Another of my Welsh Wednesday Writing reviews of Welsh authors, this time a collection of short stories by Welsh author, Stuart Kear, a life-long resident of the Rhondda Valley. I first discovered Stuart’s stories via the Tonypandy Writer’s Group’s multi-author collection of short stories and poetry, which featured two of Stuart’s stories. Having been impressed with both contributions I checked to see if the author had anything published elsewhere, and so discovered this awesome collection of short stories here …
Click on book cover thumbnail below for Amazon purchase link …
Short, Long And Tall Stories
All the stories here have a Welsh theme, and in most cases specific to the Welsh valleys; now when I say a ‘Welsh theme,’ I don’t just mean that the author simply mentions Wales in passing or has perhaps given each story a Welsh character – in most cases, the Welsh setting, being Welsh, or having grown up in the valleys is an integral part of the meaning of each story.
This is quite a substantial body of varied stories, thirteen in total. Among the stories, the author tackles a variety of topics including bereavement and how close relatives deal with loss in their own very different ways, tragedy in the coal mining pits, plots of murder mixed up with irony and poetic justice, and even an incredulously funny flash fiction piece in ‘The Letter,’ – as simple a premise as you could imagine but a guaranteed ear to ear smile for the reader.
Some of the stories are more a reflection of the human condition and are simply satisfying to read for their own sake without the need for any clever or surprise conclusions. Others though are quite definitely of the ‘twist in the tale’ type, often blended with a deliciously wicked element of humour, and I have to say, Stuart Kear has demonstrated a real talent for that type of story.
My favourite story? – I’m torn between ‘The Look, ‘ a brutal tale of murder and poetic justice with a little touch of black humour, and ‘The Departure,’ another relatively simple story but having the impact of being hit right between the eyes with a claw hammer! Others that also caught my particular attention – ‘The Accident’ and the ‘The dig at the Station Hotel.’
If I had but two tiny criticisms it would be that I would have preferred a more ‘Wales’ orientated cover as the one here puts me more in mind of a major city than the Welsh Valleys. Secondly, given how many people like to read on their Kindles, tablets, and phones etc it would be nice if this collection were more widely available as an eBook too as these stories really do merit the widest possible readership! Apart from that, an absolutely superb clever and entertaining collection of stories. No hesitation in rating it a thoroughly well-deserved 5 stars!
About the author …
Born in 1945, Stuart Kear, was born and raised in the Welsh Valleys, having also lived and worked there all his life. With three children and two grandchildren, Stuart Kear was recently widowed and it is to the memory of his late wife of 47 years he dedicated the above short story collection.
In addition to his love of books and language, Stuart Kear’s other interests are photography, walking, quizzes, snooker, and of course, writing.
Another quite newly arrived author to the IASD family, this time Theresa Jacobs.
Theresa Jacobs believes in Magic, Fairies, Dragons, and Ghosts. Yet she trusts Science and thinks that Aliens know way too much.
Through hard work, she has published a horror novel, and a Sci-Fi novel, a horror Novella, horror anthologies, children’s books, and poetry. She is a contributor to 1428elm.com an online horror magazine. While working full-time, is also currently writing a sports figures biography…so stay tuned.
When she is not at work she spends her time, reading, writing, exercising her dog, and binge-watching TV shows, with her longtime partner and fiancé.
She is also a big Movie buff and a SciFi Nerd at heart.
By Theresa Jacobs
Definitely not the usual run of the mill ‘Mankind Leaving a Dying Earth’ type story but quite an interesting concept for a Sci-Fi mystery thriller.
A substantial group of refugees from a dying earth find themselves mysteriously transported from aboard their crashed spaceship to huge caverns deep underground on an alien planet where they are seemingly held in captivity by alien slug-like aliens, the sight of which they only ever see through the transparent ceilings of the caverns they’re imprisoned in.
A very strange sort of society had evolved under the control and direction of their slug-like alien masters, changing the humans both physically and psychologically. Needless to say, they don’t like their new way of life, but no one’s really sure if their slug-like controllers actually mean them harm.
They have lots of questions about their strange way of life, where they are, and about the slug-like creatures that control their lives, but very few answers, just wild speculation.
The story was clear and easy to follow with a few strong well-developed central characters. The author doesn’t burden the reader with too much information about events before being stranded on a strange planet, but instead concentrates on the immediate story of the here and now of the captive humans’ situation, with just enough background to give the main story its context.
I can’t honestly think of a comparable story to this one, so full marks for originality. I also liked that the author didn’t conclude the story with lots of neat answers and explanations, but still left some mystery and room for speculation. A clever, original, and above all, an enjoyable sci-fi novel.
Click pic below for Theresa Jacobs’ IASD profile:
Facebook – @writerTheresaJ
Twitter – @writerTheresaJ
See Here for Theresa Jacobs’ Amazon Author page:
Another Welsh author (and short story) I discovered quite by chance via Twitter. The story I’ve reviewed here was written in aid of the Semper Fi Fund, a U.S. military charity …|
Richard is an ex-member of the Parachute Regiment who became involved in the secretive world of the private security industry in post-Gulf War II, Iraq. Since then, he has worked in Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and many other hostile environments, continually at the tip of the spear as the intelligence services fight the Global War on Terror. In addition to his past and post-military careers, Richard C. Pendry is forging a new additional career in writing.
A first class story. Poignant, hard-hitting, and well-written. Loved it!
What can I say about this short story? It’s little more than a ten-minute read but the story it packs into its short length is absolutely superb.
The author’s portrayal of a serving soldier in Afghanistan is frighteningly authentic just as you would expect given the author’s own military experience. Despite being such a short read, the story unfolds via two polar opposites character wise – different sides of the same coin as it were – before the reality of the story hits home. Through excellent attention to detail and imaginative imagery, the author recreates a vivid snapshot of a moment and incident during the Afghan conflict. This is a hard-hitting though moving story that reminds us of the brutal reality of war along with a frightening and poignant nod to the future.
Given the author’s background I was impressed with the impartiality he was able to portray all the characters in the story, and not just the ones he can most obviously identify with. In addition to being a great premise for a story, the writing of it too was equally well executed. A first class story, and definitely enough to intrigue me into reading more from this author.
This short story is available as a free download via signing up at the author’s website, but if however, you would like to make a donation to the Semper Fi Fund please purchase the short story through Amazon as all proceeds from the sale of this story are donated to the said charity.
See Here for Richard C. Pendry’s Amazon Author page:
A truly lovely short story collection from the pen of C.L. Lopez, with three guest stories from Tom Benson, both authors from our very own IASD stable of indie authors, writers, and bloggers. I only discovered this writer by way of reading one of her short stories in Tom Benson’s own short story collections and was sufficiently impressed to seek out others by her. The moral of the story – get your writing featured in as many places as possible!
Amazon blurb: A collection of short stories of various genre, including suspense, thriller, sci-fi, mysteries, and paranormal. These are stories about the resilience of humanity. They are stories of people and their strengths and weaknesses. Stories of life.
I first came across this author when I read one of her short stories as a ‘guest’ story/author in another short story collection, and was impressed enough to see if she had any collections of her own published, hence my finding this one.
Having already read one of C.l. Lopez’s stories in Tom Benson’s anthology of science fiction short stories, even though the description mentions different genres I had slightly been expecting more of these stories to lean towards the sci-fi genre, but no, the stories are spread across a multitude of genres. Despite the variety of genres, the stories here actually have a lot more in common than their differences, more so than many a single-themed collection, each story providing real impact in its telling, using some dramatic scenario to both entertain and portray some aspect of human determination and resilience, what I would call real ‘people’ stories. Some are quite dark but still hinting at hope for the future such as in ‘Alone’ and ‘Cold Case,’ the latter being a story reminiscent of several what I would call typical True Crime stories. Others have a certain ‘feel good factor’ to them i.e. ‘Sulley’ and ‘Moving On.’
This super collection of seven short stories, along with three bonus ones from guest author, Tom Benson, were a truly unexpected delight to read, exceeding all expectations.
