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Free Literary Mentor archive

I began writing full-time in 2014 and for two years thereafter offered my services as a literary mentor to new writers who had completed an unpublished novel and were looking for positive feedback to further their writing. It was a pleasure to select promising work and provide professional advice, based on my long career in publishing fiction and non-fiction. Thank you to the writers who contributed their stories: extracts from their work are archived here, along with my critiques.

I am no longer accepting submissions.

CHAPTER 1
Acre 1291

Jeremiah led the group of new recruits out along the southern breakwater, which jutted east towards the Tower of Flies. He had strolled along this sea wall countless times, but he stared transfixed for a moment by the tower, standing alone and resolute on its rocky outcrop, at the end of the eastern breakwater. From a gaping hole in its side, just above the water line, a gigantic sea-chain spewed into the ocean. Rusty, barnacled and befouled with seaweed, it hung in a massive arc across the harbour entrance. The links, each bigger than a man’s head, rested just below the surface of the water, creating a choppy line of little waves. The Office of the Chain had ordered it raised from the sea bed as soon as the siege began, to ensure no Mameluke boats entered the harbour unexpectedly.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015 06:54

Choice and Circumstance by Pamela Graham

Sophie, Princess Palatine, eighteen years old and beautiful, sat on a shabby couch in her mother’s house at The Hague with her feet tucked up under her, flicking idly through the pages of a book. This lack of concentration was unusual in Sophie, who normally gave her mind completely to the matter in hand and read books with methodical determination. She knew she would not be the only person at The Hague experiencing difficulty focussing. The neat, orderly Dutch city was bristling with exiled English Royalists all waiting for and yet dreading the arrival of news from London, where their King was under sentence of death.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015 06:00

Over the Moon 'Arry by Chris Calder

On an upper floor they were let into the thickly carpeted lobby of the suite occupied by the Songolese party. The door was opened to them by a short, middle-aged, barrel-chested man wearing smart casual trousers and a leather jacket. The man smiled and inclined his head. “Come in, come in,” he said, stepping to one side. Eddie entered, followed by Harry. The man said, “I’m Henry Kotoru, the minister’s deputy. Call me Henry.”

“Eddie Talbot,” Eddie replied, taking the deputy minister’s extended hand.

Kotoru looked up at Harry. “You must be the famous Mr Stoller.”

Harry shook his hand. “It’s Harry. Nice to meet you, but I’m not so sure I’m all that famous.”

“Nonsense, everybody in Songola knows about you, Harry. Come, they’re waiting for us.”

Hiroshima - Mitsuko spends the night in Hotel Ikawa Ryokan - Dobashi-Cho - March 11th 1995

Night falls, but I don't go dancing in a disco. I walk into the nearest hotel and book a room. I can't sleep, but I'm not surprised. I toss and turn in the tiny bed. I miss the familiar curves of my belly and feel like a ghost lost in the wrong body. I wasn't raised with other people, I was raised with shadows, and dreams like a puff of breath in the neck when you're alone. A girl can create her own world in such circumstances, a world in which everything has meaning. On Hashima, books and rubble were the focal point around which my existence seemed to turn. Rubble was everywhere. The island was one massive industrial ruin.

Saturday, 18 April 2015 04:43

Missed Stitch by Clive Aim

'I was six, Sam was three and Margaret was eight. We were on a farm, Dad had work there. One beautiful day we were walking out to where the men were making hay. We stopped on the bridge that crossed the creek. Margaret and I were leaning over the top rail, looking for fish, and Sam was leaning on the lower rail. It snapped, and he tumbled in, straight into a deep pool.

Monday, 16 March 2015 02:24

Earths by Sophie Szecsodi

The way I'd been taught, I'd had it forced down my throat that we scribes were replaceable, and that the troopers were the best of Third Earth. And I believed it. Because it was true. My parents were given the best of houses, whereas even the best of the scribes lived in borderline horrible conditions.

The Master Scribe continued, "But you will both have to prove yourselves."

