Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein – Guest Post – Are Characters Writers’ Imaginary Friends?

Continuing with the spooky theme – today I have a guest post from Sarah Epstein author of psychological thriller Small Spaces.

Synopsis

Tash Carmody has been traumatised since childhood, when she witnessed her gruesome imaginary friend Sparrow lure young Mallory Fisher away from a carnival. At the time nobody believed Tash, and she has since come to accept that Sparrow wasn’t real. Now fifteen and mute, Mallory’s never spoken about the week she went missing. As disturbing memories resurface, Tash starts to see Sparrow again. And she realises Mallory is the key to unlocking the truth about a dark secret connecting them. Does Sparrow exist after all? Or is Tash more dangerous to others than she thinks?

Author

Sarah Epstein spent her childhood drawing, daydreaming and cobbling together books at the kitchen table. A writer, illustrator and designer, she grew up in suburban Sydney and now lives in Melbourne with her husband and two sons. She is passionate about YA, especially the thriller genre, which is her favourite to read. Small Spaces is her first novel.

Are Characters Writers’ Imaginary Friends? by Sarah Epstein

Imaginary friends have always fascinated me. And while I don’t remember having one myself as a child, I’ve encountered plenty of people who did. When my own kids were small and attending playgroup and kindergarten, I’d hear stories from mothers about how they’d overheard their child’s one-sided conversations in the bath, or how their child’s invisible friend had to have a place set at the dinner table. I’d always think, where do these imaginary friends come from? Are they tied to emotional issues, loneliness or just boredom? Are they coping mechanisms, a cry for attention, or even, as some suggest, a spiritual presence that a child’s mind is open enough to see?

It was a subject I wanted to explore in a story. But in many ways I’ve been writing about imaginary friends for years – my own. The characters I create who tell me their story.

In Small Spaces, I wrote about my protagonist Tash’s experiences with her imaginary friend, Sparrow, both as a young child and as a teenager. To do this, I had to understand Tash’s character inside and out – her hopes, dreams, fears and faults – so I could figure out how she would react to the appearance of Sparrow and the situations his presence would put her through.

In a sense, Tash became my imaginary friend, because she was constantly talking in my head. She was with me while I walked my dog, took showers, and late at night when I was trying to switch my brain off to go to sleep. For writers, this is nothing new. Our characters are shadowing us everywhere we go, especially during the drafting stage of a novel when we’re trying to work out exactly who they are. You imagine how they look, speak, think and act, who they are closest to in the world, and what makes them angry or afraid. Soon they become more than just fictional characters – they become friends we are passionate about. They become friends we are rooting for, friends who are keeping us company on our writing journey as well as actively driving our stories.

And, until readers discover these characters, they are friends created in our imagination that no one else can see.

Is this so different from the imaginary friends some of us invented during childhood? If they were created for company, entertainment, comfort or even a bit of attention, perhaps it’s not so different at all. And while I may not set a place for Tash at my dinner table, or hold a conversation with her in the bath, she’s always with me, tucked away inside my head.

Thanks so much to Sarah for this insight into how characters can ‘live and breathe’ for the writer. Hope everyone taking part in NaNoWriMo has picked nice people to spend the next month with

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Halcyon by Rio Youers – Blog Tour Book Review

Synopsis

Sometimes Heaven Can Be Hell

Halcyon is the answer for anyone who wants to escape, but paradise isn’t what it seems.

A self-sustaining community on a breathtakingly beautiful island, Halcyon is run for people who want to live without fear, crime or greed. Its leader has dedicated her life to the pursuit of Glam Moon, a place of eternal beauty and healing, and believes the pathway there can only be found at the end of pleasure.

On the heels of tragedy, Martin Lovegrove moves his family to Halcyon. A couple of months, he tells himself, to retreat from the chaos and grind. Yet he soon begins to suspect there is something beneath Halcyon’s perfect veneer. As the founder captivates his young family, Martin sets out to discover the truth of the island, however terrible it might be, where something so perfect hides unimaginable darkness beneath…

Author

Rio Youers is a British Fantasy Award-nominated author whose short fiction has been published in many notable anthologies, and his novel, Westlake Soul, was nominated for Canada’s prestigious Sunburst Award. Rio lives in southwestern Ontario with his wife Emily, and their children.

What I Thought

If you still have the Halloween spirit after last night’s festivities this is a perfect scary book to pick up.

The ‘Utopian’ Halcyon island of the title is only glimpsed in the first part of the book and instead we focus mainly on Martin and his family and the tragedy that leads them to Halcyon. Investigating his youngest daughter Edith’s night terrors leads to the realisation that they are not the benign nightmares that children simply ‘grow out of’.

I whipped through the first 100 pages and again at various points during the story. When the thrill kicks in it grabs you. The pacing was a strong point and for me Halcyon lives up to the page-turning moniker.

