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Andrew's horror novella, 'The Bathtub', is now available.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

This Little Piggy: Review

James wakes up with no recollection of how he ended up in a culvert full of corpses’.
That’s the premise behind Craig McGray’s short story ‘This Little Piggy,' which is available from Amazon.’
It’s very difficult to write a meaningful review of this story without giving away the plot.  However, it’s safe to say this is one of the best short horror stories I’ve read. 
Violent horror is difficult enough in a novel, when the writer can take his time explaining the background and putting the gore in context.  In a short, it is very, very difficult to provide this context and stop violence seeming gratuitous.  That McGray can manage all this in just a handful of pages is some achievement.
From the hook at the beginning to the thought-provoking end, this is a lesson in how to writer short horror.  I don’t often write five star reviews, but I’ve no hesitation here.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Sleeping Dog - Review

As anyone who’s read my blog – or any of my novels – will know, I’m a sucker for Celtic-themed horror.  ‘Sleeping Dog’ by R. A. Sharpe offers a horror set in the modern day and uses one of the Welsh Mabinogion stories as a backdrop.

The novel started off with a decent pace to maintain interest, and slowly pulled me in with its realistic settings and believable characters.  While the Mabinogion is a good background, the book’s strength is the quality of its plotting and characterisation which kept me turning the pages. 

The main points and the flavour of the Welsh stories are faithfully maintained.  Sharpe also weaves modern witches seamlessly into the plot.

The storyline has enough twists to keep the reader guessing, but not so many that it seemed to sway all over the place.

I have read reviews that complain about the gore, and it’s probably fair to say Sharpe doesn’t pull his punches in regard to letting blood flow.  I did think most of the violence was in context, but the book probably wouldn’t have suffered from this aspect being toned down a little.

In all, this was a read that kept me engrossed.  If I have any complaints it’s to do with the presentation and editing – there were regular glitches and errors that I suspect can’t all be blamed on the electronic formatting.  These did annoy me in several places, but not enough make me want to stop reading.

Friday, 14 December 2012

John R. Sikes

Writer John R. Sikes has two (yes, two!) books published by Rogue Phoenix Press in December – ‘A Smuggler’s Story’, and ‘Just After Daylight’. Here’s how they came to be written, in John’s own words.

Rouge Phoenix has a great cover designer, Genene Valleau has been a treat to work with. She has a uncanny ability to see what I am thinking. With the cover of A Smuggler’s Story, she sent, the first draft so close to what I wanted it was scary. The book is about the early days of pot smuggling out of Mexico and Colombia into the United States. I had asked for the elements of how the pot was smuggled to be on the cover. The way she placed the plane, ranch and hikers together, was exactly what I had in mind. She comes highly recommended.

I spent a year traveling around the drug routes here in Mexico gathering information for the book to get the feel, not only from the country, but what the people involved were like also. It amazes me how quick people living in a war zone become accustomed to the violence and death that is happening all around them in the war zone. For most of two years when leaving the house driving down the road, we would survey the fence line for human heads, spiked on the fence post along side of the road during the night. Something not often found in the USA but a common occurrence here. The book tells the story of how it started and what help create what is going on right now.

A Smugglers Story and Just After Daylight will both be released December hopefully in time for Christmas. With pot recently legalized in several states the timing of the books release couldn't have happened at a better time. Again, I owe this to Rouge Phoenix Press. Christine and Arlo the editors at Rouge are both worth their weight in gold to a writer like me.

Just After Daylight came about because of the response from my first book of short stories. I created both books of short stories from my person experience as Captain on the ocean and river guide during my life as a professional fisherman. I owe the books to not only all the people in the stories but to work from the illustrators as well. The stories started out for magazines, but on the request from the one of illustrator were sent to different publishers for consideration. I originally sent them to forty three different publishers to look at. Three different ones sent back letters of interest. I went with Rouge and have never regretted it.

The cover cartoon for both books At First light and Just After Daylight was drawn by illustrator Jim Borer. He has taken over since the sudden death of Glen Duncan who started doing them for the first book, At First Light. Glen is surly missed. Glen was the person responsible for convincing me to put the stories together for a book. Genene Valleau tweaked the cartoons a little bit, added text and came up with a cover that really represents the contents of the book. In both of the short story books, I wrote the story, sent it to the illustrator to read and left it up to them to come up with the cartoon to match.

