Review of Sarah Rayne’s latest…

Song of the Damned by Sarah Rayne

‘Song of the Damned’ is the latest psychological, supernatural historical thriller from the pen of Saran Rayne or perhaps she writes with a quill and ink, in an attic under owl-light- as she so convincingly recreates the settings and voices of different eras in her stories. This is the third novel starring music researcher Phineas Fox (isn’t that a fabulous name?) and as is often the case with Rayne’s plots, music, ancient, lost and cryptic, is an important thread which serves as a lasso holding together the past/present day narratives. For as always, the present day setting (in this case, a girls’ school, Cresacre Abbey) is the backdrop for past crimes committed, whose shadowy tentacles reach out to entrap the living.

Rayne’s plots remind me of a set of Russian Dolls, so detailed in their execution, and each one when removed, revealing another precise tinier figure inside. You really have to keep up with the plot clues, the differing voices (often heard in diaries or letters) and the historical narrative switching. Take your readerly eye off the ball and you lose the thread; you’ve got to be a Theseus finding his way out of the labyrinth. Minotaurs abound in Rayne’s novels.

I’m a huge fan of her thrillers, and have read them all, see Sarah’s blog for a full list and the different pen names she has written under.

Sarah is adept at ratcheting up the tension, and giving hints that all is not well – you start in the present and travel back to the C18th to when the school was a nunnery and via diary entries to France, just prior to the butchery of the French Revolution (which is given a larger role later on) in a touching scene at the Guillotine itself.

Rayne is expert at capturing the nuances of the different historical periods, through language, clothing, food, and in this novel, the use of music.

I suspect she is a whizz at research- for all her novels are rich in such details; much of the plot in ‘Song of the Damned’ revolves around the ancient practice of ‘immurement’ (literally:- walliing-in alive) and Phineas begins to discover that this grisly ritual has not died out.

The scenes set in Infanger Cottage, owned by a remnant of the Tulliver family, Olivia (a brilliant depiction by Rayne of an odd, isolated and ultimately tragic individual), are for me, the most disturbing, sinister and menacing of the whole novel. The denouement with Phin’s girlfriend, Arabella Tallis and Olivia, is a model in how to writing creeping terror brilliantly. You just want to shout, ‘Watch out, don’t go down the cellar stairs!’

There is a hefty amount of plot, minor and major, going on in this novel, with revelations scattered liberally along the way; literally never a quiet moment. Who is Ginevra? Where is the missing opera? Where and why and how did the nuns vanish to in the 1790’s? Why won’t Olivia sell Infanger cottage? The questions continue.

To find out the answers and the full solution to this tricky, elaborate and clever puzzle-box of a novel- well I would strongly advise buying the book and sitting down for a weekend and only come up for a coffee.

Thank you to netgalley and publisher Severn House for the pdf of the book for the purposes of reviewing it.

Author interview with me- up on Infernal Clock site- in lead up to publication of DeadCades…

Stephanie Ellis, horror writer and co editor of DeadCades (along with David Shakes) asked for the contributing authors to answer some questions (themed around the decades idea) for interviews to be posted in the lead up to the publication in October of DeadCades.

Authors like Steph, Stuart Conover (Horror Tree founder/editor), Christopher Long, Arthur Unk, Andrea Allison and Sal Page (just to pick out a few- not playing favourites or anything) contribute their answers to questions like:-

In the whole span 1880-2020, many horrible things have happened. What do you think was the worst event overall? Why?

Go to the link to find out my answer- this is a tough one.


Also want to mention that Steph Ellis has a new book of dark verse and twisted nursery rhymes out- Dark is my Playground –

Dark is my Playground by [Ellis, Stephanie]

available to buy on amazon, it has great reviews, is lyrical and beautifully written- it’s a dark ride.

Review of Robert Masello’s latest Victorian set thriller ‘The Night Crossing’- due out in September…

The Night Crossing

I have read all of Robert Masello’s thrillers- chasing them up in paperback when they’re out of publication plus his reissues on e books of his early works like The Spirit Wood so I am a huge fan and predisposed to his loping, all encompassing writing style and historical backgrounds. This latest supernatural/mystery thriller has a powerful opening set in the Carpathian mountains with a sphinx, a young female adventuress and a sinister golden box. One of my all time favourite setting for novels is :- Victorian London and soon we are back in the peasoupers and alleys of that city. I was however a little thrown by Masello taking real life folk ie Bram Stoker (author of – what for it – ‘Dracula’) as one of his lead characters and decorating his back story with the likes of Conan Doyle, Henry Irving and in passing, his co star, Ellen Terry. I don’t think Masello has taken this approach so heavily in his other novels and for me, taste-wise, I’d have preferred the leads to be totally fictional rather than fictionalising the famous and infamous of the era.

