Giveaways and Special Offers

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Yes! It’s on. There are five copies of Elyora to give away worldwide.

You can register here.

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Any readers and reviewers participating in The Australian Women Writers Challenge who buy a copy of Elyora, I’ll pop something extra into the post with the novella as a thank you. Just write ‘AWWC’ in the buyer’s notes when you pass through PayPal.

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Welcome to Elyora

cover-finalTo celebrate today’s launch of Elyora I’ve compiled a list of facts about the novella, the writing it and other associated tidbits.

#1 Elyora began as a dream featuring a misshapen house, a woman and sirens in the river.

#2 Elyora was the name of the woman in my dream, not the town. It’s pronounced el-yor-ah.

#3 The first draft of Elyora was written during a June 2012 Rabbit Hole event run by the Queensland Writers Centre – 30,000 words in 30 hours.

#4 The original sex scene was written as a word count filler and was intended to be edited out of the final draft. The ending precluded that from happening.

#5 Elyora was edited by Lesley Halm (for Review of Australian Fiction) and if it weren’t for her commitment to the story she saw in the rough, it might never have been finished, much less published.

#6 Elyora was short listed in the Aurealias short horror category in 2012 – two days after the contract was signed to sell it as River of Bones to Endeavour Press.

#7 The a cappella scene was intended to have Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner at the centre of it but words failed to bring it to life at the time. The new edition features Vega’s classic.

#8 The 2nd draft was almost complete before I knew what the menace in the river was. It was an accidental find after months of dedicated searching.

#9 Knowing what was in the river, and its folk history, added a new layer to the story, a new iteration of claustrophobia and fleshed out the backstory of Eleanor and Ethan Lazarus.

#10 Brigadoon, the town that appears for one day every hundred years, was one of the inspirations for Elyora, though my partner, insisted it sounded more like the town in Peter Weir’s The Cars That Ate Paris.

#10 Elyora is not based on the township of Ben Lomond. Ben Lomond has 3 churches and is on the wrong side of the road.

#11 FaunaBate almost hailed from Sydney. The Hume Highway between Melbourne and City was the intended setting. But a road trip in 2011 discounted it.

#12 It was only after Elyora was published that I visited Hal and Jo’s hometowns of Woolomin and Nundle. GoogleEarth was my friend prior to that.

#13 Sometimes it’s okay to read reviews! The new edition has small alternations to the flora and fauna based on Chris-from-Ben-Lomond’s Goodread’s review.

#14 Elyora was my first attempt at horror and I wanted to write something that would scare me stupid. My son managed to accidentally jump-scare me during a late editing session of the final garage scene.

#15 The hardest scene to write was the conversation between Ethan and Stanley. Nailing Stanley’s vernacular and articulation pushed my skills to their limits.

#16 In addition to the dream, two strong visuals components were musts for incorporation: the cars in the back of the garage and the tow hook on the old dodge truck.

#17 One reviewer said she would never again take a bath after reading Elyora. #sorrynotsorry

#18 Petrol actually was 13c/l in 1974. It was one of the facts I collected as part of my research. I also read the original research paper from the FBI Body Farm.

#19 Searching >Elyora< on Spotify will bring up the play list of songs mentioned in the novella. There’s 16 of them.

#20 The number of plays  logged for Yacht Club DJ’s ‘The mostly come at night, mostly’ hour-long mixtape – 82. It was on almost perpetual loop during Elyora’s writing and editing.

#21 Lesley’s original editorial stated that Elyora could be the lovechild of Gaiman and King, consequently, when it was first released, I told no one it had been published.

#22 River of Bones languished in relative obscurity until an Australia Day promo pushed it to #1 on the Amazon (Aus) horror charts and into the general Top 20.

#23 Most of the quirky details, from dashboard adornments to tattoos, were based on suggestions from The Elyora Brains Trust on Facebook during the 2nd draft.

#24 The third edition of Elyora (the 2nd by its intended name) is the only paperback edition. Only one was intended to be printed (as a reference for writing a script) but the idea of a worldwide paperback release refused to be ignore.


When Jo, Hal and Benny arrive in Elyora the absence of takeaway coffee is the least of their problems. At each other’s throats and without transportation, phone service or somewhere to stay, they accept the hospitality of the enigmatic Lazarus at the original Elyora homestead.

