Blog Archives

Invisible Man: Anatoly Dyatlov

Let it not be said that he was a big man, though he was the giant in any room. He saw himself a Captain Ahab: his underlings saw Moby Dick. What in his eyes was passionate was in theirs predatory. Over the years of their mutual acquaintance the boundaries between the two visions were blurred, until Anatoly was both Ahab and the Orca, hunter and hunter. As the veteran he strode Chernobyl’s halls invigorated by the company of the young workers (“Be healthy, comrade!”), as the white shadow he lounged against the grey metal console, cigarette smoke curling from the corners of his mouth like fog rising from the ocean, awaiting any slip of the operators, to strike.

They had all been caught, they had all been lectured: they had all learnt to respect and fear Anatoly Stepanovich Dyatlov.

*

This has been an invisible man introduction for the protagonist of my Chernobyl novel, the very real Anatoly Dyatlov. The goal was to write a character introduction under 200 words, and without referring directly to your character’s physical appearance. Win? Win.

Like fog from the ocean. Or death. Death works.

Like fog from the ocean. Or death. Death works.

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Writing Challenge #2

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Writing Challenge #2: The Invisible Man
Introduce a character in 200 words or less. The catch: direct references to physical appearances are prohibited!

Post your babies in the comments. Good luck.

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PS: You may have noticed the site is undergoing some changes. It’s hit puberty fast and hard, and has been forced to choose between content relating to this author, and content pertaining to other authors. Over the next few weeks, anneque g malchien.com will become my author site. You will, however, be able to find all the old content, and plenty of new stuff for writers, over at the Writers’ Bar.

Writing Challenge: Verbs of Motion

I challenge you: you have half an hour to write a piece of micro-fiction. Subject: an earthquake strikes. Word count: under 300

It can be the start of a story, the middle of one, proof of character, or an entire self-contained micro-fic. Set that timer and get it done. Go!

PS: Just realised I’d omitted to mention the word count! It’s 300 or less.

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I have stolen this post from myself. No promises yet, but I may be splitting this site in two. The component for writers will be shipped over to The Writers’ Bar, while my author biz stays here. Well, it might happen. Or it might all cave into the sea. D:

On Air: The Last Night In Pripyat

We’re on air!

My short story, The Last Night In Pripyat, is airing in full tonight on Sounds of the Mountains FM. You can hear it right here.

Go now! It’s almost on! And if you miss the start you might still get the end!

Anneque

The Last Night in Pripyat – Audio Preview

Hello everybody. What have I been doing lately? Amongst coding and running a writers’ group, I’ve also been delving into some serious research on the Chernobyl disaster. In fact I did so much research that I ended up writing a short story about Chernobyl, and will probably write a novel.

The following, for your ears only, is an excerpt from the short story. Blow me down! The story is actually going to air on local radio and will also be streamed online next week. I’m working hard on getting this story to you, so please enjoy the excerpt, and let me know what you think.

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The Ivory God by J. S. Fletcher

Originally published in 1907, The Ivory God combines parlor-style detective mystery with a casual racism you just don’t see any more. The author has also evidently being paying attention to the Bram Stoker school of ominous ill portents: I couldn’t help but laugh when his protagonist ripped the crucifix from its triptych.

What on Earth am I talking about, you inquire like someone who has never heard J. S. Fletcher’s The Ivory God? Listen and see…

Just In Time For Your Ears: Kristi Lazzari’s Tomorrow’s Promise

After months of delaying, dodgy accents, computer death and dogs in the background, it’s finally here: my reading of Kristi Lazzari’s Tomorrow’s Promise.

The reading covers the first chapter. It is very slightly abridged due to video time constraints. A full podcast version should be available on iTunes and Stitcher in the coming weeks. As soon as I remember my Apple ID…

You can find Kristi’s home on the web here.

And support her by buying Tomorrow’s Promise right here. It’s totally worth it! This is a great title, whether you’re an adult or teenager, both powerfully emotive and evocative of 1930s country Alabama. I cried the whole way through, and loved every minute of it.

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Short Horror Review: Skye Hegyes’s Chiller

Did you know that horror is speculative fiction? According to Wikipedia it is. The more you know. And that brings us to Skye Hegyes short horror story, Chiller.

Skye runs an insightful and author-centric blog, which you can find here. She’s wonderfully inspirational and imaginative. Skye has said that most of her story ideas come from dreams. By her own admission, this is a technique with pros and cons. Recently Skye has been focusing on world building, developing the ideas in her dreams, and that will only make her writing stronger.

Chiller, I believe, is her first published story. It’s a short, self-published horror title. How can you go wrong with that combination? The answer is: you can’t. Let’s get into this review.

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Chiller is a snapshot of a house, and that house is a pretty shitty place to live. It’s owned by the Kazal family, who are widely rumoured to be vampires cursed to remain in the house. But despite the house arrest, the Kazals must be up to something, because the rumours follow that the house is also full of ghosts.

Curious, teenagers Lindsey and Jess go a door-knocking. They’re invited in by the younger of the Kazals, 12 year old Milo, who looks a bit like Samara from the Ring. We join in the story when Lindsey, frantic and probably suffering shock, returns to the house with an off-duty policeman in tow.

