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Books every writer needs to read

Posted April 24, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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In the middle of the debate about whether one can actively teach writing, or whether it’s an autodidactic process gleaned from years of practice, reading and osmosis, I got to wondering about books writers read to help their writing.

Not necessarily the books about writing, per se, but rather the books we read for examples, and inspiration, and indefinable reasons that relate to putting us in the right mindset to sit down and write. And I imagine it’s different for everybody, there’s a set of books for each of us depending on need and demand. But at the same time, the reasons why we need these tokens of inspiration should be the same for all of us, we just exercise them differently.

Then I came across Flavorwire’s ‘25 Books Every Writer Should Read’, the latest in lists of these kind that seek to define truly where the wellspring of knowledge lies, by reducing it down to dot points. And normally these lists are all fine, in an instantly enjoyable and immediately disposable kind of way, but this one bothered me a bit. A lot, actually (as much as one can be bothered by a list).

I had read nothing on this list. Not one book. Several I hadn’t heard of. Was I deficient in some way? Would I never truly be a writer because Flavorwire determined I didn’t read the right books? Of course not, it’s just one person’s opinion. The oddity was in how divergent their opinion was to mine, when it comes to the source of inspiration.

So, here’s my list. The books I think every writer should read.

1. A book that is captivating from start to finish.

Bonus points if you read this in one night. But essentially, it’s a story that just hooks you from the first sentence, a story that keeps you churning through the pages yet hanging on every word, desperate to reach the end and know it all. Lately, for me, that was Floundering, by Romy Ash.

2. A book that is great with dialogue.

I hate writing dialogue, I find it difficult and I either underwrite it or overwrite it, and find it infinitely helpful to have good examples at hand. And for that I find Cormac McCarthy enormously helpful, if only because his dialogue works perfectly (for me) – it gives you the voice of the character, their rhythm and pitch, their humour and their emotion. And it does it so sparsely, that you never feel as if the dialogue is working too hard to get your attention, particularly in No Country for Old Men.

3. A book that is great with plot.

One that shows how to weave the threads of the narrative together, how to combine characters and scenes and elements of the plot and drop them into situations so plausible and natural that it’s impossible to see where the artifice ends and the naturally occurring lives of the characters take over.  I inevitably have a Stephen King book close by, but mostly I refer to IT, because it does everything, and is so enormous as a narrative that there are countless examples throughout.

4. A book that is a classic of the genre.

If only to know where you’ve come from, and what you’re working on top of. If we’re all dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants, it’s worth becoming familiar with the giants so that we can have a sure footing. Has to be Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

5. A book that is short and efficient.

Even if you don’t want to be when you’re writing, it helps to know how to do it. And when it’s necessary. Less is more and all that. And it’s not just about being obscure, but about using words to the maximum of their ability. For this I like Steven Amsterdam’s latest, What the Family Needed.

6. A book that is enormous and complex.

And if you want to attempt something that isn’t short and sparse, how do you do it without burdening the reader with too much plot? How do you write 600-plus pages and still make sense of the narrative on the page? In your head? And how do you tie it all together? I like big books and I cannot lie, but writing that much terrifies me. But I look to Umberto Eco, and Foucault’s Pendulum.

7. A book that is great with setting.

Particularly if the setting is crucial to the story (when isn’t it?), and you don’t want to feel like you’re artificially inserting description and location just to make the place a character in the story, and other clichés. I love writing about place, and how it works within a narrative, and there’s any number of books I draw on to help with this, but for now I’ll go with Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino.

8. A book that is great with characters.

Just to round it out, particularly for me who always worries that the characters I write aren’t interesting enough, or don’t translate from my head into someone else’s head the way I want them to, I always need to go and see how others do it. Easiest solution for me is to go read someone who has written more characters than I can imagine: Terry Pratchett and Night Watch.

9. A book.

Any book. Whatever book you like. The book you’re currently reading, because all writers should be readers. Or the book you’re terrified of because it’s so good and you’ll never write anything close to it, so you just sit it next to your computer, taunting you with its brilliance. Or the book with a great cover that you just love to look at because it reminds you of the story inside, and how that reminds you of the story you’re trying to write. It doesn’t matter. Just read books, and use them, they can only help your writing.

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Excerpt: Troll Mountain: Episode III by Matthew Reilly

Posted April 23, 2014 by Mark

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A dauntless young hero.

An army of brutal monsters.

An impossible quest 

Journey to the mountain …

Raf’s mission to Troll Mountain is in ruins. 

Having penetrated the mountain, only to be caught in the act of stealing the fabled elixir, Raf must now face the trolls’ champion in a fight to the death.

As the trolls gather to watch the fight, Raf watches them closely. If he can somehow survive this fight, his mission may not be over.

The final battle for Troll Mountain is about to begin. 

IN THIS, THE LAST OF THREE SERIALIZED EPISODES, MATTHEW REILLY TAKES YOU ON HIS WILDEST RIDE YET: A HEADLONG QUEST TO THE DARK HEART OF THE KINGDOM OF THE TROLLS.

 

The trolls poured up and out of the lone tunnel that granted access to the Winter Throne Hall, fanning out as they did so, rushing eagerly to the eastern side of the great open space so as to get the best view of the Fighting Platform.

Storm clouds rumbled overhead. Rain was coming.

The king and his entourage mounted the winter throne while Raf and Grondo marched across the open-air hall, through the ranks of trolls, to a plank-bridge leading to the Fighting Platform.

As Raf strode past all the trolls, they mocked him, spat at him, declared their eagerness to see his blood.

But then, fleetingly, Raf noticed two things: first, he snatched a glimpse of one of Ko’s distinctive little green barrels over by the north-western column. And second, he saw Düm.

The gentle troll was lingering at the very back of the crowd of trolls, over by the single entrance cut into the floor of the Winter Throne Hall, unnoticed by any of the others.

Before he could see any more of Düm, Raf was shoved across the plank-bridge onto the Fighting Platform. Grondo followed behind him.

The two hobgoblin jesters were already on the wooden stage, pantomiming a death match. One stabbed the other with an imaginary sword and the second one fell, clutching his chest in mock agony. The two jesters scampered off the platform as Raf and Grondo stepped onto it.

The plank was removed and Raf suddenly found himself standing alone with the troll champion out on the round wooden stage, high above the eastern slope of the mountain. The stage was perfectly circular, perhaps twenty feet across, and made of thick wooden planks.

By the gods, Raf thought, now he really hoped he had interpreted Ko correctly.

The sight of the barrel made him think that perhaps he had, but then again, he might have gotten it all terribly, terribly wrong—

“Choose your weapons!” a troll who appeared to be some kind of referee called.

“My war hammer!” called Grondo.

The crowd cheered.

“And you, thief? Choose your weapon, for what it will be worth!”

The trolls laughed.

Raf thought for a moment. “My axe.”

A massive hammer was thrown onto the platform. A troll was sent below to the cell area where Raf’s axe had been sequestered.

As he waited for its delivery, Raf’s eyes scanned the Fighting Platform desperately. He was sure Ko had been directing him to challenge the king, knowing that such a challenge could not be refused, and thus bring himself here—although perhaps Ko hadn’t known about the king’s special privilege. And Raf had seen the barrel up here and Düm …

But why? What was Ko’s plan? The Fighting Platform was completely bare. There was absolutely nothing here that Raf could use.

He looked up and saw that, owing to the way the platform extended out from the Winter Throne Hall, he could see the crenellated battlement ringing the summit of Troll Mountain, complete with its troll-added horns.

If he could fling a rope over those horns, he supposed, his current position offered a viable route up to the Supreme Watchtower, but such a throw was well beyond his range and right now, with the imposing figure of Grondo looming before him, finding a rope and throwing it was the last thing he could do.

At that moment, Raf’s axe was tossed onto the Fighting Platform and the scene was set.

The massed trolls leaned forward, leering, salivating. The Troll King grinned nastily. His son, Turv, did the same; his wedding day would be remembered for a long, long time.

Raf’s heart sank.

He’d clearly got Ko’s plan wrong, and now he would have to face the trolls’ best fighter in mortal combat.

Grondo towered over him, impossibly huge, his tusks rising from hairy tufts on his jaws, one of his great gray fists gripping his enormous hammer.

Raf just stood there, puny and thin, holding his home-made double-bladed axe. The axe hardly looked capable of nicking Grondo’s thick hide.

Then it started raining. Thick pelting drops. The trolls didn’t even notice. Rain didn’t bother trolls.

“We don’t have to do this, you know,” Raf said to the champion. “We don’t have to fight.”

Grondo smirked. “Fool. You do not realize. This fight has already begun.”

*

Grondo lunged.

Raf dived. And the hammer came down on the stage with a resounding boom. So powerful was the blow, splinters flew up from the slats.

Grondo swung again, chasing after Raf, but Raf dived clear again.

Boom, boom, boom!

Duck, roll, dive.

The rain kept pouring. Lightning flashed.

The crowd cheered at every swing.

*

As the trolls roared at the action on the Fighting Platform, at the very back of the crowd, Düm came alongside the she-troll, Graia.

“Graia,” he whispered. “If you want to leave Troll Mountain forever, come with me now.”

Without a word, Graia took Düm’s hand and followed him down the stairs, away from the Winter Throne Hall.

A short way down, in a tight bottleneck of a tunnel, with the echoes of the crowd far above them, Düm did a strange thing: he closed the thick stone door—the only point of entry or exit to the Winter Throne Hall—and then he reinforced it with a pair of heavy stone sleds parked nearby.

Almost the whole troll community was up on the winter hall watching the fight … and he had just trapped them all up there.

*

Somehow, Raf was still alive, dodging and evading Grondo’s mighty swipes, slipping and sliding in the rain.

The rain didn’t help Grondo’s footwork and at one point, Raf managed to run under one of the big troll’s lusty blows and swing at him with his little lightweight axe—and he drew blood from the troll!

The axe cut Grondo’s skin under the armpit, in one of the few places where a troll’s skin was soft and sensitive.

Grondo froze.

The crowd gasped.

The big champion touched the nick, and saw his own blood on his fingertip. He glared balefully at Raf.

He wasn’t hurt. He was angry.

Grondo roared, a great bellow, and, raising his hammer above his head, came charging at Raf.

Hammer blows rained down around the darting figure of Raf and had any single one of them hit, he would have been knocked senseless and done for.

Grondo’s charge was fast and furious and relentless and it afforded Raf no chance of reply. Indeed, it took all his nimbleness to evade the flurry of blows—until suddenly, Grondo anticipated one of his moves and trapped him at the edge of the stage.

Grondo had him.

Raf had nowhere to go. He stood there exposed, soaked by the rain and lit by the lightning storm.

The big troll swung the final blow of this match and Raf went flailing off the edge of the platform.

 

Troll Mountain: Episode III is available now for $1.99 where all good ebooks are sold

 

 

 

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Excerpt: Troll Mountain: Episode II by Matthew Reilly

Posted April 17, 2014 by Mark

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A dauntless young hero.

An army of brutal monsters.

An impossible quest.

 

Journey to the mountain … 

The only unguarded entrance to Troll Mountain is the abandoned kingdom of the hobgoblins. 

With no other route available to them, Raf and his newfound friends, Ko and Düm, enter the dark, dank world of the hobgoblins. 

But is it truly abandoned?

IN THIS, THE SECOND OF THREE SERIALIZED EPISODES, MATTHEW REILLY TAKES YOU ON HIS WILDEST RIDE YET: A HEADLONG QUEST TO THE DARK HEART OF THE KINGDOM OF THE TROLLS.

Chapter 10

The realm of the hobgoblins was a dank collection of dark tunnels and immense stone caves, all cut out of the living rock. Exposed sections of a strange rust-colored stone could be seen in its walls. These sections were framed by long-abandoned scaffolds and ladders.

“What is this strange stone?” Raf asked, touching it.

Ko said, “This ‘kingdom,’ it would appear, was actually once a mine. Similar mines were common in my homeland, for that substance you see is raw iron which, when smelted in a furnace, can be used to make very effective weapons.”

“I have heard tales of an ancient tribe of men who lived in these lands,” Raf said. “They were clever men, and they wore shiny armor and bronze helmets with red plumes. But they left when their home city, across the sea to the south, was attacked, and they never returned.”

A short way down the first tunnel, Raf’s group came to a broad pit in the floor, spanning the entire width of the passageway. At the base of the pit were a dozen upwardly pointed wooden spikes. In among the spikes, Raf saw the remains of a troll, skewered by no fewer than five of the deadly stakes.

The troll, he noticed, was not very decomposed. “That corpse hasn’t been here long,” he said.

“A rogue troll seeking shelter, I would guess,” Ko said.

“It must have entered from the other side,” Raf said, “for the spider web sealing our entrance was undisturbed.”

Düm just nodded in agreement, saying nothing.

Two small stepping stones protruded from the right-hand wall of the pit: the only way across.

Raf and Ko skipped easily across the stepping stones, but Düm needed the help of a rope to get across. It was a simple but effective trap to stop a troll from entering the cave system.

They passed through two massive mine-caves, each connected by long straight tunnels that contained other traps. Grim hobgoblin decorations flanked the walls: more troll skulls, and some bear and wolf skulls.

In the first of those caves, Düm found a large wooden sledgehammer near some other mining tools. For a human, it was a large thing, to be wielded with both hands in a slinging over-the-shoulder motion, but Düm held it lightly in one hand.

Flanking the entrance to the next tunnel were the rotting corpses of not one but two trolls: they were both affixed to the wall with their heads sagging and their arms spread wide, their giant hands nailed to the stone wall.

Raf stared up at the dead trolls in disgust.

Düm just averted his gaze.

“Hobgoblins did this?” Raf gasped.

“Yes,” Ko said softly.

They passed between the two hideously displayed trolls, entering the narrow stone tunnel beyond them.

“Why would the hobgoblins leave this place?” Raf asked. “It gives ample shelter and good defense against the trolls.”

Ko said, “Hobgoblins are most unpleasant creatures, not just because of their cunning but because they only consume. They do not build anything. They do not domesticate animals or plants. They do not renew. Hobgoblins live in places built by others and they simply consume what is available for as long as it is available. Then they move on to another place and slowly destroy it. Hobgoblins cannot see beyond the needs of the present moment. They stayed here for as long as it sustained them and then moved on.”

“Are trolls any different?”

“Oh, trolls are much smarter,” Ko said. “Why, this is the cause of your current dilemma. The trolls deduced that they needed to secure their food and water supply for the future. They did this by damming the river and essentially enslaving the human tribes downstream. They give you just enough water to survive and you give them food. This enforced tribute feeds the trolls with minimal labor on their part. In this regard, the troll is much smarter than the hobgoblin.”

They edged further down the tunnel.

“What exactly is a hobgoblin?” Raf asked.

Ko shrugged. “Hobgoblins are smaller than men, but they speak like men. They have hands and feet just like ours but their skin is coarser, leathery, more bristled. If they were not once men then maybe they were once apes—it is as if they are an animal caught halfway between the two, for they share features of both.”

As Ko said this, Raf realized that the tunnel through which they were walking was becoming oddly warm and humid.

