Friday, 16 December 2016

Best of 2016!

Well it's that time of the year again. The festive season is in full swing here at the lair (no, I'm not drunk... yet), and I figured it was time I reflected on what has been an amazing year for genre fiction. 

Looking back over the books I read in 2016 made me realise just how lucky I am to be a reader. I've witnessed the emergence of some stunning new talent this year, and I've rediscovered some old favourites along the way. To paraphrase George R R Martin, I've lived a thousand different lives over the past twelve months, and I've loved every single one of them! Choosing a top ten proved extremely difficult. I struggled to make my selections for a long time. However, after much deliberation and thought I managed to nut it out, and I'm pretty happy with the list I came up with. Most of the top ten have full reviews (those that don't never fear, I will get to them soon), which I have provided links to if you'd like to check them out. I've also linked purchase information. It is the season of giving after all, and as a friend of mine pointed out when you buy a book you are buying two gifts essentially (one for the reader, and another for the author of the book you purchased). So be generous to those around you!  

So without further ado, I give you my top ten best reads of 2016! 

1 - The Fisherman by John Langan/Crow Shine by Alan Baxter

I cheated a little here, but I really couldn't seperate the two. The Fisherman is a magnificent character- driven cosmic horror that crawled under my skin and refused to budge. Langan is a masterful storyteller, and The Fisherman is hands down one of the best books I've ever read, period. You can buy The Fisherman here.

Crow Shine is also an incredible book that is filled to the brim with rich and powerful dark fiction. It is one of the best collections I've ever read, and Baxter is one of the best short fiction writers working in the world today. I loved this book so much I even forked out a lot of money to buy a signed limited edition copy of it! Highly recommended. Check out my full review here, and buy yourself a copy here.

2 - The Grief Hole by Kaaron Warren 

Words cannot describe how good this book is. Poignant, chilling, and powerful, The Grief Hole is arguably one of the best ghost stories I've read in all of my years as a reader. Warren takes you on a terrifying journey into the world of loss and grief, and in doing so rips out your heart, stomps on it, and shoves it back into your chest. Captivating work. You can buy a copy of it here.

3 - Swift to Chase by Laird Barron

Swift to Chase, Barron's fourth short fiction collection, is arguably his best. It is an enthralling and frightening journey across both time and space that digs even further into his ever-growing cosmic mythos. Barron always pushes the boundaries, and this remains the case in Swift to Chase. I was hooked on every single story in this book, and Barron took my mind to places I never imagined I would go. Poetic, intoxicating, and brave storytelling, Swift to Chase is cements Barron's position as one of the best genre writers in the world today. Check out my full review here, and pick up a copy here.

4 - The Blood of Whisperers by Devin Madson

Have you ever read the opening few line of a book and fallen instantly in love with it? I have. The Blood of Whisperers had me hooked with the lines: We are judged. That's what the  Sixth Law says. It says the gods are always watching. That they can hear the whispers of our souls. From that first page onwards I was drawn into one of the best fantasy books I've ever read. Wonderful Asian inspired world building, brilliant characterisation, and a story that will destroy you emotionally, Madson takes everything I love about writers like Guy Gavriel Kay and makes it better. Highly recommended. You can pick up a copy here

5 - The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle 

The Ballad of Black Tom is cosmic horror at its finest. It is raw and formidable storytelling, with LaValle never shying away from both honouring and critiquing Lovecraft and his work. I was enthralled by the setting (1920s New York) and shifting points of view, and I adored the pacing of it. LaValle sets everything up like a chess master, and leaves you reeling at the end. Brilliant characterisation and top off what is one of the best stories I've read in many years. Madness encapsulated in novella form, and mesmerising from start to finish, I can only hope that LaValle writes more stories in this genre. You can buy a copy here.

6 - Last Year, When We Were Young by Andrew J. McKiernan

Although this collection was published a couple of years ago (and won an award mind you), I didn't read it until early this year. And holy hell, what a collection! McKiernan is one of the most talented writers I've ever come across. Writing in a style that is both poetic and muscular, he dances across genres with glee with stories that range from Lovecraftian horror through to a clown counter revolutionary movement. One of my all time favourite collections. You can read my full review here, and pick up a copy here

7 - Into the Mist by Lee Murray

I'm a big lover of military horror, and Lee Murray nails everything I love about the genre with this book. Thrilling, action packed, and utterly enthralling, Into the Mist blends ancient myths and primordial horror with a wonderful setting and powerful characterisation. Lee Murray is a writer to watch. Brilliant stuff. My full review can be found here, and you can pick up a copy of the book here (Just be mindful that the publisher is currently switching distributors. Updated entires should be up soon).

8 - The Mirror's Truth by Michael R. Fletcher

Like Grimdark? Well it gets no darker than the work of Michael R. Fletcher. Fletcher burst onto the Grimdark scene last year with his book Beyond Redemption, which had me in a frenzy with his incredibly original world building and hellishly dark storyline (check out my full review of BR here). Fletcher continues with the mayhem in The Mirror's Truth. Brutal, uncompromising, and even more fucked up than Beyond Redemption, I loved diving back into this universe! I can't wait to see what comes next from Fletcher.  

9 - American Nocturne by Hank Schwaeble 

I rediscovered my love for short stories this year, and this collection was the book that started that it all. Dark, evocative, and utterly addictive, Schwaeble writes a power and precision that is honestly astounding. There are so many twists and turns in this collection that I didn't know left from right at times, and his take on Lovecraftian horror left me chilled to the core for months afterwards (and it has the best line about goats I've ever read). A masterful collection. Check out my full review here, and you will be able to buy a copy of it online again soon (Cohesion Press, the publisher, is currently switching distributors and putting everything back up with updated information). So keep an eye out for it. 

