The Call – horror flash fiction

The Call

Who answers their phone these days? Too many spam calls or charity muggers. But that day when my phone, on silent as normal, jittered across the glass coffee table, the caller ID made me frown.

It was my own number.

Before I knew what I was doing, I swiped and pressed the handset to my ear.

‘Who…’ said a robotic voice, with long pauses between each word.





I gasped and threw down the phone on the couch. My heart clattered as it bounced on the faux suede.

‘Who was that?’ he said, without looking up from his own phone.

‘No one,’ I said, attempting to sound casual. ‘Scam call.’

‘Bastards,’ he mumbled but I was barely listening.

I stared down at the black mirror on the couch. My reflection distorting back at me.

I picked up the handset with one hand. Squeeze my bottom lip with the other. Thumb through to recent calls. Hover over the last number. My number.

Faces strobe through my mind. Him. Her. Them. Past and present. Family. Friend. Foe.

Where should I start?

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Writers Residency – Michael King Writers Centre – New Zealand

I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last week at the Michael King Writers Centre in Auckland, squirrelling away on a psychological thriller manuscript.

The MKWC offers residential stays for ‘writers-in-residence’ and international ‘visiting writers’ in the old Signalman’s House on slopes of Takarunga Mt Victoria in Devonport, Auckland.

The Centre is halfway up the hill in the background.

The Centre offers peace and quiet, a beautiful natural setting with lots of walks nearby, as well as close proximity to shops, supermarkets and all that stuff. But remember it is NZ, so there are hills.

I’ve had a wonderful time concentrating solely on my writing and feel like I’ve got right into the depth of the story. One day, I hope to share it with you all.

But if you’re a writer looking for a residential getaway, check out the Michael King Writers Centre in Auckland.

Radcliffe nominated for an Aurealis Award!

Very exciting news!

Radcliffe is a finalist in the Aurealis Awards 2023 for Best Horror Novella.

The Aurealis Awards are Australia’s premier awards for speculative fiction and I am over the moon.

‘A Small Price to Pay’ – new short story at CommuterLit

A new short story of mine – ‘A Small Price to Pay’ is available on

The story, about apps and influencers, explore my own fears about the influence of technology and the control it can wield over our lives.



Radcliffe – winner of Best Mystery Novel 2023

Happy Sunday!

I’m thrilled to learn that Radcliffe won the Critters Readers’ Poll for Best Mystery Novel 2023.

Thank you to all who voted.

Vote Now! Radcliffe nominated for Critters Readers’ Poll

Radcliffe has been nominated for Best Mystery Novel of 2023 for Critters Writing Workshop Readers’ Poll.

This means YOU can vote for Radcliffe if you’ve read and enjoyed it.

Vote here before January 14

Cover for Radcliffe by Madeleine D'Este

‘The Guard’ – new short story

Hope you’re enjoying Between-Mas – those blurry days between Christmas and New Year.

And if you have a spare few minutes – a new short story of mine ‘The Guard’ was published by Roi Faineant Literary Press yesterday.

The Guard is about a museum guard who becomes enamoured by a statue.


All I Want – Christmas horror flash fiction

All I Want

Jan liked Christmas the way other people liked porn. Or Collingwood Football Club. By December 1st her house was wallpapered with tinsel and baubles, her windows frosted with fake snow – despite the baking sun – and Buble was on high rotation. Candy canes dangled from her ears and reindeers danced across her chest. And every year she wished for proper snow, or at least a cool southerly, so she could wear a festive jumper without spontaneously combusting.

But there was one Christmas thing she hated. One particular song. Inside her own Santa’s grotto, she was safe, but whenever she left the house, she was skating on thin ice.


The discount variety shop in Westmarket Plaza was Jan’s usual go-to for decorations. The owner, Tuan knew what Jan liked and she knew never to play that song. This Christmas, though, Jan felt the itch to get crafty. But with all the local craft shops long gone, this meant a trip to the city.


Inside the stuffy carriage, people shoved Jan about like a dodgem car, and the air reeked of cheap perfume, whiffy armpits and rancid breath. When she finally tumbled out of the doors at Central Station, she was panting and damp, her face as red as her Christmas t-shirt.

Out into the streets, she dodged dog turds, phone zombies and spit puddles, and scurried towards the craft shop. She slumped in relief when she reached it and headed underground to the soothing land of fabric and scrap-booking.

But halfway down the escalator, she recognised the first notes.

She yelped and grabbed for the railing. But there was no way she could turn back. She held her breath and prayed it was nearly over.

‘You can do it, Jan,’ she muttered to herself. ‘Big girl pants on.’


She hummed Jingle Bells to drown out the god-awful wailing of that American woman and made a beeline for the sequins. But when she reached the spot where the sequins should be, there was only hot pink on the shelf.

‘Hot pink is not for Christmas.’ She huffed, then turned for the fabric section. This time, singing Silent Night through gritted teeth.

Again, empty shelves.

And that song was still blaring in the background, bashing her nerves like a pile driver.

‘Excuse me.’ Jan flagged down a middle-aged woman in an apron, Santa hat and name tag. ‘Tina, is it? I’m looking for felt.’

She shrugged. ‘Supply chain issues.’

‘But I need to…’

Tina had already slipped away down the ribbon aisle. Jan grumbled, then noticed that the song had started all over again. From the beginning.

‘No!’ Jan clamped her hands over her ears and lumbered for the wool aisle. Wool wouldn’t let her down.

But there wasn’t a single skein of red wool either.

‘All I want,’ she mumbled, then screeched. The song was like a parasitic worm. ‘All I want. No!’

Her brain sizzled in her head and the surrounding shelves shimmered. Tina reappeared, prodding at an iPad.

‘All I want…’ Jan spluttered, but Tina ignored her.

Jan swirled around and grabbed a pair of knitting needles. She lunged like a ninja across the aisle and plunged the size 8 steel needles into Tina’s meaty thigh. The woman yowled. Blood spurted from the wound and splattered across the perfect smiling faces on the pattern books.

‘You bitch.’ Tina spat as Jan yanked the needles out again, sending another spray of bright red blood across the linoleum.

‘Someone call the police!’ Tina sobbed. She limped away for the safety of the checkout.

‘All I want…Argh!’

With a howl, Jan followed her and snatched up a pair of scissors. She tore off the plastic and stabbed a six-foot blow-up Santa, who deflated with a long whining fart.

‘All I want…’ Jan panted, rushing towards the checkout, the surgically sharp blades in her hand. ‘Is for you to turn off that fucking song!’


Read me. Hear me. See me.

This week, I’ve been featured on


And stay sane, unplug and read more books.

A Dwindled Dawn – short story

Happy Sunday morning.

This week, my short story A Dwindled Dawn was published in Crab Apple Literary online magazine.

A Dwindled Dawn is set in 1880s Melbourne about a grieving father, a death photographer and his strange sister.

Read it here.

And in Radcliffe news, I’ve been over the moon with the reviews so far on goodreads and the Zon.

Don’t forget you can get the ebook here or order a paperback from Dymocks, Brunswick Bound, Waterstones or

Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay

Radcliffe – a gothic novella – out 26 August 2023

Great news, everyone!

My new gothic novella is out from Deadset Press on 26 August 2023.

A three-storey ramshackle house in North Melbourne is full of secrets. Tamsin is lead to the building by a voice inside her head – a voice that tells her ‘Death is Coming’. With no respite from the eternal summer heat, can Tamsin find out who death is coming for and solve the riddle of Radcliffe?

Cover for Radcliffe by Madeleine D'Este

Pre-order the ebook version here. Paperback version coming soon.

‘A good book has no ending’ in Spring 2023 issue of ‘New Maps’

I have a short story ‘A good book has no ending’ in the Spring 2023 issue of New Maps magazine of ‘deindustrial fiction’.

Set one hundred years into the future when oil is a rare commodity, it is the story of a lonely teenage girl living in an abandoned Melbourne who finds an unlikely friend.

You can find the magazine here.



Radcliffe – cover reveal!

I’m super stoked to share the cover for my new novella Radcliffe coming out from Deadset Press later this year.

Cover for Radcliffe by Madeleine D'Este

Gothic fiction can happen anywhere, even in Melbourne during a fierce February heatwave.

Tamsin is led by a voice through sweltering streets to a shabby apartment building with a ‘For Rent’ sign in the window. She finds herself knocking on the door and taking the lease on the dismal little ground-floor flat. She moves in and begins her search for the person who death is coming for, the person she’s been sent to save.

But which of the tenants is in danger? Is it Bunty, the octogenarian ex-ballerina or her grand-daughter student Cecily? Or is Defne, the erratic photographer or Riko, the spooky musician? Or Gail, the reclusive writer?

Who is death coming for?

And can Tamsin stop it?


For more details about Radcliffe, go to Deadset Press.

‘Radcliffe’ acquired by Deadset Press

In exciting news this week, Deadset Press announced they will be publishing my novella Radcliffe in 2023.

Radcliffe is a gothic tale of a weird building filled with weird women.

When a mysterious voice tells middle-aged Tamsin that ‘death is coming’ and leads her to a shabby apartment building filled with odd women, who has Tamsin been sent to save?

More details to come soon…

‘Watching Her Without Me’

Go over to Dark Winter Literary magazine for a very short story of mine (a 3 minute read!).

‘Watching Her Without Me’ was inspired by stories of people who go missing by choice.

Image by Alexa from Pixabay

I also have exciting news bubbling away behind the scenes, so keep in touch for more news in 2023.

A Fire in my Head

A folk-horror short story….

Blackened tree stumps lined the country road like charred sentries.

‘Hardys Gap – the rural phoenix from the ashes.’ Gemma crafted the headline aloud and tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. ‘Ten years later – how a small town revived from tragedy. How hope healed scars left by the Gap Fires. Blurgh. Too cheesy.’

New growth sprouted around the charcoaled trunks and fresh grass, and shrubs and teenaged trees carpeted the surrounding hills. Slim grey-green eucalypts slow-danced in the breeze and a magpie landed on a sign with a caw – ‘Welcome to Hardys Gap. Never Forget the 103.’

Then the statues began.

People, young and old, fat and thin, cast in bronze. Equidistant apart, they stood and stared, trance-like at the side of the road. Each face was intricately crafted, death masks cast in metal, and the silent crowd of bronzed zombies watched Gemma drive into town. She shuddered and put her foot down, holding her breath until the parade of dead was over.

The monuments and broken cremated trees faded away, replaced by leafy bushland. Then a service station, a church, a park, a small supermarket and fish ’n’ chip shop all clad with the same pale grey corrugated iron. A model Lego town all built from the same bricks.

On the road since dawn to beat the traffic, Gemma’s caffeine tank was running low. Five hours later, and only getting directed down random dirt roads twice by the GPS, she’d arrived at her destination.

Up ahead a red roadside ‘coffee’ flag fluttered in the wind. Her inner city snob cringed but her craving won out and she pulled up outside the grey building. She checked her phone with its cracked screen. One bar. Surely after the Gap Fires, the government or Telstra would have fixed the reception. Didn’t they use satellites these days anyway?

Not that it mattered, only scammers called her these days. Friends came and went, most people didn’t understand ambition, but when was the last time she’d heard from Mum? Was it the Mothers Day lunch when her Mum stormed out? 

The bell tinkled as she pushed open the coffee shop door. Aside from a grey-haired couple sipping coffee in sullen silence, the place was empty. Behind a glass cabinet lined with sticky pastries and pre-made salad rolls, she spied a chrome coffee machine. Bingo. And over on the wall, a notice board. Always a good starting point to get the low-down on any community.

‘A large latte,’ Gemma said to the woman with sunken suspicious eyes behind the counter. Macchiato was her preferred poison but she didn’t want to out herself as a hipster wanker. She added a broad smile. ‘Please.’