They came to a doorway and stepped out into an enormous cavern.

Raf stopped at the sight that met him.

A broad lake of steaming water filled the floor of the mighty space. Raf had seen thermal springs before, but not an entire subterranean lake.

A low wooden bridge spanned the hot lake, giving access to a most unusual feature that dominated the far wall of the massive cavern: a railless stone path cut into the rock wall itself. It switched back and forth up the three-hundred-foot wall, steadily ascending. Any slip or stumble would result in a fall into the steaming pool at its base. Bored into the huge rock wall from the path were many man-sized mini-tunnels.

At two places up the path’s length there were ancient guardhouses with drawbridges folding down from them that spanned gaps in the vertiginous walkway. At the moment, the lower of the two drawbridges was folded down and open, while the upper one was folded up, barring passage across its void.

At the very top of the path, Raf saw an imposing stone doorway like the one through which they had entered the old mine: the exit.

Raf stared up in awe at the incredible feat of engineering.

Beside him, Ko wasn’t looking at it at all. He was peering at something on the ground nearby. He dropped to his knees to inspect it. “Oh, dear, this is not good.”

Düm saw what Ko was examining and sniffed with distaste. “Droppings…”

“These are mountain wolf droppings,” Ko said. “And they are fresh.” He drew his sword with a sharp zing.

“Mountain wolves…” Raf said. He was already gripping his flint knife.

Düm hefted his sledgehammer.

Ko said, “Something did move in after the hobgoblins abandoned this place…”

A sudden cackle of laughter echoed out from the upper reaches of the cave.

Raf spun.

Düm turned.

“I seeeeeee you!” a thin reedy voice called from the darkness.

“I see you, too!” another voice called from another direction.

“I see you three!” a third voice called.

Raf spun again, eyes scanning the cavern, but he saw nothing, no movement.

“You shouldn’t have come here,” a lower voice said from somewhere much closer. “Because now you must die.”

Raf’s heart was pounding as he turned once more to face the tunnel through which they had come and abruptly found himself staring into the eyes of a hobgoblin holding a sword.

The sword came rushing at Raf’s face.

 

Troll Mountain: Episode II is available now for $1.99 where all good ebooks are sold

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Excerpt – Troll Mountain: Episode I by Matthew Reilly

Posted April 7, 2014 by Mark

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A dauntless young hero.

An army of brutal monsters.

An impossible quest.

 

Journey to the mountain …

In an isolated valley, a small tribe of humans is dying from a terrible illness.

There are rumors, however, that the trolls of Troll Mountain, the valley’s fearsome overlords, have found a cure for the illness: a fabulous elixir.

When his sister is struck down by the disease and his tribal leaders refuse to help him, an intrepid youth named Raf decides to defy his tribe and do the unthinkable: he will journey alone to Troll Mountain and steal the elixir from the dreaded trolls.

But to get to Troll Mountain, Raf will have to pass through dangerous swamps and haunting forests filled with wolves, hobgoblins and, worst of all, the ever-present danger of rogue trolls …

The journey to the mountain has begun.

IN THIS, THE FIRST OF THREE SERIALIZED EPISODES, MATTHEW REILLY TAKES YOU ON HIS WILDEST RIDE YET: A HEADLONG QUEST TO THE DARK HEART OF THE KINGDOM OF THE TROLLS.

 

Later that evening, long after the last fires in the camp had winked out, by the light of the full moon, Raf slipped away from the small collection of shanties that formed the village of the Northmen.

As he crested one of the higher hills, he looked behind him and saw a glow on the distant southern horizon, far beyond his village: the settlement of the Southmen tribe.

For many generations the Northmen had fought with the Southmen, but few remembered what had actually caused the rivalry. Perhaps it was their base physical differences: the Northmen were fair of skin and hair, while the Southmen had a darker complexion, with long beards, hairy forearms, and bushy eyebrows.

As a child, Raf had been instructed to raise the alarm should he ever see a Southman anywhere near their lands. Sure, Southmen did not steal children in the night, but they were scum, untrustworthy dogs who would steal your crops the moment you turned your back.

It was similar with hobgoblins. Smaller than a man but more cunning and sly, a lone hobgoblin could slip into your hut in the night and steal all of your allocated food from beside your bed. Acting alone, a hobgoblin was a troublesome thief and while its cackling in the night might give a child nightmares, on its own a hobgoblin was of little danger to a human—it would be quick to flight. Larger groups of hobgoblins, however, could be lethal: if a gang of them caught a man and pinned him down, they would eat his flesh while he was still alive. Hobgoblins did not build or make anything. They lived in caves in the mountains or in abandoned places built by others.

Trolls, however, were another matter entirely.

They did steal children in the night.

And even a single troll was deadly.

Any news of a rogue troll in the valley triggered great fear and panic. Fires would be lit and a night watch instigated if a rogue troll was known to be about.

If Raf ever saw a troll he’d been told to run away as fast as he could.

*

The trolls lived to the north of the river valley amid some forbidding mountains that, by an accident of geography, sealed off the peninsula on which the valley tribes lived.

The Black Mountains, they were called.

The mountains dominated the landscape, jagged, dark and tall, and always within sight of the valley: a constant reminder to the Northmen, the Southmen and the other minor tribes of the strange foreign culture that held ruthless sway over their lives.

For it was within those mountains that the trolls had blocked the river that flowed into the valley. And by controlling the flow of water to the peoples of the valley, the trolls exacted tribute from them: food and, occasionally, human sacrifices.

Apart from the trolls, the Black Mountains held within them other dangers: isolated clans of hobgoblins and roving packs of mountain wolves.

Between the river valley and those fearful mountains was a ribbon of barren land known as the Badlands.

Once, it had been a healthy forest fed by the same river that continued on into the valley, but now the Badlands was little more than a stinking waste of swamps, marshes, and bracken. It was a dead land that conveniently separated the creatures of the mountains and the humans in the valley.

Dawn came as Raf crested the northernmost hill of the river valley and beheld the Black Mountains and the Badlands. A chill wind rushed down from the mountains, bitingly cold.

A tribal elder had once told Raf that the trolls liked the cold, needed it, that they couldn’t survive in warmer climes—which was why they stayed in the mountains and sourced tribute from the human tribes.

For a long moment Raf stood on the summit of that last hill, caught between two worlds: the familiar world of his valley and the unknown world before him.

Sure, he had practiced with his weapons at the edge of the Badlands, but he had never dared to venture any kind of substantial distance into them.

But today is different, he thought. Today I must.

He looked behind him and beheld his own valley again, with the scar of the dead river running down its length, and for a moment he doubted his mission and considered going back—

No. He was going to do this.

He was going to do this for his sister.

And so, with a deep breath, Raf turned toward the Badlands and stepped out of his old world.

 

TROLL MOUNTAIN is a serialised ebook from bestselling author Matthew Reilly. Episode I is available on April 8 where all good ebooks are sold. 

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What is the point of reading scary stories?

Posted April 3, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Why write horror stories?

Why write something that is designed to induce fear? Designed to scare? Designed to shock and upset and haunt and terrify?

And why indeed do we read these stories? Why do we watch them?

It is a strange thing for me to find it the genre that I have settled into, that I have found comfort in, both as a reader and a writer. It’s certainly not through education, or carefully guided study. I basically fell into it by accident, having not really thought much of the genre or the writers within it.

Recently, Neil Gaiman spoke at BIL 2014 (a kind of anti-TED talk conference; BIL & TED, geddit?) and he discussed why he tells scary stories to children. Gaiman describes his reason as ‘inoculation’, a way of acclimatising readers to the difficulties and challenges in life.

Gaiman says that his fiction stories are ways of getting ‘to deal a little bit with the things that scare and hurt and damage us.’ He goes on to describe how he signs countless copies of Coraline to now-adult aged readers, and how that has enabled a conversation with his readers about how they have dealt with horrible things in their lives, and that the book became a comfort for them. The story, which deals with a young girl’s misadventures in a parallel world with parallel parents who attempt to sew black buttons over her eyes, is aimed at a younger audience, and is extremely dark, Gaiman clearly labelling it as a horror story for children.

For Gaiman, the horror story offers possibility, and hope, but not in the usual way. It talks to the reader, without talking down to them. It doesn’t try to hide, but instead reveals uncomfortable truths, truths that the reader is afraid to deal with. And the inoculation he speaks of is the fact that the reader knows they can get through it. They can get through the difficulties. If the horrific aspects of life are depicted in a story, then they’re manageable, they’re navigable.

Even if the characters of a horror story succumb to the terrors that lurk, even if the ending is a negative one, the reader still survives. They are the witness to the horror, the friendly ghost that accompanies the characters into the haunted house, and are able to walk back out again.

Terry Pratchett, who wrote the glorious end-of-the-world novel Good Omens with Gaiman, acknowledges this process between the horrified and the horror in his book Hogfather. The book itself is part of his Discworld series, which is primarily a fantasy-themed series, but in this particular story Pratchett deals instead with the fantastical things children believe, and what their terrifying reality is. In Hogfather, there really are monsters under the bed and in the cupboard, the Tooth Fairy travels with pliers, and the bogeyman actually exists, though he is upset as nobody believes in him anymore.

Pratchett has his characters confront the terrifying make-believe, often with improvised tools like fireplace pokers, and contrasts his heroic characters who can make sense of their fears with those who succumb to them and give in to the terror.

In the dedication at the beginning of his enormous horror novel, IT, Stephen King writes to his three children, then aged fourteen, twelve and seven.

‘Kids, fiction is the truth inside the lie, and the truth of this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists.’

The novel itself deals with a group of children who are confronted by unspeakable horror during one summer. Two decades later they reunite as adults to not only remember what had happened, but also to finally confront and defeat the horror in their lives. It’s a powerful structure, and one that acknowledges how horror works for readers.

As children, we are afraid easily. We scare at the coat on the back of the door, the noise from the floorboards, the cellar with the broken light. As children, so much of the world is unknown, undiscovered, and strange and unusual. We scare because our imagination overruns our knowledge. Our conscious gives way to the unconscious, and terror reigns. We are scared because we don’t know any better.

As we age, so our knowledge grows. Things stop mystifying us, we reason our way out of our fears. We know that the shape is just a coat, the noise is just the house cooling after the warm day, and the cellar is dusty and dank because we haven’t cleaned it this year. We think too much, and imagine too little.

It pains me that horror can be maligned as a genre, or misjudged as ghastly and disturbing preoccupations of writers and readers. For me, a horror story works when it tricks the reader, it fools them into believing something they know cannot be true. A horror story does something I think no other genre can do, by not just utilising your imagination, but letting it loose and allowing you to see the world as more than the sum of its parts.

One of Edgar Allen Poe’s greatest short stories, The Curious Case of M.Valdemar, managed to create a scene for readers where a person was both alive and dead at the same time, terrifying and fascinating us all at once, by using words to extend the reality of the known world.

A great horror story is about believing, and in this belief we can confront more than we can in our waking lives.

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We really need to stop arguing about books vs. television

Posted March 27, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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In a recent article published in the New York Times, authors Mohsin Hamid and Adam Kirsch were asked if the new ‘golden age’ of TV shows were becoming the new novels of the 21st century. Both answered in depth, providing clarifications on either form and how they see them working as mediums and as vehicles for narrative. Interestingly, neither actually answered the question with a yes.

Not to stop there, a follow up in the Houston Chronicle by Maggie Galehouse – reprinted by Fairfax in the weekend papers across Australia – decided to take this manufactured argument and run with it, as a means of laying a boot into TV shows and audiences. Clearly books are better than TV, to Galehouse, so let’s all sit around and pat ourselves on the back for our ability to read.

In her article ‘The Book Is Mightier Than The Box’, due credit is given to shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men and True Detective, mainly for their ‘complexity’, and their ability to maintain an audience over several years. Galehouse continues comparing what she watches against favourite books, and admits that while she’s happy to commit time to watching the odd TV show here and there, she’d much rather read, making special mention of Middlemarch and Russian classics. The reader is left with Galehouse’s claim that she has yet to be floored by a film or TV show as she has been by a book, and uses her experience of reading As I Lay Dying as a prime example of the superior experience of reading.

Let’s put a stop to this ridiculousness now.

As Kirsch says, ‘to liken TV shows to novels suggests an odd ambivalence to both genres.’ If we continue to compare TV shows with books, or suggest that – much like films were rumoured to do in the 20th century – television will kill off reading, is facile. To do so is to suggest that audiences, readers, people, can only take their stories in one particular way. And that a story is a universal thing that needs a perfect-fit vehicle to deliver it to the audience.

It is impossible to declare Breaking Bad will render Harry Potter obsolete, and I can’t think of anyone who would promote the argument. There is no debate here, except among the grumbling few, among the cantankerous receivers, who feel the need to rank and rate and decry that the book is dead, the pen is mightier than the sword, the idiot box reigns supreme and we are all slaves to the latest thing.

In pitting books against TV, Galehouse and others are doing a disservice to creativity. The commonality between the two – story – is irrelevant. It would be like suggesting that cakes will kill off omelettes because they both use eggs as an ingredient. Nobody’s competing here. TV executives are not plotting grand schemes to overthrow the bestseller list, just as authors aren’t crying over  lost readers due to boxset binging.

The parallel existence of The Walking Dead comics and TV series are evidence of our ability to maintain two distinct narratives in our heads in two distinct mediums. Increasingly, Game of Thrones is doing the same. Both the film and original book of The Shining is just as appropriate, both being classical forms of their genres and mediums, but wholly different stories and experiences. There is no competition.

We’re all in this together. Books, films, TV, everything creative. Everything that tells a story. These are aspects of humanity that we have all craved, we have all created, we have all experienced for as long as humanity has existed. I’m sure our Stone Age ancestors didn’t sit around and debate whether cave painting was better than the latest fireside singalong.

Currently, when we are busy trying to hold on to every bookstore, trying to save every arts prize from obsolescence, and trying to find enough relevance for local content on our TV screens, it makes no sense to pit the creatives against one another. Creativity needs to exist within our culture, our society, not fight for the scraps of attention it is afforded through meagre funding, political threats and cultural warfare.

The most galling thing about Galehouse’s article isn’t the manufactured argument, or the inanity of comparing Dostoyevsky to Mad Men, it’s that this is a shipped-in reprint. Could we not find a local writer to make up ridiculous things? Could we not, perhaps, find a local writer to comment on the hesitation and occasional reluctance of Australia to accept local stories when we are drowning in American, British and even Scandinavian imports?

Could we not find anything meaningful to say about the relevance and importance of all stories, all creativity in a country that regularly battles to see art as anything but a waste of time and money?

We need stories. We need books and films and TV shows. We need our creative expressions to be shared and enjoyed and argued and forgotten and then found again. We need them in all shapes and sizes, in all mediums and genres and styles and fashions. Creativity should be the ultimate democracy, a mirror that shows us how all voices can sound in their infinite ways, as an act of humanity talking to each other, and to itself.

