Tag Archives: horror

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)

Five questions for Steven Paulsen

Today, Steven Paulsen answers five questions about his new book:

Steven Paulsen

1. What’s the name of your latest book – and how hard was it to pick a title?

My latest book is a short story collection called Shadows on the Wall. I played around with a bunch of titles but none of them seemed fit right. Then one day I remembered a discarded novelette I wrote many years ago that was called “Shadows on the Wall”, and I realised it was a great title for my collection. There are numerous shadows lurking in these stories. Some are overt, such as in “The Black Diamond of the Elephant God” where the protagonist is pursued by a shadow, and in “In the Light of the Lamp” where an ancient brass oil burner casts shadows on the wall.

But for me the title also spoke to the theme of the book as a whole. When Isobelle Carmody read the collection, she wrote that the stories are “shadows, shifting on the wall, barely seen, slipping into our minds to lie, light and cold over our hearts…” So I think the title works well.

2. If you could choose anyone from any time period, who would you cast as the leads in your latest book?

That’s a tough question because my book is a collection of short stories. But if I were to pick one story, there is a new novelette in the book called “The Black Diamond of the Elephant God”. The man character of this story is a 19th Century English Orientalist and Sanskrit scholar named Giles Freeman. To play him, I would choose Laurence Olivier in his mid-late thirties. He would have no doubt done the character proud.

3. What five words best describe your story?

Dark, weird, heart-wrenching, spooky and humorous.

4. Who is your favourite fictional team/couple?

My favourite fictional duo are Fritz Leiber’s sword-and-sorcery rogues, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Unlike so many wooden sword and sorcery characters, they feel alive, albeit larger than life. Fafhrd is a tall sword-wielding northern barbarian, prone to the occasional song, while the Mouser is a short thief and swordsman, with a little skill in magic. Together, they carouse, brawl and gamble their way through some rollicking, chaotic adventures.

5. What song reflects a theme, character, relationship or scene in your book?

Hmmm… The stories in this collection vary a lot on tone and style, plus they were written over a few decades so it’s difficult to pick just one song that represents the book.

I probably listened to David Bowie a lot when I wrote some of these stories, so it’s reasonable to say his music was an influence. I’ve been listening to his 2013 compilation album, Nothing Has Changed, which was the first album to showcase his entire career.

As for a song that reflects the theme, let’s go with John Lennon’s ‘Watching the Wheels’ from his Double Fantasy album. It’s a tenuous link, but people do say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing, and I like that he said he was doing fine watching Shadows on the Wall.


About Shadows on the Wall

Shadows on the Wall is a short story collection that contains the very best of Paulsen’s dark and weird tales…plus stunning new fiction written expressly for this volume.

  • Glimpse a future where population controls force families into terrible choices.
  • Visit Colonial British India and experience the awakening of an eldritch horror.
  • Walk the steaming jungles of Vietnam alongside the spirits of the forest.
  • Light an ancient oil lamp but beware, the shadows on the wall…

About Steven Paulsen

Steven Paulsen’s bestselling dark fantasy children’s book, The Stray Cat, illustrated by Hugo and Oscar Award winning artist Shaun Tan, has seen publication in several English and foreign language editions. His short stories, which Isobelle Carmody describes as beautifully written and subtle, have appeared in magazines and in anthologies around the world.

His short story collection, Shadows on the Wall (IFWG Publishing Australia, 2018) contains the best of Paulsen’s dark and weird tales plus new fiction written expressly for the book.

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Five Questions for Alan Baxter

Today, Alan Baxter answers five questions about his new book:

Alan Baxter

1. What’s the name of your latest book – and how did you choose the title?

The new novel is called Hidden City. Generally, I hate choosing titles. Every once in a while, a title will drop into place, but that’s very rare. Usually I agonise over them for ages. Thankfully, this was one of those rare occasions when the title was there right from the start and it stuck.

2. If you could choose anyone from any time period, who would you cast as the leads in your latest book?

I don’t like to say. People often ask me that question about books, but how I see a character may not be anything like how a reader sees them, and I don’t want to tread on that. There’s some description there in the book, of course, but beyond that I want the reader to build their own mental cast and however they look, that’s fine with me.

3. What five words best describe your story?

Urban fantasy horror noir weird.

4. Who’s your favourite fictional team?

Batman and the Joker. I love everything about both characters and how they fuel each other, and how their pasts created them and continue to inform them. I think they’re the two greatest fictional characters ever invented. (Of course, I mean the 80s/90s DC Comics versions, not the Adam West version [though I do love that show] or the modern movies.)

5. What song reflects a theme, character or scene in your book?

Well, this is a dangerous question to ask someone with tastes like mine. There’s a band called Strapping Young Lad, who have disbanded now, but they produced some of the heaviest shit ever and I love them. The lead singer/guitarist, Devin Townsend, is a musical genius, and he still makes amazing music with The Devin Townsend Project. Check them out!

