New Publishing

Tuesday Toot – Jodi Cleghorn and Deck The Halls

December 4, 2012

Tuesday Toot is a semi-regular feature here. An invite-only series of short posts where writers, editors, booksellers and other creatives have been asked to share their stuff and toot their own horn. It’s hard to be seen in the digital morass and hopefully this occasional segment will help some of the quality stuff out there get noticed. It should all be things that regular readers here will find edifying.

This time, it’s Jodi Cleghorn talking about something I can really get behind. Take it away, Jodi!

Who is Jodi?

Jodi (@jodicleghorn) is an author, editor, publisher and innovator.

By day (and sometimes night), she runs the many facets of eMergent Publishing (eP), a small press dedicated to nurturing next-crop authors, editors and visual artists.

Between the cracks she chases her own characters in a blending of themes and genres best described as “dark weird shit”. Fruits of these adventures include the collaborative epistolary serial Post Marked: Piper’s Reach and Elyora (Review of Australian Fiction—special edition), a horror novella set just off the New England Highway.

She’s occasionally known to loiter at her blog 1000 Pieces of Blue Sky.

What are you tooting about?

Deck the Halls: festive tales of fear and cheer, the first and most recent (I can explain) publication from eP’s Literary Mix Tapes imprint of conceptual anthologies. But first…that explanation.

Born From…

The origins of Deck the Halls are bizarre, to say the least.

In December 2010 I created a shit storm on Facebook when I commented about my displeasure with the overtly Christian tone of the carols night at my son’s school. (He goes to a state school with a diverse ethnic demographic and I felt it totally inappropriate to push any one brand of religious fervour, when their Easter bonnet parade is included as a ‘cultural’ event on the school’s calendar, devoid of religious connotations).

I know, I know, Christmas is a Christian holiday… but, historically, it was many other things before the Christian’s got their pesky hands on it.

Rather than whinge—or delete the exploding Facebook thread (with people telling me, among other things, how intolerant I was)—I decided to publish a bunch of twisted, non-traditional Christmas tales. It’s apparently the sort of therapy an editor-writer-publisher seeks out in the wake of a social media implosion.

In The Beginning

The original idea was to rope nine friends into writing stories based on the lyrics of Deck the Halls (the idea of a troll for Christmas set my imagination on fire as I sat there in the hot, humid school hall!) and then publish the stories online on Christmas Eve. First, I contacted Jim Wisneski to get his blessings (I was riffing off his idea from 12 Days project) and then sent announcements out through the usual channels to see who was interested. I referred to the project as a Literary Mix Tape (a concept everyone immediately got and a name that’s stuck.)

Nine places became nineteen places, with the caveat everyone was to beta read for each other—I was too busy to edit. On Christmas Eve twenty twisted stories—rocking the dark and light side of the Christmas and New Year period—went up, one an hour, on a dedicated website. Christmas Day I made all the stories available as a free eBook.

Beyond Christmas

The ideas of writing to musical prompts and cooperative submission (a term later coined by Tom Dullemond) found traction. That traction spawned the official launch of Literary Mix Tapes (as an imprint under the eMergent Publishing umbrella) and three more anthologies: Nothing But Flowers: tales of post apocalyptic love, Eighty Nine and From Stage Door Shadows [I have a story in that one! – Alan]. Two years on I am still amazed that of all the ideas I’ve had over the years, this was the one that garnered the most enthusiasm. Many of the cornerstones of the LMT imprint, and the way each anthology is released, can be directly traced back to that very first Christmas adventure.


I felt the original authors deserved to see their stories in a paperback, so I rebooted Deck the Halls in 2011, opening ten (then twelve) new places in the anthology. Andrew McKiernan offered to do the front cover (based on Susan May James’ chilling story, “Bosch’s Troll”). This Thursday (6th December) a revised, revamped, extended and fully edited edition of Deck the Halls goes on worldwide sale as Deck the Halls: tales of festive fear and cheer.

DECK THE HALLS traverses the joy and jeopardy of the festive season, from Yule to Mōdraniht, Summer Solstice to Years’ End. The stories journey through consternations and celebrations, past, present and future, which might be or never were.

Along the way you’ll meet troll hunters, consumer dissidents, corset-bound adventurers, a joint-toking spirit, big-hearted gangbangers, an outcast hybrid spaceship, petrol-toting politicians, mythical swingers and a boy who unwittingly controls the weather.

Heart-warming and horrifying, the collection is a merry measure of cross-genre, short fiction subverting traditional notions of the holiday season.

At under $20 for the paperback (or $4.95 for the eBook) it’s a brilliant stocking stuffer or Secret Santa present. Better still, treat yourself to a copy and use it as an antidote to everything irritating, painful and nauseating about the holiday season.


