Category Archives: Novels

New life for ‘Nil By Mouth’ and ‘The Fear Collectors’.

Shooting Star Press is bringing back to the Australian genre scene some very bright stars that paradoxically contain some very dark matter – as you can tell from these magnificently unsettling covers.

I was delighted and honoured when publisher Cath Brinkley asked me to introduce two of their newly republished works at their Continuum 15 launch in June 2019.

Nil by Mouth by LynC

I first read Nil By Mouth in 2014 and was profoundly captured by the story of Ale, a human being who undergoes many emotional and physical transformations in the course of an alien invasion. 

Nil By Mouth is many things: deeply horrific and deeply humane; filled with thoughtless cruelty and mindful compassion. It’s unexpected and unpredictable and entirely marvellous. I’m so pleased that Shooting Star Press is bringing this impressive work back into print.

And as unsettling as the cover is on first glance, I’m growing to love it more and more. What we think we see at first isn’t actually what’s happening.

What seems on the surface monstrous is something else: from the blue alien eye that, with time, appears to be gazing on Ale with compassion; and Ale’s rock-bottom despair is on the verge of the what-comes-next, the hope that’s about to bring him from the abyss. (Of course, I have the benefit of hindsight – I’ve read the book!). Lewis Morley has been as extraordinary with this cover as LynC as been with its contents!

Buy Nil By Mouth

The Fear Collectors by Lauren E Mitchell

Do you know that feeling in dreams that begin to morph from thing to another and it makes sense because that’s just how it is in dreams?

That’s sort of The Fear Collectors, which is adventure/horror meets YA meets surreal science fiction meets hello-I-wasn’t-expecting-that-to-happen. Or that. That either.

It’s like how dreams start so simply and non-threatening sometimes and proceeds to take weird left turn after turn until you don’t know what’s what.

One minute you’re bicycling down a hill in your pyjamas and then suddenly you’re wearing a backpack full of hardcover books but no they’re moving (and are rats now) and you’ve cycled off a cliff and if you pedal fast enough you’ll keep in the air and then you’re at a picnic (the bikes are leaning against the stone wall) and everyone has baguettes and you hear music and get up and can’t find how to turn the music off so it doesn’t wake up everybody else (and you don’t want to even think about who all those everybody elses are) and then you actually wake up and you’re still in bed and everything feels bent out of shape even though you know you were only dreaming, or at least you think you were, and you’re not still dreaming, and you *are* awake now, aren’t you?

The Fear Collectors zings through its paces like that, from placid to terrifying; from youthful adventure to nightmare fuel; and dark horror to SF, all the way to the end.

Buy The Fear Collectors

Cover Reveal: Kitty and Cadaver

Kitty and Cadaver is being launched this weekend at Continuum – and here I’d like you all to see the gorgeous cover designed by Willsin Rowe (who has done so many fantastic covers for me!)

If you’re unable to attend Continuum for the launch, never fear – I’ll be holding a public launch in July at a Melbourne venue where Jess Harris and her band will perform some of the songs from the book!

Review: The Definitive Albert J Sterne by Julie Bozza

The Definitive Albert J Sterne

This 2019 re-release of 2012’s The Definitive Albert J Sterne brings together the original novel along with the interweaving short stories previously published as Albert J Sterne: Future Bright, Past Imperfect. The result is over 220,000 words of crime thriller/complex love story. It’s a hefty book, but it’s dealing with some fairly hefty themes while still being an enthralling and gripping story.

The Definitive Albert J Sterne” rewards the time, though. Author Julie Bozza has crafted a book that is a slow burn and often difficult thriller which is threaded through with a slow burn and often difficult love story.

FBI forensic pathologist Albert J Sterne is a brusque perfectionist, impatient with the folly of the world yet dedicated to using his superb skills to solving crime. Intensely private and putting people offside wherever he goes, few know of the childhood trauma that has led to so many layers of walls between his actions and his feelings.