 

 

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These upcoming book-to-film adaptations should be TV series

Posted March 18, 2014 by Mark

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The Forever War

Optioned many years ago by Ridley Scott, this is one of the best science fiction novels ever written. Humans and aliens engage in a war that, due to the time dilation that occurs when travelling close to the speed of light, takes centuries to fight. The soldiers are increasingly removed from the society they’re fighting for as massive technological and social changes sweep away everything they know.

Why should it be a TV series? The story literally takes centuries to tell. It would be like a more realistic version of Battlestar Galactica or a better version of Space: Above and Beyond. There’s room to explore the complex relationships that develop between the soldiers and the pain of those bonds breaking when re-assignment means your friends will be centuries away.

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The Passage

Optioned by, of course, Ridley Scott, The Passage is a post-apocalyptic quest novel set in a world where a plague has turned most of the population of the United States into vampiric zombies. The original twelve infected patients hold a psychic influence over those who were infected via their actions, and a group of survivors decides to seek them out with the help of a seemingly immortal child.

Why should it be a TV series? It’s a massive novel that is just the first part of a trilogy that’s due to be completed at the end of this year, The Passage is a huge work, with many characters, sub-plots and backstory, with multiple narrative arcs that take place in different locations and different periods of time.

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Wool

Ridley Scott *also* bought the rights to Wool, another post-apocalyptic epic from self-publishing sensation Hugh Howey. After an environmental catastrophe, a handful of survivors live in underground silos, awaiting the day when the surface is safe once again. Wool takes place several generations after the catastrophe, where the inhabitants of the silo aren’t exactly sure what happened or what they’re waiting for, and are struggling against an oppressive regime that operates out of the silo’s IT department.

Why should it be a TV series? Wool is actually the middle story in a trilogy, with a prequel, Shift, and a sequel, Dust. There’s a lot of world-building that goes into making the silo societies seem believable and there are many supporting characters and groups that could stand to be explored in more depth in a series.

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The Girl Who Played With Fire/The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

After the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo underperformed at the box office, the two sequels were put in limbo. The first one made enough that these films are still in development, but not enough to fast track them. The shame is that while the successful Swedish adaptations did a great job with the first film, the sequels left a lot to be desired.

Why should they be a TV series? The original Swedish films were intended for release as TV seasons, and after seeing True Detective, it’s clear that a 6-8 episode run for each of these stories could yield some spectacular results. With more and more film actors turning to TV, it’s not even that unrealistic to imagine Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig reprising their roles from the film.

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Ready Player One 

This is a brilliant novel that takes 80s nostalgia and creates a thrilling and riveting narrative. In the not-too distant future, most people spend their time in the OASIS, a virtual reality system developed by an enigmatic billionaire. When the billionaire dies, a contest begins. Whoever can decipher the clues and defeat the challenges hidden in the OASIS will win control of it. It’s a race against the clock for a loose fellowship of individual players to defeat a highly organised and ruthless corporation that wants to win control and remake the OASIS as they see fit.

Why should it be a TV series? Again, there’s a lot of world building that needs to be done, and the references to 1980s popular culture are so dense that they’d probably need a little more room to breathe in a filmed adaptation. The episodic nature of the events as they unfold would also lend it towards a longer adaptation.

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Robopocalypse

This novel about the survivors of a robot uprising is currently on Steven Spielberg’s to-do list. Robopocalypse is the World War Z of robot novels, a history of the individuals who made it, many of them from different parts of the world, facing very different threats. There are some spectacular set pieces, and some very cool stories.

Why should it be a TV series? The fact that the narrative is episodic, with each part about different characters in different locations, means that it would hang together better. And there’s room for even more stories to be told in this world,  as all the varieties of robot could be explored in-depth.

 

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How Not To Write A Novel

Posted March 17, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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After looking back last week at the tools and teaching on writing that I received at university, I was struck at how much of the following years has been a process of undoing. Having to spend the good part of a decade taking an autodidactic approach to writing is not necessarily unusual, but an approach that in hindsight would have been better served by better education.

Too much time was spent ignoring or resisting natural inclinations because they had been ingrained in to me that there was a particular way to write, a particular voice and quality to the words and the story, and that every effort I made was measured against this standard. So, in the spirit of offering hope and guidance, here’s the way I don’t approach writing anymore.

Disclaimer: I am guilty of all of these.

1. Pretend to be a different writer

This is crucial. As mentioned, we often spend too long trying to write ‘good’ writing. And we measure that against notions of what is ‘good’, as promoted by critical acclaim, reviews, sales and – of course – by those we learn from.

By trying to be what somebody else thinks is good is case of putting the cart before the horse. We end up trying to emulate a particular style or story that has already worked, and ignore impulses to deviate. What we’re doing is ignoring ourselves.

Read a lot, and write a lot. If you find out what you like to read, chances are they’re the type of stories you like. Chances are, they’re the kind of stories you might like to tell. Follow your impulses.

2. Finish before starting

This can manifest itself in two ways. Firstly, by excessively planning. Planning and planning and planning. It’s the ultimate procrastination, because it feels like work, and it feels like writing. But at some point it becomes overblown, and overdone, and there’s nothing left to write anymore. There are ten thousand ways to write a story, and over-planning can leave you trying all of them before actually making a start.

Secondly, explaining everything about your story to everyone else. This happens when the enthusiasm for the planned story is so great that we just have to tell someone. Everyone. And then we lose it, because all the energy and excitement goes into the telling, and it never seems as great when we start to put it on the page.

3. The art of reorganising a desk

In other words, deprioritising the writing. Everything else is irrelevant, unless we’re writing. But somehow we find a way to make up every available excuse to prevent us actually starting, because that it the most terrifying thing in this whole process.

We become irresponsible school kids, explaining that the reason why we haven’t started the novel yet is because the dog ate the desk, and now you need a new one from Ikea, but that’ll take a while to put together because Allen keys are frustrating things, and there was a piece missing, and now you’re not sure if that’s the room you want the desk in anyway, perhaps a minimalist aesthetic would increase the clarity of your writing, and guess what? Not a word was written. Not one.

4. Edit first, write later

What we do when we finally start the damn novel, is write a great first chapter, but then start to edit it. Because it could be better. It can always be better.

And guess what? We end up rewriting that forever, for all eternity, because in editing it we’re not just calling into question our writing choices in that chapter, but all the choices we were going to make about the entire novel. We’re chopping trees down when they’re still saplings.

6. Frontloading

But say we start to write, and we write that first chapter and we resist editing because we’re good writers. Easy, right?

Nope. What we’ve ended up doing is putting every great idea we ever had into the first chapter, as if we’re trying to write The Bible, Das Kapital, Ulysses and A Brief History of Time all at once. But I get why we do this. We’re so enthralled at our ability to finally put words down on a page, we become worried we won’t get to do this again. So we put everything in.

The solution is: write more. This one thing that we’re writing is not the only thing we write, so long as we keep writing. There’ll be more time later to explain the universe.

7. Lie

By this I mean: we lie about the word count, about our progress to our friends/spouses/waiters/strange men at the train station. We lie about how great it is, how bad it is, how we’re nearly finished, we’re just tinkering, about what kind of story it is, what kind of story it isn’t, and when it’s going to be done.

This isn’t complex psychology. We’re lying to ourselves. And we need to stop it. Because it means we’re lying on the page, and we need to write truthfully.

8. Do anything but write the damn novel

So we stop pretending, we stop with the distractions and the procrastinating, we stop questioning ourselves as we go, and we start actually writing the book. Because that’s the only thing that will work.

There are a million ways to not write a novel, there’s only one way to write it.

 

 

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Excerpt: Kill Zone by Harry Ledowsky

Posted March 13, 2014 by Mark

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A nuclear device the size of a briefcase has been developed in Pakistan. The scientist  responsible has disappeared with it. The CIA believes the target is on US soil.
When the disappearance of the miniaturized nuclear weapon is uncovered a covert division of the CIA sends Ryan Nash, a major in the 82nd Airborne, to Pakistan. His mission is simple: assassinate the rogue physicist before the drop-off to a fundamentalist Islamic cleric can occur in the North-West Frontier Province.
But the mission is not as simple as it seems.
The CIA’s budget is being slashed in the wake of the disastrous war in Iraq, and the covert division is being shut down. The deputy director of the CIA, Conrad Lawrence, wants to stop the mission, and is willing to go to any lengths to achieve maximum deniability.
Will the team be able to stop the weapon getting to the United States? How far is Lawrence willing to go to stop the mission? Is the target really what it seems? Nash and his team must race against the clock to stop the terrorists and uncover the corruption at the heart of the CIA in this high-voltage military thriller…

 

“ETA three minutes,” said the Blackhawk pilot through the microphone.

All eleven men from the 82nd Airborne Division began to systematically check their gear, weaponry, and ammunition. The M4 carbines, with their attached M203 grenade launchers, were readied. The night-vision goggles attached to their helmets were pushed out of the way and their flak jackets, designed to protect them from shrapnel and light arms fire, adjusted and pulled tight. It was a ritual they’d performed dozens of times before. Rations wouldn’t be needed this time; it was going to be a short operation.

Major Ryan Nash checked the lipstick camera attached to his Kevlar helmet. This would send live pictures of the mission via satellite to their command post in Jalalabad.

He and his men were on their way to recover the last of the five Navy SEALs killed in Kunar. The bodies of the other four had been recovered before the initial rescue mission had to be aborted. Earlier a helicopter that was attempting to recover the body came under heavy Taliban fire from a strongly fortified cave high above the dried riverbed, where the body of this SEAL still lay, and was forced to abandon the rescue. Nash was determined that this wasn’t going to happen again.

The fallen SEAL was coming home.

The Blackhawk roared just ten feet above the barren terrain as it raced toward their target. Banking to starboard, it dropped to just above the sandy surface of the riverbed’s winding path and charged along it. Suddenly the Blackhawk turned a bend in the river and came to a hover, hanging in space like a huge insect. From its doorway an M60 air-cooled fifty-caliber machine gun exploded angrily to life.

One of the aircrew rained five hundred and fifty shots per minute of hot lead onto the granite clifftop and the heavily fortified cave only three hundred meters away. The empty cartridge cases and links spewed into the canvas ejection-control bag to stop them being flung into the path of the rotor blades or turbine-engine intake.

As the Taliban ran for cover near the cave’s mouth, pieces of rock, shrapnel, and dirt exploded like bombs all around them.

Just below the Blackhawk and several meters ahead of it the body of the Navy SEAL could be seen wedged between some boulders on the edge of the riverbank. Clouds of dust, as fine as talcum powder, swirled about as the helicopter dropped from the sky and bounced on the uneven terrain on the edge of the riverbed. The doors rumbled open.

“Go! Go! Go!” Nash screamed as he leaped from the doorway, followed by seven of his men. As they clambered across the rocks, the fine dust and sand blew over them, covering them in a deathly red mask.

“Rodriguez! Johnson! Recover the body,” Nash barked.

The two men hurried toward the fallen SEAL.

Suddenly the persistent and unique sound of AK-47s cut through the air, biting into the earth and ricocheting off the rocks around them, followed by the unyielding fire from a heavy machine gun.

The Blackhawk leaped back into the sky to avoid the relentless fire from the mouth of the cave, retreating a few hundred meters further and firing brutally toward the cave and its militia.

“Get some cover, over there!” roared Nash as he and the rest of his men raced over a landscape that was totally devoid of grass, trees, or vegetation of any kind. The rocks and pebbles, as hard as iron and as sharp as razors, cut into their leather boots and rolled beneath their feet as they scrambled for cover.

It was as if they had landed on the surface of the moon.

To his right he could see that Rodriguez and Johnson had reached the SEAL and were lifting him into the green rubberized body bag. Even over the din of the fight and the helicopter noise he imagined he could hear the sound of the zipper closing.

Raising his binoculars, Nash looked at the cliff face and studied the cave at the top. At its entrance, protected by the hedge of boulders, a band of five or six Taliban was firing down on them. Given that the SEAL commander had reported around twenty, the rest must have fled or were hiding deeper in the cave somewhere, he thought. Four of the Taliban had established a defensive position at the cave’s mouth and were enthusiastically firing the heavy machine gun.

“Kelly!” he called.

“Yes, sir.”

“Take them out!”

Kelly nodded to Jacobs and Bennett. They armed the M203 grenade launchers attached to their carbines and fired. The rocket-propelled grenades exploded in front of the cave between its mouth and the gun emplacement. Two bodies flew high into the air like bolts of cloth and dropped out of sight.

They waited for some returning fire. There wasn’t any.

Pausing to assess the situation, Nash peered through his binoculars and then signaled his men to carefully and silently make their way up the stone path that snaked up the mountain. With their weapons readied, they edged in single file along the rocky and rough track that climbed toward the cave’s entrance.

Arriving at the cave’s mouth, they found three Taliban fighters dead: one slumped over the machine-gun position; the other two bent and twisted in the dust nearby.

“Bennett, Kelly, come with me,” said Nash as he raised his Beretta M9 automatic and made his way into the cave. Kelly followed with his favored weapon, a flamethrower, which was held firmly out in front of him.

Standing in the cave’s entrance, Nash was surprised at how large the inside was. A small oil lamp barely lit the interior, and seven bedrolls were on the floor. A satellite phone was sitting on a box of ammunition next to an assortment of papers and maps.

Nash signaled silently with his fingers. Bennett and Kelly moved to his left. The three of them crept further into the bowels of the cave complex, which split into two passages and disappeared into total blackness.

The remainder of Nash’s team took up defensive positions just inside the cave’s mouth, watching the terrain below for any sign that the Taliban or their reinforcements were returning.

As Nash, Bennett and Kelly edged their way silently down the main tunnel, a volley of nine-millimeter bullets flew out of the darkness and tore into Kelly. Instinctively he squeezed the trigger of his flamethrower. A dripping liquid flame, some twenty meters long, shot from its mouth and raced into the depths of the cave, setting everything in its path alight. As Kelly fell to the cave floor, a barrage of sickening screams came from the direction of the flames.

Crashing through the wall of fire, two Taliban, their clothes ablaze, raced toward them. Thrashing their arms about wildly, they were trying to beat out the flames that were consuming them.

Nash aimed and fired two shots. Both bullets hit the first of the Taliban squarely in the head, and it exploded like a ripe melon. Bennett fired his M4 carbine and the second Taliban crashed to the cave floor. The screaming stopped as the stench of burning flesh and rancid smoke began to fill the cave.

Nash leaned over Kelly. The first bullet hadn’t penetrated his flak jacket but the second had caught him in the side of the neck, where his carotid artery was vigorously pumping the life from him.

“Did I get him?” Kelly asked.

“You sure did—barbecued him good,” Nash replied.

Kelly smiled and then said, “I’m really cold, sir.”

“You’ll be fine,” said Nash, knowing full well that he wouldn’t be. “Get the medic in here!” he called to Bennett, who rushed from the cave toward the rest of the men.

Cradling Kelly in his arms and with his thumb pressed hard against the artery in his neck, Ryan Nash watched another of his men die.

Suddenly, through the smoke, Nash thought he heard a sound. He laid Kelly’s head gently onto the cave floor. Covered in blood and moving to his right, he stepped through the smoke and came face to face with another Taliban fighter. This one was armed with a knife.