10 - Vigil by Angela Slatter 

I've been a big fan of Slatter's work for a few years now, and Vigil further cements her standing in my eyes. A powerhouse of a book that is filled to the brim with brilliant action sequences, jarring twists and thrills, and a universe that is both fantastical and grounded at the same time. Vigil was the kick up the arse urban fantasy needed, and I absolutely adored reading it from start to finish. I can't wait to read the next instalment! You can check out my full review here, and it can be purchased here

Honourable Mentions - 

I'd feel terrible if I didn't take the time mention the following entries that I loved as well. 2016 really was a magnificent year for speculative fiction, and I really did struggle to pick a top ten. All of the following books are brilliant in their own right, and they just missed out on a top ten entry. You all should definitely check them out:

Tallwood by Amanda Kool, Leviathan's Blood by Ben Peek, The Angel of the Abyss by Hank Schwaeble, A Shattered Empire by Mitchell Hogan, A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay, Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff, Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones, The Children of Old Leech edited by Ross. E Lockhart and Justin Steele, Fathomless by Greig Beck, Children of Lovecraft edited by Ellen Datlow, Crooked by Austin Grossman, Armageddon Bound by Tim Marquitz, Cthulhu: Deep Down Under edited by Steve Proposch, Christopher Sequeira, and Bryce Stevens, SNAFU: Black Ops edited by Geoff Brown and Amanda J. Spedding, The Warren by Brian Evenson, X's for Eyes by Laird Barron, Jade Gods by Patrick Freivald, The Stars Askew by Rjurik Davidson, Disappearance at Devil's Rock, The Lure of Devouring Light by Michael Griffin, The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley, My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier, Suspended in Dusk edited by Simon Dewar, Squid's Grief by DK Mok, The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence, Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie and Black Jade by Kylie Chan. 

So there you have it. 2016 has been a stellar year for speculative fiction, and I'm already very excited by what I'm seeing on the release calendar for next year. I wish you all a happy and safe holiday over Christmas, and I look forward to sharing the book love with you in 2017. Keep being good to each other people. 


Disclaimer -

In the spirit of honesty and full disclosure... I have included titles here from my employer Cohesion Press. I want to point out that Into the Mist and American Nocturne were both rated and reviewed BEFORE I started working for them, and are in my top ten on their own merit. The other Cohesion Press titles (Fathomless, SNAFU: Black Ops, Jade Gods, and The Angel of the Abyss) that I have listed in my honourable mentions are all also wonderful and brilliant in their own right, but they were published AFTER I started working for Cohesion. I wanted to prevent any accusations of bias being levelled against me or Cohesion Press. I highly recommend that you check them out also. 

Friday, 18 November 2016

Review - Crow Shine by Alan Baxter

Writing this review was hard. Damn hard. 

Not because Crow Shine is a bad book. Rather, it was hard because it was so damn good. I've been a fan of Alan Baxter's work for a number of years now. I adored his Alex Caine series, and I've consumed most of his short fiction work with gusto and glee. So when I heard he was releasing a short fiction collection that included some new and original stories I was beside myself with excitement and anticipation. 

Fast forward a few months, and after turning the last page of Crow Shine I found myself sitting and pondering the immensity and power of what I had just read. 

I was still there thinking an hour later. 

Crow Shine is an amazing ensemble of rich and powerful dark fiction that, to put it simply, blew me away. The book opens with the title story "Crow Shine", an intoxicating and heady tale of magical brews, dark choices and soulful music. I adored the imagery in this story, and its exploration of whether or not we are fully in control of our choices was enthralling. The next story, "The Beat of a Pale Wing" was also brilliant, with Baxter injecting dark and ritualistic magic into a story about disposing bodies, revenge, and gangsters. He follows up this brutal and dark story with a short that damn near broke me. "Tiny Lives" is a powerful and heartbreaking account of a toymaker who creates clockwork miracles for customers in order to raise money for his sick daughter. A tale of a father's ultimate sacrifice and love for their child, I openly wept after reading the ending. Baxter continued to tear at my mind and soul with "Old Promise, New Blood", a story about family, pacts, and blood magic, and "In the Name of the Father", a creepy account of a priest whose ministry leaves a path of victims in his wake. This pattern continued as Baxter explored the concepts of justice and death in "Shadows of the Lonely Dead". "The Chart of the Vagrant Mariner" then took me to the depths of madness in what was an incredible tale of pirates and cosmic horror, and "The Old Magic" broke my heart all over again as a witch watches her loved ones die around her as her longevity comes back to bite her. A truly poignant and gut wrenching tale that left me staring at a wall and pondering my own mortality for ages afterwards. 

All in all I couldn't find one weak story in this collection. I savoured reading it, and will read it all over again soon. Baxter is a masterful storyteller whose ability to pull apart the membrane of reality and explore the voids in-between marks him as one of the best dark fiction writers in the world today. His work has breadth, scope, and intensity, and it prompts readers to ask questions of themselves and of life itself. It delves into places that are uncomfortable and terrifying, and it delights in the shades that form the basis of our lives and the decisions we make.  

The human condition lies at the beating heart of this book, and it's a testament to Baxter's skill as a writer that he handles this with both subtlety and power. Crow Shine is raw, and it is incredibly emotional. It is dark, and at times it is even darker still. There is, more often than not, very little light at the end of the tunnel. And it is, most of all, truthful and honest about our existence. Sometimes, as Baxter writes in his afterward, the dragons do win.  

Hands down one of the best collections I've ever read, and a book that will take pride of place on my shelves. Formidable storytelling. 

