Meet Danielle Hughes: Australian Author of the ‘Mystica’ Trilogy

Today on the Writing and Moonlighting couch, my special guest is Danielle Hughes, Australian author of The Lost Unicorn, and the soon-to-be-released first book in her middle grade fantasy trilogy: Mystica. I had the privilege of being an advance reader of Mystica Book 1—a terrific fast-paced adventure for the young, and young at heart. If you turn and return to classic children’s fantasy (think The Neverending Story, Narnia Chronicles et al), Mystica is going to feel like coming home. In this interview, we learn a little more about the world and characters Danielle has created, and talk everything from worldbuilding and weaponry to winged horses and writing retreats….

Danielle, welcome! Thanks so much for appearing on my blog. Firstly, congratulations on the forthcoming release of your debut novel Mystica! Mystica is Book 1 of a fantasy adventure trilogy steeped in myth and magic. Can you tell us a little more about what Mystica is about, and the characters readers will meet along the journey?

Thank you so much for having me, Beck! Mystica tells the story of Adelle, a 14-year-old girl, and Jack, her younger foster brother, who crash land on a mysterious Island called Mystica. When they’re taken in by one of the island’s tribes, Adelle’s sole focus is being rescued, but when Jack is kidnapped by the tyrant ruler of Mystica, her goal quickly changes.

Having been let down by people their entire lives, Adelle will not abandon Jack. Her journey to save him, with newfound friends, Reve, Kyla and Brek, is paved with danger, and Adelle soon learns there is more to this strange land than what she first thought. When Adelle discovers her own fate is tied to Mystica, she must learn to overcome self-doubt, let down her walls, and accept help from strangers—including an eccentric Mage and a warrior tribe—if she has any chance of saving Jack.

Mystica taps into tropes readers of the genre have come to love and expect: The Chosen One, The Hero’s Journey, Stranger in a Strange Land, Good v Evil etc. It’s clear you have a genuine love and understanding of fantasy. Can you recall what first triggered your love of the genre?

Honestly, I can’t remember ever not loving the fantasy genre. I grew up reading Enid Blyton, loving her stories of magical adventures from The Magic Faraway Tree, to the escapades of the Famous Five. I loved anything Disney, especially Peter Pan and The Little Mermaid. My favourite movies included The Neverending Story and Labyrinth which I watched on repeat.

Oh, yes. I grew up on Enid Blyton too, and can also clearly recall the first time I saw The Neverending Story and Labyrinth. Landmark moments! Danielle, let’s talk more about fantasy worlds… While Mystica is populated with familiar characters from fantasy and folklore:  Mages, winged horses, dragons, etc, we also meet some very interesting creatures of your own creation. The Cormoki, for example, are a fearsome simian-like band of savage forest-dwelling creatures no traveller would want to meet without a good plan, strong weaponry, and a trusty steed! What did you enjoy most about the world building process for Mystica? And what were your biggest challenges?

Mystica is the kind of world I imagined myself living in when I played make-believe as a child. It was easy to create because it already existed so vividly in my mind. The challenge was getting it out on paper so the reader could imagine it for themselves, as a real place.

I loved creating the creatures, especially coming up with their names. I research names and words of specific meaning in other languages and merge them together as part of my inspiration. Adelle’s horse, who is really a Seranelia (winged unicorn), is named Ishkur which means ‘thunder’, because he arrived in a thunder storm. And Seranelia is a mixture of words meaning ‘light, unicorn, and Pegasus’.  

That’s a great approach, and helps add those extra underlying layers of connotation and nuance. I can certainly relate. I take a similar approach to character names as well, and sometimes spend far too long down the name-meaning research rabbit hole!  Okay, how about some more on character, Danielle…

Adelle, your main character, finds herself transported from Earth to Mystica under traumatic circumstances. From the moment she hurtles to ground, she’s faced with ever-increasing stakes, exacerbated by the disappearance of her younger foster brother, Jack. I really enjoyed Adelle’s arc as she struggles with her inner conflict of self-acceptance, self-belief, and her need to constantly maintain control of her life. No spoilers, but I dare say we’ll see even more growth from Adelle as she moves through more trials in Books 2 and 3 of Mystica? What can readers expect in Adelle’s continuing adventures? I sense danger and betrayal ahead!

Adelle’s biggest challenge to overcome is her own self-doubt, which is a continuing theme throughout the trilogy. To defeat the true threat to Mystica, Adelle needs to learn to trust herself, her decisions, and her power. She is a very capable and courageous young lady. It helps having friends who believe in her and challenge her to be strong in the face of her self-doubt. We see Adelle’s confidence grow throughout the trilogy, which was always an important theme for me, especially as a message for my intended target audience (readers 10+).

Absolutely, Danielle. Overcoming self-doubt is a great theme for middle grade readers to tap into, and Adelle’s journey is a well-suited vehicle to carry this theme. My favourite character from Mystica Book 1 is the intriguing volcano-dwelling dragon, Malandra! You did such a great job capturing his presence and personality. I’m looking forward to more of his wit and wisdom. If you had to pick just one, who is your favourite character, and why?

Hahaha that’s like asking me who my favourite child is! Obviously, I love them all for different reasons. I do like Thoud, the Mage who lives a life of solitude, for his kookiness. He plays a larger part in Book 2. Apart from Adelle and Reve, Thoud was one of the first characters to pop into my mind, even though he doesn’t appear until half-way through the first book. And I have a special spot for Kale, a member of the warrior Sarkis Tribe, who plays a bigger role in supporting and challenging Adelle throughout the trilogy. His role surprised me the most during the writing process.

Oh, yes. I liked Kale a lot too. I had a feeling there’s more going on with that young man than meets the eye. I’ll look forward to more reveals about Kale with interest! So, with pre-release sales officially open your excitement must be mounting! Delivering your ‘book baby’ into the hands of readers is such an exciting time. I know you spent a number of years bringing Mystica to life. Can you tell us a bit about your writing journey, Danielle? When did you first start on Book 1, where did the idea come from, and when do you expect Books 2 and 3 to be released?

It has been an immensely long journey which started twelve years ago. In my full-time job before kids, I travelled a lot, both by car and by plane interstate, and usually by myself. So, I spent a lot of time in my own head.

The idea for Mystica first came to me while on a plane, flying through clouds, and gazing out at the dense, white expanse as we flew over them. I imagined an island hidden in those clouds and the story grew from there. In my initial rush of excitement, I penned the first five chapters, and the scene in the forest with Thoud, and then hit a wall. While I had always loved writing stories throughout school, I had never taken it seriously, and new nothing of the craft or discipline of writing. Mystica ended up hidden away for a few years before I found it again when I decided to start writing as a hobby—something for myself, once my first two children came along. They were little and while one was at pre-kinder and the other napping, I needed something productive and creative to do. I pulled Mystica out again, and wrote another few chapters. It was amazing how the whole story was still in my mind, years later. But again, I hit a wall half way through, and started on another idea, more in the YA/supernatural genre, but didn’t get far with that either.

I learned of a writing retreat by chance (who knew such things existed?) and my mum and husband encouraged me to go. And it was the best thing I ever did. The biggest lesson I took from that retreat was to finish something—finish draft one, no matter what. A friend I met on that retreat encouraged me to stick with Mystica, as she saw potential in it. So, I set myself a goal to finish the draft within the following twelve months, which I did! Plotting the remainder of the story out in dot points helped immensely. (A suggestion from the brilliant John Marsden who I met at the retreat)!

I’m hoping to release Book 2 in the first half of next year, and Book 3 in time for Christmas 2022.