Nash looked deep into the man’s black eyes. “A knife …?” he asked.

The Taliban didn’t utter a word. He simply smirked through a shaggy black beard and broken yellow teeth.

“Maybe some other time,” said Nash as he raised his Beretta and pulled the trigger. It didn’t fire. It was jammed. He pulled the slide back to try to free the shell, but the Taliban lunged forward, slashing at Nash with his blade.

Nash leaped to one side, dropped the Beretta onto the cave floor and pulled his Special Forces dagger from its sheath. With a twenty-two-centimeter blade of hardened blue steel it was sharp enough to shave with.

As his enemy lunged again, knife held high, Nash leaped to his right and grabbed the Taliban around the head and shoulders. The Taliban’s arm carrying the knife was now pointing straight up into the air and was pinned hard against the side of his head. Nash lifted him above the ground. The Taliban’s feet flayed about desperately. He was much smaller and lighter than Nash had expected.

“This is for Kelly,” he whispered as he slit the man’s throat to the spinal column and dropped him to the ground.

The blood gushed from his neck, a strange gurgling sound filling the silence of the cave as his life drained from him and raced across the rocky dirt floor.

Nash stepped back through the smoke and into the cave’s entrance, where the medic was crouched desperately over Kelly. Nash looked down and the medic simply shook his head. In the corner Bennett was busily collecting the papers and maps that had been left beside the bedrolls and satellite phone.

Bennett stopped and stared intently at the piece of paper in his hand. “Major, you’d better look at this.”

Kill Zone by Harry Ledowsky is available for $5.99 where all good ebooks are sold. Click here to purchase from your preferred ebook retailer

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Excerpt: 8 Hours to Die by JR Carroll

Posted February 18, 2014 by Mark

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Perfect isolation. No phones. No neighbors. No help. 
Ex-cop turned criminal lawyer Tim Fontaine and his wife Amy are heading for their weekender – a restored farmhouse in remote bushland known as Black Pig Bend.
But even before they’ve eaten dinner, three outlaw bikers arrive on the scene. Suddenly Tim’s house becomes a fortress. Who are these people? Why have they come? Who sent them?
As the lights go out and darkness descends, their idyllic world is transformed into a nightmare from which there is no waking up. Tim must grapple not just with formidable adversaries, but with unsettling questions relating to his own past, both as cop and lawyer, and even to his marriage.
But even if they survive this night against appalling odds, the ordeal is far from over. For when the past comes knocking, it will not be denied …

 The following excerpt takes place after Tim and Amy have reached their isolated cabin. Night has fallen, they’re having dinner, when there’s a sudden knock on the door…

Friday, 7.53pm

Tim had his hand on the door knob and had begun to turn it when a little voice kicked in: Danger, beware: sabre-toothed tigers out there. He opened it a crack, a bit more than that, glimpsed a tall figure standing there, face obscured, head ringed by the outside light. Maybe someone else behind him; Tim wasn’t sure.

‘Yes?’ he said.

‘Special delivery package for one Tim Fontaine,’ the man answered. ‘You Mr Fontaine?’

Tim was used to FedEx deliveries in his business life; they were a normal, everyday occurrence, but out here?

‘Depends,’ Tim said. ‘What’s it about?’

‘Guess,’ the man said. Tim saw his hand come out from behind his back; a weapon in it, he thought. He didn’t wait to find out. It all happened in a flash as he slammed the door hard in the man’s face even as he tried to shove a foot inside. Then Tim jumped to one side as a barrage of bullets ripped through the solid timber door amid ear-shattering screams from Amy, who was standing at the table. He heard a shattering of glass and swivelled to see she had dropped her wine glass on the floor.

‘Amy! Get down!’ he yelled. She seemed to be rooted to the spot, unable to move. He rushed to her side and pulled her to the dining room with him as more shots tore through the door. He gripped her wrist as splinters flew and the room began to smell of gunsmoke.

‘What is going on?’ she screamed. Through her wrist he could feel her trembling. They were standing pressed against the wall.

‘I don’t know!’ he said. ‘Some guy with a gun—I don’t know! Shit!

‘Mr Fontaine!’ a voice called from outside. ‘Come on, now. I have to deliver this package!’

‘Leave it there and fuck off!’ Tim shouted back, realising at once the absurdity of his riposte.

The man outside laughed—two men laughed; maybe three. Fuck. ‘Can’t do that, Mr Fontaine,’ came the answer. ‘Against company regulations. You have to sign for it, see. As evidence. I could lose my job.’

More laughter from outside. But at least they weren’t shooting—for the moment.

Tim said nothing in return. His mind was working fast. Thoughts collided, became chaotic as fear swamped his rational mind. He put an arm around Amy; her shoulders were shivering.

He looked at her scared face, then at the door, splinters of timber sticking out of it.

He had to get his shit together. This was suddenly a bad place.

‘You OK?’ he said, almost a whisper.

Amy gave a nod in return. But she wouldn’t look at him.

The man outside was yelling: ‘Give it up, mate. You can’t win this one.’

‘Who is he?’ Amy said.

‘I don’t know. No idea. Some rough-looking bastard, middle-aged, bikie gear.’

‘Bikie?’ she said. ‘What the bloody hell—’

‘No idea.’ He was trying to think of any connection he’d had with bikies. If he had bikies after him for some reason, they were in deep shit.

He turned his attention to the house. Tim had always been security conscious—had to be, both as cop and lawyer. His current home in Canberra was no fortress, but not too far off it: high brick fences, sophisticated alarm system, sensor lights. Here on the farm, which was unoccupied much of the time, he’d been more concerned about ferals or drifters breaking in. So he’d gone to considerable trouble with the door locks, and steel bars on the front windows.

There were two doors to the house—front and back. Both were made from heavy timber, not the cheap, off-the-rack stuff; both were fitted with multiple deadlocks set in steel plating. Since arriving they hadn’t gone out the back, so the security door was still locked.

Only two ways into the house—and only two out.

‘Mr Fontaine!’ the man outside shouted. ‘Come on, now. We need your cooperation.’ He then lowered his voice into a growl: ‘We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. Choice is yours.’

Tim was thinking about the windows. Windows were always a weak spot in any house. No need to smash through a door if you could force a window. These were all of the traditional farmhouse sash type. No large glass panels or floor-to-ceiling sliding doors. The windows all had locks fitted, but most of the frames wouldn’t budge anyway due to warping and numerous coats of paint over the decades. They were stuck fast. The kitchen and dining room windows were double sash, with small quarter panels in the upper half and a single pane below. Tim had never been able to raise or lower them. Plus, they were protected by steel bars set too close together for anyone to squeeze between, even if someone was prepared to smash the panes and try to wriggle through.

But—these were obviously dangerous and determined men. They had at least one gun. They were here on a mission. Maybe they had the tools to lever the bars off, or force them wider apart.

Somebody wants to get in badly enough, they will find a way in. Matter of when, not if.

 

Click here to purchase from your preferred ebook retailer

Not for the faint hearted” – Shane Maloney, author of the Murray Whelan series

8 Hours to Die scorches along relentlessly, displaying all of JR Carroll’s trademark thriller-writing skills: hard-edged prose, vivid characterisation, a strong sense of place and tense plotting.” – Garry Disher, author of the Wyatt series and the Challis & Destry series

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Where do you get your great ideas? A Brief Chat with Harry Ledowsky

Posted February 14, 2014 by Mark

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1. What is your daily writing routine?

I’m an early morning guy, start about 7- 7.30 and finish around 12-12.30

2. Name some books or authors that have influenced you.

Frederick Forsyth, Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum and John Grisham. I’ve always liked stories, that although fiction, could actually happen.

3. Why should people read Lethal Metal?

Because it’s a story inspired on an actual event and involves the greatest submarine disaster the Russian Nuclear fleet history the sinking of the Kursk, a Russian Mafia boss and an al Qaeda terrorist. It’s set in Murmansk the biggest city in the Arctic circle and the home of the Russian Nuclear submarine fleet at a time when the Russian military machine is in desperate decline, where a terrorist buys nuclear material to make a bomb and is hunted. A scary scenario and one that could actually be playing out somewhere right now.

4. What do you hope readers take from your book?

First and foremost I hope that they enjoy it. I write to entertain and involve and am not interested in sending any sort of social or political message. If the pace leaves them breathless and they can’t put the book down then I think I’ve done my job.

5. What are you currently reading?

“The Good Food Guide” for 2014. Silly I know but I’ve several family events on the horizon and need to be prepared. As far as a novel is concerned nothing. I’m taking a break from writing & reading and giving my brain a rest. Although late last year I read “The Killing of Osama Bin Laden”, “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Why Nations go to War” Normally it’s the daily papers and car mags….. not very high brow stuff really.

6. Where do you get your ideas?

Ideas are everywhere all you need to do is look around, that’s one thing I’ve never had a problem with. That’s probably why I was reasonably successful in adverting for thirty years. Writing three hundred pages is where the hard work is, the ideas aren’t. Right now I’ve enough ideas for another three books.

Lethal Metal is available from 25 February 2014. Click here to preorder from your preferred ebook retailer. 

About Harry Ledowsky

Harry Ledowsky is one of Australia’s most awarded Creative Directors and has been a judge on every major Advertising Award in Australia. Creator of “Oils Ain’t Oils” for Castrol, “Aussie Cossie” for Speedo, “Happy Joe Happy” for the NRMA and “The Bundy Bear” for Bundaberg Rum. He was National Creative Director and head of the Worldwide Creative Directors for Young & Rubicam and was named as “the second most outstanding individual in Advertising” by the Financial Review. He has won over 150 National & International Advertising Awards and been nominated to the Australian Advertising Hall of Fame, who said he was: “A master of drama, pathos and humour….

Having retired from the ad industry he now presents the Morning show on 99.3 Northside Radio.

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The death of the pen

Posted by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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A discussion yesterday about the practice of editing on paper against editing electronically branched off into an interesting tangent: just how attached are we to maintaining paper and handwriting practises? Furthermore, is this getting in the way of some fairly serious progress of twenty-first century society?

While the reports of the book’s death were greatly exaggerated, to the point of being entirely fictitious and presumptuous, it has since emerged that we actually are reading more now than ever before – at least as far as our ability to track this kind of thing.

Writing as a method of communication has always been after the fact; we spoke before we wrote, and writing initially was merely a method of establishing fact, of dismissing doubt. By the time the first books were created, writing was still a unique, unrepeatable event. Reading as a past-time was not a fathomable occasion. If we wanted to share stories, we shared them, by and large through voice and performance.

From the advent of the printing press to the spread of public education and universities, through the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution and on to the technological advances of the twentieth century, the book emerged as a convenient method of containing and conveying words, of communicating stories, of ingesting and processing new information. Reading and writing as a study and as an art arrived.

Our nostalgia for the book as a physical paper product is founded on a short-sighted view of human history. We have always communicated in the most convenient form available. As we settle into the twenty-first century, it becomes apparent that not only are we swallowing stories at a higher rate and in more ways than ever before, but we’re also physically reading more content as a whole. Far more communication occurs through reading, and effectively through writing, but here’s where the issue arrives.

With more being read, that means more are writing. But not writing by hand. If more and more content is arriving in a typed form – a trend that really isn’t going to lessen lest the computers turn on us – then really it should be handwriting that we’re issuing death notices for, not paper books.

Unfortunately, it appears the older generation is the one that’s caught up in blindly nostalgic waves of OCD with their inability to let go of handwriting as an asset. I say this not as an outsider, but as part of that generation. I still instinctively handwrite, I still find it easier to shape thoughts through a pen than through the tips of ten fingers. And certainly, it is an asset in a profession where handwriting might be required, but how many of those still exist? How many will for the next generation?

While Victoria has recently decided that it will look into ‘planning’ for online, typed exams for Year 12 students, leading education systems like those in Sweden and Norway have had them implemented for years. Our failure to act is costing the students. To compound this, the recent Australian Curriculum – while admittedly introducing many positives – emphasised handwriting as a key component of students’ learning, something that had rightly disappeared in recent years.

We emphasise the introduction of technology into learning, into the lives of the younger generations, as it has become the currency and medium that dominates our lives. Pen and paper are as archaic as the topics in the history curriculum. But then after all this embracing of technology, something strange occurs.

By the time these students reach their final years, all assessments become handwritten again. All final exams are written, at hours on end, with a pen and paper. Why? Why do we insist this happens? Everything we had encouraged them to learn for more than a decade is diminished by the distillation of their ability through a pen.

Many universities still follow this model as well. The fear of plagiarism, the fear of students using more than the contents of their heads is what drives this avoidance of technology in exams. And yet it has no practical parallel in the real world. We never confine our knowledge in our jobs, we never limit our resources to see what we can really do. So why test this way?

We need to let go of handwriting as the end of the line for the written word; we’ve found a better way. The pens of the world are haemorrhaging our words, instead of giving them new life. To use them as modern tools is damaging the capability and potential of our potential society.

 

 

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11 February new release titles

Posted February 11, 2014 by Mark

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8 Hours to Die by JR Carroll

An isolated farmhouse. One knock on the door will shatter their peace. No phones. No neighbours. No help. And the clock is ticking…

Ex-cop turned criminal lawyer Tim Fontaine and his wife Amy are heading for their weekender – a restored farmhouse in remote bushland known as Black Pig Bend.

But even before they’ve eaten dinner, three outlaw bikers arrive on the scene. Suddenly Tim’s house becomes a fortress. Who are these people? Why have they come? Who sent them?

As the lights go out and darkness descends, their idyllic world is transformed into a nightmare from which there is no waking up. Tim must grapple not just with formidable adversaries, but with unsettling questions relating to his own past, both as cop and lawyer, and even to his marriage.

But even if they survive this night against appalling odds, the ordeal is far from over. For when the past comes knocking, it will not be denied …

Not for the faint hearted” – Shane Maloney, author of the Murray Whelan series

8 Hours to Die scorches along relentlessly, displaying all of JR Carroll’s trademark thriller-writing skills: hard-edged prose, vivid characterisation, a strong sense of place and tense plotting.” – Garry Disher, author of the Wyatt series and the Challis & Destry series

Read an excerpt

Purchase from your preferred ebook retailer

 

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The Memory of Death: Death Works 4 by Trent Jamieson

He thought he’d return from Hell a hero. But things are never easy when your business is Death.

Steven de Selby gave up his love, his life, and his lucrative position as Head of Mortmax, the corporation in charge of Death. Then he found himself banished to the briny depths of hell. But hell has never held him before …

Now Steven’s back from hell, after escaping from the cruel Death of the Water, but he’s not sure how or why, or even if. No one at Mortmax trusts him, and he’s running out of time to prove he is who he says he is.

Steven is about to discover that hell really is other people, and the worst of them may well be himself.

Read an excerpt

Purchase from your preferred ebook retailer

 

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What Goes on Tour by Claire Boston

What goes on tour, stays on tour … or does it?

Few people know that socially awkward Adrian Hart is actually rock god Kent Downer, and that’s the way Adrian likes it. His privacy is essential, especially now that he has guardianship of his orphaned, ten-year-old niece, Kate. But when the nanny quits in the middle of his tour Adrian finds himself in a bind.

