British Fantasy Award Winner; 3x British Fantasy Award Nominee

Tuesday 2 June 2009

Praise for

Better You Believe:

““Better You Believe,” is the opening story of Ellen Datlow’s THE BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR VOL 10, first tale I’ve read in that collection.

The narrator is a mountain climber on an expedition descending Annapurna, one of the 8K peaks and a mountain with a much higher casualty rate than Everest. (“The summit to death ratio on Everest is one in twenty-six. On Annapurna, it’s one in three.”)

As happens in every mountain climbing story, things go poorly. You know that. You know that, if for no other reason, because this is a horror collection. But rarely have I read a take that so perfectly captured the worsening conditions, the growing despair, the constant calculation of diminishing odds, the cold, and so on, in language this persuasive, this compelling and sensual.

It reads like a horrific mainstream story. It becomes easier to classify as a genre work in its last few pages. But you know what? It makes that crossing in a manner so gorgeous, so gasp-inducing, so belatedly correct, that I urge even the horror-averse — and many of my friends are nothing if not horror-averse — to take the leap.

Honestly. This…is jaw-droppingly beautiful. This is a jewel. This is something you need to see. If you need to just pluck it off the shelf at your bookseller and read it in a brightly-lit and warm room, over coffee, then do that. TRUST ME.”


“The same anthology ended on a particularly high note with Carole Johnstone’s mountaineering epic ‘Better You Believe‘. To echo the climber’s joke it opens with, typical of the author’s dry sense of humour, things go downhill from the word go, but not in the quality of the fiction, which is as sharp and glacial as its subject matter.”

“Read and loved new authors as well here, “Better You Believe” by Carole Johnstone was unbelievably good.”

"Better You Believe" by Carole Johnstone is for anyone who is fascinated by the people who dare to climb Everest.”

"Expectations are always high from the opening story of a horror anthology, especially one of Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year anthologies. This year opens with Carole Johnstone’s “Better You Believe”…It’s a great story, ramping up the dread and emphasising the terrible indifference of nature and the violence it inflicts… I’m happy to say that I didn’t see [the twist] coming and so had to re-read the story to admire all the misdirection.
"Overall this was a really strong start to the anthology and an evocatively written, refreshing and truly disturbing story that has reinforced my desire never to climb anything larger than a small knoll. Real wilderness – of which surely mountains are one of the few remaining examples – can be terrifying for a reason."
/’dƷɅst/ (Just):

“Finally, we have ‘/’dƷɅst/’ by Carole Johnstone. It is debatable as to whether this is a ‘proper’ horror story, being that it reads more like a crime tale; yet there is no denying it is horrific, grim, and affecting. It is also, by a fair way—no mean feat considering the quality on offer here—the best story within these pages.

Close to novella size, its narrative takes in a rainy Glasgow, a driven yet troubled Detective Chief Inspector, and a series of gruesome body parts found around the city with strange notes attached. Utilising phonetic Scots for the dialogue—something Johnstone is fast becoming a natural expert at—it’s suitably grim and authentic. Mixing the investigation and a more personal thread, the tension mounts with expertise until the inevitable confrontation. And even if the ending can be seen just before it arrives (with these kinds of tales, it’s difficult to hide a villain with a small roster of characters) it still manages to engage, to captivate.

One would hope that Johnstone is embarking on larger works of this nature. She clearly has an aptitude for it, and this particular story expanded and explored in depth could easily sit beside the likes of Tana French, Peter May, or Val McDermid. Astonishingly good.”

Skyshine (Or Death by Scotland):

““Skyshine (or, Death by Scotland)“, a novella by Carole Johnstone, is a stunner.
Roshni is a young woman who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized for five years without much apparent progress. Thanks to a governmental “pilot scheme,” Roshni (who may not, it is intimated, be schizophrenic but definitely suffers from Asperger syndrome, an anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and clinical depression) is given a placebo along with her genuine medications and therapy. Roshni is soon apparently well enough to be released and credits the pill, which she dubs “Skyshine,” with her “cure.”
Roshni is bright, and despite her psychiatric problems – partly because of them – she quickly becomes a sympathetic character. Already obsessed with a “List of Worries,” once exposed to more of humanity and unlimited ac­cess to the internet, she becomes convinced there is really only one thing to worry about: men. They seem to be the root of all evil. She stops taking her real meds, and a move from Glasgow to a London suburb ends counseling guidance. London subjects Roshni to even more of the baseness of male behaviour.
Part of Johnstone’s theme is “everyone wants someone[/something] to blame. Especially when the consequences are devastating… are world altering. No one wants to hear that the fault lies with their governments or presidents or prime ministers, or indeed with themselves….”
Wherever (even with a prefatory hint) you may think the plot is taking you, you are probably wrong. This is scary on multiple levels. Brava!”