Publetariat Omnibus ebook

November 26, 2012

I started out as an indie author, and I still believe the hybrid model, where writers combine aspects of self-publishing and traditional publishing, is the best way forward. I have some self-published stuff out there, plenty of traditionally published stuff too and I have every intention of continuing in that vein. And regardless of how your stuff gets out there, a lot of the processes are much the same. For a long time now I’ve been a regular contributor at, a website built for indie authors, but also of enormous benefit to small press owners, indie collectives and even big publishers for that matter. The powerhouse behind Publetariat is April Hamilton and she has now put together an ebook which collects all the best advice from the first four years of into one handy resource.

A few of the articles in there are mine, and I share the pages with some very well-informed folks. Here’s the official blurb:

A compendium of advice, lessons learned and how-tos from leading authors, publishing industry pros, consultants and subject area experts, drawn from the first four years of’s operation. They’ve been there, done that, and now they’re sharing their lessons learned. This book includes articles written by:

Alan Baxter, Julian Block, Mark Coker, Melissa Conway, Nick Daws, Joel Friedlander, April L. Hamilton, Joseph C. Kunz Jr., Cheri Lasota, M. Louisa Locke, Shannon O’Neil, Joanna Penn, Virginia Ripple, Fay Risner, Mick Rooney, L.J. Sellers, Dana Lynn Smith, Bob Spear, Richard Sutton and Toni Tesori.

Here you’ll find everything from craft advice to tax advice, from marketing tips to design walkthroughs, from self-editing how-tos to copyright boilerplate you can use in your own book, and more! Having these 67 collected articles is like having a publishing consultant, editor, designer and business adviser by your side as you set out on your own indie publishing path.

The book is set out into sections:

Think; Write; Design; Publish; Sell; Business End and Lighter Side Of The Writing Life.

It really is quite a significant resource, and only $5.99 on Amazon. Go get it here.


Selling Fiction vs Self-Publishing

October 2, 2012

Self-publishing doesn’t carry anything like the stigma it used to. This is a good thing, of course, as it opens more opportunities for writers, and we’re all looking for opportunity. But should we all jump on board and self-publish all the writings?

There is certainly the argument that self-publishing has the potential to give the writer a far greater dividend than any other form of publishing. But this is something of a furphy. All the really successful self-publishers have either built their success on an already established traditional publishing career (like Konrath, et al) or they’re publishing lottery winners (like Hocking, et al). For ninety nine point nine per cent of the rest of us, self-publishing will garner far smaller results.

Let’s look at the alternatives.

One of the myths bandied around all the time by the self-publishing evangelists is that traditional publishers are mean and nasty, and not interested in new talent. This same nonsense is applied to publishers of short and long fiction, to publishers of books and magazines, be they print or electronic. It is true that a lot of big business trade publishers operate on something of a risk-averse model. They’re unlikely to take a chance on anything really left of centre, because they operate under a certain agenda. But there are numerous small press outfits around who are very keen on “different” stories, to set them apart and build their own legacy.

Publishers are not mean, nasty or averse to new talent. They’re just very busy and receive a lot of submissions – and a lot of what they receive is pretty poor. Writing, like any other craft, takes time, effort and commitment to master…

Read the rest of this article at the Planet EWF Blog here.


Industry IQ seminar: Going Indie: inside self-publishing – Saturday 22 September

September 17, 2012

If you’re going to be around Brisbane this weekend and you have an interest in self-publishing, you should try to get along to this event. I’m very pleased to be presenting alongside Sally Collings and Graham Nunn, where we’ll be talking all about the ins and outs of self-publishing and chatting about our own publication journeys. Regular readers here will know that I’ve dabbled in a variety of forms of self-publishing, as well as being traditionally published. Some of my self-published work is now traditionally published, and other stuff I’m happy to keep publishing on my own. Hopefully I can give a decent overview of my experience and be useful to anyone who comes along.

As far as I can tell, we should have a good mix of fiction, poetry and non-fiction experience between us. As the blurb says:

Demystify the world of self-publishing with this seminar that examines the issues and process of self-publishing. Explore the process of making and selling books, editing and manuscript development, marketing and author platforms with these industry professionals who have taken the leap into self-publishing.

Here are all the details:

Going Indie: Inside Self-Publishing

Presented by Alan Baxter, Sally Collings, Graham Nunn

Date: Saturday September 22

Time: 11:00am – 1:00pm

Venue: Meeting Room 1.B, Ground Floor, State Library of Queensland, Cultural Centre, Stanley Place, South Brisbane


Full Price $50

Concession $45

QWC Members $30

QWC Member Concessions $27

Further details about the event and the presenters, and booking forms, can be found by clicking here.