Wow, John Marsden *fangirl squeal* That must have been quite the retreat. It certainly sounds like it was instrumental in getting you over the ‘first draft’ line with Mystica, as well helping you move forward with confidence with your writing career. That said, writing a trilogy is no mean feat! There’s much to think about when it comes to continuity, tying off plot threads and character arcs… What’s one piece of advice you’d give to writers embarking on a trilogy?

I always knew Mystica would be a trilogy. I had a pretty clear vision from the beginning that there needed to be more than one book for Adelle’s story to be told. I think that if it feels organic then it’s the right way to go. Don’t try to force it. And if you’re thinking a trilogy, or more, then you need to have an idea of where the story is heading from Book 1. Work out which ideas or plot points belong in Book 1, and which can come later. While writing Book 1, I would get ideas for Books 2 and 3, and while writing Book 2, I would get ideas for Book 3. I would note these down in a separate document, and refer back to them when it was time to write Books 2 and 3.

That’s great advice, Danielle. I agree, that note documentation is very important, especially when you’re dealing with multiple characters, world building elements, and plot threads.

Now, your junior fiction publication The Lost Unicorn was released earlier this year—a beautiful production filled with enchanting illustrations. What was the inspiration behind The Lost Unicorn, and can we expect more tales set in Maywood Forest in the future?

I originally wrote The Lost Unicorn as a present for my six and nine-year-old nieces for Christmas last year. I was working on Mystica Book 2 at the time, but also undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, and found my attention and energy wasn’t always up for Mystica.

The Lost Unicorn was the perfect side project, it was a good distraction from what was going on. My beautiful and talented sister-in-law Molly O’Shannassy of MoshArts agreed to do the cover and illustrations to make the story more special for our nieces. We made a few copies using a Photobook program, and they turned out so well we decided to remake them and self-publish them using IngramSpark, which has been a really positive experience so far. We definitely want to bring more stories to life from the enchanted Maywood Forest. There are many characters and secrets yet to be discovered!

Danielle, you’re also a talented author of short-form fiction, with several of your stories published in recent anthologies. Do you stick to speculative fiction in your short stories, or are you equally happy to write outside your genre?

Great question! I never thought I could write outside my fantasy genre until an opportunity came up through the writing retreat I mentioned earlier (Rainforest Writing Retreat), to submit to an upcoming attendee-only anthology.

 I had missed submitting to the first one (fantasy genre, can you believe it?!) as I was pregnant with my twins, and not in the right head space for any form of writing. I’d also never written a short story before. When the next opportunity came around, I realised I had to give it a chance, especially as it meant being a published author if my story was chosen. You never know unless you give it a go. The theme was ghost stories, easily able to twist fantasy themes into that one! The piece I wrote was accepted, and I was ecstatic. It gave me the confidence to write more short stories and submit them. I’ve written two Sci-Fi stories and a Mystery/Detective story, all of which have since been published, and all for adult readers.

It must feel extremely rewarding to see your writing ambitions become a reality, especially considering your recent battle with cancer (which, I’m beyond happy to say you won). You fulfilled another long-held dream this year with the launch of your independent press, Four Moons Publishing. When your Mystica trilogy has been launched in its entirety, what can readers look forward to next from Four Moons?

Sooooo many ideas and stories I want to tell. Lockdown has made it super hard to find time to write with four young kids at home. I can’t wait for school and kinder to go back to normal. I have a supernatural YA series I’ve been desperate to write for many years, it’s been percolating for as long as Mystica and has been hard not to drift into, but I wanted to see Mystica through before I started it, as it will be a big project with lots of research required.

I also have another idea penned for a middle grade series called The YesterKnights, which I’ve been collaborating ideas on with my two eldest boys which has been super fun. They weren’t too happy when their cousins had a story written for them before they did. It will be full of mythical beasts and two courageous brothers fighting to protect the secret world of Yester.

And Molly and I would love to bring to life more stories from the Enchanted Maywood Forest.  

Wow, they all sound amazing! It’s the old conundrum isn’t it? So much to write, so little time! Lockdown and homeschooling have been such a gamechanger when it comes to creative output. I’m wishing you all the best in settling back into a writing routine in the coming months, Danielle. In the meantime, thanks so much for your time, and for sharing more about Mystica and your writing process. Finally—just for fun—what has been your favourite read/s of 2021 so far? And what’s currently sitting in your “to be read” pile?

I did read your intriguing collection of short stories, Coralesque, which is very, very good. My favourite story is The Little One. If that was an entire novel, I would buy it right now. (Oh, thank you! That’s so kind of you. I’m glad you enjoyed it) 😊

I’ve also been reading Cassandra Clare’s The Last Hour’s trilogy and have just started on her The Dark Artifice’s series. I’m looking forward to reading Liane Moriarty’s Apple’s Never Fall and Sally Hepworth’s The Younger Wife too.   (I love Liane Moriarty too! No one does suburban drama and observation quite like her. Apple’s Never Fall is on my tbr list too).

Congratulations, once again, Danielle, I’m wishing you every success with the launch of Mystica, and looking forward to the next book in the series!

Mystica Book 1 will be officially released on 14 November,
with pre-sales now open!
See below for more information about Danielle Hughes and her work, including where to purchase Mystica and The Lost Unicorn

Danielle is a busy mum to four gorgeous kids, married to the wonderful Derek, living in Melbourne’s south-east suburbs. A lover of fantasy fiction, Danielle enjoys writing fantasy-adventure stories for middle-grade readers, and supernatural fantasy for YA readers. Danielle also has several short-stories published in various anthologies for adult readers. Her favourite books include Harry Potter, the Shadow Hunter novels by Cassandra Clare, and anything by Kate Morton.

For writing inspiration and to keep up to date with what’s coming next check out Four Moons Publishing on Facebook and Instagram or at or contact Danielle at

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Two Writing Wins. Take That, Covid-19! (With Apologies to E B White)

E. B. White once said, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word to paper.” I’ve repeated these words to myself often these past eighteen months while simultaneously wondering if E. B. White would have said the same after 215 days of collective hard lockdown sharing writing space with a home schooler. He probably would have!

My reality has been different though. Much to my consternation “Lockdown Life” hasn’t been kind to my productive output, and sometimes it’s hard to shrug off the ‘writer’s guilt’ that accompanies it.

That’s why, when I received two lots of wonderful writing news in as many weeks, it didn’t just come as a welcome surprise…the news acted as a tonic for my deflated writer’s soul!

Firstly, I was delighted to learn I’d won first place in the adult fiction category of Farrells Bookshop’s 2021 Writing Competition for my dark little tale Yelah. The inspiration for the competition drew on the theme of this year’s CBCA Book Week: ‘Old Worlds, New Worlds, Other Worlds’, and it was a pleasure to craft a tale under 1,000 words that riffed off a theme ripe for speculation.

My biggest thanks to Farrells Bookstore, local independent bookstore legends here in Mornington. Thank you for your generous prize! You can read Yelah, and all the other fabulous winning stories across the other categories, here.

A week later, I was beyond thrilled to learn my short story Due South had won first place in the inaugural Mornington Peninsula Shire Mayor’s Short Story Writing Awards.

Many thanks to the amazing judging panel: Mayor Councillor Despi O’Connor, along with three authors I admire and respect very much: Danielle Binks, Garry Disher and Paul Kennedy, whose collective comments included: “Brilliant! What pace and cracking telling, this author is absolutely a natural storyteller and we predict great, epic sagas in their future. This is quite possibly the next great Australian novel!” I am so honoured and humbled and grateful to the Shire and our local bookstores for their most generous prize package.

