastes of The Star Worker. Sarah has recently graduated from her Masters in Writing with Merit at the University of Warwick, and has had short stories published in four anthologies (including Fusion) and her University’s New Writing Society magazine.

Sarah tells me that she first heard that she would be published in Fusion on Fantastic Books Facebook page, and then in the official announcement via the YouTube video. She says, ‘I was absolutely astonished. The Star Worker was my first true fantasy story, and so I’d sent it out more as an experiment than actually expecting to hear anything back. Finding out that my story had been chosen was absolutely wonderful, and it wasn’t very many minutes before my family found links to the announcement cropping up in their inboxes.’

I have to say I’m astounded to learn that The Star Worker was Sarah’s first venture into fantasy. There is an easy maturity to the writing that makes you assume she settled into the genre years ago.

I ask what motivated her to enter. She tells me, ‘I think the fact that the competition was raising funds for charity was definitely a motivating factor. The thought that, even if I didn’t get published, money would be going to a good cause gave me the nerve to submit my piece, whereas otherwise I might have just left it in a drawer to gather dust. Publication was a definite bonus, though!’

When asked if she sees it as a positive to have been published alongside established authors, Danuta Reah and Stuart Aken, Sarah’s answer is very clear. ‘I can’t think of any way in which it could be seen as negative. They are great writers and having my work printed alongside theirs is a definite privilege. What I also like is the fact that fans of theirs may find other writers they like from the great selection of authors in the anthology. There’s such a range of stories and styles that you can’t help but be drawn in and become enthralled.’

I certainly agree with that. Fusion is a great anthology.

Along with all shortlisted authors, Sarah worked with the Fantastic Books editorial team to polish her story for publication. How did she find the process? ‘Having the Fantastic Books editorial team comment on my work was very helpful, and it helped put the edges and the shine onto what was previously something of a rough diamond of a story. Writing is a constantly developing process, so I found the comments from the editorial team to be of great value to me. Getting the final proofs through from them was a lovely feeling.’

When asked to recommend a compelling read to counter the tedium of a long-haul flight, Sarah says, ‘Ooh, so many choices, but I find that when it comes to recommending books, I can’t help but return to the books I read as a teenager. If something that you read at thirteen can still sing to you at the age of twenty three, it’s worth reading. The two that come to mind at the moment are Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom trilogy, which has some fabulous female characters, and Kevin Brooks’ novel Lucas. Lucas isn’t sci-fi or fantasy, but it is a beautiful, haunting book that taught me that a tragic ending doesn’t stop it from being a good one. On a more recent note, a friend of mine, Rosanne Rivers, has a new book out called After the Fear that would definitely make the hours of a long-haul flight disappear before you knew it! It’s a Young Adult dystopian novel written with great depth and emotion. My copy arrived a couple of days ago and nobody’s been able to tear me away from it since.’

Along with all my interviewees, I ask Sarah to imagine that she is a space scout for an alien race who has discovered Earth and learnt its history. Would she recommend that her people made contact? She takes her time to give me a thoughtful and considered response. ‘Hmm, don’t know. People can be a pretty awful lot, both to each other and to the planet we live on, and the good things sometimes get lost in amongst the darkness. I think my alien self would recommend contact – a wary, tentative contact, in order to share knowledge, and I’d like to think that in doing so it would be astonished and surprised by the beautiful wealth of literature and art it would find hidden away in secret corners. I also think it would show its people the beauty of our environment and how precious it is, and help humanity see that we need to do more to preserve it, help us heal some of the hurts.’

Sarah is clearly building a fan base who will want to know what she’s currently writing. She tells me, ‘I’ve got a couple of writing projects on at the moment – a few short stories that are halfway through their first drafts, gearing up for competition entries, and a children’s fantasy book that’s only just at the scribbles-on-a-whiteboard stage but that I can’t wait to get going with.’

Don’t wait too long, Sarah. If you can produce The Star Worker as a first attempt, I for one can’t wait to see what comes next!

To find out more about Sarah and her writing, follow her on Twitter where she posts her writing info. 

Or sample her writing:
The Embers of a Masterpiece” from Momaya Annual Review 2012: Heat 
Magazine Me” from Papercuts: Stories from the Warwick MA inWriting 2012 
Fingernails” from The Draft: Stories from the Warwick MA inWriting

#justimagine Author Celia Coyne on Fusion and having the shoe on the other foot

Introducing Celia Coyne who lives in Christchurch, New Zealand and who is author of The Truest Black, which appears in the Fusion anthology. Celia comes with an impressive writing track record and CV. She has worked in publishing for 20 years, as a journalist and editor of non-fiction. In her fiction writing she says she enjoys exploring unusual themes and ideas. This is clearly apparent from the expertly woven tale that appears in Fusion where a vein of humour runs through a story that has a truly sinister undertone. 

Of being shortlisted in the Fantastic Books competition, Celia says, ‘It is always a pleasant surprise to be placed in a competition. You send off what you think is your best story, you hope that it is the right sort of thing that the publishers are after - and the rest is luck. There is always a bit of subjectivity involved in the whole writing game - so you can never be too confident.’

