Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Blog Tour: Calvaria Fell: Stories

We're happy to help Meerkat Press support the release of their latest title, Calvaria Fell: Stories,  by participating in their blog tour. And if you're at all into winning free stuff, they're running a giveaway where you can potentially win a $25 Meerkat Press Giftcard.

Click here to enter!

I've always been curious to know who authors get star struck over, and whether they've brushed shoulders with the people they most admire. So...we're starting a cool new author series in which they get to share their sixe degrees of separation or close calls with celebrities/authors/musicians.... 

When Bono Kissed Me

By Cat Sparks


Sydney, 1993. Rumour had it that one of the New South Wales Premier’s daughters wanted desperately to meet U2 so on 26th November daddy made it happen with a government reception in the State Office Block (AKA The Black Stump) where I worked as a media monitor and the Premier’s official photographer. Everyone with any kind of half-baked excuse crammed into the top floor reception rooms. The band wore matching uniforms & probably wondered what the hell they were doing there surrounded by star stuck public servants. Later it transpired U2 had trouble booking their Sydney concerts, as the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust  rejected their application for the Sydney Football Stadium until Premier John Fahey personally intervened to allow the shows to take place. 


Photography was tricky as everyone was bumper to bumper but I managed to elbow my way to enough reasonable shots. I can’t remember which kind of film camera I was using, only that it was definitely manual focus. Suddenly Bono appears and he’s smiling right at me. He pushes through the throng, raises his arm, gently lifts the camera from my hands, wrangles his face is next to mine, aims, kisses my cheek and takes a selfie. Note – there were no ‘selfies’ back then and the odds of getting the shot in focus were pretty much zero. Apparently, this was his signature move with female photographers. He returned my camera and jostled off into the crowd. Gobsmackingly, the shot (which I developed and printed myself) was indeed in focus as you can see.


Premier’s staff were given a bunch of free tickets to that evening’s show. Wikipedia reports that bass player Adam Clayton had a few too many drinks and was unable to play that evening but I have no memory of this or his guitar technician Stuart Morgan filling in. The entire evening was magical.


The photo prompts in me a single regret – no longer being in possession of such bushy au naturale eyebrows.



Releasing today!

Science Fiction | Dystopian | Dark Fantasy

Calvaria Fell is a stunning collaborative collection of weird tales from two acclaimed authors, Kaaron Warren and Cat Sparks. It features previously published stories from both authors, along with a new novella by Kaaron Warren and four new stories by Cat Sparks. The collection offers a glimpse into a chilling future world that is similar to our own. Readers will be drawn into experiences at once familiar and bizarre, where our choices have far-reaching consequences and the environment is a force to be reckoned with. The title of the collection tethers these stories to a shared space. The calvaria is the top part of the skull, comprising five plates that fuse together in the first few years of life. Story collections work like this; disparate parts melding together to make a robust and sturdy whole. The calvaria tree, also known as the dodo tree, adapted to being eaten by the now-extinct dodo bird; its seeds need to pass through the bird’ s digestive tract in order to germinate. In a similar way, the stories in Calvaria Fell reflect the idea of adaptation and the consequences of our actions in a changing world.

BUY LINKS:  Meerkat Press | Bookshop.org | Amazon


Gardens of Earthly Delight

Cat Sparks


“Them two in the corner. The ones wrapped up in silver. Those would make a lovely pair of elves.”

The broker squints through the floating detention center’s musty ambience, searching through the mess of huddled forms. Forty bodies jammed into each cage, barely stirring from heat stress and exhaustion. “Might do,” he says, sniffing loudly, wiping his nose on his damp stained sleeve. “How much?”

The guard names a figure and the broker laughs. “They’re flotsam off the Risen Sea, not royalty or richling lah-de-dahs! I’ll give you sixty for the both, providing they don’t got nothing worse than scabies.”

“Eighty,” says the guard, crossing his arms. “Their bloods are clean. My cages are the cleanest on this barge!”