I would like to extend my congratulations to all those honourably mentioned, and indeed everyone who entered across all categories. And special mention to Peninsula Writers’ Club – especially President Andrea Rowe – whose vision and collaborative efforts and advocacy helped shape this awesome writing opportunity for the Mornington Peninsula’s vibrant and thriving literary community.

You can read Due South, along with the other winning and honourably mentioned stories across all categories here.

We’re still in Lockdown here in Metro Melbourne, but with fingers crossed for a return to school in Term 4, I’m looking forward to getting back into a settled writing routine. Sending cyber fist bumps of solidarity to anyone whose output has been impacted by Covid. Keep dreaming, keep doing what you can to feed your creative soul, be kind to yourself…and magic does still happen in unexpected ways!

In the meantime, here’s more from E. B. White: “Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur—this lovely world, these precious days…”

Happy writing, happy reading, and happy days
Rebecca 🙂

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I’m proud to be an ‘Australia Reads’ Ambassador…

Australia Reads is is a unique Australian book industry collaboration (between authors, booksellers, libraries and publishers) born of a common passion for, and mutual interest in, championing reading, promoting the many mental health and lifestyle benefits of reading books, and encouraging the next generation of avid book readers to significantly increase book reading by all Australians – no matter the format they read.

When Australia Reads put a call out for creators to apply to become Ambassadors to join them, I enthusiastically put my expression of interest forward. I couldn’t think of a better mission. So now I’m joining a cast of 300 ambassadors all across Australia to help share and deliver the message that reading rocks, culminating in the tenth annual Australian Reading Hour on Tuesday 14 September 2021.

This year’s theme, Stories that Matter, is set to generate a buzz around how the books we read, and write, and talk about, help shape our sense of identity, belonging and understanding – and why these stories matter so much.

Which book will you be reading on 14th September?
Let me know in the comments 🙂

In other literary news, Happy Children’s Book Council of Australia Book Week, everyone! Like last year, book week looks a little different, but there are so many authors, bookstores, and libraries hosting awesome online appearances and readings, everyone across Australia can get involved.

This week I celebrated Book Week by recording two readings for Mornington Primary School as a collaborative effort with members of Peninsula Writers’ Club. This is me getting my cat on for a reading of ‘The Flying Tuxedo Brothers’. I also did a ‘click and collect’ from local independent bookstore legends Farrells Bookshop for some new spring reads I’ve been looking forward to. Happy Book Week, Australia!

With much of Australia in lockdown, there’s never been a better time to pick up a book.
We all need a little escapism right now.
Take care, everyone…and be kind to each other.

Happy writing, happy reading, and happy days
Rebecca 🙂

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The Story Behind the Stories: Inspiration for ‘Coralesque’.

Do you like to know the ‘story behind the story’ when it comes to sources of inspiration for written works? I do—I love when authors include the inspo for their tales in their publications. The story catalysts and accompanying thought processes are often so interestingly abstract!

People often ask me where I get my ideas. Sometimes that’s an easy question to answer…sometimes not so much! Since my short story collection Coralesque and other Tales to Disturb and Distract launched in May this year, the question has come up a lot more frequently.

In fact, the lovely Clare Rhoden recently invited me to be a guest on her fabulous blog, reflecting on what inspires my writing. You can read ‘Ocean Currents: Inspiration by Rebecca Fraser’ here. The interview also includes a bonus—the first chapter of my middle grade fantasy adventure Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean.

In this blog post, I thought I’d share the ‘story behind the story’ of some of the tales in Coralesque. I hope you enjoy learning about some of the weird wells their inspiration was drawn from!


When I was living on the gold Coast, I worked in the real estate industry for some time in an administrative capacity. They were fun, fast times, and everyone knew everyone. One local salesperson lived for surfing, and chased waves all over the world. He once developed a nasty infection from a reef cut while surfing at Sumatra. While he went on to recover well…I went on to write Coralesque. The ocean is an endless source of fascination to me. Many of my stories are set in, or inspired by, what lurks beneath the waves, both seen and unseen.

Don’t Hate Me ‘Cause I’m Beautiful

Story inspiration is a strange beast. I once watched an interview given by Paris Hilton. In response to a question about her polarising popularity, she said, “Don’t hate me ‘cause I’m beautiful.” This odd reply stuck with me, and bubbled away alongside a plot scrap that sought to hold a mirror up to society’s obsession with keeping up with the Joneses. Don’t Hate Me ‘Cause I’m Beautiful was the fun-to-write result. It went on to be published in an issue of Polluto literary journal, sharing page space with the amazing Stephen Graham Jones!

The Pedlar

When I was a little girl, my father introduced me to one of his childhood favourites The Little Round House by Marion St John-Webb. Among the many beautifully-crafted characters that bring The Little Round House to life is a charmingly roguish pedlar. He’s stayed with me all these years and I channelled a little of his energy to shape our ne’er-do-well from The Pedlar, Calypso Reeves.

William’s Mummy

Motherhood can be a complicated, sometimes frightening space, especially for first time mothers. When my son was born, I clearly recall the emotional weight of responsibility and expectation that arrived with him. William’s Mummy was written around that time. Thankfully, my Play Group experience was very different to that of Selena Morris (special shout out to Carrara Funtime)!

Uncle Alec’s Gargoyle

I have great affection for the storytelling style the masters of horror from the turn of the 20th Century delivered with such understated class. Uncle Alec’s Gargoyle is my attempt to pay homage to their style.

Never Falls Far

My parents live in Hobart, and I visit often. There’s an enigmatic, wild and dangerous beauty to Tasmania that makes it such a ‘ripe’ setting for tales of horror. When I visit my parents, we often drive down through the Huon Valley – apple country, rows and rows of apple trees. What makes some grow better than others? Ah, gotcha…


Some have called Cycle a feminist poem. Perhaps it is. At the time of writing, I wanted to turn the male-stalks-female trope on its head, and the werewolf mythology felt like a good vehicle to carry it.

Casting Nets

Like many others, I’ve had my eclectic—sometimes wonderful, often bizarre, occasionally downright dangerous—share of flatmates. In my early twenties, I shared an apartment with a man from Mauritius. He was a talented artist, an even more talented alcoholic, and completely insane. He was also a wonderful storyteller, and recounted many tales about his time growing up in Mauritius, and his dabbles in black magic. I never quite knew how much to believe, and how much he embellished, but one particular story always stuck with me. My flatmate swore (not to the gods of his ancestors) that he had paid a woman in a neighbouring village to cast a spell on a stone so he could make himself invisible. He insisted that it worked. But he also insisted I was the reincarnation of the Queen of Sheba, so…

Hermit 2.0

Hermit 2.0 received an Honourable Mention in the Somers Paper Nautilus Writing Competition Short Fiction Category, judged by best-selling Australian author, Garry Disher.The theme for the competition was ‘Shell’ – Hermit 2.0 was my interpretation of the theme. I remember thinking at the time I hit the submit button, someone is either going to think this is very cool, or just to ‘out there.’ Thankfully, it was the former 😊  I do like this little story a lot. It’s essentially a love story.

Clarrie’s Dam

My best mate, Tanya, lives on eight acres in Torbanlea, west of Hervey Bay in Queensland. I don’t get to her place nearly as often as I’d like, but on one particular visit, we sat on the verandah looking out at the new dam her and her husband, Matt, had recently installed. Tanya told me she’d seen a duck disappear below the surface one day. She’d watched, and she’d waited, but it never re-appeared…

The Carol Singer at the Back

When the AHWA put out a call for Christmas-themed flash fiction of exactly 500 words, I was up for the challenge. I love everything about Christmas, but what a manic season it is! Emotions and expectations are heightened.   The pressure to have a good time can stretch one as taut as the skin of a roasting turkey. Christmas delivers a dark side in a beautifully-wrapped box just waiting to be opened.