I wonder what someone with Celia’s experience looks for in a competition, what motivates her to enter? She tells me. ‘One of the things I look for in competitions is a chance to be 'placed' - and published. Competitions with just 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes are all well and good - but for me it's not so much about 'winning' but about people reading my work. I like to win, of course, but I reckon I'm hugely motivated by the chance to get my work out there so people can read it. I also like the set up with Fantastic Books - with the donation to charity. It is a great idea and I think that people will respond to it - I certainly did.’

Like the other authors, Celia sees it as definitely a positive to be published alongside established writers.

Everyone on the shortlist worked with the Fantastic Books editorial team to polish their stories for publication, but Celia’s day job is as a sub editor, so as she says, ‘The shoe was on the other foot!’

How did she find the process? ‘ The editing process by Fantastic Books was indeed helpful. Having a fresh, professional eye look at your work is essential for any writer - established or not. I think that this attention to detail ensures that any book published by Fantastic Books will be of a high standard. I've noticed that the editing process is sometimes overlooked by other publishers - and the quality of published works is diminished. Shockingly I've noticed it in the works of some very well known authors (not mentioning any names!) It is a symptom of the big publishing houses cutting corners and trying to save money but it is a false economy. I am comforted by the fact that there are still publishers like Fantastic Books who want to pursue excellence and do this with the tried and tested approach of carefully reading and then editing the work.’

I know that answer will get a smile of satisfaction from Dan and Gabi at Fantastic Books. They take great pride in looking after authors and their work.

What would Celia advise as reading matter to alleviate the boredom of a long journey? She says, ‘For a long-haul flight I'd recommend 'Fight Club' by Chuck Palahniuck. It is a fairly short book and beautifully written - very dark humour and many layered. I'd also recommend any short story collection by Ali Smith.’

Celia is currently working on a collection of short stories. She tells me, ‘You can find You Look Beautiful When You Smile online in Issue 7 of Penduline Press's magazine. This story kind of sums up what it is like living in Christchurch, New Zealand, after the 2011 earthquake. We are all trying to get back to being happy - but it's a journey. You can also find one of my stories, The Age of Aquarius, in issue 76 of Takahe magazine. And there is another one, Travelling Light, coming up in issue 78 (April 2013).

Celia has a website where she hopes to be able to showcase some of her work. She tells me that the site is still under construction, but I’m going to bookmark it anyway. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed The Truest Black, I don’t want to miss new works from this talented author.

Wednesday 30 January 2013

#justimagine Author David K Paterson on Fusion and cooking for hungry geeks

My interviewee is David K Paterson. His stories, White Noise and The Removal Man, appeared in Fusion. David rediscovered a love of story-telling in 2007 while taking a creative writing course and since then the words have just been pouring out. He has written several screenplays, novellas and short stories. He has also completed the National Novel Writing Month twice and Script Frenzy three times. His first published short story was featured in My Weekly magazine in February 2009 and a longer short story was selected for an anthology in 2010 but this one is yet to be published so Fusion has beaten it to the tape. David says he is proud to have his second and third published short stories in the Fusion anthology and is looking forward to a productive and enjoyable writing future.

How did it feel to hear that his story would be published in Fusion? David says, ‘I wish I could say I was playing it cool the day that both sets of results were announced, but that would be untrue - I may have permanently damaged my keyboard's F5 key from refreshing the event page. As any creative person knows, there's always that nagging worry that "they're all going to laugh at you", but we have to take the risk, otherwise we never progress. I felt that I had written good stories that entertained me, but to end up with both short-listed was something I never expected.’

David sees it as a definite positive to be in an anthology with established writers. As he puts it, ‘It’s not just that people who know Danuta Reah and Stuart Aken will pick up the anthology and hopefully discover new writers, but it’s also to be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with them and feel that a professional writing career is within reach.’

When recommending a book to pass the time on a long journey, David tells me, ‘The last book I read on a long-haul flight was "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline. I really got into the story, the tale of a down-trodden hero who battles through a massive online game to claim the legacy of the game's designer. Great fun if you're a fan of retro arcade games!’

David is clearly building a fan base after his contribution to Fusion, so what can we expect next from his pen (or keyboard)? He says, ‘I'm working on a non-fiction project with a few friends at the moment. We're producing ALL THE NOMZ!, a cookbook for hungry geeks, with recipes contributed by some of the biggest names in nerd culture.’

It isn’t the answer I expected, but I love the concept, especially when he goes on to say, ‘All proceeds from the book will go to Child's Play Charity, a charity drive set up by the people behind the Penny Arcade web comic, to donate video games, consoles and money to children's hospitals around the world. We hope to publish in May 2013.’ You can follow ALL THE NOMZ on twitter and it also has its own website  

Find out more about David and his writing on Twitter 
or on his blog

#justimagine Author Thomas Pitts on Fusion and a gene-manipulating alien scout

My interviewee is Thomas Pitts whose story, Other Things, appears in Fusion. Thomas who is half Italian and who lives in Newbury, Berkshire, has had two mainstream short stories broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and is just completing a science fiction novel.

