“Rachel Can Still See” has been published in Phantaxis Issue 7

My new short story, Rachel Can Still See, has been published in Issue 7 of science fiction and fantasy magazine Phantaxis.

Rachel Can Still See is the sixth of the Million Eyes Short Stories to be published, after Rachel Can See, Paul, The Charlie Chaplin Time Traveller, The Home Secretary is Safe and Who is Rudolph Fentz? 

All these stories are set in the same world as my forthcoming sci-fi thriller Million Eyes and feature the same mysterious conspirators who take centre stage in the novel.

Rachel Can Still See is a direct sequel to Rachel Can See, which was published last year in Metamorphose Volume 2. It continues the story of Rachel Evans, a girl who experiences troubling alternate memories about world events and her own life. Both stories can stand by themselves, so you don’t have to read the first one to understand the second. However, I’d advise doing so in order to get a full picture of Rachel Evans’ journey.

The first story was longlisted by Inktears in 2015 and won an honourable mention in MetamorphoseThe sequel — prior to being accepted for publication by Phantaxis — won the Rushmoor Writers Hyde Cup Competition in 2016 and was later highly commended by Writers’ Forum.

Click on the cover image to buy the magazine from Amazon, or click here.

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!

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Santa Claus crucified by a Japanese department store

Some years back, a Japanese department store — keen to adopt the Western tradition of Christmas — mounted an extravagant display in its window: a smiling Santa nailed to a crucifix. I think somebody got a bit confused…

The store’s booboo made Christians rather cross. Cross—get it? Sorry, bad joke.

The cultural faux pas is said to have happened shortly after World War II. The Japanese already had a thriving retail industry and penchant for seasonal and etiquette-driven gift-giving. They also had a fascination with the West and the early 20th century saw them gradually adopt—and adapt—a number of traditional Western holiday celebrations.

The main one to take hold in Japan is the one that carries the most influence in the West as well: Christmas. In the early 20th century, exchanging gifts at Christmastime in Japan slowly started becoming more common. In the 1930s, Christmas sales started in Japanese stores. But it was when World War II ended and the Americans occupied Japan that Christmas really took off.

Around this time, one department store in Tokyo’s fashionable Ginza district got its symbols mixed up. The Japanese were far more interested in adapting all the secular aspects of the holiday, which were starting to overtake the religious connotations for many people. They had Christmas trees, twinkling lights in all over shopping centres and people’s houses, and Christmas music in every pedestrian walkway.

But the religious aspects of Christmas just didn’t catch on. There was no carol singing, no Nativity plays. So when the staff of the Ginza department store were instructed to decorate their window in a ‘Christian’ Christmas style, the workers hadn’t a clue what to do. Their conclusion was: “Hey, Christians love their crucifixes, don’t they? And since the holiday’s all about that fat man in red from the North Pole, let’s nail him to one.”

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“Million Eyes” makes it into the top 20% of the Grindstone Literary Novel Competition

As I continue my tireless search for a literary agent for Million Eyes, it’s great to get some good news from a competition I entered the book into some months back.

It was the 2017 Novel Opening Competition from Grindstone Literary Services, into which I entered the first 1,000 words of Million Eyes. While I didn’t make it into the top 5, I learned when I got my personalised feedback (which every entrant gets in this competition — a great bonus) that I’d made it into the top 20%.

I was super-happy with the feedback I got too. There was a little bit of constructive criticism, but I actually think the recent rewrite I did of the opening remedies most of these points. Some of the highlights from the judge’s feedback were:

One of the most original entries I’ve seen.
This is an intriguing idea, and from what I’ve read so far, seemingly well done. 
Overall, it’s very impressive.

All fantastic to hear. 😀

Next week: did a Japanese department store confuse Jesus with Santa?

A conspiracy proven true: Snowdon blows global surveillance wide open

Do you ever get the feeling you’re being watched? It’s not paranoia. You are…

Edward Snowden, formerly a systems administrator for America’s National Security Agency (NSA), has been called hero, patriot, and traitor. In 2013, he leaked classified government information about multiple global surveillance programmes operated by the NSA and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance. The documents revealed that the NSA and Five Eyes—which consisted of the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand—were spying on their own and each other’s citizens and sharing the information.

Big Brother is real

The novel 1984 by George Orwell introduced us to the character and concept of Big Brother. In the novel, Big Brother is the purported leader of a totalitarian state whose citizens are under constant surveillance by the authorities. The book gave us the phrase “Big Brother is watching you”, which has come to be associated with prying by authority figures, and in particular, illicit mass surveillance by government. The reality TV franchise Big Brother is based on the novel’s concept of being watched constantly, going about your day-to-day life.

Conspiracy theories about mass surveillance have been commonplace since the novel’s publication in 1949. But the idea that we’re being watched by the elusive ‘They’ has long been shrugged off as the fancy of the paranoid.

Not anymore. Mass surveillance really happens, and it’s worse than we think.

Shock state snooping

When Edward Snowden joined the NSA, he learned about their colossal surveillance capabilities, including their ability to map the movement of everyone in a city using a unique identifier in their electronic devices. They also logged nearly every telephone call made by Americans, and bugged European Union offices in Washington and Brussels.

