Review: Ellipsis Zine: Two


Read three over a cup of coffee. Read four on your daily commute. Read one that will make you think twice.

I was recently given the opportunity to read Issue Two of Ellipsis Zine in return for an honest review. Ellipsis Zine, launched by Steve Campbell in 2017, is an online and print literary magazine that publishes flash fiction and short creative non-fiction with each contribution within the 1000-word mark. As stated on the Ellipsis website: We love stories that make us forget where we are, stories that introduce us to people, places and things we’ve never seen before and stories that stick with us long after we leave them.

Ellipsis Zine: Two is a stunning collection of flash that explores themes such as loss, escape, infidelity and the impact of trauma.

In Jack Somers’ Billy, a wounded child feels the presence of his father’s past. As Dad tends to the boy’s injured foot, his son gains a mature insight into how past hurt can linger.

In the marvellously succinct opening of First Untruths, Tomas Marcantonio’s incredible use of description drags the reader back to the churches of childhood in a just a few well-chosen words: The thurible swung from its gibbet chains, releasing a heavy cloud of hallucinations to the rafters, and the purple tang of incense tickled in my nose and throat like a mouthful of fizzy petals… The story goes on to explore the familiar childhood fear of having nothing to say in the confessional.

In the brilliantly original The Oversharing Omniscient Narrator by Caleb Echterling, character Dave tries to control his own story: He flings an empty vodka bottle at the ceiling. “Dammit! Don’t tell them that…it’s extraneous to the plot.”

In Judy Darley’s fabulously insightful Flamingos and Ham, personalities and gender practically become non-existent as colours are outlawed: “Don’t let them make you believe that this is normal. You wore pink once…”

In Lucie McKnight Hardy’s highly moving Diptych, a hot and bickering family take a long journey to the funeral of loved-one, McKnight Hardy’s wonderful use of description again lingering in the reader’s mind long after the short is finished: Bewilderment filters through, intensified by silence; a diptych carved from grief.

And, in the not-too-distant future of Luke Richardson’s Two Minutes, Richardson’s protagonist marvels at past levels of concentration: before computers and machines completed complicated tasks, people had to concentrate for as long as an hour. You’d seen pictures of them driving cars and trains, operating machines, reading books.

A brilliant flash fiction showcase that is ideal for those random moments when you need nothing more than a quick literary fix, Ellipsis Zine publishes new work online every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and even offers writers a share of the royalties, as well as a complimentary copy of the print edition. All submitting authors also receive purchase discounts.

For information about submitting and to purchase Issues One and Two, visit the Ellipsis Zine website.



Why we should value our canine and feline writing companions


A few weeks before Christmas, I lost my faithful writing companion: the West Highland terrier I rescued almost eight years ago, my lovely Molly.

Molly (and her brother George, who we sadly lost just two years ago) was with me when I made my very first serious attempt at writing a novel, sitting on her bed at my feet as I wrote longhand in a pad at the kitchen table. She was also at my side when I wrote my latest novel, the one that has finally won me a publishing contract and that will be released with Manatee Books in the coming year.


For much of my time, Molly drove me quite bonkers, fighting my laptop for space on my knee, barking at every figure that passed the window, and crying for her walk or her tea just as I might be finding myself in the ‘zone’ (you all know what I mean, that place in your novel that you pray you will reach every writing day, the one that, when it comes, you never want to leave). What we writers all know, however, is what a solitary, sedentary world we can create for ourselves when we are writing, and what Molly did for me was make me get out of the chair, make me shut down my laptop, if only for a short while, and make me go out of the house, something that I am struggling with a little on the days I’m not in my day job now that she is not here.

I won’t get another dog, not for a while anyway, but for many writers, our canine and feline companions can often be the only thing that connects us to the outside world, that enable us to have a responsibility to something other than the characters we are creating on the page.

So, here’s to Molly: with me in spirit for the next one.



Book Review: The Summer of Secrets by Sarah Jasmon

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In the summer of 1983, lonely teenager Helen meets the Dovers, a quirky and sometimes dysfunctional family who move into a house on the bank of the canal near where Helen lives. As Helen becomes drawn into the Dovers’ world, attempting to fill the emotional gaps left by her parents’ split, her life changes forever.