Sterne meets Special Agent Fletcher Ash in 1976 while attending a crime scene that Ash discovered by chance while walking. Ash is more charming than Sterne but he has his own awkwardness within the Bureau – an ability to intuit things about cases which could leave him open to all kinds of accusations and cynicism. Ash seems almost immune to Sterne’s brusqueness; Sterne seems to find Ash less objectionable than other people.

Thus begins a friendship and FBI partnership that leads them both onto the path of a serial killer. Over nine years, their friendship evolves into a ‘friends with benefits’ and goes through many difficulties on the way to a better understanding. They both have significant faults, but one of the greatest barriers is Albert’s ruthless capacity for shoving his feelings behind a fortress and pretending he doesn’t have them. He’ll give everything to Ash through love, except any part of his true self.

Ash is hardly the model boyfriend either, and this story primarily takes place in the 80s, when to be outed would be to lose their jobs. Ash is also obsessed with the serial killer who leaves the brutalised bodies of young men buried in the woods over several states. Frequently troubled and frustrated, Ash also has some selfish tendencies when it comes to Albert.

And then there are the skin-crawlingly vivid chapters seen through the eyes and the disturbing mind of the killer himself.

The reader knows early who is behind these deaths, but whodunnit is not the point. From start to finish, The Definitive Albert J Sterne is a psychological drama about love, trauma and death. It does go from dark into the light, but there is a lot of dark to work through first.

The writing is always clear and crisp, but the subject matter and Ash and Sterne’s never-easy relationship can be challenging as everything unfolds. I’ve said that it’s dark, and yet the core of it – Albert’s uneasiness about his love for Ash; Ash’s sometimes oblivious but ultimately utter conviction in his love for Albert – is a light of hope all the way through.

No solution comes in a hurry, but come it does, with great texture, compassion and deft understanding of human nature in a compelling thriller.

Content warning:

Because the story line deals with a serial killer, who gets his own chapters that give horrible but necessary insight into his state of mind, as well as descriptions of abuse, torture and violent crimes,  Bozza has included a content warning in the book. This isn’t a light romance or cosy crime story – it’s gritty, often gruesome in its detail, and as excellent as it is, if the topics make you squeamish it doesn’t hurt to read that spoiler-free content warning in full.

Buy The Definitive Albert J Sterne

Review: Highway Bodies by Alison Evans

It’s always fabulous to have new zombie fiction set in Australia, and it’s ten times as grand when the zombie fiction in question has as much personality, drama and heart as Alison Evans’ new YA book, Highway Bodies.

The story is divided into three-chapter sections: the first from the point of view of a teen near the epicentre of the zombie outbreak; the second from a  group of young musicians taking a week away in the country to work on songs; the third a pair of non-identical twins whose mother is a nurse at a hospital where the outbreak is getting out of hand.

These young people are diverse and queer. As their stories are told and eventually converge, we learn that the world has always been hostile for them – the twins, for example, bear scars inflicted by a violent father. In trying to survive, each group is aware that other survivors are just as – or even more – dangerous to them than the mindless zombies.

Evans has a deft hand in giving each of the three main narrators their own distinctive voice. A lot of what happens is gruesome as each is confronted with the zombie infestation, mitigated by the humanity of the characters’ responses and fears for the lives of their loved ones.

The story leads to a conclusion that isn’t a safe geographical point so much as a fierce dedication to supporting each other in a world where everything is hostile. It’s a bit like actual life in that way.

For all the gore and violence, Highway Bodies manages to be simultaneously uplifting in the love and protectiveness its protagonists feel for each other. Love for family (both born and made) and friendships are the motivating forces for each of them, and there’s tenderness, loyalty and love at the heart of the end of the world.

As zombie fiction it’s fast-paced and full of the types of zombie encounters we love to read about. As an allegory for growing up queer in an environment that’s hostile to your very existence, it has power beyond the surface story.

Highway Bodies is thematically reminiscent of Mary Borsellino’s fantastic work in Ruby Coral Cornelian, The Devil’s Mixtape, Thrive and others – diverse kids in a hostile world, whose best weapon and best hope is love.

Evans’ second book is a corker, and I can’t wait to read whatever they write next.

Buy Highway Bodies (RRP $19.99)