‘Any sugars?’ the woman grunted and Gemma shook her head. ‘You from Melbourne?’

‘Just drove in,’ Gemma said as brightly as someone who got up at 5 am could. ‘Actually I’m here from The Argus.’

The woman’s lip curled. ‘Journalist?’

Gemma ploughed on. They were always dubious at first. ‘That’s right. Doing a story on the regeneration of the town.’

‘But the anniversary was last year.’ The woman snorted.

‘You know. Lockdowns.’

‘We don’t need your pity. We’re doing alright on our own.’

‘So it seems. The town looks great…’

‘Then maybe you should stick your nose…’

‘Diane!’ A plump woman in late middle age interrupted. She smiled generously at Gemma with burgundy-lined lips.

With a grunt, Diane turned away and started making coffee violently.

‘Sorry about her,’ the woman whispered over the bangs and crashes. She had a bright scarf patterned with indigenous dot paintings draped across her shoulders. ‘Diane’s very protective of the town.’

‘No harm done.’ Gemma shrugged. ‘I’m Gemma Giovanni from The Argus by the way.’

This wasn’t strictly true, Gemma hoped to sell her Hardys Gap story to the paper. Rohan from Features seemed interested when she pitched it to him at a book launch last week, but he had been hoeing into the free Shiraz at the time. Who wouldn’t love this story? A community burned to the ground in 2011, now flourishing. All the soft-hearts would weep over their morning toast and repost on Instagram. Motivational porn, it couldn’t lose.

‘Welcome to Hardys Gap, Gemma. I’m Leigh. I run the Artists Collective over the road.’

 ‘You’re responsible for the statues? Amazing.’

‘Not me personally but I had a hand —’

‘That’ll be six dollars.’ Diane plonked a tall takeaway coffee cup down with a complimentary scowl.

Gemma paid, then switched back to Leigh. ‘Can I buy you a coffee? I’d love to hear all about the statues.’

‘Sorry. I have to run.’ Her eyes were as warm as the coffee in Gemma’s hand. ‘I’m teaching watercolours to a group of pensioners in a few minutes. But I’ll be free by three?’ 


Leigh collected her own coffee from the sour-faced Diane and swanned out the door with a wave.

With a cocky grin at Diane, Gemma turned for the community notice board. She took her first sip of her latte on the way, and stopped short, blinking. For a grumpy bitch, Diane made a damn fine coffee.

The board was thick with flyers, piled up like a collage. The usual culprits – second hand cars, goat yoga classes, ways to make phenomenal money from home, trauma counselling, gardening services, baby sitters, blah blah blah. Despite its tragic past, Hardys Gap seemed just like any other Australian town. One flyer in particular caught her eye. Hardys Gap Protection Society Gala Dinner – a meeting of the ways, old and new, to protect our town from repeating the past. The date for the Dinner was last week but the flyer was decorated with the same pattern as on Leigh’s scarf. Indigenous dot paintings of a cone-shaped native flower, the banksia. If Gemma’s life had been a Loony Tunes cartoon, dollar signs would have sprung into her eyes. She smirked and took another sip. Inner-city green leftie Argus readers loved an indigenous angle on anything.

The dour couple were gone, and now Gemma was the only customer. After wiping down their table, Diane bustled towards her, dirty cups and saucers rattling in her hand. ‘If I were you, journo,’ she sneered. ‘I’d get back in my car and drive home to Melbourne.’

Gemma blinked. ‘Excuse me?’

‘Just giving you a little friendly advice,’ Diane said over her shoulder as she trudged away.


She disappeared through the swinging ‘Staff Only’ door without a word.

‘Weirdo,’ Gemma mumbled and returned to the notice board. This time she delved deeper, flicking through the under-layers of yellowed paper. It was more of the same small town classifieds until she stopped at a blurry photograph of a man’s face. Have you seen Greg Tremble? Last seen on 14 May 2020.

The name was familiar, but where from? Gemma quickly checked for Diane but the coffee shop was empty. She ripped the flyer off the wall and shoved it in her bag.

Image by Terri Sharp from Pixabay

Outside, Gemma strolled back to her hatchback. Weak rays of sunlight trickled over the hill and the air was as pure as neat vodka. Hardys Gap, true to its name, sat in a valley. One road in, one road out. A death trap in hindsight. The images from ten years ago, the same hills bald and blackened, swept over her. The footage of the koala with singed fur and scalded feet hobbling over the ashes, which went viral. What ever happened to that koala? Could it be still alive? Finding that very same koala, happy and healthy, would be the icing on the cake for her article. She lurched for her phone, then sighed. Damn this town and its crappy internet.

She needed someone official to interview, and on the short drive over to the council chambers, of course built with the same grey iron cladding, she noticed banksia bumper stickers on three cars.

Inside the bland council chamber foyer, a sign on the unattended reception desk stated office hours were 2pm – 5pm. Gemma strode right past the sign and the desk, deeper inside the building.

She could have done her research and set up appointments before she left Melbourne, but Gemma preferred spontaneity. It wasn’t that she was disorganised, taking people unawares always got better results.

Following the beige hallway, the first room was an open plan office space. A South Asian woman with a headset sat closest to the door in front of a monitor. ‘Yes Mr Langhari, I’ll pass your feedback on to Rubbish Collection,’ she said patiently.

Gemma ducked away, and further down the carpeted corridor, she spotted a meeting room with frosted glass walls. Blurry silhouettes and murmurs wafted out through the glass. She knocked and marched in.

‘Morning,’ she said breezily at the table full of people in suits. ‘I’m looking for …’

‘Excuse me,’ a white bearded man at the head of the table snapped. ‘We’re in the middle of a meeting here.’

The room went awkwardly quiet. All the others blinked or sneered at her. Except for one young guy in a grey suit who looked her up and down with curiosity. Gemma was dark-haired and pretty, in a ‘girl-next-door’ way which women didn’t find threatening but men seem to like. She was well aware of its benefits.

‘I’ll only be a second.’ Gemma waved dismissively at the man. ‘Who’s in charge of fire services?’

‘Young lady. You can’t just barge in here,’ White-beard said, his face flushed. ‘You can call our call centre…’

‘I’ve only got one question, and I’m here now. Who’s in charge of fire?’

‘That’d be me,’ a gruff voice said. ‘Trevor Howie.’

In a brown Council uniform, Trevor had a thick head of hair and meaty freckled forearms, and the skin on his left arm was rippled with scaly red scar tissue. Burns.

‘Great. Good to meet you, Trev. Got a minute? I’ve got a few questions?’

‘Who are you?’ White-beard spat.

Gemma ignored the old bloke and focused on Trevor, who was as dazed as a kangaroo in a spotlight.

‘We should be done in fifteen,’ Trevor said hesitantly.

‘Nice. Meet you in Reception.’

‘If you’re quite done!’ White-beard said.

‘Yep. All good.’ Gemma turned to leave. ‘Oh, wait. One last thing. Does anyone know anything about Greg Tremble?’

‘Enough, young lady. Do I have to call the police?’

She shrugged. ‘See you out the front, Trev.’

He gave her a reluctant nod and she closed the door behind her, then walked back down the hall with a chuckle.

Twenty minutes later, the same gruff voice interrupted Gemma reading the local newspaper. She’d been engrossed in the Letters to the Editors complaining about the town’s internet problems.

‘What do you want?’ he said.

‘Ah, Trev. What’s this banksia symbol supposed to mean?’ Gemma pointed to a page. ‘I keep seeing it everywhere.’

‘Rebirth or something. You know. Resilient to fire and all that.’

‘Makes sense. You hungry? Can I buy you lunch, Trev?’

‘You some kind of reporter?’

‘I knew you were an intelligent man. I could tell straight away.’

‘You can buy me a sandwich but I’ve got nothing for you.’

‘Leigh sent me,’ Gemma said.

He lifted his chin. ‘And why would she do that?’

‘I’m working with her on a story. She told me you’re the guy in charge of fire management. You’re crucial to the safety of the town.’

In Gemma’s experience, men usually came in two types. Those who liked their egos flattered and those who liked their egos flattered.

Trevor grumbled under his breath but he didn’t leave.

‘The Waratah does an alright steak sandwich,’ he said.

‘I’m starving. Lead the way.’

He opened the door for her and then turned right. 

‘How long have you been in Hardys Gap?’ she said as they set off on foot past more grey buildings. A hundred metres away, a revolving beer sign beckoned to them.

‘Third generation.’

‘Were you part of fire management back…then?’

He nodded and looked down at his work boots, and Gemma felt a door slam. Too soon. She should have waited until he’d had a few sips of beer before asking about the Fires.

Luckily, beer was close by and as they neared the doors of the Waratah Hotel, a dark haired man passed them. Handsome with insightful dark eyes, he wore a parakeet-green polo shirt.

‘Hey Trevor,’ the man said without breaking stride.

As he walked past, Gemma noticed the banksia logo again, this time on the breast of his shirt. ‘Who’s that guy?’

‘He’s one of the indigenous consultants,’ Trevor said. ‘Name’s Craig.’

Gemma whizzed around. ‘Craig. Stop!’

He turned with an arched eyebrow and Gemma gestured to the Waratah. ‘Can I buy you lunch?’

‘She’s a journalist,’ Trevor warned.

Craig glanced her up and down. She held his gaze and jutted out a hip with a frozen smile. She hoped no one was going to order eye fillet.

‘Just a few questions.’ She placed her hand over her heart.

He chewed his lip. ‘Sounds better than a cheese roll from Diane.’

Inside the pub, they took a high table near the bar and ordered three steak sandwiches and three beers. As Gemma tapped her card to pay, she reassured herself that the cost was worth it, and she’d have ramen for dinner. A group of retiree motorcyclists occupied a long table at the back, all dressed in leathers like accountants in Mad Max cosplay.

‘Before I start, I just want to let you know I’m not going to ask about the Fires,’ Gemma lied, deliberately keeping her eyes away from Trevor’s scarred arm. ‘I’m here to write a nice puff piece about the rosy future of the town. Warm the hearts and fill the tills with day-trippers up from Melbourne.’

Trevor’s jaw tightened. ‘Why do you want to talk to me then?’

‘I heard you’re all working together. This time round, you’re learning land management from the traditional owners,’ Gemma said with a nod towards Craig. ‘New beginnings with old ways and all that.’

‘They’re finally listening,’ Craig said. Meanwhile Trevor discreetly rolled his eyes. Craig explained about his PhD in environmental management, and the system he designed which combined the best of both approaches. ‘One way that actually works together with one that ticks all the bureaucratic boxes.’

Despite her ingrown cynicism, Gemma found herself nodding. ‘Like back-burning?’

The coal-eyed Craig shook his head. ‘Cool burning. We light smaller fires in the cooler weather and at night. But first, we walk country and read the landscape. Using the knowledge we’ve built over tens of thousands of years, we assess whether the time is right.’


‘In fact it’s starting tomorrow night,’ Craig said.

‘Can I come?’ Gemma said.

Craig jerked his thumb at Trevor.

Trevor frowned and fidgeted with his cutlery. ‘We’ll see,’ he eventually said.

In a well-worn trick, Gemma pulled out her phone and jumped up. ‘Sorry, guys. I have to take this.’ She mumbled into the handset and stepped a few metres away, keeping one ear on Craig and Trevor.

Just as she’d hoped, Trevor started on Craig. ‘Why did you have to tell her?’

As a kid, eavesdropping got Gemma into big trouble both at home and at school, but as a journalist, it was a super skill.

‘I thought you’d …’

Trevor shook his head and tutted.

‘Whatever, mate,’ Craig said. ‘Anyway, I’ve told you a million times I want nothing to do with this.’

