The Year of Ancient Ghosts: haunting stuff

year of ancient ghosts by kim wilkinsThe Year of Ancient Ghosts (Ticonderoga Publications, 2013) is the first collection for Brisbane writer Kim Wilkins, who has more than 20 books to her credit.

Her work spans children’s, YA, adult dark fantasy and horror, and women’s lit, but this collection of five novellas — two previously unpublished — is firmly rooted in fantasy. It’s damned impressive, too.

It opens with the titular story, a touching tale in which a wife and mother takes her young daughter to a remote Scottish locale, there to discover more about her husband’s past and the supernatural traditions of his home.

The other new story in this collection is the final one, ‘The Lark and the River’, a beautifully rendered description, inspired by an actual place, of the collision between Norman monotheism and Celtic paganism, with our heroine caught in the middle.

australian women writers review challenge logoIn the middle, one novella presages a long-awaited and yet-to-arrive traditional fantasy story in which illicit love threatens a realm; another revisits Arthurian myth, again with a focus on the heroine in Bathory-hot water; and the third also happens in the contemporary world, but with Norse gods involved — the Kiwi television show The Almighty Johnsons came to mind when reading this one.

Character is queen in these stories, the fears and ambitions of the heroines pulling us through the realistically rendered worlds. Wilkins’s love of Norse and Celtic history comes to the fore in the small details so unobtrusively but effectively used in the setting, opening a window into the life of her societies and the challenges her characters face.

The two new stories are perhaps the most emotive, dealing as they do with heartfelt loss, and the emotional world as dutifully, smoothly rendered as the physical one.

I can only hope Wilkins gets to that high fantasy novel sooner rather than later.

  • This is my sixth review as part of the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge — the first was Glenda Larke’s Havenstar; the second, Krissy Kneen’s Steeplechase; the third, Christine Bongers’ Dust; the fourth, Alison Croggon’s Black Spring; and the fifth, Courtney Collins’s The Burial.
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  • Ticonderoga’s recommended reading list: we have squee!

    years best fantasy and horror 2012Just a wee note to say, yay, ‘Mornington Ride’ from Epilogue and ‘Breaking the Wire’ from Aurealis #47 have been included in the recommended reading list from Ticonderoga Publications’ forthcoming Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2012. ‘Last Boat to Eden’, from Surviving the End, is included in the volume (I blogged the full contents of this packed volume here). My ego aside, it’s a good place to start if you’re looking to take the pulse of short Aussie dark fiction. The book is available for pre-order.

    Havenstar: a bright beginning, revisited

    havenstar by glenda larke
    In this standalone fantasy, Glenda Larke shows the world building, characterisation and thematic grist that make her one of my favourite fantasy writers.

    Larke has made Havenstar, originally published by Virgin Books in the UK in 1999 under the name of Glenda Noramly, available as an e-book, and the book will get the full treatment from Ticonderoga Publications in May.

    Havenstar is notable for its imaginative setting: islands of stability set in an ever changing wilderness ruled by chaos, the result of a massive battle a thousand years ago that, meteorite-like, changed the face of the planet. Now the god of chaos, a cruel spirit indeed, rules the wastes, threatening to destroy those few outposts of order.

    The islands are held together by strict social order overseen by a priesthood and their devotions to structure, but of course there is corruption and jealousy.

    Larke isn’t much of one for patriarchy and blind adherence, and so her heroes are questioners and adventurers who look past the strictures for the truth between the lines. There is an almost Biblical undertone as the spirit of chaos offers temptations to those in the wilderness, for the price of a soul and a type of damnation: for some, the price is worth it; others are more ruthlessly afflicted and victimised.

    More about Glenda Larke in last year’s snapshot

    The magic system is, typically for Larke, imaginative and logical, using a type of ley line as a key element, and showing the power of knowledge and even art (the trompleri maps here are perhaps an early template for the magical paintings used in the Watergivers series).

    awwbadge_2013Mapmaker Keris finds herself on the road with a wonderfully eclectic mix of fellow travellers making the pilgrimage among the stabilities, and braving the dangers of chaos along the way.

    It’s a superbly drawn world, complex but simply explained without recourse to massive info dumps — so enjoyable to learn about a world through the interactions of the characters rather than slabs of data.

    Each chapter is headed by an excerpt from the holy writings, lending some sense of history — the teachings are relevant to the story, although elements of prophecy I probably could’ve done without given their absence of much mystery, though I have to admit, what’s a holy book without some kind of prophecy about the end of days or the better times ahead? Carrot and stick, carrot and stick … and a little tension, too.

    havenstar by glenda larke, ticonderoga issue
    The characters carry this story, whether Keris’s guilt over abandoning her family to pursue her own happiness, or her love interest’s tragic past with all the weight and darkness it brings, or the driven, blind visionary who has his own agenda.

    One of the themes of the story is the debate between law and chaos, restraint and free rein, and both are presented in shades of grey.

    The e-book has been given a light revisit by the author, and could’ve used another proofread, but it is a striking debut, well worth the downloading for lovers of intelligent and beautifully realised fantasy.

  • Glenda Larke, who has lived overseas for many years, is returning to her native Western Australia this year. She runs a workshop on world building on April 25 as part of Conflux in Canberra.

  • This is my first review as part of the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge.
  • Pre-order Epilogue – tales of hope after the apocalypse

    epilogue - tales of hope after the apocalypseFableCroft has opened pre-orders on Epilogue, an anthology of stories about finding hope in the aftermath of the apocalypse. It’s exciting to read that the anthology is to be launched at Continuum in June, where Twelfth Planet Press should also be letting my Australian Gothic Salvage loose on the public as well.