If I had to pick out one single story as my favourite it would have to be ‘Moving On’ for its combination of not only its feel-good factor but also a clever and ‘poetic justice’ type ending, and even though the general direction of the story was clear early on, it was still a refreshing twist.
And of Tom Benson’s guest stories here, I particularly liked ‘Bewitched,’ a love story but again with a bit of twist and moral dilemma about it, and the one of the three here that best complemented the other stories in this collection.
Both C.L. Lopez and Tom Benson write across several different genres but in this particular collection they have stuck to writing stories with poignancy and dramatic impact rather than relying on clever endings and/or ‘twist in the tail’ type formats in most cases (though not all).
Any complaints about this book? Only that I was disappointed when I ran out of further stories to read at the end of it so hopefully C.L. Lopez is working on further stories for the future! A very easy and hugely deserved five stars for this one, not a rating I usually find easy for short stories given that it’s rare to read a short story collection where not a single one even slightly disappoints!
It is with great pleasure I present my review of Salby Evolution, the second book in the Salby Eco/Zombie thriller series/trilogy. In addition to this latest review, I’ve also included my review of the first book in the series towards the end of this post for those readers intrigued enough to want to read book 1 first (highly recommended, you won’t be disappointed!). First though, a little about the author himself …
Ian D Moore, as well as being a fellow author, blogger, and book reviewer is also an Admin and one of the founding members of the IASD Indie Author Support and Discussion group and website:
As well as this, his second novel in the Salby Eco/Zombie thriller series, Ian D. Moore was also the instrumental force in bringing together a multitude of Indie Authors from around the world when back in 2015 he put the call out for submissions for his highly acclaimed anthology ‘You’re Not Alone’ in aid of the Macmillan cancer charity, in which I feel honoured to have had one of my own short stories included, and to again be contributing a story for the 2018 edition in aid of Macmillan.
Click Here for Amazon link to You’re Not Alone
Prior to embarking on his writing career, Ian D Moore previously served as a soldier and engineer in the British army, worked as a self-employed truck driver, and still works in commercial and domestic transport in addition to running a small online writing services business.
Ian D Moore is a UK based author and family man, and someone I greatly admire and respect both as a writer and as a person.
Salby Evolution (Salby Trilogy – Book2)
Although intertwined with the first book of this ongoing series, Salby Evolution reads extremely well as a stand-alone instalment, though in all honesty, personally, I would still highly recommend reading Salby Damned first to enjoy this one to the full.
In book one the story was very much a localised one, concentrating on how the authorities would deal with a combined ecological stroke biological ‘accident.’ In this second instalment, the story naturally expands to the international repercussions of what could easily have escalated into the sort of zombie apocalypse only previously imagined in wild speculation.
The action switches from the UK to Russia, where characters who were central to dealing with the first Salby virus outbreak have been drafted in to help deal with a possible new outbreak.
This new chapter starts with two main storylines, one which quite seamlessly follows on from just a few months after the first book finishes, but with sufficient references to the past to bring new readers up to speed while providing a subtle recap for those who read book 1 first. As the story progresses, the original characters diverge to cover different aspects of the story i.e. determining if the virus has spread, has it changed, tracking down possible new carriers of it, as well as dealing with other parties equally interested in the Salby virus. Secondly, we have what I would regard as the main thrust of the story, an offshoot from the original outbreak but threatening a future one, initially running parallel to the original Salby virus outbreak of the first book but gradually catching up and converging with other threads of the ongoing story here.
I did think a little way into the book that perhaps the author had been slightly over-ambitious in the scope of the sequel with everything that was going on, the switching of perspectives and slightly different timelines but he skillfully drew all the different elements into a complex but extremely well-constructed story.
I was impressed by the way the author handled the varying stories and sub-plots, some featuring several characters from the first book and written from a third person point of view, consistent with the writing style of that book. In another, the reader is introduced to a couple of new characters but from the first-person perspective of leading man Simon, a stark contrast to Nathan, the leading man, and hero of the first book; Simon in comparison is a bit of an anti-hero, older, not the same sort of macho character and having many more flaws and personal demons of his own to contend with but still proving his worth nonetheless.
The switching back and forth between these different threads worked surprisingly well, especially the way in which the different timelines and stories converged in their relevance to the overall picture.
I was pleased that this sequel also paid homage to book 1 in that we were treated to a few more encounters with victims of the virus i.e. the ‘Deadheads’ – they served as a timely reminder of the surreal and terrifying consequences of the Salby outbreak – but the author didn’t try to rehash them for any sort of dramatic effect but instead took the story forward, and in new directions; what started as a surprisingly intelligent and believable zombie outbreak in book 1 (but with a small ‘z’ I’d say), has moved slightly away from that concept and evolved instead into an equally intelligent but more complex thriller, again throwing together some of the same elements – cutting-edge bio-engineering, viral infection, and a military interest in the virus, but this time adding manevolent scientists, political ambition, and the threat of world threatening consequences – and like any good thriller, some nice twists along the way (particularly relating to Simon but some other good ones too).
Not only does this sequel expand upon the first instalment, the quality of writing itself has evolved and improved too – I gave the first book in this series a five-star rating but with the proviso that I thought it fell just short of that at maybe a 4.7 to 4.8 on account of a slight over-emphasis on military terminology that might slightly confuse a non-military reader. In this book though I think the author has got the balance exactly right.
A first-rate book both in its own right and as a sequel, and indeed as a prequel to some as yet unknown conclusion, a very easy and solid five stars for me!
For those of you sufficiently intrigued, my review of Book 1 in this superb series …
Salby Damned (Salby Trilogy – Book1)
Although a fan of the film and televised Zombie efforts this is the first time I’ve actually read anything in the genre, having previously been skeptical as to whether it would transfer well to the written word.
Whilst I’ve always had to totally suspend disbelief in order to enjoy the Zombie genre in the past, with Salby Damned I was presented with a chillingly realistic and believable scenario that had me hooked right from the start. This isn’t the story of a world-wide fantastical epidemic but a more likely and localised disaster borne out of the merging of two highly topical issues, namely biological warfare and the more recent and controversial gas shale fracking.
The book cover put me in mind of the TV series The Walking Dead, but whereas that concentrated on the individual survival of a specific and isolated group of people, Salby Damned, although it largely concentrates on a few individuals, it also deals with how the authorities tackle the problem of a zombie-like plague, and how inevitably the military would play a large part in that. The author pays great attention to military detail, creating a very real and authentic feel to how a military base would house and protect survivors; I don’t just mean in terms of military accuracy, I would expect that from the author given his background, but by the way in which he conveys his expertise to the written word. As anyone who has even a rudimentary knowledge of the British military will know, it is filled with innumerable acronyms that can be very confusing to civilians, but the author explains and accounts for them very simply in the narrative without resorting to all sorts of contrived dialogue. My only concern here is that there might have been a tad too much emphasis on the military detail for those with no knowledge or real interest in that side of things, but for me personally, it worked very well. Speaking of the military, it was refreshing that the central hero as it were was a just a regular ex-soldier rather than ex-special forces as it made him more believable as a character – far too often, unless being ex-special forces is central to the story, such characters are made to appear almost super-human in their abilities, whereas here, Nathan’s vulnerability and frailties are just as evident as his strengths.
If I had to categorise this book, I’d say it was more a thriller than Science fiction or horror, though there are indeed elements of the latter. The story itself unsurprisingly concerns an apparent accident that results in a zombie-like plague, and then, Nathan an ex-soldier and a beautiful doctor, and the part they play in the search for a cure. Amid the subplots, we have courage and heroism, political and industrial intrigue, a touch of romance, and action wise, plenty of deadly encounters with the undead victims of the plague. In fact, some of the subplots were a real bonus to this story and definitely added to the overall enjoyment rather than simply being there to flesh out the page numbers. What was also refreshing about this book though is that unlike the film and TV ventures, it didn’t rely at all on sensational blood and gore for its impact.