‘You want it on your conscience?’ Trevor grumbled.

The two went quiet, Trevor stared at the tabletop and Craig took a long sip of his beer.

Gemma pretended to end her call. ‘Sorry,’ she said and innocently slipped back onto her stool. ‘Weird how you can get reception in here? That was my office on the phone, they’ve been trying to get me all day. Did I miss anything?’

‘Just footy talk,’ Trevor said flatly.

Before she could ask more, their lunch arrived, a Turkish roll with a thin cut of steak, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise, and golden chips on the side. They tucked in right away.

‘You were right about the food,’ Gemma said, wiping the juices from her mouth. ’My office actually called to ask about Greg Tremble. Do you know if there’s been any developments?’

While waiting in Reception for Trevor, Gemma had managed to download one news story. Turned out Tremble was a journalist from The Argus too. Although unlike her, he was actually employed by the paper.

‘That missing guy? I’ve seen the posters,’ Craig offered.

‘We get stickybeaks up here all the time,’ Trevor said, then, with his plate clean and glass empty, he stood up. ‘Thanks for the feed. I’ll be off.’

‘Already?’ Gemma said. ‘Come on. Another beer?’

‘I shouldn’t have even had one,’ he said.

‘Better get back myself,’ Craig said.

‘Oh no, I wanted to ask you about the banksia symbol? Like on your shirt? I keep seeing it everywhere.’

Craig shrugged. ‘Just the uniform. Not really my expertise. I’m Arrernte.’

Gemma gave a pained smile and Craig sighed. ‘From Alice Springs. I’m a blow-in. Just like you.’

She felt her cheeks burn and cleared her throat. ’I’ll pop by your office tomorrow, Craig, and get the details for the cool burning.’

‘Nothing to do with me. I’m just the adviser,’ Craig said. ‘Trevor’s your man.’

‘Tomorrow then Trev?’ she said, holding out her hand. He shook her hand sharply, almost taking off her arm, and he didn’t answer her question.           The men left the pub, a terse silence hanging over them. What was Trevor’s problem? Jealousy? Or good old-fashioned racism?

Gemma pulled out her phone. Unlike her pretend call, her comment about better reception in the pub was actually true.

‘Rohan. How are you? Gemma Giovanni.’

‘Oh, hi Gemma,’ he said curtly.

‘I’m in Hardys Gap doing the story like we discussed.’


‘Remember we talked about it? At Richo’s book launch?’


‘Anyway I’ll file soon. A quick question for you – what do you know about Greg Tremble?’

‘Have they found his body?’


‘Good old Greg. Fuckwit.’

‘You know him?’

‘Went to uni together. He was always an arrogant dick. Probably went off hiking alone and had a heart attack.’

Gemma squeezed her lips together. A heart attack was far too boring. Surely there was more to his disappearance. Someone must know something.

Image by Terri Sharp from Pixabay

The friendly woman at the Visitor’s Centre gave Gemma directions to the caravan park, the only accommodation in town within Gemma’s price range. With the town map in her hand, she headed back to her car and found a flyer lodged under her windscreen wiper. It wasn’t an ad, it was a plain sheet of paper with GET OUT NOW! written on it.

She glanced up and down the main street. A young woman hurried past with a pug dog in a pushchair, a couple of elderly ladies were playing poker on a bench and a skinny teen on a BMX leaned against a streetlight, a bunch of carnations under his arm. There was no sign of the grumpy Diane.

Throwing the note in the bin, she licked her lips and jumped back into her hatchback. She must be onto something.

The route to the caravan park went past the Dead 103. This time Gemma steeled herself and stopped for a closer look.

When she stepped out of the car, the birds screeched and the wind hissed through the trees like angry whispers. She pulled up her collar with a shudder. The nearest sculpture was a woman, a similar height to Gemma but more full figured. Her face was perfect, a Mona Lisa smile on her lips, and at her feet, a plaque and a bouquet of dried native flowers. Ingrid Fairmont aged 46, mother of two, her car trapped by fire on McPhersons Road. Gemma grimaced, reminded of the preserved bodies of Pompeii. If ghosts lived anywhere, this would be the place.

A voice murmured behind her and she flinched. Further down the road, a man in a grey suit was setting a can of beer under a statue. He was chattering away to the bronzed figure, a fleshy man in late middle-age.

He looked up from his one-sided conversation as she crunched over the gravel towards him.

‘Sorry to interrupt,’ she said.

‘Just having a chinwag with my Dad.’ It was the man with the bemused smile from the council meeting.

Along the avenue, bottles of whisky and wine, tins of biscuits, cigarettes and, of course, flowers, were scattered under the feet of the effigies.

‘You were the one who crashed the Management meeting today,’ he said with a chuckle. ‘Gordon was ropable. I’m Zev.’

‘Gemma. My condolences. Do you visit him often?’

‘Every few days. Keep him up on all the news.’

‘Must be a comfort.’ Gemma squinted, reading the plaque at his feet. Matthias Kocinski, 58, died defending his home. ‘Oh god, how awful.’

He smiled sadly, his eyes were a cool grey. ‘You’re here writing a story about us, I guess?’

‘Trying to. Some people aren’t as friendly as you.’

‘The media were everywhere back then. In our faces 24/7. Everyone wants to be left alone now.’

She nodded. ‘You’ve all pulled together.’

‘We’re a good group…on the whole.’

‘Trev invited me to the cool burn tomorrow,’ she said. ‘That should be really interesting.’

‘Didn’t they tell you?’ Zev frowned. ‘There’s been a change of plan.’

’Damnit.’ Gemma’s shoulders dropped. ‘I was looking forward to it.’

‘Nah, don’t worry. They moved it to tonight.’

‘Perfect.’ She brightened. She could be out of this town tomorrow. ‘Up on the hill right?’

‘Shaffer Road, yeah.’

 Gemma smoothed back her hair. ‘Are you going to be there?’

‘Course,’ he said.

‘Great, I’ll look for you,’ she said, gently laying her hand on his forearm. ‘You can fill me in on everyone.’

He grinned. ‘Or we can meet before? Go together?’

Gemma licked her lips. Another fish on the hook. And if she ignored his cheap suit, Zev wasn’t bad looking at all.

‘Even better,’ she said. ‘If your Dad doesn’t mind?’

‘He’ll be alright.’

‘Maybe tomorrow, you could show me where your family home was.’


She wondered whether Zev was a crier.

Image by Paul Hill from Pixabay

The Hardys Gap Holiday Park was nothing special but her trailer was cheap and surgically clean. With an hour to waste until her appointment with Leigh, Gemma slipped off her worn sneakers and lay down on the brocade bedspread.

Suddenly she was running, a tsunami of flames fifty feet high surged behind her, ashes like black snow fluttered from skies as dark as night. The wind, a wall of deafening power, swallowed her screams as all around trees exploded like bombs. Orange sparks rained down, pin-pricks of hot coals sizzled on her skin, her hair a halo of flame. She sprinted through smoke thick as cement, choking on tears and snot, while behind her, the inferno grinned. The face of fire cackled, the hungry maw open, the eyes of red glee, closer, closer, closer.

Gemma jolted awake in the unfamiliar bed. Disoriented and out of breath, she shook off her nightmare and got up for a glass of water. She paused in the doorway and sniffed the air. Bile rushed up the back of her throat. She swore she could smell smoke.

Image by Julie Clarke from Pixabay

Twenty minutes later, Gemma was back in town.

‘The statues are amazing. So life-like,’ Gemma said as Leigh handed her a mug of pungent herbal tea. After a tour of the studios and the birthplace of the statues, they sat down at a dented table covered with globs of dried paint. Gemma set her phone to record.

‘The artists were incredible,’ Leigh said. ‘Mercy changed death into sleep.’

‘William Blake?’ Gemma smirked.

Leigh blinked. ’Well done. The pieces turned out exactly as we’d hoped. Renewal through fire like the Dreaming story.’

Gemma gestured to Leigh’s scarf. ‘The banksia symbol?’

Leigh nodded. ‘Seeds and new life bursting free after fire. We white folk have had to overcome our prejudices and acknowledge where we went wrong. We have to listen to the people who know this land best.’

‘I met Craig. Interesting guy.’

‘Such a clever man.’

‘The town is so resilient. I can’t imagine the grief after losing so many people. It must have been overwhelming.’

‘Believe me, it was hard. At one stage, we had one counsellor for every three townspeople. But doing something…acting…looking to the future is the true path to healing.’

Gemma’s pulse quickened. She leaned forward and poured sympathy into her voice. ‘Did you lose someone?’

‘My daughter,’ Leigh said and pursed her lips. ‘Silly girl. Always the first to volunteer. She was right there at the frontline. One of the first to die.’

‘I’m so sorry.’

‘She went down fighting.’ Leigh smiled through glistening eyes. ‘She’s my inspiration. And so for her, and all the others, we must go on.’

Gemma gave an understanding nod. ‘Do you have a photo?’

She hoped the daughter was pretty.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

It was already twilight when Gemma left the caravan park to meet Zev, and once again she headed past the avenue of statues. Under her headlights, the shadowy faces leered and glowered at her as she passed. She cringed and put her foot down.

Following Zev’s directions, Gemma turned and crawled up a narrow road into the hills. Thick bush loomed on both sides of the unsealed road as her hatchback jolted over rocks and potholes, tossing her in her seat. She gritted her teeth, branches scratching and squealing against the paintwork, reminding herself that the story would be worth the damage. And just when she wondered whether she’d taken the wrong turn, she stumbled on the deserted car park. Zev was already there, tall and rangy, leaning against a white car. His suit swapped for jeans and a black hoodie.

‘You get lost?’ His grey eyes sparkled as she sauntered over to him.

’No,’ she snapped. ‘Your directions were crap.’

‘Sure, city girl,’ he said.

‘Are we early? Where’s everyone else?’ 

‘Nah, this is the back way. Better parking.’

‘OK,’ she said with a hint of cynicism and her breath was white. She rubbed her upper arms. ‘I didn’t think it would be this cold.’

‘Once the sun goes down, it gets pretty chilly up here. But I’ve got something to warm us up.’ He pulled a silver hip flask from his pocket and handed it over.

The brandy trickled a warm path down her throat. She licked the sticky sweetness from her lips. ‘Alright, then. Where’s this fire?’ she said.

‘Come on.’

The carpark stood at the entry to a walking track, Zev led them over a stile and along a dirt path into the dark forest.

‘Don’t we need a torch?’ she said, holding up her phone.

He scoffed over his shoulder and didn’t break his stride. She shrugged and slid her phone back into her pocket.

He surged ahead on long legs. What was his hurry? Was he hoping for a quick romp in the bushes before the ceremony? A smirk broke out on her lips. Who would have thought? Not only would this little town give her a great story to sell, it might break her six month drought as well. Talk about win-win.

As Zev charged on through the dark, all around her, the bush pulsed with life. She flinched as shrubs rustled and creatures grunted in the undergrowth. A bush rat scuttled in front of her toes and she yelped, but quickly clammed a hand over her mouth. There wasn’t much chance of Zev hearing her squeal, he was power-walking ahead, up a vertical track. Gemma broke into a trot to catch up. 

‘I thought there’d be smoke? I can’t smell anything.’ She panted behind him.

‘It’s further along here,’ Zev called without slowing his pace. ‘Then down in the next valley.’

Her forehead was moist and her shoes felt heavier with every step. As Gemma stopped to wipe the sweat from her face, he disappeared over the crest of the hill.

‘Hey!’ she yelled.

But he didn’t reply.

‘Cheeky bastard,’ she muttered and when she finally reached the top and gazed down the other side, he was nowhere to be seen.