Get in people. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

Crow Shine is available now online at all good book retailers. Go here for more information, and to check out some of the amazing writers who have blurbed this brilliant collection. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Interview - Devin Madson

Hey Everyone!

I'm delighted to bring you the next instalment in our ongoing interview series we have running here at Smash Dragons. This week I had the amazing opportunity to chat to Devin Madson, an author whose work has blown my mind in recent months. Devin kindly took time out of her hectic schedule to chat about things such as the craft of writing, the publishing industry, and giant penguins! 

I hope you enjoy. 

Devin Madson, welcome to Smash Dragons. 

Thank you! How super fun to be here.

First up, tell me a little about yourself. Just who is Devin Madson?

Well, I am! To be official, Devin Madson is an Australian fantasy author and vlogger. I live in the middle of nowhere with my partner, three kids, the dog we named after the Greek muse of epic poetry and Lilly the blue-tongue lizard. Sadly it isn’t the name I was born with. My parents weren’t thinking ‘fantasy author’ when they named me.

When did you start writing? Can you remember the first story you ever wrote? What was it about?

I started writing waaaay back in my very first year of primary school. The teacher wanted us to write a single page story and I was SO upset it wasn’t allowed to be longer. I actually still have the first story I ever wrote at home where it could be as long as I liked. It’s called The Little Sad Christmas Tree and it proves even seven year olds can be cruel to their characters…

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Or was it something that evolved organically as you got older?

Always. Always. Always. Well initially (when I was seven) I wanted to be a writer and illustrator, but MAN do I suck at drawing. Even my stick figures look wrong.

Tell me about the genesis of The Vengeance Trilogy. Was there one particular moment that started the ball rolling, or was it the culmination of lots of different things? 

The original idea, way back in 2007, came from a conversation with a friend about what it would be like to be an Empath, because it wouldn’t just be like ‘Oh, that person feels sad’. It would be far more absorbing, to a debilitating degree in a lot of cases. So I wrote a story about that. It was a shit story and bears very little resemblance to what you are reading now, but years later when I came back to it again I was able to extract some good from it.

The new story came partly from conversations with my mentor at the time, and partly from a pair of Confucian sayings. Firstly that ‘Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves’ and secondly ‘When two tigers fight one limps away terribly wounded, the other is dead.’ I have to thank the wonderful Alan Baxter for the last one, which I gleaned during one of his fight writing workshops at WorldCon in 2010. It left quite an impression on me.

What was the reasoning behind originally crowd funding (via Pozible) your books? What were the positives and negatives of choosing to do this? Would you go down that path again in the future?

Hmmm… my reasoning was that if I was going to produce a book as professionally as a big publishing house then I was going to require funds to do that. Crowdfunding was so vogue at the time and I, rather naively, thought it would serve as a good way to get some promotional traction for my books, too. It doesn’t really work like that. If you start out as a nobody you’re pretty well guaranteed to end as a nobody. The best I can say of it is that it was an experience, but no, not an experience I ever want to have again.

One of the most remarkable things that I loved about your first book The Blood of Whisperers (I'm about to start the second one) was your ability to weave beautiful prose and narrative into what is a large and incredibly detailed fantasy universe. Was this something you were very conscious of when writing, or does it come naturally to you? 

It sounds terribly arrogant to say it comes naturally to me, but while my brain darts all over the place while I’m writing, that isn’t one of the things it focuses on. I don’t pre-plan any details, they just seem to be there, fully formed when I need them as though there’s a separate world-building department in the back of my head that throws things at me when I need them. I often feel like I’m just coaxing information from the characters about the world they live in.

What was the appeal of setting your story in a world inspired by Feudal Japan? Why do you think we haven't seen more Eastern inspired speculative fiction? 

I’ve always found the Asian asthetic to be very beautiful and inspiring, and perhaps because there are a lot less eastern inspired fantasy novels out there my hands didn’t feel as tied. It allowed me to create my own world, to carve out my own space, without feeling caught to that sense of western medieval realism so prevalent in speculative fiction at the moment.

As to why we don’t see it more, this is probably because authors feel they would have to be more accurate in their depiction and do more research to get it right, but really it’s just the same as everything else. Unless you’re writing historical fiction you’re just pulling inspiration. Perfect accuracy is not required.

How much research did you undertake before constructing the vivid and amazing world of your Vengeance trilogy?

I research in bursts. I’ll go looking for the answer to a specific question and end up reading about something only slightly related for an hour, so it’s quite hard to say how much research I did. In general I research very specific things, like how high blood spurts from the neck when someone is decapitated, and how one folds a kimono correctly. Mostly the research is never used as is, just all gets smashed together so I can pull the finished world from my brain. Rather like a bunch of choc chips held together by made up cookie dough. Mmm cookies.

Characterisation is incredibly important, and it is something I feel you've nailed in books. What makes a good character in your opinion? What are some of the most common mistakes people make with characterisation?  

A good character has to be a real person. They need to be flawed and contradictory, they need to have goals and dreams and fears and they have to live all of this constantly, on the page, like a real person, not just sit back and let the author tell us about them.

The most common mistake people make when writing characters is hedging them in with a pre-planned plot. If you’ve already planned what is going to happen and are fitting your character into the story like you’re casting for a play, then an actors is all they will ever be. They can be good actors, but they are still actors. There’s no such thing as plot-based stories and character-based stories, there’s just a story, because plot IS character in action. What happens next at any point in a story shouldn’t be dictated by the plot but rather by what the characters would do next if they were real people. The best piece of advice I have for writing good characters is to let them breathe. Let them write the story, not you.

I'm going to echo a few different people here... why do you keep killing and hurting the characters I love? 