If I had but one small criticism to make, apart from the ‘possible’ over-emphasis of the military and weaponry detail, it would be the lack of any anger and resentment towards those responsible for creating the circumstances in which the plague occurred, but apart from that the story was clever and well written, with a good balance of superficial though very credible science to add authenticity to the wider story. I was also extremely impressed with the way the author concluded the story, i.e. in not leaving lots of annoying loose ends that demand a sequel just for its own sake, but nonetheless surprising the reader with a few unexpected twists that leave the door open to one. If I had to give an exact rating for this debut novel I would say 4.7 to 4.8, but since I don’t I can quite happily give it a five. Would I read a sequel? Absolutely yes!
On Fb – OneStopAuthorServices
See Ian D. Moore’s Amazon Author page for his full catalog of work:
It’s been quite awhile since I last posted a short story here. This particular one is likely to be the opening story of a ‘Rat’ themed collection of such stories I’m planning to publish later in the year; only a first draft so still lots of tweaks to do before publication.
Now I must say, horror wouldn’t normally be my first port of call when it comes to writing. Why then a collection of blood and gore filled rodent horror stories? Well, though not normally a fan of the horror genre I still remember just how impressed and fascinated I was when I first read James Herbert’s Rats trilogy; for me that was horror in its purest form – no demons or recanting spells on some altar in the woods at midnight, but real flesh and blood creatures.
I would say 99% of the population have an irrational but inbuilt revulsion of rats despite most of us rarely being more than a few a hundred feet or so from the nearest one no matter how out of sight we think they might be so what better theme for the budding horror writer?
Now to write a full length rat themed novel, I just don’t think it’s possible to improve on James Herbert’s original format and nor would I want to try, but short stories, that’s a different matter – the short story genre allows the writer to explore any number of ideas while still sticking to a central theme if they want, which is precisely what I’m planning to do in my upcoming collection … I hope you enjoy this initial ‘taster’ …
Dark Eyes …
“Bloody rats!” Jack roared, partly in anger but mostly from a mixture of fear and loathing of the vile vermin, mesmerised almost as one the size of a small cat scurried across his path. Several more darted about in all directions, almost tripping him up in the process before making their escape through the half-open barn door. But the sheer number of them though, perhaps he should be the one making his escape, Jack thought, watching one lone rat turn and just for a moment, stop and look up at him before turning again to run and join his many brothers and sisters. Jack would later swear he could see hate-filled pure evil in those darkened eyes, but for now, his only concern was for his family and the farm.
He’d tried all the usual rodent poisons, legal or otherwise. Sarah, Jack’s wife hadn’t been too happy with the ‘otherwise.’ Being brought up in a town she still had many of the townsfolk views towards animals and nature, that they and it were all just lovely – David Attenborough and the BBC had a lot to answer for!
Jack loved her to bits but had to bite his tongue knowing she still held the belief that those tasty eggs and rashers of bacon they wolfed down most mornings were made and packaged in a supermarket warehouse with not a single animal playing their part in the process.
It was no surprise to Jack when she insisted there must be more humane ways of dealing with their local rat problem, ones that didn’t include poisoning, gas, or any other solution she saw as the farmer’s equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction. In the end of course, Sarah’s objections had been irrelevant given that nothing had worked; either the rats were getting smarter or they were becoming immune to the common over-used over the counter remedies, much like bacteria had become resistant to the over-use of antibiotics. Media reports of mutant strains of giant super rats had been around for years, but the more sensible explanations for such reports didn’t sell newspapers anywhere near as effectively, hence the former becoming the more firmly fixed in the public’s mind.
Jack’s own efforts trying to kill them in sufficiently large numbers had so far proved useless. It was time to try something different; he remembered having read somewhere that rats were cannibals, or at least prone to it sometimes for reasons he didn’t remember. It was that single memory that had given him the idea: what if he could use that otherwise repugnant trait to reduce the excess number of rats with a few really ravenous cannibalistic ones? Letting the little bastards reduce their own numbers held a certain appeal to him. First though he would have to capture a few, well, about a dozen or so in fact.
Like before when he had tried laying poisoned bait for them, ineffectively as it turned out, he left more of the same only this time instead laced with ground-up sleeping pills … Nothing poisonous or fatal or owt that Sarah could reasonably object to, just something he hoped would knock them out long enough to carry out the next phase of his plan. Sure enough the following morning, that part of Jack’s plan had worked – there lying scattered about the barn were about twenty sleeping rats, eight of which he immediately finished off with a pitchfork. The remaining twelve he strung up upside down by their tails from one of the rafters, carefully spaced so that each rat was just within swinging distance of the next. After a few hours they started to regain consciousness. At first they just frantically jerked and swung from side to side, probably due to a combination of fear, confusion, and indeed anger at their mistreatment, and with rats relying mostly on their tails for their sense of balance, being strung up like that would certainly have led to panic and disorientation.
As the hours and then days passed, that anger and panic became something quite different, an almost frenzied need for food and water. With no other source of nourishment to hand it soon became a matter of dog eat dog, or rather ‘rat eat rat’ in this case – they had no choice but to feed in the only way fate had left them.
Feeding off one’s own kind was nothing unique either in history or to the poor creatures Jack had hanging from the rafters. Rats had often eaten one another to survive but when it occurred naturally it would usually be the old and weak after dying a natural death, and even then only as nature’s way of combating famine or over-crowding.
Three days later just four of the original twelve remained alive, only the strongest and most vicious having survived by swinging and clawing away at the living and then lifeless mutilated bodies of the weaker adjacent ones …
Despite their now thinner and wretched state, Jack was more than a little afraid as he approached them. It was a sight he hoped never to see again yet felt powerless to turn away from, watching the four remaining live ones hiss and spit the closer he got. One was bigger than the other three by quite a margin, and judging from the way it was still thrashing about, much stronger too … then he realised … It was the same one that had looked up at him, the one with the dark hate-filled eyes. Jack shuddered. They knew he was the one responsible for what had been done to them and it was his blood and flesh they could now smell, had a taste for … if fear really did have an odour Jack knew he must have absolutely reeked of it.
He thought for a moment. His gut feeling was it might be best to abandon the scheme, to put the wretched creatures out of their misery there and then … a few whacks with a shovel at their weakened bodies and that would be it. But apart from removing the hissing hate-filled ones in front of him what would that solve? He’d still be left with the original problem, of what to do about the others, the ones still out there?
Jack wanted – no – had to be rid of them if his farm was to survive, he decided, resolving to stick to the original plan. He had to close his eyes first, long enough to break the rats’ hold on his gaze, enabling him to look away before shuffling through the hay to open the barn door in readiness for their escape. On the way back he grabbed hold of a field-scythe.
Standing several feet back from their still hanging bodies he took a lunging swing at the thin wires hanging from the rafters and from which all the rats were still suspended, four of them still hissing and spitting their hatred for their human tormentor – to the rats or anyone who might have been watching, Jack would have cut an impressive image as the grim reaper at that moment.
Each of them fell to the floor with a thud the instant the razor sharp edge of the scythe sliced the space between the rafters and the ends from which the rats’ tails were tied, their impacts cushioned by the hay strewn about the barn. Jack edged back a little, watching them from a dozen or so feet away. He’d expected the live ones to immediately make a lightning dash for the open barn door. They didn’t. Instead, they turned their attention to the bodies of their lifeless companions, immediately embarking on a further feeding frenzy – all except Dark Eyes that was – his attention was clearly focused on Jack, practically standing on its hind legs, watching, defiantly daring him to approach. Jack instinctively strengthened his grip on the wooden length of the scythe, not taking his gaze from Dark Eyes’ direction for fear of attack.
Yes, Jack was afraid. He didn’t know why but he absolutely knew in that one single moment his plan had gone horribly wrong … having had to claw, bite, and slash at the living moving flesh of their siblings, having to watch and listen to their pitiful cries and struggles … it had changed them, turned them into something horribly different.