Thomas tells me he was confident in his story, which doesn’t surprise me as Other Things was a very tense and well told tale. But he also says he had no expectations. I guess that’s a writer thing. With fiction it’s always subjective and you never know who you’re up against in a competition.

What was it that motivated Thomas to enter in the first place? Was there any added incentive in the cash prizes or the chance of publication or the charity donation? Thomas says, ‘For money, you'd be wiser to work in a normal job for twenty hours or whatever, and give that guaranteed income to yourself or charity. It was publication that I wanted, so as to get some science fiction on my covering letter for when I try to publish my SF novel, since all I have is mainstream stories on BBC radio. If I'd known there were such things as SF short story competitions I would have entered them years ago - it's my favourite genre and I like the short form.’

Did Thomas have any worries about appearing in an anthology that also contained stories from established writers, Danuta Reah and Stuart Aken? ‘It's generous of them,’ he says. ‘And it’s a positive so long as there's no disparity in quality.’

No need to worry on that score, Thomas. Anyone who has read Fusion will know that all the stories stand together well.

It’s always good to know what writers themselves see as a really good read. When I ask Thomas what he would recommend to entertain a long-haul traveller, he says, ‘My SF choice would be Solaris by Stanislav Lem. It's deep and yet it has a gripping plot - a rare combination in any genre. No idea if the film versions are any good.’

Like all the interviewees, Thomas is invited to put himself in the shoes of an alien scout who has discovered Earth and learnt its history. How will he report back to his people? Thomas’s answer is a classic for a sci-fi author. He says, ‘My alien scout would recognize that Earth, with its torture, genocide, violence, tyranny, rape, slavery, and inequality, is all too much like her own world. She would capture a human, and have her robot analyze its genome. Then she'd release a targeted designer virus into Earth's fresh water systems. The gene sequences that predispose Homo sapiens to psychopathy, selfishness, etc will in time be modified. She'd then communicate to her home world that this planet is a barren world with no prospect of life and unsuitable for colonization. Saying farewell to the incipient utopia, never to behold the promised land, she sling-shots around the Sun for the next solar system - and the continuance of her lonely mission.’

I ask Thomas what he’s working on now. He tells me, ‘I'm just finishing an SF novel, a love and war epic spanning the Inner Solar System. And another SF story.’

That’s good news for sci-fans who loved Other Things in Fusion.

Read more about Thomas and his writing on Facebook or email him on or 

#justimagine Author Drew Wagar on Fusion, sci-fi and Elite : Reclamation

My next interviewee is Drew Wagar, a British drama, sci-fi and fantasy writer. His story Metal appears in Fusion. Drew is also the author of the Oolite Saga and Torn, a contemporary drama. He graduated from the University of Brighton in 1992, with an honours degree in Computer Science and has worked in various capacities within IT since then. He currently works in the City of London.

To add to his impressive sci-fi credentials, Drew has recently acquired a license to write an official book based on the 'Elite : Dangerous' space trading game. The novel which will be called Elite : Reclamation is due for release in early 2014.

Drew first heard by text message that his story had been selected for the Fusion anthology. ‘A fellow author let me know as he was scanning his emails at the time.’ Drew adds, ‘I was delighted as I knew the quality of the entries would be very high. I thought my story might get an honourable mention, but it was a real pleasure to have it selected.’

As to his motivation for entering the competition, Drew tells me, ‘My father is suffering with skin cancer so yes, the charity donation was a major motivator for me.’

He says he saw it as a positive to be published alongside established writers. ‘It meant, to me at least, that my story was sufficiently well crafted to stand up alongside their works.’
Not just to you, Drew. Metal is a beautifully crafted tale that very cleverly weaves many journeys: emotional and space-time, into an alien landscape.

Along with all the shortlisted authors, Drew worked with Fantastic Books to polish his story for publication. He says of the process, ‘The editing was absolutely marvellous. I thought I'd done a reasonable job with tweaking my story into a final form, but the extra insight and fine-tuning provided were really rather eye opening. The story is much better for their expert review. I'll definitely be doing something similar in the future and trying to apply those lessons to my work in advance.’

When I ask Drew to suggest a book to ease the tedium of a long-haul flight, he does not hesitate. ‘Daphne Du Maurier's "Rebecca" - my all time favourite book. A beautifully written and compelling tale.’

I ask Drew to become a space scout for an alien race who has discovered Earth and learnt its history. What will he recommend to his people? ‘I'd recommend that they avoid contact with all government officials, politicians, heads of state and so on; rather they should send envoys to the writers, musicians and artists of planet Earth, who showcase the best this little planet has to offer.’

As a fellow writer, I heartily approve that response and go on to ask Drew about his current writing project, Elite : Reclamation, and find that it is a book based on a game he played back in 1984. He says, ‘It made a big impact on me back then – kickstarting my writing in fact. The game is being given a 21st century makeover and I've nabbed an opportunity to write an officially licensed book for it. This is a real 'dream come true' for me. So far the plot is coming together. I've got to have it all finished for March 2014!’ You can find details of Drew’s Elite : Reclamation project here.