“So you reckon,” says the broker, patting down his pockets for his purse. “Seventy—and that’s my final. Take it or you can bugger off.”

The men bump elbows to seal the deal and a fold of grimy notes passes hand to hand. The guard unclips a torch from his belt, light-spears the huddled forms until they squirm. “You two—get yerselves moving if you know what’s good for ya,”

Thermal blankets shiver, disgorging tangled arms and legs. Thin brown bodies shielding eyes from the bright beam, nudging their way to the cage’s single door. Stepping around the ones who can’t or won’t budge.

Silver scrunches as the boy clasps the blanket against his chest.

“Ed here’s got an employment opportunity,” says the guard.

“What kind?” says the girl.

“Well, aren’t we the picky ones. A one-way ticket out of this shithole and ’asides—you won’t be getting nothing better. Barge can only hold so many. Pass this up and you’ll end up wherever yer sent.”

He sniffs . . . wherever yer sent being well understood as code for over the side. The fetid harbor holds a lot of secrets.

Crinkling thermal masks, covert whispers. “We stay together,” the girl states. “We must not be separated.”

The guard dips the beam, slings a glance at the broker who nods enthusiastically. “Oh yeah, they’re definitely a set. No question. Madame will take ’em both, for sure. No worries.”

He leans closer. “Madame takes her job real serious. Reckon she used to be one of your lot. She’ll see you straight and have yer back. Takes a hefty cut of coin but she’s worth it all.”

The guard waves over armed reinforcements before punching in a complicated door code. Dulled detainees groan and shift, taking an interest in proceedings, rattling wires and slinging slurs and insults.

The guard grabs the girl’s thin arm to yank her through the doorway. The boy leaps after, abandoning the blanket to a sea of grabbing hands as the heavy steel cage door is slammed and bolted.

Madame raises an eyebrow when she learns how far the twins have come. Nobody travels far these days. Not like in the Before time when people wandered free and easy to far-off lands with names and edges, their borders crossed with a minimum of fuss and barter.

She frowns but doesn’t contradict. Madame Bastarache didn’t get to be uncontested Grandam of Calvaria Estate for decades without knowing when and why to listen.

“Give us yer names, then.”

“I’m Pearl,” says the girl, standing straight, “and he is Kash.”

“You’ll make a simply adorable faery duo, sister Pearl and brother Kash. Is faeries what you had in mind?” Madame eyes them over, her eyelids thickly painted petal pink. “You’re skinny enough for faeries, tis for sure. Course you know you’ll have to stay that way. And then there’ll be the wing implants. Some folks don’t take too well to that kind of thing.”

“We will take to it,” says Pearl.

Kash nods.

Madame beams, rouged cheeks shimmering with glitter. “Glad to hear it. Faeries are a sensible option on account of the social distance . You won’t ever have to get too near.” She leans in closer, nods with her chin at the vast and lavish Manor House nestled regally within a semicircle of poplars. “Manor children observe you dancing in the distance. Flitting through sunset dappled foliage.” She raises her hands and waggles sausage fingers. “You can both dance, can’t you? Never mind if you can’t, we can sort you out.”

“I dance,” said Kash.

“Excellent!” says Madame, clasping hands together at her bosom.

“The wing thing—will it hurt?”

“Full anesthetic privileges,” boasts Madame. “Never less than the best for my faery treasures. Plus, lefty food, so you won’t have to starve yourselves for those willowy figures.”

A crowd gathers, a hodgepodge mix of tall and short, fat and squat, hooked noses, flappy ears and tizzy hair.

Kash opens his mouth but before he can speak, he’s drowned out by a voice from up the back. A soft voice calling “Tell ’em about the children!”

Pearl panics as a wave of titters ripple through the gathering.

“Hush now, Marlene,” says Madame, “There’ll be plenty of time for that once we’ve gotten these new folks signed and sealed.”