Peroxide and the Doppelganger

The band name Peroxide and the Regrowths jumped into my head one day, and wouldn’t leave until I wrote it out.

Just another City Night, 2086

As I mentioned earlier, pedlars have always captured my imagination. In this dark little micro offering I introduce a pedlar of a very different kind. I’d been watching a fair bit of cyberpunk at the time, and also writing about a near-future city in a novel I was working on, and a snapshot of two characters—one desperate junkie, one merciless dealer—wanted to star in a little vignette of their own.  

Knock Knock

When I heard the River Red Gums that line the Murray River referred to as ‘widow makers’ (their heavy branches have been known to come down in high winds and flatten campers in tents and swags beneath them), it sewed the seed for this little tale.

In the Middle of the Night

Insomnia sucks. What can I say?

Once Upon a Moonlit Clearing

I have great affection for AntipodeanSF, Australia’s longest running speculative fiction magazine. It’s acted as a publishing platform for many new and established authors thanks to the passion of founder, Ion (Nuke) Newcombe. I’m grateful to have been published in AntiSF multiple times, so when the call came to contribute to the milestone 250th Issue I was delighted to contribute, and this little fantasy offering was the outcome.

The AVM Initiative

Widespread deadly viral infection—it’s a popular horror trope for a reason. It happens. It’s happened before, and, as I write this, it’s happening right now. Mosquitoes, fleas, rats, avian flu, our complete disregard and disrespect for wildlife, water pollution, or…perhaps it will be deliberate. The AVM Initiative seems to be striking a chord with many readers—I dare say they find it all too topical and relevant. It also was selected for a spot in this year’s Microflix Film Festival competition. If any film makers out there want to have a crack at turning The AVM initiative into a three-minute film, I’d be well chuffed!

What the Sheoaks Saw

Big cat sightings across the Mornington Peninsula and other parts of Victoria are oft-reported, giving rise to the legend of the ‘Peninsula Panther’ and similar urban myths in other parts of the state. Records of these sightings can be found in newspaper, radio and television archives, government reports, a very few books,  and—of course—on the internet. More info can be found at

In the Shadow of Oedipus

This was my very first publication, and I clearly remember the thrill of receiving that first acceptance. While it’s certainly not the best thing I’ve ever written, it holds a happy little place in my heart, and was inspired by my love for unreliable narrators, and the unique relationship between mothers and sons.

So, there you have it—A little story inspo for some of the tales in Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb ad Distract. If you’d like to know the story behind the story of any tales that I didn’t include here, please let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to reply.

Thanks for reading!

Happy writing, happy reading, and, of course, happy days 😊


Both Coralesque and other Tales to Disturb and Distract
Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean
are available through all your favourite bricks-and-mortar and online bookstores, or you can order in through your local library.

Posted in Author Interviews, Speculative Fiction, Writing News, Updates, and New Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I Haven’t Slept Since February (AKA Latest Writing Wrap)

Ok, so perhaps I have slept a few hours here and there, but with all that’s been going on, let’s just say my relationship with coffee has moved to the next level. While the past few months have been fast and furious, I’m pleased to say they’ve also been fruitful and fun. Amid the work-life-family balance there’s been a few literary landmarks to keep my creative compass pointed in the right direction.

Firstly, one of my short stories The AVM Initiative was chosen for the 2021 Microflix Film Awards, where filmmakers are invited to select from a number of texts to adapt into a short film. I would love to see The AVM Initiative (a story written years ago, but now unsettlingly topical), so if you’re a filmmaker up for a cool competition, you can read my entry, along with the other selected texts here.

I was pleased to have my poem Sonnet for a Scarecrow included in the inaugural issue of Curiouser Magazine, a new bi-annual literary journal specialising in speculative prose and poetry.

If you love the fantastical, the horrific, the experimental, and the incantatory, I dare say you’d enjoy Curiouser Magazine. It’s a gorgeous production, and a welcome new addition to the literary landscape.

With the recent release and launch of my short story collection Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract, I’ve been having some fun with the promotional side of writing life.

It was awesome to chat with Colorado-based Jason Henderson for an episode of his Castle of Horror Podcast. You can listen here.

I’ve also been enjoying a blitz of blog touring and was fortunate to be hosted by the lovely Nikky Lee. You can read her “10 Questions With Rebecca Fraser” post here.

Thanks also go to the lovely Maureen Flynn who welcomed me to her blog with an interview that covers everything from story inspiration, writing styles, to what’s next on the writing horizon. you can read it here.

I also featured on Don Anelli’s totally awesome series showcasing Women in Horror for Don’s World of Exploitation and Horror. You’ll find that interview here.

Thanks to all for your time and great questions!

It was a pleasure to attend the Launch of ‘Stories at the End of the Line’, a project driven by Frankston Arts Centre during Melbourne’s ‘pandemic lockdown year’. This community anthology is a little piece of history! Contributions range from raw accounts of ‘life in lockdown’, to wry observations, fictional fantasies, lyrical laments, and narratives filled with heart, humanity, hope, and humour. I was pleased my poem The Butterfly Effect made the cut. I thought it might have been a little too dark…but hey, they were dark times! 🙂

With some of the members of Peninsula Writers’ Club who also contributed to the anthology.

‘Spawn: Weird Horror Tales About Pregnancy, Birth and Babies’ is now officially launched!

This anthology published by IFWG Publishing Australia, and edited by the multi-award-winning Deb Sheldon, contains some of the darkest Australian fiction from a superb line-up of authors.

I’m very proud to have my gothic psychological horror story Beneath the Cliffs of Darknoon Bay included in the table of contents. If you like your reads visceral, frightening, and unforgettable….this anthology is for you!

As part of the promotions, I contributed to a series of author interviews exploring the inspiration behind each story for Ginger Nuts of Horror. You can read all about the story behind my story here.

The next Little Stories, Big Ideas competition is now in full swing!

Secondary school students across Australia are invited to interpret this term’s theme ‘Acceptance’ in any literary style they like….in under 100-words! Entry is free, and there are some terrific prizes to be won!

Little Stories, Big Ideas is a collaborative project between me and founder and fellow friend and author, Joe Novella. It is our shared vision the competition will become a popular platform for today’s youth to express their literary voices, using contemporary issues and themes as a springboard to allow their imagination to leap in any direction it chooses. We believe kids have a lot to say about the world they live in, and we aim to celebrate, share and support the voice of Generation Next through micro fiction.

If you have a budding young writer in high school, why not encourage them to enter? You’ll find all the details here.

And last, but not least, my debut short story collection Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract (IWG Publishing Australia) is now officially lurking in your favourite physical and online bookstores!

I’ve been genuinely overwhelmed by the positive reviews that have been coming in from respected genre publications and peers. I couldn’t be happier my stories are disturbing and distracting people in the best possible way. Here’s a little snapshot:

Darkness invades the everyday in a stunning set of short stories. Clare Rhoden, Aurealis Magazine.

What Fraser’s writing does brilliantly is pull you right into memories and experiences that are not your own, with scenes so richly detailed that you can almost feel the sand between your toes, the pull of the tide at your heels. Ben Walker, Kendall Reviews.

This collection has so many good stories in its pages. I want to write this review about all of them. Lizzy Walker, The Monster Librarian.

A good author can write twenty five completely different stories and yet keep their style impact. Rebecca Fraser has done just that in Coralesque. This is my first time reading her work and I am honestly in love. Chelsea Pittman, Horrorbound.