I breathed out. "In what way?"

"You will have to come up with that yourself. You will also be taking a test. Physics, biology, English skills, mathematics, and a practical examination on ship building. I say, Miss Atlantia, you get to work." And with that, she stalked out of my room, slamming the door with a bang.

Friday, 06 February 2015 23:04

A Small Death by Hannah Carrow

Rachel first actually met David at the Confirmation group with her children. After a few moments of conversation with the other parents, David realised that he could not stop looking at her. He was attempting to familiarise himself with the parishioners and identify their children, yet it was as though they were removed from him, separated by a different source of time. There was no one there: the hall was empty, and the earth was still. People came and went like ghosts. He was speaking to them, but the words he uttered held no meaning. He was lost and scattered in the gentle air, cast among the moonbeams that were never there. Starlight settled on the surface of the earth and quickened shadows fled across the silver sea.

Friday, 23 January 2015 00:00

Netherrealm by Kim Ross

Within moments the silvery maelstrom settled, and Beth saw they had been encased inside a crystalline sphere as high as two tall men. At the centre stood a curious, perfectly circular wall, much allied to a tranquil pond, except it was in an abnormally upright position. The wall had split the henge's sphere into two separate sections. Beth could see through to the other side, but not too clearly, as the wall gently wavered, much like slow-rising, choppy water.

"How can this be ...?" Beth said, and her strangled whisper rebounded in the noiseless cocoon.

CHAPTER 5 BIG RED'S BACKYARD

As we wheel our bikes down the hill towards Big Red's house I notice Big Red has gone all quiet. I think maybe he's feeling a bit unhappy because, like Doug the Thug, he doesn't have a Mum either. Mrs Pratt told us that Big Red and his Dad moved from the city because Big Red's mum had died from breast cancer. At least she wasn't killed in a car crash like Doug's poor mum.

"Does Doug's dad really think he's a fish?" Big Red asks. "What's the matter with him?"

"He's got a brain injury, from an accident," I answer.

"Yeah, too bad it wasn't Doug," Sparra adds. "But, then Doug probably doesn't even have a brain."

We continue walking in silence.

"Why do you want to borrow Miss Fogarty's dog?" Big Red suddenly asks me.

I explain to him how Skip is able to sniff out just about anything and that I reckon he'll be able to help me find lots of worms.

"Worms? What do you want worms for?" he asks.

"Look, Skip can find anything," I say. "Lost wallets, Miss Fogarty's glasses, and my missing library book. Lots of stuff. He shouldn't have any problems finding worms."

"Yeah, but what do you want worms for?" he asks again.

I'm about to tell him that it's none of his business, but then I remember what Mrs Pratt said. She said we weren't to exclude Big Red just because he was new to the school and a bit different from the rest of us.

"Because," I say, trying real hard to sound pleasant, "with a heap of big fat juicy worms I'm going to do what no-one else has ever done."

"What's that?" he asks.

"I'm going to catch Yabba Jack."

Big Red shakes his head.

"You won't catch a Murray cod with worms," he scoffs. "You've got to use something like bardi grubs. That's how I caught the yellow belly."

"He's right ya know," Sparra chirps. "I reckon bardi grubs are definitely the go."

I glare at Sparra and feel like giving him an elbow in the guts. Instead I drop my bike on the nature strip in front of Big Red's house.

* * * * *

Stepping into Big Red's backyard is like walking into a jungle. There's tall grass and weeds and junk everywhere and I wonder if we need a machete. A dead lawn mower lies on its side near the gate, a rusty car body is buried in the grass and broken toys lay scattered around the back door. I can't believe that Big Red and his dad have been living in Yabba Creek for only two months.

"This way," Big Red says and kicks an empty can into the grass.

We walk along a cracked concrete path to an outside laundry that looks like it's about to fall over. One wall is propped up by heavy bits of wood. Big Red pushes open the door and we step inside.

