Advance Australian Scares
Matthew R. Davis
I know what you see when you think about us.
Kangaroos and koalas. Beer-drinking blokes in cork hats and flip-flops. Snakes and sharks and spiders. Crocodile bloody Dundee.
Well, forget everything you know about Australia. Sure, we’ve got those animals, some of them in abundance – and yes, okay, the beer can stay, too. And in this modern age, it’s probably insulting of me to assume you’d make these outdated assumptions in the first place. But this post needs a hook on which to hang its cork hat red beret, so bear with me – and before you say anything, koalas are not bears.
Australia is far more than just a nation of sunburnt surfers and sexy sheilas. We’re just like any other predominantly white first-world nation built on the bloody remains of its indigenous population, which means we have a working knowledge of the mechanics of horror. We’ve suffered it, we’ve inflicted it, we’ve made an uneasy peace with its brutal history that will haunt us every day until we level the blood-soaked playing field. And some of us, we’ve taken to writing about it. But maybe you weren’t really aware of this.
It’s time we changed that. You see, Australia has a speculative fiction scene that fairly blooms with rude health. Before I tell you more about it, allow me if you will a brief personal digression.
My first novel, Midnight in the Chapel of Love, is very much an Australian story – so when I began submitting it, I focused on Australian presses, thinking no-one else would really get it. I had a couple of close brushes with publication, but it didn’t quite stick. Because of this Antipodean ambience, I didn’t hold out much hope that an overseas publisher would take to it – so I was pleasantly surprised when JournalStone were kind enough to pick it up. After some thought, I realised that since the publishing scene is increasingly interested in other voices, my book might actually qualify as such to an international audience. Sure, I’m a white cis-het man, and there’s no shortage of those perspectives. But in a field dominated by American and English writers above all else, my little Australian story might be sufficiently different to stand out – might even seem a little exotic. To someone sick of horror stories set in New York City and London, a novel based in rural South Australia might be just the palate cleanser they need.
To be clear, Midnight in the Chapel of Love is not going to turn your brain upside down. It’s a dark story about a man returning to his long-avoided hometown to face the tragic mysteries of his past, and as straplines go, that’s pretty standard. (Don’t worry, though – there are also lashings of gothic dread and cosmic awe.) When I say it’s deeply Australian, I mean the feel of it, the flavour, the little details. You won’t need to come strapped with a glossary to get what I’m saying – we’re not in Trainspotting territory here. But maybe reading my book will be, for you, like side-stepping into an almost-identical parallel universe. A place where Christmas arrives in the middle of summer, where finding a cave in the bush isn’t something to snigger at but something to fear. A place where the word cunt is, by and large, an ungendered term that may be applied to your best mate, your worst enemy, and any situation where physics acts according to standard rules when you kind of hoped it wouldn’t.
This is a place you should visit more often, in spirit if nothing else. If you can’t do what other foreigners do – head down here on your gap year to pick grapes, get a dodgy tattoo, and shag stoned German backpackers on the beach – you can at least pick up a book and check out some horror and dark fantasy. Whatever your personal proclivities, my friend, you are spoiled for choice.
Alan Baxter writes exactly the kind of two-fisted paranormal action you’d expect from a motorbike-riding, karate-teaching badass. Kaaron Warren delivers sophisticated chills that will wander through your dreams like the lost souls she writes best. Terry Dowling will sit you down in a comfy chair and tell you stories that ensure you never feel comfortable anywhere ever again, not even in your own skin. Angela Slatter turns fairy tales upside down, shakes the shit out of them, and gifts them with intelligence and sharp teeth all the better to bite you with, my dear. Claire Fitzpatrick takes the body horror of classic Cronenberg and replaces its clinical observation with a big bleeding heart. J.S. Breukelaar will lead you through rooms in your own house you never knew existed and leave you wondering whether you cast a shadow there or if it casts you. And then there’s J. Ashley-Smith, Martin Livings, Kirstyn McDermott, and Steve Dillon. Chris Mason and Kylie Chan and Margo Lanagan and Lisa L. Hannett. Deborah Sheldon and Eugen Bacon and Andrew Cull and Ambelin Kwaymullina and Brian Craddock and and and –
And Matthew R. Davis. He’s not so bad either, apparently. He’s won a couple of awards and he sometimes talks about himself in third person for no apparent reason and he’s got a new book out this week.
So, come Down Under. Check out the sun, the surf, and the scares. You don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home, which is handy in these trying times. You won’t have to pack sunscreen or renew your passport. And visiting from a safe distance, you can be sure our wildlife won’t bite you.
But our stories? Oh, they most certainly will.
Midnight In The Chapel Of Love
Jonny Trotter has spent the last fifteen years running from tragic memories of the country town where he grew up-but the black envelopes pushed under his door won’t let him forget, and now that his father has died, he can run no more.
Returning to Waterwich for the funeral and wake with his partner Sloane, Jonny must confront old resentments, his estranged best friends Brendan and Coralie, a strange, veiled woman the locals call the White Widow…and the mystery surrounding the fate of his first lover, Jessica Grzelak.
A morbid and reckless city girl banished to the country to live with her aunt, Jessica loved to push the limits and explore the shadows-and no one has seen her since the night of her high school formal, the night she and Jonny went looking for the Chapel.
Rumoured to be found in the woods outside Waterwich, mentioned in playground rhymes about local lovebirds Billy and Poppy and their killing spree in 1964, the Chapel is said to be an ancient, sacred place that can only be entered by lovers-a test that can only be passed if their bond is pure and true.
Before he can move on to a future with Sloane, Jonny must first face the terrible truth of his past-and if he can’t bring it out into the light at last, it might just pull him and everything he loves down into the dark, forever.
You can also buy directly from JournalStone Publishing HERE
Matthew R. Davis
Author Photo by Red Wallflower Photography, 2020.
An author and musician based in Adelaide, South Australia, Matthew R. Davis has published over fifty dark short stories and poems around the world thus far. He won two 2019 Australian Shadows Awards after having his work shortlisted in 2016 and 2017, and he’s also been shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards (2018, 2019). He has served on judging panels for both.
He is bassist/vocalist for Blood Red Renaissance (on hiatus) and icecocoon, and also edits and composes for short films and video clips. He performs occasional spoken word shows with punk poets Paroxysm Press. His first book of horror stories, IF ONLY TONIGHT WE COULD SLEEP, was released by Things in the Well on January 31, 2020; his first novel, MIDNIGHT IN THE CHAPEL OF LOVE will be released by JournalStone Publishing in 2021.
You can find out more about Matthew by visiting www.matthewrdavisfiction.wordpress.com/