Lindsey is adamant that the house is full of ghosts and that her friend is now one of them. Officer Harrison is largely unconcerned by this, by the carcass on the front lawn, or by the generally sinister demeanour of head of the household, Alexander Kazal. Monsieur Kazal leads Harrison and Lindsey on a short tour of the house, finishing in an elevator – where Harrison is promptly and brutally murdered.

Snap forward several days. Lindsey, Jess and Harrison have been reported missing. A local cop/ vampire, Sorca, is the only cop on the beat with a lead to follow. She heads into the Kazal house, for act 2 of this bloody, chilling nightmare.

 

Chiller is that particular brand of horror which relies on violence to create a sense of tension and repulsion. It’s less Silence of the Lambs and more Human Centipede. I give it credit for being exceptionally violent, and the tension arrives in terse little bursts that had my skin crawling and my eyes rolling back in my head to avoid looking at whatever horrible thing was about to happen next. It’s short, so we don’t really get a strong sense of empathy for the two characters it follows, Lindsey and Sorca.

And Lindsey, well. Lindsey is obviously in shock. She’s just seen her friend violently murdered. She goes and finds a cop she knows and drags him back to the house, not to help poor Jess but just as validation for the grotesqueness she’s witnessed. Silly, silly Lindsey.

Sorca I liked more, mainly because she wasn’t in a pants-shitting state of terror from the offset. She gets to it soon enough, but to begin with she’s a solid character who understands she has something unpleasant to do and knows she can’t avoid it. She enters the Kazal house with a sort of grim determination as to what she might find, and she’s not disappointed. Her fear of the Kazals is only heightened by the presence of her cop friend, Raba, a mere human who will be snuffed out as readily as an ant in a fireplace.

 

So we have this palpable sense of shitty things happening to undeserving people. The Kazals are mysterious, haunting, pretty two-dimensional. Young Milo Kazal is interesting and household head Alexander Kazal is standard villain stuff.

My issue with the story was that it’s over-written. It’s not a bad story – certainly interesting enough to be thrown into this nightmarish house in the thick of these gruesome murders, and the tension really does drill into your head and run electric fingers down your spine – but it is a good example of the author wanting to include too much information. Even on the first page:

“An overgrown and tangled labyrinth of weeds and vines from years of neglect served as a garden parallel to the driveway where buzzards circle down on a rotting carcass.”

This could be far more eloquently written as: “An overgrown labyrinth of weeds and vines served as a garden [comma] parallel to the driveway where buzzards circled above a rotting carcass.”

Or even:

“Their apprehension matched as they surveyed the scene before them, brows knitted with worry and mouth corners turned down.”

Would be more eloquent as: “They surveyed the scene before them with matching apprehension.”

Sometimes too the cause and effect of things was a little off. A misjudged reaction, the cop taking Lindsey so seriously that the house was haunted, the carcass in the driveway that is never mentioned again – is it human or what? In fact, while I adored the setting of this trapped old house, I couldn’t help but feel it may be a house built on thin ice. I think Skye’s work with world-building will really help in this aspect, and I expect far solider premises from her in future.

 

The story does have a very good take on vampires, and the ending was unexpectedly fresh. Chiller has its good and its bad. If you like horror and especially that visceral, in-your-face, all-over-your-shoes, thick-on-the-walls kind of horror, then give Chiller a look.

I’m giving it 2 stars.

2stars

You can find Chiller on GoodReads here.

And on Amazon here.

Book Review: Legend of the Boy by Toi Thomas

Legend of the Boy by Toi Thomas

Novella, superhero fiction

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A boy wakes up in restraints, no idea who he is or how he got there. It soon becomes clear that the boy is an alien, whose fall to Earth destroyed a city and threw humanity into panic. The CIA has hold of the boy, and they want him to use his alien powers to save the Earth from a cluster of a thousand comets headed directly for us. But the heart of the story is not whether the CIA can talk the boy into helping us; it’s whether we really want the kind of help he’s got to give.
It’s a neat little story, broken into four parts. It’ll take you under an hour to get through. What I found most admirable about the story was Toi’s ambition. From the boy’s beginning strapped to a chair being grilled by mysterious forces, I expected Toi to throw in a handful of tropes – a friendly CIA agent, a bit of bonding, a slow development of power, catastrophe averted and celebrations all round. To my delight (and aghast), this really wasn’t the case. The boy does save Earth, but at an enormous cost, both to Earth and seemingly to the boy’s love for humanity. By the book’s end we really would have been better to take our chances with the comets. The boy has all kinds of crazy super powers – turning himself into light, pushing away the moon, exploding things with the force of his mind. He’s not the kind of guy you want to annoy. But, unfortunately, he’s also not a difficult guy to annoy. I really liked this corruption by power of a character who starts out so sweet and eager to please. Toi handled it deftly and it really makes for quite a striking story. I can’t say much more than that without massive spoilers.
The book does have its issues. Mainly these are superficial – a handful of typos I’m surprised weren’t caught, a few odd word choices, some heavy-handedness with adjectives. All in all however the prose is solid, if not exceptional, and Toi shows great promise as a writer.
Also, and I’m not going to fault the book for this – I would if it weren’t self-published – but there is also this deceptive bit of weirdness with internal hyperlinks. After each of the story’s four parts, we’re given the option to return to the Table of Contents. I’m not actually sure the book HAS a table of contents, but even if it does, the option to go back to the TOC at the end of each part tricks you into thinking that the end of the part is the end of the story. Which, imagine my confusion when 20% of the way in I reached the end of part 1. If you are reading the book, just beware of this, and keep reading all the way to the end.
There you have it. Legend of the Boy. I had no idea what to expect going into it, and I was pleasantly surprised. Earnest, ambitious and fresh, Toi is shaping up to be one to keep your eye on. I’m giving it 3.5 stars.

