I’m a DOUBLE finalist in the Australian Shadows Awards!

Wow! I’m a finalist in the Australian Shadows Awards. TWICE! Served Cold in Best Collected Works and “The Ocean Hushed the Stones” (from Served Cold) in Best Short Fiction. Amazing. Huge thanks to the judges. BIG congrats to all the finalists! Shortlists here:

COLLECTED WORKS

Finalists:

Collision: Stories by J.S. Breukelaar

Figments and Fragments by Deborah Sheldon

Served Cold by Alan Baxter

 

EDITED WORKS

Finalists:

Beside the Seaside: Tales from the Day-Tripper edited by Steve Dillon

Trickster’s Treats #3 – the Seven Deadly Sins Edition edited by Marie O’Regan and Lee Murray

Midnight Echo #14 edited by Deborah Sheldon

 

GRAPHIC NOVEL

Finalists:

The Eldritch Kid: The Bone War written by Christian D. Read

Matinee written by Emmett O’Cuana

Geebung Polo Club written by Shauna O’Meara (adapted from a Banjo Patterson poem)

DCeased written by Tom Taylor

 

THE ROCKY WOOD AWARD FOR NON-FICTION AND CRITICISM

Finalists:

Suffer the Little Children by Kris Ashton

Horror and the paranormal, chapter 8 of Writing Speculative Fiction by Eugen Bacon

The Danse Macabre by Kyla Lee Ward

Horror Movies That Mean Something and Childhood Trauma Manifested by Maria Lewis

 

PAUL HAINES AWARD FOR LONG FICTION

Finalists:

Supermassive Black Mass by Matthew R. Davis

The Neverwhere Line by Matthew J. Morrison

Out of Darkness by Chris Mason

Enemy of My Enemy by Rick Kennett

1862 by C.J. Halbard

 

POETRY

Finalists:

 Brine and Vanishings by Hester J. Rook

Taxonomy of Captured Roses by Hester J. Rook

Please Do Not Feed the Animals by Anne Casey

Separation by Jay Caselberg

Ode to a Black Hole by Charles Lovecraft

Boat of a Million Years by Kyla Lee Ward

 

SHORT FICTION

Finalists:

Steadfast Shadowsong by Matthew R. Davis

Vivienne & Agnes by Chris Mason

The Ocean Hushed the Stones by Alan Baxter

Ava Rune by J.S. Breukelaar

 

NOVEL

Finalists:

Fusion by Kate Richards

Shepherd by Catherine Jinks

The Flower and the Serpent by Madeleine D’Este

Why books are the best gift you can give.

Let’s talk about why books are the best present you can give someone.

First of all, books are straight up awesome. You’re giving someone an experience that will last them many hours, and that they can repeat as often as they like. You’re giving them a world, you’re opening their life with the experience of other lives. You’re gifting them an expansion of mind and soul wrapped up in pure entertainment. But it’s more than that.

If you gift someone a book, it’s obviously something you think is worth the time. So you’re sharing a thing that resonated in your soul. Your gift includes a part of you, an insight into who you are, a thing you want that person to share. When you gift someone a book, you’re saying, “This is a journey I went on and it moved me. I want you to feel that. Here, have the same journey, from me, for free.” That alone is an incredible gift.

You’re also gifting them something to echo back to you, because when they’ve read the book it gives you both something to talk about, to dissect. That way you get even deeper into each other’s experience.

But it’s more than just a gift for your friends, family, whoever. It’s a gift to the author too. You’ve given the author more readers, and honestly, that’s the best kind of gift we can ever get (other than a book!) If the person enjoyed the book, they might also give it to someone else, and the whole process repeats for gifter, reader, and author. And when that author gets more readers, it means publishers have confidence in them and they get to write more books. That’s a gift for everyone who gave the book and everyone who received it. More books!