As day turns to night, the sanctuary of the rambling house becomes a terrifying alternate reality of memories peeling back onto themselves to expose secrets and paranoia dating back to 1942.

To escape Elyora and return to 2012, Jo must remember who she is and find Benny and Hal before they succumb to  the same fate as those who came before them.

 

Haven’t got a copy of Elyora yet – no stress. Just click here.

Want to add it to Goodreads. Easy! Just click here.

Coming on 20th February – a Goodreads giveaway. More closer to the date.

Return to Elyora

img_0974I’m ecstatic to finally announce the release of the paperback edition of Elyora this  Valentines Day.

For those who follow me on Twitter and Instagram, you will have seen a flutter of mentions late last year, but thanks to some health bumps, it’s taken until now to get it all to come together the way I want it to.

REWIND

As some of you know, the novella was first published in Review of Australian Fiction’s Rabbit Hole special edition on the 23rd of December 2012, under the editorial stewardship of the very awesome Lesley Halm. Sean Wright encouraged me to to find a paid home for Elyora, which I did. But when I sold the manuscript in early 2013, the publisher insisted on a title change to make it less parochial and the addition of a new opening section to ensure it would hook the thriller readers it was slated to be marketed to. To compound it all, I signed the contract for River of Bones the day before Elyora was announced as an Aurealis short-listed work. And as a final nail in the coffin, the ebook was only ever available via Kindle.

To able to use my paperback rights to return the manuscript to its original narrative form,  to joyfully and proudly market it as ‘Australian gothic horror’ and to have it in a medium accessible by everyone, well it makes me a very happy author.

A BIT OF GOTHIC HORROR FOR VALENTINES DAY

I’m launching the paperback on the 14th February.

The book  will be available here (and for those that buy here, there will be something in your copies that I was unable to print in a mass market copy!) or via the usual online bookstores.

The novella is $11.99 (including postage anywhere in the world) and can be purchased by clicking here.

As special thank you, I’ll ship an original Elyora-based poem square with the first five books pre-ordered.



When Jo, Hal and Benny arrive in Elyora the absence of takeaway coffee is the least of their problems. At each other’s throats and without transportation, phone service or somewhere to stay, they accept the hospitality of the enigmatic Lazarus at the original Elyora homestead.

As day turns to night, the sanctuary of the rambling house becomes a terrifying alternate reality of memories peeling back onto themselves to expose secrets and paranoia dating back to 1942.

To escape Elyora and return to 2012, Jo must remember who she is and find Benny and Hal before they succumb to  the same fate as those who came before them.

BUY THE NOVELLA

 

Today, At The Glass Coin

…or how others stepped in to help with a book promotion.

River_of_Bones2I’m not unusual in the fact I find self-promotion difficult (in fact the very word makes me shudder). I see many authors who fall into the hard-sell category and I balk at the idea I might have to do that. I balk at the idea that any type of promotion I do will be viewed by others as over-the-top. And in addition to that, I resent the time required to invest in large-scale promotion, especially in light of recent changes on the home front eating into just about all the free time I have. With so little time, I’d rather be writing, not telling people how awesome I am and the work I create is (more shudders) in the hope they might part with a few dollars to buy my work.

IS IT ALL FOR NOTHING?

I was heartened by Julianna Baggot’s observations at Writer Unboxed last week:

…today, you’re going to be told that sales are in your control. You might be given an author portal filled with info on what you can do to build an audience, connect with readers, blog, tweet, post. Because of the burgeoning ways in which writers and readers can now connect, you’ll be convinced that if you do them all, your book will sell.

No. The vast majority of authors sprint in all of these ways nowadays. The effect has plateaued — if there was ever much of an effect to be had.

And even if you have the might and power of a great marketing department, it’s still unknowable why some books take off and others don’t.

While this is not a excuse for a total ‘out clause’ when it comes to promotion, it at least puts it all into perspective. Plus it comes with a sober conclusion:

Protect your relationship with the page, at all costs, because no matter how the publishing industry defines your role, there’s one place you’re always a writer. The desk. Your long-term relationships is with words on a page. It’s where you first started out and it’s where you need to be.

TAKE ME OUT OF THE EQUATION, PLEASE

Hand me a book I love, an author I admire, an event or an organisation I believe to do good work, and I’ll holler their brilliance until I’m hoarse. In that respect, I have no problem whatsoever in connecting readers with the work of others.