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Ireland’s big mystery – the Vanishing Triangle

Just outside Dublin lies a place known to locals as the ‘Vanishing Triangle’. One of Ireland’s eeriest mysteries, it’s where eight women suddenly and inexplicably vanished in the 90s, never to be seen or heard from again…

Annie McCarrick. Eva Brennan. Imelda Keenan. Jo Jo Dollard. Ciara Breen. Fiona Pender. Fiona Sinnott. Deirdre Jacob. Most of these women were in their late teens or 20s; at 39, Eva Brennan was the oldest. Between 1993 and 1998, all of them disappeared leaving no clues or evidence as to their fates. Despite extensive media campaigns and large-scale searches by the Irish police, none have ever been found. One of the most curious elements is that all the disappearances occurred within an 80-mile radius of Dublin that forms a geographical triangle.

Annie McCarrick went missing on 26th March 1993. The last confirmed sightings of her had her running errands at her local bank and supermarket that morning. An unconfirmed sighting placed her in Johnny Fox’s pub in Glencullen in the evening with an unknown man. This man was never found.

 

Annie McCarrick

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Film Review – Zootropolis – Disney’s first conspiracy thriller

Warning: this review contains spoilers the size of elephants.

2016’s Zootropolis is the first animated conspiracy thriller to come out of the Mouse House. It’s been called a “conspiracy thriller for children”, but as we all know, most Disney films hold just as much appeal for adults as they do little’uns, if not more.

What makes this film a conspiracy thriller? The most obvious element is the fact that, unusually for a Disney movie, the villain is a “them”, not a “him” or “her”. And the story itself is a conspiracy trope—the old ‘minor crime reveals major plot’ number, where an insignificant incident leads to the discovery of something much larger going on behind it.

To say that the trope receives a bold, fresh and genuinely inspired coat of paint in Zootropolis is an understatement. The setting and characters are the first indication of that.

Zootropolis is a fully functioning city designed by and made for animals, where predators and prey have advanced beyond their instincts and live in harmony. Viewers are treated to some ingeniously designed places, such as the 21-inches-tall Little Rodentia and the icy Tundratown, and there are some fantastic moments of animal-related humour, most notably the sloths at the DMV (Department of Mammal Vehicles). Judy Hopps arrives in Zootropolis, full of drive and enthusiasm and ready to start busting criminals as the ZPD’s first bunny cop. She’s tasked with investigating a seemingly unimportant missing persons case—the disappearance of Mr Otterton—and soon stumbles onto a much bigger and higher-stakes mystery.

Teaming up with con artist fox Nick Wilde, Judy discovers that Mr Otterton went “savage” right before his disappearance. He also yelled something about “night howlers” before attacking the chauffeur of fearsome crime boss Mr Big (revealed in a clever and funny scene to be a tiny Arctic shrew). Then the chauffeur himself, Manchas, turns “savage” and goes missing. Judy and Nick learn that Manchas was abducted by wolves, who Judy surmises are the “night howlers”. They end up at Cliffside Asylum, finding Manchas, Mr Otterton, and thirteen other missing predators—all of whom have returned to a feral state.

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Oswald and the KGB — shock revelations in the JFK files

Kennedy’s limousine, seconds after he was shot

The truth is out. The long-awaited JFK files are here and reveal that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone. There really was a second shooter, firing from the grassy knoll. And as many of us have thought for decades, we finally know that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.

Just kidding.

October 26th 2017 was the day scores of conspiracy theorists had been dreaming of for years. The day thousands of secret documents related to President Kennedy’s death would be released, as stipulated by the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992.

The Act came into being because of the 1991 Oliver Stone movie JFK, starring Kevin Costner, which popularised the notion that agents inside the FBI, the CIA and the US military were all involved in a conspiracy to assassinate the president. The records were originally supposed to be sealed until 2029—as stated at the end of the movie—but because the US government was so concerned by the conclusions presented in the film, they pushed through the 1992 Act to release them early.

Of all the documents released, one in particular got tongues wagging: the previously classified 1975 deposition of former CIA director Richard Helms. Helms was asked about Lee Harvey Oswald, but the testimony suspiciously cut off right before the juiciest part, when Helms was being asked whether Oswald was working for the CIA. Naturally, UK newspaper The Sun got a serious stiffy over this and plastered “COVER UP!” across its front page.

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My short story “The Bisley Boy” has been shortlisted by Artificium

A nice email dropped in my inbox today. It was from Artificium, an independent publisher that runs short story competitions every spring and summer, and publish an anthology of short fiction, flash fiction and poetry two to three times a year.

The email contained the shortlist for their summer competition and my name was among them! The full title of the story that has been shortlisted is “The Bisley Boy” (Extracts from Margery Ingleby’s journals — Modern English translation).

If anyone’s heard of the ‘Bisley Boy’, you’ll have an idea as to what this story’s about. It’s another Million Eyes short story and is inspired by a famous English conspiracy theory that dates back to Tudor times. I won’t tell you what it is (as it’s technically a big-ass spoiler) but I’ve written an article about it if you want to know!

At the moment it’s just been shortlisted and I believe it gets published in Artificium only if it makes it to the top four. The results are announced at the end of this month — eeek!

This week: Are we any closer to knowing who really killed JFK?