And the beauty of a physical book is that it can be given over and over again. Sure, authors would love more sales, but the sharing of enthusiasm is powerful. They can regift and pass on not only the story, but the enthusiasm. (And no, this isn’t an excuse for piracy where you replicate a digital file indefinitely. Don’t be that arsehole. Real books wear out, or they stop with one person who buys new copies for other people.)

So if you want to give someone the best possible present, give them a book you loved. Give everyone who matters to you copies of the books that moved you. It’s a special kind of magic.

Another Zoom creepypasta

You may remember a while ago I wrote a horror story on Twitter that went a bit viral. It’s this one:

Well, I wrote another one. This didn’t go quite as popular as the last one, then again these things rarely do. But so that it doesn’t get lost in the annals of past Twitter, I’m archiving it here on my blog again. I’ve transcribed it below, or you can read it on Twitter following the tweet thread as I originally wrote it:

We had a zoom meeting/class today, all the senior international instructors. It was good, some people up late at night, some up first thing in the am. But then something weird happened.

 

I was in my study at home, some were in their schools, others in their lounge rooms, bedrooms, etc.

 

One guy, J, was somewhere in his house that just had a plain white wall behind him and a small window to his left. It was early where he was in Europe, so the window was bright with morning sun.

 

As we were chatting and going through some moves, I saw something on the wall behind J. A kind of dark set of wriggling lines. I paused, moved closer to my screen to check, but it was gone.

 

We carried on, then I saw it again. I wondered if it was a spider running in and out of shot from above.

 

I stopped and stared at it. Bigger now. It was about the size of child’s open hand. I moved closer again for a better look. It wasn’t spider.

 

Maybe a bit like a sea anemone, only with really thin appendages, and it kind of writhed. And it was jet black. If it wasn’t moving, it would be easy to mistake for a weird crack in the paintwork.

 

“Hey Al,” one of the others said. “You okay?”

 

I realised I’d been staring hard at J’s screen, so all they saw was my intense close-up.

 

I glanced around at the others – about a dozen of us were there – and they had all paused, confused looks on their faces.

 

“Sorry,” I said. “Hey, J, what’s that on the wall behind you?”

 

But as I said it, looking back to J’s tile on my screen, I couldn’t see it any more.

 

He looked behind himself anyway, of course, then back. “I see nothing,” he said. What could I do? “No worries,” I said. “It’s gone.”

 

Maybe it was a weird resolution glitch or something.

 

We got back to it, and I tried not to pay too close attention to J’s screen. Then I saw it again. I ignored it a while, but it persisted. So dark it was somewhere beyond black, gently undulating its dozens of filament arms.

 

“There!” I said, unable to stand it any longer. Just looking at the thing made me feel… uncomfortable. “J, behind you now!”

 

He frowned, and turned around. But the way he moved put him between the camera and the thing on the wall, and I couldn’t see it any more. When he turned back it was gone.

 

He shook his head, giving me a look. “Very funny, brother horror writer! Stop trying to freak me out.”

 

“Sorry, dude,” I said. “I really saw something though.”

 

We carried on and the thing came back. I didn’t see it appear, but suddenly it was there again. I ignored it, resisted the urge to say anything. From the corner of my eye, I saw it wriggling gently, like hair in a soft current.

 

I tried to continue ignoring it, but it started to grow. By the time it was at least as big as a side plate, the long, writhing filaments reaching out from the wall behind J, I couldn’t bear it any more. “Behind you, J!”

 

He made an annoyed face. “Enough, please! We’re trying to train here.”

 

He didn’t turn around and it kept growing, the size of a dinner plate now, the tendrils maybe a foot long, questing out across the space between itself and J.

 

“Can’t the rest of you see anything?” I asked, getting agitated now. How could it be a digital glitch? But what the hell was it?

 

A dozen frowning faces looked back at me. Some of them leaned closer, I guess trying to get a good look, but the thing was so obvious, the size of a car wheel now, and protruding forward from the wall.

 

The tendrils began thickening and whipping more urgently, wrapping around each other, then flaring out again.

