AHWA Short Story and Flash Fiction Competition winners announced

The Australian Horror Writers’ Association (AHWA) runs a competition every year for both short stories (1,000 to 8,000 words) and flash fiction (up to 1,000 words). This is a blind-judged contest with three judges. This year the competition was judged by Joanne Anderton, Guy Salvidge and Ashlee Scheuerman.

In the short story category this year, the judges gave a joint win and five Honourable Mentions. In the Flash category there was a single winner and four Honourable Mentions.

All the winners and HMs are:


Alan Baxter, “It’s Always the Children Who Suffer”
Zena Shapter, “Darker”

SHORT STORY HONOURABLE MENTIONS (in no particular order):

Cassandra Newman, “Divorce Granted”
Ron Schroer, “Lustbader”
Shaun Taylor, “Open Windows, Closed Doors”
Noel Osualdini, “Skin”
Sam Howard, “Wee Willie Winkie”


Tim Hawken, “Moonlight Sonata”


Noel Osualdini, “Night Escape”
Mark Farrugia, “Palatable”
Mike Pieloor, “The Itch”
Alan Baxter, “Under a Wing and a Prayer”

Congratulations to all.

The three winning stories will be published in a future issue of Midnight Echo magazine.


Dark Rite by Alan Baxter and David Wood – Review by Damien Smith

DISCLAIMER: Thirteen O’Clock is managed by Alan Baxter, Felicity Dowker and Andrew McKiernan as Contributing Editors. While the Contributing Editors’ roles at Thirteen O’Clock are editorial and critique, all three are primarily writers. It is inevitable that their own work will form part of the Australian and international dark fiction publications which are Thirteen O’Clock’s focus, and as such it is also inevitable that their work will be reviewed at Thirteen O’Clock (to prohibit this would not only be unfortunate for Baxter, Dowker and McKiernan themselves, but for their hardworking editors and publishers).

Thirteen O’Clock will always have a third party contributor review the Contributing Editors’ work. Such reviews will be unedited (aside from standard corrections to typos and grammar), posted in full (be they negative or positive), and will always be accompanied by full disclosure of Baxter, Dowker and McKiernan’s place at Thirteen O’Clock. At no point will Baxter, Dowker or McKiernan review their own work.

Dark Rite webDark Rite by Alan Baxter and David Wood

ISBN: 978-1940095004

Gryphonwood Press

Dark Rite is the inaugural collaboration between Thrillercast co-hosts Alan Baxter and David Wood. It sits on the cusp between a long novella and a short novel (just over 40,000 words for the pedantic) which means, whilst difficult for award judges to classify, it is able to deliver a novel’s worth of story and action in a package that’s easy to digest in an afternoon.

We open with our protagonist, Grant Shipman, heading to the tiny Appalachian hamlet of Wallen’s Gap to deal with the deceased estate of his father. Dumped remotely by his girlfriend of three years and no longer tied down to anyone or anything he seriously considers joining the seemingly friendly community permanently.

However, such thoughts are short-lived as he begins to unearth some disturbing facts about the town, its people and history. As a result, he quickly manages to inadvertently scare off Cassie, the only normal-seeming local, and have some disturbing run-ins with the resident banjo-wielding heavies.

With Cassie’s help, he begins to piece together an increasingly horrifying history of Wallen’s Gap and its occupants despite being stone-walled at every turn. Throw in a brutal public murder in broad daylight for good measure and Grant and Cassie realise they’re stuck firmly in the middle of a small town conspiracy of Hot Fuzzian proportions.

It becomes increasingly clear that there was more to the death of Grant’s father and the conspiracy enwrapping them is more than two people can handle. Dark cults, magic, brutal violence, witches and warlocks crash together and spiral towards a bloody and catastrophic conclusion with the unstopability of a demonic freight train.

Although I’ve not had the pleasure of reading David Wood’s works to date (something I plan to rectify shortly) I have read many of Alan Baxter’s works and whilst the dark cult was no shock, the main protagonist surprised me somewhat. Rather than being some heroic skull-cracking anti-hero, Grant Shipman is nothing more than an ordinary man. A young, fit, no-nonsense man for sure, but still with all the familiar problems and frailties of anyone else in the world and therefore easy to relate to.

Whilst nothing else particularly caught me off guard as the story played out, it was nonetheless a rollercoaster ride that kept me turning the pages until I was almost late for work. This story ticks all the boxes of a rollicking action / cult mystery, including the obligatory hook at the end, and would make a fantastic movie should that option ever arise. Wood and Baxter have managed to construct an engaging, punchy story that is dark enough to sate the bloody-minded but not too dark to keep the rest of us up at night, and for less than the price of the coffee, this is definitely worth the investment of an afternoon.