Kash grips Pearl’s arm. She pats his hand. “And we will be working alongside other faery folk?”

“But of course!” Madame places two curled fingers in her mouth and whistles, long and sharp. “Nettle dear, take our two new lovely treasures—remind me of your names again, my sweets.”

“Pearl and Kash and we need to stay together—no matter what. Our home was—”

“This is your home now, darlings, and together always you shall stay! I’ll make sure we note that in the Book.”

The crowd parts amidst much shuffling and sniffling. A girl emerges, garbed in a confectionary of lace and chiffon; mincing steps, careful not to trip. She winks at Pearl. “Youse can call me Nettie. Reckon ya wanna walk or take the carriage?”

Says Madame, “May I recommend a casual stroll around the lake past the weeping willows. Take in the sights and get suitably acquainted.”

More muttering and mumbling as the crowd disperses.

“The old bag never lets me take the carriage,” says Nettie once they are safely out of earshot. “She should try walking in these stupid shoes.”

“So gorgeous,” says Kash.

“The fuckers pinch,” says Nettie, “not to mention shatter easy on account of them being glass. I still got scars from falling off the last pair.” She tugs at her hem to expose the damage. Kash bends for a closer look, but Pearl can’t take her eyes off the immense, luxurious garden vista wrapped around them like a cloak. Deep green as far as she can see, dotted with ornate fountains. Sculpted boxwood hedges, cypress trees reaching heavenward, like arrows. Occasional crumbling ruins out of place amongst such symmetry and balance.

An old man in long white robes ambles across the lawn with the aid of a gnarled staff. Vanishes into a distant copse. The lawns are amazing. Everything in this place is amazing.

“First thing to know, don’t mind the animals,” says Nettie once they’ve left the crowd behind. “Not a one of ’em’s for real. Not dangerous, all totally built for show.”

“Not real how?”

“Mechanicals,” she continues, “but you could never tell from looking. They stink every bit as much as the real thing.”

The twins nod, because if it’s one thing they are familiar with, it’s the stench of starving, feral beasts with matted fur and dirty claws coming at you once the lights are out.

But the animals gamboling on the lawns are different to anything they’ve seen; so sleek and healthy, clean and beautiful. They pause to admire two mighty loping creatures. Freeze as one tags the heels of the other till they tumble in a playful heap.

Nettie laughs. “Like kittens, really, only bigger. Black one’s jaguar, the stripes is called a tiger.”

“But not real?” says Pearl.

“Hell no,” says Nettie, slapping the air. “But they’ll still run a mile if you try to pat them. Authentic programming in memory of the beasts that once were living. Lots of things are memorial in this place.”

Kash wants to speak but Pearl gives him a nudge. First thing’s figuring where they stand. Who to trust and who must be avoided.

The list of things she wants to ask grows with every step. Lefty food? And what about the children—are they dangerous? She’s known children who would shiv you with a shard of glass for half a moldy crust, but Calvaria does not seem like that kind of place.

Nettie wipes her nose on her wrist. “Spose she’ll want me to rattle the entirety.” Takes a deep gulp of air before beginning.

“Calvaria’s what they call Italianate. You know: topiary, obelisks, orbs, columns, cones and domes. Focal points to lead the eye, providing balance and a sense of drama.” Nettie strikes a theatrical pose and rolls her eyes. “Whole thing’s inspired by the Greeks and Romans. One pinched it off the other—I can never remember which way round it goes.”

Calvaria is the neatest place Pearl has ever seen, all clean, geometric shapes and lines. Climbing roses and lilypond terraces. Marble lion’s head fountains spewing crystal water.

“And Madame Bastarache,” asks Pearl, “is she Italianate as well?”

Nettie giggles. “Lotta rumors going round about where she’s from and what she might be hiding under those skirts— if you know what I mean .”

Pearl doesn’t know, but nods. “What did Madame mean about the children?”

