Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Review - Swift to Chase by Laird Barron

It's not often that my first reaction to finishing a book is to sit and stare out a window in disbelief, but that was all my mind could summon my body to do after turning the last page in Laird Barron's new collection Swift to Chase

It is that good. 

I've been a fan of Barron's for a number of years now, and every time I think I've got a handle on the sheer breadth and scope of his fiction he releases a new short story, collection, or novella that blows my mental battleship straight out of the water. Swift to Chase is no different. Barron, wielding plot strings like a cosmic puppet master, fuses everything we've come to associate and love with his work (that wicked blend of horror, noir, and pulp) and takes it in new and wonderful directions with this latest release. 

The collection is broken down into three distinct parts, though each is related to the other and to Laird's larger mythos that he has been steadily constructing over the past decade. The first part deals primarily with Jessica Mace, Laird's pulpy and noir protagonist whose broken nature and encounters with the darkness will leave you with chills that you can't shake. "Termination Dust" is the standout in this section, as Barron takes you back through Jessica's adventures and time as he slowly lifts the veil on the evil that stalks everyone hungrily. The second part includes some of this collections most powerful and disturbing tales. My favourite, "Ardor" tells the story of a man hunting for someone in the harsh and uncaring wilds of Alaska. This story showcases Barron's ability to weave an incredibly unique, surreal and fascinating tale whilst also grounding it within the scope of a moody noir and cosmic piece. "Ardor" is uncompromising, beautiful, deeply disturbing in places. It also highlights the fact that you CAN write exceptional cosmic horror out from under the shadow of Lovecraft and his acolytes. This section also includes "the worms crawl in", a revenge story that quickly escapes its boundaries and escalates beyond all expectations, and "Ears Prick Up", a remarkable story that includes robotic canine war machines and a post-apocalyptic Romanesque civilisation with an Emperor at its head. I was addicted to this particular tale from the outset, with Barron hooking me in with his unique, raw and poetic cadence:

"My kind is swift to chase, swift to battle. My imperfect memory is long with longing for the fight." 

Some writers can create permanent and lasting memories in a readers mind. Barron achieves that in spades with "Ears Prick Up". The stark and haunting image of Rex loping across the frozen tundra will remain with me to my dying days I suspect. 

In the third section Barron ramps it up even further with the cosmic and surreal strangeness of his tales. "Black Dog" takes a blind date and twists it with a bizarre and eerie ending, and "Slave Arm", a short and ambitious piece, answers so much and before asking even more. This final section is rounded out by two of my favourite stories from the collection, "Frontier Death Song", a terrifying and brilliant tale that draws upon wild hunt mythology, and "Tomahawk Park Survivors Raffle", a story where several familiar and recurring characters reappear as loose ends are tied up, and the violence and horror hinted at in the preceding stories is fully realised and set loose upon our world. 

Swift to Chase is, to put it simply, masterful. It is an enthralling and terrifying journey across many different landscapes, from the physical to the mental, through to forays across time and space. It is indicative of Barron's skill that he somehow manages, despite the shifts in time and place, to make this collection one of his most accessible yet, with each and every story relating directly back to his ever-growing mythos. It also represents a new and wonderful direction for Barron in many ways. From the cold and biting harshness of Alaska through to the carnivorous reality that lies just beyond the perception of most, Barron weaves a seductive web that traps readers and makes morsels of them. This book answers some questions, whilst posing even more. It also elevates Barron to a pedestal where few other writers exist. Intoxicating, ambitious, and utterly superb storytelling, Swift to Chase is amongst Barron's finest work to date. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

Monday, 17 October 2016

Cohesion Con 2016 - A Report

Where does one start with a convention report? I suppose, like with all things, at the beginning. 

For those of you who aren't in the know, the Book Expo Australia was cancelled at short notice three days before it was supposed to occur. I won't go into too much detail in regards to this, but the sudden cancellation left a lot of publishers, authors, and artists high and dry with stock they were going to sell, and bookings that couldn't be cancelled at such short notice.

Most people decided to incur the costs, and cancelled their reservations without refund. Disappointment and anger flowed freely online, as people debated what went wrong and pondered how they were going to survive with new and unforeseen debts now hanging over their heads (publishing is often a fine line between solvency and bankruptcy). 

Amidst all of this Geoff Brown, and a number of other authors and editors, plotted and made plans. A few hours after the expo was cancelled I got a phone call from Geoff.

"We're still coming up. Fuck it. We'll hold our own convention." 

A few hours after that phone call Geoff and Cohesion Press announced that Galaxy Bookshop would host an event that included book signings, launches for Fathomless and Primordial, interviews and meet and greets. 

Welcome to Cohesion Con 2016! 

Day 1 - 

My wife, daughter, and I arrived at our hotel Friday afternoon after a mostly uneventful drive up. We had prepared for almost any child related disaster on the trip, so when our daughter behaved herself we were relieved (props to Frozen for keeping her happy). After getting our luggage up to the room and taking in the view over the Parramatta CBD, we decided to venture forth and explore the surrounding area. I was buzzing, the fatigue from our long commute fading as the family and I followed our noses (and stomachs) down to Harris Park (also known as 'Little India'), where we inhaled some of the best curries I've had in years. A great start to the weekend! 

On the walk back to the hotel,  Geoff messaged the group we had set up on Facebook. 

"Anyone up for a coffee?" 

Andrew J. McKiernan was keen, as was I. Plans were made to meet in the lobby downstairs in the hotel where both Geoff and Andrew were staying once I got back from our adventure (across the road from me).