This is a modern horror thriller that uses the fears of the modern day to create a chilling exploration of terrorism, radicalisation and cults and also what happens when you become disillusioned with your country and fellow man. There’s a line in the book that says “Vulnerability in the wrong hands is a dangerous weapon.”

There is a supernatural element in the book but the real monsters are all human – or at least pretending to be. As with the best villains they too have their own demons to contend with but their exploitation of the vulnerable is the real evil in this book.

There is definitely content in the book that won’t be to everyone’s taste -trigger warning for torture and sexual abuse. However for me the characters were engaging enough to be invested beyond this.

The blurb on the back compares Youers to Koontz or King and this definitely has a feeling reminiscent of The Shining/The Stand era. I would definitely pick up another of his books to read when I feel like being scared.

Do check out the rest of the stops on the tour to see what everyone else thought.

Thank you to Titan books for the free copy I received for the purposes of an honest review.

Forsaken Genesis by M. J. Marinescu – Blog Tour Book Extract

On Sunday I had an interview with author MJ Marinescu on the best bits of being a writer and today here’s the synopsis and an extract from his book Forsaken Genesis.

Goodreads Link

Synopsis

The world has changed in more ways than one. Most humans live in the safety of the hive cities, massive industrial complexes walled off to the outside world. Yet, the dangers of the wilds are no longer limited to the outskirts. Rumours abound of strange things in the night. Sightings of subhumans and citizens being abducted, whisked off by men in vans or worse. The Department of Control keeps a close eye on the citizens of Avalon but who are they protecting?

Melissa thought the world outside the facility would be safe. Free from the pain and the incessant tests of the men in white coats but what she finds is a world unknown. Fleeting memories call to her like a siren song pleading for her to remember. Can she figure out her strange dreams and the shadowed figure who hounds her in her sleep? She must discover who she is and come to terms with the truth that may have been kept from her for good reason if she hopes to survive in this strange new world.

Author Information

MJ Marinescu has always dreamed of being a novelist. Writing stories from a young age, the author has never faltered from that dream as well as devoting time to fitness and martial arts. Born in Ottawa Ontario, the author now lives in Calgary Alberta and enjoys art, animals, and nature. You can keep up with MJ on Twitter @MJMarinescu or at the official website

Prologue Extract

Johnathan surveyed the scene of the crime, the flashing lights of the Department of Control perimeter drones warning the public to remain at a distance. Another disappearance in a string of similar incidents over the past few months. The difference this time was that he arrived before whoever was covering them up.

“How did you find this one so fast Faye?” Johnathan asked.

“I knew the person involved. There’s something else you need to know, but I wanted to tell you in person,” she replied, a look of concern on her face as she regarded him.

Johnathan scratched his unkempt beard, the stress of the recent mysterious cases beginning to show on him. “Well?”

Faye motioned for him to follow her as she stepped through the laser perimeter. The drones scanned both detectives as they crossed, running their images through the department’s databases. The building was lit only by the shouldermounted flashlights as they headed down the hallways.

Avalon was the first of the industrial hives of humanity, a pinnacle of the modern age, but despite the prestigious title, the city was not immune to squalour and crime. This building, like countless others, was one of the many places untouched by the reach of the city’s everincreasing supervision.

Faye stopped outside what remained of a door. Another of the drones kept watch, reporting everything back to the department where it would be catalogued and filed. “John, look at me. We’ve been partners for a long time. We’ll figure this out, okay, I promise.”

Johnathan looked at Faye, gazing at her into the room. The air hung with the burned solder and copper, but also pine, which seemed out of place. Pushing his way past Faye, he stepped into the apartment. Torn furniture littered the simple room, but most of the area was filled with cybernetic scraps, paint cans, and other hastily abandoned equipment. “Junkers? What does this have to do with our case?”

“Not only junkers, John, they were trying to control the Awakening. Now they’re gone,” she spoke, barely above a whisper.

A chill washed over him as his mind toyed with the possibility. “How is that possible? Wait. You said you knew the person involved? Faye?”

She motioned with her eyes for him to follow as she placed a finger to her lips. Continuing through the room, Faye stepped out onto the landing through the broken window. The city’s neon lights and loudspeaker announcements rang out over the heavy rain and the constant patter of water on metal. A set of rusted fire escape stairs snaked down the side of the building.

Johnathan looked back into the room before following his partner down the precarious stairs. When they reached the bottom, he asked again, “Where are we going?”

“I don’t want the drones to hear, okay?”

He raised his hands in mock surrender. “Okay.”

“I promised her I wouldn’t say anything, but after tonight I have to. It’s Jane.”

The name hit him like a truck. “My Jane? What about her?”