 

The rest of the people watching made confused faces or shook their heads. How could they not see it? “You okay, Al?” one asked. “Too much whisky, eh?” another said.

 

“J,” I said, “Please turn around, man. Just look!”

 

His shoulders slumped and he rolled his eyes. “Fine!” And he turned around. He was looking right at it, the thing was so big I could see it all around him.

 

The thickening, frantic arms strained forward for him. There could only be a few inches between the tips of them and J’s face.

 

He raised his arms to either side and shook his head, then turned back to face his camera.

 

“Al, you’re not funny,” he said, just as several of the reaching tendrils wrapped over his head and around his neck.

 

The reaction was instant.

 

Everyone watching jerked back from their screens, eyes and mouths wide. They all started talking over one another and pointing, but I couldn’t make out any words over J’s screams.

 

The night-black tendrils wrapped tight around his head and neck, slid over his shoulders and around his chest. He slapped and clawed at them.

 

The light from the window to his left illuminated that side and showed them to be glossy, almost oily.

 

Everyone was shouting and moving frantically left and right, in an attempt to do something, anything. But we were all thousands of kilometres apart, different countries, on different continents. And J just kept screaming.

 

The black appendages tightened, we saw his skin depress with their contraction, squeezing the flesh white. Then they covered his face further and some tips disappeared into his mouth. His screams became gargles, then gags, then silent, desperate struggling.

 

J rose up, lifted from the ground and carried backwards. I’d been so focussed on his struggles I hadn’t noticed the main mass of the thing had grown to cover most of the wall.

 

As it dragged J back into itself, his struggles weakening, the spread continued, getting faster. As it began to cover the window, the morning sunlight was blocked.

 

After a few seconds, J’s tile in the meeting was a silent black rectangle. And we all sat staring at it, trapped in lockdown, continents apart, unable to do a thing.

 

A Star Has Died – Brand new short story

A little while ago I was approached to write a short story for an anthology called “Side Quests”. It was a cool concept, with all the contributing authors writing stories featuring characters from their existing series. I thought it was a great opportunity to write a Silhouette story. Silhouette, from The Alex Caine Series, is a character I love to write, and I get loads of feedback from people saying how much they like her. I want to write more of her story, and will hopefully get around to that, but in the meantime, there’s this one.

Sadly, “Side Quests” fell through, but the story is still there. So I’ve published it on my Curious Fictions page here. This is a brand new, previously unpublished short story. I could have gone through the usual submissions process and seen if a magazine wanted to buy it, but the original anthology paid a small kill fee and it’s a bit of a niche yarn. While it certainly stands alone and will make sense whether you’ve read Alex Caine or not, it’s also part of that larger universe, so it seems fair to publish it for free. Of course, if you do enjoy it and feel like tossing a coin to the writer, you can either subscribe to my Curious Fictions page, or shout me a virtual coffee here.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it! Please do spread the link around and it’ll hopefully entertain lots of readers. Stay safe, everyone.

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Free stories at Curious Fictions

There are three free stories on my Curious Fictions page right now – Australian post-apocalypse, horror sf, and ocean horror. Everything else there is $1 each read (or it’s all free for subscribers). I’ll post more soon. Find it here: https://curiousfictions.com/authors/450-alan-baxter

Of course, if you really enjoy the free stuff and you think, DAMN, I need to pay for that! you can always shout me a coffee* here: https://ko-fi.com/alanbaxter Or just spread the word. In the long run, it’s all about readers.

*whisky

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A strange thing happened at class tonight.

I told a little creepypasta tale on Twitter last night, and it’s proven pretty popular. I’m posting it here for posterity. It all started with this tweet:

You can click though there are read the yarn as I unfolded it on Twitter, or here it is below, still in the bite-size Twitter format:

 

You guys know I’m also a martial arts instructor, huh. I’ve been running my classes online during this pandemic. But something weird has happened.

I go into the studio because I don’t have the space or the bandwidth to run the classes at home. But I’m alone in there, so distancing is no problem.