All in all, a fine collection by a talented writer. Mario Guslandi, SF Book Reviews.

I’ve also recently completed a middle grade novel, Sea Glass. Amazingly, for me, there’s not a speculative element in sight. Sea Glass is a contemporary, emotionally-rewarding Australian story that explores the relationship between cricket-mad Cailin and her estranged grandfather and how, despite difference and disaster, they reconnect over a shared enthusiasm for sea glass. I’m hopeful it will find a good home in the near future.

That’s all from me for now. Pass the coffee!

Happy writing, happy reading, and happy days…

Rebecca 🙂

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Huzzah! Two Books Are Launched…

Last Saturday at Frankston Library my short story collection Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract was officially launched alongside friend and fellow IFWG Publishing Australia author, Kathryn Hore’s suspense thriller, The Wildcard.

It was such a fun afternoon, filled with family, friends, and well wishers. There were themed cupcakes, plenty of bubbles, book sales and signings. We kicked off with an ‘in conversation’ FRANKTalk, followed by speeches, a reading, and general merriment.

There’s a lot of people to thank when you bring a book baby into the world, so I’m posting a copy of my speech here to leave a cyber footprint of my gratitude 🙂

I ’d like to give special thanks to Marnie and the team at Frankston Library. Marnie has one of the best jobs in the world, I reckon – interviewing authors for her FRANKTalk series of interviews and she has the versatility to make everyone feel comfortable – from writers like Kate and myself to the likes of  Sir General Peter Cosgrove.

While I write across several genres, this collection represents what I love best: dark, speculative fiction that unsettles and unnerves. The stories in Coralesque have been distilled from a period spanning approximately a decade, and represent a range of styles and sub genres. I feel most ‘myself’ writing the types of stories I love to read, so I hope you enjoy reading them too.

It takes a village to raise a child, and it certainly takes a good team to bring a book baby into the world. To this end, I extend my heartfelt thanks to Gerry Huntman for adding Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract to IFWG Publishing’s distinguished list of titles. While IFWG publish speculative and children’s literature for wide-ranging readerships, Gerry is one of the industry’s champions when it comes to supporting and representing Antipodean women in horror.

Naturally, my thanks and gratitude extend to the whole production team at IFWG Publishing, including my copy editor, Noel Osualdini (a talented author of dark fiction in his own right) whose thoughtful suggestions and eagle-eyed professionalism tightened screws to deliver an extra layer of polish to Coralesque. If you like your tales dark and weird – and I hope you do – you simply must check out Noel’s collection Train Wreck and other Stories, a superbly-crafted volume released by another fabulous Australian press, Things in the Well.

And to Steven Paulsen—that gifted gentleman of horror—thank you from the bottom of my heart for your generous introduction to this collection. I am so incredibly humbled and honoured by your gracious and perceptive words. When I first read Steven’s introduction, I had mixed emotions: overwhelming gratitude closely followed by the realisation that Steve’s intro may well be the best writing in the book! No seriously, it actually is! Steve is also published through IFWG, and his Shadows Award winning collection “Shadows on the Wall” deserves a special place on every discerning bookcase.

To my friends and family, and my various dear writing communities – many of you are here today, who encourage and support me, I thank you too. Your contributions are as varied as they are valued.

To Kate, who I am so honoured to stand beside. You’re a great friend and such a talented author. Congratulations! I’m loving The Wildcard, and I can’t wait to read your next one…and your next one. Watch this girl, everyone! She’s destined for literary greatness. And she’s worked damned hard for it.

To Thomas and Steve. The unsung heroes of my writing life. Always there in so many ways – giving me time to write, even when I disappear for days at a time to focus on projects. Bringing me coffee…and wine. Cheering me on for the smallest of successes, and casting darkest aspersion on the countless rejection letters. Not just following my dreams, but believing in them. Believing in me. Steve actually asked me the other week. “When are you going to dedicate a book to me?” (Curtis Creed was dedicated to Thomas, and this one to my parents). The next one is for you, Steve. It needs to be a robust and multi-layered book to be worthy of your dedication, and I truly believe my current project can live up. I don’t want to do a David Rose and Patrick on you, but “you’re simply the best.”

Finally, you may have noticed this book is dedicated to my parents, who are here today as well, from Tasmania. To Mum and Dad, I could write a whole other book celebrating my gratitude for you, and the many ways you’ve helped me succeed in life. Instead, I’ll simply say my biggest thanks go to you – as I say in my dedication –  for absolutely everything.

Big thanks also go to Kathryn’s husband Mark for photographing the launch. I’ve included some highlights in this blog.

And of course, a big thank you to everyone who came to the launch, has purchased Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract, helped spread the word, or taken the time to leave a review. I greatly appreciate your support!

You can now find ‘Coralesque’ in a bookstore near you, sitting between Raymond A Feist and Neil Gaiman, if you don’t hardly mind!
Also available through your favourite online bookstores and retailers.

Until next time,

Happy writing, happy reading, and happy days…
Rebecca 🙂

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The Latest Dirt from the Writing Trenches…

This post is a little delayed due to the ‘Great Aussie Facebook Ban Kerfuffle’, but In Melbourne, Stage 4 Lockdown 3.0 is done and dusted. This time it didn’t feel too bad, I mean five days is nothing when you’re the undisputed lockdown champions of the world. Victoria has trained hard for this!

In between the home school shuffle, I had time to focus on the business side of #writinglife and took stock of where I’d been, and where I was going over the next few months.

Here’s a little overview of where I’ve been, with the latest publication news:

  • My short story Floor was picked up by Pendulum Papers for their February issue. It’s short and it’s brutal, and you can read it here.
  • I was interviewed by Lee Murray, guest editor of Midnight Echo Issue #15. Lee asks the coolest questions about my included poem Keep Walking, among other topics such as the Reader’s Marie Kondo Challenge (Nooooo!) You can read my answers here.
  • Speaking of interviews (and Lockdown), my friend and fellow author, Andrea Rowe put together a fabulous blog series called Coronatude: Chats with Strong Folk Doing Good Things while Melbourne was in the depths of its Stage 4 Lockdown 2.0 in 2020. It’s nice to think I may have contributed to the collective wellbeing of the community in some small way. If you’d like to know a little more about my life in lockdown (including the surprising thing that made me cry), you can read it here.
  • Publication-wise, I was happy to have my short story Don’t Hate Me ‘Cause I’m Beautiful reprinted in The Were-Traveler’s themed issue: Women Destroy (Retro) Science Fiction. You can read my dark little tale about a robotic femme fatale for free here.
  • My poem Serpentine appeared in Issue 4/Spring 2021 of Canadian speculative fiction journal Hexagon. The cover art for this issue is gorgeous! You’ll be able to read Serpentine for free here, from March 1.
  • I also received my first review for my forthcoming short story collection Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract…and I couldn’t have been happier. Sending your work out for review can be daunting (okay, downright terrifying), so I was thrilled when Lizzy Walker at Monster Librarian closed her review, saying: “This collection makes me want to pick up more work by Fraser. There are so many stories that are short, yet provide some spine tingling, thought-provoking horror. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to read international horror.” <cut to me screaming>     You can read Lizzy’s full review here.
  • If that makes you want to pick up more of my work, pre-orders for Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract are still open until March 2015, with an official release date of April 15. You can pre-order here. Launch details coming soon!

Well, that’s all from the writing trenches for now. I’m concentrating on bigger projects this year, with a goal of two novel-length works completed to first draft stage. Unless the muse really bosses me around, my focus will be off short stories for a little while, but I do have a few contracted tales slated for publication later this year, so watch this space.