““Skyshine” by Carole Johnstone, a Black Static story (#60) and, again, a dead cert for awards in 2018.”

“Carole Johnstone’s Skyshine (or Death by Scotland), which appeared in Black Static #50 (TTA Press), shares many of these qualities too, but with different subject matter and a rather more free-wheeling range of UK settings and narrative styles, as fractured as its central character’s mind.

Starting with the fragment of a retrospective non-fiction book about some kind of apocalyptic event referring to an unnamed ‘patient zero’, moving onto an apparently unrelated catastrophe in a news cutting, there then follows a scene of Whitehall farce worthy of The Thick of It, before we meet the mental patient whose progress we follow southwards, a young woman armed only with some patois words of wisdom from a West Indian who works on her ward and some dodgy wonder drug the government wants to test on her, as she’s sent out into a hostile, indifferent world.

I hope this gives you some idea of the fierce, angry, mind-bending imagination and invention of this story.”

“The fiction begins with the novella "Skyshine (or Death by Scotland)" by Carole Johnstone. -+- Roshni suffers from Asperger's, an anxiety disorder, OCD, and depression. She has been in a National Health Service clinic for more than five years. She is given a new drug called Ethalectin that she calls Skyshine. It changes her outlook. What she does not know is that it's just a placebo cooked up by unethical bureaucrats. She is released out into the world and seems to be doing okay until a curious encounter shows that something else is going on with her. Great character study and some good satire on modern society.”


“Carole Johnstone’s Wetwork draws back the curtains on Black Static 52’s fiction salvo, placing us alongside Scottish cops DI Lowry and DS Farquharson – our narrator – as they go about their days in a city afflicted with a deadly pandemic.
Said pandemic results in the infected turning into raging, zombie-like “sleepers” – but here, their existence is very much blended into the background. Rather than focus on the zombies, Johnstone gives us plenty of time to get to know the curmudgeonly but endearing Lowry and the fish-out-of-water Farquharson, making for a solidly involving character piece through and through.
Whilst the almost perpetually angry Lowry wants nothing more than to bust every potential criminal he comes across, the seemingly more controlled Farquharson has some deep, dark demons of his own – and Johnstone lets them unfold at an expert, thriller-like pace.
Some may find the phonetically-written Scottish drawls of various characters to be a little hard to “ken” (understand), but Wetwork is more than worth the effort, as it builds to a stunningly effective, tense, skin-crawling and “shout out loud” shock of a finale. This one’s a stunner.”
See full review here

“Wetwork, by Carole Johnstone, is a terrifying view of police work in Glasgow."
© ELLEN DATLOW SF Editors Picks

“In the first and longest story, “Wetwork” by Carole Johnstone, we have two weary police officers–partners whose connections run deeper than work–wandering through a bleak, rundown Glasgow that is host to either zombies or some kind of infection, with their ‘beat’ anchored on The Derelict, a twin-tower style double block of flats that’s both abandoned and subsiding. Completely–and smartly–skirting a standard ‘zombie narrative’, Johnstone pens a tale that is both horrific and human, emotional and devastating, but infused with a quiet, mounting dread. Utilising phonetic Scots speech in the dialogue (both Glaswegian and Doric), she grounds her tale in the grime of the city, while her sharp, economic but descriptive prose pulls the story inexorably towards its gut-punch ending. It’s a powerful start to the issue and sets a high bar for those following.”
See full review here

