Thank You

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

A-Z of Horror: Complete Collection: Fear from beginning to end by [Wright, Iain Rob]I have just finished reading the excellent A-Z of Horror by Iain Rob Wright. It's a brilliant collection of horror short stories that shocked, titillated, surprised and amused. Each story never failed to hit its mark and it's been one of the most fun reading experiences I've enjoyed in a long time.

At the end of the book, in a short afterword, Mr Wright points out how important reviews are to authors. Book-selling algorithms are built on positive reviews and, the more positive reviews a book receives, the better chance it has of reaching more readers.

Consequently, this blog post is for two reasons.

Firstly, I want to say I'm just off to write a five star review for Mr Wright's excellent book.

And, secondly, I want to say a public thank you to the writer who left this review for my own horror novel, Doll House:

I bought this book from the author at a book signing. I was there for other reasons but thought I'd hang around and see what was going on. The writer, Dr Ashley Lister (the Dr thing I discovered later) read a couple of passages. It sounded quite good so, and being as I had read 'Raven and Skull' Lister's first horror novel, I went with the crowd and got myself a signed copy.

I must confess as with a lot of books I buy, it sat on my shelf for a while. Once I did pick it hooked me in. Not like a big slap in the face "That was the best opening paragraph I've ever read!" kind of thing, no. Lister's style has away drawing you in. It flows over you and before you know it you are 4 chapters in and on the edge of your seat.

I'm not going to talk about the story. You can read the blurb on here and I see other reviews cover that. I want to talk about the feel. This book was great because it was a fun fright. A bit like reading Dean R Koontz, James Herbert or Stephen King, it makes you wince, it makes you want to hide, but overall you feel excited by being frightened. Lister has his own style, however, there is enough in the text to show how much he loves the genre.

I reached the end and smiled. 'Doll House' gave my horror itch a good old scratch and if you like your horror in that 70s/80s horror masters fashion, then read this. It comes from the pen of a fellow fan.

To paraphrase Mr Wright's point - reviews can make or break an author.  If you've read a book and enjoyed it, please leave a review.


Quirky Characters

Sunday, 1 December 2019

 by Ashley Lister

One of the main reasons we read is to meet new and exciting characters who are doing new and exciting things. Whether it’s a Christian Grey, a Jane Eyre or Winnie the Pooh, we want to meet these novel individuals who have been brought to life through fiction.

There are several ways to make fictional characters come to life from the page, many of which I discuss in my book, How to WriteShort Stories and Get Them Published. However, one of the main ways to create a character, a character that lives beyond the page, is to make them quirky. Quirky characters stay in the minds of our readers. Quirky character traits, because they’re so unusual, give the reader a sense of realism when they notice they’re reading about someone with unconventional behaviour that they have seen in the real world.

Violet Baudelaire, in Daniel Handler’s Lemony Snicket stories, has a trait of tying back her long hair into a ponytail whenever she is trying to address a particularly difficult problem. Given the way the Lemony Snicket stories are constructed, Violet has to face many difficult problems and spends a lot of her time tying her hair back. It’s a quirk that makes her seem more than a mere fictional character.

The character of Orr, in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, is quirky enough to stuff crab apples into his cheeks so that they bulge. When this is first introduced to the reader it is seen as something vaguely ridiculous that fits in with the surreal attitude Heller has taken to armed conflict.  It is only later in the novel that the reader understands this quirk is a key part of Orr’s story.

Windsor Horne Lockwood III in Harlen Coben’s Myron Bolitar novels is another character with quirks that make him believable. He is wealthy and comes from a moneyed background and, whenever he’s engaged in an important conversation, he steeples his fingers whilst concentrating. It’s a subtle detail: but it gives you a clear impression of a character who, when he’s not playing gold with hedge fund managers, or negotiating deals with investment bankers, is saving Myron’s life like some dark and twisted superhero.  

As I’ve said before, the advice offered here is NOT intended to be seen as altruistic behaviour on my part. I’ve written a book, How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published and, if you’re interested in writing short fiction, I’d dearly love you to buy a copy.  The book is based on knowledge and experience I’ve accrued from fifteen years of teaching creative writing, and from twenty-five years of being a published author, and from the research I conducted whilst acquiring my PhD in creative writing. If you want to write short fiction, I want you to buy a copy of the book.

To create a character with quirky traits, it works better if the quirk comes naturally into the creation of the character rather than being something placed there artificially.  We can believe in an ex-smoker who stares wistfully at people shivering in smoking shelters: it’s a relatable response. We can empathise with the genius practical-mined scientist who has a four-leafed clover on his desk because it shows a duality between the known and the unknown world. But, a character who simply wants to wear a hat made out of blu-tack, is neither relatable nor deserving of our empathy. This sort of detail is simply quirkiness for the sake of quirkiness.