After settling the little one in with my better half, I wandered over to meet Geoff and Andrew. Butterflies gripped my stomach, as I sat down in the lobby and waited. 

A couple of minutes later, Andrew strolled up looking relaxed (the luxurious Turkish spa in his room probably had something to do with it!) and greeted me with warmth and kindness, instantly putting my nervousness at ease. Within minutes we were laughing and chatting about different things, from learning to drive right through to parenthood and books we loved. Geoff appeared, and greeted me like a long lost friend. All of my nerves evaporated, as we continued to laugh and chat in the lobby. 

"What time is Lee due?" 

"Soon, I think." 

Lo and behold, an airport shuttle pulled up to the hotel, and out jumped Lee Murray, all smiles and excitement at finally arriving after a long trip from New Zealand. Hugs and greetings were exchanged, and we moved into the hotel restaurant to eat and continue getting to know each other. A couple of hours later, after much laughter and good conversation, I walked back across the road and up to my room to get some much needed sleep. 

Day 2 - 

Having planned to catch up with everyone again after lunch, my wife and I took the little one to Parramatta and did some shopping in the morning. I wandered into a board game store, and almost spent a shitload of money on some expansions to Arkham Horror. Luckily, I was able to restrain myself and keep what money I had to spend at Galaxy Bookshop the following day.

After more retail therapy, we met up with one of our best friends who lives in Sydney and had a wonderful lunch (dining out in Sydney is brilliant when you come from a town where the best eating is at the local pub). Dashing back to Rosehill afterwards, I scampered over the road again for coffee and finally got to meet Andrew and Geoff's lovely partners, Kylie and Dawn. More great conversation followed, and the laughter and merriment from the group echoed around the restaurant. Lee, because she is an amazing human being, gave me three books for nothing whilst we were drinking coffee and tea. My haul had begun! 

Plans were made to go out for dinner, but I couldn't make it as I was on 'Daddy Daycare' duty for the night. I did hear on the grapevine though that the police were called to settle and contain an unruly lot at the gourmet pizza place down the road, and that Andrew trashed his luxurious hotel room in true rock star fashion in the early hours of the morning (ok so that didn't happen... but I never let the truth get in the way of a good story). 

Day 3 - 

The day had finally arrived. Cohesion Con 2016! Galaxy Bookshop, a temple for speculative fiction fans statewide! HELL YEAH! 

Gobbling down a quick brekkie, we jumped in the car and raced over to our friends place in Alexandria again. A quick kiss and cuddle goodbye, and I practically ran to Redfern Station as my excitement grew. A short train ride into the CBD, and I stared up at Galaxy Bookshop. I was finally here! I went to walk into the shop... heavenly trumpets sounding in my head as I imagined the gates of the shop opening up before me... and ran straight into the glass doors that were still locked (I was ten minutes early and the store was still closed). 

Luckily, no one witnessed me making a total git of myself!

Finally the doors opened, and I flew up the stairs and almost fell over at the sheer concentration of speculative fiction books in one location. Thousands of books... fantasy... science fiction... horror... weird... all together. I wandered up and down the aisles, like a kid (a balding and hairy kid admittedly) in a candy store, looking at titles, making notes of prices, and planning my purchases. 

A few minutes later Geoff, Dawn, Andrew, Kylie, and Lee showed up and as a group we marvelled at the shop. Lee immediately started doing some Christmas shopping, and the rest of us wandered around and struggled to wipe the smiles off our face as we picked up book after book to examine. The lovely staff at Galaxy (Allison, Tamara, and Craig) made us all feel incredibly welcome, and discussions about where everything was taking place were had. Feeling the pangs of hunger, we headed across the road to the Queen Victoria Building to have some brunch, and to wait on the arrival of a few other people. 

Whilst we were enjoying our coffee and chatting a tall and roguishly handsome (cheque's in the mail isn't it mate?) man wandered up to the table and introduced himself to me first. 

"Geoff... I'm Adrian." 

"... err hi... I'm Matthew" 

"Oh... shit. Sorry about that!"

Adrian (of Grimdark Magazine fame, and a very cool dude!) soon met the real Geoff (who was outside having a smoke when Adrian rocked up), and the general merriment continued. 

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of red, and AJ Spedding arrived and plonked down next to me at the table after greeting everyone. 

"Fuck. I need a coffee!" 

Yeah... she's that cool. 

The conversation and laughter continued, as we all enjoyed each other's company and talked shop. Adrian, AJ, Lee, Andrew and I chatted about authors such as Mark Lawrence, book piracy, and the projects we were all working on. I also introduced AJ to the amazing artwork of Jason Deem. 

Alan Baxter suddenly appeared, like a wizard emerging from behind the curtains at a show, full of energy and carrying a large box filled to the brim with his new collection Crow Shine (if you haven't pre-ordered it go here and do so now... it's amazing). We all reached for our wallets, and practically threw our money at him for signed copies. 

Once our bellies were full and our mood was soaring, we wandered back over to Galaxy and the tables were set up and loaded with books and all sorts of other goodies. I hung around and continue to browse, not wanting to get in anyone's way as they set up (I did keep one eye on Lee though, in case she grabbed all of the ARCs of Fathomless and made a dash for the nearest exit). 