““Coffee and cherries and the pages of your shallow, sloping words flapping in the breeze, tickling my skin.”
A doughnut or a meringue? Wow! This novelette sure needs working at to start off with, but your work is half the battle towards something great. The Glaswegian dialect dialogue needs to be transcended but half its power is its direct meaning which is eventually easy to absorb, the other half being some intrinsic indefinable horror-bitcoin of meaning-and-sound-in-the mind’s-ear — almost Joycean with its ‘brontide and hybernackle’, ‘coo-branks’, ‘ill-tricket’ together with incantatory refrains and startling homilies that bite at you again and again — evoking an extended vision of, say, dystopic tower-blocks, chemical protection companies, sleepers like zombies, perhaps aliens, mafia types and law enforcers like the well-characterised couple here, Cal the ground-breakingly unreliable narrator and Lowry his boss, who work off each of other with crude naivety, ‘paperwork and wetwork’, dealing with the nefarious bar-owner of the Brew Dog… And much more. Nothing can do justice to the onward extended compulsion of the whole story but particularly of its closing scenes with Lowry’s ENDLESSLY repeated question to Cal of ‘where the fuck you taking me?’ Or words to that effect.
And the end-revelation, too, is devastating. And the end-quote I dare not quote here.
Go to it! Work at this work! And it will work hard back at you, with grinding relentlessness.”
See full review here

The Eyes are White and Quiet:

“But, to my three favourites: Carole Johnstone, who is fast becoming one of my favourite writers, knocks it out of the park with her tense, suffocating tale ‘The Eyes Are White And Quiet’, which leads you sightless and bewildered on a strange, dark journey.”

“A story about Hannah who has problems with her eyes. Hannah has been to doctors, but nobody belives her when she tells them about her condition...
I liked this story very much, because it's intriguingly bleak.”
© SEREGIL OF RHIMINEE See full review here

"Carole Johnstone’s ‘The Eyes are White and Quiet’ gives us a post-apocalyptic world in which mankind’s remnants are preyed on by “the whites”, and a blind protagonist who isn’t quite what she seems. This is a story that packs a lot into a short space, including hysterical blindness, monstrous creatures, vengeful nature, and survivor guilt, with a plot that keeps the reader continually off balance."


“Famous, award-winning editor Ellen Datlow continues her long career as a distinguished anthologist by offering a further volume in the acclaimed series Best Horror of the Year, now reaching its seventh volume...It goes without saying, at any rate, that the present anthology assembles, as always, top notch material apt to satisfy and delight the genre fans...
"...My favorite stories are "It Flows from the Mouth" by Robert Shearman, a wonderful piece told in a superb narrative style, which casts some light on the little mysteries of our existence by portraying a strange friendship surviving beyond the grave, and "Departures" by the amazing Carole Johnstone, an outstanding tale set in the departure section of an airport, incredibly well told and frightening in the extreme.
In short, a great anthology not to be missed."
See full review here

“In The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Seven, Ellen Datlow once again skims the cream to introduce fickle readers like me to some of the shining stars of the horror lit world... One last stand-out: “Departures” by Carole Johnstone, creepy and gory and set in an airplane terminal. It excellently combines the mundane with the uncanny.”
See full review here

“...Volume seven has 2 stories that will make your skin crawl. While I hesitate to choose one story over another, I did have some favourites...Do you like to travel? Who doesn’t? Just don’t read “Departures” by Carole Johnstone if you’re planning on flying anytime soon.”
See full review here

The Monstrous:

"‘Catching Flies’ by Carole Johnstone is one of the scariest stories in the anthology, and one of the finest. Readers will empathise all too well with the vulnerable narrator, a young girl who has been removed from her home with her baby brother by a mysterious government agency. The reasons for this are gradually revealed in flashback as we learn of the girl’s life with her mother."

"The Monstrous is one of the best collections of stories I’ve read in recent years. Every story in this collection shines...I have a few favourites. I’ve read Asputtle by Peter Straub in his collection, Magic Terror. There is something unsettling and chilling in this story, in what’s not openly stated. The Beginning of the Year without summer by Caitlín R. Kiernan is brilliant one of the most unsettling stories I’ve ever read. Catching Flies by Carole Johnstone gave me icy chills right down my spine...The Monstrous is highly recommended.”
See full review here


"“Equilibrium” by Carole Johnstone is another dark one, though a little more softly. A woman whose husband is dying tries to find solace and feeling in an online relationship, whilst navigating a twisted, bitter bereavement. It’s reasonably simple in construction, but has captured a real sense of confused grief, ringing remarkably true."

The Bright Day is Done:

“The Bright Day is Done by Carole Johnstone (Gray Friar Press) is a terrific debut collection of seventeen stories by a British writer whose work has been published in Black Static, Interzone, and a host of anthologies including The Best Horror of the Year and The Best British Fantasy. Five of the stories and novelettes are new. A must-read.”
Excerpt from BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR; VOL.7 available here

"I love Carole Johnstone's deft strokes and seemingly effortless style. Her stories are always vivid. Always convincing. Always compelling, precise, multi-layered. This is a book to savour."