Jack knew he’d unleashed something in their nature of which nothing good could come out of.
Within a few weeks there were definitely a lot fewer rats about the farm as evidenced by the noticeably visible reduction in rat droppings and simply not seeing or hearing much of them. To Jack and Sarah it was becoming a case of out of sight, out of mind, and so Jack had largely forgotten the momentary horror he’d felt when allowing Dark Eyes and his companions to run from the barn. In fact he felt quietly pleased with himself, pleased that his original plan was obviously working, honestly believing the overwhelming fear he’d experienced was a brief irrational moment brought on by the surreal sight of the rats tearing and feeding on the torn flesh of their dead companions.
For most people, such a sight would have been etched in the mind forever. Not for Jack though, he was a farmer and well used to witnessing nature’s brutal cruelty, undeceived by the picture postcard image of tranquillity nature usually showed the town-dwelling tourists.
It was just as well Jack was used to such things for it was a sight he’d be reminded of time and time again over the coming months …
Much of the county had enjoyed quite a respite from their rat problem, best part of three months now but for Jack and his immediate neighbours there were signs of its return. Rat droppings around the farm were back to and even higher than their previous levels before the barn incident. The occasional sight of a lone rat darting across a yard had increased to several sightings a day of three or four at a time.
Sarah was again complaining of seeing even more of them scurrying about now – but not like before, they were no longer immediately running for the nearest bolt hole at the sight of a human or one of the dogs. In the coming weeks their numbers continued to increase to the point where they were confident enough in their greater numbers not to run or scurry away at all, slowing their agile stealth to more of an arrogant stroll. Most disturbing though was the sheer variety of rats, all mixing and seemingly friendly, the larger brown rats and the smaller black variety, and every shade of colour in-between roaming together in huge packs, only separating when their respective skills and different instincts made it an advantage to do so.
More of the livestock were being attacked and exhibiting rat bites to their extremities, and worse, their attackers were showing less and less fear of their human predators.
At first Jack tried to rationalise it as blip, some unexplained spike in the rats’ breeding cycle and activities – that’s what his neighbours thought, though in their case they truly believed that, why shouldn’t they? Jack on the other hand, he could easily have answered that last question, he just didn’t want to, didn’t want to admit to himself and especially not to his neighbours that he was probably responsible, not only for the ‘blip’ but for something worse to come … much worse.
With his wife and two young children still on the farm despite his urging them to go and stay with relatives in the city, Jack was at his wits’ end. Not even various industrial strength poisons had had the slightest success in stemming the growing rat problem – he’d long since abandoned any pretence of trying to deal with them humanely as his wife had wanted – it was no longer his fear of the worst case scenario being Sarah or one of the kids suffering a single rat bite, the sort of minor incident that were it a nip from an urban fox on the streets of London, would be making headline news, his worries had escalated to fearing for their very lives; already his worst fears from that morning in the barn were coming true – several neighbouring farms were reporting seeing large packs of the vile rodents swarming across their land, and more recently, garbled stories of large-scale attacks on livestock just like the ones on his own animals. Initially, Jack had tried to dismiss them as nothing more than the cider-fuelled wild ramblings of a lot of old codgers …
“I tell ya’s all again,” the grizzled old farmer Pete Myers was saying from his usual place at the bar in the village pub, “they’re getting out of control and sommat’s got t’be done I tell ya.”
A few of the other local farmers were listening intently, rolling their eyes and nodding their agreement while Old Pete retold the story of his mutilated half-eaten sheep:
“Was like nothing I ever saw I tell ya, torn t’shreds it was but not like how you’d expect it t’look if some dog’d done it. No, it was bloodied all over, like a thousand little claws and teeth had been scratching and biting away at it over a long time … and then there were all them rat droppings around it. What more proof d’yer need than that I ask ya?”
Jack had listened as closely as the others to Old Pete’s gory ramblings, still hoping things weren’t as bad as the old boy was making out. He was far from convinced though so chose not to add his own thoughts to the discussion. Jack knew that if he admitted his own secret fears and told them about Dark Eyes and what he’d done it would put him right at the centre of the problem, no doubt making him the scapegoat for every subsequent attack – and since the majority of the nearby farmers owned at least one variety of shotgun the last thing he needed was having to deal with his neighbours’ hostility.
Jack didn’t have to wait long before he was again reminded of the urgency and very real danger he’d put his family in. The very next day, Jack was just finishing his midday meal back at the farmhouse when he heard a knock at the door:
“Come on in, Jack’s in the kitchen having a bite to eat.” Sarah told Bill, their postman, “go right through.”
“Hello Jack. Is there somewhere we can speak … privately like? Bill asked, lowering his voice so’s not to be overheard by Sarah who was pottering about outside.
“Sure. Come through to the sitting room.”
“I found your dog, Rufus, just off the roadside on my way back to the village, just beyond that far-side field of yours the other side of the stream.”
“Found him? What do you mean, is he hurt or … ?”
“He’s dead, Jack. I can’t describe it but it’s another attack, like the one Old Pete was raving on about in the pub last night … I didn’t have anything I could carry him in, and really, you need to come and see for yourself.”
Bill hadn’t exaggerated, Rufus had been attacked aright. Viciously. Little was left of the Bull-Terrier cross’s body apart from some skin and fur hanging off the skeleton. Other than that most of the flesh and innards had been ripped out and stripped to the bone.
It did look as if Rufus had put up one hell of a fight though, Jack thought judging from the twenty or so bodies of torn and battered dead rats scattered within a few feet of where Bill had found Rufus, not that that surprised him, terriers of all sorts had been specially bred as vermin hunters the past couple of hundred years.
Were it not for everything that was going on and the usual rat droppings near what little was left of Rufus’s body Jack would have wondered what could have done such a thing, to have literally torn a strong healthy dog to shreds and either eaten or carried away most of the carcass. But Jack knew already, knew exactly what it was, what had done this.
It had been his intention to quietly bury the dog away from the farm somewhere, and not tell Sarah about Rufus at all. Instead, he brought him back, and once the kids were safely tucked up in bed, threw the mutilated remains across the kitchen table for her to see – perhaps now she would also see sense and take herself and the kids to her sisters as he’d pleaded weeks ago.
In the brief time Sarah was able to stand the sight of the remains of Rufus’s body, she emptied the contents of her stomach onto the kitchen floor.
“Do you see now, Sarah? That’s what I’m talking about. You have to take the kids away -before something worse happens!” Jack screamed at her …
“Or would you prefer to wait until it’s John or Lizzie lying there instead of Rufus?” He added just to emphasise the point.
She packed the things they’d need that very night …
Many of the local farmers were seriously considering selling up to any of the multi-national commercial farms, a couple already had, and more ‘For Sale’ signs were springing up every day. Jack had already decided he’d be adding his own farm to the list no matter how much of a loss he had to swallow in the process just as soon as the estate agents opened again on the Monday after the weekend.
That Monday never came for Jack. Despite his decision to sell up, in his anger and frustration, no doubt amplified by the half bottle of Scotch he’d downed, Jack had started blasting away at any and every rat he saw.
A shotgun is hardly the most practical weapon for killing rats but the ones he hit were blown into a thousand bits, sending their flesh and blood in as many directions.
Dark Eyes himself had nearly fallen victim to the drunken Jack’s alcohol-fuelled rage when one random shot shattered a window frame of one of the out-buildings in which many rats had taken refuge from the harsh weather.
Large splinters of shattered glass and wood had been sent flying, several of which had lodged in many of the rat’s bodies, killing some and injuring several more.
Dark Eyes and all the rats reverted to their natural behaviours, running to whatever hiding places they could find, anywhere away from the blast range of Jack’s shotgun. If Jack had been thinking clearly at the time he would have realised it was his one opportunity to escape the farm while the rats were still in a state of shock and panic from being shot at. Instead, he chose to lock himself inside to sleep off his drunken stupor.