After set up was done everyone relaxed and stood around chatting. Adrian and I decided to get the party started, and walked up to the signing tables and loaded ourselves up with books. Cohesion Con 2016 had officially begun. I grabbed a copy of everything that was available and walked up to the cash register to pay. As I eagerly pulled out my wallet (again) Greig Beck, one of my all-time favourite writers, strolled past and introduced himself to everyone at the signing tables. Before I could complete my transaction I heard Greig ask everyone where I was, and I timidly raised my hand like a kid who'd been caught with his hand in the lolly jar. Greig rushed over, shook my hand and handed me a gift (context... I do some editing and beta reading for Greig on the side). I quickly unwrapped the paper, and was greeted with a signed first edition of Matthew Reilly's Great Zoo of China (I'm a big fan of Reilly, so my mind was blown by Greig's generosity). Feeling absolutely stunned by everyone's kindness and generosity, and I stumbled back to the signing tables in a haze, where Andrew got the ball rolling by signing my copy of his outstanding collection for me (Last Year, When We Were Young... buy it now. I swear you won't regret it). I worked my way along the tables... convincing Geoff (a reluctant signer hehe) and AJ into penning their signatures in copies of SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest, SNAFU: Unnatural Creatures, and their stunning graphic novel The Road to Golgotha (I found your sneaky signature AJ!).

Next up was Greig, who continued to blow my mind by showing me the acknowledgement he had written for me at the start of Fathomless! I damn near fainted after seeing that. Lee then kept the good times flowing by signing a copy of Into the Mist for me to go with the books she had already gifted to me the day before. Finally, I reached that cheeky photo bomber also known as Alan Baxter, who made my day by signing whatever I put in front of him (he'll sign anything... seriously). With my haul safely secured, I was able to stand back, watch, and chat with Adrian (his knowledge of the industry is amazing). After awhile Adrian had to bail (boo!), so I wandered up to the back of the store where B. Michael Radburn and Wanda Wiltshire, two more authors who were also doing signings at the shop, had set up their tables. I knew Baz from his work in SNAFU, so it was a real delight to finally meet him and get his signature above his story 'Cargo'. 

As I turned around and strolled back towards the front of the shop, winding my way in between throngs of people waiting to meet some of their favourite writers, I noticed Mitchell Hogan standing there. He had snuck in and signed a bucket load of his books for the shop without me even noticing. I immediately made a beeline to him and introduced myself (I suspect he was rather alarmed at first as I bore down on him). We chatted for ages, popping downstairs for a sneaky beer and yarn (see what you missed Adrian? Mitchell Hogan... buying me a beer!) before we made our way back upstairs where an impromptu Q&A (run by the Annie and the cool people from the Read3r'z Re-Vu group) was taking place. After that was wrapped up Mitchell and I continued chatting, and I convinced him to buy a copy of Bradley Beaulieu's Twelve Kings, a wonderful swords and sandals fantasy. Like Adrian, he too had to bail and get home to his wife and daughters, so I sat with Dawn and chatted about books and our shared love for all things Sara Douglass. 

As the afternoon unfolded and the crowds began to thin, we started to pack up and make plans for dinner. Alan knew of a great burger joint called Grill'd, so we loaded up the cars (we won't speak about Geoff and his liberal interpretation of our road rules here in NSW hehe) after Galaxy shut their doors, said our goodbyes to the people that had to head home, and walked up to World Square to grab a bite to eat. 

The next couple of hours were a blur to be honest, as we ate, drank, and laughed after a long and incredibly fun day. We celebrated the successful launches of Fathomless and Primordial, and the fact that everyone had left the shop with mighty hauls! By the end of it we were all exhausted, and with long trips ahead for people like Geoff and Lee, we called it a night and said our goodbyes to each other. AJ and Alan were heading my way (back towards Town Hall train station), so we walked together in the warm air of the city. As I pondered which train I'd have to catch back to Redfern Alan asked me where I was heading. 

"Alexandria. We are staying with a friend for the night" 

"Oh I'll give you a lift and drop you off. It's on my way home"

"Ok. Sweet! That'd be great." 

So after farewelling AJ at the station I then found myself whizzing around the streets of Sydney with Alan, chatting about Cormac McCarthy, Laird Barron, and the fun trials and tribulations of parenting toddlers as he expertly weaved his car in and out of streets I'd never heard of. Dropping me at my place of residence for the night a little later, he shook my hand, bade me farewell, and sped off into the night to make his own way home. I'm still in awe that one of my favourite authors gave me a lift home! An incredibly act of kindness. 

Day 4 - 

We set out early, wanting to get our trip done by lunch time so we could have the afternoon to relax. After four hours of driving we arrived home, and I was able to finally sit down and relax. Sipping my coffee as my wife and daughter napped on the couch, I was able to reflect on what was one of the most amazing and enjoyable weekends I've ever had. I met and socialised with some amazing people, visited a store that blew my mind, and bought a stack of signed books that will take pride of place on my bookshelves for decades to come. Most of all though, I got to be an active participant in our wonderful speculative fiction community. I'm grateful for Geoff, Galaxy Bookshop, and everyone else I met over the weekend for making that happen. Together, we are legion people. Onward to Cohesion Con 2017!  

You can find signed copies of all of Cohesion Press's amazing books at Galaxy Bookshop. Be sure to pop in as soon as possible to pick up your copies before they run out (if they have run out, ask them to order more in!) Also, remember to grab a signed copy of Andrew J. McKiernan's and Alan Baxter's collections (Last Year, When We Were Young and Crow Shine respectively) whilst you're there! Both are great collections that will blow your minds! 

For more information about Cohesion Press head on over to their website. Big things are coming! 

Interview - Dead Samed

Hello Peeps! 

