Short Sharp Shocks! #3
Stephanie Ellis: Asylum Of Shadows
Reviewed By Stred Stred
‘Asylum of Shadows,’ is among a growing number of Demain Publishing’s Short Sharp Shocks! Series that I’ve read – and this one may very well be my favourite thus far.
I’ve not read any of Stephanie Ellis’ work, but what an introduction.
‘Asylum of Shadows’ is brutal and horrific, and a page-turner.
The story opens up giving the reader hints that it is set in London during the time of the plague. After suffering some heartbreaking losses, our main character Marian is invited to come live in the local hospital by one of the Doctor’s. Once she gets there, she’s given her tasks and she feels a sense of comfort knowing she’s found a home, no matter how temporary.
Ellis creates a claustrophobic environment early on, which she continues to work and suffocate the reader more and more. I found it elevated just how creepy the setting was, of living and working in a hospital, surrounded by the ever-mounting numbers of the dead. To think about walking through the hospital morgue, at night, the only light being that of a candle you held – love it.
To wrap the story up, Ellis then injects a new job that Marian is assigned, this one devastatingly amazing. I never saw this bit coming and it was such a great narrative adjustment, working to amplify everything to another level.
This was such a quick, horrific read and really summarizes just how awesome this series Demain Publishing has going.
Easy 5 stars and I’m going to try and track down some more reads by Ellis.
Asylum Of Shadows
Amongst the slums of Limehouse stands a new hospital, a monument to Victorian philanthropy. Marian, destitute and about to be orphaned as her father succumbs to the ravages of syphilis, is taken there by Dr. Janssen. This eminent physician offers her work and a roof over her head.
Employed as a seamstress, she stitches shrouds for the dead and hoods for the hangman. Marian is taken to the ward of St. Carcifex. This shadowy ward receives the recently deceased, particularly those who have hung from the gallows. Her task in this gloomy place is to watch over them, make sure the dead stay dead.
On Marian’s first night, she is charged with the care of two murderers, who, despite their hanging, do not appear to have the expected deathly pallor. On the second night, these guests are joined by innocent, hard-working men, victims of an unfortunate dock accident. Marian is enraged that such should be forced to share the ward. As her own mind falls victim to the ravages of the disease which killed her father, she metes out her own justice, her own vengeance – on dead and alive alike.
Stephanie Ellis: The Kendall Reviews Interview
(This interview was conducted back in late October 2019)
KR: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?
Women often define themselves by their role as wife and mother and I am happy to do that, although my three children have now all invaded the world of adulthood and all are in university. I am also a librarian in a secondary school in Southampton and carry out literacy interventions for those students with difficulties. The other label I give myself, and which is now something I identify as more and more, is a writer. Whether poetry, prose or flash – all naturally of a dark nature – I love to play with words and build words. Hard work yes, but great fun.
I have had a number of stories published in anthologies and magazines. My gothic novelette, Asylum of Shadows is out via Demain Publishing’s Short Sharp Shocks series. Currently ebook, it should be in print before the end of the year. I have a novella, Bottled, due out with Silver Shamrock Publishing in February of next year and some poetry in Dark Realms from Russia’s Horrorscope micropress. I’ve also recently sold a couple of stories, one of which at full pro-rate marks another step up the ladder, but I’m not allowed to talk about that yet.
I’m a co-editor of Trembling With Fear, the ezine part of HorrorTree.com plus I help out with other aspects of Horror Tree when needed. I’m co-editor at Infernal Clock with David Shakes, a small press that makes an occasional appearance but which I would love to get going on a more regular basis. We’ve produced three anthologies, The Infernal Clock, CalenDark and DeadCades, these include many great writers including Christine Dalcher and Deborah Sheldon!
I beta-read for a small group of writers, review as part of Apex’s Minion’s programme and at HorrorAddicts.
I have pulled my short stories together, most published, some unpublished into a collection, The Reckoning. My dark poetry has been gathered into Dark is my Playground, this includes some rather twisted nursery rhymes! My flash is also available to read in Dark Bites. All three collections are available on Amazon.
KR: What do you like to do when not writing?
Reading, whether novels or anthologies I’ve bought or those I’ve been offered for review. Apart from that there is very little time to do anything else because of the day job and the exhaustion that entails (I run a Breakfast Club and do afterschool clubs so it is a very long day).
KR: What is your favourite childhood book?
I never had a single favourite. I loved series of books which I would read over and over, especially Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven and Famous Five. Then there was Mallory Towers and the pony books of the Pullein-Thompson sisters. I grew up in the middle of nowhere, unable to play with friends due to the isolated location of our country pub so the books were always about escapism. Whilst Enid Blyton might ruin my credibility as a horror writer, I think it was she who showed me the value of a skilled storyteller. I think the darkest books I read were Alan Garner’s Owl Service and Weirdstone of Brisingamen.
KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?
Again, I have a number of favourites. The Cult’s Rain is the one that remains pretty much at the top of my list though. Currently, my favourite is 3Teeth’s Metawar. Music does play an important part in my writing. I usually have to have something on to listen to, often metal as it helps create the mood. Industrial metal is great when the mood has to be harsh and dark, whilst bands like Rotting Christ or Behemoth are brilliant when you want to go satanic. (I’m going to see Behemoth next year actually when they support Slipknot 😊). My editing go-to however, are Poets of the Fall, their music was on loop when I first started editing Infernal Clock anthologies and ever since then, I put them on when I need to focus on the detail. Their Carnival of Rust is the one that immediately focuses my mind.
KR: Do you have a favourite horror movie/director?
I differ from a lot of horror writers in being someone who has not watched every horror film out there. It’s not been the movies for me, always an atmosphere or mood which pulled me towards the darker side. However, I have seen a number of films, growing up on Hammer Horrors, watching the original 80s horrors of The Thing, The Entity, Poltergeist etc etc but the original Wicker Man is the one that stays with me. Those cries for help as the fire encroaches on Edward Woodward at the end with everyone watching the horror in such an accepting way is extremely powerful. It can’t be just gore for me, there has to be the emotional element, the plea to humanity.
KR: What are you reading now?
TechGnosis by Erik Davis, a non-fiction book about magic and mysticism in the technological age, as part of research for my writing. I have written a few industrial horror tales and it is an area I want to develop, hence this book. Also Ration by Cody T Luff from Apex. I’ve only just started this.
KR: What was the last great book you read?
I’ve read a lot of terrific books in recent times and I have a tie. Wanderers by Chuck Wendig is a sprawling book but it was a world you could totally lose yourself in. I read it during the summer holidays when such a massive tome is a real treat. The other surprised me as it is a body horror, this is Coil by Ren Warom. I don’t normally like body horror but this was just so original and so beautifully written, I loved it. You can usually see what I’m reading on Goodreads, although I’m always picking up YA books from work and sneaking those in too …
KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?
Paperback preferably. I can focus better, feel more as if I’m in that world on the page. When I’m on Kindle I always have the feeling there’s something in cyberspace trying to grab my attention. The tablet is great though in allowing me to read books for review or purchase other indie writers’ works when I can’t necessarily afford the price of a print book.
KR: Who were the authors that inspired you to write?
I don’t think it was an author that inspired me as such, more the idea of the ‘storyteller’. I’ve read a lot of the early sagas and poetry and loved the idea of the bards travelling from Mead Hall to Mead Hall earning gold with their tales, entertaining people in those dark hours, building worlds with words. Telling a story is the most important thing for me, something which will entertain and whilst it occasionally might have a moral or you might detect a theme, something that does not try to lecture or be pretentious.
Rather than use the word ‘inspire’, I would use ‘admire’ and these include Terry Pratchett, Ray Bradbury (Something Wicked This Way Comes is my favourite book of all time), Stephen King, Shirley Jackson. I could go on so I’ll shut up now.
KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?
The latter. I get an image in my head, usually a character about to do something and then I start to write. I pants it pretty much all the way although by about 2/3 of the way in, I might have a few notes which I’ve jotted down as the direction of the story takes shape; not that I am tied by those notes either!
KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
It depends on the nature of the story. Quite often I will write and then research as I go along if needed. For instance I have a novel, Live, currently trying to find a home and it features humans as ‘batteries’. I did some research on the electrolyte content of the body, how a body could cope with electrocution. My short story, Transcending Nature, in Snowbooks’ Industrial Horror anthology, Thread of the Infinite, required a little research into nanotechnology and do I get Brownie points for browsing the Black Book of Satan for a short story I’ve only just written? I don’t want to become an expert, just give a more authentic flavour to what I’ve written.
KR: How would you describe your writing style?
I’m not sure I have a style, I’ve always loved writing poetry and the imagery you can create in that form and quite often I will use those techniques within my prose to build up a picture. I always try and see the story in my head as I write, so I suppose, or I hope, I will come across as a visual writer. I do like to play with language but I wouldn’t call myself literary.
KR: Describe your usual writing day?
Rare! I squash my writing in when I can. If I get the luxury of time, eg a Saturday then I will just get on with it, throw in an afternoon nap, cook tea for the family and then write for the rest of the evening. As co-editor for Trembling With Fear over at HorrorTree.com I spend a lot of time during the week either reading subs, responding to subs, checking for contracts etc – all little jobs that add up to a lot of work. I also have to fit in beta-reading time once a month and there’s a writing group which requires a story a month. I cannot, whilst I’m working as I am, actually have a writing day – unless it’s in the summer holidays!
KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?