Hope you enjoy them as much as I did writing them.

I am currently working on my third book of short stories and a sequel to Fisherman's Son. They will be finished sometime next year, if the Lords a willing, and the creek don't rise.


John R. Sikes

photoJAF cover

Captain John Sikes spent over thirty years as a professional fisherman. Fishing the Bering Sea, Grand Banks, Gulf of Mexico, North and South Pacific. He helped in surveying fish stocks for National Marine Fisheries along the entire United States coast. He ran fishing charters for salmon, halibut and bottom fish out of Sekiu and Neah Bay Washington untill he retired from fishing in 2011. He guided fishing trips down the rivers of the Olympic Peninsula during the winter steelhead season when not working on the open ocean.

Captain John now spends his winters in the mountains of Mexico. Summers fishing and hiking in the Pacific Northwest and traveling around the rest of the world. He has written four books. "Fisherman's Son," is novel about a young fisherman's exploits on the ocean chasing halibut, salmon, crab and tuna. "At First Light" and "Just After Daylight" are books of short stories about guiding, chartering, fishing, hunting and survival. "A Smuggler's Story" is a novel about the early days of Marijuana smuggling into the United States from Mexico and Colombia.

You can find his books at,, Kindle, Barn&Noble and many other ebook stores.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Organising the Novel

There are probably as many ways of novel writing as there are novelists.  I know what works for me, but I also know some very competent writers who approach the craft in completely different ways.

One thing I often get asked is how I do it.  So, here’s my approach…

Firstly, how long does it take me to write a full novel?

The writing takes a year.  Before that, it’s three to six months in planning, and about six months for revising and rewriting afterwards.

The writing and revising are probably obvious, but what about the planning?  What takes me up to six months?

Well, I’m a compulsive planner.  I plan in detail.  I’m scared, for example, of writing a wonderful novel, getting to the last chapter, and then not being able to work out how my hero gets out of the mess he’s in.  I admire writers who have the confidence to work like that.  Here are the various things I do to make sure that doesn’t happen to me.

1.  Characters.  I want to write a bit on characterisation in a future article so this will only be brief.  In summary, I know my characters before I start typing the story.  Most of my novels involve groups.  As well as names and appearance I have to know how they get on with each other and in particular any tensions that have an effect on group dynamics.  I also find it useful to give each character an individual turn of phrase so they are recognisable without having to use a tag.  An early critiquer for ‘The Wood’ remarked on how well I managed characterisation.

2.  Setting and research.  I usually write about things I’m familiar with – Celtic history and myth, for example.  That doesn’t rule out the need for research, and to know my setting, though.  While I hope I have a broad knowledge I usually have to do quite a bit of reading on the particular myth I’m using.  I also research the historical location I’m using.  Google Earth is a great help, and so is visiting locations.

3.  Plot.  Have I mentioned I’m a compulsive planner?  This is probably the area where I spend most of my time before I start on the story.  First, I write a rough outline of perhaps a page.  This gets refined and lengthened to a few pages.  Eventually, it’s a full chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the novel.

Then I’m ready to go!  Writing the novel takes about a year.  There are constant revisions throughout, particularly to my plan which as every novelist knows needs constant change.  My plan, therefore, is liable to updates – sometimes after every chapter!

And I must mention Phil, who gets to see every chapter and suggest changes, or – with luck – give it the okay.

Revising takes the next six months, although I do edit to some extent as I go along.  I don’t polish until I’ve finished, though, as often something will happen in the story which will mean going back and tweaking earlier events.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft

I bought Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft having read and enjoyed another book in the series - Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts

Beltane contains ten short stories, all around the theme of witches and witchcraft.  Some are dark, some light.  (As a horror writer I preferred the darker ones!) 

Some are longer, and some are shorter.  There is quite a difference in length between the stories, which helps give each its own distinct voice and varies the book’s pacing.

Because the stories are varied, both in subject and length, I’m uncomfortable about picking out any that are better than others.  However, I’ll pick out one that is more firmly within my horror genre: ‘Four Bony Hands’ packed a memorably horrific punch at the end.

Overall, I found this and an entertaining read.  I think it’s well worth what I paid for it.