This week on Smash Dragons I had the amazing opportunity to sit down and shoot the breeze with artist Dean Samed. Dean, for those of you who live with your heads in the ground, is one of the premier cover artists working in speculative fiction today. He is also one of my favourite artists and designers. We had a ball chatting about art, his process, and the next big project coming up for him. 

Enjoy the interview, and check out some of the cover work Dean has done in recent times!  

Dean Samed, welcome to Smash Dragons. First up, tell me a little about yourself and your career so far illustrating and creating art. 

Hey team, thanks for having me!! My name is Dean Samed, and I’m a cover artist / horror specialist, from the UK. I work with self-pub authors, small to mid level indies and the occasional titan — in publishing markets across the globe.

My big break in publishing, as it were, came with the boom of e-reader devices. Previously, I had worked in music, however the growth of independent publishers allowed me to pursue my digital arts services full time.

As a self-proclaimed ‘horror specialist’, I favour the more macabre concepts… however, I have worked in all kinds of genres.

When did you first discover you had a knack for drawing? Was it something that came naturally to you, or did you have to work extremely hard to develop your skills?

I started very young, preferring to draw in black biro… extreme / intricate sketches of monsters, robots, death machines, architecture, comics, all kinds of stuff. In terms of natural ability, I don’t believe my skills were prodigious in any way, I just REALLY enjoyed getting my ideas on paper. Looking back, it was all pretty deranged.

I first used a digital art program on a computer, when I was 11 (in the hospital), and the obsession for digital media started from there.  I’ve spent an ungodly amount of time developing my skill set, so there’s no innate talent (I believe), just hours invested.

You started freelancing at a young age. What was the most important lesson that you learnt from those early years? 

Working as a creative contractor, being ‘good’ is only a fraction of the battle. I started freelancing for cash, at 14 years old… and in those first few years, I learnt an insane number of skills, that would help me to build up to my current level.

How to read a client’s needs, how to appease objections, diplomacy, how to ask for money, how to value your own time, how to infiltrate a ‘niche’ — are just a few of the lessons I learned in those formative years.

Later, I went on to study at university, and hardly any of these business-essential skillets were taught!! I believe you can only learn by doing, the baptism of fire as it were.

How would you describe your style? Is there anything you don't actually like illustrating? 

The style I work in is digital compositing, which can be described as ‘collage on steroids’. Photographic elements are chopped up, re-arranged, and then processed / overpainted to create new, photorealistic scenes.

The aesthetic itself, is very sharp and stylised. The only things I don’t like illustrating are contrived concepts, that already have too much air time. Particularly the zombie / survival horror genre, there was a time period where a lot of the covers I was working on, were quite similar. I do prefer to work with the strange and unusual.

You do a lot of work designing jaw dropping covers. I'm curious, what has been your favourite cover so far? 

Producing book covers, is a bit different from doing personal work. With illustrative design, you have to sell the concept of a story, and achieve a sense of unison / balance between typography and imagery. Of all the covers I’ve done, I feel the cover for Jay Bonansinga’s Lucid achieves that balance well. Always been happy with that one.

Can you remember the first piece of work you sold? What was it?

The first work I sold, was illustration / design for Drum n Bass flyers, when I was 14 years old… for a promotion company called Breakology. 

Take me through the process of creating a cover. Do you have a structured framework that you follow or do you go where your mood takes you with the piece? 

There is definitely a schema of work, that I’ve developed for producing book covers. To start, is the consultation with the client — we discuss the story, their ideas for the cover, and figure out a plan of action. At this stage, we may agree on stock resources, and in many cases, I’ll produce a ‘moodboard’ to generate ideas.

After that, the heavy lifting occurs, I produce the artwork / typography, and run it past the client for review, and make amendments if necessary. With the front cover complete, we tackle the full wrap / POD — and that’s pretty much it!!

What's your take on the speculative fiction scene at the moment? What do we need to do better in the years to come? 

I think it’s great that there’s such a diversity of voices in publishing right now. I have to admit, at present I’m reading MUCH MORE non-fiction, than fiction at the moment. When I do get the time, I really enjoy military sci-fi, cyberpunk, and of course horror too… but that’s a difficult genre to get ‘right’. 

Who are your favourite artists? What is it about their work that you adore

My favourite artists work with digital media, but they have the ability to transcend the medium, and produce work that is ‘beyond’ digital. The best of all worlds.

I enjoy the work of Marcela Bolivar who produces dreamy / ethereal work with an organic aesthetic, and the work of Jarek Kubicki who really blurs the lines between natural media and digital. Both artists favour a dark aesthetic, but execute without gratuity or contrivance. Fiercely elegant work, I like that.

Tell me a random fact about yourself? 

I lost the vision in my right eye, when I was 11 years old.

You deal with the terrifying day in and day out. I'm curious, what scares Dean Samed? What is it about that macabre that you love so much? 

I don’t scare too easily, when it comes to media… I do find the notion of ‘Body Horror’ to be unsettling, losing your humanity / degenerating into an alien state. That’s more horrific than being stalked by an assailant in my opinion.

For me, Horror / Macabre Art is a celebration of the unknown. Many of the great mysteries in life are being systematically solved by modern science, so I'm interested in the peripheries, the primordial anxieties, the uncertainty of mortality and what lays beyond.

Violence is in our DNA, and is a driving force of the universe. I like to explore the beauty in the carnage.

What's on the horizon for you and your art? I've heard whispers of a big project coming up? 