Sorry! I don’t generally set out to kill and hurt characters, because I don’t plan, so really they are killing and hurting themselves. Once you choose to write in a world where humanity is portrayed honestly, where people are as capable of cruelty and anger as kindness and love, then unfortunately these things are going to happen. Characters want different things and are willing to go to different lengths to get what they want. Something, or rather someone, has got to break.

Do you have a favourite character in The Vengeance Trilogy? 

No, I don’t actually have a favourite character. I have favourite relationships. I know Darius is a big favourite with a lot of people, but for me it isn’t him I love, but rather his relationship with Malice and his relationship with Emperor Kin. There’s always been something magical about having Endymion and Hope in the same room as another example. If I had to pick a single character I would have to say that Hana grew on me the most, but again it isn’t her, but her development that I love, so I guess I’m just really bad at this question.

Every writer has a process that they follow. I'm curious, what's yours? Are you a plotter or pantser? Do you write in a particular space, or use a particular program (like Scrivener for example) when you working on your stories? 

Pantser. I am 100% a pantser because plotting messes with my characters. That doesn’t mean I have no idea where things are going. Generally I say “I have a sneaking suspicion that X is about to happen,” and I might note that down so I stop thinking about it, but if it doesn’t eventuate then that’s ok too. As for space, I write wherever I can. I carry my laptop from couch to desk to kitchen bench. I’ve had to learn over the last seven years how to write even when my kids are killing each other. And I write in Word so it’s just about the words. Give me the option to keep notes and character profiles and shit in my file and you’re just asking me to procrastinate. I have notebooks for notes and don’t make character profiles.

You've recently started a new online series where you offer writing advice and publishing tips to new writers. What was the motivation behind creating this series? What's your take on publishing and the industry at the moment? What does the industry need to do better? 

I found that I was spending a lot of time talking… ok fine, ranting about writing and the simple mistakes that so many new authors make that are really easy fixes. It seemed not a day was going by without my editor complaining about something or other in the various manuscripts she was working on, and I realized that so much of it is ignorance. I was really fortunate in my writing mentors, but not everyone gets that, so I decided to talk about it and make the information more easily accessible to those who need it without them having to ask questions of scary authors and editors or get the wrong answer from a well-meaning writing group.

The publishing industry is still in a state of flux, but as a whole I think we need to strive for a greater level of quality. And this is across the board, not just big publishers or self-publishers, but for everyone. There is such a huge glut of books it is becoming hard to find something good to read now. People avoid a lot of self-published work for this reason, and self-publishers need to work harder to change that perception. But being published by one of the Big 5 is no longer a guarantee of quality either, because just like the self-publishers they are often throwing things out before they are ready. The Big 5 are huge beasts of companies that have the turning circle of an aircraft carrier and struggle to keep up with change. So they cut the same corners as everyone else and we get books with poor covers, books with less editing, a lot of the same thing over and over again, and promotion starts to fall by the wayside unless you’re one of the premium authors keeping them afloat.

You mentioned that you’re a pantser when writing. In your opinion, what are the positives and negatives to this approach?

The best thing about it is that it makes writing first drafts exciting, because I have no idea what is going to happen from line to line most of the time. It’s a bit like reading a book for the first time, except that you have to type it down as you go and take procrastination breaks. It also means that my characters are free to entirely be themselves and I don’t run the risk of forcing them into actions they wouldn’t normally take. Obviously the biggest downside is the amount of rewrites that are often necessary, because by the time I reach the end of a book the beginning usually doesn’t quite work anymore. But as much as I hate doing rewrites, they have never failed to improve the story, and I often continue to uncover hidden secrets in the story as I go. There’s a particular discovery at the end of The Gods of Vice I didn’t uncover until one of the last rewrites and it totally changed the course of the story from there. A character was being very recalcitrant about sharing that one.

What's the most important piece of advice you've received in relation to your writing?

There are so many, but the most important is probably to not treat your readers like they are stupid. The more work you make them do the more they will love your writing. Don’t dictate to them, instead let them step into the role of a partner and take ownership of the story they are reading.

What's the most cherished book in your library? Why? 

That’s a tough one. I would probably have to say my signed copy of The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett. It is tattered and worn and all the more beautiful now than it was when he signed it for me. It is not only an awesome book, but it reminds me that I had better get a move on with my work because, like him, I’m not going to live forever.

Your third book, The Grave at Storms End, comes out soon. What can readers expect from the final book of your trilogy?

The whole book takes place over eight days, the eight days that will define the fate of Kisia, so it’s not messing around. And even though my editor had to read it many times in editing passes, she still cries. Sorry.

What do you think are your greatest strengths and weaknesses as a writer? 

This has to be the hardest question you’ve asked yet! On the whole writers aren’t that keen on talking themselves up because it feels all too much like lying. But if you must have an answer I guess a strength is that I don’t often struggle for words, especially in first drafts. The fact that I’m a perfectionist is both a strength and a weakness. While the fact that I groan and fuss and throw tantrums over the writing of action scenes is definitely a weakness. Action scenes and I have an interesting relationship.

If you could spend the day with one other writer (dead or alive) in order to pick their brain who would it be and why?

So many hard questions! I don’t really have one hero writer that I venerate above all others. There are plenty of amazing authors I would love to spend a day with, but to pick one? That’s hard. I think I’m going to have to say Scott Lynch of Locke Lamora fame. He is a master of unexpected twists and turns, of vivid world building and writes the greatest dialogue of any author I think I’ve ever read. And even more than that he’s had to deal with divorce and depression that nearly derailed his career for good. I was a complete nobody when this happened to me, unlike Scott Lynch, but being able to pick the brain of someone who has been there too would be invaluable. How do you keep writing in those situations?