To learn more about Drew and his writing, check out his website or click here for Torn, his contemporary drama in which religion faces off against science 

#justimagine Author Peter Holz on Fusion, frustration and being a wildlife vet

Introducing Peter Holz whose story, Cat’s Eye, appears in Fusion.  Peter graduated from veterinary school in 1987. He spent the following 25 years trying to turn himself into a zoo/wildlife veterinarian, while travelling the world, getting married and having two kids, only to realize that he was in fact a frustrated writer and not a veterinarian at all.

Luckily for sci-fi fans, Peter chose to enter the Fantastic Books Publishing sci-fi & fantasy short story competition. How did he feel to know he was on the shortlist for publication? He tells me, ‘You could have knocked me over with a feather. Like most writers I have had so many rejections that if a story is accepted it always comes as a wonderful surprise. My only real motivation was the chance to be published.’

He saw publication alongside award-winning writers as a huge positive, adding, ‘People might accidentally think that my writing is as good as theirs.’

No accident, Peter! It’s a great story.

Like all the shortlisted authors, he worked with the Fantastic Books editorial team to polish his story for publication. How did he find the process? He says, ‘The editorial comments were incredibly useful. As the author I am probably far too close to a story to be able to view it objectively. An outside editor has the power to point out obvious flaws that I would never see. If these flaws exist in one piece then they likely exist in other stories I have written too, so it will hopefully lead to my writing becoming stronger overall.’

What would Peter recommend as a compelling read? ‘My favourite book is quite possibly The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, but I am also a huge fan of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. If I could ever manage to write something half as good as those then I would die happy.’ 

Now I ask Peter to get into the shoes of an alien space scout who has discovered Earth and learnt its history. How would he advise his people? He says, ‘I would certainly recommend that my people contact Earth. They should do it cautiously, as the Earth people can be a bit irrational, but the opportunity to meet new people, visit new places and learn new things should always be embraced.’

An appropriate sentiment from a writer!

What Peter is writing at the moment turns out to have more to do with his day job, though I suspect this is an area rich in ideas for a sci-fi writer. He tells me, ‘My current writing project is a veterinary one producing wildlife disease fact sheets. If you want to learn all about toxoplasmosis, chlamydiosis, spironucleosis, or any other –osis that takes your fancy go to’

If you want to see more of Peter’s fiction, you can find him in Short and Twisted2008, and The Rhino With Glue-on Shoes, which he describes as ‘a book of short stories written by more veterinarians who think they are writers.’

I’m hooked and I’m off to take a look. Thank you, Peter.

#justimagine Author John Hoggard on Fusion, Elite, Oolite and the value of a good critique

I’m pleased to introduce John Hoggard, author of the story, Baby Babble, that appears in the Fusion anthology. John is no newbie to writing. A local newspaper printed one of his science-fiction stories when he was six, and buoyed by this early success he has been writing science-fiction ever since. He described his writing process by saying that his wife and two children tolerate his periods of absence, while he stares, frustrated, at a blank screen.

As John tells me, his route to inclusion in the anthology wasn’t straightforward. ‘Although I'd made the long list,’ he tells me. ‘I wasn't included in the original short list for publication. I was pleased I'd made the long list, but disappointed that my story didn't have quite the right "something" to be included. However, Daniel emailed me with some editorial comments (all brilliant, accurate, useful) and said if I made the changes I *might* be included.’

And what was his reaction to that? ‘I stayed up until 2 in the morning editing away. I had a very nervous wait, before I found out I was in. I was dancing round the room when I did find out (which caused a raised eyebrow with my work colleagues!)’

I ask John about his motivation for entering the competition. Like several other contributors, he tells me the prizes were not top of the list. John says, ‘I love Sci-Fi and I love short stories. My family has had its own personal battles with cancer this year, so the fact that the competition was supporting a cancer charity was important to me. I didn't really think about any of the prizes, but I did really want to get published!’
He saw it as a good thing to have established authors in the anthology along with the prize winners. As he says, ‘They have a fan base of their own and you have to hope that some of those will also cast an eye over your own work. You also hope that because these authors have a reputation to maintain, they're not going to let their work be associated with anything other than quality - which means, if you're in, your work is also good...’

That’s certainly true of John’s story in Fusion. He also has some wise words on the value of constructive criticism in the writing process, saying, ‘Being critiqued is always useful, when done properly. It's one of the things that my own Writers Group, WordWatchers does extremely well - and we have two international authors amongst our membership, so we must be doing something right. I think good critiquing is a major part of that.’

In recommending a really good read to take the boredom from a long-haul flight, John turns to a book that also held me spellbound many years ago. He says, ‘I would have to go back to my childhood favourite and that would be The Lord of the Rings. I have lost days at a time to that story, so it would have to be several back-to-back long-haul flights.’

And going further afield, I ask John to imagine he’s a space scout for an alien race who has discovered Earth and learnt its history. Would he make contact? He tells me, ‘Yes I'd make contact, but I'd be quite tough with the human race - very much in the way of my short story in fact! An ultimatum to the human race to sort itself out peacefully or we would have to enforce that "peace" upon them. Despite the large number of Exoplanets discovered, it is clear, at the moment, that the Earth is a rare jewel and we, as the dominant species, are rather abusive to our host. As I once heard: We do not inherit the Earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children.’