Happy writing, happy reading, and happy days.

Rebecca 😊

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Exciting News! A LITTLE STORY about a BIG IDEA for a new creative writing competition for Australia’s youth…

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a staunch advocate for inspiring and elevating the literary voices of young writers. When my friend, Joe Novella (the ultimate ‘ideas man’), approached me with an awesome new concept he was eager to evolve, I enthusiastically accepted his invitation to be involved.

The result, Little Stories, Big Ideas, a creative writing competition for aspiring young authors, is something we’re both incredibly excited about, and proud of!

Entries are open NOW for Term 1, with the theme of ‘2050’. you’ll find all the details on the website or check out the copy from the press release below.

Please share with your networks, schools, and libraries….and of course any kids who might like to flex their creative muscles with the opportunity to win some cool prizes!

A new writing competition is set to stir the imagination of budding young writers between the ages of 12-18 years, with the launch of Little Stories, Big Ideas, a quarterly micro fiction challenge where entrants write stories in 100-words or less, against themes topical and relevant to today’s youth.

Little Stories, Big Ideas is the brainchild of local author, Joe Novella, a keen advocate for the creative expression of young adults. As founder of the international Write From the Heart microfiction competition, Joe knows the formula for Little Stories, Big Ideas will be well received by kids, parents, and the secondary school community. “Australia has a wealth of talented kids of every ability, background, and demographic, who have strong opinions on the things that matter to them,” says Joe. “Little Stories, Big Ideas is the ideal platform for them to creatively explore and interpret important issues.”

Joe has partnered with local author and StoryCraft Creative Writing Workshop facilitator, Rebecca Fraser, to help deliver Little Stories, Big Ideas to the Mornington Peninsula and beyond. “I was thrilled when Joe approached me with his vision,” says Rebecca. “I work with many aspiring authors in this age range, and I’m continually impressed by their enthusiasm for new ways to approach writing. Little Stories, Big Ideas gives them the opportunity to flex their writing muscles and have their say, along with the chance to win some terrific prizes.”

Little Stories…big prizes!

To encourage participation and add to the competitive spirit, there are some terrific prizes on offer for winners and runners-up, donated by local businesses and organisations. “We’ve been blown away by their generosity,” says Joe. “Already, we’re able to offer $100 as part of the first prize, along with a fantastic prize pool offering memberships, gift vouchers, products, and services. We’re so appreciative of the community’s support of Little Stories, Big Ideas.”

Joe and Rebecca have officially launched Little Stories, Big Ideas for Term 1, with free submission and complete guidelines via their website. The competition will run four times per year to coincide with the school calendar. “Rebecca and I both believe kids have a lot to say about the world in which they live,” says Joe. “With Little Stories, Big Ideas we hope to inspire and encourage the next generation of storytellers.”

For more information about Little Stories, Big Ideas, visit

Thanks for your support, everyone.
Happy writing, happy reading, and happy days
Rebecca 🙂

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‘Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract’ now available for preorders

Hello friends

I’m delighted to announce that my publisher IFWG Publishing Australia has pulled the trigger on preorders for my forthcoming collection of dark and weird tales, Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract.

Coraelsque is being officially released worldwide on 15th April, 2021, but preorders are open for paperback copies here,

eBook preorders will be facilitated by the various and usual online ebook stores, so if that’s your preferred format, simply head to your favourite digital bookseller.

While I write across several genres, this collection represents what I love best: dark, speculative fiction that unsettles and unnerves. The stories (and a smattering of poetry) in Coralesque have been distilled from a period spanning approximately a decade, and represent a range of styles and sub genres. I feel most ‘myself’ writing the types of stories I love to read, so I hope you enjoy reading them too.

Here’s what you can expect…

A surfer who becomes horrifyingly one with the sea. A new mother’s devastating search for belonging.  A stone gargoyle with a violent history.  A fisher boy who discovers the real cost of forbidden love. A farmer whose delight at drought-breaking rain quickly turns to terror. A hedonistic rock star who manifests double trouble. A young girls’ chilling quest for justice. A dirty ex-cop with a dirtier secret. An unscrupulous mayor’s solution to rid her city of the homeless …

These are just some of the characters you’ll meet in Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract, a collection of dark offerings comprising short stories alongside a smattering of flash and poetry.

Introduced by multi-award-winning author, Steven Paulsen, Rebecca Fraser’s collection brings together an eclectic mix of new work, along with previously published, award-nominated, and prize-winning fiction, embracing a diversity of styles from gothic to cyberpunk, to contemporary horror, fantasy, dystopia…and every dark cranny in between.

From the harsh terrain of the Outback, to the depths of the Pacific Ocean, the wilds of Tasmania,  dystopian futures, enchanted lands, and the familiarity of suburbia, Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract takes readers on a journey into unsettling, unforgiving, and unforgettable territory.

Thank you for your support. I hope the tales in Coralesque distract you in the best possible way!

Happy writing, happy reading and, as always, happy days.


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What I Read in 2020…

Do you keep a list of the books you’ve read each year? I started recording my thoughts on my annual reads some years ago, and at the start of every January I give a wrap of books I read in the previous year. Some years the list is extensive; other years embarrassingly short.

2020’s reading list of twenty-two books falls way short of what I would have liked to have read, especially as I spent so many months in Stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne. You’d think that would give me all the time in the world to kick back with unlimited books, but it simply wasn’t the case for this iso-bookworm. My reading mojo actually abandoned me for a while (I know, right?!), and I frequently found myself reading a page or two, then simply staring off into space, before re-reading the same page again.

Coronavirus aside, I still managed to do some kick ass reading. Earlier in the year I served on the judging panel for the Rocky Wood Award for Non Fiction and Criticism for the Australian Shadows Awards, and was privileged to read many outstanding essays, articles, and creative non-fiction showcasing horror and dark fiction from the finest writers in the Antipodes. You can view the results of the 2019 Shadows Awards here.

2020’s fiction list is made up of 73% female writers / 27% male (in the case of anthologies I have used the editor/s), with fourteen of the twenty-six penned by Australian authors.

Naturally, some titles gripped me more than others. My standout reads for the year were: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and The Little Wave by Pip Harry. I don’t call myself a reviewer, as I can’t bring myself to say something negative about another’s work in a public domain, whether it is deserved critique or not. Besides, there are plenty more qualified than me to offer balanced reviews, so the following thoughts are merely my indulgent observations.  

The Institute by Stephen King

I adore Stephen King. I’ve adored him since my early teens, when I first picked up a copy of Graveyard Shift. Since then I’ve read pretty much everything he’s written. When you spend so long as King’s ‘constant reader’, you get to know his style intimately. I have to say, The Institute felt like a bit of a lazy offering. The layered shades of ‘vintage King’ characterisation were lacking, and  we’re asked to cheer and fear for a bunch of kids who…well…just don’t act like kids! That (and plot holes galore) aside, it was still a page turner with an interesting setup, and I’m glad The Institute was the book to kickstart my 2020.  (You will never hear me speak ill of The King!)

George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl

My son has severe dyslexia. For him, reading and comprehension of what he’s read is a real chore, so we do it together. Our ‘go to’ guy is Roald Dahl. We laugh at the silly characters, and outlandish plots, and particularly enjoy Quentin Blake’s illustrations. In George’s Marvelous Medicinewe both loved the hilarious Grandma – she is one fabulously  nasty pastie!

Evil Eye by Joyce Carol Oates

Four novellas depicting love gone wrong. Each story presents deeply flawed characters navigating deeply flawed relationships…mostly culminating in terrible consequences. JCO really is masterful when it comes to nailing the ills of contemporary society. These stories reflect her diversity of style, and ability to say so much in so few words. Some carry more of a punch than others, as is the case with collections.