I was teaching tonight, watching my students in all the little screens tiled across my laptop. I get them to keep their mics off to avoid noisy confusion.

They tap on the mic if they have a question, but otherwise I demonstrate, they follow. Then I count them through and watch them to give feedback. It works okay.

One of the tiles is me, of course. I can keep an eye on my position in the room, make sure everyone can see all of me, and so on.

There’s always a bit of lag, of course. Sometimes I’m counting and my students are a second or two behind. But it’s easy enough to manage.

Sometimes even my own image that I’m keeping an eye on lags or stutters. Or I do a Nightcrawler and teleport a few steps with no movement in between. But this time it was different.

I noticed myself in the top left tile moving out of sync. I waited a moment for it to catch up, but I kept going.

I started doing techniques I hadn’t got to yet.

As I watched, dumbfounded, me on the screen carried on with the class while I stood still in shock. I watched my students following him.

“Hey!” I said. “Everyone wait a minute!”

Everyone paused and I had a moment of relief, but then realized the me on screen was still moving. His mouth, at least, as he explained something. Some martial theory, no doubt.

“Can anyone hear me?” I said, my voice a little wavery now. The me on screen gestured, laughed. A moment later my students laughed too. All in silence. I couldn’t even hear the wrong me.

I yelled again, tried tapping up the chat and typed WHAT’S HAPPENING?

No response.

The class carried on, the wrong me leading them through drills again. He… I was teaching the stuff I’d planned for this class. But I wasn’t doing it!

I tried hanging up the meeting, ending the session, in a panic to just make it stop, but my laptop was unresponsive.

I sat on the floor, sweat drying on my skin, watching in horror as the class went on.

Then everyone was bowing out, waving. Some tapped their mics on, said “Thanks, Sifu!” and “See you next time!”

The wrong me said goodbye, smiled and waved, but I couldn’t hear him.

When all the students had logged out, the wrong me leaned right up to the camera, his face… my face too close and out of focus as he tapped at the keyboard or something. Then the whole screen went black.

I couldn’t understand what the hell was happening. I couldn’t shut down my laptop, so I just closed it and put it in my bag.

Then I realised all the space behind it was kinda dark. I can’t see the back of the studio, the darkness starts before that. I can’t see the door.

One end of the studio, that my laptop camera could see, where I was training, that’s fine. Normal. There’s an emergency exit in one corner there, but it’s jammed. I can’t open it.

The other side of where my laptop sat is just a sort of deep shadow. Like there’s absolutely nothing there.

I’m trapped inside the box of what my camera saw. There’s nothing else.

If I press my ear to the wall, to the emergency exit door, I can’t hear anything. Not a single sound.

No cars, nothing. I know we’re all staying in, but there are still some people driving around. Like me, having to work from somewhere other than home. Or out for food.

But there’s nothing. No sound but my breathing.

There’s not even an end to my studio. Just darkness. And the dark is cold.

I can’t get closer than a metre or so from it before the chill is so icy it drives me back.

I don’t know what to do. Do I rush into the frozen dark, take my chances I’ll break through?

I don’t even know if these tweets are getting out. Is anyone reading?

Hello?

HELLO!?

*****
I hope you enjoyed that. If you did, check out any of my books for more horror and fantasy fun. See the menu at the top of the page.
Or you can shout me a coffee here: https://ko-fi.com/alanbaxter
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New story excerpt on my ko-fi page

In an attempt to diversify both my income streams and where my content goes, I’ve now got a ko-fi page. It’s like a tip jar really, where you can chip in and buy me a virtual coffee if you like. At some point I may start adding some subscriber-only content, but for now everything is available to everyone. And I’ve just added an excerpt from a new short story I have coming out soon. The excerpt and details are here:

And if you do fancy shouting me a coffee, thank you! If not, no worries and I hope you enjoy the excerpt.
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New release – Jake Crowley 0 out now!