About a month ago, my publisher ran a free promotion on River of Bones. For some reason, the idea of promoting a free download didn’t raise quite as many hackles as the idea of promoting the full-priced version (I know – hit me). I had hoped the small group of folk who constitute my two online writing groups and a handful of other friends might help me spread the word. The response was overwhelming – so many people helped spread the word that River of Bones hung out in the Top Ten free downloads for most of the week.

Promoting the work of others is like beta reading – it is an investment in your own work and own career. It is a long-tail strategy. It is community building. It is moral support during one of the most fiendish task a writer will ever be asked to undertake. And if you believe the Wiccans, it will be returned to you three-fold!

MOMENTUM BEGETS OPPORTUNITIES

A wonderful opportunity fell in my lap at the conclusion of the week of promoting the free version of River of Bones. Jo and Paul at The Glass Coin contacted me with a new idea they had to help authors and small press gain additional exposure for their work. They could see how hard it was to get the word out and wanted to do something to help.

On the 21st of June they wrote:

Sometimes unique stories have trouble finding readers. It is our hope to make that connection for more people – writers and readers alike – so we are now offering our authors the opportunity to promote their novels, poetry and short story collections and other publications they have available for sale. Not only that, we are also going to promote independently produced books and publications from across the world.

…We’re excited to help spread the word about some great indie authors who may not have the backing of large publishing houses and marketing teams and we know how hard it is to get your name out there as an independent writer or artist. We believe in every single author we will feature.

Today, I’m the first of the guest authors at The Glass Coin. The post contains an exclusive extract from the novella. Many thanks to Jo and Paul for helping make the job of getting the word out just that little bit easier. And many thanks to the team at Endeavour Press for releasing the extract that appears today.

RIDE THE RIPPLE

Sometimes it pays to poke your head out from beneath the mushroom you’ve been writing under, and allow yourself the opportunity to spruik your wares. To give yourself permission for a few days to say, “I am awesome. And what I write rocks!” To work your network. If you do it authentically and with passion, you will inspire others to do the same. And if you do as the exception rather than the rule, you will stir small ripples a few might take notice off, rather than drench people in a message they will shut out for good.

RIVER of BONES: Villains, Xenophobia and Germans

River_of_Bones2I threw it out to the original readers of Elyora earlier this week: did they have something they’d like to ask in regards to any aspect of the novella. What I had intended as a quick Q & A has evolved into a series of blog posts. This first one deals with the topics of villains, xenophobia and anti-German. The questions came compliments of Sean Wright and Robert G Cook.

SEAN: Australians are very hard on migrants. We always seem to require newcomers to prove themselves. I wanted to ask where you got the idea for the villain of the piece?

The search for the ‘embodiment’ of Elyora’s true antagonist was long and tedious. She was the last of the characters to have an identity honed, which made for interesting writing in the lead up to uncovering her (and perhaps why other antagonist ‘forces’ share the evil mantle with the actual antagonist in the novella). I had all the pieces—a river, monstrous women, singing, male entrapment—but could not get them to fit in a logical fashion. I trusted if I just kept writing actual monster that would hold it all together, would arrive. Eventually.

In the original dream, the women in the river were more akin to sirens or mermaids, yet I couldn’t quite get my head around my ‘villain’ being either (in their most traditional form or any permutation I could spin). I’m not well versed with monsters or mystical creatures so I went to my writing friends asking if they knew of a malevolent being I could put in a river. Bunyips and other Australian bred monsters didn’t fit any better than sirens and mermaids, and like me, my writing friends also drew blanks.

I spent lots of time in Far North Queensland and one of our favourite swimming holes was  the (aptly named) Boulders just out of Babinda. It is a beautiful, eerie and violent place—the ambiance underpinned by the legend of Oolana, the number of recent deaths there and the turbulent waters that hammer through the valley during the wet season. It was echoes of Oolana’s legend that inspired me put Ethan’s wife in the river. In the earliest drafts she didn’t even have a name nor a reason for having died there. She was, for all intents and purposes, a ghost of what was to follow.