Begin. End. Begin – A #LoveOzYA Anthology

Edited by Danielle Binks, this is a great collection of stories showcasing some of the ‘names’ of contemporary Australian young adult fiction. I was pleasantly surprised the bulk of stories fell under the mantle of speculative fiction—just another reason to love YA, it cheerfully plays well across genre. Some terrific examples of strong voices to be found in Begin. End. Begin. I particularly enjoyed Alice Pung’s In a Heartbeat, and Danielle Binks’ own offering Last Night at the Mount Solemn Observatory had me smiling with the inclusion of the Tree of Life sculpture, a well-known landmark to anyone who travels the Peninsula Link regularly.

Theodora’s Gift by Ursula Dubosarsky

I love Ursula Dubosarsky’s beautiful prose and storytelling. If you’re a writer of literature for children, put her on your list. Her elegant prose, imagery, and symbolism is a welcome change of pace for kids seeking thoughtful stories underpinned by complex and diverse characters. Theodora’s Gift is a pretty weird offering though, and I was left a little confused as to what happened and why. It’s a sequel to The First Book of Samuel, which I haven’t read, so perhaps that’s what’s lacking for me contextually. Even so, a quick read, worth picking up for Dubosarsky’s beautiful way with words.

Burning Love and Bleeding Hearts – Anthology (Things in the Well Publications, Edited by Louise Zedda-Sampson and Chris Mason)

This robust collection of sixty ‘dark and dangerous tales’ ranges from hard hitting works of flash fiction, through to well-crafted story length works, complemented by a smattering of poetry.  With a lineup of authors as diverse as the contents, you’ll find genre heavyweights mixing it up with new and emerging authors, resulting in a pleasing mix of diversity, style, and interpretation of the theme. Editors, Louise Zedda-Sampson and Chris Mason, demonstrate their agility and proficiency in Burning Love and Bleeding Hearts – the anthology was produced as a fundraiser for victims of Australia’s bushfire crisis, and with a tight production schedule, they’ve managed to  produce a quality antho that’s raised over $2,000 and counting. (Disclaimer: I have a story Hermit 2.0 included in this anthology).

Drive, She Said by Tracie McBride(IFWG Publishing Australia)

Tracie is one heck of a polished writer, and Drive, She Said showcases her ability to direct that into dark fiction that explores the human condition admirably. This collection of eighteen short stories feature females as protagonists, in every shape and form, and every shade of grey. Among other strengths, what I liked most about this collection is Tracie’s fearless approach to writing about sex and sexuality—how it can weaken or empower—and the impact of desire upon character motivations. Favourites for me were ‘The Changing Tree’ and ‘Father Figure’.

One of Us is lying by Karen McManus(Delacorte Press)

What fun this turned out to be in the middle of coronavirus. I totally binge-read this book! Described as The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars, I was expecting to be underwhelmed – not because of the description, just, well, there’s many ways it could go wrong. McManus takes the reader on a high school thriller, murder mystery, high drama, high stakes romp. The suspects being four high school kids (you know these kids. You’ve got your princess, nerd, junior crim, jock, and misfit), the setting, a detention room (right?), the victim, an unlikeable fellow student. Look, it’s tropey as all get out, I picked two of the plot twists earlier than I would have liked, and a little cutesy-cheesy in the romance stakes, but it’s good contemporary fun with well-rounded character arcs, and a teenage dirtbag or two on top. 😊

In the Clearing by J P Pomare (Hachette)

It’s no secret I love psychological thrillers. And unreliable female protagonists. And dark little corners of regional Australia – both in history and setting.  And then there’s my fascination with cults. In the Clearing delivers everything I love in spades! Freya and Amy share a past burdened with secrets that are about to catch up to them, and the reader is along for every page-turning, tightly-written, well-crafted element of the fallout.  Don’t pick it up if you’ve got something else to do…take Pomare’s bait on page one, and you’re his – hook, line, and sinker! This is the second book from J P Pomare, and I’m eagerly awaiting his next.

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (Corsair)

While I’d heard high praise for this book, along with a smattering of negative reviews (some people really disliked it, yet include some valid points as to why in their reviews),  I came to Where The Crawdads Sing with no expectations, and little knowledge of the plot. I believe my reading experience was enriched because of this. I think it’s a book you have to read for yourself and decide whether the style is to your taste. Owens is a nature writer and her descriptions of the refreshingly unique marsh setting are, for some readers, overdrawn.  Me, I loved every magic word, and Kya’s surrounds take on a character of their own. I admit I may not have been so enamoured if the setting was somewhere that didn’t hold high fascination for me. Another thing that struck me was the editorial choice to retain a minor amount of head hopping. We are exposed to protag Kya’s POV carrying the weight of the novel, yet we are also privy to what’s going on in the head of several minor characters. While it may be construed as “breaking the rules” of contemporary craft, it didn’t bother me, and I was glad of the insights. All in all – five stars from me. The best way to describe this book, I’m going to throw to the Daily Mail: ‘Part murder-mystery, part coming of-age novel, its evocation of the marshland and its inhabitants is as unforgettable as Kya herself. A story of loneliness, survival, and love that’s as engrossing as it is moving.’

After Australia by Edited by Michael Mohammed Ahmad (Affirm Press)

I loved the concept of this anthology: “After empire, after colony, after white supremacy…twelve diverse writers imagine an alternative Australia” – and the contents certainly didn’t disappoint. Featuring stories from skilled Indigenous writers and writers of colour, the reader is invited into a world of speculation and a journey towards the year 2050. Each writer has approached the central theme through their unique ideas and lens. The result – every story stand solidly on its own, while contributing holistically to the antho’s weight. While many of the stories left (and hit) their mark, if I had to choose a favourite, I’d run with ‘White Flu’ by Omar Sakr – skillful execution indeed! Australia, indeed the world, would benefit from more anthologies that showcase and celebrate diverse voices.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (Scribner)

I finally got round to reading Sai King’s sequel to The Shining, and it felt a bit like coming home.  Doctor Sleep is a worthy exploration of what happened to Danny Torrance after The Outlook wreaked havoc on his family’s life…and it’s fair to say when we meet up with Torrance as an adult, he’s about as rock bottom as they come, which makes the ensuing arc satisfying. We’re not talking vintage King here – I don’t think those days can be replicated – but we’re talking classic King storytelling, first class character building, and a ripping good yarn. What’s not to like?

I always love King’s Author Notes, and in his comments on the writing process of Doctor Sleep, he states “…nothing can live up to the memory of a good scare, and I mean nothing, especially if administered to one who is young and impressionable.” Damn straight, Mr King! I came – like many horror lovers my age – to Stephen King’s works in my early teens. My mind was blown, and, although I’d been consuming horror for several years,  I vividly recall my first real ‘scare’. Doctor Sleep isn’t a scare-fest—I’ll argue that many of King’s greatest works aren’t, but there’s plenty of thrilling moments and signature stomach-clenching humanitarian dilemmas King’s characters find themselves faced to keep you turning pages.

The Wife and The Widow  by Christian White (Affirm Press)

Do you ever want to throw a book at a wall (then retrieve it, dust it off, and beg its forgiveness), because you know you’ll never be that clever a writer? This was me reading The Wife and The Widow. One of the fastest rising stars of contemporary Aussie crime thrillers has done it again. While I enjoyed The Nowhere Child, White’s first novel, immensely, The Wife and The Widow has outsmarted, outwitted, and outplayed with its cunning execution and sophisticated twists (one that made me audibly gasp at the craft White displayed to successfully pull it off. For more on this execution, stick around for White’s Author Notes at the end). I binge read The Wife and The Widow…and you will too.