Helen lives with her father, Mick, a reclusive drinker devastated by the loss of his wife. When the Dovers move into a nearby cottage, she is instantly captivated by their seemingly eccentric lifestyle. Young twins Pippa and Will run free without any discipline, teenager Victoria does as she pleases and mother Alice spends much of her time wrapped in her own world. The only authority in the family comes from older brother Seth and part-time uncle Piet. Spending the summer by the canal with her new friends, Helen feels that she has found her niche, never daring to imagine that her life might go back to the way it was before. It won’t, but not all change is good as we find out when we meet Helen thirty years later, the impact of that summer on the now reclusive and vulnerable adult clear.

Much as Helen’s world with the Dovers seems idyllic at first, Sarah Jasmon does an excellent job of making the reader feel uneasy from the off, of hinting at what is to come and of making us feel that all will not end well. As indeed it doesn’t. How exactly, we don’t find out until the end of the book. Along with the reader, even Helen is in the dark about what exactly happened during that summer, her memories as an adult unclear and playing tricks on her. It takes another meeting with the now successful photographer Victoria to reveal all.

The Summer of Secrets is highly atmospheric, Jasmon successfully making the reader feel the intense heat of Helen’s summer with the Dovers and her own experience of living on a canal boat making the novel’s setting highly authentic. The slow-burning plot in this book is like a ticking time bomb, the summer’s events being revealed bit by bit, both to the adult Helen and to us. And, when we find out what happened, we can clearly see why Helen is as she is, the secrets of the books title ones that will possibly stay with her forever.

The Summer of Secrets is available now. To find out more about Sarah Jasmon, visit her website.


Book Review: Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

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Still Alice author Lisa Genova tackles another complicated medical condition in her latest offering: Left Neglected.

Left Neglected tells the story of Sarah Nickerson. Married with two young children, Sarah lives a hectic and demanding life, her job involving long hours, little time at home and reliance on a nanny for her children. Even when she is at home, Sarah’s time with her kids and husband is squeezed in between constant emailing and telephone calls, her position as primary wage earner enabling her family to keep up the two-house lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.

When Sarah suffers a devastating car accident, however, her life changes drastically. Waking up in hospital, she feels lucky to be alive and, determined to go back to work as soon as possible, she sets out to do everything she can to get better. What Sarah doesn’t realise immediately, though, is that her accident has left her with a life-changing condition: Left Neglect. Although not paralysed, she now has no awareness of the left side of her body. The left side of the room, anybody standing on her left, the left page of a book, for Sarah, simply don’t exist. Look left, scan left, go left becomes her mantra.

Having once managed her life as if it were a military operation, Sarah now must accept help for the first time: from her husband Bob, the staff of the hospital where she is recuperating and, even, her mother, with whom she has always had a difficult relationship.

What I liked most about this book is its realism. Sarah’s accident doesn’t immediately pull her up short. She continues to want to go back to work, is adamant that she will get her life back on track and, although positive (no spoilers here!), the ending of the book is not miraculous or sickly-sweet. The characters are all 3-dimensional and, like all of us, have their flaws, which makes it much easier to identify with them. Will Sarah get back to the job she so loved? Or will her condition change her life in more ways than she realises?

Left Neglected is available to buy now



Book Review: Who Killed Constable Cock? by Angela Buckley

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In the early hours of 1st August 1876, Police Constable Nicholas Cock was shot and killed as he patrolled his usual beat in the quiet area of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester. The fascinating series of events that followed the young constable’s murder form the second in historian Angela Buckley’s Victorian Supersleuth series: Who Killed Constable Cock?

Although only 21-years-old, Constable Cock had made some enemies during his time serving the Manchester community. As a result, Superintendent James Brent, leading the investigation, was convinced that the perpetrators of the crime were a group of Irish immigrant brothers, the Habrons, who had been heard to make threats against the policeman. Soon arrested, the brothers were brought to trial, with various witnesses giving surprisingly different  accounts of what happened in the days leading to the crime and of the shooting itself. Who was the strange man seen lurking nearby? What was the strange noise heard by residents of the area? Why were William Habron’s boots muddy on a dry day? Despite the presence of several witnesses at the time of the shooting, including student John Massey Simpson and Cock’s colleague PC Beanland, witness statements could not have been more varied. After the trial concluded, the mystery of what happened to PC Cock appeared to have been solved but when, many years later, a notorious criminal confessed his involvement, it seemed that this crime was not so clear cut after all. Did Superintendent Brent help convict an innocent man?