The Dance which first appeared inHorror in Bloom but which I also included in a more recent anthology, CalenDarkfrom the Infernal Clock. The Dance birthed three grotesques, Tommy, Betty and Fiddler, a travelling troupe from another world who break through the veil into ours. Betty is actually male but dresses as a female as per an old tradition. They inspired a folk horror novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel, which is also seeking a home and some short stories in the same world, The Way of the Mother in Nosetouch Press’ Fiends in the Furrows anthology being one of them and I’ve just completed another which I hope to send out soon. Sometimes you create something which you can’t let go.
KR: Do you read your book reviews?
Yes – because there are so few! I don’t tend to get that many, possibly because I don’t do as much work as I should getting my own work read but I spend so much time promoting and supporting others, I find I have very little energy left to do anything for myself. Plus there’s that British tendency not to want to push yourself forward.
KR: How do you think you’ve developed as an author?
I feel I’ve definitely stepped up in my writing in the past year or so. The Way of the Mother allowed me to join the HWA and I made the most of it by joining the writing group they ran and establishing another group with other HWA members. The concentrated time I put in writing, reading, critiquing has really taught me a lot and the contacts and inputs of other professionals has been invaluable.
KR: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received regarding your writing?
To keep going. There have been times when I see others continually getting published and I’m continually getting rejected and I feel like giving up. But then I get my own acceptances and others go quiet so it is basically recognising we all go through the same cycle, that there is room for all of us.
KR: What scares you?
Daddy-Long-Legs, things fluttering around my head. On a more serious note, something happening to one of my family. Plus at 55 I keep thinking about how much I want to do and will I be able to do it before either my mind or body, or both, fall apart.
KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?
I’ve got a few things due out soon and in the new year (one being my novella, Bottled from Silver Shamrock Publishing) but in terms of the most recent to appear on the page, it’s Transcending Nature in Snowbooks’ Thread of the Infinite (mentioned earlier). This story was written a few years back but the publishers went bust; however the editor, Dean Drinkel, kept faith with the anthology and found us a new publisher. Transcending Nature describes a world in which nanotechnology is implanted into humans replacing the need for computers or mobile phones but, there is a fault in the design and it becomes a race to find a solution before humanity is literally shut down.
KR: You can read the Bottled Kendall review HERE
KR: What are you working on now?
I finished a somewhat satanic short story literally right before I started this interview but ongoing is another novel which retells the tale of Grandma and the Woodcutter – with a different sort of Red Riding Hood. It is folk horror in a way but I’ve been redrafting it to become more psychological and hopefully give a more ambiguous air to the reality of the tale. The hardest part now, knowing which way I want the story to go, is finding the time to do it. I’ve got almost 40,000 words and knowing the path it is to take means I get that ‘home stretch’ feeling, even though there is a huge chunk yet to write.
I’m also trying to write more dark poetry as I’m building a new collection. I’ve had a poem, Stringed Pearls, included in the HWA’s Poetry Showcase Vol 6 which is due out soon, so that’s inspired me to get on with it.
Plus I’ve got at least two more ideas for novels both industrial/post-apocalyptic. As always too much to do, too little time.
KR: You find yourself on a desert island, which three people would you wish to be deserted with you and why?
You can choose…
a) One fictional character from your writing.
Tommy from The Dance, he has a power over nature so we would be safe and fed. Then again if you annoyed him that might not be a good idea.
b) One fictional character from any other book.
DEATH from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. He has a soft spot for humans and would help and keep Tommy in check.
c) One real-life person that is not a family member or friend.
Trent Reznor to provide the music!
KR: Thank you very much Stephanie
Who am I?
A writer of speculative fiction.
An occasional poet.
But always a reader.
Based in Southampton, UK, my published work comprises a novella, short stories and poetry. My first novel, Live, has just been sent off into the wilds of publishing to see whether it will sink or swim. I am also co-curator with David Shakes over at The Infernal Clock and a member of the online flash fiction group The FlashDogs. I wear my editorial hat at The Horror Tree and support the production of their online magazine Trembling With Fear. If you are looking for markets and to develop your writing, Horror Tree is a fantastic resource.
You can follow Stephanie on Twitter @el_Stevie
Find out more about Stephanie via her official website www.stephanieellis.org
For more information about SSS! please visit the Official Demain Website www.demainpublishing.com
Steve Stred writes dark, bleak horror fiction.
Steve is the author of three novels, a number of novellas and four collections.
He is proud to work with the Ladies of Horror Fiction to facilitate the Annual LOHF Writers Grant.
Steve is also a voracious reader, reviewing everything he reads and submitting the majority of his reviews to be featured on Kendall Reviews.
Steve Stred is based in Edmonton, AB, Canada and lives with his wife, his son and their dog OJ.
You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevestred
You can follow Steve on Instagram @stevestred
You can visit Steve’s Official website here