Light-headed, she squinted into the darkness. The rising moon was a silver dinner plate, glowing over the hills.

‘Real funny, mate. Where are you?’ she called.

Only the animals of the night replied.

She folded her arms. ‘You’ve blown your chance now, dickhead.’

Further down the hill, through the trees and bushes, lights flickered. The lights swayed and shimmied before her eyes, triplicating and then scattering. She blinked the blur away and shook her head like a wet dog.

‘Have they started the party without me?’ She grumbled and set off towards the only signs of human life.

The grip on her worn-out sneakers gave way, sending her sliding down the hill, tumbling and landing on her bum.

‘Bastard!’ She scrambled back up to her feet and dusted herself off. Then with a clenched jaw, she trudged on towards the light.

Halfway down the hill, three flaming torches sat in a clearing. Through a grove of slim eucalypts, she spied a group of people. Familiar faces stood waiting; Trevor. Leigh. White-beard. The friendly woman from the Visitor’s Centre. The grumpy couple from the cafe. And a few unfamiliar others.

Her stomach churning, Gemma reached for her phone. Her back pocket was empty. She squeezed her eyes shut and then glanced back at the hill, the ground two inches deep with leaves.

She rolled back her shoulders, smoothed her hair and strode into the circle of light.

‘Hello Gemma,’ Leigh said with a serpentine smile.

‘Evening,’ she said. Her tongue was thick in her mouth. She sounded drunk. ‘Where’s Zev?’

‘His part is done,’ Leigh said.

‘What do you …hey.’

Trevor and a man with a shaggy brown mullet lunged forward and grabbed her wrists. She wriggle out of their grip but her arms were as useless as pillows.

‘I’m so glad you didn’t listen to Diane,’ Leigh said, looming over her as the men pinned back her arms.

Gemma narrowed her eyes to slits. ‘Get this fuckwit off me!’

‘Unfortunately no. You’re a crucial part of the evening and we can’t have you backing out.’

‘Me?’ she slurred. Her pulse hammered in her ears. She needed to think but her brain was as mushy as mud.

She searched the crowd, looking for anyone friendly. But they all glowered back at her, just like the statues. Again, she tugged her arm but the mullet man’s grip was like a mantrap.

‘It’s time,’ Leigh said. ‘Bring her, Darren.’

‘No,’ Gemma whined. ‘Let me go.’

Darren dragged her down into a gully, her heels sliding through the dirt and fallen leaves. The others trailed closely behind, their soft footsteps crunching over the bush floor, without saying a word. 

Darren yanked her towards a small fire, a thirty-foot strip of flame, barely an inch high. Unlike the inferno in her dream, this fire ambled through the undergrowth, nibbling delicately as it moved.

She frowned and squinted, distrusting her eyes. ‘Is that it?’

‘The fire gods need more than our cool burns,’ Leigh said, reappearing by her side.

Gemma gulped. The face in the flames. The greedy fiery maw.

The rest of the group encircled her. She glanced at their sombre faces. They were all white. Not a single indigenous person among them.

‘You’re all mental,’ Gemma drooled.

‘We need to feed it,’ Trevor said.

‘We have to protect ourselves,’ Leigh said.

‘Never again,’ the others replied in unison. ‘Never again.’ They repeated the phrase, over and over, until their singsong chant contorted into a blur of sound.

‘But the burn…’ Gemma’s mouth was numb.

‘It’s not enough.’ Leigh’s eyes shone.

‘The land has a taste for blood now,’ Trevor said stonily, his scarred forearm glistening in the fire light.

‘We have to keep it fed,’ Leigh added. ‘This is why we were saved. We’ve learned from our mistakes and created something new. And no one’ll miss another nosy journalist. Darren?’

Darren thrust her into the path of the slow creeping fire. He wrapped one arm round her waist, then grabbed her by the hair and tore back her head, exposing her throat. Trevor swept a foot-long hunting knife through the plume of smoke and turned to her. Gemma groaned, her tongue now a lump of useless flesh, her eyes wide and pleading.

‘No one will notice another statue.’ Leigh smirked. ‘They haven’t so far.’

The cold blade slashed across Gemma’s throat. The sharp steel tearing through tissue, cord and cartilage. Her blood hit the fire with a sputter. The others all roared with delight.

Leigh threw her arms into the air. ‘And I will show wonders in the heaven and in the earth, blood and fire, and pillars of smoke.’

As Gemma gurgled and the blood poured from her neck, she wondered, would anyone leave flowers for her?

Where the Weird Things Are

I’m chuffed to announce I have a short story in the upcoming Deadset Press anthology ‘Where The Weird Things Are’ Volume 1 – a collection of strange tales from Australia and Aotearoa.

My contribution, ‘Rivulet’, is a short story about a late-night walk through the deserted streets of Hobart, inspired by hauntology, Hookland, Arthur Machen, psychogeography and land spirits.

You can pre-order ‘Where The Weird Things Are’ here.

My books are available in your library

I am a big fan of libraries and always have been.

Does your library offer ebooks through Overdrive?

Yes? Then you can access my books for free through their app.

Check it out today!

Bloodwood – sneak peek – Chapter 1

Here’s an extract from my new Australian vampire novella, Bloodwood. If you like what you read – Bloodwood is out on 5 October and available for pre-order now.

The First Funeral


Standing at the mouth of the shallow grave, Shelley pulled herself up to her full five foot two. She cleared the cobwebs from her throat, tucked a strand of her prematurely grey hair behind her ear and raised her arms in the air.

‘Friends and family of Jude, please gather round.’

The throng of people shuffled closer in the crisp morning air. A few latecomers trudged over the ridge past the nearby young eucalyptus and through the long grass. Jude Hillyer certainly knew how to attract a crowd, in life and in death. Ordinarily, there were more trees than mourners at one of Shelley’s funerals. That was, until today.

Shelley pressed her eyes shut, breathing in the scent of the damp gumleaves and freshly churned dirt. Today had to be perfect. This funeral could change everything for her.

The brightly coloured mourners – dressed in polar fleeces and knitted beanies – gathered closer to the grave and a few faces grimaced in horror when they caught a glimpse of Jude.

These days, death was tidily tucked away, inside a box or covered over with chemicals and thick make-up. But not at one of Shelley’s Green Farewells services. The dearly departed Jude lay beside the grave on a woven wicker tray, her body wrapped cocoon-like in a natural linen cotton shroud.

‘Thank you, everyone,’ Shelley said. ‘And welcome to the celebration of the wonderful and eventful life of our friend, sister and aunt, Jude Hillyer.’ Shelley was trying to strike the perfect balance of authority and compassion in her voice. According to Shelley’s mother, the role of a funeral director was all about respect and tradition. Although her mother’s idea of respect ignored the needs of the planet.

‘Jude was a woman who lived life without fear,’ Shelley said, ‘who fought for her beliefs and devoted her every waking moment to the land on which we stand, and to the air, the water, the sky. As a leader, she fought for us, our children and our children’s children.’

Shelley glanced around to gauge the crowd. The mourners, mostly on the other side of sixty, stood with their hands clasped, heads bowed and brows knitted. So far so good. But no matter how she felt, Shelley could never allow a real smile to cross her face. No-one wanted a smiling undertaker. She’d learned this on her very first day helping out in the family funeral parlour, reinforced by a sharp clip around the ear from her mother.

With an appropriately solemn nod, Shelley continued. ‘We are here to honour Jude’s life and her achievements. We have her to thank for saving the Barabung River against the government and big business, and her tireless anti-nuclear weapons campaigning. Single-handedly, she preserved the wilderness for generations to enjoy. She then found a new career later in life producing wonderfully scented candles. Despite her bravery and strength, our friend finally lost her battle with cancer, and today we are here to celebrate her return to the land. We lay her to rest in this beautiful setting, so her body may feed the trees, the soil, the grasses of the land she loved and respected so much.’

Many of the onlookers bobbed their heads and sniffled into clutched hankies. An older lady, in a red woollen coat and pearls, folded her arms tightly and glowered at Shelley. Suspicious looks were nothing new for her. People were always wary of those who chose to work with the dead.

‘Now I welcome Virginia, Jude’s niece, to read a poem she’s written especially for today.’

Despite the wintry morning, Virginia was barelegged, and Shelley noted, as waxed and tanned as a mahogany table.

‘A life filled with action and sacrifice,

Straight talking without artifice,

Our beloved aunt stood up for all,

Saving the planet was her call.’

Somehow, Shelley managed to keep a straight face and ignore the terrible poem, and she took a moment to savour the sight of a well-attended funeral on her property. It was bad form but Shelley had to admit she’d danced a little jig when Virginia called last week to inform her of Jude’s passing. Three months earlier, Jude – the Jude Hillyer – had called Shelley personally, expressing interest in her services and, after a brief stroll through the natural cemetery on Shelley’s property, Jude purchased a prepaid funeral plan with Green Farewells. Shelley would never wish someone an early death, but as soon as she heard Jude’s familiar voice on the phone, she knew this could be the funeral to kickstart her business. Finally.

Shelley patted her pocket, double-checking the wad of business cards, ready for the wake.

‘Let us remember her life and her smile,

Her defiance and strength at her Supreme Court trial.’

With a side-step, Shelley positioned herself by the safety ropes that went underneath the body. At the other end of the grave, Gareth, the burly seventeen-year-old from the farm next door, was already clutching his ropes.

A sunbeam peeked through the grey sky, piercing the gently waving gumleaves and, for a moment, Shelley’s shadow fell across the shroud.

‘Her candle now out, her tongue now still,

We say goodbye on this grassy hill.’

Strong wings flapped overhead and a glossy black crow swooped low over the crowd. The bird perched right on the edge of the wicker tray, claws clutching at the woven edges. Shelley choked on her breath as the bird cocked its head and eyed the ceremony curiously.

As discreetly as she could, Shelley lunged forwards, waving her arms and shooing the black bird away. Heads turned her way with frowns or bemused smiles, but everyone’s attention soon returned to Virginia and her poem.

Everyone, that was, except Liz Forrester – Gareth’s mother – clamped a chubby hand over her mouth. Liz’s eyes met Shelley’s and she pursed her lips tightly and made the sign of the cross as the crow flapped away into the bush.

Heart thumping, Shelley leaned over and checked that the bird hadn’t left a sloppy deposit behind, but the wicker body carrier was clean. Shelley straightened her posture and pretended nothing had happened.

As Virginia finished the last lines of her poem, a tear dripped from her nose and splashed onto the shroud. Shelley took up her position at the ropes and nodded at Gareth. Gareth would never win a Nobel prize but he was strong, cheap and available. This wasn’t Vieri Family Funerals, where her mother led a team of thirty. Green Farewells had a staff of one. Shelley. And some weeks, she seriously considered driving an Uber to help pay her mortgage and buy the odd loaf of bread. But she imagined she wouldn’t get many five-star ratings when she pulled up to pick up passengers in her hearse van.

‘Thank you, Virginia,’ Shelley said. ‘What a beautiful and insightful poem. And now we will return Jude’s body to the ground. To the place where we all began, and where we will all return. As one with nature, the Earth and the power of life and death.’

Shelley gave the safety straps a little slap, the signal to begin lowering the coffin, and Gareth gave a curt nod in reply. She held her breath and her knees wavered as she scrutinised the shroud closely, checking again for any possible sign of life. Death didn’t scare Shelley, but waking up to see the satin-lined interior of a coffin was a regular feature in her nightmares.

‘Let me through!’ someone shouted from the back of the crowd. People murmured and parted as a man in his twenties with thinning brown hair and an ankle-length black cassock pushed through.

Shelley blinked calmly though, inside, her chest tightened.

‘Whoa there, Mickey,’ said Ross Forrester as he stepped in to block the priest’s path.