But to answer your question about this particular book, I’m going to say “All Hail The New Flesh” from the Strapping Young Lad album, City. Brace yourselves.

About Hidden City

When the city is sick, everyone suffers.

Steven Hines listened to the city and the city spoke. Cleveport told him she was sick. With his unnatural connection to her, that meant Hines was sick too. But when his friend, Detective Abby Jones, comes to him for help investigating a series of deaths with no discernible cause, Hines can’t say no. Then strange fungal growths begin to appear in the streets, affecting anyone who gets too close, turning them into violent lunatics.

As the mayhem escalates and officials start to seal Cleveport off from the rest of the world, Hines knows the trouble has only just begun.

About Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter is a British-Australian author who writes supernatural thrillers and urban horror, rides a motorcycle and loves his dogs. He also teaches Kung Fu. He lives among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia, with his wife, son, dogs and cat. He’s the multi-award-winning author of several novels and over seventy short stories and novellas. So far.

Read extracts from his novels, a novella and short stories at his website, on Twitter and Facebook, and feel free to tell him what you think. About anything.

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Five Questions for Charlie Raven

Today,  Charlie Raven answers five questions about her new book:

Charlie Raven

1. What’s the name of your latest book – and how did you choose the title?

It’s called The Compact. The title just popped into my mind about halfway through the process of writing it. It came about because one of the themes of the story is the fear of old age. That fear is universal, of course, particularly for anyone who depends on their looks in their work, but back in the 1890s there were hardly any viable careers open to women, so the fear of ageing must have been even more acute.

A ‘compact’ refers first to those pretty little tins of pressed face powder that used to be carried in every woman’s handbag. Another older, perhaps more sinister meaning of ‘compact’ becomes apparent as the story progresses: a contract or covenant. There’s an occult covenant which one of the characters is affected by; and there’s also Alexandra’s contract with Minerva, which persuades her to agree to terrible things.

2. If you could choose anyone from any time period, who would you cast as the leads in your latest book?

Wow! What a great question. Well, let me think.

Sherlock Holmes does make a couple of brief appearances, but in this story, Dr Watson is the main character from that duo. Somehow, my mind wants him to look like David Burke’s portrayal in the 1984 ‘Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ series.

Holmes is more difficult, as I have my own inner Sherlock and no actor has yet portrayed him perfectly.

Minerva, with her melodramatic manner, should be played by a glamorous, smouldering 1940s actress, such as Hedy Lamarr. Alexandra: h’mm, maybe a middle-aged Katherine Hepburn? Emma Thompson, as she looks now, with her capable personality, would be perfect for Harriet.

Lastly, I have no idea who I can possible cast as the 22 year old Aleister Crowley and his lover, Jerome Pollitt. Crowley was nothing like the later pictures you see of him, where he resembles Uncle Fester from the Addams Family – in 1898, he had a full head of hair, strangely piercing eyes and, being a mountaineer, was very fit. Pollitt was a gorgeous amateur female impersonator. I could see them played by a young Johnny Depp and a young version of the very camp British comedian, Julian Clary. That’s hilarious to think of. Will that do?

3. What five words best describe your story?

Subtle. Sinister. Crepuscular. Labyrinthine. Surprising.

4. Who is your favourite fictional team/couple?

In the whole history of literature? That’s difficult, isn’t it? If I said Holmes and Watson, that might be true. But from childhood, I have loved Frodo and Sam, so I think I must loyally name them.

5. What song reflects a theme, character, relationship or scene in your book?

I love David Bowie. He layers unsettling lyrics with multiple meanings on top of singable tunes. One of my characters, Albert Burroughs, is really rather weird. I don’t want to give any of the plot away but he makes me think of this track from Bowie’s 2013 album, The Next Day: ‘You Feel So Lonely You Could Die’

The walls have got you cornered, you’ve got the blues, my friend …

Shivery stuff.

About The Compact

It is 1898, the London of Sherlock Holmes. Harriet Day is increasingly worried about the strange influence of a powerful, unpredictable woman, Minerva Atwell, over her dearest friend, Alexandra Roberts. By chance, Harriet befriends Alexandra’s lodger, the gentle actor, George Arden; and when he is wrongly accused of murder, Harriet turns to a lonely, ailing Dr Watson to investigate.

To Watson’s chagrin, his enquiries are aided and occasionally hampered by a strange young man by the name of Aleister Crowley and his flamboyant lover, Jerome Pollitt.

The Compact is an LGBTQ mystery with a touch of Magick.

About Charlie Raven

I was born, studied and live in England. I have three children – the youngest is 13 – and two grandchildren. My life has taken some odd twists and turns and occasionally led me down the rabbit hole. Fortunately, even the worst choices turned out for the best (filed under: children). I inherited a fascination with weird history, ghost stories and liminal places from my mother (and I’m so glad my children are the same).

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