    Another title being launched at Continuum is Bread and Circuses (also available for pre-order), an anthology by the inimitable Felicity Dowker. Nom nom nom!

    There are some old hands and new chums in the table of contents of Epilogue, which should make for some interesting and perhaps atypical reading for stories in this setting. Epilogue costs $20 including postage.

    Also worth pointing out is that FableCroft has put After the Rain on special for $15 inc postage; it includes my cyberpunk yarn ‘Wet Work’.

    And here’s a clue to one of the themes of my ‘Epilogue’ story, ‘Mornington Ride’:


    Writerly news

    Catching up after time away and largely off-line at Adelaide Writers Week, and there’s good news:

    when we have wings by claire corbettBarbara Jefferis Award shortlist: Claire Corbett’s SF novel When We Have Wings (which I am STILL to read, damnit) is on the shortlist of the Barbara Jefferis Award. Sean the Bookonaut, who I met for the first time in Adelaide, recently interviewed Claire: listen here.

    Mythic Resonance: editor Stephen Thompson — how long has it been since he compiled the Vision writers group’s Glimpses anthology? — has a new anthology, Mythic Resonance, which, as the name suggests, riffs off myths. Excerpts are available at the Specusphere.

    Thirteen O’Clock: a new aggregator of dark fiction news has hit the interwebs. The blog also posted an excellent piece on the difference between horror and dark fantasy recently.

    Narrelle Harris reveals Showtime: The Melbourne author of The Opposite of Life is the latest in Twelfth Planet Press’s Twelve Planets series, offering ghosts, vampires and zombies in a four-story collection that includes an appearance of some old friends.

    Aurealis #48 in the ether: Aurealis #48, with stories by Rick Kennett and Greg Mellor, is available from Smashwords.

    Ticonderoga living large in 2013: the WA press already has an exciting schedule for 2013, including several collections by both veteran and tyro writers and the continuing Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror.

    And Chris Meade on Queensland’s writing future: the if:book pioneer reflects on his experience in Queensland and considers how my home state might leverage itself in the global literary landscape with ‘big sky writing‘. It’s also worth checking out if:book Australia’s 24 Hour Book Project for a hands-on view of how technology is changing the publishing industry.

    Angry Robot opens its doors again, and other writerly news

    Hot on the heels of Penguin’s new open door program, British press Angry Robot is again appealing to unagented authors — they signed three debut novelists from last year’s program — but this time are being quite specific about what they want: classic fantasy and YA SF and fantasy. The submission period is April 16-30 using a website uploader. Details are here.

  • Tansy Rayner Roberts is sharing the love — a combined book launch with Margo Lanagan for those lucky enough to have easy access to Hobart (Lanagan has riffed her Sea Hearts novella from X6 into a novel, how tasty!) — and a reprint that shows even a story written for a specific universe can have legs outside it (and indeed, TRR’s yarn breaks more boundaries than that little piffle).
  • Alan Baxter has shared his love, too: the forthcoming ‘paranoirmal’ anthology Damnation and Dames from Ticonderoga with its whoop arse cover and two collaborations in its TOC. I look at the bare scraping of confused and contradictory notes on my hard drive and lament; there are two more upcoming titles I doubt I’ll be able to submit to, but they’re worth a look: issue 7 of Midnight Echo, closing this month, and another paranormal anthology, Bloodstones, open February–May.
  • And here’s pause for thought in the aftermath of Australia Day, in which Lit-icism considers the call for renewed focus on Australian literature. The part that especially struck a chord with me was this, from Italian academic Tim Parkes:

    Parkes laments what is essentially a globalisation of literature in which novels provide no authentic sense of place at all, but are instead tailored to a global market by dealing with ‘universal’ – read: more widely marketable and international prizewinning – themes.

    This is partly why I took up the pen with a view to being published — to see my country, my culture, reflected in the types of stories that I like to read. It’s heartening to see authors such as Trent Jamieson able to set their fiction in Brisbane — Brisbane! — and still find not only a wider audience, but an overseas publisher willing to run with it. It’s pleasing to see someone send some Aussie sensibility across the water, rather than regurgitating a trope-laden backdrop of New York or London.

    It’s not just eucalyptus trees (hey, they have plenty in California, anyway) — it’s viewpoint. It’s attitude. It’s how we see the world. Sharing these things is how we help us all to understand each other — not just the different priorities or approaches we might take, but also the similarities: parents what a better world for their children, for instance. Language plays an incredibly powerful part in informing culture, and where else to find its evolution than in literature?

    Parkes is talking about more than setting: he’s talking about themes and those, he suggests, can be culturally specific and deserve attention. Sure, though I’m not convinced that domestic themes don’t have wider resonance.

    Australia doesn’t have the history of European countries in dealing with certain social ills, for instance — no civil war, no religious schisms — but the social history of those events can still impact on us; we can see movements here, we can relate to the humanity of the issue, we can learn a lesson.

    And I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss universal themes. Harking back to Australia Day, is the Australian experience of colonialism, from invader or invaded viewpoint, any different to that of Canada or South Africa? How? What does it do to us? Perhaps a culture’s, or a subculture’s, response to those universal themes is equally important as those purely domestic discussions (assuming they exist).

  • Tasty reviews for Ticonderoga’s fangtastic anthologies

    more scary kisses paranormal romance anthology

    dead red heart Australian vampire anthology

    Publishers Weekly has posted reviews of two forthcoming Ticonderoga Publications anthologies — Dead Red Heart (“solid”) and More Scary Kisses (“beguiling”) — and that’d be a thumbs up for both — yay! Both anthologies are due out around Easter. And yup, I’m chuffed to say that I’ve got stories in both of them.