For the here and now, I’m still very much involved in book cover design — but I have a new stock photography project that is pretty exciting. We’ll be shooting various ‘genre-fiction’ stock concepts, for digital artists and cover designers.

Locating decent stock photography can be a daily grind, I’d like to remedy that with this new business., and maybe change the face of cover art worldwide in the process!!

Dean Samed, thanks for stopping by!

Pleasure dude! 

You can check out Dean's amazing work over at his website here. His contact details are also listed. If you need a cover done for your speculative fiction story then I highly recommend you drop him a line. He is one of the nicest and most professional artists working in the industry. And his art kicks ass. The total package! Also, keep an eye out for his new company NeoStock. They will be servicing all of your stock art needs soon! 

Until next time good people, be nice to each other and art harder!  

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Interview - S. C. Flynn

Hey Everyone!

I'm delighted to be participating in S. C. Flynn's ongoing blog tour to promote his new release Children of the Different. I will be reviewing this title in a couple of weeks, but I've been very impressed by what I've read so far. Flynn kindly took time out of his hectic schedule to chat to me here at Smash Dragons. I hope you enjoy!

Also, you check out this link for more information and purchase details. I promise you won't regret it. 

S. C. Flynn, welcome to Smash Dragons. First up, tell me a little about yourself. Just who is S. C. Flynn?

I am glad to be here, Matthew – thanks! I’m an Australian – g’day mate – from a small town in Western Australia exactly the same size as Cootamundra. So I am you, basically! Don’t worry, we’ll find something that sets us apart!

I have lived in Europe for many years – London, Milan and now Dublin. My wife is Italian and Italian is my second language. One time when we were visiting another town in WA, the lady at the hotel reception heard us speaking a foreign language and asked where I was from. When I said “Narrogin, Western Australia”, she gave me a very suspicious look!

Tell me about writing journey so far? Have you always wanted to write? How has your background in blogging helped you develop as a writer?
I have always written, or at least made up stories. When I was about four, I used to sit in a wheatbin and make up adventures – how Australian is that?

I see blogging as very different from fiction. I have written quite a lot for newspapers and magazines, so altogether I have a fair amount of bloggy-journalistic experience. That is certainly useful when it comes to writing guest posts and self-promotion generally – and in being more in touch with the market and what other people are writing, reviewing and talking about – but blogging requires different skills from writing fiction, in my opinion.

I would say that it is certainly possible to be good at blogging and not be good at writing fiction, and the other way round. My fiction style was developed over many years of practice before I started blogging, so I think that for me, they developed independently.   

Tell me about your upcoming book Children of the Different. What can readers expect from it?

Children is a Young Adult Post-Apocalyptic fantasy novel. The fantasy aspects are influenced partly by the Aboriginal Dreamtime. The main characters spend quite a lot of time in comas, during which their spirits travel through a dreamscape called the Changeland, where time, place and cause and effect are very different from the outside world. “A surreal and trippy dystopia”, one reviewer has called it.

Readers should not expect a typical Young Adult love triangle, because there isn’t one! There are female buddies, a twin brother-sister bond between the main characters, and friendship in general. And a slight touch of romance, I have to admit…

There is a lot of action and the pace is rapid. This is a Young Adult novel, so there is no coarse language, sex or grotesque violence.

How long did it take you to write Children of the Different? Did you face any particular challenges whilst writing it?

The overall writing process – from initial brainstorming to final version via beta readers, multiple redrafts and copyeditor – took about three and a half years. I am an obsessive reviser, but there were long pauses during that time, as well.

Children is the seventh novel I have completed, although it is the first one that I am publishing. Three of the others – all fantasy, but very different from this one – are of the same standard as Children and publishable, while the other three were part of the learning curve and will forever remain hidden. Out of all that novel writing, Children of the Different was by far the easiest to write. The story came to me largely fully-formed and the first draft was done in two months – even on the days when I sat down without a clear idea as to the next scene, I found what I needed.

I had never written a Young Adult novel before, so that brought some new challenges. I think the main one – apart from not being allowed to write about sex, of course – was the need to keep the style very simple and clear, and to underline certain key concepts more than I normally would.

Children of the Different is set in a post apocalyptic Australia isn't it? Can you tell me a little bit about the world and the landscape?
Nineteen years before the story starts, most of the world’s population was killed by a brain disease known as the Great Madness. The survivors live in small, scattered communities, each following a different approach to life. As an after-effect of the Madness, at the start of adolescence young people enter the Changeland that I referred to before, and either emerge with special powers or permanently damaged.

The setting is Western Australia. Many different landscapes appear – the giant forests of the South West near where I come from, the ocean, the desert, the city of Perth. Advance reviewers have generally thought the setting is one of the novel’s strengths.

What was behind your decision to self publish this book?
I spent many years trying to play the traditional publishing game. I had two professional literary agents for long periods at different times, but they were unable to find a publisher for my writing. I was probably very close to breaking through for a long time, but it did not happen. Perhaps that was just bad luck, but I decided to do something about it.

With Children of the Different, I decided to try a new approach – a new sub-genre and a new strategy. I was certain that people would like my stories if I could only reach them; the response so far from advance reviewers indicates that I was right.

I was suspicious of self-publishing for a long time – as I said, I saw myself as making a writing career in the traditional agent/publisher way. So when I decided to self-publish, my guiding principle was to only do it if I could offer a product as good as the major publishers.  I hired a team of professionals – copyeditor, artist, formatter and audiobook narrator - to help me achieve that.