I found Eleanor simply by giving up looking for her. I was researching something else in mid-June when I stumbled across a reference to a wiederganger. The name roughly translates to ‘again walker’ and they are part ghost, part zombie and part vampire and date back to the middle ages in Northern German folklore. They are born from a need for revenge and best of all—they use telepathy to lure victims graveside. There, the wiederganger feeds on them.

Immediately all the pieces came together. I made Ethan Lazarus’s wife German—a woman he met and feel in love with while on an architectural tour of Europe. I had them elope to Gretna Green (a nod to my Great-Grandparents) and then forced back to Australia by the impending War (Ethan recalled to run the family property). The singing was easily woven in…Eleanor became an up-and-coming opera singer. The strains of the Andrews sisters were echoes from the war years. And the German background gave me xenophobic angles to play with.

What I like most about Eleanor as the villain, is she is a product of her environment – both as a monster of her native Germany and a predator of those who originally preyed on her in Elyora. We get to know and empathise with her as a woman out of place in life, before we are confronted with her as a monster after death.

ROB: I’m interested in the xenophobic aspects of the townspeople’s behaviour towards Eleanor, the anti-German feeling of the war years and how that spilled over into people’s attitudes and actions towards people who couldn’t reasonably be held to account for stuff that had happened half a world away. Was knowledge of that something that informed the story or something that grew out of it, and either way, how did you go about researching it?

The anti-German angle grew out of finding the wiederganger. It defined and honed the entire second half of the novella and gave weight to what I intended to simply be a ‘scary story’. The narrative evolved to be about intolerance and irrational hatred, as much as it was a story about bad shit happening in a creepy town.

Australia has a rich and trouble multicultural history—and having studied both Australian and modern history I’d seen the same anti [insert your bias here] sentiments repeated throughout history in terms of ‘others’. Australia’s influx of migrants Post WW II saw lots of nastiness unleashed in small towns where migrants ended up. The best example I can think of is the treatment of migrants who worked on the Snowy Rivers Hydro scheme. We watched a fictional mini series in Australian studies in Year 11. In it, a German woman was raped by a gang of men who believe their crime is justified because of the victim’s nationality.

I revelled in the questions the anti-German attitude raised about the ‘monsters’ who live among us: the ones we create, the ones we aid and abet, the ones we push down inside ourselves. In Elyora the hate is fever pitch, it is irrational… but so is the manifestation of grief and trying to understand horrors perpetuated on loved ones. Alain de Botton says bad behaviour is a reflection of suffering and not malice. This is as relevant for Eleanor as it is for people such as Stanley Blessing, Dorothy Briggs and Matthew Gideon. It doesn’t make their behaviour easier to swallow, but it does shine a light into the dark recesses of their motivations.

Small towns have the capacity (like small offices, small organisations, small tea rooms) to magnify intolerance because ‘otherness’ is harder to hide. There is a fear of what others bring and might take. Where I lived in the Riverina my otherness wasn’t just from being out of town: I was caught between mill workers and the older landholders. Add to that the fact I was female (should be seen and not heard, be married, breed and do as I was told) and worked for the most hated woman in town. I well and truly felt the icy blast of small town prejudice. It is easy to alienate someone who is ‘foreign’. In Eleanor’s case, she becomes (in the minds of the locals) the embodiment of the town’s worst fears. She is a soft target. She is an easy target. And she’s an obvious target.

When I was defending the horror genre recently to my MIL (who is of the opinion it is trash and why would anyone want to read/write it) I used the theme of intolerance in River of Bones as an example of what horror does best—putting up a mirror to and exploring the things we are afraid of, or would prefer to not talk about.


Thank you to everyone who has continued to Tweet, Facebook, downloaded and talk to others about River of Bones. As this goes to press the novella is #9 on the free US charts under the horror sub-genre of the occult and steady at #10 in the UK free horror charts.

RIVER OF BONES: Life is a Highway

Road trips are a way of life in Australia, so much so Triple J and ABC Open ran the Road Trip Relay last year (if you needed proof of the institutional position of the road trip in Aussie culture!)

My childhood and adolescence are liberally peppered with road trips. No one lived closed to us when we moved out of Melbourne so we were always on the road. At 14 my parents sold up everything and we spent three months traveling up the east coast pulling a 32-foot caravan. Aged 22, I left Cairns to join my boyfriend of the time and travel the wheat harvest trail from Roma in Central West Queensland all the way down to Padthaway in South Australia (I saw lots of the country side at 25km an hour from the passenger seat of a combine harvester). The road trip is something I’m well acquainted with, and for which I have a deep abiding love of (wind in your hair, stereo cranked up, wide open road ahead), but River of Bones didn’t begin as a story about a road trip. It evolved into one.