"In there," he says, pointing to a trough in the corner and we squeeze past him.

Floating in the water is the biggest yellow belly I've ever seen. Big Red dips his hand into the trough, slips his fingers under the fish's gills and lifts it up. Water gushes all over his jeans and onto the floor but he doesn't seem to care.

"Awesome!" Sparra says. "That'd feed my whole mob!"

"Bet you couldn't catch something this big with just worms," Big Red says proudly and pushes up his glasses.

"Geeze, it's huge," Sparra says.

I have a sudden urge to grab the fish and smack him in the mouth with it.

"Not as big as Yabba Jack though," I add. "Mike Wills reckons he's so big he's got a sunburnt back and gravel rash on his belly."

"Bulldust!" Sparra says. "Fish don't get sunburnt."

I ignore him as Big Red lowers the fish back into the trough and wipes his hands on his tee shirt. Sparra doesn't move away from the trough. He pokes at the fish with a finger while I secretly wish I could catch a fish half that big.

"Want to see something else?" Big Red asks.

"Your dad's trophies?" Sparra asks and I notice the excitement in his voice. "Bet he's got plenty of them."

"No, something much better," Big Red says. "Dad's maggot breeder."

"Sick!" Sparra says.

"What's a maggot breeder?" he whispers to me as we step out of the laundry and back into the jungle. I just shrug nonchalantly, pretending that I'm not half as interested as Sparra is to find out.

Big Red is the new kid that we bag out all the time. No one wants to hang out with him. He smells a bit, he's as big as a house and he's not the most attractive kid in class by a long shot, but it looks to me like he might just know how to catch fish; big fish. I'm beginning to think Mr Proud might be right when he says you can't judge a book by its cover.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014 00:00

The Wolf on the Road Home by Sophie Szecsodi

"I think we're in the botanical gardens. And that ..." Veelo points to a large road crossing the river. "I think that's the Tasman Highway. And that's the Croax River. Yes, that's right. They renamed it ages ago. It was the Derwood or Derbunt or something."

"Derwent?"

"Yeah, that's it. How'd you know?"

"Just stuff I heard around the orphanage."

"Oh." Veelo bows her head. "Anyway, we have to follow the highway to get to Freycinet, I think. We'll have to get a tourist bus."

"Wait a second ... I'm no geography expert, but aren't we going to Launceston?"

Veelo's expression tenses a little, but then relaxes again. "I think we need to go to Freycinet. Because Jay is there. He can help us."

"Who is Jay?"
"Another Elf..."

"Wait, so how many of us are there?"

"A lot. They were all sent here disguised as humans to locate you. Right now, we need you to get home. A vampire's running Fantesia and I'm pretty sure that Vaxel is planning a rebellion ..."

"Whoa, whoa whoa. A rebellion? Vaxel???"

"Oh, right." Veelo stops. "Yes, Vaxel is a troll, planning on rebelling against Ploxeth, the vampire."

I lie down. This is a lot to take in. I sit back up and look around. The gardens are still in bloom. Gardens of pansies stare up at me like a sea of faces. I feel lost. Different. Helpless.

Veelo is still murmuring Fantesian stuff to herself. When I get there, I'm going to reclaim this throne, kill this 'Vaxel', and hopefully, restore order in my life.

Veelo has walked over to some trees, but is on her way back. "All right Wolf. I think the best thing to do is find Jay at Freycinet and then work from there. He might know the fastest route to Launceston. So hopefully, he will shorten our journey. But we have a long hike ahead of us."

"How far?"

Veelo smirks a bit. "A lot far ..."

"Funny." I roll my eyes and continue. "Shall we put the food and ice in the icebox?"

She nods and helps me transfer the bananas and butter, the ham and the jam and finally the water into the cooler. We toss the bags and start our route along the Tasman Highway.

But before we leave, I ask Veelo a question."Hey, got anything sharp?"