Jack awoke with the hangover from hell. He vaguely remembered having blasted away at some of the out-buildings where he knew more of the rats had taken up residence. He was aware the neighbouring farms were having problems of their own but he was anxious to know if any of them had suffered quite the same levels of attack. Perhaps they needed to pool their resources to fight them, even if it meant admitting his own role in creating the current situation? Yes, time to come clean he decided …
It looked as though Jack’s new-found honesty had come too late – the land-line had gone dead and with that the internet too. He tried his mobile, desperate to contact someone, anyone who might help, but the bad weather was still interfering with reception.
There had been no TV bulletins of farms being attacked but he guessed such reports would take time to filter through to the local news networks; perhaps the radio might have received some calls, maybe from someone whose land-line or mobile was still working. He hurried to the kitchen where the Roberts Rambler radio had pride of place on one of the worktops. He was grateful now he’d not given in to Sarah’s urging to replace it with a newer DAB model with all the internet radio channels on it, a fat lot of use they’d be now he thought.
He fiddled with the tuner to position the radio station slider to a frequency where he knew one of the local radio stations broadcast from … and to his surprise, and horror, they had received calls, lots of them …
“… drivers on the B237 have reported having to slow down or even swerve to avoid large swarms of rats … yes, that’s right, that’s the word people are using to describe their numbers… so far there’s been no reports of any accidents as such but the Highways Authority have said they’ll despatch patrols to the area to look into it …”
Swarming across fields was enough of a worry but for the rats to have the numbers and confidence to be openly crossing major roads, that was bad. So far their spread and hence the number of attacks had partly been contained within the boundaries of a few major roads and fast flowing streams though that still provided a damned large area and number of potential targets for their attacks. Such was the swiftness of their spread across the local area no one had yet spotted the attacks had originated and seemed to radiate out from Jack’s farm, partly due to Jack having kept mostly quiet about his own troubles, reporting just enough to be consistent with the experiences of the immediate neighbours. All that was irrelevant though, the battle for his farm had been lost, it was just a question if he could win the battle for his life now.
Jack gazed out of one of the living room windows, assessing whether he could make a run for it. Not a chance, he realised, hundreds, maybe thousands of the little bastards had swamped the farm, like a guerilla army abandoning its hit and run tactics to attack openly
Ideally it would have been best for Jack to jump in his Land Rover and drive as quickly and far away as possible. It was a tempting idea and he would have done too – it was in clear sight, tantalisingly close not more than twenty yards away out in the yard – perhaps if he donned his wellington boots, put on several thick layers of clothing, and ran to the car at full pelt he might just have been able to get to it and drive off without being dragged to the ground or too many of the little buggers entering the car with him. But no, he could see they had already used their razor-like teeth and claws to shred the heavy duty off road tyres into so many scraps of rubber, leaving the metal rims of the wheels supporting the three-tonne vehicle digging firmly into the soft ground.
Seeing his only possible means of escape completely sabotaged he knew he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
They were all around now, biting, scratching, clawing at every barricade designed to keep them out, and not just from the outside … He could hear them under the floorboards in those few parts of the house where wood and other more modern building methods and materials had been used instead of the more traditional stone for the area.
Jack was sure they were following his every move and footstep, inside the partitioned walls of the interior of the stone built farmhouse, and the cellars too had already fallen to their onslaught, now filled with dozens, if not hundreds of them – perhaps thousands more were waiting in reserve in the surrounding countryside for all Jack knew, unable not to imagine every worst case scenario his mind could conjure.
Listening to the sound of the rats in the basement and foundations getting louder and louder, it would have been natural for Jack to take refuge upstairs in a desperate attempt to put some distance between himself and the noise of the onslaught below but those same scratching noises that filled the air downstairs could also be heard above; a violent thunder storm had been raging for the past hour, pelting the farmhouse with heavy rain, driving ever more rats to seek refuge inside the farm buildings, including the farmhouse in which Jack was now trapped, a prisoner in his own home.
The sound of the rain hitting the roof had effectively masked the noise of their activities but the smaller black rats, or roof rats as they were often called, had returned and made themselves a cosy home in the roof and attic area immediately above. Most of them had disappeared from the main living areas following their temporary reduction in numbers a few months back. That had been a real bonus, especially for Sarah who despite a more tolerant attitude was still loath to sharing a home with them. But now they were back, having multiplied at least ten-fold since the beginning of the storm, way more than had ever lived there before Jack’s unfortunate idea to try setting the rats against each other, with more and more climbing into the attic and roof spaces with each passing minute now.
The slightly larger brown rats, of which Dark Eyes was a particularly vile and gruesome prime specimen, were natural burrowers, easily digging their way beneath and into the foundations of most buildings, particularly rural farms like Jack’s, and were making frightening progress. Had it not been for most of the main body of the farmhouse being built of stone, the rats would almost certainly have broken through the weaker parts of the farmhouse defenses and barricades
He was thankful that at least Sarah and the kids were now far away in the city. It was ironic thinking that they were safer there amid all the inner city crime and violence that drove most people to leave the cities in favour of the perceived safety and tranquillity of the countryside. Right now he would gladly have swapped his current situation for something as relatively normal and mundane as the drugs and gun swamped streets of a London or Los Angeles.
The electric lights flickered and then went out. It was still early evening but being February the daylight was already fading, and with the thick storm clouds overhead, Jack knew he’d soon be in near darkness. He hoped, prayed even that it was nothing more than some domestic miniature circuit breaker tripping despite knowing how unlikely that was having had the family quarters of the farm completely rewired recently. It was an irrelevancy though, the fuse box was located in the basement, deep in the heart of what was very much enemy territory now. All he could do was wait for the inevitable …
From those first initial litters, the new Dark Eyed strain quickly dominated their less aggressive cousins, feeding off the flesh of the weaker ones while infecting the rest with their own flesh cravings. Any sign of inter-species rivalry and fighting among the many different types of rat had gone; they were almost hive-like in their unity, and it would only be a matter of months before every new littler would have a preference for flesh – alive or dead – rather than scavenging among the discarded left-overs of the human two-legs.
That would have suited Jack just fine had it only been rat flesh they craved like the ones in the barn but he had miscalculated – this new strain was different. It wasn’t each other’s flesh these rats craved, it was the flesh of completely different species altogether, particularly the soft succulent type to be found on the two-legs, the ones reeking of fear with neither claws, teeth or talons to defend themselves.
The Dark Eyed ones would only feed on other rats that didn’t share their same appetites for human and other species’ flesh, and with each new litter, the dominance of the flesh-hungry Dark Eyes was spreading exponentially … Jack’s and the neighbouring farms and villages would be just the beginning …
No sooner had the first one managed to gnaw through one of the small areas of floorboards and the heavy wooden planks Jack had nailed down over them he knew it was over, that they’d soon be swarming through whatever little opening they could find.
Already some were coming through the toilet bowl upstairs having swum through the sewers, and even as he watched those first few appearing up through the floor, more were now literally dropping down through holes they had gnawed through the upstairs flooring and soft plasterboard ceilings. Within minutes hundreds more were dragging him to the floor. He made a token effort to fight them off but he knew it to be in vain. Surprisingly though once he was down they paused in their biting and attack. He lay there motionless, that his until he saw Dark Eyes crawl up onto his chest. Not so surprisingly it was then that he lost control of his bowels and bladder. The rats barely seemed to notice.