Damien Smith has heard that to be a great writer, one must read a lot and write a lot. While the former is covered off in spades, he reserves the latter for when he can actually imagine something stranger than his young family and the world around them can throw at him. If you’d met his family, the frequency of his writing may surprise you and give you some insight into his mind. Occasionally his stories even get published.


The Twelve by Justin Cronin – review by Andrew Kliem

14bCroninThe Passage was one of the huge dark fiction success stories of 2010. Written by Rice University professor and author Justin Cronin, the manuscript ignited a bidding war before even being completed, resulting in a $3.5 million advance and a further $1.5 million for the film rights. In the publisher speak, that means they’re planning for it to be kind of a big deal. Thankfully it lived up to their expectations, climbing the New York Times best seller list and earning praise from such horror luminaries as Stephen King.

Now two years later, the sequel is upon us. The Twelve continues the story of a world in rapid and rather bloody decline, and for the most part it’s a worthy successor to The Passage. It moves at the same rapid fire pace, is written in the same elegant prose, and evokes the same sense of creeping dread. Unfortunately however, the niggling problems from the first story also return, including the frequent point of view switches and the sometimes ethereal plot devices, meaning if the first book wasn’t your thing then this one is unlikely to change your mind.

For those unfamiliar with the series, it is basically a post apocalyptic tale told on an epic scale. Think The Stand, but with genetically engineered vampires. Twelve death row inmates are infected with a potent new virus in a government super soldier program, and as so often seems to happen when bio-weapons are involved, things get a little out of control.

Rather than following directly on from the events of the first novel, The Twelve starts by taking us back to the beginning of the outbreak and introducing us to a group of new characters who will play key roles later in the story. It then proceeds to jump back and forward both in time and perspective, between these new players and those left at the end of the first book. Initially I found this rather jarring. There are a lot of narratives to keep track of and it can be confusing ordering everything correctly given the constant changes in time period. But as you make it further in, the story begins to take shape and all those disjointed threads gradually pull together.

Because new introductions are required, the book doesn’t burst out of the gates at the very beginning like many other sequels, but by the middle it starts picking up steam and then it never really stops, culminating in one of the more intricate and epic climaxes I’ve read recently. The writing also aids the sense of pace, striking a good balance between tight, punchy prose and delicate description.

With so many perspective shifts, no character really gets more page time than any other, so picking a single protagonist is difficult, but the person who ties everything together is a girl named Amy — the central character of the first story. Infected with a modified version of the vampire virus, she is seemingly immortal and it is really her quest that the other characters get pulled into. In The Passage, she was chasing Babcock, the first of the infected. Now she is on the hunt for the rest of the titular Twelve.

The plot has too many strands to really elaborate on here, but suffice to say there is plenty of tension, action and a surprising number of poignant moments. The vampires (or Virals as they are called) are also noteworthy. In the age of undead creatures who glitter in the sun, it’s nice to occasionally be reminded that vampires used to be rather terrifying. The Virals in The Twelve are more animal than man; leaping, powerful, blood hungry creatures that are virtually unstoppable for regular humans. They prefer decapitation and dismemberment to brooding conversation, which should have horror fans jumping for joy.

My one big criticism — and this was a problem I had with The Passage too — is that the book occasionally ventures into mystical territory. Conversations take place involving characters who are long dead, and there are a handful of events that happen for rather intangible reasons. This is loosely explained in the context of the story, but I can’t help feeling that it would have been a stronger book without these elements.

While this took away from my enjoyment a little, ultimately The Twelve was still an entertaining read. It treads that thin line between blockbuster genre fiction and quality writing and does so with aplomb. If you dug The Passage or just like a bit of post apocalyptic mayhem every now and again, you’ll definitely enjoy this book.

- Review by Andrew Kliem.

The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson – Review by Halinka Orszulok

The-Daylight-GateThe Daylight Gate
by Jeanette Winterson
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Hammer
ISBN: 978-0099561859

When I saw The Daylight Gate on the shelf in the bookshop I was immediately intrigued. I know that Winterson is a writer whose name carries much weight but must confess, have never read her work before. So when I saw this morsel of a book with its elegant and darkly suggestive cover I eagerly picked it up.

Novella length, the story is a classic tale of horror and witchcraft and also a thoroughly researched piece of historical fiction. It is set during the Trial of The Lancashire Witches in 1612, the most famous of the English witch trials and the first to be documented in a supposed eye witness account ‘The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancashire’ by the lawyer, Thomas Potts. The introduction is very helpful in contextualising the story; she says that ‘the places are real places… The characters are real people, though I have taken liberties with their motives and their means.’