She nods and procures a pocketknife from her pack. I pull my wooden wolf from my pocket and etch my name into its front left paw. It's very small, but it's still legible. I thank Veelo and give her the pocketknife back. Then we start the long journey up the Tasman Highway.

We had taken longer than we had anticipated in the gardens, so it's already night when we reached our waypoint. Well, it's Veelo's waypoint, because I have no idea where we are. Anyway, we're here, hiding in the Meehan range. It's quite deep into the night. An owl hoots outside our cave. I don't see it, because huge ferns cover the entrance to our hideout. So we're pretty safe. Safe enough for one, or maybe two nights,

Veelo has laid out our sleeping quarters. I crawl over, and she looks at me. "You know, it's not that late. The park's closed. Go outside. It's good for you."

So that's what I do. I go outside. I sit at the edge of the lake and howl and howl until my lungs are sore. I'm confused. Alone. Helpless. Veelo can't even explain what I need to do. I don't know who can. Maybe Jay. Maybe Ploxeth. I don't know. I howl again and Veelo comes out. "Hey ..." she starts. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing..."

"It's fine. Go for a run. You can come back whenever you want."

"Nah, I'm too tired."

"Ha, and here I was thinking wolves never got tired,"

I gaze into my reflection in the lake and watch as the moon rises behind me.

"Yes, but I'm not wolf, I'm human."

Veelo shoots me a puzzled glance. "What?"

"You heard. I'm not a wolf."

"What the hell do you mean? You mean I've told everything to a perfect stranger? Someone who's not even Fantesian? Come on Wolf, you're kidding, right?"

"No, I'm not a wolf."

"Yes! You are! Take your hat off. You must be! Unless ..."

I stare at her.

She says, "You, you don't know ... do you? You don't know ..."

"What don't I know? I love wolves and I always pretend to be one, but just to scare people. I'm not really one."

Veelo looks at me and her eyes twinkle. "Go over to the lake and pull your hat off your head. Then tell me what you see."

I do it. I walk over to the lake and kneel down beside it. All I can see is myself, staring back at me. Same brown eyes. Same caramel hair. Same everything. But still, I take my hat off.

It's then I see it. My brown eyes glow to an amber. My ears move up my head and position themselves there. My face is stretched into a muzzle. Fur grows around my eyes in a grey and white colour. My muzzle turns grey. My face is reshaped and recoloured. My legs stretch out behind me. I feel myself getting stronger. Finally, I watch as my hands disappear and are replaced with paws. A long, grey and white tail appears behind me. I am a wolf.

"I knew it."

I turn and see Veelo smiling. I realize that she has changed. She's wearing a long, pink dress and a floral headpiece. I smile.

"Now, go. Enjoy yourself before the real hardships begin."

 

© Sophie Szecsodi

Wednesday, 10 September 2014 00:00

Quantum Cannibals by Nathan Elberg

Modern Day 1
Saima had to run. As the wind drove each frozen drop into his skin, the sting reminded him that his feet were hurting less than before. This was bad. Frozen flesh, dead flesh, brings no pain. Earlier, when his hands and feet were throbbing, he could barely focus enough to look ahead through the darkness to know where he was running. With the pain easing, he could now concentrate on the way towards shelter. He tried not to think about his fingertips turning white with frost, eventually black with rot. He ran on, jumping over the deeper puddles, trying not to lose his footing on the ice that met his soles.

Additional Info

  • Written by Nathan Elberg
  • Country Canada
Tuesday, 02 September 2014 00:00

Coronation by Mark Probert

The princess gazed down from the dais, an imperious look upon her face. The old First Minister bowed and touched his head to the floor. "My sincere apologies, Exalted, but this matter directly concerns you. And your coronation."

The Princess was brought up short. "What? My coronation? How so? Has that idiot High Priest ruined the sacrifices? If so, I shall make him the sacrifice!" Anger burned in her eyes.

The old man bowed his head and said the Prayer for Strength in Face of Adversity.