"Carole Johnstone is a writer you should be keeping an eye on. Her prose is neat and tidy, her stories strong and compelling. But this is what you would expect. What really elevates Johnstone's writing above that of many of her contemporaries is an "earthy" quality that makes the characters and situations seem real. Outstanding work from a talented writer."

"Haunting, atmospheric and insidious. Johnstone is a true chameleon of a writer with an impressively diverse range: each setting is nightmarish and each character utterly believable. A bold, assured debut."

"A wonderful collection from one of the brightest new talents in genre fiction . . . With an eye for the telling detail, fully-fleshed characters and a strong sense of place, Carole Johnstone’s stories cast a powerful spell."

"...[Gettin' High] is one of the undoubted high points of the collection, rich in incidental detail and never less than convincing as Bob's past is made manifest in his present, the terrible things he has seen and may have done during his time on active service...the story a compelling and absorbing read, one that triumphs over the more fanciful aspects of the plot simply through the sheer quality of the ideas and prose on offer.
"It is the perfect end to a powerful collection from a bright new talent whose day is only just beginning."
Read whole review in Black Static magazine #42

Cold Turkey:

"Cold Turkey is one hell of a read. Johnstone's prose is consistently lively and engaging throughout, speckled with moments of wonderfully dark comedy. The sense of place is palpable.
"Bringing the...tale to life are Johnstone's brilliant side characters, most notably Raym's fellow teachers and the bullish headmaster who commands his staff with the same overbearing, belittling tone that he does the children...
"...Best of all though is the villanous Top Hat, who is brought to life so vividly that his every stretched grin fills the mind's eye with ease. He's creepy, frightening and just sheer nasty - a brilliant character, realised impeccably...
Cold Turkey is an excellent novella, and highly recommended."
See full review here

“Carole Johnstone’s Cold Turkey is darkly funny, assuredly written, and deliciously creepy. It’s also the best giving up smoking manual I’ve read...In a style reminiscent of Joe Hill, Cold Turkey is a perfect blend of dark humour and creepy chills.”

"A disturbing, nightmarish yet also darkly humerous take on the perils of addiction, self-deception and lost time; in some ways "Cold Turkey" is reminiscent of a Stephen King story - if King had grown up in Motherwell instead of Maine - but Carole Johnstone's voice is distinctively Scottish, her talent uniquely her own."

“Cold Turkey is wise, mischievous and a delight to read. Johnstone tells a mesmerising tale, every time.”

“From its grisly opening gambit reminding the reader of the dark, phlegmy fate awaiting all who fail to give up the snouts, to its climactic stalking, creeping, flailing, bloody finale, this is what horror should be like - as ghastly as examining the contents of a dying man's hankie, and a hell of a lot more fun.”

“Part nightmare, part pitch black comedy, Johnstone's novella has a hallucinatory quality that keeps you guessing until the final reveal. Cold Turkey is genuinely chilling, an addictive mystery that will have readers turning pages until well after midnight. It is Johnstone's skill in characterisation and in the rendering of dialogue, however, that is most consistently mesmerising. Her sense of place is masterful, leaving you with the conviction that she doesn't just know these people, she cares about them, too. Cold Turkey must surely be Carole Johnstone's most confident and assured achievement to date and I loved reading it.”

"Cold Turkey is rich with nightmarish invention. Johnstone has created a very distinctive villain with the sinister top-hatted tally-van man, yet knows when to hold him back to let the other horrors take centre stage. There's an adictive quality to the well-paced prose that makes reading Johnstone's stories a habit you'll never want to kick, and this one's so good it's probably bad for you."

"You can tell that Carole has written out of her skin for this novella; how can reading something so dark and insidiously uneasy offer the readers so much pleasure?
Cold Turkey is a hammer and Carole Johnstone will cave your skull in with it. Brilliant."

"Carole Johnstone has the canny knack of making the real seem strange and the weird commonplace. In Cold Turkey, addiction and compulsion spiral downwards into imagined and real nightmares. Top Hat, a creation to rival King's Pennywise, wides through the urban Scottish landscape that Johnstone has created with an absolute sense of place. Her laugh out loud humour balances her harshness and puts you off-guard before delivering the final blow; if you get in bed with the devil, he's going to fuck you over at some point."