I would like to mention specifically the audiobook narrator, Stephen Briggs. Stephen is an old university mate of mine and has been a professional voice artist for many years in Sydney and now Melbourne. It was great working with him on this project – Stephen narrating in Melbourne and me supervising from Dublin. I love what he has done with the character’s voices and the novel generally; initial reviews for the audiobook on Audible and Amazon show that other people feel the same.

What's your take on the publishing industry right now?

I am only just starting out, but I would say that the industry is extremely varied but durable. The novel continues to survive, although there have been predictions about its death for as long as I can remember. Genre fiction seems particularly strong at the moment, supported by a constant stream of movies and TV shows. Statistics can be misleading, but the print novel appears to still be popular, alongside ebooks. Audiobooks are relatively new, but are likely to become more popular in future; they are ideal for people who commute or who want a story while they do the housework, etc.

So in short, I think it is a good time to be trying to publish and sell genre fiction.

Characterisation is so important in any good story. I'm curious, what do you think makes a good character?

Realism and consistency, I think. We all know how frustrating it is to think while reading a story “No one would do that/think that” or “This particular character would not act like that”.

At a more basic level, readers have to care what happens to a character (and even baddies have to be compelling in some way). 

I've read that you’re a fanatical jazz musician. Do you have any other hobbies that keep you fresh? 

Ha ha! Yes, I inherited my fanaticism; I was on the stage playing for money in my parents’ band when I was thirteen and I am still playing the same tunes now. When I was old enough, my father said “This is a trumpet and these are your parts to learn – first rehearsal is this evening at 7pm sharp. Opening night is tomorrow.”

Like you and most of your followers, Matthew, I am a compulsive reader. Apart from that, films. I don’t have time for much else these days.

What's your favourite book? Why?

Hyperion by Dan Simmons. A group of characters with fascinating stories, and a remarkable range of fully-realised ideas.

If you could sit down for coffee with any author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Jennifer Fallon. Her writing influenced me. I am also fascinated by the primordial connection between Australian and Antarctica, that were connected in Gondwana millions of years ago. Jennifer lives that connection, spending part of each year in Antarctica.

Who would be in your zombie apocalypse team? Why? 

Adam Roberts: he could pun us out of any situation.
Kameron Hurley: someone has to be boss.
Myke Cole: the muscle of the group.

Ursula Le Guin: a new high priestess for a new world.

Why do you think there is a surge in the Young Adult market in recent years? What appealed to you about writing a YA novel?

There are more people in the target age group than ever before. They are born using technology, so ebooks and audiobooks have become new areas of market growth. Again, technology largely drives the ongoing science fiction and fantasy film market that supports the book market.

As I said before, I have been close to making it in writing for quite a long time now without breaking through, so the large commercial market of Young Adult fiction was an attraction. 

I also enjoy the challenge of writing according to the stricter rules that apply. A YA novel must still have all the basics of a good story – characters, plot, setting – but you do not have the easy ways of getting a reaction through swearing or sex. As a writer, you have to work harder with the basics of story-telling to achieve your effects. It’s good discipline, actually.

What writing advice would you give to your younger self?

“Self-editing has more levels to it than you can possibly imagine, kid. When you think you’ve been severe on your own writing, you have – maybe - just taken the first step.”

How have you grown as a writer since you started your first novel?

In every way you can! It’s an ongoing process, I think, and maybe one that never ends.

The hardest lesson for me to learn – probably one that you have learn all over again for every separate novel you write – is pacing. My personal tendency, I think, has always been to go too fast, out of fear of boring the reader. Going too fast – not giving enough description, for example - risks not giving the reader time to adjust to the setting and feeling lost. It has been really pleasing for me that one of the aspects of Children that has been really popular with early reviewers is the sense of place. That indicates that I have learnt the lesson. For this novel, at least.

I think another important aspect is the growth of a personal style of writing, but one which you can adapt as required. Probably all of my “mature” novels read as if they were written by the same person, which is good. For Children, however, I was able to modify that style for the Young Adult sub-genre. So: simplified vocabulary, clear and regular sentence structure, more emphasis of key background concepts than I would normally do. It’s still me, though!

What projects do you have planned over the next year or two?

I haven’t decided yet. Early reviews indicate a fair level of interest in seeing more of the world of Children of the Different, so I could write a sequel, or maybe some stories set in that world.

The main alternative would be to publish one of the novels I have already completed. I will wait and see what happens with Children.

S. C. Flynn, thanks for stopping by!

My pleasure!

You can purchase Children of the Different at all good book retailers. I recommended you go out and buy it as soon as possible, and stay up to date with all things Flynn at his blog here.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Review - Chasing Embers by James Bennett

Hey everyone!

I'm delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for James Bennett's debut novel Chasing Embers from Orbit Books. Check out my review below, and be sure to hit up the other sites mentioned below. Chasing Embers really is a wonderful read, and I can't wait to see what else happens in the great universe Bennett has masterfully constructed!

Chasing Embers caught my eye from the moment it landed at the front door. Killer cover art, and a premise that had me biting at the bit to get stuck in. So I made myself a coffee, opened the cover, and from that very first page I was hooked. 

So what did I love about it? A hell of a lot. Chasing Embers is a fast moving, yet detailed and layered fantasy that provides plenty of thrills as you read it. There are loads of creepy monsters and magical creatures to enjoy, and a rich mythology to explore. Bennett keeps the story motoring along at a rapid pace by breaking up the world building with what are arguably some of the finest action sequences I've read in recent years. Seriously, they will leave your pulse racing. What makes this book even more wonderful are it's characters. Ben is a wonderful protagonist who reminded me a lot of Atticus (from Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid series). They both share an interesting sense of angst and similar philosophical attitudes that stems from their long lives. Ben's relationship with Rose was also fascinating and at times hilarious, and I really enjoyed the dysfunctional to and fro between them throughout the book. 