I hope to see you there. I’ll be around a little bit before the event and sticking around for a little while afterwards, so do come and say hello.

EDIT: Venue corrected.


In conversation with Gillian Polack

August 16, 2012

On reading women, reading about women, categories and curses.

Gillian Polack is a fine writer, a fine person and a good friend of mine. You may remember that I reviewed her novel, Life Through Cellophane, a while back. Sadly, the publisher of that book, Eneit Press, fell victim to the Red Group/Borders debacle and went under. It seemed that Gillian’s book went with it. But, a literary phoenix from the ashes of corporate foolishness, it has found new life with the Pan Macmillan ebook imprint, Momentum. Now called Ms Cellophane and with a cool new cover, the book is back.

I got to talking with Gillian about the book recently. She was particularly pleased with my original review when I said:

I must admit that I felt a bit weird reading it. It was like I was hiding out during a secret women’s business meeting, hearing about things I shouldn’t know.

On hearing this, Gillian said, “It’s a good reaction. You read lots, and this is the only book that gives you that sense. I get a lot of female readers saying to me, “This is my life, I read this and am looking into a mirror.” It makes me wonder why you haven’t encountered other books that give you the same sense. What sort of boundaries are out there and what sorts of restrictions do they put on us without us knowing?”

Alan: I think it’s largely to do with the types of books I read. It’s not that I don’t read books by women. In fact, on checking Goodreads, recently I’ve read:

Felicity Dowker’s Bread & Circuses
Jo Anderton’s Debris and Suited
Kirstyn McDermott’s Madigan Mine
Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts
Joanna Penn’s Prophecy
Lisa L Hannett’s Bluegrass Symphony

That’s just this year, which is a year where I haven’t read nearly as much as I usually do. But while these are excellent books by women, all with strong female protagonists and/or supporting characters, they’re not as much books about being a woman as yours is. So I wonder if I just don’t choose to read other books more like yours.

Gillian: My book was all about the type of invisibility that many women feel so yes, it wasn’t about a strong protagonist so much as about a very particular aspect of life. Can you pinpoint some of the things that made you feel as if you were entering a foreign universe – and maybe talk about how they differ from the approach you take to your own female characters?

Alan: I have a very simple, perhaps overly so, approach to writing female characters. I basically approach all characters as neither male or female, but simply as people. Of course, I will try to get inside my character’s heads and they’re all very individual people, but gender is only ever a small part of that, never a primary consideration.

Reading Cellophane, I felt as though I was getting an insight into the day-to-day miniutiae of being a woman. You do a good job of putting the reader in Elizabeth’s mind and it almost feels, to me at least, as though we shouldn’t be there. Of course, that’s a sign of great writing – feeling like we’re inside a character rather than simply watching from outside. And, equally, my male-ness is showing, simply because the process of reading your book came as such a surprise to me.

The best thing about it is that none of it was uncomfortable in any way – it was simply fascinating.

To go back to my own writing, I deliberately don’t try to make my female characters “feminine”. I use quotes there to indicate the insufficiency of the word. I don’t know what it’s like to be feminine. I know what it’s like to be around women. I’ve been married a long time and have many great female friends. I know what it’s like to interact with women and I know how they might respond to various situations. My author’s eye is always studying people and scenarios, subconsciously filing it away for later story use. All writers have to be great observers of the world around them. But I can never observe what it’s like to be a woman. Until reading Cellophane, that is. Because that’s something which gave me an insight I couldn’t get on my own. And while I read a lot of female authors – in fact, my favourite Australian spec-fic writers are all women! – I guess I don’t read very much stuff about women. So perhaps I need to know what I could read that would help me with that.

Of course, that also leads to a small problem. I hate “chick flicks”. I have little to no interest in reading books aimed at a purely female market. But Cellophane seemed to transcend that issue, so I guess I need advice on more books like yours!

Gillian: I don’t know where there are more books precisely like mine! There must be. Cellophane can’t be sui generis. I wrote it though, because I wanted to read books like it and I wanted the books to be speculative fiction. One of my publishers suggests that I’m like Anne Tyler, someone else suggests that the female-ness of my world is a bit like Alice Hoffmann, while Sophie Masson suggested that my first novel reminded her of A.S. Byatt. They’re all women writers who often put women in the centre of the story and are capable of working quite inwardly (though don’t always), so I’d start from them, I think, and work out. Ursula le Guin does the same inwards-out approach in Always Coming Home, but she’s more concerned with place and culture and change than with domestica.