You’ve been very outspoken (rightly so) about the importance of having a good editor and team behind you in order to produce the best book possible as an author. What should new writers look out for when looking for an editor?

I do shout about editors a lot, yes. But I must admit that the finding of a good editor is not always easy. I was ridiculously fortunate and happened across my gem quite by chance and over the years we’ve become great friends as well as having a professional relationship. But I know I’m in a minority. There are a lot of people out there who offer editorial services, but they aren’t properly trained and have little experience. The SFWA have some great information on how to avoid getting scammed in their Writers Beware pages. It pretty much comes down to making sure they are qualified. Making sure they have experience. Making sure they aren’t overcharging you (or undercharging you because that’s a sure sign they aren’t a professional service). But the very best way to find yourself a good editor is by word of mouth. Ask around. Get in contact with a few, get quotes, send a sample, see if you’re a good fit. Don’t just take the first one you find.

What do you want to see more of in future speculative fiction releases?

More diversity of settings (another reason I adore Scott Lynch) as well as people, and continuing to push for strong female characters. I don’t mean strong here in the ass-kicking sense of having a female doing the man’s job and acting like a man, but rather strong as in well-written. We need less of the tight leather clad warrior woman and more REAL women, who run the full spectrum. Give them moments of great strength and agency, but also allow them true, honest, human weaknesses. Allow them to make mistakes. We seem to get caught up on making sure they are strong and capable and forget the other half.

Oh and giant penguins. Can we have more giant penguins?

Where can readers pick up copies of your books?

At the moment the best place to buy my books is from my website, where you can get all three, but as of this week the first book, The Blood of Whisperers, is heading out into the world and will soon be available in print everywhere! The Gods of Vice should be joining it within a few weeks, and The Grave at Storm’s End a few weeks after that. You can also find the ebooks in all the usual places and an audiobook of The Blood of Whisperers is currently in production, so if you prefer to hear your stories keep an eye out for that.

What are you working on right now? Can you give us a little sneak peek? 

Right now I am working on what I call my ‘Epic’. It’s a massive story I’ve been writing off and on for over ten years. It has gone through so many incarnations I couldn’t count them if I tried, but though I wrote The Vengeance Trilogy in that time I never truly shook these characters from my head. So I’m finally going to get their story down properly so they leave me alone. It’s a bit like creative exorcism. And sadly no, I can’t share, because I’m a pantser and am not entirely sure what I’m doing. So everything I have might end up getting entirely changed and rewritten. There you go, biggest downside to being a pantser - you have to keep it all to yourself until it’s finished. Except for beta readers of course, I shout a lot about needing those too.

Devin Madson, thanks for stopping by!

You can buy all of Devin's books over at her website, or online at all good book retailers. I implore you all to make them your next book purchases. I'm halfway through the series, and I've already come to the conclusion that they are amongst the finest fantasy novels that I've ever read. Devin Madson is set for big things, of that I am sure. Also make sure you check out her Youtube series Storyworks. The first one can be found here. They are great! 

Until next time, be good to each other and keep on reading!

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Interview and Giveaway: P. C. Cast

Hello Everyone!

I'm delighted to be a part of the amazing blog tour celebrating the release of P. C. Cast's Moon Chosen. Check out the blurb and cover below:

An Epic Fantasy set in a world where humans, their animal allies, and the earth itself has been drastically changed

Chosen to embrace her true identity. Chosen to follow her destiny. Chosen to change her world.

Mari is an Earth Walker, heir to the unique healing powers of her Clan. She has cast her duties aside, but when she is chosen by a special animal ally, her destiny is altered forever. 

When a deadly attack tears her world apart, Mari reveals the strength of her powers and the forbidden secret of her dual nature.

Darkness is coming, and with it, a force more terrible and destructive than the world has ever seen. Forming a tumultuous alliance with Nik, the son of a leader from a rival clan, she must fight to save her people. 

MOON CHOSEN is the first book in the stunning Tales of the New World trilogy. 

Cast kindly took time out of her hectic schedule to answer a few questions for Smash Dragons. 

P. C. Cast, welcome to Smash Dragons. 

What was your inspiration behind the incredible universe you have built in Moon Chosen?

PC: Thank you for asking!  The idea of animal allies and the bonds formed between animals, at first specifically canines and humans, was inspired by my bond with my working dog, Badger.  I had something scary happen in my life about four years ago, and I decided to invest in a personal protection canine.  I’ve always had a menagerie of dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, etc., etc., but I had no experience with working dogs or German Shepherds. They delivered Badger, my personal protection canine, and the moment he and I met we had an immediate connection.  It was like nothing I’d ever experienced, and was so profound that I knew it must be the foundation for a new adventure – for me and for my readers!  I, of course, had to include other fabulous canine familiars, as well as a variety of felines, equines, and many other surprises. 

The physical setting was inspired by my move to the northwest.  The beauty and wildness of the landscape surrounding me set my imagination on fire, and as usual, I turned to my brilliant father who helped me extrapolate what might happen to our world if it had survived a series of massive solar flares that changed the atmosphere, topography, flora and fauna – as well as humans.  Then I added a big dose of goddess magick! 

How many books will be in the Tales of a New World series?

PC: Right now I have 5 books planned in the series.

How long was the writing/planning process?

PC: Almost two years!  I brainstormed and plotted for almost a year, and it took me another year to write Moon Chosen

P. C. Cast, thanks for stopping by!

Smash Dragons has a paperback copy of Moon Chosen to giveaway to one lucky reader. In order to be eligible all you have to do is share or retweet this post online. You must also be based in Australia (sorry, but the postage is just too costly to send it overseas). Happy hunting! And stayed tuned for my review of Moon Chosen in a couple of weeks. 