Until Libby Myles walks into his life.

Libby has only ever wanted to become a full-time author and prove to her parents that she can make it on her own. On the surface, the temporary job as the nanny for Kent Downer’s niece looks perfect—the pay is fabulous, the hours are short and Kate is a big fan—it’s the rock star that’s the issue.

Arrogant and way too attractive for anyone’s good, Kent Downer has enough swagger to power a small city. But when he’s out of costume he’s different—shy and uncertain. For Libby it’s a far harder combination to resist. She needs to find a balance between work, writing and ignoring her attraction to the rock star, because if she falls for him, it could mean the end of her dream.

But when a horrible scandal is unleashed—putting young Kate in danger—there’s more heat between Libby and Adrian than just sexual attraction. Libby must figure out if Adrian ever cared for her, or if it was all just part of the show …

Purchase from your preferred ebook retailer

 

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Sly by Rick Feneley

Meet the Bulli Boys, if you’re brave enough. 

Sly Fox lives with his one-legged alcoholic father, incontinent Communist grandfather and his dog, Comrade, in a run-down beach shack in the coastal town of Little Bulli. New-boy-in-town Brett ‘Harry’ Harrison is intrigued by the outcast Sly and strikes up an unlikely and forbidden friendship with him.

Together the boys discover the delights of sex, drugs and cheap booze, but their great passion is the story of Sly’s pioneering ancestors, as revealed by the dusty and fragile Fox family chronicles.

Sly and Harry’s friendship is indestructible, or so they think, until a shocking act of betrayal alters the course of their lives forever.

Read an excerpt

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The wonderful world of villains

Posted by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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It is often said that a hero is only ever as good as the villain. And while it’s not wholly successful to reduce all stories down to a good-guy-bad-guy dichotomy (or even good-girl-bad-girl), for those stories that do require the presence and actions of a villain, it’s prudent to consider how they can affect the story, and influence the actions of the protagonist.

Furthermore, it’s interesting to note how an under-developed antagonist, or one that perhaps lessens the final impact of what might otherwise be a resoundingly great story.

So, make the villains good, in the bad way. Whatever type of villain they may be.

The all-conquering villain

This is the one who basically wants entire eradication of the good side. They’ll wage wars (The Lord of the Rings), consume everything in their path (The Matrix), and traverse the galaxy in order to hunt and destroy everything that opposes them and doesn’t dress in dark clothing (Star Wars et al). Basically, they have one, shark-like psychology: to head forwards and destroy. Kill at all costs. Be bad, look bad while doing so, and oppose the ‘good’ forces at every turn.

The problem here is that these villains don’t seem to have thought things through. In a sense, they only exist for the duration of the story, which usually ends with their vanquishing. If the story considered the reality of these villains’ agendas, it would become apparent that villainous victory would be hollow and fruitless. There is no real victory, because they want to destroy everything. They champion enslavement and brutality, but after victory, who can they enslave? What do they actually want? Voldemort in Harry Potter tries to circumvent this problem, but ultimately it’s hard to imagine how this character could operate once entirely in power. (And yes I know they’re villains and therefore mentally unhinged and thus they don’t think things through properly, but that’s not the point.)

I suspect victory would result in a fairly lonely existence for these villains. They are the schoolyard bullies whose being is only validated by having someone to bully.

The psychopathic villain

A lot of fun can be had with this, because the villain here is basically a manifestation of whatever internal struggles the hero is processing. Similar to the all-conquering villain, they only exist as foil to the hero, but in a different way.

They have no agenda, they are not here with some master plan, they are the uninhibited id that haunts our hero running rampant all over the scenery. This accounts for just a hell of a lot of comic book villains (Spiderman, The Dark Knight, to begin with), made most famous in the recent Joker incarnation. Also a lot of monster stories (Alien, Jurassic Park) work with this in mind, the best example being Jaws, wonderfully sent up by The Onion here.

Additionally, they can be found as byproducts of other, larger problems. They are the mutated chemical waste of societal ills and moral corruption (IT, The Stand, a lot of Stephen King to be honest), the end-result of human folly and ill-advised endeavour (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix again,Terminator).

The best example of this, knowingly so, is in No Country for Old Men, with Anton Chigurh chaotically destroying his way through a narrative on nothing but the whims of a coin toss and the echoes of a cattle gun.

Great fun, but in some sense they’re ultimately more of an embellished plot device than a fully realised character.

The secret villain

Here you find a lot of accidental villains. Villains who got caught up in the thrill of the bad thing, for a large portion of the story can appear to be sympathetic ‘good’ characters, only to be revealed at the end as working for the other side.

Many crime thrillers and spy novels operate with this dynamic (Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy for instance), as does a lot of J.K. Rowling’s early Harry Potter books, and the villain appears to be one that relies a lot on mystery and the surprise reveal. They often come encumbered with hastily included exposition at the end, so that the reader is completely aware of the reasons and machinations behind the mysterious plot. But while it can benefit rereads for a spot-the-clue type game, it also reveals how the author has a bit too overtly manipulated the reader.

The sympathetic villain

Not really sympathetic, but understandable. I think it was Gary Oldman – among others – who said that really great villains don’t think they’re villainous, they actually think they’re doing good (interesting given his career playing psychopathic villains). There’s something to be learned here, in that all characters – good or bad – should be written as characters, as real people with real motivations, and not just as foil for the main guy strutting about on his white pony.

Some of the great villains of literature and cinema reside here, questioning just how ‘good’ the good guy is, how pure their motivations are, and how normal the world is with them residing in it. We find Hannibal Lecter, and Nurse Ratched, Michael Corleone and Travis Bickle, and with them a legion of classic characters that carve out their own piece of the story, rather than remaining bit-parts.

 

 

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Great opening lines from thrillers

Posted February 10, 2014 by Mark

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We’ve done science fiction, fantasy and horror novels. Now, we turn our attention to some great opening lines from thrillers. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!

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“I was arrested at Eno’s diner.”Killing Floor by Lee Child

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“The truth is, if old Major Dover hadn’t dropped dead at Taunton races Jim never would have come to Thursgood’s at all.”Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John LeCarre

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“Her stomach clutched at the sight of the water tower hovering above the still, bare trees, a spaceship come to earth.”What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman

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“Behavioural science, the FBI section that deals with serial murder, is on the bottom floor of the Academy building at Quantico, half-buried in the earth.”The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

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“When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I ever saw her, it was the back of her head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel, or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily.”Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Casino-Royale

“The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.”Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

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“Johnny Merton was playing with me, and we both knew it. It was a fun game for him. He was doing endless years for crimes ranging from murder and extortion to excessive litigation. He had a lot of time on his hands.”Hardball by Sara Paretsky

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“She lay on her back fastened by leather straps to a bed with a steel frame.”The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

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“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

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“Since Maria had decided to die her cat would have to fend for itself.”Child 44 Tom Rob Smith

 

 

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Excerpt: The Memory of Death: Death Works 4 by Trent Jamieson

Posted February 7, 2014 by Mark

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The Memory of Death: Death Works 4 is a novella set in Trent Jamieson’s Death Works universe. It’s available for $3.99 from 11 February 2014 where all good ebooks are sold.  

One

My head strikes the ground, hard, and I bite my cheek; taste blood, get a lungful of water and I’m jerked backwards.

I cough. Roll over, and my knees click as I stand: bone scraping bone. There’s colour. Stabbing light, lending a hangovery intensity to my headache. And then there’s something that I realise is air. Its touch is such an unfamiliar sensation. So damn soft.

I try for breath, cough and try again. And this time my lungs billow. I can breathe. Ha!

A wave knocks me forward again onto my knees, and my fingers dig into the ground. Sand. Beach. A kid laughs somewhere, or screams (laughter and screaming, I know them both, laughter and screaming, screaming and laughter), and I cough up my guts, which amounts to not much more than a thin trickle of grey spit.

I squint, now on all fours, and try to take everything in. There’s too much.

Too much light. Motion. The world’s grown big again.

Gulls wheel in the sky. Beautiful, but the daylight burns. I drop my gaze from the sky to the shore.

One parent drags a curious child away from me, the kid’s heels leaving long trails in the sand. And then the kid spits at me. You’d think something monstrous had risen from the waves – and maybe it has. I snap my eyes shut. All I can smell is the sea. My lips sting, they have cracks the size of canyons; I could slide my tongue into them, if I could move my tongue properly. I taste salt, and bile. Water strikes my shoulders, pushes me forward yet again. Last time, it dragged me away, and there’s no guarantee that it won’t change its mind.

I have to keep moving or the sea will yank me back. And I don’t want that. Not with everything in front of me.

I heave myself to my feet, open my eyes again and shade them with my wrinkled hands. Half the beach watches me like I’m some sort of cautionary tale. No one offers to help.

Why would they?

My coat, the one that once belonged to my father, is heavy against my shoulders: stiff as lead. Dad had passed the coat on to me as a boy, and how I had yearned to grow into it. I was all grown up and working as a Pomp before it really fit, and even then it never fit me well. The last time I’d worn this coat I was so much more. I was the Orcus Entire: the Hungry Death incarnate. I’d wielded the stone scythe Mog. Something I’m sure my father would never have suspected (nor dared hope) I’d achieve. Yeah, I’d not really shown much desire for an executive position at Mortmax Industries; actually I’d barely shown a desire to put in more than the minimal amount of work there. Nor would he have even begun to imagine that I’d use Mog to sever the head of his best friend, Morrigan – a man who had become a god.

I’d been on a beach then too. And afterwards I’d leant on that scythe, weary from battle, and realised that I’d won. We’d won: my Pomps and me. We’d defeated our ancient enemy, the Stirrers, and their dark god. I’d felt pretty good about it all. Hey, I’d just averted a Global Apocalypse. But it didn’t last.

When you’re Death you know nothing lasts. But I never expected to lose everything so damn quickly. That was then.

Where the hell am I? Actually, I’m not in Hell at all, unless they’ve spruced the place up an awful lot. Hell’s all red skies, a giant Moreton Bay fig and the spirits of the dead glowing blue and forlorn.

This beach isn’t the beach of that last battle. No, that was on the Gold Coast. Different time, different light. And I’d been dragged from that victory to the deep dark Hell of the Death of the Water. We’d made a deal, to save the world, and he’d been unbending in his part of it. Mog, my powers, my life: all of it gone. And the world moved on.

Where’s Lissa?

Of course she’s not here.

She wouldn’t be. She thinks I’m dead. I thought I was dead. And yet I’m standing here. Get Out of Hell Free. Except no one gets out of hell free.

I’d learnt that the hard way when I’d performed an Orpheus Manoeuvre, with the help of Charon, and brought Lissa back from the dead. It was almost our first date. Lissa had returned the favour. I’m sure no one has done that to me this time. My memories were of death, but nothing after. And now, this too-bright beach, I focus on my boots, the leather as cracked as my lips, but at least they don’t sear my eyes.

I stumble towards the shore, a few more shuffles, and pause. I get the feeling if I take another step, I’ll cross some threshold. The world seems to stop. Holds its breath with me. The water’s white around my boots.

‘Mr de Selby?’

I look up. A guy in a cheap grey suit, lips a thin slash across his face. Nose broken more than once. He’s dry, a metre from the foamy dregs of the waves, holding a towel over one arm. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be dry, and clean, and not crusted in salt.

‘Yes, yes.’ The words come thickly from a mouth still remembering how to shape them.

‘If you could just take a couple of steps forward, sir. Out of the water. I can’t help you, unless you get out of the water. I’ve no jurisdiction there.’

I blink.

He frowns. ‘The water, Mr de Selby.’

He’s right. I can’t stay here forever, and I’m not going back.

I take a few unsteady steps towards him. The waves suck at my boots.

There are too many gaps in my mind. Holes you could drive a ute through, while it’s doing donuts, wheels throwing up stinking smoke and further obscuring everything.

Then I’m out of the water, onto wet sand. A wave hisses away behind me. I half imagine I hear it call my name.

‘Close enough,’ the man says, yanking the coat from me; it drops to the beach with a slap, and I feel about ten kilos lighter. He drapes the towel over my shoulders. The humanity of that movement, the touch of another hand, makes me cry: a single sob that threatens to build to a weeping.

Until he presses the gun into my spine.

 

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Excerpt: Sly by Rick Feneley

Posted February 6, 2014 by Mark

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Sly by Rick Feneley is available for $4.99 from 11 February 2014 where all good ebooks are sold. 

1

Misconceptions

Tom ‘Sly’ Fox was eight years old when he told me the facts of life.

‘The man sticks his willy in the lady’s belly button and has a wee,’ he declared. ‘That’s how they have babies!’

I was shocked but not sceptical. Like everything Sly Fox told me, I trusted it implicitly. He was all-wise and I idolised him, this boy who was otherwise despised, scorned and ostracised; this motherless son of a son-of-a-bitch.

The nickname ‘Sly’ was seven generations old in the Fox family. It was first uttered with affection, later with disdain. Even the nuns at our school called Tom ‘Sly’. They thought the Foxes were sly. But I didn’t call him Sly. I called him Pup. To his dad and me, Tom Fox will be forever Pup.

It all comes back to me when I fly with the seagulls over Little Bulli, when I fly on the breath of a gracious wind, floating on the fragrance of our youth, the sweet-and-sour scent of forest gums and fishermen’s abandoned quarry. The seagulls curse me as they circle about my absurd, synthetic wings. They chorus the same profanity, over and again: fuuuuck! fuuuuck! fuuuuck! Often I join the chorus while I recall my childhood with Pup.

I can see us now, up on Bald Hill, the great northern headland over our seaside hometown. It was here, in 1971, that Pup enlightened me with his theory of procreation. ‘The Pissing in the Belly Button Theory’, he called it later, though not so much later, when he knew better. Much better.

Bald Hill was Pup’s favourite vantage point for important discussions. From here, we had a royal box seat over the town we loved and the people we loathed, all trapped between the Pacific Ocean and the escarpment, at the point where the range meets the sea cliffs of the northern Illawarra. It was from Bald Hill that Pup’s great-great-great-great grandfather, Jeremy Fox, surveyed his modest farm, the land he pioneered in 1821.

From Bald Hill, Pup and I would grow to feel empowered, stronger than the fools in the valley who could not see beyond it. But now, at eight years old, I felt dizzy and nauseous as I contemplated Pup’s unthinkable description of sex, as I imagined my willy being swallowed by a hungry, pouting navel.

‘But what if you don’t feel like a wee?’ I asked.

‘You can’t help it,’ Pup explained. ‘You just have to.’

‘Oh!’

So now I knew. Except …

‘What about Mary and Joseph?’

‘Nah,’ Pup assured me, ‘they didn’t have to. They had an immaculate contraption.’

‘That’s right.’

Usually, though, it was a case not of Pup misunderstanding but of his being misunderstood. Often I misunderstood him as much as anyone else. Just when I thought I was beginning to understand, at the age of seventeen, Pup deserted me. That I will never comprehend. And now, at twenty-one, I find myself abandoned once again.

When she walked out on me yesterday, she said, ‘It’s a shame I couldn’t get to know you.’