‘Almighty God!’ Father Michael Bekker yelled.

Mickey dodged Ross and pushed his way to the graveside. Shelley couldn’t help but notice a leaf sticking out of Mickey’s wild tufty hair. ‘You created the Earth and shaped the vault of Heaven. You fixed the stars in their places.’

‘Piss off, priest,’ said a younger man with swinging dreadlocks. ‘Jude wouldn’t want you here.’

‘You should all be ashamed of yourselves.’ Mickey scoured the crowd with fire in his eyes. ‘All of you.’

Shelley rushed around the grave and grabbed Mickey’s arm. ‘Father Mickey. Please, you’re disturbing the service. If you can’t be respectful, you’re not welcome here. Please go.’

‘Service?’ Mickey scoffed. ‘Do you realise what you’re doing? The danger you’re putting us all in?’

Shelley stretched up tall. ‘I have all the necessary credentials and permits.’

‘And it is my Christian duty to stop you and your heathen practices.’

Shelley jammed her hands on her hips. ‘You’re interfering with a sacred moment. Upsetting the deceased’s family and friends. I’m giving you one last chance or I’m calling the police.’

‘Our Lord Jesus Christ broke the fetters of Hell and rose to life, bringing deliverance and resurrection…’

The dreadlocked man and Ross both grabbed Mickey by the shoulders.

‘When you conjure up the Devil himself,’ Mickey bellowed as they led him away from the grave. ‘Don’t say I didn’t warn you.’

‘I’m sorry, everyone,’ Shelley said, her cheeks blazing red. The niece and the rest of the Hillyer family, the only attendees in all funereal black, glowered at her and Shelley wrung her hands.

‘Jude always liked a bit of a ruckus,’ the dreadlocked man said with a chuckle as he returned to the graveside. ‘She probably arranged this herself.’

A few others laughed along with him and Shelley breathed easy. She tucked her grey hair behind her ear and nodded to Gareth. Together they shifted the body over the hole and lowered the ropes, laying Jude Hillyer to rest at the bottom of the grave.

As the dirt hit the shroud, Shelley took a final look over the body.

Satisfied the body was still lifeless, Shelley lifted her chin and tried to forget Father Mickey’s words.


If a soul is laid to rest

With a perched black crow as its guest

And then a shadow crosses the pall

And a mourner’s tear does fall

Dry your tears and beware

Cross yourself and prepare

Below the soil, new life brews

It’s the living it pursues


Bloodwood – new release alert

Bloodwood, my new Australian-set vampire novella, is coming out in October 2020.

How do you fight a vampire… in Australia?

Nothing interesting ever happens in sleepy, rural Ludwood. Not until undertaker Shelley sets up shop with her eco-friendly burials.

Her latest funeral, farewelling an environmental legend, was meant to help her struggling business – even the gatecrashing priest condemning her heathen ways didn’t damper her spirits. Much.

But when frightening screeches wake Shelley in the middle of the night days later, she finds an empty grave and things start to go wrong. Horribly wrong. Like vicious attacks in Ludwood wrong.

Were the priest’s protests of blasphemy right? Has Shelley unwittingly unleashed the undead and reduced the headcount in Ludwood instead of reducing their carbon footprint?

And where does Shelley even start? There’s no manual for hunting vampires in the bush.

Pre-order on Amazon now.

Feathers and Boarding School

Greetings from lockdown Melbourne.

Today I’m sharing a little poetry and a guest blog post I wrote for Debbie Young on my love for Enid Blyton boarding school stories.

I’m a recent poetry convert. In the last weeks and months, I’ve been drawn to reading and writing poetry (Kathleen Raine, Yeats, Robin Robertson, Marissa Davis). Poetry writing has been a welcome and liberating change from my usual novella/novel writing. I’m also pairing my words with images and here is my latest dabbling ‘Shelter Feather’, inspired by Robert Macfarlane‘s Word of the Day tweets.

On to school stories…I was a bookish child – yes I know, hard to believe – and I especially loved boarding school stories. Debbie Young asked me to review (as an adult) one of my favourite boarding school books and consider how these stories have influenced my writing. My Favourite School Stories.


Paranormal Romance Trends in 2020 and Beyond – Guest Post

Today I’m featuring a guest post from Desiree Villena, filling us in on all the up-coming Paranormal Romance (PNR) trends. I know some of you love your saucy shapeshifter stories…so, over to Desiree…

Trends in Paranormal Romance – Desiree Villena

Vampires, werewolves, raunchy love triangles — is there anything more to paranormal romance than this? If you haven’t kept up with this intriguing genre, you might be justified in thinking there’s not. And to be fair, plenty of new releases continue to perpetuate the same old tropes and ideas. But that’s not to say that there aren’t new trends cropping up in paranormal romance all the time! Today, I’ll be taking you through some of these developments so you’ll know what to expect the next time you browse the shelves.

Image by Mystic Art Design from pixabay

Magical realms

This will surely come as good news to jaded readers of the genre: the lengthy reign of vampires and werewolves is finally being counterbalanced by the worlds of fae, mermaids, and mages. And while these certainly aren’t uncharted territory, there has never been so much enthusiasm for fantasy world-building in PNR as there is now.

Take Bella Forrest’s Harley Merlin series, for instance, which follows a 19-year-old orphan who discovers a community of people who share the same strange psychic abilities as her — among whom she might just find her true love. While the first volume was published in just 2018, its continual success (and the wonders of self-publishing platforms) have led to 20 more books detailing the adventures of Harley Merlin. It goes to show how much traction this sort of universe has!

For good measure, here’s another example of a uniquely mystical world: the Fireblood Dragon series by Ruby Dixon. Set in a post-apocalyptic realm where humans live in enclaves away from beastly dragons, these books follow different female protagonists as they are punished for their deviance by being made “dragon baits.” If you’re wondering where the romance comes in — well, these dragons are shapeshifters looking for lifelong partners (and fiery passion, no pun intended). Now on its eighth installment, it seems this enchanting universe is only becoming more popular, setting the trend in PNR for years to come.

Love in the academies

As PNR is largely targeted at young adults, this trend should come as no surprise. Academies are a very popular setting in fantasy and sci-fi books, from A Wizard of Earthsea to the aptly named Vampire Academy — and since these genres have significant overlaps with paranormal romance, it’s about time boarding schools and spell-binding institutions made their mark on the genre.

We don’t have to go any further than the Harley Merlin series to see this in action. Just from the Amazon book description, which compares Harley Merlin to Harry Potter, readers immediately know that Harley will find herself having many adventures in a magical school. Even though she goes out into the world to hunt monsters and face her dark past, her starting point, her home, and the place where she develops a bond with her significant other is the academy that welcomes her at the beginning of the series.

Some authors go even deeper into this trope, setting almost their entire series in an academy, as Serena Akeroyd did with her Caelum Academy trilogy. Eve, the protagonist, has been raised in an emotionless cult and cut off from outside the world — until she is mysteriously smuggled out of “the compound” and taken to Caelum Academy, a school for those with who aren’t really humans, but paranormal creatures. Here, she’ll not only learn about the world she’d been kept from in the past, but also meet people who truly love her.

Subverting PNR gender norms

In tandem with the rise in academy settings, which provide love interests galore, is the increasing popularity of the “reverse harem” in paranormal romance. This has its roots in recent developments in Japanese animation, and involves a female protagonist encountering many love interests throughout her journey, but being unable to decide on her “one true love.” Sounds dramatic, I know — but isn’t that the whole point of these supernatural love affairs?

Let’s return to Caelum Academy, where our female lead is initially bullied and made fun of at her new school because of her ignorance of the modern world. Soon enough, however, some of the guys who made fun of Eve take a liking to her (in a typical enemies-to-lovers turn of events) and start trying to help her out. As the trilogy progresses, Eve develops strong relationships with these guys, some of which excitingly escalate beyond the friendzone — but she never admits to loving any of them in more than a platonic way, at least not until the final installment.

Rather than making these books purely raunchy, Akeroyd shows readers that relationships are complicated, and finding “the one” isn’t so easy, or even necessarily imperative. It’s also a great way to throw a wrench into the common trope of a dominant male stringing along a female lead. If you’re interested in these types of gender role-subverting stories, consider checking out Meg Xuemei X’s War of the Gods series, and The Dark Side series by Kristy Cunning.

Crossing over to urban fantasy

Sure, it’s thrilling to be pulled into bizarre landscapes with fantastical heroes, but isn’t it even more enthralling to discover the world you thought you knew in a different light? This is the premise of urban fantasy: it takes a familiar setting (our own world) and points out the nooks and crannies in which you can find a whole other, supernatural universe.

This trend has been a long time coming, starting in the mid-2000s with some PNR classics such as the Dublin pub-hopping adventures of Karen Marie Moning’s Darkfever, and the bounty-hunting chases of Jeaniene Frost’s Halfway to the Grave. Since then, plenty of series have taken readers down dark alleyways in cities we thought we knew all too well, suspensefully revealing the underbellies and hidden gateways of concrete jungles… while spicing things up with some (often star-crossed) romance. Though many urban fantasy fans aren’t particularly fond of the growing romance segment of their niche, PNR fans continue to embrace this trend, which should make for a number of fascinating crossovers in the future.

PNR books do tend to be slower to change — authors often stick to the ideas and themes that they’ve seen work well, not wanting to mess with a successful formula. However, that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been shifts in the paranormal romance landscape over recent years, and very interesting ones at that! Hopefully, these trends will kickstart a host of other innovations in this corner of the literary universe, and we’ll be looking at plenty of exciting new titles soon.

About Desiree

Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors with the world’s best publishing resources and professionals. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading paranormal romance, writing contemporary fiction, and analyzing tropes and trends.

Finding Creativity Through Folklore

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been taking a course run by the fabulous Sandra Ireland – Finding Creativity Through Folklore.

Ordinarily, Sandra’s courses are run face-to-face out of Dundee but due to the COVID-19 crisis, the course has moved online. Which is brilliant for me on the other side of the world, because now I can participate.

Each week, Sandra circulates materials on a folklore theme with prompts for creative projects. The themes to date have included water, trees and family stories.

Rather than writing novels or novellas (which is my usual comfy place), I’ve been playing with visuals and poetry.

In addition to the prompts, we have a weekly Zoom where the group discusses folklore and creativity. I’ve been blown away by the stories and creativity of my course-mates and look forward to the call each week.

Australian Shadow Awards nomination for The Flower and The Serpent

Today I received the most exciting news – The Flower and The Serpent has been nominated for a 2019 Australian Shadow Award by the Australasian Horror Writers Association!

The Flower and The Serpent is one of three novels shortlisted in the Novel category.

And needless to say, I’m absolutely stoked!

End of Write Through The Roof podcast

It’s with an element of sadness that I announce the end of Write Through The Roof podcast.

After almost three years and 76 episodes, it’s time to do something new. But I’m really going to miss great conversations with interesting writers and having the opportunity to selfishly ask my writing heroes the questions I want to be answered.

So what I have learned about writing over the 76 interviews?

  • There is no right way to write

From meticulous spreadsheets of Oscar de Muriel to the pantsing of Rebecca Tope and everything in between, there is no right way to plot your novel.

Some write every day but many more wish they could. However, others see the definite need for rests to replenish their creative well. But discipline is the key and to finish what you start.

Take all writing advice with a pinch of salt.


Trusting yourself. You don’t have to write like other people.


Cherrypick techniques but develop your own style and process.


Do you write every day? I wish!


Don’t bore the reader. Don’t annoy the reader. Don’t confuse the reader.