This gap between an understanding of historical fact and satisfying, emotionally meaningful narrative is where Winterson weaves her craft. The main crux of the story seems to be a question she poses in the introduction, why was Alice Nutter, an independent and successful industrialist of very comfortable means, tried alongside more typical victims of the witch trials, those on the very lowest rungs of the social ladder?

The horror in the story exists on all sides, enacted by both the ‘witches’ and those privileged with the power to cast judgement over them. There are some truly horrifying moments that will make most people’s toes curl and hit home at a very gut level, not just physical violence but other grotesque forms of abuse. This was a truly brutal time and, in the cross section of society, rich and poor, that this tale portrays, loyalty and goodness is often trumped by fear, indifference and an ugly struggle for power.

Knowing a little of Winterson’s background I wondered whether there would be an overtly feminist tone to this work given that it deals with an atrocity where mainly women were persecuted. It is indeed told very much from a woman’s perspective but I was pleased that there were villains and saints on both sides of the gender divide. Her voice is strong and clear and her message seems to be about the enduring nature of love. Winterson’s love is not a soft romantic ideal, it is its own beast that may at times tear at your flesh, but is not to be resisted. It seems that her protagonist, Alice, accepts this, it is her fate and her guiding principal.

I very much admire the style of prose, it is both economical and highly descriptive. There is nothing flowery, it is very much to the point, yet she still paints a rich picture. Place plays an important role in the telling of this story. On the first page she sets the scene at Pendle Hill in Lancashire:

“The North is the dark place. It is not safe to be buried on the north side of the church and the North Door is the way of the Dead…. The hill itself is low and massy, flat-topped, brooding, disappeared in mists, treacherous with fast-flowing streams plunging into waterfalls crashing down into unknown pools. Underfoot is the black rock that is the spine of this place.”

This sense of economy extends to the length of the work – I was curious to see how she would pull off a story of such scope in the novella format but it seems to sit perfectly within that length. It lends the work the feeling of a lovely little artefact, this is a book that I think asks to be owned in a physical, preferably hard cover format.

My one gripe is that I felt a little let down with the ending. Now obviously I have to be very careful about giving anything away here but let’s just say that it felt just a little bit of an easy way out for an author and echoed the endings of other stories. I still overall enjoyed the story very much and am thinking about giving it a re-read which is something I don’t really do but as this is such a condensed and intense tale I feel it might be even more enjoyable the second time around.

Another point of interest for lovers of horror is the fact that this work is published by Hammer. That’s right, as in Hammer House of Horror:

“Hammer’s literary agency is now being revived through its new partnership with Arrow Books. This series will feature original novellas which will span the literary and the mass market, the esoteric and the commercial, by some of today’s most celebrated authors, as well as classic stories from more than five decades of production.”

So there you go! Hopefully more intriguing, quality fiction to come yet.

Review by Halinka Orszulok
Halinka is an artist from the south coast of NSW, Australia. You can see examples of her work at her website: www.halinka.com.au


Giants #1 (of 5) – review by Greg Chapman

giantsGiants #1 (of 5), Phatsville Comix, 2012

Written and Illustrated by John Stewart.

28 pages, black and white, colour cover

Cover price: $AUD8.00

Available from Ace Comics and Comic Warriors in Brisbane and Pulp Fiction Comics in Adelaide.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Phatsville-Comix/71645272100

Australian comics have produced some real gems in recent years, like Sherlock Holmes: The Dark Detective, Eek and Changing Ways to name just a few. Created by dedicated artists and writers in lounge rooms and garages across the country, these comics might not have the financial backing of the big comics’ publishers, but the vision and passion of the artists is just as strong.

Phatsville Comix is no exception.

In between reading entries for the Australian Shadows Awards, I managed to read the first issue of a new comic from Phatsville – Giants, written and illustrated by one of the publisher’s founders, John Stewart.

Giants is a really cool concept, sort of Clash of the Titans in a post-apocalyptic Edwardian landscape. The world has become overrun by giants and while many simply hide from them in fear, there are others who choose to hunt them.

I really enjoyed this comic. It had a rich and dark atmosphere. Stewart has a unique drawing style which has just the right balance of light and shadow and his character design has a real Hieronymus Bosch feel to it.

The story was intriguing, with just enough mystery to make you want to read more and there are also some very nicely drawn action scenes and splash pages.

If there is one downside, it’s in the text, but nothing that couldn’t be prevented by some preliminary editing.

Overall this was a fine start to what could be a memorable limited series and it’s great to see Phatsville taking a more mainstream approach to its comics.

Review by Greg Chapman

Bottled Abyss by Benjamin Kane Ethridge – review by Greg Chapman

Bottled Abyss by Benjamin Kane Ethridge
Paperback: 332 pages
Publisher: Redrum Horror (June 30, 2012)
ISBN: 978-0984751952

Benjamin Kane Ethridge, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Black & Orange (2010), has a new tome – Bottled Abyss – that will no doubt earn him a second bronze haunted castle statue next year.