WRONG WAY, TURN BACK

From the morning I took down my dream I knew the main characters in Elyora were a band. This gave them a reason to be on the highway. Originally I had them pegged as a young, sassy Melbourne outfit making their way north to Sydney. And then I travelled the Hume highway.

Most. Soulless. Road. Ever.

So it was a double take on where they were going and who they actually were.

BRISBANE 475KM

My in-laws are scattered across the New England Tablelands in NSW. The New England highway is the direct route there and cuts straight through the townships of Tenterfield, Glenn Innes, Armidale and a multitude of tiny little places with their own stories lingering by the side of the road. (Deep Water for instance has the great falling down Eclipse Theatre, the exterior a faded, peeling blue).

When the Hume Highway failed to inspire I knew the New England was a perfect fit. There are a plethora of little roads coming off it, unlike the Hume which is all big off ramps. Not to mention I knew the New England highway well and could immediately envisage Faunabate traveling down it.

2013-05-21 12.50.11Armidale was a starting point. It has a Uni, a social melting pot perfect for an emerging indie band but it was too close to where I wanted the band to turn off the highway (all spawned by Jo wanting to devour a meat pie at the Glenn Innes bakery to stick it to vegan Benny in her passive aggressive assault on him, which was cut in subsequent drafts but the location markers remained!)

I took the starting point further west to Tamworth and decided that Hal and Jo would be from one of the tiny towns along there (Jo from Nundle and Hal from Woolomin). In doing so I realised the band was more than just a creative outlet for Jo. It was her escape pass from the country. And I had underpinnings of what was to play out later in the narrative – the irony of claustrophobia in a vast landscape.

IMG_2240The additional benefit of Hal and Jo as country kids was the impact of their reaction to Elyora. They are both well versed with rural economic degradation and isolation, of being in parts of the country where there is no phone service, so their entry into Elyora is not simply city meets country culture shock, but a deep sense of something being intrinsically wrong there.

I KNOW WHERE ELYORA IS

This is what Dave casually said to me on our trip to Gloucester in January and there was an immediate shiver down my back.

Although I see Elyora Road and all the buildings along that decrepit strip of tarmac as clearly as any of the other almost dead country towns I’ve been to… I’ve never believed it’s real. That’s just crazy talk.

“What are you talking about?”

“I know where Elyora is,” he repeated.

“It’s not a real place.”

“I know. But I know where it would be. Want to go there?”

Did I really want to turn off the New England highway in search of a proposed version of Elyora? Surely one learns lessons from their writing? Surely. Especially when one has also watched The Cars That Ate Paris.

Curiosity killed the cat…IMG_2339We stopped in Ben Lomond on the way back to Brisbane, when I’d got my head around tempting fate. I felt more than a faint tremor of filthy anticipation in the pit of my stomach as we drove down Ben Lomond road. The only thing that stopped me from freaking totally was the fact I videoed the whole thing, you know, in case I ever needed a book trailer.

ALMOST BUT…

No town is every going to look exactly like Elyora… it is a mash up of elements from all the tiny country towns I’ve ever been to, but there was one house there that gave me the absolute willies.

IMG_2341The town also has three churches. One of them totally cordoned off so you could only peep at it from the road.

IMG_2356One with weeping angels in the graveyard.

IMG_2361I’m glad we visited without incident but now, every time we drive past I get the icky feeling on the back of my neck that perhaps Elyora does lie down the Ben Lomond Road. Lord forbid I ever hear stray strains of The Andrews Sisters as we drive past.

2013-01-06 13.05.30AND ACROSS THE DITCH

It wasn’t just the aspects of rural NSW that shaped the characters and narrative in River of Bones. Tomorrow I’ll talk about how finding the perfect monster fed and expanded additional locations central to the novella.

We’ve all been to ‘one of those towns’… where the twang of banjos claw at the back of our brains. Where is your Elyora?


Thank you to everyone who has Tweeted, Facebooked, downloaded and talked to others about River of Bones. As this goes to press the novella is #6 on the free US charts under the horror sub-genre of the occult and #9 in the UK free horror charts.