This book also gives a fascinating account of the origins of the forensic and investigative methods that are so familiar in policing today. For example, the use of footprints, and the casting of them in plaster of Paris, was pioneered in the early 1800s by French ex-convict and police informer, Eugène Vidocq. The technique was later refined by physician and criminologist Alexandre Lacassagne, who even began to make casts in the snow by using salt. Vidocq was also responsible for the first uses of mugshots to keep records of arrested criminals.

Who Killed Constable Cock? is a fascinating and meticulously detailed account of a Victorian-era crime, the impacts of which spread far and wide and stretched over a period of many years.

The book is available to buy now.

To find out more about Angela Buckley’s work as a Victorian Supersleuth, visit her Facebook page.


Book Review: Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski

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In 1996, 15-year-old Tom Jeffries goes missing while on an outreach expedition to Scarclaw Fell. His mutilated body is found the following year by the son of the land’s owner. Twenty years later, no-one has been brought to account for the seeming crime and Tom’s story becomes the subject of a series of podcasts by renowned journalist Scott King, who likes to investigate so-called ‘cold’ cases. Interviewing the members of the Rangers group with whom Tom visited the fell, King sets out to get a clearer picture of the events that led to the tragic death of the teen.

Wesolowski’s book is no straightforward crime novel; it is a psychological thriller, Gothic novel, series of podcasts and an in-depth exploration of the motives behind human behaviour all rolled into one. Structured as six interviews with Tom Jeffries’ friends and acquaintances, the novel explores their different perspectives on the events leading up to Tom’s disappearance, each ‘story’ giving the plot another subtle twist. While each take on what might have happened to Tom is different, each podcast gives the reader another set of clues. Thus, Wesolowski successfully builds a bigger picture that enables the reader to ‘see around’ the characters’ limited viewpoints. Are Tom’s friends telling the truth? Or is there more to what happened than they are revealing?

With folkloric tales of terrifying creatures on the fell, Wesolowski also dips into the supernatural in this novel. Indeed, his atmospheric and highly detailed descriptions of the novel’s setting carry a strong link to 19th century Gothic literature. The contemporary structure of the book, however, most certainly gives Six Stories a modern twist, ensuring its appeal to the 21st century reader. If you are a fan of podcasts, particularly the seemingly much revered Serial, then this book is for you. If you are not a podcast fanatic (as I’m not) then the traditional murder-mystery aspect of the novel is still very much likely to appeal. In other words, Six Stories has something for everyone.

Six Stories is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.


Book Review: The Mask of Sanity by Jacob M Appel

mask of sanity

Dr Jeremy Balint appears to have it all. A successful and highly respected cardiologist, he has a professional reputation envied by many, is a supportive husband, doting father and model son. When his personal life and idyllic family set up are threatened, however, Balint’s Mr Hyde soon comes to the fore, the doctor making it clear that a sociopathic, and murderous, alter-ego is lurking beneath the suburban façade.

In this modern day, middle class version of Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, the reader joins Balint as he explores the darker side of his own character. Discovering his wife is having an affair with one of his colleagues, Balint sets out to kill his rival. However, in order to do this without detection, the doctor determines that a series of killings are his only option. Thus begins the calm and calculated killing spree of the so-called ‘Emerald Choker’, carried out, mostly, without regret or remorse.

Keeping us closely tied to the mind of his protagonist at all times, Jacob M Appel invites the reader to spectate as Balint attempts to save his family, his personal life, rather ironically, beginning to slowly unravel whilst he is busy killing people. While his behaviour is often unforgiveable, the reader, I suspect, in most cases, is very much on Balint’s side. Although this learn-on-the-job killer seems to, somewhat unrealistically at times, very much pull the wool over the eyes of the authorities, his colleagues and his loved ones, that is exactly what we want him to do. Whilst we know he should be held accountable for these awful crimes, it’s actually the last thing we are hoping will happen.