35stars

You can find it on GoodReads here.

Amazon here.

And the remarkable Toi Thomas herself right here.

Also! I’m still floundering away in a sea of magic school fiction. There must be a plethora of it written by independent authors, but I just can’t find it. Anything that is kind of Harry Potter but not, will do. If you know any independents who have magic school stories available, or if you are one such independent, please drop me a line. Independent, represent! Whoo whoo whoo! Or something like that.

A Very Odd Time: Researching a Slovakian Dracula

For some reason, I love writing historical fiction. Or I must, because it keeps happening. At the moment I’m up to the elbows in research for the semi-sequel to The Vampires of Bifurquer Veine Marais, set in France in 1905. The semi-sequel, The Gourmet (or maybe The Gourmet’s Curse? Or The Orange Duck? Not sure yet.) starts that same year in Paris, as Vamps protagonist Hannibal du Noir takes an interlude to research his next job.

But it’s not du Noir who’s starring in this one. Rather, du Noir is staying with a friend, Monsieur Roland Lambert, a chemist. Lambert has heard rumours of a cursed chef. This chef, the Gourmet, is the star attraction of Orava Castle Hotel in the far north Carpathian Mountains (modern day Slovakia) and his cuisine is renowned. His curse? Well, some  may say it’s a blessing: anyone who criticises the Gourmet’s cooking is killed or maimed in a horrible way.

Intrigued, and thinking there may be something supernatural behind the deaths, Lambert urges du Noir to travel to the Carpathians to investigate. Du Noir isn’t interested; rather, he suggest Lambert go himself. If Lambert wants to solve the mystery of the cursed chef he has no choice but to agree … and confront the horrors of Orava Castle alone.

I’m chomping at the bit to get started on this story. It’s been a fortnight of Slovakian cooking, Slovakian castles, Austria-Hungary history, sensationalist horror (think Dracula) and the physics of falling. If it all sounds good to you, here are some pictures to further whet your appetite.

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Firstly, Paris fashion. This is Place de Louvres on 4th June 1906.

Paris, 3rd June 1906.

Paris, 3rd June 1906.

Boulevard des Italiens, Paris, 5th June 1906.

Boulevard des Italiens, Paris, 5th June 1906.

Pre-WW1 Europe.

Pre-WW1 modern Europe. Note the huge territory included in the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Slovakia is at the north, bordering Poland.

An ethnicity map from 1910, clarifying the layout of Austria-Hungary.

An ethnicity map from 1910, clarifying the layout of Austria-Hungary. The Slovaks are in brown.

Finally something we can understand! The lovely, intimidating Carpathian Mountains.

Finally something we can understand! The lovely, intimidating Carpathian Mountains.

An artist's impression of our main setting, Orava Castle.

An artist’s impression of our main setting, Orava Castle.

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Orava Castle today. In 1868 the castle was turned into a public museum. My alternate history turns it into a hotel instead. Ah, the corruption of greed. As a side note, much of the footage of the 1922 film ‘Nosferatu’ was filmed here. I thought it was quite fitting for another Dracula rip-off.

Bryndza pirohy, traditional Slovak cuisine. Bryndza, sheep's cheese, is one of the most important ingredients in Slovak cooking.

Bryndza pirohy, traditional Slovakian cuisine. Bryndza, sheep’s cheese, is one of the most important ingredients in Slovakian cooking.

Another sheep's cheese dish, and Slovakia's national dish, bryndzove haulsky.

Another sheep’s cheese dish, and Slovakia’s national dish, bryndzove haulsky.

This country has some seriously delicious desserts. This is buchty na pare, a steamed plum dumpling dusted in crushed poppy seeds and sugar.

This country has some seriously delicious desserts. This is buchty na pare, a steamed plum dumpling dusted in crushed poppy seeds and sugar.

And finally, here are two very odd pictures that appeared during research.

The first is this photo, taken in 1916, of a suffragette on a scooter.

The first is this photo, taken in 1916, of a suffragette on a scooter.

And then there's this much weirder news piece for the Paris Baby Raffle. I can't help but think adoption was much easier a century ago.

And then there’s this much weirder news piece for the Paris Baby Raffle. I can’t help but think adoption was much easier a century ago.

So that’s been some of my adventures in historical research. There’s a bit more to do, and then, yippee! The writing can finally begin. It’s true what they say: writing is the easy part. It’s the research and planning that takes major brain work.