“Cold Turkey  is a triumphant novella, it combines emotional depth, deep psychological chills, with some of the blackest humour and some of the most knowing characterisation you are likely to read this year...[it] is one of those books that every writer dreams of writing, the sort of book that will remain as a fixed point in time in their career. A book that in a perfect world will mark the dawning of a new era in their success.  Bold, assured, utterly rewarding; this is a book that everyone should read.”
See full review here

“This is an excellent novella, beautifully constructed and filled with wonderful little moments of humour- Raym braved the staff room with all the stoicism of a soldier shoved screaming over the top.  The characterisation is precise and clever - Raym isn’t generally a nice man (especially with Wendy and Cate) but you somehow willingly follow him and feel sympathy for his plight - and there’s a nice use of dialect too (especially the key phrase “Yer tea’s oot!”).  The male viewpoint is well captured and when everything goes wrong for Raym during the Easter Fayre, it all happens in a perfectly pitched sequence that is embarrassing and funny and painful but which you cannot look away from.
“Johnstone doesn’t shy away from the dark side of things though, with some unpleasant sequences and an occasion of brutally shocking violence, as reality and fantasy intertwine until Raym (and the reader) are never quite sure what is actually happening and what’s imagination...Superbly written, with a great feel for character, dialogue and location, this is a great read and I highly recommend it.”
See full review here

“I think that “Cold Turkey” might be my favourite of the novella series so far. It’s straightforward on the most immediate level, but through that delves into an entirely believable character. It is what I would term traditional horror, predicated on basic ideas of human nature, and even evokes a chill at the bottom of the spine when it really gets going. Well-written and engaging, it represents another triumph for Carole Johnstone and TTA themselves.”
See full review here

“Although this story, on one level, is a cracking good horror tale, it's more than bogles and night-haunts. Carole's depiction of Raym's addiction, and the personality and character traits going along with said addiction is spot on...The actual monster in this story is Raym and his addiction, along with the depths he eventually sinks to. Top Hat (tally van man) is a great monster, but really, he's everything bad contained within Raym, come back to haunt him. You can really read this on two levels; as a man falling to pieces and losing his sanity, or as an actual story of something from beyond having great fun tormenting an unfortunate git. That, of course, is just my take on the story. Either way, Cold Turkey is an enthralling story, and is highly recommended.”
See full review here

"...Suffice it to say that the climax of this novella as part of the school production for Easter is surprising, shocking even, as well as hilarious and brilliantly done within the whole preceding context, delightfully reminding me of those old-fashioned works of literature that come together with a festival or pageant that has been rehearsed throughout the plot. The whole school ethos indeed, and the characterisation of teachers, the staff room and so forth, are very believable and nicely done. That telling social ‘reality’ makes the seemingly outlandish or nightmarish elements materialise perfectly within (a) a chilling morality tale / fable or (b) an accomplished comic extravaganza or (c) a fantastical happening in cross-rhythms of dance-timing and nursery refrains or (d) a grotesquely effective horror story? For me, that is not a a multiple choice question but a summation of the novella’s memorable originality as not only each of those things but also all of those things at once."
See the whole review here

"The writing in Cold Turkey is excellent...An evil little git of a story with an evil little hook at the end.  I enjoyed this very much."
See whole review here

Ad Astra:

"Incredible Science Fiction Horror story (and why is this such a rare sub-genre?) that takes a modern theory about prolonged space travel (that missions to Mars(/wherever) might be best undertaken by married couples whose relationship can weather the months of claustrophobic close-quarters living) and really runs with it. A husband and wife are travelling through space in a small capsule that may-or-may-not have some horrible alien living in its walls. As the narrative progresses, paranoia and distrust being to permeate, until not even the reader can be certain of what’s going on, of who is mad and who is just lying.
"The story is impressively crammed: there’s Hard SF discussions of zero gravity, intense psychological realism, sex, violence, mind-games: the busy and jam-packed form of the narrative mirrors the claustrophobic, cluttered, cramped nature of its setting. Ad Astra is both genuinely frightening in its un-spoken suggestions of alien horror and conspiracy, and genuinely sad in its examination of marital distrust."
© Tomcat