John’s fan base can only have grown with the inclusion of Baby Babble in Fusion, so his fans will want to know what he’s doing now.

‘I "finished" my current work-in-progress about nine months ago, but I've been putting off the hard part, the edit, for several months now. Of course, I've still been writing and entering competitions (like the Fusion competition) but I know they are simply distractions, enjoyable though they are.’

We’re all glad you entered the Fantastic Books competition, John, but no more displacement activity – get on with those edits!

If you want to read more about John and his writing, you won’t have far to look, He is well distributed across the internet. A good place to start is his author page on his Writers Group, WordWatchers, which is updated regularly. He is also on Twitter, where I can attest to him being both opinionated and entertaining on a variety of subjects, not just writing or publishing. 

John is also a big fan of the computer game Elite and its remake, Oolite, and he contributes quite a lot of material to this game under his gaming nom de plume of DaddyHoggy. You can read some of his game-related fiction published for free by his friend and fellow Fusion contributor, Drew Wagar.

Sunday 27 January 2013

Review of Tony by Patrick Dennis

TonyTony by Patrick Dennis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just had a re-reading spree including Patrick Dennis. You never know how these things will go. Books you loved years ago often lose their shine.

However, this one hadn't.

It's beautifully drawn character sketch of the anti-hero, Tony - J Anthony Vandenberg (Jackie to his mother) - from school days, through college, wartime, business, TV career and more to the final sighting in Algiers.

Told episodically, as are all the P Dennis books I've read, it works very well. The characters come to life. The 'I' of the story comes off the page well, too; a rounded character, not just a backdrop for the rest of the cast supporting Tony. I loved it years ago. I loved it now.

A great read.

Sadly, I couldn't say the same for Auntie Mame: written to a similar structure, I found it dated, the 'I' character almost incidental, not really integrated into the story. Saying that, there were passages of real genius and no-one can do accents like Patrick Dennis - neither incomprehensible nor intrusive, he catches voices perfectly.

I'm no fan of eye-dialect, but I make an exception for Mr Dennis.

I'm not going to review Auntie Mame separately because I remember how much I enjoyed it first time round. I would have given in 5 stars then, so I won't presume to put anyone off by giving it fewer now.

View all my reviews

Thursday 24 January 2013

#justimagine Author Danuta Reah on Fusion and small publishers making the running

My final interviewee in this series for the Fusion Spotlight is Danuta Reah writer of dark, psychological suspense novels suspense who was one of the invited professional contributors. The main focus of her fiction is crime, but she has published widely.

Of the Fantastic Books Publishing anthology, she says, ‘I was delighted when I got the invitation to contribute to Fusion as one of the professional authors. I think these days it’s small publishers who are making the running with new, cutting-edge books.   The big publishers are too often playing safe and looking backwards with the same old same old. It’s small publishers who are finding the writers with new ideas.’

She goes on to say, ‘I knew the editorial team on Fantastic Books would publish good stuff, and I think the quality of the stories in Fusion is very high. I was confident it would be a collection I’d be happy to be part of.’

Danuta made her crime debut in 1999 with Only Darkness the rights to which have recently been purchased by Escazal Films. The settings of her books range from the claustrophobic parochialism of the South Yorkshire mining communities to the international settings of new Europe. The four South Yorkshire novels form a loosely connected series: Only Darkness, Silent Playgrounds, Bleak Water and Not Safe. She has written two novels under the name Carla Banks. The Forest of Souls and Strangers explore the unresolved consequences of Nazi atrocities in Eastern Europe during the 1939-45 war; and the lives of the expatriate community in Saudi Arabia.

You can read a review of The Forest of Souls here 

What would a writer like Danuta recommend as a compelling read? She says, ‘Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman. It's a sequel to Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca.  I don't usually like sequels written by another writer, but this one is excellent - gripping and convincing. Beauman is always presented as a writer of popular romance – the covers are all gold embossing and romantic typeface, but her books are much more nuanced than that. They are also tremendously readable.’

And if she were to recommend one of her own books? ‘I would suggest Bleak Water – it’s a very suspenseful psychological crime novel, set in an art gallery on the banks of an industrial canal. Someone is playing games with images from a horrific medieval painting. It’s a scary book – but on a plane, at least you know who is behind you – or you hope so, anyway.’

Danuta, along with the other writers is given the option of stepping into the shoes of a space scout for an alien race. Would she recommend that the aliens make contact with Earth? She says, ‘I'd be inclined to suggest giving us a wide berth. We seem to have an endless capacity for trouble and destruction, but combined with a passion that produces the most amazing art, acts of courage, and an ability to come up with goods once our back are firmly against the wall. But not until then. In other words, we're dangerous. Avoid.’

I ask Danuta to tell me about her current writing projects. ‘I'm working on a sequel to a crime novel,’ she says. ‘It comes out in June. This book is a new direction for me. It’s set partly in Poland, so I'm writing it under my family name - D R Kot (Danuta Reah Kot). The book is called The Last Room, and it's dark, psychological crime fiction with a new European focus. It’s about a man trying to make sense of his daughter’s death.’

