Guest Post = Land of the Long Dark Cloud - Writing Dark Fiction Down Under by Dan Rabarts

Hi all - as you may or may not have noticed I have not been posting much lately. Largely due to the completion of my Masters thesis, my fiction writing and posts have been on hiatus. Now, I am back but this time I thought I'd try something a bit different by opening up my site to some fellow authors. The first guest post I present to you is from fellow countryman and all-around good guy, Dan Rabarts. Dan is a writer of the dark stuff along with excursions into fantasy and further afield. Here he offers us an interesting perspective on his recent work as it relates to possible sources and origins of inspiration, found in the locale and characteristic anomalies of life in New Zealand. If interested, I myself discuss the 'dark' aspects of New Zealand literature here in a recent interview with fellow writer and Dan's co-author, Lee Murray.

Give the below article a read and check out Dan's books via the links - you won't be sorry, he really is the real-deal and his stories will resonate with you long after you've finished reading them.

Also, please make sure to subscribe to this blog/website to stay tuned for the next post (if you subscribe now you also get a free digital copy of my collection, Dreams of Thanatos: Collected Macabre Fiction) - links to the right or click here.

Without further ado . . . here's Dan. 

Land of the Long Dark Cloud - Writing Dark Fiction Down Under

By Dan Rabarts

You can’t get much closer to the end of the world without falling off the edge, Barry Ferguson thought, watching the mist that cloaked the fiords roll down from their dizzy heights.

Thus begins my short story All That Glitters, part of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences world, created by Kiwi Pip Ballantine and her partner in writing and life, Tee Morris. The MoPO world is a collaborative work, worthy of note here because at one of my earlier stops in this blog tour I discussed the value of collaboration, and as an extension of the MoPO novels, All That Glitters is part of a series of short stories, the Tales from the Archives, written by the authors and other invited writers, making it something of a shared world writing community project, another topic I've discussed on this tour. The characters are the creation of Grant Stone, another tremendous Kiwi writer and also a collaborator of mine, and I've been lucky enough to write stories with these characters twice now. Thanks Grant, and Pip and Tee.

But we're here to talk dark fiction, you say, and rightly so. What does All That Glitters and MoPO have to do with dark fiction? Bear in mind that everything is connected. What we write, how we write it, the things that inspire and prompt us, the things that drive us to completion. Two of the biggest things that drive me forward are the New Zealand and Australian writing communities themselves, yet, despite the positive verve this community creates, so much of what we in the Antipodes create is dark and brooding, or harsh and sun-scorched, or both. Why?

All That Glitters is set at the very bottom of the South Island, towards the end of the era of the Otago Gold Rush. The story revolves around a missing daughter and a father's grief, and the ends he will go to in order to overcome that grief. It's a story of desperation and madness. It's a story that doesn't end well. Some of the story's intent was to capture the sense of distance and desolation found not only geographically but also across the spectrum of New Zealand society, particularly in the cultural divisions that shaped us from our earliest days. But I'll come back to this in a minute. Surely New Zealand isn't all bad?

If you believe the marketing, New Zealand is all about summer and pavlova and jandals, pristine landscapes and sporting successes and little guys taking on the world with number 8 wire and a uteful of warratahs. Yet our film and literature, both speculative and otherwise, tread heavily into the dark side of the scale. If the impression of New Zealand as a subtropical paradise free of the worries that plague other parts of the world is true, then why should our creatives see so much darkness to write about?

Perhaps we're asking the wrong questions. Perhaps we need to be asking why New Zealand has one of the highest rates of teen suicide in the developed world. Why we have so many families living below the poverty line, and kids going to school without shoes or lunch. Why we continue to celebrate our sports stars even after they're proven to be violent offenders. Why we can't swim in most of our rivers and streams because of agricultural pollution. Why we've had a one-in-fifty-year storm every other year for the past fifteen years.

New Zealand is experiencing the effects of climate change both in the extreme weather events that have been affecting our part of the world over the past few years and also in the influx of climate refugees making their way here from low-lying island nations because their homes are disappearing under rising seas, a crystal ball into our own fate if things continue the way they are now.

It's hard to underestimate the impact of living on an island at the bottom of the world as a factor that influences our creative output. You might be sitting on a boat in Wellington Harbour enjoying the sunshine and a cold beer, with a massive faultline running along the hills that sweep around you on three sides, knowing that if you turn your gaze to that open water to the south, you're looking towards Antarctica, right into the mouth of the tsunami deluge path. Travel a few hours north and drive past Ruapehu, an active volcano right in the centre of the North Island which last erupted less than ten years ago; around Lake Taupo, the remains of one of the biggest volcanic eruptions on the planet in the last 5000 years; drive on until you reach Auckland, our biggest city which also happens to sit on a massive field of dormant—not necessarily extinct—volcanic cones. So screw that, you say, let's go south instead. Because the east coast is closed to most traffic after last year’s massive Kaikoura quake which reshaped the coastline beyond recognition, instead let's follow the Alpine Fault that runs the length of the Southern Alps and which could slip and rip the South Island in half any day now. But that won't happen, you think as you drive through the chaos of Christchurch as it rebuilds after the 6.3 earthquake of 2011, in which 185 people died. Couldn't possibly happen.