RIVER OF BONES: Dream a Little Dream

River_of_Bones2RIVER OF BONES, my supernatural thriller, is free for the rest of the week. You can pick up your copy at Amazon UK or Amazon USA (best for Aussie readers). To coincide with the giveaway I’ve lined up a series of blog posts to take the reader behind the creepy exterior.

IT BEGINS…

…in 2011, in a chalet in the middle of nowhere–a place four hours west of Brisbane called the Bunya Mountains. Amid the towering ancient Bunya Pines, and cold, howling winds, I tried to reconnect with my writing via Natalie Goldberg’s WILD MIND. While my Mr Ds were off exploring I’d spend an hour reading and work my way through the writing prompt for the day, scribbling with mad abandon in a tattered red exercise book.

In the earliest pages are two dreams: the first about an overburdened lint filter (looking back it’s the perfect metaphor for how I was feeling at the time!); the second, an epic dream in technicolour, twisted and distorted as all good dreams are. I remember waking from it knowing there was more than a kernel of a story idea.

TO DREAM, TO WRITE

21st of August, 2011

Last night I dreamed about a place–with dilapidated houses. The fist one had a grand driveway and stone pillars which would have once held an impressive gate. When you looked up the hill there was nothing. You expected to see a grand old house–in good repair or falling apart–but there was nothing of the sort. At the top a neat chalet with the lights on.

Further on there were tumble down houses, over grown yards. One house was three storeys high at one end, two at the other, white weatherboard, ugly, ostentatious in the fact someone felt the need to build a third level to an extremely ordinary and ugly house.

There were men living in the town and a ramshackle service station–the old sort with a shed like store and two pumps out the front. In the drive way there was a hippie stand of food, festive flights festooning the drab surrounding giving it all a surreal look.

Walking up to the hippie food stand there were large goodie-balls rolled in coconut. I wanted to buy one but the stall holder told me they were specifically for the IT people who were coming (a hang over from finishing Snow Crash yesterday?)

In the forest there was a water hole fed by a creek and in the water hole were mermaids who lured men it to swim with them. When they did they were caught forever to live in the tiny town. There was one woman and one child–a merchild. She was forced to give up her tail to raise her child on land.

(Realised my people travelling through are musos–in an old town that breaks down. My MC is the only other woman in the town–the male band members lured there. The town of Elyora is not even on the map. The woman with the child had the name Elyora–decided it made a funky, weird sounding name. The sort you’d find in the middle of nowhere–travelling between two towns).

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW

I unearthed the old exercise book several weeks ago. I was amazed at how much of the dream I recorded and how much of the original dream made it into RIVER OF BONES/ELYORA (anyone who has read it, will pick up the crossovers immediately). What I had forgotten were the strings of festive lights, the hippies, the goodie balls and the IT folk. Though I’m certain the wait for the IT people to arrive is probably the foundation for the Government facility on the other side of the river. Ironically anything that may have had a hint of lightness/happiness was exorcised. Well, I did set out specifically to write horror!

I’d also somehow forgotten, in the search for the perfect monster, that I’d started off with mermaids and a female mermaid forced from the river to care for her baby on land. That shocked me (how fragile the memory is!) The boy child laid unconscious foundations for  Gus and the mother’s ‘enslavement’ (being forced from the river to raise the boy) the forerunner of what waited for Jo on the other side of her fever in the Elyora homestead. Funny how things lurk even if they’ve been jettisoned from the conscious part of the brain.

INDEBTED

It’s so rare for me to keep any kind of record of what I’m writing. I’m so grateful for the hand scrawled dream and the record of the earliest word counts on the original draft. Writing on the original draft ended on 1st September with 5953 words.

With the birthpunk novellas I’m mindful of keeping some kind of recollections of the journey. Whether they’ll inform anything in the future other than my own keepsake, remains to be seen.

Do you keep a record of what you are writing? What inspired/shaped it? Do dreams inspire or inform your writing?


Download your free copy of the Aurealis shortlisted RIVER OF BONES (Elyora) now at Amazon UK or Amazon USA. For those who read the novella in it’s first incarnation as ELYORA, the new opening expands the characters of Mrs Briggs and Stanley Blessing in a stand alone piece of flash fiction.