There’s a lot of literary fiction written in a character’s head, where the internal view is key to the novel. There’s not, however, much speculative fiction that both takes this approach and focuses on the mundane. Kaaron Warren’s Slights does that, of course, but in such a different way! She wrote about someone quite terrifying and had me accepting, as a reader, that this was quite normal until we realised that this person we had accepted into our headspace was someone we wouldn’t ever want to meet. I really wanted to communicate the everydayness of lives and that these lives can be wonderful, and that magic doesn’t have to be the stuff of adventures and quests.

Alan: Slights is a great example of character, but you’re right, certainly not a particular example of womankind. More an example of arsehole-kind.

I think you hit it on the head when you say that you “wanted to communicate the everydayness of lives and that these lives can be wonderful, and that magic doesn’t have to be the stuff of adventures and quests.”

Is that something you’ll be exploring more? The street-level magic of the everyday wonder rather than the “big story” wonder? Will you write about Elizabeth again?

Gillian: I won’t write about Elizabeth again, but I will definitely be exploring the everyday wonder. In fact, I have a novel out there… It’s one of those hard-to-categorise novels, like Cellophane. Publishers are both loving it and not willing to publish it. This is a problem I face regularly, for there is no general sub-category for what I do, and so it’s hard to fit into a schedule. Personally, I can’t see what’s hard to categorise about a magic-wielding feminist divorced Jewish Sydneysider who is not speaking to her father. In fact, the short story that’s set after the time of the novel was published years ago (in ASIM), for short story markets are more flexible. It was listed as recommended on an international Year’s Best, and I have a recording of actor Bob Kuhn reading it, just waiting for the right moment to appear. People ask me about Judith, and I have to say, “Still no home.”

The cursed novel (The Art of Effective Dreaming – due to appear some time ago) is about dealing with the mundane world, how to escape it and what the implications are of such an escape, but of course, the novel is cursed (and contains dead morris dancers). It was supposed to appear several years ago, but the most extraordinary life events (hurricanes, earthquakes, computer failure, near death experiences) keep getting in the way. I find it rather ironic that a novel about an ordinary person should be doomed to adventures and not be seen, but right now, the story of the The Art of Effective Dreaming’s delays would make a rather good disaster novel.

Alan: Sounds like you need just the right small press for the Judith novel. I’m sure it’ll find a home eventually. I hope it does, because it sounds very cool.

And The Art Of Effective Dreaming will eventually see the light of day, right?

Gillian: From your mouth to God’s ear (to use a Jewish expression I did not in fact grow up with!). You want to read about the dead morris dancers… Actually, The Art of Effective Dreaming also gently takes the mickey out of quest novels, so I rather suspect you might like it. I hope you get to read it soon!

Alan: As far as I’m concerned, the only good Morris Dancer is a dead one, so yes, I’d love to read it.

As Gillian once said to me in an email: “One of the messages I wanted to get out there about my writing is that it’s not bad despite not fitting categories. So many people look for categories and assume that a novel is not readable, simply because they haven’t encountered its like before… for there is a public perception that there’s a gender divide and that women read men’s books but that men don’t read women’s. I’m beginning to think that it’s being reinforced through being assumed and would love to break it down.”

So get out there and have a read of Ms Cellophane. It might change your perceptions a little bit. It’s available now from Momentum.


Genre fiction and the advancing world

August 2, 2012

I’ve jumped into this one at the last minute, so a bit short notice, but if you’re anywhere near Sydney you might want to come along. I’ll be giving a talk at the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts about Genre fiction and the advancing world. The talk is open to the public and free, so you can’t really go wrong. Here’s the blurb:

Many of the most popular novels today are genre fiction.

Covering everything from historical romance, hard-boiled crime and science fiction, through to urban fantasy and horror, genre writing is sometimes the victim of literary snobbery. But is that fair?

Alan Baxter, an author and independent publisher, will talk about what genre writing is and what it entails.

He will also explore how writing and publishing in all forms is changing in today’s rapidly advancing world, and what that means for a genre writer in the modern arena.

It’s on Tuesday, 7th August 2012, 12:30pm – 1:30pm, in the Mitchell Theatre. All the details here.


E-ink devices – the fastest invention in history to become old-fashioned

May 4, 2012

I’ve been noticing that more and more people are reading e-books from tablets and fewer people are buying e-ink devices like the original Kindle. When I straw-polled this perception on Twitter, it seemed that I was right. While we are seeing more Kindles and Kobos than ever, the number of iPads and other tablet devices seem to far outstrip the e-ink growth.