Once I’d got over that though, Masello’s adroitness in running several plot strands each with interesting characters and developments kicked in. There are two strong female leads as well- Mina and Lucinda, from different backgrounds but they are just as ready to get stuck in as the men. Masello beautifully evokes the (dubious) Mission House with the match making factory (employing young children to stir the deadly phosphorus), he writes touching haunting scenes in the cemetery and blood curdling fast paced action scenes under the city in the tunnels of the sewers where something inhuman has been conjured up. Indeed the scene where Stoker escapes a many legged creature we never really see, which grabs hold of his boot, is totally creep making. There is much description given to the theatre world and life of The Lyceum where Stoker works in partnership with Irving. Masello you feel has done his research and provides many tiny but telling details which evoke the Victorian era. However occasionally his dialogue slips into 21st century colloqualisms I felt- which jar with the rest of the language.

This is a fast paced, entertaining, well written, yarn reminiscent of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ with overtones of ‘The Mummy’- but that’s not to criticise, it’ takes skill to tell this sort of tale effectively.

Not perhaps one of Masello’s best, for that I’d suggest you start with his ‘Blood and Ice’ – set in the Crimea -you can almost smell the death in the battles there.

Holiday Reading- by thriller writer Ali Harper… mentions ‘Badlands’

Ali Harper’s latest blog entry is on her summer reading books- and she has included ‘Badlands’– with a lovely review; check out Ali’s Leeds based thriller ‘The Disappeared’ available to buy on kindle, for £2.99 (the price of a latte) and it’s so much longer lasting, more entertaining and will give you an adrenaline rush all the way through.

Ali Harper Writes

IMG_1240One of the things I like best about holidays is all that time to read. Here’s the best picks from my summer reading list:

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty – I loved The Husband’s Secret and I always worry that the next book won’t live up to expectation – but this is brilliant. A forty-year old mother of three bangs her head and wakes up thinking she’s twenty-nine and about to have her first baby. The contrast between the two versions of Alice was ace and brought home to me how much motherhood changes a person.

Losing Juliet by June Taylor –  A psychological thriller with a compelling mother/daughter relationship at its centre, there’s a great mystery to solve which kept me hooked from beginning to end. This book has it all – a great plot AND great character development. Loved it.

The Woman Next Door by Cass Green…

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My story for teens ‘The Nearly Boy’ is out on US e zine site Youth Imagination…

The iguana isn’t anything to do with my story- it’s the cover of August’s mag.

Issue 63 Aug 2018

It was inspired by my son’s love of parkour (when he was younger) and the classes he went to, my experiences of being bullied while I was at school, and of being a carer and it all came together in this short story – which is one of my personal favourites and contains issues very close to my heart. I have had some lovely feedback on this story from folk – if you enjoy reading it please comment, either twitter @AlysonFaye2 or on the site itself- thank you.


August’s Zeroflash Creative Writing Competition

Free monthly themed comp- flash fiction- 300 words- have a go- see your work on line at zeroflash website and that’s pretty great in itself!!



This month’s Zeroflash, flash fiction competition is themed around the concept of living in an 8-Bit World/Universe.

That means…whatever you think it means.

Interpret this as you will. Any genre, any style.

Have fun!

Please send your 300 word stories to:

Deadline is Midnight GMT on the final day of the month.

Please allow Zero Flash the first opportunity to publish your work. Once the competition is over, feel free to publish anywhere else you like.

Do your best to format as Times New Roman12 points and in a Word doc please.

If you are submitting a Stand Alone entry – separate to the monthly competition, please say so in your email. Likewise, if you are submitting for the monthly competition, let us know.