Her Bitch Dress by Eugen Bacon (Picaro Poets/Ginninderra Press)

In her introduction to Eugen Bacon’s collection of literary micro fiction, Dr Dominique Hecq encapsulates the essence of Her Bitch Dress, stating “This strangely compelling collection of prose poetry or microlit shivers on the edges of intuition, where the mysteries of love and the contours of desire intersect with what, out of sheer habit, we call relationships, often shying away from more subtle definitions involving intimacy.” I don’t think I could describe it better myself. What I will say is Her Bitch Dress is an ‘experience’ read. One that, like with all good prose poetry and vignettes, should be dipped in and out of, and read slowly, letting each offering roll around your palate to be savoured for its distinctive taste. You’ll find observations of the comfortable-familiar that contrast starkly with oft-brutal daily realities sharing pages comfortably with dreamlike introspections weighted with imagery. I’ve only come to know Eugen’s writing in the past two years, and I’m glad I did. If you enjoy fresh, fearless, fierce, and thought-provoking voices, you will too. Put Eugen Bacon on your ‘one to read’ list.

The Macabre Modern and Other Morbidities by Kyla Ward (Prea Press)

I adore dark, multifaceted, poetry and prose. In this collection Kyla Lee Ward taps into the full range of her considerable talent to deliver an exploration of the human condition in a collection as intelligent as it is diverse. Showcasing her ability to examine complex themes and subjects carried artfully through a variety of styles: free verse and more traditional poetic forms underpinned by lyrical rhyme, rhythm, and meter, you’ll find each section of the book flows like a journey. A well-researched essay The Danse Macabre, acts as a captivating mid-way ‘breather’. I’d read this non-fiction piece previously as a member of the judging panel for the 2019 Australian Shadows Awards, when it took home The Rocky Wood Award for Non-Fiction and Criticism—it’s a terrific read! Another Shadows-winning work is included: Revenants of the Antipodes, a personal favourite of mine, along with Mourning Rites (if you haven’t seen Kyla’s live performance of Mourning Rites, you’re in for a captivating treat. You can find it here). All in all, a timeless collection for lovers of dark literary verse.

Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic (Echo)

I can’t get enough of Aussie crime at the moment—our ‘new wave’ of genre writers are setting some incredibly high standards. Resurrection Bay, the author’s 2015 debut novel, certainly didn’t disappoint. There’s much to like about this fast-paced mystery thriller. We’re dropped with a blood splat into private investigator Caleb Zelic’s immediate dilemma, shown the backdrop of Melbourne, meet his professional partner, Frankie, and then – hey ho, let’s go! It’s game on as Zelic travels from city to coastal hometown following the trail of the murderous, mysterious Scott, responsible for the execution of his close friend (and various others). It’s soon apparent Zelic is the one being followed though, and tension and stakes are raised further. One thing about our hero: he’s profoundly deaf. This was a refreshingly original character trait and it was pleasing to see this diversity showcased in a main character…a detective at that! I’ll look out for more of Viskic’s work.

Oleanders Are Poisonous by A J Collins  (AJC Publishing)

I inhaled this book! It’s a relatively short read, but that doesn’t negate its impact. In fact, I would argue it heightens it. In Oleanders Are Poisonous, Collins tackles some challenging issues and themes, with teen protag Lauren not only navigating the usual universal teenage dilemmas, but also the terrible weight of  burdens beyond her years: dementia, distorted family dynamics, grief, abuse, and betrayal. Well-paced, and well-written, and set against the backdrop of small town regional Victoria, Collins’ debut novel demonstrates she understands her readership, and has adeptly portrayed how setting and circumstance influences and shapes characters’ decisions. I also thought it was a great touch including helplines to various support resources at the end of the book.  Bravo, AJ – I’m looking forward to the sequel, Magnolias Don’t Die.

The Safe Place by Anna Downes  (Affirm Press)

Holiday Read! Ok, so technically not a holiday read, as I’ve been in lockdown since March. I don’t think anyone’s been on holiday in 2020…but if I were to be on holiday, this is exactly the type of book I’d have with me. I love contemporary thrillers, especially those featuring flawed female characters with secrets, secrets, secrets! Take the most amazing setting, introduce Emily Proudman, our ‘hit rock bottom’ protag, and put her in company and a scenario where nothing is quite what it seems. Page turning predicaments (with a little predicatability) ensue! A debut novel I recommend to anyone who loves some twists and turns, and unsettling atmospherics, and wants to escape with a good commercially-driven (fine by me when I’m on holiday, thank you very much) read.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite  (Atlantic books)

Korede is a nurse. Her sister, Ayoola is a serial killer. Korede cleans up her sister’s mess and keeps her secret. This simple premise paves the way for a rollicking read. Dark humour bounces off dark realities that provide motivation for the actions of both sisters.  This book is short, punchy and original, with a writing style to match. I really enjoyed the Nigerian setting and characters, and the clever way the story delivers layers more complex than its surface appeal initially implies.

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams  (Affirm Press)

This book seemed to take me the longest time to read, but it was a welcome journey. Based on true events, it covers the timespan between 1882-1989. With a plot surrounding the compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary by a team of lexicographers, it also covers themes of women’s equality and the Suffrage movement. An interesting read not only for its quiet, but captivating, plot, but also for its impressive research and historical importance, especially with regards to suffrage and the power and evolution of language over the years, especially those words deemed irrelevant by gender.

The Little Wave by Pip Harry  (UQP)

I inhaled this middle grade verse novel. It’s full of heart, hurdles, and hope. The entwined stories of Noah, Lottie and Jack are told with incredible perception, dealing with issues impacting today’s youth in a contemporary setting. I cried more than once, and the entire Page 66 destroyed my heart! A superb example of middle grade respecting its readership and handling heavy themes sensitively without sugar coating.  Highly recommended.

Limerence by Liz Hicklin  (MMH Press)

Limerence takes the reader on multiple journeys in an exploration of location, love, loss, and longing all intertwined in the incredible true account of Frenchman Hubert’s lifelong obsession with ‘English Rose’ Audrey, a girl he met and romanced briefly at London’s 1948 Olympic Games. The multi-viewpoint structure serves Limerence well, with readers gleaning an understanding of the impact Hubert’s obsessive love has on those closest to him—ripples that span generations. I am continually fascinated by the human condition, and Hubert’s unwavering pursuit of Audrey, spanning decades and oceans, for a love unreciprocated is both troubled and troubling…yet who could not be moved by those afflicted by the debilitating condition of limerence?
I’ve come to know the author’s style well over the past few years, and what I most enjoy is her ability to seamlessly meld research with recall to deliver narrative steeped in fact without sacrificing story. The details interwoven throughout Limerence bring various eras and locations to life with attention to detail, setting and a sense of place. A highlight for me was the rich description of the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games—a real treat, and such historical merit! A most rewarding read, best enjoyed over several sittings with a fine sherry!

So, that’s it for 2020. I was aiming to complete The Year the Maps Changed by Danielle Binks, along with others over the Christmas break, but didn’t quite get there. My 2021 ‘to be read’ pile is already teetering. Heading towards the top of the pile are: Lucid by Muriel cooper, Thirteen and Underwater by Michelle Weitering, White Heart by Heather Rose, Honeybee by Craig Silvey, The Survivors by Jane Harper, Black Moon by Eugen Bacon and Guardian of the Sky Realms by Gerry Huntman.

Happy New Year, everybody! And, of course, happy writing, happy reading, and happy days,


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