Further chatting and some links supplied by friendly tweeters backed this up. When I tweeted: “I predict that e-ink devices could be the fastest invention in history to become old-fashioned”, futurist Mark Pesce replied:

@mpesce: They’re already charmingly quaint.

From a shiny new technology to obsolete and replaced in very short order. Already, the Kindle is “charmingly quaint”, like a gramophone player or a phone with a cord and dial. I’m a bit disappointed about this, because I love my Kindle. The thing I like most, apart from the very easy on the eyes e-ink screen, is that it’s a dedicated reading device. No distractions. It holds books and other documents that I need to read and that’s all. There are enough interruptions everywhere else – I don’t need them in a book too. Plus, the battery lasts literally weeks.

But I do have a slight issue in that I love my comics. I’ve read comic books forever and still buy several titles a month. I’d be happy to move to reading those digitally, but for the colour and graphic delivery I’d need a tablet like an iPad. I’ve yet to be able to justify the expense of an iPad purely for reading comics. But if it was for all my e-reading… And that doesn’t even begin to address the multi-media reading experience, with linked footnotes, video content and so much more that tablets make so easy.

But here’s where another problem presents itself. Reading novels (or other straight, unadorned text) from a tablet is problematic at the moment. It’s hard to see outside in the sunshine. The tablet has a terrible battery life, compared to the weeks and weeks I get from my Kindle. The backlit display is more tiring for the eyes. And herein lies the reason tablets are taking over – all those things are being addressed and improved at a furious rate. The tablet is starting to achieve all the positives of a dedicated e-ink reader, along with all the other things it does, making the strengths of e-ink irrelevant.

It’ll be a while before the tablet screen, ink, battery life and so on are as good as, say, a Kindle, but not that long a while. It will happen.

What this boils down to is actually something bigger. The device itself is becoming irrelevant. The beauty of the tablet is that it is a convergent device. You carry one thing and it does everything you need – reading, writing, web surfing, social networking, etc. This leads to a paradigm shift in content creation and delivery. As Eoin Purcell said on Twitter during last night’s conversation:

Things will be sold, but selling will take different forms. Subscriptions, memberships, ads, events, readings etc.

His point being that the content will be in the cloud, the creators and publishers will earn through the things he mentions in the quote above and that content will be consumed on a variety of devices. The device itself becomes irrelevant – all it needs is access to the cloud and a comfortable reading experience. That’s the tablet with the battery life, screen resolution and daylight clarity I talked about above. The implication here is that not only does the device itself become irrelevant – as long as you have one, any one will do – but the concept of an ebook is also irrelevant. You don’t buy a book. You subscribe to a publisher and access their content, whenever, wherever. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this…

So the dedicated e-reader, like the Kindle or Kobo, is already dead. It just hasn’t stopped kicking yet. Amazon know this, so they’ve released the Fire, which is a tablet device. Others are following suit. For those of us who prefer a dedicated e-ink device, we should make the most of it now. Before long we’ll be the hipsters of the digital reading world, congregating like those people in record stores who still buy vinyl and talk about what stylus they prefer. I wonder if half the people reading this even know what a stylus is.

(For further reading, I’d recommend this article on the subject by Eoin Purcell. Interestingly, this article is already more than two years old.)


Emma Newman’s Split Worlds

April 20, 2012

Split WorldsI’ve got something a bit special for you all today. Emma Newman is a great new voice in speculative fiction, and she’s got an intriguing project on the go. If you think you recognise that name, you’re right. A year and a day ago (isn’t that a nicely fairy tale thing to say) I reviewed her debut short story collection, From Dark Places after the publisher asked me to blurb it for her. I was happy to do so – it’s a great collection and you should get a copy. Anyway, now Emma has this very amibitious new thing going on.

Every week for a year (Tuesday November 1st 2011 to Thursday November 1st 2012), Emma is posting a new short story from her Split Worlds series of connected yarns. Each new story is hosted in a different place, and this week it’s my turn. So I’ll stop crapping on and let Emma explain:


This is the twenty-fifth tale in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. If you would like me to read it to you instead, you can listen here. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here.

The Necessary Witness

Martin opened the bottle of beer and passed it to his brother-in-law, studying the bags under his eyes as he did so. He looked awful, and whilst he’d been warned by his sister, he hadn’t really appreciated it until he saw him in the flesh.

“Thanks for coming,” Paul said and took a long gulp of beer from the bottle’s neck. He looked at the kitchen clock, then at his watch. “It’ll be any time in the next hour.”

“What will?”

“The thing I need you to see. The thing I can’t make Helen understand.”

“She said you’re having problems.”

“I think she wants to leave me,” Paul put the bottle down and rested his elbows on the kitchen worktop, letting his head droop. “I don’t blame her. I would leave me, if I could.”