How did she research the setting for this one? ‘I visited Łódź when I was writing this book, and I found the city compelling. Like much of Eastern Europe, it’s still carrying the scars from the last war. In the Jewish cemetery, there are grave pits along one wall that the survivors of the Litzmannstadt Ghetto – the German name of the ghetto in Łódź – were made to dig. The Nazis were going to shoot them and bury them there, but the Red Army liberated the city before those executions could be carried out.’

Read more about Danuta and her writing on her website or follow her on Twitter @DanutaJR 

#justimagine Author Walt Pilcher on Fusion and the pen of a master story-teller

I’m pleased to introduce you to author Walt Pilcher whose story The Meeting at the Centre of the Universe appears in Fusion. Walt lives in Greensboro, NC (USA), with his wife, Carol, an artist.  His parody radio commercials at age 11 foreshadowed a consumer products marketing career from which he retired as a former apparel company CEO.  He moonlighted with fiction, poems and songs, building an impressive writing CV. Walt was published in the first issue of Galileo magazine and in The Worm Runner’s Digest, and he has edited two books by other authors. 

More recently his works have appeared in Fresh Magazine, the Love, Life and Peace anthology by Stephanie Thomas, and Fire & Chocolate, the 2012 poetry anthology of the Writers’ Group of the Triad. 

Walt first heard his story had been picked for publication when he read his email from Daniel, CEO of Fantastic Books Publishing. Walt says, ‘I’m always happily surprised when one of my pieces is accepted, although it does set me back a little in my quest to completely wallpaper my office with rejection slips by the end of 2013 (harder to do in today’s paperless digital age anyway).  I knew it was a good story and that somebody should pick it up, but still . . . I’m very grateful.’

On his motivation for entering the competition, Walt tells me, ‘I would have entered just for the chance at publication; the prizes and charity donation (which was a wonderful touch and impressed my friends when I told them about it) were icing on the cake.’

He found the editorial process positive, saying that the comments he received were ‘constructively challenging, but I really appreciated it when the team in the end accepted my version (with very minor changes) after giving me a chance to defend my choices.’

When I ask what Walt would recommend as a compelling read to keep a long-haul traveller from boredom, he says, ‘That’s an easy one: My own upcoming collection of riveting and hilarious short stories, satire and poetry (will be looking for a publisher soon).  Otherwise, anything by Douglas Adams or Donald E. Westlake would be a good second choice.’

His answer makes me smile. I know he’s talking tongue in cheek, but I believe the collection genuinely will be riveting and hilarious if The Meeting at the Centre of the Universe is anything to go by. It was one of the few stories that made me laugh out loud when I was judging the longlist.

Now I ask Walt to step into the shoes of a space scout for an alien race. He’s discovered Earth and learnt its history. Should he recommend that his people make contact? He says, ‘Definitely. Most Earthlings don’t even know their own history, so my people would have a big advantage.  And Earthlings are quite tasty, especially with onions and ketchup.’

He’s made me smile again, not only at the answer but at his unconscious echoing of a comment in Stuart Aken’s recent interview.

Having sampled Walt’s work, I’m keen to know what he’s working on now. He tells me, ‘As previously mentioned, I’m compiling some of my work for an anthology.  Should be ready to show to publishers in a month or two.  Meantime, the odd poem or song as the muse strikes.’

Walt is full of surprises. I now learn that he’s writing this anthology with the pen of a master storyteller. He bought it on eBay from the estate of a famous author.  Yes, I want to know which one, too, but Walt isn’t saying.

As if this isn’t enough, Walt also had what he calls ‘a big writing project’ in 2012 about which he says himself ‘talk about “something completely different”!’ He is active in his local church and a Board member at Global Awakening, an international Christian evangelistic ministry, and he wrote a non-fiction book on the Biblical basis for and practical marketplace application of the five-fold leadership gifts of Ephesians 4:11-16, with the working title The Five-fold Effect: Unlocking Power Leadership and Results for Your Organization. The project seems to have been a success because he says, ‘I’m close to finding a publisher.’

You can find  Fire and Chocolate, the 2012 Poetry anthology of the Writers’ Group of the Triad (with Walt’s poem, The County Library’ on p.78) on Amazon (UK) and  (USA).

Walt also invites you to hear him performing the  song version of “The County Library,” (noting that this link can be used from ‘anywhere in the Universe’).

And you can learn more, and hear more of Walt’s song writing on his page on  Acoustic Guitar Community. Walt invites you to visit the page and hear ‘low-budget productions by me and my computer’. Walt can also be found on the music site SoundClick.

Walt has no website but is happy to hear from readers by email at

#justimagine Author Apeksha Harsh on Fusion and the joys of writing

My interviewee is Apeksha Harsh whose story Night Watch appears in the Fusion anthology. Apeksha describes herself as a keen poet and a fledgling storyteller. She takes her writing seriously, having studied the MA in Writing at Warwick, and also enjoys imparting the pleasures of writing to others.  It’s possible that Apeksha is unique amongst the Fusion authors for having written opera.

What motivated Apeksha to enter the competition? She says, ‘It was nice to see a competition where the entry proceeds were going to charity, that too, in the fantastic genre. And yes, any writer is lying if they say they don’t do it for the recognition or the monetary rewards. I didn’t get a cash prize, but I did get my short story published. That’s one thing off my list!’