Moon Chosen is now available from all good book retailers. Check out Pan Macmillan's website for more information.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Happy Release Day for The Angel of the Abyss by Hank Schwaeble.

It's Halloween! You know what that means. Costumes... candy... blood sacrifices upon the altar of the Prin... err... maybe not that last one. 

It also means The Angel of the Abyss is here! 


You have no idea how long I've waited for this book to be released. I work for Cohesion Press (full disclosure), and have seen this book creeping up on my radar for months now in our pending releases. To see it finally fly out into the big wide world brings a bloody tear to my eye. 

You guys are going to love it so much. Honest truth. 

Not convinced? Check out this plot summary and see if it tickles your fancy: 

Never one to leave well enough alone, ex-special forces interrogator and demon-magnet Jake Hatcher went looking for trouble, and found it.

Finally able to be with the woman he truly loves, his bank account swollen beyond proportion, life for anyone else would seem charmed. But Hatcher’s good fortune came at a steep price. Two years after witnessing former lover Vivian Fall disappear into perdition, he may finally have been offered a way to free her. But the forces determined to stop him are hidden, and a deal with the Devil cannot easily be trusted. 

Hatcher must discover for himself if he has what it takes to survive a battle of wit and wills with both an unknown contender for the Throne of Damnation and the being that has been its occupant since the dawn of Creation – The Lord of the Underworld, the Father of All Lies, the Great Deceiver…

The Angel of the Abyss.

Still not convinced... look at that cover! 

Still not convinced? What is wrong with you!? I'll sweeten the deal and give you a chance to win a digital copy of The Angel of the Abyss (see below for entry details). Hank also kindly dropped by on a whirlwind visit to answer a few questions about his new release:

Mr. Schwaeble, welcome back to Smash Dragons!

The Angel of the Abyss is finally here! What can readers expect in this latest Jake Hatcher adventure? 

Glad you asked! After the events of the first two books, Hatcher finds himself unable to really enjoy being with the woman he loves, despite having inherited the luxury of a small fortune, thanks to the guilt he feels over the fate of Vivian Fall. His tenacity in pursuing any avenue that might provide a chance to save places him in the middle of a power struggle for the throne of Hell--due to an instability for which he is largely responsible--and in navigating those treacherous waters he must face the prospect that very little of what he presumed to be true actually is. All while battling demons and other nefarious forces, I might add.

2) Jake is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting characters in dark fiction right now. I’m curious, how did you come up with his character? How much of Hank Schwaeble is there in Jake Hatcher?

Many years ago, I read about how one research study concluded that what separates societies that are hopelessly corrupt and societies where bargains and agreements tend to be honored is a prevailing belief in some sort of "hell," the idea being that a belief in consequences in the form of judgment in an afterlife has the effect of making people refrain from cheating or swindling or purloining from others. Whether that's true or not, it got me thinking about whether someone inclined to "do the right thing" would still do so if they were assured they would be punished with an eternity in Hell, regardless. So I began musing about a character, a warrior, who was "damned" and had no real hope of salvation, but who through events beyond his control becomes the only hope to save the rest of mankind from sharing his fate. I thought it presented both a powerful character premise and a fabulous backdrop for a supernatural thriller.

3) What can you tell us about this unknown contender for the Throne of Damnation? Any hints? 

Only that Hatcher, out of his depth and desperate, effectively makes a deal with the devil to find the would-be usurper in exchange for a promise regarding Vivian's fate--and, of course, everything goes according to plan without any surprises. And if you believe that, I have a quick way for you to make millions buying undeveloped Florida real estate on the cheap.

4) The cover art for this release is outstanding! Did you have much input in its design and configuration? 

For this one, I think I vaguely mentioned to my publisher that I'd like a representation of Hatcher, with a looming demonic shadow behind him. While I wasn't thinking specifically of the cover it has, once again Dean Samed nailed it, in my opinion. He always seems to exceed expectations. As does Cohesion Press.

5) Finally, what can fans expect in the future from Hank Schwaeble?

I've already signed a contract for my next novel, THE EMPEROR OF SHADOWS, coming from Cohesion Press next year. So, I'll be busy with that for a while. In the near future,  I have a Jake Hatcher novella appearing in the SNAFU: Black Ops anthology, due out in December from Cohesion. Sharing the billing with some great authors for that one, so it should be a treat. And I'll be teaching a Horror University seminar at StokerCon 17 this spring, so I'd love to get the word out for anyone planning to attend to make sure they sign up.  

Hank Schwaeble, thanks for stopping by!

In order to be eligible to win a digital copy of The Angel of the Abyss all you have to do is share or retweet this post online! Get in! The winner will be announced in three days. Also, if you haven't read any of Hank's work I highly recommend that you do. His short story collection American Nocturne (also published by Cohesion) is magnificent, as are his novels Damnable and Diabolical (book 1 and 2 respectively in the series that The Angel of the Abyss is a part of). All of Hank's work is available from all good book retailers.  

Interview - Matthew J. Hellscream

Hello Groovers! 

I'm delighted to bring you yet another interview in our ongoing series here at Smash Dragons. This week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Matthew J. Hellscream, a writer whose stock is rising fast amongst fans. We chatted about lots of different things, including our shared admiration for the movie Predator! 

I hope you enjoy it! 

Matthew J. Hellscream, welcome to Smash Dragons. 

Thanks for having me, Mr. Summers!

First up, tell me a little but about yourself and your writing career so far.