Every month we will decide on the best story and make a showing of it for the world to see. We’ll tell everyone…

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Books I’ve read – courtesy of net galley… Adele Parks/Adam Nevill/Louise Jensen/Sarah Rayne…

Latest chick lit with a pyschological twist from best seller Adele Parks– before its publication date- of 20 September I Invited Her IN -

I Invited Her In: A dark and twisted tale of friendship from Sunday Times bestselling author by [Parks, Adele]4/5 stars

Here is my review:- This is the latest from best seller Adele Parks – the catchily grabbing titled ‘I Invited her In’ and we just know from those 4 words that no good will come of the invite. Imagine inviting the female of Mr Hyde into your home thinking it’s really Dr Jekyll and you’ll be fine and it will all be good times and happy memories- and until half way through it is- or seems to be- then for the last half it So is not. You are in fact entrapped in some orchestrated nightmare scenario, unravelling at speed, taking your loved ones along with it and away from you- which is what happens to the protagonist Melanie (mother of teenager Liam and 2 younger daughters, wife of Ben).
This is a cleverly plotted page turner, twisting and weaving its confident way through family life, old friendships, how we see ourselves, aging, being a mother, a wife whilst trying to recapture the past. Abigail is glamorous, exciting, charismatic, over from the US, been in TV, botoxed and boob jobbed, witty, and once Melanie’s best mate at uni. She is the one who is invited in and she stays and stays –  long past her welcome expiry date and beyond. The story is told from several characters’ viewpoints: not just Mel and Abi but also Ben, Liam and Liam’s girlfriend. This is quite a juggling act for Parks and she handles it with skill.
I did guess one of the twists, but not the last one of all, and the ending perhaps works well for some readers but didn’t entirely gel for me. But my goodness how Parks draws you in, and how you sympathise and empathise with these two very different women and their goals and emotional scars. The last half of the book is a wild ride, and being a mum to a 16 year old teenage boy myself, some of the situations were toe curling and excruciating. Snappy dialogue too, often with a double meaning, so you have to read sharp and between the lines.


I’ve also read my 1st Louise Jensen thriller, after meeting her on the creative writing residential at Wentworth- The Gift (p/b Nov 2017) and I will be reading her others- she can spin a dark entertaining web full of surprises.


Highly recommend.


Adam Nevill‘s latest short story collection:- Hasty for the Dark (off kindle)

Hasty for the Dark: Selected Horrors by [Nevill, Adam]

The one that really stuck with me was set in a derelict and abandoned zoo in a commuter town in the middle of nowhere  (Eumenindes (The Benevolent Ladies)- Nevill’s descriptions of the zoo and the journey he goes on following Electra inside its gutted innards is creepy as hell and disturbing.


Another book courtesy of net galley is the fantastic Sarah Rayne– her latest starring her recurring character Phineas Fox is out now from Severn House – Song of the Damned-

I’ve read Sarah Rayne’s entire back catalogue, I love her mix of supernatural mystery/history/intertwining of characters’ stories past and present/links to music and theatre/how old crimes cast long shadows- she never fails to entertain and deliver.

I will be writing a full review for net gallery and amazon soon and I will be interviewing Sarah for Horror Tree – as she has kindly agreed to answer my questions on her writing career.




Interview with Deborah Sheldon by Horror Tree’s Steph Ellis in the lead up to the launch of DeadCades (October)…

DeadCades, The Infernal Decimation is the last in the time-themed trilogy of anthologies from The Infernal Clock. It features stories from thirty authors, two for each decade, one as a drabble (exactly 100 words), the other in more traditional short story form. Over the next few weeks, The Infernal Clock will be hosting a series of interviews with its amazing contributors and we are delighted to kick-off today with a very special author, the award-winning Deborah Sheldon.

Why did you choose your decade?

I’m a writer from Melbourne in Victoria, Australia, and I wanted to write an historical piece about my State. I chose the 1880s because it was a moment of stupendous growth for Melbourne. For example, immigrants from Britain bought more tickets for Melbourne than for any other place on earth. At the same time, the challenges of the Australian continent and its dangers weren’t well understood by Europeans. I felt this was the perfect setting for my exploration of a home grown and supernatural weirdness.

What was the worst and best of your chosen decade?

The period is known as “Marvellous Melbourne”. During the 1880s, Melbourne was a boom town, larger than most capital cities in Europe, with a population of over half a million. Everyone had cash to splash following the Victorian gold rush. Opulent buildings were erected with spires, turrets and lavish façades. The multi-storey “skyscrapers” were as incredible as any found in much more famous cities such as New York and London.

And then the bubble burst, as all bubbles are wont to do.

By the end of the decade, Melbourne was in dire financial straits. Many people were bankrupted. It quickly became a time of hardship and destitution.

What decade would you have liked to live in and why?

If I had a time (and space) machine, I’d head back to Paris in the 1920s and try to hang out in bars and cafés with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I can drink hard (as long as it’s Chardonnay) and love to write (naturally), so, you never know, I might just fit in with these expatriate writers. At least, I’d try my absolute best! (My tactic would be to buy every round.)