‘But we’ve been together two years,’ I protested.

It was the diary that did it. She found my diary. It wasn’t anything I wrote about her. That was the point: I hadn’t written a word about her. My first diary entry was February 5, 1969. The last was March 22, 1980. It was the chronicle of my childhood with Pup. The childhood is the greater part of any adult. She knew nothing of mine.

‘That’s the bottom line,’ she said. ‘You’re someone I met in a book.’

And then she was gone. And now I am alone again.

Who do I blame?

Pup? Maybe I should blame his great-great-great-great grandfather. It was Jeremy’s diary, more than one hundred and fifty years old, that inspired me to write in the first place, at six years of age – that precious tome of Jeremy’s, still rotting and mouldering on the Fox bookshelf, every word embellished by the very decay of its pages, yellow and brittle. Some pages were destroyed, some partly incinerated, in the 1905 bushfires. The tales became all the more tantalising as we tried to guess the missing words.

That’s what I feel I must do now: fill in the missing words. Not to Jeremy’s story but to my own, and to Pup’s. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of every word. It’s just the way I remember it, which is all that matters now, I suppose.

The Foxes were hated in Little Bulli. This had more to do with what the locals didn’t know than what they did. And it had a lot to do with events that happened before I arrived in town, back when Pup’s mum was still around and when his dad had both his legs. And it goes back many more years. It involves Pup’s ancestors. It involves their ghosts.

 

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An introduction to The Dark Tower

Posted February 4, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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While we are still being fed tiny morsels to whet our appetites for an adaptation to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series (Aaron Paul! Javier Bardem! Netflix!), it still remains an extremely unlikely prospect that the hybrid TV-film series will ever get off the ground.

At least we have the books. And such books. Eight volumes spanning decades in publication history, thousands of pages, numerous revisions and revisitations, all depicting an epic quest in search of the elusive Dark Tower.

And yet it remains a series unlike many others, and quite (understandably) resistant to the bandwagoning that has seen other epic series like A Song of Ice and Fire hurtle into the stratosphere of public acclaim. It is a difficult series, strange and evolving, and defying genre classification. It isn’t even easy for regular Stephen King fans, many unsure how to place the series in his oeuvre, given how it seems to reference and influence many of his classics.

Here then, for those considering beginning their own journey, is a brief introduction to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.

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The Books

Eight in all, published between 1982 to 2012.

The first, The Gunslinger, was actually started by King as a university student and took him over twelve years to write before it first saw daylight as serialised short stories in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, only bundled together as a complete novel a year later.

It is possibly the most difficult of the books – a dense, ambiguous genre-bender that introduces the main character, Roland, and his pursuit of The Man in Black; the first stage of the quest for The Dark Tower. King drew inspiration from the Robert Browning poem Childe Roland To The Dark Tower Came, and fashioned a story that was part-Western, part-Jodorowsky acid trip, part-knight’s tale of chivalry and exile, with doses of fantasy and horror thrown in for good measure.

From there, the story picks up with The Drawing of the Three, where King happily admits his style and narrative really takes hold. Roland draws forth supporting characters for his quest, pulling them through portals between his world and (supposedly) our world. This continues in the third book, The Waste Lands, which leads Roland and his group further into a decaying world, full of abandoned cities and malevolent technology, as it becomes apparent Roland need not just find the Dark Tower, but he must actually save it.

It was six years until King wrote the fourth book, Wizard and Glass, and at this stage the series had already been going for fifteen years. Easily the most divisive novel in the series, this is effectively one big flashback into Roland’s past, where much of his world is explored and established so as to give further urgency and agency to his quest. It’s also some of King’s strongest writing, in what is really an old-fashioned tragic romance.

In 1999, King was hit by a car and nearly died, with the series incomplete. Having this knowledge of the writer’s reality in mind when reading the rest of the series is necessary. The Wolves of the Calla was published in 2003, followed shortly by Song of Susannah in 2004, and The Dark Tower in 2005 – King evidently charging to the finish with a clear idea of the importance of this series in his career. As one reads these final books, it becomes frighteningly clear how important these books are to King, and how he views them in contrast to all his other writing.

In 2012, King published a short re-entry to the series, The Wind Through the Keyhole, a book that surprised some and added much to the journey of Roland – and is best seen as Book 4.5 in the series.

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The Characters

First and foremost, it is the story of Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger of Gilead, the last great city of his world. He is seen as a descendant of a King Arthur-like mythical figure, and yet for all these knightly qualities, his persona is borrowed liberally from Clint Eastwood’s Man Without a Name gunslinger in his spaghetti westerns. It is his quest for the Tower, his journey that binds the tale, and is for all intents and purposes, the defining hero for Stephen King’s imagination.

Roland brings with him Eddie Dean, a recovering heroin addict and small-time grifter, Odetta Holmes, missing both her legs due to an accident and suffering from schizophrenia, and Jake Chambers, an eleven-year-old figurative ‘son’ of Roland’s. All three are pulled out of New York and into Roland’s world, to take up the quest with him.

These three – and a few others here and there – form Roland’s ka-tet, a term King uses to signify the bond of a group unified by a single purpose and destiny. It is a concept King returns to in many of his novels, but it is in this series that he gives it particular significance.

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The World

Roland’s world is similar to our own yet not. He journeys from In-World to Mid-World to End-World, noting often how death, decay and ruin seem to befall everywhere he goes. The world’s moved on, is the repeated phrase, and it becomes clear that Roland’s world is merely one level of the Dark Tower, which is in danger of crumbling and thus bringing about the end of his world.

However, with the introduction of the New York characters, and others, it becomes clear that The Dark Tower connects many worlds, and that all are in danger. The Dark Tower is both literal and symbolic, an axis mundi to the universe, but also to Stephen King’s imagination.

It’s an epic series, a unique series, one that covers a scope quite beyond this short introduction. It’s difficult for me to think of a series that stands not just as a thrilling and imaginative journey, but also as a personal document, a story that attempts to explain a storyteller. If you’re at all interested,  I suggest opening The Gunslinger and just reading the first line. It won’t let you go.

 

 

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Cover Reveal: Sly by Rick Feneley

Posted January 28, 2014 by Mark

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We’re very pleased to reveal the cover for Rick Feneley’s wonderful coming of age novel, Sly. First published in 1995, Sly is being reissued as an ebook via Momentum. With its universal themes, engaging narrative and vivid characters, Sly is sure to appeal to a new generation of readers.

Meet the Bulli Boys, if you’re brave enough. 

Sly Fox lives with his one-legged alcoholic father, incontinent Communist grandfather and his dog, Comrade, in a run-down beach shack in the coastal town of Little Bulli. New-boy-in-town Brett ‘Harry’ Harrison is intrigued by the outcast Sly and strikes up an unlikely and forbidden friendship with him.

Together the boys discover the delights of sex, drugs and cheap booze, but their great passion is the story of Sly’s pioneering ancestors, as revealed by the dusty and fragile Fox family chronicles.

Sly and Harry’s friendship is indestructible, or so they think, until a shocking act of betrayal alters the course of their lives forever.

 

Sly will be released worldwide on 11 February 2014, and will be available for $4.99 where all good ebooks are sold.  

 

 

 

 

 

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Posts with Momentum

Posted January 24, 2014 by Mark

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Here are the five most-viewed posts from the blog this week:

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5. Box office nerdery: billion dollar movies in 2014

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4. Should the Thrawn trilogy remain in the Star Wars canon?

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3. Objectifying books

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2. The world according to Marvel

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1. Everyday rejection letters

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Objectifying books

Posted by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Last year recorded the biggest sale of vinyl albums in Australia since they started tracking their sales in 1991.

What has this got to do with books? Well. Not that we want to put anymore air to the theory that paper books are technological dinosaurs slowly asphyxiating in a digital meteor cloud, but the resurgence of vinyl music does illustrate some interesting things about the role of traditional books now and in the coming years.

Vinyl’s revival has been coupled with the digital era of music purchasing. Part of the appeal now is the bundled digital download offered with many new vinyl presses, and the ease of digitally transferring many old records. Music has shown that it can sustain two diametrically opposed formats – one that prioritises convenience, the other that emphasises the object of music itself.

Clearly there is an element of nostalgia here, but nostalgia doesn’t really drive commerce – outside of Antiques Roadshow. What I think is occurring is a transition in how we perceive music. It is now two things – music as an aural experience, and music as a physical experience. Certain music we desire aurally, others we desire the object. It is a fetishisation, after a fashion. The packaging, the art, the physical experience of listening to an album beginning to end, that becomes the desired experience that the object allows.

So, what then for books?

In 2000, Mark Z. Danielewski released his meta-fictional horror story House of Leaves. This was followed up by several different editions, including the 2006 remastered, full colour edition, full of torn notes, handwritten inserts, typewritten attachments, drawings and other paraphernalia that twists the reading of Danielewski’s narrative into something beyond just words on a page.

I wanted to set this book for my book club, but most of us use ereaders and there is no known way Danielewski could create an ebook version of House of Leaves. It is very strictly a book to be read in hard copy.

Secondly, film and TV director J.J. Abrams (yes I know) and author Doug Dorst teamed up to write another convoluted book called S. This takes the form of a 1940s overdue library book, The Ship of Theseus, which arrives in a sealed black box (it must be cut to be read). The Ship of Theseus is itself ‘written’ by a fictional author – V.M. Straka – and has been handwritten all over the margins by two other ‘characters’. These characters have also included postcards, letters, napkins and other bits and pieces in the folds of the pages, so that the whole book itself takes the shape of a found object for the reader. Dorst and Abrams wanted to create a story that exists in the margins of another story, and again this is something that could only be conveyed through a multi-layered, intertextual object like this.

Without debating the merits of the stories themselves – I’ve yet to finish reading both – it is quite clear that S. and House of Leaves are intent on reasserting the physical experience of reading a physical book. This is not to dissuade against ebooks, but rather use the traditional format for a reading that is unique to its medium.

So, are we seeing a resurgence of the hardcover book as a fetishised object? If music can be both the sound and the object, are we witnessing books becoming both the reading and the object? As Mark wrote last week, people are these days purchasing books in a divided fashion – some assigning certain reads to ebooks, with others being saved for hard copies.

Both titles mentioned here are clearly meta-fictional in their approach to story, and the medium supports that approach. This is not to say the fetishisation of traditional books is due to an inherent need of the story – the purchasing of hardcovers, of first editions, of illustrated copies and reissues show there is a long-established market for the book as an object. There has also been discussion over digital copies of books accompanying the hardcopy purchase, much in the way of vinyl.

Will book writers, book makers and book buyers begin to distinguish themselves more clearly as having and wanting two distinct types of books, even more than they already have? Will we want one type of reading digitally, and another physically?

 

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Everyday rejection letters

Posted January 23, 2014 by Mark

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Dear person who decided to eat an apple next to me on the train this morning,

I have recently been inundated with relatively annoying seat mates, and have decided to pass on your companionship this morning. Please find my passive aggressive sighs and refusal to move my legs enclosed. I am sure that with the talent and enthusiasm you clearly have for apple eating in other people’s ears, that you will find an appropriate seat mate soon.

Kind regards,

Mark

 

Dear electricity company,

We receive a large number of high quality bills every month, and we cannot pay them all. We have decided to pass on paying your bill on this occasion. We were impressed with the length of the bill, but do not usually pay bills that are so large. Please feel free to submit another, smaller bill at a point in the future. In the meantime, we wish you the best of luck in finding payment for the bill you have sent. May we suggest submitting it to the bin?

Kind regards,

Mark

 

Dear person I haven’t seen since high school,

Thank you for your friend request on Facebook. Unfortunately I have decided not to accept, as our lack of contact for a decade kind of means that we aren’t really friends. Best of luck with increasing your number of Facebook friends.

Kind regards,

Mark

 

 

 

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Excerpt: Aurora: Darwin by Amanda Bridgeman

Posted January 21, 2014 by Mark

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AURORA: DARWIN by Amanda Bridgeman is a thrilling space opera that’s won legions of fans around the world. Today, it’s the Kindle Daily Deal for Australia, and you can grab a copy for only $0.99. Click here for more! 

Prologue

Easy money. Yeah, right! Lars had always been one for taking the easy road, but right now this didn’t seem so fuckin’ easy. Right now, his bitch of a mother’s words were ringing in his ears: “If it sounds too good to be true, Lars, then it is! There’s no such thing as an easy ride! You work long and hard, and then you die! That’s just the way it is in this stinking life!” Well, he’d taken the easy road, alright. Simple work on a cargo ship seemed honest enough. It looked good to his parole officer, and being stuck on a ship traveling around space for months on end was a good way of keeping you out of trouble. Except the gunrunning, that is.

His ship’s captain, Quint, had been up front about it and the extra cash to look the other way didn’t bother Lars at all. He wasn’t stupid. He knew that was why Quint hired him in the first place. Quint didn’t care about the long rap sheet against his name for burglary, assault, you name it. Quint, it turned out, was an ex-con too, although Lars guessed the “ex” part wasn’t quite true. But to the authorities Quint looked clean, running a simple cargo operation between the Moon, the outstations, and Mars. So yeah, Lars took the job, took the money and looked the other way. Easy money. That inescapable vice to a con like him. Like a bottle of booze to an alcoholic, or a hand job in a back alley to a sex addict. Easy fuckin’ money, alright! And it was about to get him killed.

He heard footsteps approaching and held his breath. He wasn’t sure whether he was the last one left alive. He hadn’t seen anyone since it went down, but what went down exactly, he didn’t know. One moment they were in the space station’s mess hall eating dinner with the crew, the next …? He remembered the lights in the room went out. He remembered commotion, fighting, screaming, the smell of blood … He didn’t stick around to notice anything else. Instead, instinct led him away, running back blindly toward the dock and their cargo ship. He had to get off that station and fast! Except the doors to the dock were locked; access overridden. He was trapped.

The screaming had ceased now. So quick? The lights were still out and panic shot through him like a spear. He clawed his way blindly to the cargo office, just inside the dock entrance, where he’d signed the paperwork when they’d first arrived. He scuttled underneath the desk, smacking his head as he did, hissing quietly and curling up as tightly as his body would allow. Just hide and ride it out! he told himself. Hide and ride it out! Just like you’ve done before from the cops, it’s no different … or was it? At least the cops were restrained by law. They couldn’t just kill you without justifiable cause …

Lars heard the footsteps stop at the doorway to the cargo office. He squeezed his eyes shut, hoping that somehow it would help make him more invisible. Heart racing, palms sweating, throat dry and coarse. The silence sat; he heard nothing. He slowly opened his eyes, wanting desperately to see what he could not hear. Then suddenly, he felt hot breath against his face.

He jumped a mile, smacking his head again, as the lights suddenly came on in the room, but he didn’t have long to eye his attacker. He merely saw frenzied amber eyes, flashes of ginger hair, and gridiron shoulders that yanked him out from under the desk, lifted him and threw him against the wall like a rag doll. The beast (it couldn’t possibly be human, surely?) then thrust itself upon him. His neck and throat were swiftly opened up in excruciating pain as whatever it was clawed viciously at him. He was sure he’d heard the flesh tearing. Then there was the blood, pouring down his neck, amidst the grunts and growls of some kind of wild animal. Tearing, shredding.