  • Writers are generous and lovely people
  • Coffee runs in our veins
  • Writers like to read ‘like a fat kid at the dessert table’

Thanks for the quote, Angela Slatter but all the writers I spoke to love to read. The most popular inspiring authors were Stephen King, Jane Austen, Neil Gaiman, Daphne du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood.

  • Most writers are life-long learners

Aside from the amazing Karen Rose Smith with 100 romance novels under her belt and a comfortable writing process, most of the writers I spoke with were trying something new with each book and continually trying to perfect their process.

So all things come to an end but I’d like to thank all the writers I spoke with!

Madeleine about town – interviews and guest blog posts

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to be featured on three blogs.

Check out the music, the influences and the struggle to fight the right genre in my writing life.

Happy Reading…

#76 – Tim Ewins – Write Through The Roof

Interview with writer and stand-up comic, Tim Ewins

“It’s a good thing to write every day, I just don’t do it.”

Episode 76 – Show Notes – Tim Ewins

  • Prefer to write and read novels
  • Writes during lunch breaks at work – with a monthly word target
  • Four years to write his first book
  • Coffee and Bon Iver
  • Themes of enduring and long-lasting love. How love changes over time.
  • Having a child changed ‘We Are Animals’ and added depth to the writing.
  • Influence of stand-up but not getting the pay-off
  • Editing chapters as he goes.
  • Embarrassing pick-ups by editors
  • Loose and lose
  • The luxury of writing at home with a glass of wine
  • Jonas Johannsen, Roald Dahl, Andrew Kaufman
  • ‘We Are Animals’ started as a travel blog

“I researched all kinds of thing but not how to spell loose and lose.”

“I do quite often think about the book Matilda”


#75 – Alison Littlewood – Write Through The Roof

Interview with ‘dark and weird’ writer, Alison Littlewood

‘History, folklore, ghosts and spooky things.’

Episode 75 – Alison Littlewood – Show Notes

  • Plot beginnings and endings and pants it all the rest of the way
  • Word count spreadsheet – 1000 words per day
  • Obsessive about edits
  • Satisfies the canine overlords before she begins a writing session
  • Dark and weird genre – on the edges of horror
  • Themes – loss and death and love – various aspects of being human- twisted fairytales and folklore
  • Perceptions of horror writers
  • ‘Reading a lot. Writing a lot.’
  • The benefits of working with a good editor
  • Writing in the middle of the night – inspired by HP Lovecraft
  • Michelle Paver, Jason Arnop, Paul Tremblay, Joe Hill, Katrina Ward, Andrew Michael Hurley, Nathan Ballingrud, Priya Sharma, Angela Slatter, Graham Joyce
  • Mistletoe – ghost stories at Christmas – MR James, Victorian times – folklore and history of the plant and the season
  • Historical research
  • Cottingley faeries and changelings

‘Plot beginnings and endings and pants it all the rest of the way.’

‘People back away when I say I’m a horror writer.’


Giveaway – The Antics of Evangeline – paperback

To celebrate the Australia Day long weekend (or commiserate Invasion Day), I’m giving away three (3) signed paperback copies of The Antics of Evangeline.

Mystery and mayhem.

Gadgets and ginger biscuits. High kicks and high tea.

Mesmerism and monsters in steampunk Melbourne.

Join Evangeline on her first four adventures with the Alchemist, the Bunyip, the Spiritualist and the Mysterious Lights.

Four fun and delightful novellas together in one collection.

All you need to do is comment below or RT on Twitter (@madeleine_deste).

The offer is worldwide.

#74 – Jon Black – Write Through The Roof

Interview with author and music journalist, Jon Black

“You can’t do a one-to-one transition of role-playing to fiction.”

Episode 74 – Jon Black

  • No preference for medium but a natural geography and cluster in terms of word counts
  • Mix of a plotter and pantser. Influenced by role-playing games
  • Environment is important – quirky 24-hour coffee house and writes throughout the night
  • A music journalist but does not actively listen to music while writing
  • Supernatural, historical fiction with a twist
  • Themes of power of human curiosity, music, exploring the interplay between folklore, mythology and history
  • Cultivating a sensate writing style: all five senses to bring the reader into the scene
  • Benefits of role playing in writing fiction and pitfalls
  • Experimenting with less exposition and background for characters
  • Caleb Carr, Harry Turtledove, Stephen King, Garrison Keilor, Daniel Pinkwater
  • Gabriel’s Trumpet – second wave of spiritualism and Jazz Age
  • Expanding short stories into novel-length
  • Currently editing an anthology about searches for lost books

“I’m not sure whether I have a genuine love for it or whether it’s a Stockholm syndrome thing.”


#73 – Kristy Childs – Write Through The Roof podcast

Interview with debut steampunk author, Kristy Childs

“How to make Sleeping Beauty an active protagonist.”

Episode 73 – Kristy Childs – Show Notes

  • Writes seasonally – starts in November with Nanowrimo until April
  • Light plot outline but generally pantsing
  • Fuelled by green tea
  • Themes are usually concepts to be included in the work – e.g. airship heist
  • Start with character or concept first?
  • Steampunk or gas lamp – genre definition
  • Editing
  • Changing British English into American English and difference in grammar rules
  • Passive voice cut-out and strengthening word use
  • Microsoft Word extra grammar features
  • “I before e except after c” – exceptions
  • Favourite genres to read – urban fantasy and YA – N.K. Jemisin, Tamora Pierce, Ben Aaronovitch, Warlock Holmes
  • The Nightmare Detective inspired by The Maltese Falcon but set between the Wars and Sleeping Beauty retelling.
  • Sleep disorders
  • Current project is a Chinese fantasy for Nanowrimo. Inspired by ‘cultivation novels’ – Dragonball Z

“I want dinosaurs and I want explosions”


The Flower and The Serpent – launch!!!

My latest novel The Flower and The Serpent is now available in ebook on Amazon or Kindle Unlimited/Prime.

Madeleine D’Este definitely does creepy well.


The book has elements of Stranger Things with fine character development and kids that feel like real kids. 


the novel is genuinely frightening at times, but the characters are never overshadowed by the horror.


Mysterious disappearances, a battle for the spotlight and terrifying nightmares. It’s just another day at Beacon Hill High School. 

Auditions for Macbeth are over, and on the bus ride home, a mysterious driver gives sixteen-year-old Violet and her friends’ three strange predictions:

One of the girls will shine like a star.
One will invite darkness into her breast.
One will depart forever.

Please, how cliché. Besides, Violet clearly knows that she’s the star. 

But when she isn’t cast as Lady Macbeth and strange things begin to unfold, and the eerie predictions begin to come true, Violet can’t help to wonder which one will apply to her.
Determined to be the one that will shine like a star, Violet will do whatever it takes to get the leading role – no matter the horrifying consequence. 

Modern-day Shakespeare meets supernatural mystery with this nail-biting young adult horror by Madeleine D’Este.

#72 – Violeta M. Bagia – Write Through The Roof

Interview with paranormal author, Violeta M. Bagia

“Whatever you do, you’re only going to get better by repeating it.”

Episode 72 – Violeta M. Bagia – Show Notes

  • Writes every day without fail
  • Early morning writing time is the best
  • Nice pair of shoes are required to write
  • Poetic and “prose-y” style. PTSD, new identity, personal transformation
  • The problems with defining a genre – paranormal or urban fantasy or war fiction
  • Routine is all-important to build a writing habit
  • Learning to plot to meet the publisher’s expectations
  • Whiteboard wall
  • Stephen King, Jennifer L Armentrout
  • Jack of Hart – the book came after “finishing” the series. Quick to write but then expanded to double the size.
  • Taking back the rights of the Hart of Darkness series from the original publisher and republished


The Flower and The Serpent – Chapter 1

The Flower and The Serpent will be released on 4th December 2019 and it’s currently available for pre-order.

Galley readers have described The Flower and The Serpent as…

“Creepy and wonderful”


“Elements of #StrangerThings


“Darkly seductive tale of revenge, regret & ultimately redemption”

Jon black

To whet your appetite, here is an extract of Chapter 1 of The Flower and The Serpent.

I hope you enjoy.


Chapter 1

Monday 18th June 1992


Violet’s whole body hummed with leftover audition nerves.

‘I’m a dead cert,’ she said.

She was the first to climb aboard the empty number 458 bus but Holly and Lila were close behind. They followed the muddy footprints past the chubby lady bus driver as the wipers shrieked across the windshield and the rain slapped the windows. Violet wrinkled her nose. The bus reeked of soggy wool.

‘I can’t wait until tomorrow,’ Violet said as she slid into her regular seat halfway up the aisle. ‘When my name is on top of the list.’

‘You’re a shoo-in.’ Lila flopped into the seat in front of her. She turned and draped her skinny arm over the metal bar. ‘He’d be stupid not to cast you.’

The doors wheezed shut and the bus pulled out of the school and onto Beacon Hill Road. The midwinter sun had already disappeared behind Mount Wellington.

‘Angelika was alright, too.’ Holly squashed in next to Lila and sat backwards. ‘And the one with the curls. Rowan?’

Violet snorted and tossed her mousy hair. ‘Out. Out. Damned spot,’ she groaned in a monotone and snatched the last chip from the packet in Holly’s hand.

Holly pressed her lips together.

Lila giggled. ‘Maybe we’ll be cast as the witches. There’s three of them and three of us.’ She bounced in her seat. ‘We could get some props from your aunty, hey, Holly? Real witch supplies?’

Holly crushed the empty chip packet in her fist and turned away. But the late Hobart afternoon was as black as night and Violet could see Holly’s square-jawed scowl reflected in the window. Holly seemed to sulk a lot these days.

‘Witches? No way,’ Violet scoffed. ‘It’s Lady Macbeth or nothing.’

‘Of course, I’m an idiot. You’ll get the part for sure.’ Lila chewed her cuticles and shrugged. ‘I just thought it’d be fun. Us three. Together.’

Violet said nothing and neither did Holly.

‘Sorry.’ Lila playfully nudged Holly’s arm. ‘I didn’t mean it. The witch thing.’

Holly turned back to them with a sigh. ‘It’s not you.’ She squeezed the bridge of her nose. ‘This headache—’

‘What were you girls doing at the school?’ the curly-headed bus driver hollered.

Violet and her friends flinched. A pair of murky green eyes looked back at them through the rear vision mirror.

‘Holiday program,’ Lila called back.

‘All alone in that place during holidays?’ The bus driver raised an eyebrow. ‘They should never have built a school on that land. Or anything for that matter. Should have left it be.’

Violet rolled her eyes. ‘Everyone knows they purified it first, lady.’

‘The surety of youth,’ the bus driver chuckled. ‘I was once like you.’ Her voice was strange and lilting, she spoke with a musical accent Violet couldn’t place. ‘Life is not as it seems.’

Violet rotated a finger next to her temple and Lila stifled a giggle. Holly dipped her head to hide her eyes under her fringe.

‘You three are best friends?’

‘Totally.’ Lila grinned. ‘Ever since Grade Seven.’

Violet stared at her black eight-hole Doc Martens and chewed her lip. She noticed Holly didn’t say anything, either.

‘Women need to band together. Especially you three. You must look out for each other.’

‘What do you mean?’ Lila said. ‘Especially us?’

‘You three have challenges up ahead,’ the driver said.

Lila glanced at Holly and then Violet. ‘What does she mean?’

‘She probably means life stuff.’ Holly twirled a strand of dark brown hair around her finger. ‘Exams. Finishing school. Getting off this stupid island. I can’t wait.’

The bus driver went quiet. The tyres squelched on the wet road as the bus veered around the infamous hairpin bend and damp grey-green eucalyptus slapped on either side.

The three girls slid across the seats around the bend.