Dark Eyes wasn’t inclined to showing the two-legs mercy, remembering what it had done to them in the barn, forcing him and his siblings to tear the flesh from each other in order to eat and live – he wasn’t to know they had Jack to thank for their newly developed hunger and success, that without Jack’s cruel and nasty little plan for decimating their numbers the new aggressive strain of flesh-eaters might never have risen to ascendency, not that it would made a difference; the two-legs were as repulsive and alien to Dark Eyes as he and all his kind were to all the two-legged hairless ones, creatures that apart from their larger size looked like the pink and wrinkly hairless newborns of his kind, weak and helpless till the emergence of their first infant teeth and claws. He looked again into the two-legs’ eyes. Jack looked back only this time he was the one having to look up. Dark Eyes was again standing on its hind legs from his position on Jack’s bloodied chest. There was a time when Dark Eyes’ instinct would have compelled him to strike immediately at his now helpless prey but Dark Eyes was intelligent, more so than most others of his kind. He took a moment to savour his imminent revenge on the human tormentor, knowing this was to be the first of many such victories over the hated two-legs. With a twitch of his tail, it was the sign to Dark Eyes’ rat soldier army to resume their feast of the-legs flesh. It was fortunate Jack was the only human on the farm, the scream that briefly escaped his mouth before a thousand rat bites tore the flesh from his throat was a sound no human being would ever be able to forget
A month later, Dark Eyes looked up from his position in the drain beside the abandoned farmhouse, his attention caught by the sight and smell of the bare skin of all the new humans going about their business. Many two-legs in their moving metal boxes had turned up for reasons beyond the rat’s understanding.
A local state of emergency had been declared and the army called in. But Dark Eyes welcomed their arrival. The warm blood and soft tender flesh of the many new two-legs would nourish all the new and future little ones in the days, months, and indeed years to come …
In 1969 at the age of 17, Tom left his native Glasgow to join the British Army. Tom’s military career spanned from 1969 to 1992. He followed this with a career in Retail Management, in which he was employed from 1992 to 2012.
Tom has been writing since 2007.
He has published seven novels, five anthologies of short stories, a five-part novel, a five-part series of erotica novellas, and a series of five anthologies of genre-based poetry, and has several other projects in the pipeline …
Tom’s websites & social media:
Beyond The Law: Consequences (Book 3) –
(Currently only available on Amazon Kindle) –
Amazon blurb … In August 2004, close relatives of three recently deceased Glasgow gangsters are looking for answers and revenge. Those intent on causing more bloodshed have yet to meet each other.
Will they form an alliance, or handle their issues as individuals?
Phil and Annabel have handed over the running of BTL Enterprises, but will they be called out of early retirement?
Why would a flag be flying from a castle ruin on a Scottish island?
The third and final part of Tom Benson’s BLT (Beyond The Law) trilogy, a series of books charting the formation and successes of a Glasgow based vigilante group BLT Enterprises, initially headed by ex SAS operative Phil McKenzie aka the Hawk, and then by his promising protege Jake, also after leaving the SAS. Unlike the traditional lone vigilante, the BLT group operate with the ‘unofficial’ support and backing of the UK authorities, even if at a discreet and very deniable arm’s length.i.e. if you get caught or anything goes wrong that might embarrass the government you’re on your own!
Following previous BLT successes in ridding Glasgow of much of the worst of its criminal element, things have moved on and once again new players have stepped up to the fill the criminal void left by the BLT group’s activities; those left behind want answers and revenge, and of course to be rid of the Hawk and his cohort’s interference in Glasgow’s criminal underworld. And likewise with the BLT, eight years on from its initial formation new characters are proving their worth, and with the continuing help and alliance of the Mental Riders’ biker gang, they continue to be a formidable force in combatting violent and organised crime – but now they face a new and better-organized enemy, an alliance of criminal psychopaths with comparable skills and a ruthlessness beyond anything they’ve had to face before, and with one aim in mind, the deaths of every member of BLT enterprises.
Once again Tom Benson has introduced several new characters, keeping the series fresh and exciting while still retaining most of the original line-up for continuity; despite the genre and macho world in which the story takes place, and indeed the author’s own very male-dominated previous military career, Tom Benson doesn’t shy away from creating strong and believable leading female characters, on both sides of the moral compass I add, putting one in mind of some of Lynda La Plante’s writing (think gangster’s wife Dolly Rawlings in Widows). The author also loosely connects this book with the wider world in which both the BLT series and his other thrillers take place thus ensuring that while this individual series might be coming to an end, at least some of the characters themselves have the opportunity to live on.
In the case of the first two instalments, each reads just as well as a stand-alone book as they do as part of a series; in book one there was more than enough scope for readers to hope for a sequel but without feeling cheated by lots of unanswered questions and loose ends, and in book two readers were introduced to several new characters taking the helm as it were, but with enough interwoven references to the past so as not to confuse new readers. In book three though I would say that it has moved on to the point where it really does read much better if you’ve already read the first two books so no, I wouldn’t say this works as well if read in isolation but given this was to be the final instalment of the BLT series I was quite pleased the author didn’t put unnecessary effort into making this another stand-alone book comparable to the first two but instead concentrated on writing a story that complimented and concludes the BLT saga, so crafting the perfect final chapter to this superb crime vigilante series – take my advice and read books one and two first and then treat yourself to this final concluding part.
For those readers sufficiently intrigued by this review please take a look at my reviews for the two previous books in this superb trilogy:
Beyond The Law: Formation: (Book One)
A ‘can’t put down’ book that definitely hits the ground running. In an explosive opening chapter reminiscent of Andy McNab, we’re introduced to the central character, Phil McKenzie, and some of the background to his special skills and training. What follows is an equally explosive story of unofficial state-sanctioned vigilantism as he and his cohorts set about tackling the tough and violent criminal under-belly of a crime-ridden Glasgow. But this is no simple story of good guys hunting down the bad; set against the murky backdrop of the military and British intelligence, Phil McKenzie and a select team of operatives are up against a criminal alliance that spans not only that of organised crime but also high ranking politicians and police officers. The book takes a number of different and dangerous turns, culminating in one hell of a conclusion.
Some of the characters have definite echoes of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. The dialogue throughout is both fluid and natural, as is the writing and realistic portrayal of a world and characters that thankfully, most never get to see outside the pages of a book. The author’s attention to detail and plot-line are approached with the same deadly precision as that of a covert military operation.
This is a book that effortlessly combines the genres of military adventure with that of crime and justice, and one that would sit well in the company of Lee Child, Andy McNab, and Tom Clancy. Should Tom Benson ever decide to write a sequel, it will certainly leapfrog to the front of my ‘to read’ list. Highly recommended …
Beyond The Law: Retribution: (Book Two)
This is a retribution themed novel once again dealing with those criminals whose cunning and resources enable them to operate beyond the constraints of the judiciary and elude the regular forces of law and order. Such is the violence and ruthlessness of such men it takes an equally resourceful and ruthless approach in dealing with such criminals, cue the reappearance of ex SAS operative Phil McKenzie aka the Hawk, and his unique band of cohorts collectively now known as BTL (Beyond the Law) enterprises. Hawk and his associates are every bit as ruthless as the criminals they face, with the added advantages of the very best military training in weapons, field-craft, and covert operations. Operating as they do outside normal police investigation and procedure they can’t be openly supported by the regular police, but they can still draw on the covert support of the British intelligence services and their unofficial police contacts, as well as here, some more ‘unconventional’ allies.
Our introduction to Phil McKenzie and the formation of BTL enterprises was dealt with in the prequel to this book. Although there is sufficient explanation and references to the past to allow it to read perfectly well as a stand-alone book I would still recommend reading the prequel first to enjoy it to its full; as well as being re-acquainted with ex SAS operative Hawk, the attractive ex intelligence operative Annabel, the equally stunning motor bike riding Rachael, former pick-pocket Jake, and one or two others, several new colourful characters are added to the mix: Max, the leader of biker gang the Mental Riders, and Intelligence operative and linguistics expert, Ian, to name but two. There are also some pretty brutal and sadistic new villains as well in the shape psychopathic twin brothers.
The story kicks off with the audacious escape from prison custody of Martin Cameron, who within minutes of his escape embarks on his vicious return to crime and violence; determined to re-establish and expand his control of all of Scotland’s major criminal activities, there follows a bloody trail of violence and dead bodies along the way; he also plans his painful and sadistic revenge on the man responsible for his imprisonment, Phil McKenzie. What he isn’t aware of though is just how eager someone else is for equally sadistic vengeance against him or indeed just how better organised and equipped Phil McKenzie and his organisation are now. In the interim, Martin Cameron’s plans to organise a massive drug shipment into Scotland once again bring him to the attention of one of the Hawk’s former cohorts despite being on the other side of the world at the time.