Well, if the name wasn't a dead giveaway, I write horror. Technically, I guess you'd call me a speculative fiction author. I am the author of Metro 7, the very first Australian fiction novel funded on Kickstarter. I went back to Kickstarter to successfully fund my second novel, Carnifex. I've also released two short stories which are currently available on Kindle. So far I've relied on Kickstarter to bring my nightmares to life, but I'll be looking at other models in future.

When did you first start writing? Was writing something you ever envisaged yourself doing when you were younger?

It absolutely was something I've wanted to do for a long time. My mother brought home a typewriter when I was about 10 or so, and I wrote my very first 'story' which was a blatant rip-off of Jurassic Park: The Lost World. It involved all of my good friends being torn apart by dinosaurs in gruesome ways. I could spell Pachycephalosaurus, but I couldn't spell their. Go figure!

After that, I did it for fun. I just wrote stories for myself. When I was in Grade 10 I wrote a zombie story and entered it into the Mary Poppins Award, run by the local paper in my hometown, and I ended up winning third place against a couple of kids who were in Grade 12. That was when I knew I wanted to do it for real. I didn't actively pursue the dream until I moved to the big smoke in my early 20s, but now, I'm not looking back.

How do you balance working full time with your writing career?

It's killer, dude. You have to sacrifice a lot to make it work. You need to make time to hit your goals, be it word count or plot progression. I have around two hours of commuting time each day that I use to write. I pop the headphones in, and focus on writing as much as I can in the limited time I've got. When I'm home, I edit what I wrote that day, and start to gear up for what I'm going to write the next day. 

I'm also a member of the wonderful Brisbane NaNoWriMo group who hold monthly write-ins. I may not always attend, but I always use those days to smash my word counts.

You mainly write in the ballpark of what I would call ‘dark speculative fiction’. What is it about this area that you find appealing?

It's what I grew up on, and it's the type of fiction that I most enjoy. One of my formative childhood experiences was being utterly traumatised by being exposed to the movie Predator many years before I should have been. Well, what I say traumatised, I really mean that it captured my imagination and fundamentally changed my life. I loved it, and I wanted more.

I love speculative fiction because you can explore any topic, any theme, no matter how taboo, in clever and interesting ways. For example, Metro 7 might be a relentless action-horror novel, but the themes within it allowed me to explore my feelings about my father's death at the hands of the Big C.

What’s your take on the speculative fiction scene here in Australia right now? What do we, as a community, need to do better in your opinion?

I think we've got a lot of amazing talent in Australia, and that's worth celebrating. I went to Kickstarter for my books, because I didn’t think I had a chance in hell of breaking into the traditional publishing scene in Australia. Horror just didn’t seem like it was on the traditional publishing radar, but in the last few years we’ve had so many awesome scary books come out, that I really think horror is entering another upswing. And I’m very excited about that.

As for what we can do better? I honestly don't know. I’m kind of keeping my head down low, working on my own projects. As long as people are writing awesome books and treating their fellow creatives with respect, it’s all good.

I’ve started reading Carnifex, and I have to say it has been an incredible ride so far. Tell me about the genesis of this book. What inspired you to write it?

I've always loved extinct Australian megafauna. As I was visiting the Brisbane Museum one day back in 2014, I came across a cross-section reconstruction of the head of a Marsupial Lion, aka the Thylacoleo Carnifex. This apex predator immediately grabbed my attention, and I had to learn everything I could about it.

As I was researching this fearsome creature, I saw mention of a theory about many of the big cat sightings that are so prevalent up and down the east coast of Australia. That theory was that a population of these Marsupial Lions might still be out there, surviving, and occasionally being seen.

Combined with a creepy, fictional Queensland small town called Kooyah and an ancient secret that the locals want to keep buried, Carnifex emerged from the shadows almost organically, hungry for flesh.

Monsters and creatures feature in your fiction a lot. I’m curious; did you grow up on a steady diet of monster movies and books? Do you have a favourite monster?

I grew up on a steady diet of 80s cartoons, horror movies and Monty Python. One of the themes I most enjoy is transformation, be it energy, form or consciousness. I'm looking forward to exploring those in future planned works.

Do I have a favourite monster? Yes, I do play favourites. John Carptenter's The Thing is my absolute favourite. Followed closely by all of the various aliens from the Alien series, and the Yuatja from the Predator series. They just don't make monsters like they used to. Those are the benchmarks that I strive to reach for when I’m creating my monsters.

Metro 7 was your first book. What challenges did you face whilst writing it? In your opinion how have you improved as a writer since you first published it?

To be completely honest? I had no idea what I was doing. I just had this idea, and I had to get it out of my head. It took 5 years to finish the first draft, and then another 12 months to get it to a point where I was happy with it. Metro 7 is a first, self-published novel, and it shows. It has its share of problems. But I think the story stands on its own merits, and I have people chasing me for the sequel.

I've improved a lot since publishing Metro 7 in 2014. I've focused on furthering my knowledge of the craft, and have been sharpening my claws in preparation for the future. My main aim is to write captivating, cinematic page-turners, and my focus is on making them the best that they can be.

Last time we spoke you were working on a Lovecraftian novella. How’s that coming along? What other projects do you have in the pipeline?

It's coming along very well! It was initially envisioned as a 20k word novella, but I've hit the 20k mark and I'm barely a quarter of the way through the story I want to tell. The working title is Deepwatch, and it's going to be pretty special.

I also write 'Screamers', which are short, brutal, extreme horror novellas, and I'm going to be releasing a Christmas themed Screamer in December called Slay Bells.

I also have another 3 books in the immediate pipeline:

Deep 6, the sequel to Metro 7.
Earth to Embers, a Kaiju/Mecha thriller.
Dirtworld: The True, Untold Story of Citizen Sin.