Bottled Abyss takes on the well-worn trope of exploring the meaning of life and death and binds it to classical myth, namely the legend of the Ferryman. But instead of focussing on the myth or blatantly trying to re-invent it (although he does twist it into fresher territory), Ethridge poses the question of “if you had the power of death, how would you wield it?”
Ethridge masterfully touches on themes of grief, loss and redemption through each of the main characters, but primarily via Herman and Janet Erikson, whose marriage is in turmoil after the tragic death of their daughter Melody when she was hit by a car driven by criminals.

Since her death, Janet has resorted to drinking heavily and distanced herself from the world. The tale enters supernatural territory when Herman goes looking for their missing dog and finds it near death. A strange man with an oar-like cane saves the dog by letting it drink from an equally strange bottle. The dog coughs up a coin and a price must be paid to a gargantuan beast from the depths of the River Styx.

And so begins the cycle of a “death-for-a-death”.

The beast, known as The Fury, is probably one of the most horrific monsters I’ve ever come across in horror fiction and it was fantastic to see a creature that wasn’t your oh-so-common shambling zombie!

Temptation also plays a big part in the plot as Janet and Herman come into possession of the bottle and realise its power. A single drop of the waters from the River Styx is enough to conjure a coin from anyone and summon the beast and Janet suddenly has eyes for the man who took her daughter’s life.

Without giving too much more of the plot away, the character viewpoints are constantly shifting from Janet and Herman and their friends, married couple Evan and Faye, and we even get to go inside the heads of the people who have the misfortune of coming into the contact with the waters and face-to-face with the Fury.

This may irk some readers, but I found it enthralling as I got to know more about each character through their interactions with the bottle.

Ultimately the story is about choice as well and its repercussions, with Janet and the others falling victim themselves to the bottle’s promise of salvation and like with any Hell of any mythology, the chance of escape is unlikely.

The suspense, characterisation and plot of Bottled Abyss will definitely grab you by the throat and hold you until the final page, dragging you deep into the cold waters of the River Styx. So get yourself a copy and dive in because you won’t forget this journey anytime soon!

The Author provided a copy for review.

Review by Greg Chapman

Exotic Gothic 4, edited by Danel Olson – review by Mario Guslandi

Exotic Gothic 4 edited by Danel Olson

Publisher: PS Publishing 2012 (Postscript No 28/29)

ISBN 978-1-848633-33-9 (Hardcover)

After three volumes published by the Canadian imprint Ash-Tree Press, the successful series Exotic Gothic has now been handed down into the capable hands of the British PS Publishing.

Editor Danel Olson has assembled twenty-five stories by a distinguished group of genre experts, set in different locations, addressing a diversity of themes but sharing the character of modern gothic fiction.

For some reason (mere coincidence?) the best stories are those with a distinctive exotic flavor, while the weaker tales , in my opinion, are those located in Europe and North America.

As in any anthology, not everything will please everybody, let alone the present reviewer. Thus, I’ll take the liberty to mention only the stories which seem to me the most accomplished of the lot.

“Pig Thing” by Adam LG Nevill is a sinister, excellent tale set in the New Zealand “bush”, where a lethal creature is on the loose, while “The Lighthouse Keepers’ Club” by Kaaron Warren is the gloomy report of a young man’s challenging experience as the temporary warden of a lighthouse used as a prison for long-term inmates.

Lucy Taylor contributes “Nikishi” a vivid, splendid piece taking place in Namibia, describing how a man gets tragically acquainted with the existence of the mythical were-hyenas. Another excellent tale set in Africa is “The Fourth Horse” by Simon Kurt Unsworth, magnificently blending supernatural horror and politics, with a generous touch of eroticism to make the dish even more spicy.

Latin America provides the right environment for a couple of great stories. In Robert Hood’s beautifully crafted “Escena de un Asesinato” a Zapatist ghost takes revenge by means of a picture taken by a professional photographer and David Wellington’s “Atacama” is a fascinating tale of horror, greed and vengeance occurring among the disquieting mummies of the Atacama desert.

“Oschaert” is yet another of Paul Finch’s strong and colourful stories, where a WW1 British soldier has to endure a horror more frightening than war itself while the complex “Such A Man I Would Have Become” by E Michael Lewis is a truly gothic tale revolving around the terror brought about by an evil twin.

Fans of the new gothic who have enjoyed the first three volumes won’t be disappointed with this fourth installment, which confirms once again that horrific and weird atmospheres are not confined within the walls of Scottish castles or haunted Victorian houses but can be found anywhere in the world.

- review by Mario Guslandi