The title of the novel says it all: Dr Jeremy Balint does indeed wear the Mask of Sanity and he wears it well. Is he discovered? That is for the potential reader to find out, and to hope for or against. There seem to be differing opinions about the ending of this book, with some readers not liking Appel’s decision to leave the interpretation to the reader and other fans hoping the last line might lead to a sequel. For me, however, the unexpected twist that the end of Jeremy Balint’s story brings is perfect just as it stands, even if it did start my mind racing….

The Mask of Sanity is published by Permanent Press and is available to buy now.


Author Interview: Louise Beech

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I recently caught up with Orenda Books writer Louise Beech to ask her about becoming published, current projects and her inspirations.

Tell us about your journey to becoming a published writer.

Oh, it was lo-o-o-o-ng! But I think always believing and never giving up paid off. It took more than eight years, four novels, four plays, fifty short stories, multiple newspaper columns, millions of rejections, the odd competition shortlist, and a few tears to get a book deal, which I finally did in 2015 with Orenda Books. The best thing about all that work is that I already had four complete novels when I got my deal, so I was ahead of myself. And luckily my publisher, Karen Sullivan, is going to publish them all.

Your first novel How To Be Brave was inspired by the life of your grandfather. Why did you feel you had to tell his story?

The phrasing ‘had to tell his story’ is so apt. Because I did. It was bursting out of me. By that I mean that I had always wanted to write Grandad Colin’s story but wasn’t sure how I’d do it. Then, when my daughter Katy, who has Type 1 Diabetes like Rose, refused to have her daily injections, I began telling her his incredible tale of bravery, just as Natalie does with Rose. I knew that was how the story should be told – as a story within a story. I hoped not only to portray his incredible bravery, but to inspire others during dark times, and to educate on how serious a condition Type 1 Diabetes can be.

 Your publishing journey has progressed very quickly with your first novel released in 2015 and your third Maria in the Moon due for release very soon. What has surprised you most since you became a part of the publishing industry?

I always knew – and accepted and was prepared for – that a great deal of hard work would be involved. But it still hits me sometimes how much there is to do. The writing is only one aspect of it. There are edits, proof reading, promoting (often on social media), events, travelling, meeting people, networking, and reading other books. And of course you still have your family, and I still have a day job. I don’t yet earn enough to only write, despite the fact that it takes up 24 hours of my life! This is why you MUST love it. And I do. There is nothing at all like writing. It has saved me, quite literally, at times.

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What are you currently writing?

I have just finished the (possibly) hundredth draft of a book that will be my fourth, called The Lion Tamer Who Lost, which is essentially a dark and tragic love story, with a bit of a twist. Not all hearts and romance, I assure you. And now I’ve just started what I hope to be book five, which is loosely called Star Girl, and involves the brutal murder of a local pregnant woman, and how it affects those around her.

What inspires you to write?

Everything! Music. Dreams. Conversations. Real life. Hardship. Love.

Tell us about your writing routine? Do you write every day?

It isn’t always possible every single day, especially when I work long hours or am away on book tours for days at a time. I do need to get a laptop for those long train journeys so I can do it then also. At the moment, I only write on my home computer. When I’m home, I write anywhere between one hour and five a day. I’m strict. I sit. I ignore social media. Put music on. And go…

What are you reading at the minute?

I just finished Exquisite by Sarah Stovell (wow, what a book!) and started The Last Days of Leda Grey by Essie Fox. I always have a book or two on the go.

Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

Writing, definitely. I’ll write until my ideas dry up or my eyes fall out, whichever comes first. I see myself having had a huge bestseller by then (a girl can dream!) and maybe, who knows, one of my books will have been made into a film. Whatever I’m doing, it will be with the same passion. I assure you of that.

Maria in the Moon will be out on Kindle on 15th August and can be pre-ordered now from Amazon. The paperback version will be out on 30th September.


Book Review: The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada by Angela Buckley

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In January 1899, the Superintendent of the Manchester Police Force announced his retirement, his police career having spanned an impressive 31 years and The Evening Telegraph describing him as ‘one of the most noted detectives of the country.’ His work in cleaning up the crime-ridden streets of Manchester had also been recognised by the Postmaster General and the Duke of Norfolk.