Paul looked over his shoulder at him with bloodshot eyes. “Because I’m a fucking lunatic.”

Martin twisted his own bottle, out of his depth. He was an accountant, not a counsellor. “You um… you want to talk about it?” Please say no, he thought.

“I need to show you,” Paul said, straightening up. “Helen’s away at a conference, and it’s due to happen tonight, I need someone else to be here when it does. I need someone else to see it, because every time I try to talk to Helen about it, I can’t. I… I can’t even tell you.”

Martin put his hand on his shoulder, guided him through into the living room, trying to rein in the mental images of potentially embarrassing things Paul might want to show him, mostly a variety of bizarre growths in the nether regions. He resisted the urge to talk about the football or the latest idiocy the government had come out with, all the comfortable safe topics he usually depended upon with his family. “Something’s bothering you, I can see it,” he said, sitting on the sofa next to him. “Maybe it won’t seem so bad if you just tell me what kicked all this off.”

Paul downed the rest of the beer and dumped the bottle on the coffee table. “It started three months ago. I went for a drink with some friends from work, we’d finished a big project, we were ready for a break.”

An affair, Martin thought. Christ, what am I going to tell my sister?

“We’d been there a while, I’d had a few but not too many, and there was this woman there, she was… God, she was gorgeous.”

Martin began to panic. His sister would be devastated. They’d been together for ten years, married for six of them.

“She came over and said “I know this is a weird thing to ask, but I need a man’s shadow.” And we laughed and she explained she was an art student and that I had the perfect shape for this project she was working on.”

“That’s quite a chat-up line,” Martin said.

“But that’s the thing, it wasn’t,” Paul replied. “That’s not how I saw it anyway. Like I said, I’d had a few, she was hot, I said I’d help. She said the picture had to be taken outside, in natural light, so I left the pub with her.”

“Are you having an affair?” Martin couldn’t help himself, couldn’t listen to the build-up any longer.

Paul’s shock was reassuring. “Good God no! You think I’d do that to Helen? Bloody hell Martin, I’m not the kind of-”

“Sorry,” Martin said, patting the air. “It’s just… that’s what it sounded like. Go on, I’m sorry.”

“She took me to a quieter street, set up this camera on a tripod thing she had with her and arranged me, like a model I suppose. We laughed and chatted about it, it all seemed totally normal. Well, as normal as it could be. Then when she was happy with the way the shadow looked, she pulled out this… I dunno, test-tube full of powder and chucked it all over it.”

“For the picture?”

“That’s what I thought, it was all kinds of colours and it had some glitter in it. She was whispering when she did it, I thought that was arty, then she took the picture, said thanks and left. I didn’t think much of it, but now I look back, I did feel… I don’t know, a bit odd when she chucked that stuff all over the shadow.”

“So has she used your picture for something dodgy?” Martin could see it now; pictures of his brother-in-law all over Facebook, photo-shopped into doing something unspeakable.

“God, I wish she had,” Paul shivered. “Oh no… it’s going to happen soon, I can feel it.”

“What?” Martin gripped the beer bottle as he watched Paul’s eyes snap to his shadow. It was stretched out over the rug and looked completely normal.

“You can see it, can’t you? My shadow.”


Paul jumped to his feet and moved the two lamps in the room to one side, switched them on and turned off the overhead light. “Keep watching it,” he said, pointing at the shadow, now darker and stretched long by the newly focused light.

“Paul, you still haven’t told me what-”


Martin followed Paul’s pointed finger to see the shadow twitch. He glanced back at Paul who was standing still, sweating and pale faced but definitely not twitching. Then the shadow moved, one leg stretching away from the sole of Paul’s shoe, as if pulling itself away from something sticky. Before Martin had a chance to speak the expletives filling his mind, the shadow completely detached, now looking like it was cast by Paul running out of the room, even when he still stood there, shivering violently.

“Did you see that?” he demanded and Martin nodded dumbly. “I thought I was going mad, it’s the… sixth, seventh time it’s happened. I don’t know where it goes or-”

“Let’s follow it!” Martin said, abandoning the beer and heading for the door. A tiny part of himself felt like he was a child getting older again, frantically believing the fantastical at any opportunity as the world became more dull. Then he stopped thinking and burst out of the house into the twilight, his shadowless brother-in-law behind him.

To be continued!

Thanks for hosting Alan!

I hope you enjoyed the story. If you would like to find out more about the Split Worlds project, it’s all here: – you can also sign up to get an extra story and get each new story delivered to your inbox every week. If you would like to host a story over the coming year, either let me know in the comments or contact me through the Split Worlds site.