Additional Info

  • Written by Mark Probert
  • Country Australia
Friday, 27 June 2014 00:00

Skinsongs by Martin Livings

To: Tracey Holland <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
From: Skinsong Corporation <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Subject: Invitation

Dear Tracey,

Your name has been randomly selected to receive this invitation. As you may be aware, the Skinsong Corporation holds regular public auditions, in order to discover new talent for our skinsong recording line. This process gives everybody a chance to be a skinsongs star, whatever their walk of life. But here at Skinsong, we also believe in giving this opportunity to people who may not normally apply, and for this reason we periodically send out invitations such as this.

Additional Info

  • Written by Martin Livings
  • Country Australia
Friday, 27 June 2014 00:00

Intimations of Evil by Cary Lenehan

Dochra was an incomplete town. Three rows of adobe houses formed the three sides of a hollow square facing the spring that fed the only permanent water of the lake. Basil gazed over a large square, several hundred paces across, and well used by caravans and army units to camp in, from the marks and the floating dust and, despite the best efforts of the local sweeper, the faint sweet smell of animal shit. The military post was a small one on the side closest to the lake along with a stable, an inn and a hall. He had been here before, just passing through as he was now, and had not reported in then. He guessed that the post saw more messengers than anything else.

There was a rail outside to hitch horses onto and a wooden watering trough. By the time that Basil had reached the post the rider behind had well and truly emerged from the palms behind him. By the time he had his horses all tied up the other was beside him. It had to be Theodora. She was equipped as an insakharl kataphractoi. The horse must have good stamina to still be moving so well in the heat with all the armour it carried. What is more she not only rode in full armour in the safe heart of the Empire, but had the mail drape of the helm worn over her face to hide her features.

Additional Info

  • Written by Cary Lenehan
  • Country Australia
Friday, 27 June 2014 00:00

Dream Mages by Maureen Flynn

Looking around them in wonder, the group followed Gareth and his father under the waterfall and to the white building. The milky white doors swung open. They gleamed like the inside of an oyster shell—all pearly and reflective, creating bursts of purple colour against the white.

People dressed in the silver-blue of the Maelwynn House stood on either side of the open door. They stepped backwards again in reverence at the entrance of Lord Maelwynn and his son.

The smell of the sea filled Claire’s nostrils and got down her throat, as her mouth opened with surprise. She could hear the murmur of the sea as a continuous mist cooled against her face.

It took her another five minutes to realise that the sound she was hearing was not just the sound of falling water, but also the noise of a room full of whispering people. She looked at Gareth in confusion.

Additional Info

  • Written by Maureen Flynn
  • Country Australia

Standing on his desk in class, Jason proclaimed, ‘I would like to have an intelligent conversation about this. But all I get is historical insanity.’ John Green, his ‘buddy’ since Year 7, and ‘thick as’, shook his head slowly from side to side, his mouth agape.

‘Sit down.’ The voice came from nowhere. It was completely disembodied.

Jason felt his double-lidded dragon eyes flick. Firelight vision, UV and infrared, clicked across the room, looking for the speaker. It wasn’t John, which was unusual. He was normally the most vociferous.

‘Phillips! Get down! Sit!’

Additional Info

  • Written by Danuta Raine
  • Country Australia
Monday, 09 June 2014 00:00

Waking Anastasia by Timothy Reynolds

Jerry’s eyes snapped open. He clumsily blinked off the sleep and found a young woman perched on the foot of his bed. He struggled to sit upright, the sheets and blanket confounding him.

“What the hell?”
    
She smiled politely, almost regally. “And a pleasant good morning to you, fine sir.”

He blinked, shook his head free of a headache that wasn’t there, and then the memory found him. She was the ghost. “But last night, you couldn’t talk … you were … but …” 

“Now I can. Quite stránno, strange.”
    
Jerry reached for his dark green, terry robe draped over the chair beside the bed. The young tsarina turned her head away out of politeness. Though he was wearing pajamas, Jerry still threw on the robe after tossing the covers aside and standing up.

Additional Info