We live on the brink. We can't just keep that all inside.

New Zealanders have, for decades, defined ourselves by our close-knit isolation. We've wrapped ourselves up in a Swandri coat sewn with She'll-be-Right thread, hugged our fears close to our chests, and told ourselves how much better off we are being so far from the rest of the world and their troubles, their wars and their nuclear nihilism and their existential terrorism and their acid rain. This far away, it can't affect us. Denial is a useful blindfold. But those fears creep out, and so we come back to the point: Dark fiction as a symptom of all these things, the weeping that suppurates from the wound we've tried to stick a band-aid over and ignore.

Writing is therapy, particularly for those things over which we have so little control. Writing is an act of bringing the unseen, the unspoken, into the light. And so we have a generation of writers for whom these fears are real, and these fears inform our writing. Lee Murray and I recently collected these into an anthology of work drawn from both New Zealand and Australia, capturing the sense of desolation that we endure down here at the bottom of the world, titled At The Edge. The anthology includes climate-change apocalyptic science fiction, like Paul Mannering's The Island at the End of the World, identity apocalypse fiction like AJ Fitzwater's SJV-winning short story Splintr, and the question of whether the horror we are living is just a waking nightmare or a reality, in Michelle Child’s Narco. From Australia, there’s a greater focus on that great burning just over the horizon which is global warming on a desert continent, with Jodi Cleghorn’s The Leaves No Longer Fall, and the impact on the individual of being a citizen of a regional superpower when the nuclear sabres start rattling, in Tom Dullemond’s One Life, No Respawns. With At The Edge, we set out to create a series of snapshots of how this long dark cloud hangs over us, and the shadow it casts across our lives.

Lee and I went on from this project to write Hounds of the Underworld (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2017), the first book in the Path of Ra series, a near-future crime-noir horror mash-up which gathers that same sense of impending troubles and uses it to build the world that may be waiting around the corner, a bleak neo-apocalyptic landscape where life carries on much the same as it used to, because She’ll be Right, even though civilisation is breaking down incrementally, the environment choking on our legacy of irresponsibility, global politics a distant spectre of potential disaster but beyond our control, something unspeakable lurks just beyond our vision, and always with the little voices in the backs of our heads saying how we can surely twist a little bit more for ourselves out of this, can’t we? That selfish drive which tells us once again: It couldn’t possibly happen. Let’s just keep taking we what need for us, and to hell with it all. Why should we be the ones to change?

New Zealand has a part to play in the world, in terms of politics, science, sports, literature, and everything else. But to the rest of the world, we are rarely more than a bit player, a cameo appearance, a novelty. A footnote. We wow the world with nine hours worth of The Lord of the Rings and then milk it for decades by charging people to take a bus ride to look at a farm and drink a beer, and we celebrate winning at obscure sports that no-one else really plays, like rugby and yachting, and we beat incessantly against the futility of it all. Many of us pack our bags and take our dreams elsewhere, because when you’re little more than a footnote, a fleck of dust in the eye of the world, opportunities to shine are rare. Which leaves us with the dark.

And so I come back to All That Glitters, and the collaborations that have driven projects like MoPO, At The Edge, and Hounds of the Underworld. All is not lost, because we do not stand alone. We have an army, and our voices are loud (thanks Devilskin). Our isolation draws us together, like moths that gather around a campfire lit to drive back the night. Together, we are the light that illuminates the darkness of our own creation. And so I leave you with these lines that (almost) wrap up All That Glitters, lines that just might be asking a very different question than they appear to be; the question of who we are as New Zealanders, as creatives tucked away in the shadowy deep dreaming corners of the planet, asking ourselves what we’re doing, what we need to be saying, how do we say it?:

As they rounded the headland and Cromarty came into view, a darkness lay over the town. The great pillars atop the battery stood cold and silent.

“Have we solved the case, sir?” Ferguson said at last, as he began to lean this way and that to steer the floating cart towards the dock.

“I’m not even sure we know what we came here to solve anymore, Ferguson. This town has its ghosts, and soon enough I suspect it will be a ghost itself.”

Sometimes, our fiction tries to predict the future. Sometimes, we get it right. Sometimes, we really hope we will turn out to be wrong.


Dan Rabarts is an award-winning short fiction author and editor, recipient of New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best New Talent in 2014. His science fiction, dark fantasy and horror short stories have been published in numerous venues around the world, including Beneath Ceaseless Skies, StarShipSofa and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Together with Lee Murray, he co-edited the anthologies Baby Teeth - Bite-sized Tales of Terror, winner of the 2014 SJV for Best Collected Work and the 2014 Australian Shadows Award for Best Edited Work, and At The Edge, a collection of Antipodean dark fiction, which won the SJV for Best Edited Work in 2017. His novella Tipuna Tapu won the Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction as part of the Australian Shadows Awards in 2017. Hounds of the Underworld, Book 1 of the crime/horror series The Path of Ra, co-written with Lee Murray and published by Raw Dog Screaming Press (2017), is his first novel.

Find out more about Dan Rabarts at

Dan Rabarts, New Zealand Horror, Sir Julius Vogel Awards, Australian Shadows Awards, New Zealand Literature, Dark Fiction in New Zealand, Lee Murray, William Cook, New Zealand Books

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