Oh did I mention there's a big bloody dragon in this book? Yeah. Enough said. 

Chasing Embers is a fine work of urban fantasy. It has something in it for everyone to love. Romance? Check. Action that will leave you breathless? Check. Rich and detailed world building and monsters and magic that will delight and terrify you? Yeah, it has that too. 

I could go on and on about this book, but I won't. Go out and buy it if you dig urban fantasy, or just speculative fiction in general. I guarantee you won't regret it. 

4 out of 5 stars. 



For fans of Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher comes a fabulously fun and fast-paced new contemporary fantasy series about a world of myth and legend that’s about to break loose . . .

Behind every myth there is a spark of truth . . .

There's nothing special about Ben Garston. He’s just a guy with an attitude in a beaten-up leather jacket, drowning his sorrows about his ex in a local bar. 

Or so he’d have you believe.

What Ben Garston can’t let you know is that he’s also known as Red Ben. He can’t let you know that the world of myth and legend isn’t as make-believe as you think, and it’s his job to keep that a secret. And there’s no way he can let you know what’s really hiding beneath his skin . . .

But not even Ben knows what kind of hell is about to break loose. Because the delicate balance between his world and ours is about to be shattered.

Something's been hiding in the heart of the city – and it’s about to be unleashed.

About the author:

James Bennett is a British writer born in Loughborough and raised in Sussex, South Africa and Cornwall. 

His travels have furnished him with an abiding love of different cultures, history and mythology. He’s had several short stories published internationally and Chasing Embers is his debut fantasy novel. James currently lives in west Wales and draws inspiration from long walks, deep forests and old stones . . . and also the odd bottle of wine.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Interview - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Hello Peeps!

I'm delighted to be able to bring you the next instalment in our ongoing interview series here at Smash Dragons. This week I had the amazing opportunity to be able to chat with Nicholas Sansbury Smith, a writer who has taken the thriller and military horror genres by storm in recent years. Nick graciously took time out of his hectic schedule to chat about publishing, his approach to writing, and what's coming up for his fans. 


Nick, welcome to Smash Dragons. Why did you start writing? Do you remember the first piece you wrote? 

Thanks for having me Matthew! Happy to be here. The first thing I ever wrote was a space opera. I was eight years old and decided it wouldn’t be any good without some illustration. What I created was a thirty page story with some pretty craptastic drawings! That book still sits in my library today and I’ll never forget a quote I would like to share... “The missile exploded and we knew we were done for.” Two pages later. “We parachuted from the plane into the trees and we knew we weren’t done for.” 

The rest is history! 

Your Extinction Cycle series has had an incredible run so far. Take me through origins of this series. How did you come up with idea for Ghost Team and the Variants?

I’ve always enjoyed books on special ops, and I always wanted to write a zombie story, but I also wanted to write a story based on realistic science that would have the reader asking, is this possible? If you look at the reviews on Amazon you will see just that. Many readers have enjoyed this story, I think, because of the science explaining the Variants. The idea for the monsters came from a lot of bad dreams, books, video games, movies, and interviews I did with my readers. I wanted to create the most terrifying ‘zombie’ I could, full with sucker, popping lips, and snapping joints.

One of the things I adore about your Extinction Cycle series is the perfect balance that you strike between military action and science fiction. How hard is it to find that perfect mix between the two? How much research did you undertake before you started writing Extinction Horizon? 

It was pretty difficult, yes. I spent a few weeks researching special forces and Ebola before I started writing the book. Then I worked with a team of active military and veterans on the military themes. For the science I worked with a biomedical engineer and a virologist. Even with all of that research and ‘dream team’ of beta readers and editors, I still made mistakes. I’m not sure the perfect mix exists in fiction. Thankfully there is a thing called hand waving in science fiction. Sometimes the author must use that to explain the unexplainable. I did that a few times in the series, including in book 6. But the plot for Aftermath is top-secret.  

What do you think was the secret behind the success of your Extinction Cycle books? 

I think I provided a story that was unique enough that it helped the series stand out in a field of the same old stories. The science really helped, too, because like I said earlier, a majority of readers seemed to find it was realistic enough to make the plot feasible. 

Tell me about your latest book Hell Divers. What was the reasoning behind traditionally publishing it when you've had such great success self publishing?

I actually struggled with what to do with this one. At one point I was pretty set on self-publishing. In the end I decided to go with Blackstone Publishing because they did such a fantastic job with the Extinction Cycle audiobooks and they had a really good marketing plan for the trilogy. We just hit the USA Today Bestseller list, and I’m thrilled things are going so well!

You're one of a growing number of hybrid authors who traditionally publish and self publish their work . I'm curious, what are the benefits and negatives of this approach? Do you have a preference, or do you make that call depending on the project?     

The answer to that is really freaking long and changes on the project, but take a look at this to see this blog post to see if it answers anything for you.

Tell me a random fact about yourself that no one else knows. 

I have hobbit feet. 

Who would be on your zombie apocalypse team? Why? 

My girlfriend’s Pitbull, Ace. Her grandpa, Lester. He has a great tennis swing. And my author friend Anthony Melchiorri. I’d hope he could find a cure for the virus.  

Take me through a day of writing with Nicholas Sansbury Smith. Do you have a particular routine, or is each day different to the other? 