And what did she think about being published alongside established authors. Apeksha says she definitely sees it as a positive. ‘You know more people are going to be interested in a collection that has internationally established names. That might be the starting point for most readers picking up a book. But then of course they get to read an entire gamut of stories from new writers… I’d say that’s certainly a positive.’

Apeksha’s Fusion story Night Watch has a vein of macabre humour running through it, so it doesn’t surprise me that when it comes to recommending reading matter for a long-haul traveller, she goes first for comic fantasy, saying, ‘Always Terry Pratchett. I’ve stayed up nights reading the Discworld novels, so I can imagine them being faithful companions on a long, painful flight.’ She adds, ‘My vote is also with the Mr Gum series by Andy Stanton… but his books are so insanely fun you’d finish them all mid-flight.  The only solution is for Andy to write more in the series, haha. Are you listening Andy?’

As to her own current writing projects, Apeksha has several. She tells me, ‘One of my projects is a children’s novel that I started work on last March. It’s about a young girl, who doesn’t have many friends, and one day she escapes from her home only to find herself in a more dangerous world.’ She adds that, ‘to say the characters are ‘fantastic’ is saying the least.’ And I imagine this catching the attention of the editorial crew who worked with Apeksha on her Fusion story.

And her other projects? ‘I’m also working on a portfolio of poetry that deals with my current relationship with writing – the tugs and pulls we all feel. Well, the writing is going slow and steady. But one of the most exciting projects has been working as an assistant writer with Naomi Alsop for the Write On! Writing Squad (Polesworth) with Writing West Midlands. We help secondary students develop their writing. Erm, that’s a lot of current writing projects, right…’

It certainly is, and best of luck with them Apeksha. We look forward to seeing them completed.

If you’d like to learn more about Apeksha and her writing, including one her operas, check out her  blog post.

#justimagine Author Natalie Kleinman on Fusion and a great way to start September!

Introducing Natalie Kleinman whose story Beyond the Fringe appeared in Fusion. Natalie has been writing for about ten years and having now broken into the short story market, she’s concentrating her efforts on a novel. Natalie says, ‘I took up writing in the mistaken belief it would be a gentle pursuit. We live and learn. It didn't take long for it to become an intense passion.’

Natalie heard that her story was in the short shortlist for publication on the first day of September last year. As she says, ‘A great start to the month!’ She adds that she was not confident enough in her story to expect it to land in near the top of the list, but was ‘delighted’ when it did.

She was pleased to be published alongside established authors, saying, ‘A definite positive. How could it not be in such company?’

On the few changes suggested by the Fantastic Books Publishing editorial team, she says, ‘I appreciate any suggestion that helps improve my work.’

A question that stymied her was a recommendation for a compelling tale and not because she couldn’t think of any, quite the opposite. As she put it, ‘Where do I start?’

Reflecting on the idea of an alien scout reporting back on the Earth and its history, she says she would recommend the aliens to make contact with people on Earth. As she says, ‘Some things we do very well and some very badly. Assuming the alien race was benign I would hope their influence might mean the end of war and bring out the best in us. I have a strong belief in the human spirit and the basic goodness of mankind.’

And how is that first novel going? Natalie tells me that the first draft was finished by Christmas and that she had a pause over the festive period. She adds, ‘I’m now poised, red pencil in hand, ready to pull it apart and put it back together again. My new year’s resolution is to knuckle down to editing.’

Don’t delay, Natalie. We’re all looking forward to seeing the finished product.

#justimagine Author Joanna Vandenbring on Fusion and 50 shades of long haul coach trip

My next interviewee is author, Joanna Vandenbring, whose story, The Warrior Woman appears in Fusion.

Joanna is an EFL teacher in Italy where she has lived since she was twenty-one, although she teaches in the UK during the summer holidays. Joanna has seen her short stories and poems published in several European magazines in the 1980s and 1990s. Her academic area is History in which she has a PhD and she has published articles on guerrilla warfare. In her free time she walks with her dogs, reads books and listens to music.

On why she entered the short story competition, Joanna says, ‘The fact that it was a charity thing motivated me more than anything.’ She adds, ‘I was very surprised when I heard that my short story would be included in the anthology.’

Joanna might have been surprised, but I wasn’t. It’s a very powerful and well-written tale. Joanna was pleased that two professional writers were invited to contribute, saying she thought it would attract more people to the anthology.

Asked how she found the editorial process that all the shortlisted writers were invited to go through if they wanted their stories to be considered for publication, Joanna said, ‘It was very helpful that the editorial team sent over comments and suggestions to make my short story more readable.’ Echoing several other authors, she adds, ‘It has had a lasting effect.’

When I ask what Joanna would recommend as reading to ease the boredom of a long-haul flight, I discover that she’s about to set out on a 16 hour coach trip. ‘I'm going to bring Fifty Shades Darker with me.’

When I ask Joanna to step into the shoes of an alien space scout who has just discovered Earth and learned its history, her advice to her alien race is clear, ‘Oh no, I would never recommend anyone to contact the human race - once I had read about the way they treated the Native Americans I knew it was safer to stay away from them.’