“Look, I investigated this fellow a couple of weeks ago. He was working out of the room upstairs. When I came in, I saw Jane. She was with him.”

“What the hell does that mean? It couldn’t have been Jane. She said she was going to visit her mother in France.”

“I’m telling you, John, it’s the truth. She only told you that she was leaving town for a while because she’s afraid. She told me that she was showing signs of Awakening. She was desperate and trying to find anything that could help, so she turned to the junkers.”

“Son of a…” he trailed off, tapping on his communicator. “Call Jane,” he commanded as the device complied.

“John, stop. I made her tell me where she was staying, but that isn’t the only problem now.”

“Why wouldn’t she tell me?” He pressed the communicator again, disconnecting the call as the voicemail message played. “All right, I’m listening.”

“It wasn’t the Order of the Shield who got here first. It was the Grove.”

“Like the Grove? I thought they were a myth?”

“Well, if my contact is to be believed they’re real. I don’t have any reason to doubt him, and now shortly after he contacted me, he’s gone dark,” Faye said flatly.

“Okay, so the Grove is real if we believe your guy, and he was working on helping the Awakened. The Grove must also be after them, like the Order. The disappearances, the coverups, they must have all been Awakened. This means the government is working with the Order, and if they’re in on it, the department must be too.”

Faye quirked an eyebrow. “Now you see why I didn’t want the drones to hear.”

“This is insane. We sound like conspiracy nuts. I’ve been with the department for twentyfive years. Nothing like this has ever come up.”

“Well, this whole Awakened business is very different from normal problems.”

“True. So, where’s Jane? If she’s mixed up in this, I need to get to her first.”

Faye pulled out a crumpled piece of paper and handed it to him. “Be careful, John. If the department is part of this, you can’t use any of their gear. Don’t even take your car there.”

“Good idea. Thanks, Faye. You can handle the rest of the work here?”

She nodded, then strolled off towards the front of the building leaving him alone in the alleyway. Johnathan read the address on the paper, turned off his communicator and ran off.

~~ * ~~

Jane opened her eyes groggily as the bright, white light of the room assaulted her. She tried to move but soon realised she was restrained on a table. Panic set in as she struggled against the bonds trying to remember how she got here. She was sitting in one of Overdrive’s socalled safe houses. He had set her up temporarily while he worked out the last few things he needed for his cure. A loud crash from the next room woke her up. What would John do? she thought, looking around the room, trying to find any clues.

The room was large and filled with state of the art equipment, better than any she had at the hospital. Some of them she did not recognise but could hazard a guess as to their purpose. Aside from the equipment, the room itself was dull. She glanced around for insight into the area. Thick windows surrounded her. One window revealed a hallway with doctors, or she assumed they were doctors by their attire, walking this way and that, each accompanying a young girl. Patients of some sort, they all wore the same drab robe, ranged in age from five to their late teens, and all walked with the same sleepy demeanour.

From the second window, she could see two men conversing. One man was some sort of chairman if she had to guess. His perfectly tailored suit, slickedback hair, and sunglasses commanded authority and a sense of selfimportance. The second man, another doctor. Judging by their body language, they were speaking about her.

The third set of windows revealed a room similar to the one she found herself in. The same bed, machines, and a girl in her late teens who struggled against her bonds. Her wild mane of dark hair flailing as she did. Unlike the other girls Jane had seen, this girl seemed scared, either the drugs they used to keep the children docile had worn off or were otherwise ineffective. She watched the girl struggle violently while the doctor in the room ignored her antics as he busied himself with something Jane could not make out. It reminded her of a video she had seen as a child. A rabbit restrained, struggling so frantically until it broke its own neck trying to escape whatever tests the doctor had planned.

Her thoughts were cut short as the door to her room opened. She stared as the man in the suit strode off down the hall. The doctor he had been speaking with approached her with a predatory smile, like a child who had been given permission to keep the cricket he captured.

“Sorry to keep you, Mrs. Edwards.”

“How do you know my name? Where am I? What’s going on here?”

“We know a great deal about you, and soon I hope to know more. Please give me a moment while I prepare the serum.”

Jane could hear him moving things behind her but could not see. What little hope she had remaining that this may be an actual hospital died as the stark realisation hit her. Panic once again set in as she struggled against her restraints. The girl in the other room looked at her before the doctor pressed a switch causing the windows to tint.

She felt a sharp pain in her neck from the doctor injecting her, causing the room to spin and his words to fade as she tried to make sense of them. She lay helplessly as he picked up instruments to run his assessment of her. The way he went about his business with casual disregard shocked her, and she wondered how many other people he had done this to. At that moment, she realised the last thing she had told her husband had been a lie and that she was never going to have the chance to tell him the truth.

The blog tour runs until Sunday so do check out the other posts.

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