David Wood and I had been working on a new Jake Crowley book, called SANCTUM. This is effectively Jake Crowley 0, taking place before the events in BLOOD CODEX. You can read it any time, but it’s also a great way to start the series if you haven’t yet. It’s a novella, but a fairly big one, about half the size of a full-length Crowley novel. We were planning to release it later this year, but with everything going on in the world right now, we decided to boost it up the schedule and put it out right away. So it’s out now! Here’s some details:

A quiet English village harbors a dark secret.

Trying to escape his past, veteran Jake Crowley takes a teaching position in the village of Market Scarston. But his slow rehabilitation is interrupted when a group of students are apparently attacked by Black Shuck, the legendary demon dog, and Crowley attracts the attention of a secret society dating back to the days of the Roman Empire.

See how it all began for Jake Crowley and Rose Black in this prequel novella, SANCTUM.

Here’s a page all about it with all the links you might need. If any links are dead, they’ll be updated as and when the book propagates out through the system. If you haven’t given the Jake Crowley books a go yet, this is a prime starting point. They’re a little bit different to my solo stuff, more action/adventure fare. If you do give it a go, thank you! And please pass on the details to anyone you think might like it.

Vale Gertrude Mary Baxter 21/6/1915 to 12/3/2020

My 104yo grandma died on the 12th March. We were supposed to go to the UK for a visit, leaving on April 2nd. Obviously we’re not going now, thanks to COVID-19, and she didn’t make it anyway. But also due to COVID-19, her funeral will have no one there but the celebrant. She’ll be buried without ceremony. Which is so fucked up. Man, this virus is taking so much in so many different ways. There’ll be a booklet produced and sent to everyone who should have been there, and then a celebratory event at some future point. Maybe I can make it to that, who knows. I wrote a piece for the booklet, which I’ll share below. She probably wouldn’t mind, she always said she never liked to make a fuss. But I’m putting all this here to at least make some kind of permanent record of the event in these dark times.

This is the last time I saw her was on her 100th birthday, with my son (1 and 1/2 at the time), in 2015.

Here’s the last photo I have of her.

Here’s what I wrote for my grandma’s memorial booklet:

Trudy wasn’t my blood grandmother, but she was the only grandmother I ever knew on my dad’s side of the family. Some of my earliest and strongest memories are of going to visit her and Ernie, my Grandad, at their house on Ridgeway Drive in Bromley. To me, Trudy will always be the warm and welcoming grandmother in her kitchen, wearing an apron, making snacks and meals. She would always serve prawns when we went to visit because she knew how much we loved them, but couldn’t afford them. Even later, when things weren’t so tight, we’d always get prawns at their house.

I remember Ollie the black cat, who seemed to live forever. When I was little, Trudy would always admonish me, “Be gentle with Ollie, he’s an old cat.” Many years later, she’d say the same thing, “Be gentle, he’s an old cat!” Seems like Ollie was always old, but he went on forever. I thought he was immortal. When he finally died, I had trouble processing it, because he’d always been there.

I’ve felt the same way about Trudy for some time now. She was old when I first knew her in the 1970s. Of course, she wasn’t that old then, but to a little kid, anything over 40 is ancient. To me, Trudy has always been old, but she’s always been there. Always so proud and regal, tall and strong, well-dressed, even with an apron on top. Practical and pragmatic, reliable and welcoming. There was a calm strength about Trudy, an unshakeableness that was truly admirable. I thought she would be around forever. But like Ollie, that was obviously not to be.

Writing this now is so hard, because it’s finally saying goodbye. I’ve been saying goodbye to Trudy for more than 20 years. When I moved to Australia and she was nearly 80. It felt like every time I visited England would be the last time I saw her. We’d hug and say goodbye, then a couple of years later I’d visit again and she’d still be there. Still the same as ever.