The superintendent in question was Jerome Caminada, a now legendary ‘Victorian Supersleuth’ who, during his career, became notorious for the tricks he used to catch criminals. Both in his lifetime and after, Caminada was often compared to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

In The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada, Angela Buckley takes us into the dark and grim streets of Victorian Manchester where she follows Caminada as he climbs the ranks of the city’s police force, joining as a 23-year-old constable in 1868.

The book tells of Caminada’s humble beginnings as the son of an Italian immigrant, in a city where the life expectancy of the working class was a shocking 18. His family life blighted by tragedies such as the premature deaths of various siblings, the alcoholism of his brother and the impact of syphilis on his mother, Caminada used his time in the police force to not only improve the lives of his fellow Manchester residents but also his own.

In such a time of poverty, many individuals turned to crime and, after he joined the police, it was Caminada’s job to ensure the law was upheld and the streets of Manchester kept safe. Cases that Caminada tackled, and solved, during his career included The Manchester Cab Mystery, the case of the infamous Birmingham Forger and many incidents involving so-called Quack Doctors. A master of disguise, the detective also foiled many criminal plots in other areas of the country, including apprehending a gang of pickpockets at the Grand National in a guise ‘so convincing it even deceived his own chief constable.’ His talent for going undercover obviously standing him in good stead, it is also revealed that for many years, Caminada worked for Special Branch, carrying out top secret missions and taking his instructions directly from the Home Office.

Buckley’s descriptions of the Manchester streets – including Deansgate, St Ann’s Square and the then ‘Little Ireland’ (now Oxford Road Station) – are vivid and detailed. Indeed, anyone familiar with the city can walk Caminada’s beat alongside him, as he polices the many illegal drinking dens, gin joints and houses of ill repute that then occupied the city. An experienced historian whose work has featured in The Times and The Telegraph, Angela Buckley brings 19th century Manchester to life in this book and The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada is a must read for all true-crime fans.

The book is available from Pen and Sword and Amazon.

This post was originally published on Humanity Hallows.


Book Review: Coulrophobia and Fata Morgana by Jacob M Appel


Jacob M Appel is a physician, bio-ethicist, attorney and registered tour guide based in New York City. If that wasn’t enough of an impressive CV, Appel also has a magnificent talent for storytelling and has published over 200 short stories, his novel The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up winning the Dundee International Book Prize in 2012. Seeming to draw from this impressive amount of life experience in his writing, Appel, in his latest release, Coulrophobia and Fata Morgana, has created a magical collection of short stories that stay with the reader long after the reading light is turned off.

In this collection, Appel explores the world of family and friendships, picking apart the daily lives of what, at first, seem to be very ordinary characters with the perception and insight that seem to be this author’s trademark. The recycling of family violence and relationships, the dilemma of companionship over love, power, family hierarchy, sexuality and disability are all subjects explored by this author with an honesty and delicacy that is always very much without judgement.

“There but for the grace of God go I…” the reader might think as we follow the story of two lonely border guards pondering their isolation as they are faced with what seems like certain death. “What would I do?” we might ask, as we enter the life of Rita the butcher, suddenly finding herself sole carer of her dysfunctional sister’s newborn. Wincing as we witness a grandmother’s punishment of her wayward grandson, we wonder what we would truly do if we were in her position, if we were left to raise a grandchild alone, had been raised in a violent household. Indeed, as Appel makes us flies on the walls of his characters’ homes, he also makes us look more closely at our own lives, our own families, our own relationships, if only to stop for a few seconds and reassess them, perhaps value them more highly.

As in Appel’s previous collections, running through these shorts is a sense of magic, the mysterious mime artist, who has a profound effect on those around him, the Mrs Robinson type language teacher and her handsome chimney sweep, the baby prone to swallowing coins, not to mention the ghost of Greta Garbo, all being brilliantly rounded and fully formed without being quite real. Indeed, in each and every one of these stories, Appel’s characters seem to be of our world but, at the same time, not quite, the author seeming to create an other-worldly scenario with which the reader can nonetheless very much identify.

Anyone who thinks that short stories do not have a place in the publishing market should read the stories of Jacob M Appel, an author who actively exercises his gift of drawing the reader in and never letting them go.

Coulrophobia and Fata Morgana is available now. For more information, visit

This review was originally published on Humanity Hallows.