Every writer has a certain process that they go through when writing. What’s yours? Are you a planner or pantser? 

Metro 7 was pansted, but every story since has been planned. If not chapter by chapter, then at least by outline. For example, Carnifex was planned chapter by chapter. Even then, some of my characters derailed my plot a couple of times and I had to improvise. Deepwatch is a little looser, with key moments planned that I want to hit, while allowing my characters their own freedom to explore and express themselves.

I use a program called Scrivener, which makes it incredibly easy to outline, storyboard and manage research and other reference material. I would be lost without it.

If you could spend the day with another author to pick their brain who would it be and why?

Argh, this is an excruciatingly difficult question! I would love to spend a day with Stephen King, but I wouldn’t want to intrude on his privacy. I know he values it. I would say Scott Sigler, because he's a rad dude and seems like he would be down to talk shop, as well as have a couple of beers. His hard scifi horror books are incredible.

What is the most cherished book on your shelves? Why?

A totally beat-up, spine-split, signed copy of Scarecrow by Matthew Reilly. 

When I was in High School I went through a huge Matthew Reilly phase. I read his entire back catalogue. His story about self-publishing his book Contest, selling it out of the back of his car, inspired me to take the same route. On my graduation day way back in 2003, Matthew Reilly was doing a signing in Bundaberg, which is about 2 hours from where I went to school in Hervey Bay. Mum drove me to Bundaberg and back for the signing. Matthew and I talked about writing, and he said that famous quote to me - You're not an aspiring writer, you're a writer. Period.

And here I am. That day, which my copy of Scarecrow represents, was the day I made the choice. I was going to chase my dreams, and fight to make them a reality.

Best convention experience so far?

Without a doubt, Supanova Brisbane 2015. Peter Cullen, the voice of Generation 1 Optimus Prime was a guest, and I had the honour of meeting the man who brought one of my childhood heroes to life.

When I had my photo taken with him, I told him exactly that, and we both teared up as we shook hands. That was a very special moment. He was such a lovely guy.

I’m exhibiting at Supanova this year for the first time. It’s crazy to think that I’ll be showing my books at the same convention as Matthew Reilly! I’m hoping that my best convention experience is still to come.

You mentioned earlier that you used Kickstarter as a means to fund/partially fund your work. Do you think more authors should use models like Kickstarter to get their projects off the ground? What other models do you think will gain popularity over the coming years?

I think that creators really need to be exploring every avenue available to bring their projects to fuition. In the coming years there is going to be a paradigm shift in the way that creators connect with their audiences. We're already seeing the beginnings of this today.

We not only have Kickstarter, but IndioGogo, GoFundMe, Patreon, PledgeMusic, InkShares... Crowdfunding itself is a boom market, because it does something that no other funding model has done before - it gives creators the ability the directly connect with their audience, and a way for audiences to directly support the creators they want to support.

I'm toying with the idea of using Patreon myself in future, as I think it's a pretty fantastic platform, and ideal for my business model. That's one thing that I think is very important to recognise as an independent creator - you're not only an artist, but you need to understand the business, and you need a model that supports it. You can't keep writing books if you can't pay your rent and keep the lights on!

I must admit I had a good chuckle when you mentioned being 'traumatised' by the movie Predator. That was a movie that changed my life as well. If you could translate one of your stories to film which one would it be and why? Who would play the lead roles?

Ooh, I really want to answer with a book that I've written, but haven't published yet! But I guess that would be cheating. Earth to Embers, my Kaiju/Mecha thriller, is the most cinematic book I've written so far, with an enormous scale, and an absolutely insane set of action setpieces.

If I had to choose one that I've already published, I would have to go with Metro 7. I would love to bring it to the big screen. I think it would translate very well to film. It's got stomach-churning monsters, and a bunch of space marines that are trapped in a situation that is way out of their depth.

As for casting? I've got some suggestions.

Chris Hemsworth would play Draco Goldwing, the heroic Captain of the Icarus. The rest of my space marines? Michelle Rodriguez would play Ava, Domhnall Gleeson would play Vynce, Mike Colter would play Raze. I looooooved him in Luke Cage!

And as for the villain? Veck Simms? My ideal casting would be Jason Momoa. He's got the perfect blend of physicality and quiet menace, but at the same time, can be charming as hell.

You're a big fan of genre art, and I must admit I'm extremely jealous of some of the pieces you have on your walls (Shin Godzilla mainly). Who are your favourite artists? What is it about them that you love?

My favourite artist at the moment is Tristan Jones, who created that spectacular piece of Shin Godzilla art you mention. Which isn't actually on my wall yet! I need to get that sucker framed, pronto!

I found him through an amazing piece of realistic Dino Riders art a few years back. I think someone retweeted it on Twitter, and I had to follow him. I've been a fan ever since.

It's a bit of a dream of mine to collaborate with him some day.

Finally, why should readers buy your books? What do stories from Matthew J. Hellscream bring to the table?

My stories are cinematic page-turners. They're filled with incredible monsters, rich characters, villains that will make your skin crawl and buckets upon buckets of blood and guts. They're also uniquely Australian. I have a passion for celebrating Australian mythlogy, and this is only going to be explored further in my future works.

Matthew J. Hellscream, thanks for stopping by! 

You can buy all of Matthew's work (print and digital) online at retailers such as Amazon and Booktopia. Be sure to stay up to date with Matthew as well by stopping by his website here. Also, keep an eye out for my review of Carnifex, which should drop in a week or two. It's a wonderful read that I recommend you all check out immediately. 

Until next time peeps... be nice to each other and keep on reading! 

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!