Even as her body failed, it was always Trudy in there, proud and wonderful. At first I’d say, “Maybe see you next time” and she’d reply, “I doubt it, we’ll see.” And we’d say goodbye. It became something of a joke. Eventually, when it was time to leave again, I’d say, “Goodbye then” and we’d hug. She’d say, “Goodbye, dear. God bless.” And we’d both have a half-smile, wondering if maybe there’d be one more, but we never mentioned it again. We said goodbye each time assuming it was the last.

Now there are no more goodbyes. This is the last time. Few people live as long a life as Trudy, and few live a life as amazing, and interesting, with as much love around them. I wish I could have been closer, in the last few years especially. I wish I could be there now, I feel very far away. The world is a strange and unpredictable place, which only makes the stoic, reliable, loving people like Trudy all the more valuable, all the more important.

There’s a Trudy-shaped hole in the world that will never be filled, but we’ll never forget her.

Goodbye, Grandma. For real this time.

*****************************************************************

This is the house in Bromley I refer to above. Always a special place in my heart. At some point, when all this madness is over, we’ll make that trip to the UK and I’ll visit her grave, and make a pilgrimage back here with my family. We’ll do our best to celebrate her then.

Being this author during the COVID-19 pandemic

There’s a curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.” These are certainly interesting times and it does feel like we’re living under a mass curse. The speed of disruption has been breathtaking. And I find myself in a double whammy situation. My two primary forms of income are being an author and being a kung fu instructor. Realistically, the bigger portion of my income usually comes via my kung fu school, and that’s been indefinitely shut down. I’m looking at a long period of little or no income beyond sporadic royalties (which are not that much, sadly, I’m no bestseller), and that is pretty terrifying.

With regard to the kung fu school, we’re looking into the possibility of running our classes streamed online to at least claw back some of that revenue, as well as providing our students with a version of normal life they can enjoy while in isolation.

Meanwhile, several income streams from my author livelihood have also been disrupted – all future events where I can hand sell books or get paid to speak or run a workshop are all cancelled or indefinitely postponed. To say things are truly fucked right now is an understatement. But, like everyone, I will persevere and there are others far worse off than me. We’ll get through this, and hopefully it’ll be as short-lived as possible before life starts to return to something resembling normal. Although, this feels like a world-changing event. Normal will have a new coat on at least after all this, if not be irrevocably altered. And that might not be a bad thing.

In the meantime, I exhort you to please support the arts and freelancers in whatever way you are able. This includes me, of course. We need the arts – especially in times of strife, we turn to them for comfort. The books you read, the shows you watch, the music you listen to, it’s all made by artists scraping by. Now we’re all scraping deeper than ever. For me personally, if you’re keen to help out, here are some things you can do:

– Buy my books, in whatever format from whatever store you favour. Supporting indie bookstores at this time is also more valuable than ever.

– Request my books at your local library, to help me sell more copies and reach more readers.

– Talk about my stuff online and wherever you can, again to help me sell more and reach more readers.

– I have a Ko-fi page, where you can buy me a virtual coffee (probably whisky, actually), if you simply want to offer some financial support.

– And this one is only for the Aussies (sorry overseas folks, international postage costs are just insane) – I have the books in the picture below here at home and I can send out signed copies anywhere in Australia. One book is AU$30 including postage, two or more books are AU$20 each plus AU$15 postage (so two books would be AU$55, three books would be AU$75, etc.) I have plenty of copies of most of them, but it’s first come, first served. To buy these, please PayPal the right amount to [email protected] and make sure you mention in the comment section which books you want, who I should sign them to, and ensure your postal address is up to date. Available books are The Alex Caine Trilogy (Bound, Obsidian, and Abduction), Hidden City, Devouring Dark, Served Cold, and Manifest Recall. (Image updated, thank you so much for the support, everyone!)

Thank you so much for anything you can do, and I hope you all come through this entire period of interesting times healthy in body and mind. It’s a trial, that’s for sure. It’s okay to not be okay – honestly, I’m struggling right now, but I’m focussing on the things I can control. It’s not much, but it helps. Above all, let’s all do our best to be kind. Let’s listen to scientists, not politicians. Big love to all.