Quirkiness can be shown through a character’s favourite, overused, word. Quirkiness can be an interest in rare flowers that seems uncommon for a character who was once the most efficient member of a crack military unit.  Quirkiness can even be the Mickey Mouse wristwatch, worn by the eminent Harvard Professor Robert Langdon, in Dan Brown’s novels.

Character quirkiness does make characters seem more real and less like the result of reading two dimensional letters from a flat page. When it’s done properly, quirkiness can make your characters live long in the memory of your readers and well-remembered characters are the goal of every writer.  

Please remember, if you want even more useful advice on How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published, don’t forget to order a copy of my book.


Writing Ideas

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

 by Ashley Lister

They say that one of the most frightening things a writer can encounter is a blank page. I’m not sure this is 100% true.  I’m a writer and, given the choice between a dark cellar full of spiders or a blank page, I’m happy to have that blank page every time. It would be the same answer if someone asked me if I’d like to stare at a blank page or listen to someone dragging their fingernails down a chalkboard. I would happily opt for the blank page.

However, I do know that the blank page can be intimidating to a lot of writers and in an effort to make it less daunting, I thought it might be useful to share a handful of ideas that might inspire creativity.

Please don’t think this is altruistic behaviour on my part. I’ve written a book, How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published and, if you’re interested in writing short fiction, I’d dearly love you to buy a copy.  The book is based on knowledge and experience I’ve accrued from fifteen years of teaching creative writing, and from twenty-five years of being a published author, and from the research I conducted whilst acquiring my PhD in creative writing. If you want to write short fiction, I want you to buy a copy of the book.

One way I find useful for breaking the spell of the blank page is to write a simple haiku. For those unfamiliar with the form, a haiku is a three-line poem, based loosely on our interpretation of the Japanese form which contains seventeen ‘on’ or ‘morae’. Here in the West we’ve interpreted that to translate as syllables and the lines are split into a syllable count of 5-7-5. For example:

a new story world
sits beyond the white screen of
each new document

The values of writing a haiku are immeasurable as a warm-up exercise prior to writing something longer. This is like a runner stretching before a marathon, or a musician going through scales before performing with an orchestra. No one expects other professional artists to jump straight into being creative, so why should it be different for writers?

Write a haiku before you start each morning. It could be something fun to describe the weather (it’s raining again / just like it did yesterday / and the day before) or you could use it summarise the plot you’re working on or a particular character you want to write about or just say something about the environment in which you’re working (a fat little dog / sits heavily on my lap / his head on my arm).

When I get students to write haikus in class, I get a genuine pleasure from watching them count on their fingers as they deliberately shape the words to confirm that they’ve identified each syllable correctly. This is not a normal way for anyone to interact with words, and it’s one of the reasons why I think it works so well as a warm-up exercise for every writer.

So, before you start writing, take a couple of minutes to create a haiku, just to loosen your writing muscles. It gets you thinking about words in a different way, it helps diminish the dread of the blank page, and it helps to keep the blade of your creativity razor sharp. And remember, if you want even more useful advice on How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published, don’t forget to order a copy of my book.


Stocking Filler

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Holidays are coming.

I know it’s too early to be thinking about the festive season just yet. 

However, for those who are super-organised, I thought I’d mention that, if you’re looking for the ideal gift for the writer in your life, this title is due out on December 19th.


Short Story Review - The Raven

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Image result for raven poeWho wrote it?
As I mentioned back in August, I’m a huge fan of Edgar AllanPoe.  I used his ‘Philosophy on Composition’ when I was writing the thesis for my PhD; and I suspect I was strongly influenced by his poem ‘The Raven’ when I wrote my own novel Raven and Skull; and I admire Poe and the tremendous amount he managed to achieve in his short and troubled life. Poe is rightly regarded as the master of the horror story, the author of the prototypical amateur detective story, and a man whose life was as tragic and mysterious as the darkest of his narratives. I wanted to write about Poe again this week because tomorrow, October 7th, marks the 170th anniversary of his death.

What’s it about?
A very unhappy man, grieving for a lost love, is alone at home, late at night, pouring over his books. A raven appears at his window and, after he has invited the bird into his home, the man begins to fear it is a dark representative from the supernatural realm.

Why is it worth reading?
It’s Edgar Allan Poe. Most of Poe’s writing is essential reading for people who own eyes. This story is worth reading because it’s presented in poetic form and it’s a piece that’s been parodied and reinterpreted again and again and again. Each of the reinventions of Poe is an homage to his brilliance.

What’s so special about it?
These are the opening verses:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
            Only this and nothing more.”

    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
    Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
    From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
            Nameless here for evermore.

    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
    “’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
            This it is and nothing more.”

    Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
            Darkness there and nothing more.

If you want to hear this being read by the dulcet tones of the late Christopher Lee, then you’ll want to follow this link:

And, if you have dreams to write to this standard, please take a look at my book, How To Write Short Stories and Get Them Published:


Short Story Review - The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Who Wrote it?
Related image
Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860 –1935), was an American humanist, novelist, writer of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction, and a lecturer for social reform. She was a utopian feminist and served as a role model for future generations of feminists because of her unorthodox concepts and lifestyle. Her best remembered work today is her semi-autobiographical short story "The Yellow Wallpaper", which she wrote after a severe bout of postpartum psychosis.

What’s it About?
According to Wikipedia: "The Yellow Wallpaper" (original title: "The Yellow Wall-paper. A Story") is a short story by American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, first published in January 1892 in The New England Magazine. It is regarded as an important early work of American feminist literature, due to its illustration of the attitudes towards mental and physical health of women in the 19th century.
Narrated in the first person, the story is a collection of journal entries written by a woman whose physician husband (John) has rented an old mansion for the summer. Forgoing other rooms in the house, the couple moves into the upstairs nursery. As a form of treatment, the unnamed woman is forbidden from working, and is encouraged to eat well and get plenty of air, so she can recuperate from what he calls a "temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency", a diagnosis common to women during that period. (

Why is it worth reading?
This is an exercise in tension building that is very effective. The story is used now in many classes an introduction to feminist studies, and I’m not trying to suggest it doesn’t deserve to be used in such a context. But it’s also a beautiful illustration of how well narrative tension can be built from the simplicity of good storytelling using a potentially unreliable narrator.

What’s so special about it?
These are the opening lines from the story:
It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer.
A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house, and reach the height of romantic felicity—but that would be asking too much of fate!
Still I will proudly declare that there is something queer about it.
Else, why should it be let so cheaply? And why have stood so long untenanted?
John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.
John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.
John is a physician, and perhaps—(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)—perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster.
You see, he does not believe I am sick!

This is a delightful introduction which, even though the story is more than 125 years old, is still readable and accessible. It sets us up with the friendliness of the narrator’s voice, and we get the suggestion that something is askew. The property is too cheap, it might be haunted, it’s been abandoned too long, and what’s with the creepy relationship between the narrator and her husband?

This is a link to the Project Gutenberg free copy of the story:

And, if you have dreams to write to this standard, please take a look at my book, How To Write Short Stories and Get Them Published:


Short Story Review - Pop Art

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Pop Art

Who wrote it?
Joseph Hillstrom King, better known by the pen name Joe Hill, is an American author and comic book writer. His work includes the novels Heart-Shaped Box (2007), Horns (2010), NOS4A2 (2013), and The Fireman (2016); and the short story collections 20th Century Ghosts (2005) and Strange Weather (2017).

What’s it about?
Image result for pop art joe hill‘Pop Art’ is one of my favourite short stories from Joe Hill’s collection 20th Century Ghosts. The story introduces us to the character of Arthur Roth, a young boy who has been born inflatable. This is a surreal concept that is shared with the reader in a prosaic fashion.

Why is it worth reading?
This story surprised me on an emotional level. I suppose, reading Joe Hill’s short stories, when I know he’s an author with a well-earned reputation in the horror genre, I was primed to be surprised because I wasn’t expecting something that was going to have sufficient sensitivity to make an emotional impact. But this was eloquent, powerful, witty and heart-breaking.

What’s so special about it?

These are the opening lines from the story:
My best friend when I was twelve was inflatable. His name was Arthur Roth, which also made him an inflatable Hebrew, although in our now-and-then talks about the afterlife, I don’t remember that he took an especially Jewish perspective. Talk was mostly what we did – in his condition rough-house was out of the question – and the subject of death, and what might follow it, came up more than once. I think Arthur knew he would be lucky to survive high school. When I met him, he had already almost been killed a dozen times, once for every year he had been alive. The afterlife was always on his mind; also the possible lack of one.

What I love about this is that it works on so many different levels. Hill introduces us to a character who is described as ‘inflatable’, and whilst we’re thinking that’s probably quite a remarkable feature – and we’re trying to work out whether ‘inflatable’ in this sense is literal or figurative – the narrator is digressing to talk about something as mundane as Arthur’s religion.
I think I was particularly moved by this story because it has a surreal premise that is supported by a very real-world context of bullying, friendship, compassion and salvation. The juxtaposition of the sublime and the ridiculous give the story a devastating power.

This is a link to a short film that has been made of the story:  It’s a faithful adaptation but the short story has far more depth.

And, if you have dreams to write to this standard, please take a look at my book, How To Write Short Stories and Get Them Published:


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