I usually answer fans and edit in the morning and write in the afternoons and at night. I work 7 days a week, and on the weekends I usually spend my time trying to get ahead on my word count for the next week. 

What other projects do you have in the pipeline? I noticed you are contributing a story to the upcoming military horror anthology SNAFU: Black Ops (Cohesion Press). Can you tell us anything about that?

I have several more Extinction Cycle books planned (see Extinction Aftermath cover for next instalment in series), Hell Divers 2/3 and an EMP series that I’m going to self-publish later this year. The story to Black Ops is an Extinction Cycle story featuring two of the main characters. I also have the Kindle World launch of the Extinction Cycle coming up in October. We have a dozen fantastic authors that are contributing stories to the Extinction Cycle world. 

You write about some scary shit. I'm curious, what frightens you? 

The things I write about frighten me. The Variant sucker faces from the Extinction Cycle came from a nightmare I had a long time ago. Snakes also scare me, and you might see a Variant like form show up in book 6 and 7 of the Extinction Cycle. The Sirens in my Extinction Cycle are probably the creepiest monsters I've created. The most horrifying sound in the world to me are air raid sirens. That's why I gave the beasts in Hell Divers the ability to make noises just like the air raid sirens on the airships. 

What's your take on the speculative fiction scene right now? What do we need to do better? 

That’s a tough question. I think the answer really depends on whom you ask. For me, it’s not a question of writing better books--it’s a matter of writing unique storylines. One thing I try and always do is use a new theme that’s never been used before, but hell, I have my critics that would say I fail at this. It’s becoming more and more difficult to write a truly original storyline. Editors will tell you that virtually every story has been told and it’s just a matter of how you retell it. My goal is to prove them wrong and I think that other authors/publishers should strive to do the same thing. 

Most cherished book in your library? 

Signed copy of The Forever War by Joe Haldeman! 

Best convention experience? 

Best convention? I'd have to say San Diego Comiccon. I loved New York, but the weather in San Diego is amazing. Both are great experiences for science fiction fans. The only downside of San Diego is it's very hard to get into panels. It seemed the lines were way longer than in New York.

Best advice for aspiring writers? 

My advice to other writers is always to keep writing. There are so many distractions in this business. Both positive and negative. Focus on being creative and writing the best damn story you can. 

Nicholas Sansbury Smith, thanks for stopping by!

You can find Nick's work at all good book retailers, but here is the link to his Amazon page. Also, stay up to date with what's happening with Nick and his work by checking out his website.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Book Expo Australia - 8th - 9th October

Hey Everyone! 

The Book Expo Australia is coming up, and I thought I bring everyone up to speed regarding my schedule and appearances at it. 

For those of you who don't know the expo will be held at Rosehill Showgrounds on the 8th and 9th of October, and each day will be packed with panels, events, and plenty of author signings and appearances. 

I've heard a lot of good things about the expo, so I am absolutely delighted to be participating in it this year both as a guest and a master of ceremonies. 

As it stands my schedule is as follows:

Saturday 8th October: 

10:30 - 11:30

Confronting Issues - Authors who have written about death, murder, suicide and grief. Guests include Kaaron Warren, John Larkin, and Amanda Howard. Hosted by Matthew Summers. (Venue to be announced) 

11:30 - 12:30 

Evil is a Matter of Perspective - Authors and editors will debate that antagonists are only evil from one perspective. Take another angle and they aren't so evil after all. Come along and offer points of view and ask questions to add to the debate. Guests include Adrian Collins from Grimdark Magazine, award winning authors Lee Murray and Kaaron Warren, and yours truly! (Venue to be announced) 

Sunday 9th October:

11:00 - 11:30 

The Art of Being a Good Reviewer - While the number of book bloggers flourish their success is still dominated by the quality of the review. A good review will gain attention of the publisher and may be quoted on the book and during the publicity campaign. What makes a good review? Should you post a bad review? Should you stick to one genre or read widely? Hosted by Simon and Schuster's Anable Pandiella. (Venue to be announced) 

12:30 - 13:30 

Better Reads? Anthology Collection vs Collaborative Writing

What book makes the better read? An anthology collection of short stories or story written by a collaboration of a number of authors? Would the different style and tone of the anthology be interesting or would you enjoy the changing tone and pace of the collaborative piece? A debate featuring authors from the Refuge Collection and Northern Beaches Writing Group. Come along and hear Lee Murray, Kaaron Warren, Steve Dillon, Zena Shapter, Chris Lake, Tony McFadden and Kylie Pfeiffer debate the different methods of producing and readable book. 

Moderated by Matthew Summers. (Venue to be announced) 

I will by lurking about the show ground when I'm not at these events. You'll probably find me mostly around the Cohesion Press exhibitor stand, buying books and helping out if need be. Swing by and buy some of the amazing Cohesion titles on offer (Fathomless by Greig Beck, Primordial by David Wood and Alan Baxter, SNAFU anthologies and so much more). I'll also be on the look out for Lee... as we battle for a coveted ARC copy of Greig Beck's Fathomless. I've heard she cheats... so I will have stay frosty and ready to make a dive for the pile at the stand before she does. Don't be alarmed if you see two grown adults tangling over a book! 

So yeah, make sure you get along to the Expo. It will be a great event filled to the brim with amazing events and discussion. To sweeten the deal I'm chuffed to be able to offer you a discount on tickets. Simply go here and enter the coupon code EBTickets (use both upper and lower case) when making your purchases. 

I hope to see you all there!