A few years ago in the late 1980s, a bus exactly like this one misjudged the turn and six lives were wiped out in a single mistake. Violet’s stomach clenched twice a day, five times a week, every time she passed the stone memorial on the way to school. The black and white photo of the bent wreckage was still vivid in her mind.

‘What challenges?’ asked Lila. She clutched at the metal bar until her knuckles were white.

The bus driver said nothing.

Violet rubbed her duffle coat sleeve against the fogged-up window and peered outside as the bus passed the small strip of local shops. First was The Three Torches, a cafe-bookshop run by Holly’s aunt. Then Terri’s Bakehouse where Violet worked Saturdays selling congealed yellow vanilla slices and the whitest of white bread. Then the dry cleaners and the shaman hairdressers with his multi-coloured Tibetan prayer flags and incense fluttering in the breeze, and finally the milk bar takeaway. Even through the glass, Violet could smell the old chip oil, the spicy Nag Champa and the astringent dry-cleaning fumes.

A figure in a raincoat with the hood pulled up stood at the kerb in the rain. Beside them, a muscular pointy-eared black dog strained at his leash. The person lifted a finger and pointed directly at the bus, directly through the window, directly at Violet. The face was a black shadow, no real face at all but somehow the hidden eyes bored straight into her, the gaze like an apple-corer.

With a gasp, she tore her gaze away from the window, her heart thumping.

‘What?’ said Lila.

‘Nothing,’ Violet muttered but when she turned back, the person was still there on the kerb, and still pointing. She shuddered. ‘Another loony.’

They travelled a few more blocks in silence, then the Beacon Hill Road straightened out after the weatherboard Scout Hall, the place for senior aerobics and Morris dancing. Her heartbeat settled as the man in the raincoat disappeared from view.

‘Three challenges for three friends,’ the bus driver continued. ‘I can see it clearly.’

The girls leaned forward in their seats.

‘What are you? Some kind of fortune teller?’ Lila said. ‘A psychic?’

Violet shoved Holly. ‘You know about all that stuff. Witchy poo.’

Holly poked out her tongue.

‘One of you will shine like a star,’ the bus driver proclaimed.

Violet shimmied in her seat. It was obviously her.

The driver went on. ‘One of you will invite darkness into her breast.’

‘Breast? That’d be you.’ Holly raised a dark eyebrow and prodded Violet in the boob. Violet swiped away her finger with a glare.

‘Darkness?’ Lila grimaced. ‘What do you mean? What does she mean?’

‘One of you will depart forever,’ the driver concluded.

‘Depart forever?’ Lila clawed at the metal bar between the seats. ‘That’s not good. That can’t be good.’

‘Excuse me, Miss.’ Holly raised her hand. ‘I don’t think this is appropriate—’

‘Death? Is she saying one of us is going to die?’ Lila wheezed.

‘What are you saying, lady?’ Violet squinted, projecting her voice up the empty bus. She loved how the power rippled up from her diaphragm when she used her breath in the right way. ‘Are you trying to scare us? Cos it’s not working.’

‘Ignore me if you like, girls,’ the bus driver said. ’It is your choice to listen. But you have been warned.’

‘One of us is going to die?’ Lila said with a crack in her voice. ‘How? When?’

‘There are powers in this world we cannot comprehend. You must beware.’

‘Today? Do we need to be careful today?’

The bus driver shifted her focus back to the road. Her face closed like a shutter.

‘You have to give us more information than that. You can’t just —’

But the woman behind the wheel didn’t respond. She didn’t even look their way. It was as though she’d never said a word.

‘Excuse me,’ Lila said and waved her arm. ‘Tell us more. Please.’

The bus driver kept her eyes on the road.

‘Why won’t she tell us?’ Lila chewed her finger, her eyes glazed.

‘Forget it,’ Violet snorted. ‘She’s just another nutbag.’

Violet wondered why Lila was so fazed, she’d lived around Beacon Hill her whole life and knew all the weird stories off by heart. She should be used to strange people by now.

The bus moaned to a stop. The back doors hissed open and a sharp slap of cold wind blew inside.

‘You have to tell us more.’ Lila scrambled up the aisle towards the driver’s seat, her canvas school bag clutched to her chest. ‘Who? Which one of us?’

‘Last stop.’

‘Please,’ Lila whined.

Holly grabbed her by the elbow. ‘Leave it.’

‘She can’t just tell us someone is going to die and then say nothing else. She said beware. But what of?’ Lila raked her fingers through her home-dyed burgundy hair. ‘Do you think she cursed us?’

‘Come on. Let’s go.’ Violet headed towards the door.

Holly tugged at Lila’s sleeve. ‘Don’t get worked up about it. You know what you’re like. We’ll call the bus company tomorrow. Make a complaint.’

Lila sighed and followed Holly out into the wet air. Misty droplets dribbled down the graffiti-etched bus shelter.

‘Weirdo!’ Violet yelled out as the bus driver closed the concertina doors and the bus rumbled away. Violet pulled up her duffle coat hood as the red tail lights bled onto the wet road.

‘What if she’s right? One of us could die,’ Lila said. Raindrops brimmed on her eyelashes and she didn’t wipe them away.

‘Forget about it,’ Violet said. ‘Right, Holly?’

‘Well, I think we should tell someone,’ Holly said. ‘But maybe you’re right. Don’t think about it, Lila. It’s just some stupid joke. Nothing’s going to happen.’

‘It’s not very funny,’ Lila huffed. ‘And I have this strange —’

‘Well, I’m off. Lines to learn,’ Violet said with a smirk. ‘Lady Macbeth lines. See you tomorrow.’

‘With bells on,’ Lila said but her smile didn’t reach her eyes.

‘To witness the grand unveiling of my name up on the board tomorrow,’ Violet said. ‘Violet Black as Lady Macbeth.’

With a wave, the three friends went their separate ways into the gloom. Violet wrapped her arms around herself as she trudged down Melaleuca Avenue, through the shadows and puddles, past the rows of empty brown brick-and-tile houses with double garages. There wasn’t another soul around.

Violet couldn’t wait until Friday night when she stepped out onto her stage and shone like a star.

Maybe there was some truth to the crazy bus driver’s words.

#71 – Debbie Young – Write Through The Roof

Interview with cosy mystery writer Debbie Young

“Cosy mysteries are an antidote to the strains of modern life”

Episode 71 – Debbie Young – Show Notes

  • Short novels are her favourite form
  • Journalistic background but mainly a pantser
  • Writes a chapter a day in the writing phase
  • Doesn’t always write every day. Needs to recharge the batteries and think
  • Themes of celebrating community and nurturing understanding between people
  • The mystery provides the framework to flesh out with characters and comedy
  • Based on her real village life and her community
  • Closed communities in a mystery; village and classic English boarding school
  • Cosy mystery popularity – an antidote to modern life, resolution and happy ever after
  • Writing without stopping – experiment with the next novel with a little light editing to begin each writing session
  • Different technologies for writing – Word, using Scrivener for plotting, writing by hand with a fountain pen
  • Touch typing
  • Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers
  • Sophie Sayers mysteries are not always murder stories and veer more to romantic and situational comedy.
  • Experimenting with crossing over between the Sayers and St.Brides series and writing more novellas

I’m an organised pantser.”

“Sometimes I feel I’m writing situation comedy sketches.”


The Flower and The Serpent – new release alert!

My latest novel The Flower and The Serpent will be released on 4th December 2019.

A supernatural young adult novel set during a school production of Macbeth, The Flower and The Serpent is my most autobiographical book yet.

The Flower and The Serpent is available now for pre-order.


Mysterious disappearances, a battle for the spotlight and nightmares. It’s just another day at Beacon Hill High School.

Auditions for Macbeth are over, and on the bus ride home, a mysterious driver gives sixteen-year-old Violet and her friends’ three strange predictions:

One of the girls will shine like a star.

One will invite darkness into her breast.

One will depart forever.

Please, how cliché. Besides, Violet clearly knows that she’s the star.
But when she isn’t cast as Lady Macbeth and strange things begin to unfold, and the predictions begin to come true, Violet can’t help to wonder which one will apply to her.

Determined to be the one that will shine like a star, Violet will do whatever it takes to get the leading role – no matter the consequence.

Modern-day Shakespeare meets supernatural mystery with this nail-biting young adult horror by Madeleine D’Este.

‘An Awfully Evangeline Christmas’ in a new Anthology

My story “An Awfully Evangeline Christmas” is part of a new Australian Christmas themed speculative fiction anthology – Christmas Australis: A Frighteningly Festive Anthology of Spine Jingling Tales.

An Antipodean Christmas feels awfully topsy-turvy to Evangeline and when she goes to buy gingerbread for her father, she finds that the weather is not the only odd thing about this festive season.

As well as Evangeline, Christmas Australis contains seven other tales – a novella, two novelettes and four short stories – something for everyone this Festive Season.

The release date is 11 November but you can pre-order now on Amazon.

#70 – R.R. Campbell – Write Through The Roof

Episode 70 – interview with sci-fi author, podcaster and writing coach, RR Campbell.

“There’s no Twitter, no email. The coffee is here. The time has come.”

Episode 70 – Show Notes

  • Meticulous planner rather than pantser – with scene by scene outlines. This means every morning he wakes up and knows exactly what he’s going to write
  • Analytical approach to writing – informed by linguistics background
  • Daily writing ritual – coffee pot on a timer and ready to go
  • Re-reading a favourite author as writing fuel
  • Empathy between characters. Epistolary novel form.
  • Five core components to any scene: setting, goal, conflict, resolution, cliffhanger/pivot/change
  • Margaret Atwood. David Mitchell
  • Empathy series – internet access brain implants inspired by smartphones
  • Taking time away from a manuscript to get perspective before retooling
  • Multiple points of view, dimensions and shout-outs

“Finding the best way to create empathy between the character and the reader.”

“There are five core components to any scene.”


#69 – Alan Baxter – Write Through The Roof

Interview with Alan Baxter, writer of dark weird shit

‘Write caffeinated and edit drunk’

Episode 69 – Alan Baxter – Show Notes

  • Baxter believes plotting and pantsing is a sliding scale.
  • Vomit drafter but often edits a little before starting each day’s writing session
  • Has a target of 5000 words per week when writing first drafts but doesn’t try to write every day
  • Coffee in the day, whiskey in the evening
  • Genre is ‘dark weird shit’ – soup of urban fantasy, horror and the weird plus crime and noir
  • Themes of justice and consequences
  • Time is the most important thing
  • Martial arts mindset – time and commitment – developing a practice and striving for improvement
  • Stepping away from the manuscript to let the brain to work out the problems
  • Short stories can shake up the process, like cross-training
  • Clive Barker, Stephen King, Lovecraft, Poe, Kaaron Warren, Margo Lanegan and comics
  • Short story collection Served Cold leans more into horror and explores Australian identity


#68 – Lee Kofman – Write Through The Roof

Interview with Lee Kofman – author and writing teacher

‘In each draft I try to get one or two things right rather than everything.’

Episode 68 – Lee Kofman – Show Notes

  • Creative non-fiction is her current favourite medium. Closer to poetry than non-fiction. It is a fresher and younger experimental genre.
  • Multi-tasking with children
  • Prepare for writing session by thinking about the current project before sitting down at the desk.
  • Gerald Murnane – three types of writers: curious, preachy and possessed/obsessed.
  • Themes – doomed loves.
  • Memoir-writing and Russian poets
  • All writing is rewriting.
  • Working on plotting skills but not plotting too much. Needs a sense of tension to keep the writing process interesting
  • Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gogol, Helen Garner, Robert Dessaix, Zadie Smith, Geoff Dyer, Joan Didion, Karl Ove Knausgaard
  • Imperfect – scars and haunted by shame. Inspired by her child’s diagnosis of albinism

‘Writing is layering.’