In terms of your own life, what was your favourite decade – or is it still to come?

Every decade so far has had its highlights, but I would have to pick the 1990s. Being young and working in television was terrific fun. In that decade, I was lucky enough to meet and marry the love of my life. Together, we conceived our son.
Fingers crossed that even more good times lie ahead, but one can never be sure in this uncertain world.

What do you think will happen in the near future?

Computers will continue to influence everything we do and everything we are, particularly in the field of medicine. Bio-robotics is one thing – a very exciting thing, I might add! – but massive combinational analyses of scientific data will add to our knowledge of biology in so many amazing ways, including the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Computational power is the future of medicine.

In the whole span 1880-2020, many horrible things have happened. What do you think was the worst event overall? Why?

I would have to pick WWI. The Great War ushered in new and terrifying methods of armed conflict including machine guns, chemical warfare, explosives, tanks, and aeroplanes. In addition, WWI caused a worldwide economic depression which directly led to WWII.

No other event comes close to shaping the 20th century and beyond like WWI.

Do you think we have learned anything from the past or do you think there will always be monsters leading us into the dark?

All the sciences – such as quantum physics, medicine and computer technology – advance in leaps and bounds by “standing on the shoulders of giants”. Apart from scientific endeavours, I believe we are destined to repeat our mistakes because we’re motivated by the same drives, desires and demons from time immemorial. History books show this to be true, unfortunately. Scratch the surface of a person from the 5th century BC, for example, and you’ll find the same emotions that motivate you.

More about Deb Sheldon:

Deborah Sheldon is a professional writer from Melbourne, Australia. Her latest releases, through several publishing houses, include the noir-horror novel Contrition, the dark fantasy and horror collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories (winner of the Australian Shadows Award “Best Collected Work 2017”), the bio-horror novella Thylacines, and the monster-horror novel Devil Dragon. Her short fiction has appeared in many well-respected magazines such as Quadrant, Island, Aurealis, SQ Mag, and Midnight Echo. Her work has been shortlisted for numerous Aurealis Awards and Australian Shadows Awards, long-listed for a Bram Stoker Award, and included in “best of” anthologies. Other credits include TV scripts, feature articles, non-fiction books, stage plays, and award-winning medical writing.

Visit Deb at:





‘Stories from Stone’ anthology will be in stock at Salts Mill bookshop… and Badlands is being auctioned for charity for Macmillan-

Thank you to course tutor and writer Irene Lofthouse for making this happen.

Thank you to fellow Chapel Town author Gail Aldwin for initiating this – I am delighted to be a part of it.

Charity auction- Badlands is included in lot 20

To the winning bidder I will also include an original, new piece of flash- signed by me, in a card.

You will be the first person to read the piece before it appears anywhere on line or in print.

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EmmathelittlebookwormtoCharity Book Auction


A set of three anthologies including Gail Aldwin‘s #PaisleyShirt which will be signed and dedicated as you wish!

#FromLightToDarkAndBackAgain by Allison Symes
#Badlands by Alyson Faye

Bidding starts at £5.00 at 8.00 a.m. (GMT) on Saturday 1 September and the highest bids at 8.00 p.m. (GMT) wins!

Other news…

I ‘ve had a couple of horror drabbles accepted by the Horror Tree and one of them was inspired by a writing prompt from the Wentworth Castle writing residential – Teeth-

Siren’s Call e zine- has accepted 2 pieces for their magazine issue 40- one of which I read at the open mic at Wentworth.

Later this month my story for teens – The Nearly Boy will be out in Silver Pen’s Youth Imagination magazine– more info to follow. (That’s a paying market too).

I returned my DeadCades author questionnaire answers to Steph Ellis- and mine along with the other writers responses will be running online through August- there were some interesting q’s eg

What decade would you have liked to live in and why?
In the whole span 1880-2020, many horrible things have happened. What do you think was the worst event overall? Why?
Mmm not easy those- but thought provoking.
South Tyneside Talking Newspapers ( a charity) providing recordings of short stories to homebound blind and partially sighted readers- have recorded 3 of my tales to date and have accepted a 4th – a light hearted story set at the seaside – Three Wishes.
I am so pleased that my fiction is being circulated in this way.
Thank you to organiser Carol Cooke for her hard work.
I have a page on here- with a few books listed –
which also includes the horror magazine – where I have a story included in Issue #6
(Like the cover!)