This is what Tom Benson does best, drawing on his own military experience and memories of growing up on the hard streets of Glasgow, coupled with a true story teller’s imagination. Once again, the author’s attention to plot detail and consistency rivals that of say a Frederick Forsythe novel, and is handled with the same careful planning as the covert operations of the story. The precise levels of detail related to weaponry, covert surveillance, and urban and rural field-craft are excellent, enough to place the reader right there with the characters but not so much to distract from the main story or bog the reader down. The characters are well-developed by way of the gritty and realistic dialogue and the things they do. I also enjoyed seeing how some of the characters had evolved since first encountering them in the prequel, and I must say, the writing here is even sharper and more streamlined than before. I was also impressed at how Phil McKenzie took more of a ‘behind the scenes’ role here, allowing some of the other characters to really come into their own rather than relying just on him to carry the story. As always, Tom Benson rounds up the conclusion and loose ends most effectively and leaves the reader with a tantalising hint of another sequel. The way the story is structured and has evolved from the prequel could lend this two book series (so far) to a whole series of books along the lines of Lee Child’s ‘Jack Reacher’ series …
… Tom Benson on the IASD website – click on pic for link …
Welcome to this, the first review/writing post of my new Welsh Wednesday writing series where each Wednesday I hope to be posting book/poetry reviews of Welsh authors, those authors living in or with a strong connection to Wales, or books that simply have an equally strong Welsh theme to them. In addition, I’ll also be posting information about Welsh writing groups, bookshops, and anything to do with Welsh literature whatever the genre be it fiction, history, travel, culture etc.
I’m proud to present here my review of a collection of writing from the Tonypandy Writer’s Group, June In The Valley, a little gem of a book I discovered while searching for Welsh creative writing groups. It’s only available in print format but at only £3.00 it’s an absolute literary bargain … click title for Amazon link.
The Tonypandy Writer’s Group
I discovered this little gem of a book whilst researching Welsh writing groups. Within its seventy pages, there are thirteen contributions of short stories and poetry.from various members of the Tonypandy writing group. Written to commemorate the group’s founder June Bacon, the book opens and touchingly closes with one of her stories, concluding a surprisingly fine collection of writing …
‘Plain Jane’ – a heartwarming ‘twist in the tale’ type story that puts you in mind of the ugly duckling discovering it’s a really a beautiful swan, and with a nice revelation at the end.
‘Where The Heart Is’ – a sort of mid-life crisis that turns into a heart-rending journey of self-discovery, a very powerful piece of writing.
‘A Story For June’ – A clever comic piece of people watching, a smartly dressed gorgeous woman being met at Cardiff station by … well, you’ll have to read it to find out …
‘The Bedroom’ – A short but moving tale of dying contentedly and how a brother and sister look back on and examine their own lives while dealing with their mother’s death, each in their own but very different ways.
‘My Hero – The Lamplighter’ – a short gentle poem quite literally almost ‘illuminating’ a bygone era, when a new invention was to change people’s lives. A youngster remembers such a time and how they watched in wonderment and a man making the streets safe for people, conjuring up images of dark Victorian nights.
‘The Sacrifice’ – Another ‘twist in the tale type story, this time with a bittersweet ending; a brutal snapshot of life in New York City, an incident that any of us could be witness to, compelling the reader to consider what they might do themselves in similar circumstances. Intertwined with the main story, we learn of a child’s confusion about the Sunday school version of god and the bible the literal reality of the Old Testament stories along with other memories that an unfolding drama conjures up in the child’s now adult’s mind.
‘The Curtains Are Closed’ – A prose style poem, simple and elegant, about a close-knit community showing their concern and respect when learning of the loss of one of their own.
‘Rhondda Past’ – a wistful trip down memory lane as an elderly resident of the Rhondda valley looks back to a time when it was a traditional mining community, and how things have changed since then, and not always for the better. Amid those changes are plans to close some of the writer’s beloved local libraries and it’s the proposed closures that bring back so many childhood memories.
‘Kindly’ – one of those stories that defy description, that you have to read for yourself to understand …
‘The Vicar’s Wife’ – A truly bittersweet story of a wife jolted into doing something about her life and appearance, of wanting something from a life and marriage that has lost its magic.
‘The Mirror’ – Another trip down memory lane, this time a wistful poetic one as a middle-aged woman reflects on what the passing years have done to her once youthful body and looks, though ever mindful that like so many of us, inside she’s still the youth she once was …
‘Song Of My People’ – A poignant poem that takes the reader through the generations from great-grandfather down to father, and ultimately the son telling the tale of those gone before, determined to remember; the eager anticipation of a youngsters life ahead through to the realities of a miner’s life that bears much in common with the slaves of ancient Egypt, the realisation that men’s lives mean less than the profit that can be obtained from their labour and the further cold political reality that the way of life of entire communities can be discarded to make way for easier profit elsewhere.
‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’ – A spooky little story, shorter than most yet beautifully simple yet and everything a story of this type should be. I won’t say more as to do so would almost certainly give too much away. A super must-read for fans of the paranormal …
‘Till Death’ – A touch of comic gallows humour in this short but sweet prose style poem, again too short to say too much without spoiling it but suffice to say, absolutely loved it!
‘The Box’ – As sentimental and beautiful a story you could hope read of a man’s remembrance of past happiness, again a short one but equally, just the perfect length it needs to be for the desired effect.
‘Breathtaking’ – The perfect ‘twist in the tale’ short story, ‘ though given its short length it’s really more a flash fiction story, leading the reader in one direction only to throw them off course with all the force of a suddenly discovering you’ve had the map upside down the whole time and you’re in totally the wrong valley, another little gem and the perfect way to round off this excellent collection.
As well as appealing to residents of South Wales, I think anyone who lives in or appreciates growing up in a village or the countryside will find much to enjoy and identify with this in this lovely collection of short stories and poetry, or indeed just about anyone who simply enjoys thoroughly well crafted and entertaining creative writing.
The Tonypandy Writer’s Group meets every other Wednesday at:
Tonypandy Library, 21 De Winton St, Tonypandy CF40 2RA
* And in the words of the group itself, if you would like to join just call in and inquire at the desk. In the spirit of June (the late founder of the group) you will be guaranteed a warm welcome and a cup of coffee courtesy of Debie and the staff …
Well okay, I know we’re another nine months off from Halloween but hey, give it another couple of months and we’ll be seeing all the usual adverts for Christmas and whatnot. It’s with great pleasure I present my review of IASD member Lacey Lane’s 2nd book in her Halloween Pumpkin Horror short story series and another of her short story collections, The Little Book of Horrors (and for those of you that missed the first one of the Pumpkin series I’ve included my review of Book One of that as well).
The Revenge of the Pumpkins – Amazon Blurb:
It’s Halloween and the Smith family are having fun carving pumpkins. As the witching hour arrives and the pumpkins come to life will the Smith family live to regret the monsters they created?
Find out what happens when the pumpkins come to life and take their revenge…
Anyone looking for a gory Halloween story for kids, say twelve or thirteen upwards need look no further than Lacey Lane’s The Revenge of the Pumpkins; we all know what happens on Halloween, or at least we think we do, when little boys and girls dress up for trick or treating, or carve shapes and faces in to unsuspecting pumpkins, and in that respect the story here is no different, or at least to begin with – what starts off as a fun filled day for the Smith family, dressing up, and indeed, carving their pumpkins in preparation for Halloween night, quickly descends into a scene right out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
What Lacey Lane has done with a seemingly harmless tradition, but which actually has its origins in ancient Celtic tradition when spirits and ghouls supposedly come back to haunt and cause mischief, is nothing less than sheer genius. The start of the story could easily be that of any traditional children’s story or perhaps a Roald Dahl tale, but it very soon takes a giant step into the much darker world of bloody and psychological horror – this is most definitely not a ‘young’ child’s bedtime story. Within this tiny tale of horror and revenge, and I say tiny because this really is little more than a ten-minute read, the author has managed to take a traditional story format and turn it on its head; the combination of seeming innocence and normality with incredulous horror is done to perfection. Without giving any of the plot away, all I would say is never underestimate or take for granted the power of a child’s imagination.