Em x


Music in Post Marked: Piper’s Reach

April 6, 2012

PipersI’m very pleased to present here an interview with Jodi Cleghorn and Adam Byatt. Jodi and Adam are embarking on a very interesting literary experiment. Post Marked: Piper’s Reach is “an ambitious organic narrative collaborative project”, with Jodi and Adam “traversing an odd path between old and new forms of communication, differing modalities of storytelling and mixed media, all played out in real and suspended time”. That’s a fancy way of saying that they’re producing a collaborative story through writing letters to each other.The project has at its heart a love of letter writing and music, with the letters posted in “real time”.

Post Marked: Piper’s Reach aims are to:

  • rediscover the love of letters (writing and receiving), and by extension, reintroduce readers to the form.
  • write a serial narrative in a non-traditional form.
  • write a serial which brings together the best of new and old technology to create a cross-platform merging
  • of digital and paper, instant and delayed gratification, music and prose.
  • work collaboratively.
  • utilise an organic narrative development process to as closely model a real exchange of letters and reveal between characters.
  • explore the different impacts real time and delayed gratification have on the process of writing, character and narrative development.
  • participate in a writing project which is fun and does not require massive investments of time in editing and redrafting, which slots between, and complement, exisiting writing projects and professional relationships.

The fictional setting for the project is described here:

In December 1992 Ella-Louise Wilson boarded the Greyhound Coach for Sydney leaving behind the small coastal town of Piper’s Reach and her best friend and soulmate, Jude Smith. After twenty years of silence, a letter arrives at Piper’s Reach reopening wounds that never really healed. When the past reaches into the future, is it worth risking a second chance?

So I had a chat with Jodi and Adam about the musical aspect of the endeavour and why certain songs were included:

Alan: What role does music have in your life and writing?

(AB) Music has always been in the background of whatever I was doing. I’m an occasional drummer and percussionist, currently learning to play guitar and bass, so I have a vested interest in music. Even if I abandoned playing an instrument, music would still form a significant part of my life. My Mum used to ask why I could remember song lyrics better than my History or Mathematics homework. I’m loving getting out to gigs again, hearing live music, playing it when I can. Otherwise, it’s me, a pair of headphones and blissful enjoyment.

(JC) Music is the essential white noise of my life. I play it in the car, when I write, when I cook… I even have it on in the shower (a habit acquired in adolescence). I don’t remember a time without music (apparently I could sing ABBA before I could talk). In my 20s I was a massive consumer of live music and a night club devotee.

(AB) My teenage years were characterised by heavy metal, and I’m still a lover of metal, but I love a wide variety of styles and genres of music. Some of these have crept into Jude’s letters. Some are ubiquitous, others more obscure. I listened avidly to the radio as a teenager, and hearing some of those songs again transports me back to that era.

(JC) Music is my ever-evolving companion: nurturing, soothing, inspiring an outlet for the best and worst in life. In some ways I feel my life is catalogued more by music, than the dusty photo albums in my bookcase. Ella-Louise and I share this. Visceral and primal, music is a limbic connection to thoughts, emotions and memories, and is middleman between myself and the stories queued for scribing.

(AB) I identify with the emotional impact music and can swing through a whole dynamic range of emotions while listening. I often use music to help set a mood or a scene when writing. Picking and choosing the ‘right’ music to write to can be tricky.  And I like to drop hints as to my preferences in music here and there. It captures the subconscious levels of our intellect and our emotions.

Alan: The characters use music throughout their correspondence, either referencing song lyrics to suggest the character’s emotional state or mention a song to convey a sense of their relationship. How does music add to the narrative and the characters’ relationship?

(JC) Writing, reading and music were the three staples of my life as a teenager, so it made sense to use music as one of the vehicles to explore a fictional relationship between two people who were best mates as teenagers.

(AB) Jude uses music as a bridge to link him to the past (the experiences he shared with Ella-Louise as a teenager) and to the present. Jude sees the broken Ella-Louise and remembers the girl he loved. There are songs he remembers from their past. But he is unsure of what to make of it now. J: When Adam included a reference to Dire Strait’s “Romeo & Juliet” he had me in tears. I’d never told Adam this was one of my teenage love anthems

(JC) The songs appearing in Jude’s letters heavily influence Ella-Louise’s thoughts, which in turn shape her decisions. I listened to “Don’t Give Up” on speed rotation for an entire cooking session, exploring how it made Ella-Louise feel and it became the soundtrack to her meltdown, but also dominated her climb out of it. The darkness and the redemption in the lyrics appealed to Ella-Louise, as much as they appealed to me.