“Nasty little shits,” says Nettie. “Don’t go near them tis my best advice.”

Nettie’s limp becomes more pronounced as they continue. But Pearl is too distracted by a fortune’s worth of lemon trees with overladen branches to ask why. Fallen lemons unclaimed on the grass. Bunny rabbits, plump and fluffy, unconcerned by people walking near.

After an hour spent crossing vast swathes of verdant, spongy lawn and a thousand wonders, including hedge mazes and sky glistening with unnatural sheen, and miniature versions of famous structures from old magazines: Arc de Triomphe, Acropolis of Athens, Rome Colosseum, the twins are shown to a little cottage nestled amongst others. Each one different, every garden blooming with curling fronds and pudgy blossoms, thick, fleshy leaves, creeping vines in shades of green with silver-gray stripes.

“All yours,” says Nettie. “I’ll leave youse both to settle in and tomorrow we’ll get started on the training.” She spins on translucent heels and heads back along the leaf-strewn path, pausing after a few steps. “One more thing,” she calls over her shoulder, “mind you don’t get up to anything you don’t want that lot knowing about.” She nods in the direction of Calvaria’s Manor House, gives a cheery little wave and totters off.

Peapod cottage says the engraved plaque cemented to the ivy-covered wall. Small, but neat. Less pokey than it seems from the outside. The kitchen table has places set for two. A fruit basket, fresh baked loaf and cheese.

Kash lunges, tears off chunks to stuff into his mouth.

“Hell’s sake . . . use the knife!” Pearl’s mouth waters as she sits and reaches for the cheese. Their last meal had been two days back. Watery gruel bulked up with insect protein.

“This can’t be real,” she says with her mouth full. “Gotta be a catch. There has to be.”

“Wing implants.”

She nods, cringing.

“And tigers. Maybe we turn out to be their dinner.”

“This lefty food is tasty.”

“Maybe it turns into poison in our stomachs?”

Pearl shakes her head. “But why bother? They paid for us, they must want us for something.” She casts her eye over the kitchen: grainy burled wood with earthy mottling. Smooth floors of ivory painted brick. A hearth, blue and white patterned wall tiles. Dangling copper-bottomed pots and pans.

A well-thumbed book with a bright yellow cover sits, partly obscured by the basket’s rattan bulk. She tugs it free and flips through tatty pages.


“The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography.” She holds the page up close to her face. “Print’s too small. Smells musty.”

“Like a catalogue of faeries and stuff?”

“Not really. There’s no pictures.”

He shrugs. “Somebody ripped them out, maybe?”

Closer examination reveals jagged tears in several places. She closes the book and puts it back on the table. “Kash—the mansion song we followed could only be about Calvaria.” She closes her eyes and sings:


“When we gaze in silent rapture,

On our many mansions fair;

We shall know how sweet the promise

Of a home, forever there.”


She opens her eyes. “Finney’s favorite song. Remember?”

Kash nods, his mouth too full for speaking.

After slaking their thirsts with jug after jug of water, the twins discover two identical bedrooms snuggled side by side. They take the smaller, falling asleep as soon as their heads hit pillows. 


Cat Sparks is a multi-award-winning Australian author, editor and artist. Career highlights include a PhD in science fiction and climate fiction, five years as Fiction Editor of Cosmos Magazine, running Agog! Press, working as an archaeological dig photographer in Jordan, studying with Margaret Atwood, 78 published short stories, two collections— The Bride Price (2013) and Dark Harvest (2020) and a far future novel, Lotus Blue. She directed two speculative fiction festivals for Writing NSW and is a regular panelist & speaker at speculative fiction and other literary events.

Kaaron Warren has been publishing ground-breaking fiction for over twenty years. Her novels and short stories have won over 20 awards, from local literary to international genre. She writes horror steeped in awful reality, with ghosts, hauntings, guilt, loss, love, crime, punishment and a lack of hope. 

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