The Return of the Pumpkins – Amazon Blurb:
Peter Smith is a patient at West Hills hospital. He has been there for nearly a decade. At the age of thirteen, his parents were brutally murdered and Peter was tortured to near death by his Halloween pumpkins. Killer pumpkins haunt his dreams and his doctor thinks he’s delusional. Determined to turn his life around, he has eventually decided to join in with the Halloween festivities in the hospital and carves his first pumpkin. Will Peter survive the tenth anniversary of his parents’ death? Or will his pumpkin be the death of him?
A dramatic and scary flashback to the first book provides the perfect springboard opening for Return of the Pumpkins. This sequel is much longer and is more of a psychological horror story than its predecessor; set ten years after his first bloody encounter with the demonic knife-wielding pumpkins, Peter is now a patient in a psychiatric ward being treated for the trauma he suffered many years before. Needless to say, the doctors believe Peter’s stories about killer pumpkins being responsible for the brutal murder of his parents and he himself nearly dying in a fire to be his mind’s way of dealing with whatever happened – Peter’s far from sure of that though and still harbours very real fears of Halloween and any thought of pumpkins.
The hospital setting alone conjures up a mental image of an asylum and helps add to the increasingly sinister tone of the story, the classic scenario of being normal while everyone around you are the insane ones; added to the mix we have some less than sympathetic hospital staff and a downright creepy doctor. Fortunately for Peter, he finds an ally in fellow patient Sue, who seems determined to befriend and help him deal with his traumatic past. With her help, Peter develops a new sense of confidence and hope for the future, but as in any good story, events take a different direction, placing the two of them in the gravest danger, leading Peter to believe the murderous knife-wielding pumpkins are indeed real and not just the delusional creations of his imagination. How Peter and Sue face that danger provides a clever and frightening climax whilst leaving sufficient scope for another instalment to the series should the author decide to write one, which I hope she does.
With just a couple of characters it would have been easy for the author to write this story from a first-person point of view to really get inside the main character’s mind but somehow manages to achieve the same result with a third person perspective, an excellent balance between narrative and just the right level of dialogue and action.
As a psychological short horror story, this (and its predecessor) really is as good as they come, a story that would stand out as a classic Hammer House of Horror episode if it were ever adapted for film/tv – impossible for me to praise this story more highly!
The Little Book of Horrors – Amazon Blurb:
A deliciously wicked treat, no holds barred horror served up bloody with a side dish of sex. The Little Book of Horrors is macabre, disturbing, viciously satisfying and definitely not for the squeamish.
Another quick read from this extremely talented horror author, this time a trilogy of blood and gore filled tales encompassing a mix of karmic justice for someone most deserving of it, a blood and lust fuelled sexy vamp encounter that you probably wouldn’t want to have, depending which side of the encounter you were on of course, and finally a mix of all three in the last tale of poetic justice.
The author has blended horror and a touch of erotica to produce three entertaining horror tales. I must admit to finding the first story a tad obvious but still enjoyable to read nonetheless. The two remaining stories were definitely more to my taste and in each case held my attention from beginning to end. I enjoyed the way the author combined an erotic setting and situation with a violent and bloody conclusion, and then in the final tale, my favourite I might add, again it was a relatively simple story and a tad predictable in where it was headed but it was told in such a way to keep you guessing just how it would actually unfold. Once again, enough horror here to keep any devoted fan of the genre more than happy.
More about the author:
Lacey Lane was born in the UK and as a child loved writing stories. At the age of 31 she decided to rekindle her passion for writing.
Her debut ebook The Revenge of the Pumpkins was first published in October 2014. Since then she has published five more books. With the current exception of Revenge of the Pumpkins, all Lacey Lane’s books are available in both Ebook and paperback formats.
Lacey’s other passions include reading and gardening along with being an avid reader and book reviewer. For further info please links below:
Lacey Lane’s Amazon Author page for all the author’s books …
This is the third review of one of Lesley Hayes’ books I’ve written (I’ve still got a few more to be written up). I first encountered Lesley via a chance post on Twitter of all places and from that, I was intrigued enough to take a look at her website and then one of her books, and since then I’ve been a fan. Most members of the IASD will already be familiar with some of her books, but for others, if you’re not I highly recommend you give one of .. Click above for website … them a go to see for yourself.
Who exactly is Oscar? He seems to be one thing for one person and something quite different for another. Is he a brilliant artistic genius or a mad, lovesick fool? And the women into whose lives he sweeps with his wild Genghis Khan looks and his courtly passion each have their own tales to tell. Be beguiled along with them as you enter the slightly surreal world they inhabit. And watch out for the Polish ranting parrot – he spits.
This delightful collection of four interlinked stories will amuse and intrigue you, and leave you wanting more. Luckily, Lesley Hayes has provided them. Two other collections are here on Kindle, and more are yet to come.
These four short stories each look at the seemingly eccentric and enigmatic Oscar and the different women in his life, and of course a foul-mouthed Polish speaking parrot. Oscar is one of those larger than life characters, hugely talented and yet flawed in equal measure. There is a certain type of woman he is attracted to yet he seems blind to the love an altogether different woman has for him. The opening story introduces us to Oscar and his longtime friend, Lily. For some reason, these two names immediately put me in mind of the relationship between Oscar Wild and Lilly Langtry, and oddly enough there are some similarities between our characters here and their more famous namesakes. Each story effortlessly connects with the next, first introducing us to Oscar himself and then exploring the characters and stories of the women in his life, all intertwined with that of Oscar; how a foul-mouthed parrot fits into the grand scheme of things is best left for the reader to discover for themselves.
What we have in these four short stories is a beautifully written peek into the lives of a small clutch of captivating characters, brought alive by the fascination surrounding Oscar. The author skillfully plays with and switches the time frame from the present to the past and then a little into the future from the time of the initial story. Even though the stories are interconnected, there’s not so much an overall story as such but more a series of episodes that provide the reader with a lovely look into a part of Oscar’s life. It’s a present-day setting but the writing has a period, almost timeless quality to it. Within this book’s short length there is humour, sadness, perhaps a little albeit justified bitterness, and – on more than one occasion – unrequited love. There’s also perhaps a hint that the author knew such a character herself once, or at least someone on whom Oscar might be based. At just under an hour or so’s read, these four enchanting stories will immerse you in a world of literary imagination. I do so hope we get to meet Oscar again in other stories, though if not he’s certainly a character I will remember with a smile.
* Once again as has recently been the case with other books I’ve read, I’m not sure the cover connects with the story; yes, the cover here might loosely reflect the written description but personally I don’t think it reflects Oscar’s character, looking more like some ‘hoodie’ wearing juvenile than the fascinating larger than life persona that comes across in the book.
More about the Author:
Lesley Hayes lives in Oxford, where she gains much of the inspiration for her writing. She had numerous short stories and one novel published prior to training as a psychotherapist, and for two years had a weekly slot on BBC Radio Oxford reading her short stories. During the past seven years she has surrendered to the compelling urge to write fiction again, and has now published six novels: ‘The Drowned Phoenician Sailor’, ‘A Field Beyond Time’, ‘Round Robin’, ‘Dangerous People’, ‘The Other Twin’, and ‘The Girl He Left Behind’. All are available in paperback and on Kindle. She has also published four collections of short stories on Kindle: ‘Oxford Marmalade’, ‘The Oscar Dossier’, ‘Without a Safety Net’, and the aptly named ‘Not Like Other People’ – the last two are available in paperback in a collated version titled ‘Through a Glass Darkly’. You can find out more about her on her website, blog, and on social media:
See Lesley Hayes’ Amazon Author page for all the author’s books.