(AB) Jude’s preference for songs from the past is perhaps an indication of his inability to grasp the present situation with Ella-Louise. Even though they have different musical tastes, the music they share amplifies their emotional connection. Some of the songs I’ve used in Jude’s letters reflect of how I understand Jude as a character but also how Jude wants to engage with Ella-Louise.

(JC)  Ella-Louise uses music as a mirror to her past, and later the changing dynamic of her relationship with Jude. The lyrics she shares are tiny glimpses inside her, but for every answer they illuminate, twice as many questions are spawned. For example, in her second letter she pulls lyrics from Birds of Tokyo’s “Wild at Heart.”  She writes:

As I walk to the water to cleanse off the blood on my hands
The weight of this crime leaves a stain in the sand
I hope new tides come to wash me clean for good

It is a forerunner to what is an epic meltdown for her and I’ve often wondered just what Jude makes of it all… these strange, ephemeral disclosures from the girl-woman he loved twenty years ago.

(AB) Some of my favourite songs from adolescence appear in the playlist, having knowingly incorporated them into Jude’s letters. Others, for example, U2’s Ultraviolet (Light My Way), I was listening to while writing and it gave me an idea that fed into the narrative. I’m a bit of a melancholic, which certainly comes through in my song choices.

I tend to think of music in this project as a soundtrack, much like a movie. It conveys another emotional dimension from the words the characters use. If the reader is familiar with the song referenced, I hope it’s played in their heads while they read it.

(JC) If not we drop a youtube clip at the end of the digital transcript, adding another layer and dimension to the letters.

Alan: Two songs appear in the first letter, Placebo’s “Pure Morning” and The Waterboys’ “Whole of the Moon”. Was it an intended inclusion and what was the impact of those two songs on the rest of the project?

(JC) When I sat to write the first letter I had my iPod on random and “Pure Morning” came on and it seemed fitting, the beauty and rawness of Placebo’s lyrics and the repetition of the line: “A friend in need’s a friend indeed”. Without planning it, I channelled the underpinning theme of Jude and Ella-Louise’s letters from the start.

(AB) I tapped into Ella-Louise’s love of music and the reference to Placebo, and found Jude had a different taste in music, but it captured his understanding of their past and their experiences. People speak of moments in their lives defined or characterised by a particular song; a shared, almost spiritual, experience.

(JC) The inclusion of The Whole of the Moon was deliberate. It came on the iPod while I was cooking dinner the day before I sat down to write the first letter. It seemed to me the perfect anthem for two young people who would eventually go their own ways without each other. And it set up an interesting contrast of personalities, of optimism and pessimism, light and darkness.

(AB) The Whole of the Moon is a song I remember from my youth and I reconnected with it when Ella-Louise mentioned it. It was from that point I saw music as another aspect to the characters’ relationship.

(JC) Those two songs set up the precedence of music being pivotal to the characters understanding of themselves and each other, adding an extra dimension not just to the letters but to the online delivery of the project.


I’m looking forward to following this collaboration. Find out more about it all here:




The Darkest Shade Of Grey now complete, and ebook on the way

March 12, 2012

The Darkest Shade Of GreyI’m very proud of this story, and it’s now up at The Red Penny Papers in its entirety. It’s a novelette in four parts, totalling about 18,000 words. I’m also very pleased to announce that it will be the first in a new range of novella and novelette ebooks from Red Penny Papers. They run regular serials as well as their short story editions, and now all the serial authors will have the option to have their serial collected in an ebook edition after the initial web run. The stories will stay on the web as well, and be available on Amazon Kindle and via Smashwords. The Darkest Shade Of Grey ebook will be out next week for $1.99. Bargain! Details here. I’ll make another quick post with links when it’s available, or you can read the story now at The Red Penny Papers. Click the link or the book cover on the left.

And what a great cover it is, too. Megan Eckman was commissioned by RPP for that and she did a great job. It really captures the story, I think.

The story itself was inspired by a friend of mine, who told me about something that happened to him back in his days as a journalist. From that account, the germ of this story idea grew and it just blossomed into what eventually became The Darkest Shade Of Grey. The story is set in Sydney and tells of a bitter, divorced, alcoholic journalist, David Johanssen, who’s desperately trying to see the point to his existence. He’s saddled not only with his bitterness and alcoholism, but with unwanted supernatural abilites he developed after messing with occult practices he should have left well alone. And then one day he crosses paths with a very strange homeless man, who sets in motion a series of events that could make David’s career. Or destroy him completely.

The publisher describes the story as “a bit of stunning supernatural noir”.

I hope you enjoy it. Please tell your friends and colleagues if you do and share the links around.



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Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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