The pain. The blood. Pools of it. Drowning.

Easy money? Yeah, right!

 

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Excerpt: 8 Hours to Die by JR Carroll: Chapter 1

Posted January 20, 2014 by Mark

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8 Hours to Die is the intense new thriller from JR Carroll. 

When the past comes knocking, it will not be denied …

Ex-cop turned criminal lawyer Tim Fontaine and his wife Amy are heading for their weekender – a restored farmhouse in remote bushland known as Black Pig Bend.

But even before they’ve eaten dinner, three outlaw bikers arrive on the scene. Suddenly Tim’s house becomes a fortress. Who are these people? Why have they come? Who sent them?

As the lights go out and darkness descends, their idyllic world is transformed into a nightmare from which there is no waking up. Tim must grapple not just with formidable adversaries, but with unsettling questions relating to his own past, both as cop and lawyer, and even to his marriage.

But even if they survive this night against appalling odds, the ordeal is far from over. For when the past comes knocking, it will not be denied …

CLICK HERE to preorder from your preferred ebook retailer

WARNING: Violence and language ahead…

 

Chapter 1

Friday, 3.15pm

After a late June electrical storm—brief and spectacular—the sky was a clean, washed-out blue, so pristine it was hard to imagine where all that rain had come from. It was warm and snug inside the car. Columns of peeling gum trees crowded both sides of the road; whole battalions of cockatoos and galahs perched in the trees and on the grass alongside the road.

Few other cars, however. Not one, in fact, in either direction. Situation normal in these parts.

Hordes of stationary birds. No cars. A sci-fi movie scenario, where one might be abducted by aliens. Or one of those deserted interstate highways in an American road movie, disappearing for hundreds of kilometres into an empty, and maybe threatening, wasteland ahead.

Tim Fontaine’s gaze was fixed on the broken white line forever rushing towards him. The Kluger’s heavy-duty Kumho tyres sang a high note on the smooth bitumen of the Monaro Highway. Alongside him, his wife, Amy, dozed like a contented newborn, her soft face nestled into a pillow set against the window. He could see her breath misting up the glass.

Tim was impressed. Amy always slept soundly when they were on the road. He could never do that, not in a million years, nod off when someone else was driving. Even when Amy was driving, he kept a sharp eye out. Good or bad, Tim Fontaine had always needed to hold his destiny in his own hands. But apparently Amy had no such qualms. Apparently she had trust and belief in his driving. That was comforting.

Trust. Belief. Big words. When they’d started out, when they were white-hot, trust and belief didn’t matter. No words did. All they wanted was each other—anywhere, anyhow. But now a good part of that heat had evaporated. Things had changed. Hell, everything had changed. Time did that—reconfigured you. In the end you were a different unit from how you started out. They were a normal married couple now.

On the radio a female ABC announcer was playing classical music—something by Prokofiev. Tim didn’t fancy it; he scanned for something else. Norah Jones turned up on one of the local FM stations. She could sing all right, in that sad and wistful style so common among the current crop of songbirds. But you couldn’t tell one from the other.

You’re showing your age, he told himself.

He glanced at Amy again. She was a picture. To his eye she hadn’t aged one day in the eight years they’d been together. In the beginning, Amy’s passionate lovemaking was most unexpected, even shocking, coming from someone with those elegant Gwyneth Paltrow looks. That had made it all the more exciting for him.

But when he looked in the mirror, his face told a different story. His once-dark hair was greying and wearing thin at the crown, his jowls had thickened and deep creases ran across his throat, as if he’d been slashed. Worst of all, goddamned liver spots had begun sprouting on his shoulders and on the backs of his hands. Just a few years ago he was considered young for his age, but suddenly, it seemed, the unforgiving march of time had eaten that up. Now he looked every one of his fifty-three years.

Whenever he dwelt on this subject—every morning as he shaved—Tim worried that Amy might dump him for younger blood. The potential was there once he was no longer sexually attractive. And she’d left someone for him, so why wouldn’t she do it again?

The future was an impenetrable haze. But for what they’d had together, Tim was truly thankful.

Now, though, he had some doubts about her. He’d been wondering if she was the kind of woman who got hot for a man in a flash, then turned off him when the fire went out. It shamed him to admit it, but there were signs that she was going off him. She often faked sleep to thwart his night-time advances; you didn’t have to be a gun detective to tell when someone was pretending to be asleep. There were times when she ended a telephone conversation abruptly when he came home unexpectedly. He could hear her ringing off as he closed the front door behind him. If he asked who it was, she’d say, ‘No one,’ or something equally lame, and then change the subject. Then there were the hang-up calls when he answered the phone—at least once or twice a week for the last six months. And, increasingly, she went out with friends, especially when Tim worked late, which he often had to do to keep the coffers well filled. In the beginning, a twenty-year age difference didn’t matter, but by the time she hit her mid-forties and he was pushing seventy—seventy!—it might be a different story. If they lasted that long.

Maybe he was paranoid, but Tim had developed serious concerns about Amy—sleeping now like a baby by his side, a picture of purity and innocence, though she had a strong-willed, sometimes volatile, temperament. He wasn’t sure how he’d deal with it if she left him. He’d once acted for a multi-millionaire businessman—a perfectly respectable Rotary and Chamber of Commerce type—who had stabbed his wife sixty-six times, and then cut her in half, simply because she told him she was leaving. Every day in the papers there were stories about men who did crazy, violent things even when their wives threatened to walk. Madness lurked in most people, if not everyone, but Tim could never imagine himself doing anything to hurt Amy.

As he drove, these thoughts churned around in his mind. Tim knew this alone could send one nuts: he shook his head to expel the negativity. He became aware that he was strangling the wheel, and flexed out his fingers. It’s all fine. She’s not going anywhere. Amy had a comfortable life: a great home with an infinity pool in Red Hill; tennis club membership; skiing vacations in Colorado; clothes from Vera Wang. Tim was by no means the wealthiest barrister in Canberra, but he did all right, better than all right, considering his humble origins in Sydney’s wild west.

His thoughts drifted even further backwards. He remembered the first time he got it on with Amy, in a Canberra bar, after she’d interviewed him on her radio program. At the time she had the breakfast slot on one of the popular stations. He’d been taken with her name, Amy Hightower, and then, when he came face-to-face with her … well, the chemistry was palpable, right from the introductions. From the moment he locked eyes with her, Tim’s only thought was: How soon can I get her into the cot? The answer: not long. Two days, in fact.

Those thoughts dragged him further into the past, to his pre-lawyer days, years on the force as a uniformed cop, a ‘jack’ as the boys on the street called him. It was equivalent to being called a dog, or a pig. ‘Hey, jack!’ they’d yell when he cruised past in a patrol car, giving him the bird. Not much respect there.

Tim Fontaine was no sentimentalist, but there were odd moments when he indulged. Remembered—with fondness, mostly—growing up in that vast tract of grief and sorrow otherwise known as Sydney’s western suburbs. That was back in the day, when he still went by his full name: Tim de la Fontainebleu. He sure copped plenty at school because of it. Not that there was anything fancy about his family—they were blue-collar all the way through, right down to the second-hand clothes and Christmas presents.

Once, this mountainous, small-eyed thug named Clive Dane came up to Tim in the playground and said, ‘You’re a weak cunt, de la Fontainebloo.’ Next thing, Tim was flat on the ground, seeing stars. He never saw that big, fat fist coming.

Clive Dane. The Dane family was a tribe of retards, thieves and bash artists, rotten from the top down. Old man Dane was forever beating up on the wife. Cops were always around at the Dane house, which was a humpy thrown together from scrap—no doubt stolen—materials. They were the pits.

That same night, Tim’s dad, a senior constable at the local stationhouse, took him down the milk bar for a double-header ice-cream. A double-header! This was an unusual treat—unheard of, really. Next day he gave Tim a pair of boxing gloves, second-hand, naturally. ‘World’s full of Clive Danes,’ his father told him. ‘You want to get by, you have to defend yourself.’

That was when Tim started travelling on the train to a police boys’ club in a nearby suburb, two or three times a week after school. There he was taught the rudiments of boxing by off-duty cops, usually ruddy-faced and reeking of beer. Still, they were performing a service in their own time, and for nothing.

Tim learned how to defend himself, and got better as he grew taller and put on weight. By the time he was sixteen he could, in the parlance of the street, go a bit. Every night he attacked the heavy bag his old man had rigged up in the shed until he couldn’t raise one more blow. But he only ever got into a blue one time, at a dance in Blacktown. Tim found that boxing wasn’t much use up against gangs armed with bottles and knives and knuckledusters. He hit one guy good and hard and then got the hell out. After that he steered clear of the Blacktown rock music scene.

Inevitably he followed his father into the force, never really thought about doing anything else. By the time he was eighteen he was a raw-boned, grinning probationary constable with a gun on his hip. And he got to drive fast cars. What a buzz that was.

Amy came out of her stupor, stretched her eyes open. Gave him a dozy smile.

‘How much further?’ she said.

‘TomTom says … one hundred and twenty-four point seven,’ Tim said, glancing at the GPS. ‘Nearly halfway there.’

‘Cooma?’

‘Been and gone. About ten minutes ago. You missed all that excitement.’

‘Huh.’

Silence for a minute or two as she gazed at the countryside rushing by.

‘You listening to this?’ she said. Queen: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.

‘No way,’ he said.

She started scanning for something more acceptable. Tim became aware of a big truck in his rear-view, a B-Double, right on his tail. Where the fuck did that come from? Tim was sitting on ninety-five. He pushed it up another five. The B-Double stayed right there, practically tailgating him. The truck had a bank of lights on a roof bar. Tim put his foot down. Now he was on a hundred-ten. The B-Double matched his speed. Then its horn blared. That was when Amy first noticed they had a tail. ‘Shit!’ she said, twisting around.

‘Christ almighty,’ Tim said. ‘What does this joker want?’

‘Tim!’ she said. ‘He’s nearly hitting us!’

‘Fuck! Can’t pull over,’ he said. ‘He’s too close anyhow. If I hit the brakes he’ll smash into us for sure!’

‘Do something!’ Amy screamed. Tim saw in her eyes that she was scared to death. So was he.

Tim wrenched the wheel to the left, touching the shoulder of the road. The B-Double edged out, looking to pass, but then another truck came thundering the other way. Coming up was a long curve, double lines all the way. Tim hugged the shoulder, giving the B-Double all the room he could afford. Suddenly it pulled out and screamed past them, horn blaring nonstop. The rush of air between the two vehicles rocked the Kluger, forcing Tim further off the bitumen, into the gravel and dangerously close to a fence and overhanging branches. Right then he was pretty sure he was gonzo. Hold on, hold on. But the Kluger suddenly swung sideways in the truck’s ferocious backwash, spinning on the loose stones. Tim stomped on the brake pedal and gripped the wheel for dear life. Amy was screaming, grasping her head in both hands. The all-wheel drive momentarily tipped, going onto two wheels, then righted itself and skittered on down the road at a dangerous angle—travelling backwards. There came a terrible shriek of rubber as he practically stood up on the brakes. He knew that was wrong, totally wrong—in this situation, you never hit the brakes, you steered in the direction the car was swerving—but he was going too fast and unless he could stop the car he was certainly going to wrap them around a tree …

In that instant, the moment before his death, his mind flashed on a TV news item showing bits of car wreckage scattered along a highway, a young reporter telling his audience the two occupants had no chance.

And then, in a dense cloud of dust and gravel and gum leaves, the Kluger skidded to a halt—in the middle of the road, and pointed the wrong way.

Tim took a deep breath. Then another. His heart was racing. The dashboard was a constellation of red lights—he’d stalled the car.

‘Holy. Fucking. Shit!’ he said in a rasping voice. ‘You—you all right, baby?’

Amy’s face was still buried in her hands. He touched the top of her head, and she convulsed violently, as if he had hit her.

Tim turned his attention back to the Kluger. He restarted it with some difficulty, four or five tries, and then brought it the right way around with a three-point turn. He drove slowly on until he found a place to stop for a spell.

When he’d switched off the engine and unsnapped his seatbelt, Amy said, ‘I thought I was dead then.’

‘Yeah.’

‘No, I mean—really dead. And then … when you touched me, I got a shock because I suddenly realised I wasn’t. I was … I was in another place, all silent and serene.’

Tim was nodding. ‘Scary. Christ, what a bastard!’

In a minute or so she said, ‘Did you get his number?’

‘Afraid not. Had a bit on the plate.’ He blew out some air.

They sat quietly for a good five minutes, listening to the ticking of the engine.

‘I wouldn’t mind a cigarette,’ Amy said. She’d given up five years ago, hadn’t lit one since.

‘Sorry I can’t oblige,’ he said. ‘I could actually use something stronger.’ He’d just noticed that his hands were trembling uncontrollably. Not an ideal start to a relaxing weekend away.

‘Anyway … let’s push on,’ he said, turning the key. ‘Onward and upward.’ He grinned at her, a false heroic gesture, but didn’t get one in return.

Tim and Amy were headed for their weekender deep in the Pericoe Valley, adjacent to the South East Forest National Park and around thirty kilometres inland from the fishing port of Eden. Most of it was virgin bush country, dense pine forest with a handful of residences, old farmhouses, caravans and derelict shacks scattered about. The boom period for Pericoe had been during the early seventies, when a community of hippies and dropouts had settled there during the wave of anti-Vietnam war flower power and a different way of being. It was supposedly modelled on Nimbin, the thriving hippie community in northern New South Wales. People cut down trees and built their own shelters, planted vegetables, raised chickens, goats and pigs, smoked a lot of weed, sang songs by Donovan and Melanie and Bob Dylan, embraced the concept of free love and free everything else. Disturbed long-haired Vietnam veterans arrived in army greens, hoping to escape their wartime nightmares and put their lives back together. For a few years it must have been some kind of paradise, where people went nude and painted their bodies and grew dope, babies were born and raised totally insulated from the military–industrial complex—that evil conglomerate that ran the western world—and no one was trying to shoot the crap out of anyone else.

Problem was, the soil wasn’t capable of supporting much except some hardy plants along with the dope. Dense forest cover blocked sunlight and sucked up most of the nutrients. More crucially, there was no regular water supply—no river or lake, or even a dam. Whoever chose the location failed to notice why no one else lived there. Disillusion soon set in. A five-year drought pretty much finished the commune off. By the early eighties, Pericoe had gone from the Garden of Eden to the Valley of Despair. People abandoned their shacks and caravans. The pigs, cats and dogs were left to run loose as the inhabitants packed up their meagre belongings and hitched rides back to the real world. Only a few resolute souls remained. Nowadays, there were probably about thirty people scattered through the Pericoe Valley, although no one could say for sure.