‘What it’s like to have a body which deviates from the so-called norm.’


#67 – Agnes Gomillion – Write Through The Roof

Interview with Afro-futurist writer Agnes Gomillion

“I wanted people to reflect on their relative state of freedom.”

Episode 67 – Agnes Gomillion – Show Notes

  • Writes something every day – maybe poetry or notes but not necessarily her ‘work-in-progress’
  • Poetry, songs and lyrical writing
  • Sleep is writing fuel of choice
  • Afrofuturism – lift the audience from reality for the purpose of looking back and better understanding African-American culture.
  • Humanity with an African-American lens.
  • Writing about the underlying person brings different people together.
  • Perseverance
  • ‘Story’ by Robert McKee – how to create a character and how to use structure to ‘show, don’t tell’.
  • Having to incorporate more structure in the writing day with children
  • Jesmyn Ward – Salvage the Bones, Stephen King
  • Frederick Douglass inspired The Record Keeper with his spirit of freedom. The story of how someone overcomes their fear set in a dystopia after World War 3.
  • Octavia Butler comparisons
  • Working on the sequel – The Seed of Cain.

“Humanity with an afro-futurist bent.”

“Slavery is more than physical chains.”


#66 – Alison Morton – Write Through The Roof

Interview with alternative history novelist Alison Morton

‘Exercise your writing muscle in different ways on different days.’

Episode 66 – Alison Morton – Show Notes

  • 30% plotter and 70% pantser
  • Black moments: when it all falls apart for the main character
  • Writing versus marketing
  • Tea imported in from England – sergeant major’s tea
  • Wanted to explore female-led action stories with a Roman flavour. But needed to create an alternative history world to feature strong female leaders. Values, betrayal, rebellion, resilience
  • Alternative history research: taking history and twisting it but anchoring back to the facts.
  • Using historical logic – what would have happened if?
  • Collaborating with other writers, exchanging ideas, being accepting and giving
  • A team effort to produce a book
  • Robert Harris’ Fatherland, William Boyd’s Restless, Sebastian Faulks, Lindsay Davis, Georgette Heyer
  • Aurelia: going back to write the backstory of the grandmother of the main character of the Carina Mitela series
  • Writing short stories and novellas

‘30% plotter and 70% pantser.’

‘You do need other people to get a successful book out.’


#65 – Clare Flynn – Write Through The Roof

Podcast interview with historical novelist, Clare Flynn

‘Read everything I could get my little hands on.’

Episode 65 – Clare Flynn – Show Notes

  • Instinctive pantser who occasionally tries to plot
  • The first book took 15 years to write but now tries to be more disciplined
  • Writes most days
  • Two solutions if the words are hard – walk away or force herself to write
  • ‘Edit as you go’ person
  • Once a week writing group to share work-in-progress
  • Nanowrimo – to kick start a book or finish a book off
  • Tea, coffee and water and wine o’clock
  • Displacement: theme comes from childhood experiences, relationship problems, PTSD and impact of war, self discovery, religious bigotry
  • Reading: taught to read by her father
  • Learnt from editor; tough but also positive
  • Read aloud
  • Writing two books at once; keeps the writing fresh
  • Classics: Hardy, Brontes, Anya Seton, Jean Plaidy, Agatha Christie, Mary Stewart, Tolstoy, Zola, Kate Atkinson, Amor Towles, historical research
  • Hybrid publishing
  • Storms Gather Between Us

‘A competitive person, even if the competition is myself.’

‘It’s got to have highs & lows and lights & darks.’


Women of Wasps and War – Chapter One extract

Chapter One

‘Wasp Woman.’

A glob of spit thwacked her cheek. Her eyes flashed but she clamped her jaw shut as the guards dragged her into the Great Hall of the Eel, past the throng of townsmen.


They hacked and snarled at her, their disgust striking her face like rain. She held her chin high but with her hands secured behind her back, she couldn’t wipe her face clean.


Foul-smelling fishermen, goat-herders in hessian, callous-handed blacksmiths and even merchants dressed in silk shoved and jostled her as she struggled through the crowd.


Hands grabbed her hair. Strange fingers tore at her grubby clothes and groped her breasts. She gasped through clenched teeth, her heartbeat pounding in her ears.

But she said nothing.

Soon she would speak and they would be forced to listen.


The guards shoved her into a chair in the centre of the room beside the others. She grunted as her elbow struck the hard wood. The Masters of the Shield and the Scion sat in front of her. Behind them was the low dais where the High Table sat and the forest green, gold and terracotta tapestry woven with the eel sigil of Ambrovna covered the wall.

The side door opened, hushing the mob and the Duke entered, his golden brooch glinting against his terracotta-red surcoat. The guards thumped their swords against their shields to announce his arrival, a deafening metallic din rising up to the vaulted ceiling. The pushing stopped and the townsmen bowed their heads.

Her belly clenched like a fist.

As he sat on the carved wooden throne, the blank-faced Duke nodded to the Master of the Shield. Lord Kalin lifted a dark eyebrow and began.

‘Men of Ambrovna. According to the laws of the Kingdom of the Four Rivers and the Duchy of Ambrovna, Gerthorn Nyvard, the thirty-fourth Duke of Ambrovna is present in this Great Hall to hear the accusations made against these women. In this realm, the Duke’s decision is final and justice will be served today.’

She rolled back her shoulders and lifted her chin. She was ready.

Women of Wasps and War – available now through Amazon or Kindle Unlimited.

#64 – Christopher Ruz – Write Through The Roof

Interview with horror and fantasy writer Christopher Ruz

‘Look for people who are one or two stages ahead of where you’re at.’

Episode 64 – Christopher Ruz – Show Notes

  • Doesn’t know how to write short stories any more.
  • Tries to write every day – most productive when writing every day
  • Rituals – encasing in a bubble, getting rid of visual distraction and white noise.
  • Pomodoro method – 100 words every 5 minutes.
  • Themes – horror-based but fantasy and sci-fi. But also spy fiction
  • A narrow focus on character – even with epic fantasy using a single narrator.
  • Using a single narrator to create tension with a timeline
  • Finding a group of writers who were better than him
  • Penny Arcade, Discord, Reddit, Twitter
  • Dictation in the car with a lapel mic
  • Cormac McCarthy, Emma Osborne, NK Jemesin, James SA Corey
  • China Mieville and Joe Hill – horror short stories
  • The Ragged Blade – epic fantasy – inspired by a vivid dream – started as a short story
  • All These Shiny Worlds
  • Working on The Ragged Blade 2 (yet unnamed)
  • Originally self-published the first two parts of The Ragged Blade
  • The journey from self-published to traditionally published

‘The novel is the lazy form’

‘Every change they recommended made it a better story’


Women of Wasps and War

My new novel is available now as an ebook on Amazon

Women of Wasps and War

The Sting of Justice

Agata, the Duchess of Ambrovna, was never meant to take the throne. 

In a land where men rule, her sole purpose was to smile and curtsey.

However, when war left her land leaderless, the Fatherhood religion begrudgingly allowed a first; a woman to rule. 

Now the war is over the men have returned more arrogant and cruel than ever, and the Duchess is shoved back into a life of needlework and silence.

But with her new thirst for justice, Agata is reluctant to allow her country to return to its old ways.

Without her position of power, Agata and her circle of women look to the taboo wisdom of the Wasp Women for answers. But this ancient knowledge comes with consequences, and with death and treachery on the horizon, Agata must decide whether it is worth the risk. 

Women of Wasps and War is a grim, gripping tale of power and politics, and the heart-breaking struggle between love and honour.

#63 – Toby Neal – Write Through The Roof

Interview with best-selling romance & mystery writer Toby Neal

‘People are preoccupied by crime because we want to recognise the wolves in our midst’

Episode 63 – Toby Neal – Show Notes

  • Writing is like a muscle – needs regular workouts
  • 2000 words a day target
  • Both a plotter and a pantser. More pantser for romance and plotter for mysteries
  • Recording affirmations and listening prior to writing session
  • Themes of good versus evil and the shades of grey in everyone and how love can overcome a multitude of problems
  • Dark themes but with hope – fascinated with the duality between dark and light
  • Mastering your craft – Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell – the 10,000 hour rule
  • Take off your pants – Libbie Hawker – the hero needs to find a cure for their flaw
  • Unconventional childhood – Memoir – Freckles
  • Putting off writing goals for security – started with an anonymous blog – using real life experience as a school counsellor
  • Speeding up the writing process
  • Dictation, health and accessing creative brain by writing longhand
  • Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens, The Outlander series – Diana Gabaldon
  • Wired Truth: multi-cultural kick-ass female main character. Pushing the envelope for what’s acceptable with female behaviour. Experimenting with different kinds of love.

‘Nothing but writing is going to make you a better writer’

‘I tried to do literary fiction and I bored myself by page 40’


Music for writing – atmospheric synths

Today’s music recommendations are all about the synths. Instrumental of course, because this is music for writing.

These artists aren’t necessarily soundtrack composers (although sometimes they are) but their electronic music creates a special dark atmospheric mood.


S U R V I V E is a dark synth group from Texas and two of the members are well known for creating the ‘Stranger Things’ TV series soundtrack. Their music reminds me of 80s horror films with a touch of early Depeche Mode.

Pentagram Home Video

I know very little about this band but their music and soundtracks create a sombre yet eerie backdrop for my writing.

Cryo Chamber

Now Cryo Chamber is not an artist but a record label focusing on dark ambient music. Their YouTube channel features a whole bunch of curated playlists, releases and mixes for atmospheric writing or sleep.

If you’d like to listen to all my recommendations in one place, head to the Spotify playlist.

Happy writing.

#62 – Suzanne J Willis – Write Through The Roof

Episode 62 with Suzanne J Willis – fantasy short story & flash-fiction writer

‘The best kind of fairies, you know, the nasty ones’

Episode 62 – Suzanne J Willis – Show Notes

  • A natural pantser but learning to plot and outline. A structure helps to hit the right beats
  • Making notes every day but not writing every day
  • Tea and chocolate – freckles
  • Connection between music and writing: lyrical and poetic.
  • Themes of lack of belonging, search for self or a home, life and music
  • Learning that the language is secondary to the story and the interaction between characters gives rise to the plot
  • Writing novellas: taking up an opportunity
  • Jeanette Winterson, Patricia McKillip, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Angela Slater
  • Importance of word of mouth for recommendations
  • Portals and evil fairies in ‘Silver String in between worlds’
  • Novella for Broken Cities shared world for Falstaff Books.
  • Upcoming stories in Syntax & Salt Magazine

‘The language is inseparable from the story itself’

‘It’s a good thing to learn your bad habits.


Music for Writing – dark & spooky moods

Most of the time I need music for writing. And the right kind of music. Like books and stories, I’ve always had a passion for music.

This is a new series where I’ll be sharing what I’m listening to.

Today is dark and spooky music for dark and spooky moods.

Here are three artists to inspire your dark and spooky writing.

Lebanon Hanover

Lebanon Hanover is a German-British goth electric duo. Think New Order with Nico. Great music for taphophiles and recovering goths.

Bohren and der Club of Gore

Bohren and der Club of Gore are slow, languid, dark and jazzy. Known as ‘doom jazz’, this is reminiscent of smoky clubs, noir with a touch of Twin Peaks.

John Carpenter

‘Horror-synth’ is another musical genre I gravitate towards when writing horror or general dark stuff. And John Carpenter is the grand-daddy of them all. His synth soundtracks create the perfect sense of dread.

I hope you enjoy these atmosphere-creating tunes.

If you’re writing something dark and spooky, what music do you listen to?

Edit: I’ve created a Spotify playlist featuring the artists above.

Spotify – Music for Writing playlist

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