What is Joanna doing now on the writing front? She tells me, ‘I enrolled on a Writers Digest University Course last autumn and I'm writing a romance novel for that course...It's hard work but my writing has definitely improved!’

Find out more about Joanna and her writing on her Facebook page.

#justimagine Author Peter Ford on Fusion, Hale-Bopp and advising authors to have a go!

This interview is with Peter Ford, whose story Golf Planet appeared in the Fusion Anthology. Peter is a retired teacher. He’s been reading and watching science fiction since 1947 and has previously been published in various poetry anthologies, specialist journals and local newspapers. Having loved the dry humour in Golf Planet I’m not surprised that local newspapers snap up Peter’s material.

What made Peter enter the Fantastic Books Publishing short story competition? He says, ‘I would have entered anyway, but the prospect of being published among an international group of science fiction/fantasy writers was appealing, as was the charitable aspect.’

I’m surprised to learn how little confidence Peter had of making it into the anthology. He tells me, ‘I thought my work had only a slim chance of being accepted.’

He was wrong there. With its very human story set on another world and with that understated current of humour, it always stood a good chance. What is Peter’s response to his success? ‘The message I would pass on to others is “Have a go!”’

Unsurprisingly, given his reasons for entering, Peter says, ‘I feel very positive about writing in the company of established and professional authors.’

And how was the editorial process? ‘The editorial team’s comments were fantastically helpful, searching yet positive, both for the story under consideration and for my writing in general.’

His idea of a compelling tale to whisk the long-haul traveller painlessly across thousands of miles is one of the new Inspector Frost series by James Henry. Peter says, ‘I find each of this series so far a great read that also helps me to focus on why I keep turning pages.’

When asked to become a space scout for an alien race who has discovered Earth and learnt its history, Peter’s message is brief and again reflects the dry humour that runs through his writing. ‘Yes. Earth may stay in the Federation. We are impressed.’

And what is Peter doing now in the writing context? He tells me, ‘My writing usually focuses on factual subjects using fictional and cinematic techniques. Current projects include a personal archive of the Sixties and a continuing review of a major UFO case of the Fifties.’

Peter does not have a writing presence on the web (yet) other than in Fusion, but his picture of Comet Hale-Bopp (1997) 

and his Second World War memoir, What did you do in the war, sir? (Brown Owl Publications 1995), are both sold in aid of local charities.

#justimagine Author Brad Greenwood on Fusion, films and the desire to write

Introducing Brad Greenwood, whose day job is in films and who writes speculative fiction in his spare time. Brad began work in the Australian film industry after graduating from the Queensland College of Art in 1990 and he has built an impressive CV, having contributed as a designer and artist to many projects including Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, George Miller’s Happy Feet and Zack Snyder’s Legend of the Guardians. He is currently art directing the animated film Blinky Bill.

Brad’s contribution to Fusion is the story The Monkey’s Kiss, a clever angle on one of sci-fi’s favourite themes. Brad’s film background shows through the structure and atmosphere of the tale. And look no further than his photo above for one source of inspiration.

When I ask how Brad felt to hear that his story would be published in the Fusion anthology, I am amazed to learn that this is the first short story contest he has entered. He tells me, ‘I was genuinely surprised when I made the short list, and received an email from Fantastic Books Publishing saying that my story would be included in the anthology.’

The quality of his writing shows he is no beginner, so what was it that made him enter this competition? I ask what was the greatest motivator: the cash prizes, the chance of publication, the charitable donation or maybe none of these things. Brad says, ‘I think those are all great incentives but it was really just the desire to write something and put it out there that motivated me to enter.’

On the topic of the anthology’s invited contributors, Danuta Reah and Stuart Aken. Brad says, ‘Danuta and Stuart are incredible writers. I’m not really sure that I should be published alongside them but I am thrilled to be!’

I’m happy to assure Brad that his success was well-deserved and that The Monkey’s Kiss deserved its place in amongst a set of excellent stories.

In common with all the shortlisted authors, Brad worked with the Fantastic Books Publishing editorial team to polish his story for publication. How did he find this process? He says, ‘What impressed me with the editorial feedback from Fantastic Books Publishing was how concise, intelligent and well articulated the notes were. The notes were incredibly helpful in delivering a better story.’

What would Brad recommend as a compelling read, the sort to make a long-haul flight whip by in a trice? He says, ‘Actually I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Blink’. It is non fiction but a compelling read.’

And now I ask Brad to put himself in the shoes of a space scout for an alien race. He has discovered Earth and learned its history. Will he tell his people to make contact? I find his answer one of the most perceptive I’ve had to this question. ‘Human beings at their best are compassionate, fun loving, creative and spiritually curious. At their worst they are self destructive, culturally intolerant and politically manipulative. I’d keep an eye on them and check back in a few hundred years!’

And of course I want to know what Brad is writing now, and I’m pleased to hear that the Fusion experience has inspired him to write more short stories. As to the current writing project, he says, ‘It’s going…but slowly.’

Don’t leave it too long, Brad. You have an army of fans out there now.

Find out more about Brad at his website