*

Half an hour on, Tim was deep in thought as he sped through the bush, barely noticing any of it as he barrelled along the Mount Darragh Road. In his mind he was replaying the incident with the B-Double, but seeing the car flip over, screeching down the road on its roof before coming to grief. Beside him Amy was sitting up, eyes wide open, staring straight ahead. Nothing dozy about her now. Neither had spoken a word since they’d restarted their journey. Tim was picking up a negative vibe, as if she somehow blamed him. And oddly, he did feel a bit responsible for putting her in danger.

‘Well, baby doll,’ he said, patting her leg, ‘least we’re still here to tell the story.’

Amy turned to him with a faint, mirthless smile, one side of her mouth turned down. But she still didn’t say anything. Tim put it down to shock. He removed his hand and put it back on the wheel.

In a little while they passed through the small town of Wyndham. The late sun was casting long shadows of trees across the road—always disconcerting. Tim blinked, concentrating harder. Only forty kilometres to go. He turned onto Barragate Road, then Towamba Road—last leg of the trip. At the junction was the general store, which had been there for at least a hundred years. The last chance saloon for all essentials.

Tim pulled in out front and killed the engine. Amy maintained her silence. She seemed locked into a world of her own—apparently unaware that they’d stopped.

‘Hey,’ he said softly.

She looked at him with her pale blue Gwyneth Paltrow eyes.

‘Come on,’ he said, smiling—but not overplaying it. ‘Time to pay our respects to His Worship.’

The store was of the old-world variety, packed to the rafters with hardware, tools, drygoods, household items, sturdy outdoor clothing, fishing tackle, groceries, bottled water. There was also a range of locally made gourmet products: preserves, chutneys, bread, confectionery. It also had the only telephone in the district. Anyone needed to make a call, they came to Gus’s store and used his 1980-vintage wall phone, complete with scratch pad and pencil dangling on a string alongside. And since there was no mail delivery hereabouts, the store also served as an unofficial post office.

Whenever Tim came through the fly-wire door to be confronted with the wondrous array of provisions, he imagined the pioneers with their bullock drays calling in for their pots and pans and sacks of flour before pushing on into the great wilderness—it had that kind of feel to it. It was a step back through time.

The store had been run forever by a disapproving octogenarian named Gus. He was a local fixture and a sort of unofficial councilman for the entire valley. Gus was often referred to as the mayor. Seemingly without ever leaving his post, he knew everything that went down hereabouts.

Tim and Amy stood at the counter, surveying the stacked mass of goods, much of which bore brand names that had ceased to exist long ago. It all seemed haphazard, quite chaotic, yet no doubt Gus could put his hand on anything a customer wanted straight away. No sign of him right now, however. Tim pressed the worn-down brass buzzer on the counter, connected by wires that made their way through the guts of the store to a residence out the back where Gus lived alone. Apparently his wife had died decades ago.

Eventually Gus appeared, weaving through racks of King Gee overalls and clusters of kerosene lanterns hanging from the ceiling. His expression didn’t change when he saw Tim. Tim had never seen Gus smile. Amy thought he was a grumpy old bastard, and he was, but Tim had time for him. He had a story to tell, no doubt. And there was a sense of humour buried in there, somewhere.

‘Afternoon, Gus,’ Tim said.

‘Afternoon yourself,’ Gus said in his friendly, gruff manner—though one could never be sure how much ‘friendly’ was in there. Seemingly aware of her dislike of him, he barely acknowledged Amy, giving her only the slightest nod. She believed he was a misogynist, but Tim wasn’t so sure. He thought Gus was uncomfortable with women rather than disliking them.

‘So … how’s business of late?’

‘Business never changes,’ Gus said. ‘Like me. Man might as well be a wooden Indian.’

Tim, nodded, smiling. This was the standard rigmarole.

‘Old Kaw-Liga,’ Tim said, referring to the Hank Williams song from the fifties.

‘That’s right,’ Gus said. ‘Made of knotty pine. That’s how I feel most of the time.’ He looked out the window at the gleaming silver Kluger. ‘Got yourself a new conveyance?’

‘Yeah,’ Tim said. ‘Only had it a month or so.’

‘Not even run in,’ Gus said. ‘What is it, a Humvee? All those off-road war wagons look the same to me.’

Tim smiled at the very idea. ‘No, mate—she’s a Kluger.’

Gus frowned. ‘Kluger. Sounds German. No time for Germans.’

‘Not German. It’s a Toyota—Japanese.’ Soon as he said it, Tim realised his mistake. Too late.

‘Don’t talk to me about the Japanese,’ Gus said, spitting the word. ‘Not after what they did to my brother, Tyrone, God rest his soul, at Hellfire Pass.’

Tim was nodding, tight-lipped. He wasn’t about to say anything to encourage Gus down that road. Amy, meantime, was inspecting the jars of fancy preserves and whatnot.

‘They beat him half to death when he fell down on the job,’ Gus said. ‘Died the next day from dysentery and starvation. Weighed sixty-five pounds by then.’ A dark shadow crossed his face as he reimagined the ordeal his brother had gone through. ‘Like to have seen ’em try it in a fair fight. Tyrone would’ve taken a dozen of ’em, one hand tied behind his back.’

It was a long time ago, Gus, Tim thought. World’s moved on a bit. Words he’d never dare utter.

‘True enough,’ he said, to fill the space. He allowed a respectful moment or two to pass before changing the subject. ‘What about Malcolm? How’s he going?’

‘Who could possibly say,’ Gus said.

‘Think I spotted him in the bush once,’ Tim said. ‘Last time I was here. But I wasn’t too sure.’

‘If he doesn’t want you to see him—you won’t.’

‘Right.’ Tim turned to Amy. ‘Anyway … must press on. We’d better have some of Mrs Brennan’s sourdough bread. And a couple of dozen of the spring water. Anything you want, baby?’

Amy had collected several jars of chutney and jam. ‘I’ll have these,’ she said, dumping them on the counter. Tim selected four loaves of the bread while Gus hefted two shrink-wrapped twelve-packs of water from a stack and put them with the rest.

‘Anything else you need?’

‘Should just about do,’ Tim said. He shelled out some cash. Gus worked it all out with a notepad and pencil, then made change from an ancient wooden drawer, worn smooth and blond.

What remained was a ten-kilometre drive down a dirt road. After fifteen or so minutes, about four kilometres from Tim’s place, among trees so tall dusk seemed to have suddenly come down, he slowed at a small cabin set back a way from the road, half concealed in shrubbery.

He left the motor running while he looked at the cabin.

‘No signs of life,’ he said.

‘What would you expect? It looks deserted,’ Amy said.

Tim got out and opened the back of the car. Amy watched him pick up a dozen of the water bottles and two loaves of bread. Then he made his way to the cabin.

Malcolm—the only name he was known by, other than Mad Malcolm—was one of the original settlers of the Pericoe valley. He was a disturbed Vietnam veteran, suffering from what would nowadays be diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—PTSD. But whatever name you gave it, Malcolm was one screwed-up motherfucker. When everyone else pulled the pin, he stayed on. He was such a loner he probably didn’t even realise they’d all gone. How he survived, Tim didn’t know. There was no sign of a vegetable garden, no chickens, nothing. Not even a dog. He was never seen at the store. He had no car. The only explanation was that he lived off the land, hunting the feral pigs or rabbits or whatever else came under his gunsights. Tim had heard the occasional rifle shot ringing out in the woods, and he always assumed it was Malcolm snaring his dinner. In his mind’s eye he had visions of a demented wildman, a frightening vision of tangled red hair wearing a loincloth made from animal hide, and bare feet: a modern-day William Buckley, the escaped convict who lived with Aborigines for half his life.

The cabin was a well-constructed, solid little dwelling built from logs that had been split in half with an axe. Mortar was a rough mix of mud and grass, similar to that used in the old wattle-and-daub pioneering days. You could imagine a family of gnomes living in it. There was a front window that, in Tim’s experience, always had a cloth blind of some sort.

Tim knocked a couple of times. No answer. He rapped again, waited a minute. Then he put the water and bread on the ground in front of the door. He had never expected anyone to open it.

This was part of the ritual whenever Tim came to the valley. He had got into the habit of leaving these offerings for Malcolm for reasons he couldn’t properly explain. As he left the property, Tim stopped in his tracks. He had that unmistakeable feeling of being watched. He turned around, but saw nothing. No sign of life anywhere. He scanned the bush. It was all quiet and still. Not even a bird breaking the silence. Still he felt eyes on him. There had been something …

‘Mission accomplished,’ he said, climbing back aboard the car.

‘I don’t know why you bother,’ Amy said.

‘Neither do I,’ he said. ‘Guess it gives me a nice warm feeling—you know, reaching out to help the dispossessed and alienated.’

‘Lawyers don’t do that,’ she said. ‘At least none that I know.’

‘I realise it’s dead against the code of ethics,’ he said. ‘But what the hell.’

‘Like leaving out cake for Father Christmas,’ she said. ‘But at least he gives you something in return.’

‘Amy,’ he said, turning towards her as they trundled down the dirt road, ‘I hate to be the one to tell you, but … there is no Father Christmas.’

Amy laughed, and at that moment, in his peripheral vision, Tim noticed a dark blur flash in front of the car. Instinctively he hit the brakes, but too late. Thump. Amy let out a shrill cry. Tim pulled up.

There was blood on the windscreen.

Shit.

‘What is going on!’ Amy shouted, no hint of a question in her tone.

Tim got out of the car and saw a writhing kangaroo on the verge of the road behind them. It was thumping its tail furiously on the ground. Tim approached the animal and, sensing his presence, it started freaking out, trying to drag itself out of harm’s way, back to the safety of the bush.

Blood was spattered over the grey fur on its chest—a great deal of blood, coming from its mouth. Tim took a step closer. The kangaroo’s leg twitched as it scraped at the dirt with its front paws. It was not long for this world.

There was only one thing to do. Tim found a dead branch just off the road. He advanced on the desperately struggling animal, trying to get behind it so it couldn’t see him.

‘What are you doing?’ Amy screamed at him. She too had got out of the car.

‘It’s dying, Amy. I have to put it out of its misery.’

‘No!’

‘I have to! You can see he’s had it! Can’t just leave him here like this, can we?’

He stepped closer to the stricken kangaroo, which suddenly convulsed violently, desperate to escape its fate.

‘Don’t you dare!’ Amy screamed.

Tim froze, the branch raised above his shoulders. He turned and looked at her. Amy was, he was discovering, much more squeamish about cruelty to animals than to humans. Violence against people didn’t seem to bother her much. But then, he thought, maybe that wasn’t unusual, since people are so often responsible for their own grief, through stupidity, greed, whatever, but animals can’t be blamed for their plight.

Astonishingly, Amy had once been romantically involved with a gangland figure, a hardcore criminal named Lance Delaney, who had done time for fraud, violent assaults, armed robbery, car theft and, finally, murder for hire. That was before Tim came along and stole her away while Delaney was upriver, doing penance for a murder he claimed he didn’t commit. It was one of several, but he never faced charges for the others.

Tim couldn’t believe it when Amy told him about Lance. What Amy, a diplomat’s daughter with a degree in anthropology and a respectable job as a radio announcer, was doing with a dirtbag like Delaney was one of the world’s great mysteries. When he put the question to her later, she said it was a buzz being around him. ‘Lance isn’t all bad. He can be sweet and charming. He has charisma. He has dash. He doesn’t just sit in a corner and behave himself. But I don’t expect you to understand,’ she’d said pointedly. She even attended court as a supporter during one of his trials, and visited him in prison couple of times, until Tim drew a line. Sweet and charming Lance Delaney was not. Narcissistic, cunning and manipulative, yes. And what was this ‘dash’ that was so appealing? All it meant was a willingness—a desire—to live outside the law instead of holding down a real job.

*

‘Amy,’ he said, ‘for Christ’s sake, get a grip! Turn away!’

Miraculously, after a moment’s hesitation, she obeyed.

Tim dispatched the kangaroo with a single, sickening blow to the skull.

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Should the Thrawn trilogy remain in the Star Wars canon?

Posted by Mark

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The Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn is one of the most well-regarded pieces of work from the Star Wars Expanded Universe, selling 15 million copies worldwide since the release of book 1, Heir to the Empire, in 1991. It was devoured by an entire generation of Star Wars fans, who were too young to see Return of the Jedi at the cinema, and still almost a decade away from The Phantom Menace.

The latest Star Wars update from Disney is that there is going to be an extensive review into the EU and a reconsideration of what stories are going to be considered canon. Up to now, the entire EU was considered canon, with every story being vetted by Lucasfilm prior to publication, and a vast database of events and characters being kept.

But with a new series of films on the way, Disney wants the freedom to create new stories, and not be beholden to a canon that will be totally unfamiliar to the average movie-goer. This is fair enough. Disney wants to tell stories in the post-Return of the Jedi universe in which most of the major EU works take place. And let’s face it, some of the EU stories are bad, some of them are crazy, and some of them take Star Wars to places it really shouldn’t have gone.

Some of the EU stories are fantastic. Some of them are true to the characters, are exciting adventures, and unfold in a way that makes them logical and worthy follow-ups to the original Star Wars trilogy. And the Thrawn trilogy is a prime example of this kind of EU story.

Does it matter if Thrawn is considered canon or not? I guess it doesn’t really, the books will still be there, and will be just as good as they always were. But it’s another slap in the face to the die-hard Star Wars fans, who have had to put up with a lot of bad decisions, from the Special Editions, to the death of Chewbacca, to the love story in the prequel trilogy. Can’t we be allowed to keep this in the canon, as part of the ongoing story we’ve invested in for more than 20 years now?

The fans ultimately don’t matter to the bean-counters at Disney. Fans seemed to hate the prequels, but they earned over $2 billion at the global box office and spawned a merchandising wave that continues to be hugely profitable to this day. The fans will come, they are locked in to visiting a cinema in December 2015 to witness Episode VII, JJ Abrams would pretty much have to turn Star Wars into a musical to keep the fans away, and even then we’d probably still watch it.

Thrawn is a great story. It takes place five years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The new republic is in a delicate period of expansion and negotiation, and things are getting tough as the realities of governance begin to take their toll. But a Grand Admiral of the Empire has been biding his time, building a fleet and gaining loyal worlds, and he begins a mission of conquest and revenge. Throw into this long-lost battle fleets, cloning technology and a demented dark Jedi who wants to kidnap Han and Leia’s kids, and you have the makings of a  great trilogy.

The trilogy has some of the most vivid and interesting characters in the entire EU, from Grand Admiral Thrawn himself, a blue-skinned, red-eyed alien who goes everywhere with a creature that can suppress the force, to dark Jedi Mara Jade, the former hand of the Emperor, who has sworn revenge against Luke. These are great, interesting and viable characters and it would be a shame if they were suddenly considered non-canon.

More than that, the Thrawn trilogy really proved that tie-in or spin-off novels could add a huge amount to the worlds that they took place in. They didn’t have to be self-contained adventures that returned everything to normal at the end, they could grow and expand, and connect with millions of readers, instead of a narrow group of super-fans.

Personally, I’d love to see some aspects of Thrawn remain in the canon. It would be wonderful to see Thrawn himself on screen (played by Hugo Weaving, of course), but I’m not holding my breath for that to happen. What do you think? Does it matter if Thrawn stays canon or not?

 

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