“It always makes me think of that swan on a lake analogy: existing in zero gravity really is like that, except that the frenzied paddling under the surface is only inside your head.”
…and for ‘zero gravity’, please read life itself. This is a very frightening stasis of a story, distant space travel where the solitary heterosexual couple have sex to pass the time until sex becomes just another madness of habit – a minimalist music or anti-novel where even the walls begin to become formed of the man’s metaphorical tumescence (I sense) as well as formed of both their recycled excrement…
The minimalism is outside and in, an infinity ad absurdum punctuated by hopes of change or false alarms of change. When we realise what they are and why they are, we look at ourselves in a new light. And emptiness envelops our screams.
"We are our own Weaver of Aliens.
"This is SF that awakens and deadens at the same time. A masterstroke.
(The characterisation via the woman half of the relationship is very convincing. And the story needs to be read to appreciate that aspect of the fiction writing, an aspect that further accentuates the interpretation that I’ve tried to adumbrate above without at the same time spoiling the plot.)
© D.F. Lewis

"A story that successfully builds tension throughout – think Danny Boyle’s ‘Sunshine’ on which a crew of two heading out away from the sun. Very far away...the physical and mental deterioration, and some grim details of ekeing out life whilst clinging on to it, and affirming life in a very physical way, make it a claustrophobic read."
© Best SF
See full review here

21 Brooklands...:

"I enjoyed every dark tale in a different way. One of my favourites, 21 Brooklands: next to Old Western, opposite the burnt out Red Lion, really made the dark a scary place to be. I loved it because it was gritty, real, and so unreal, yet totally believable and well written."
© RENA MASON; author of the Evolutionist

“This anthology of stories based around the theme of darkness, which contains some fantastic tales by Mark West, Stephen Bacon, Daniel I Russell, Gary McMahon and Ray Cluley, amongst others. Special mention must go to Carole Johnstone, whose story is one of the scariest things I've read for years.”

Signs of the Times:

"Out of the stories by this author I’ve read, this is her masterpiece so far. And that, of course, says it’s helluva special. A novelette that conjures up the ‘genius loci’ of dereliction and docks on the edge of the North Sea, the Scottish part, not where I live along its edge further south, but in my eyes it’s dead right for here, too, as if Carole’s dog-heads, in the eventual catastrophic dystopia of freak weather, riots etc depicted as both strident and skilfully muted, are filtered through by their own sad leaky eyes...
"But is there a watcher that bides its time? Finally Vinnie ‘himself’as Pete’s watcher? Tempted by a female dog-head into animal instincts he perhaps wanted to resist? Or is God the watcher? Or you the reader? I think Carole herself cannot decide, with the special art of an author never to have complete control, an art that few writers can manage. There is so much to speak about with reference to this important work that I’d end up filling a book myself about it. About dog-heads who once peopled the past."
“He tried to rewrite our past even as the world rewrote its future [...] a fiction only ever considered in abstract, in transitory guilt.”

"Carole Johnstone's Signs of The Times, gets the prize for the discovery of the issue. In this intriguing story about the return of the Dog Faced men, the narrative moves from a heartwarming story about a friendships across the barricades, to a story about the End of Days seamlessly."

"Carole Johnstone's Signs of the Times delivers the longest story of the issue, and also the most bursting with subtext and social dissection. Set in Scotland, Sign of the Times follows the relationship between young protagonist Pete and his friend Vinnie. Vinnie's a Dog-Head, one of a race of people who suddenly returned to the Earth -- human bodies with the heads of dogs, the kind often noted in the artwork of the ancient Egyptians, for example.
"The sense of place in Johnstone's world here is impeccable and populated by similarly realised characters. Pete's initial encounter and fractured conversation with Vinnie is staged to perfection, with every movement and snort of the dog-headed individual rendered straight to the mind's eye with ease. A touching core of developing friendship in the face of adversity sets up tragedy and regret that ultimately comes to be not only Pete's, but ours, in another of the best pieces of fiction to be read so far this year delivered in the pages of Black Static."
© PESTILENCE [Dread Central]

Sometimes I Get A Good Feeling:

"Carole Johnstone’s “Sometimes I Get a Good Feeling” offers a welcome reprieve from the hopeless despair of the prior pieces—this darkly humorous piece about the discovery of a pest under the narrator’s house had me snickering throughout...Most of the action takes place in the crawl space under the house, and Johnstone does an excellent job of evoking that creepy-crawly feeling that something might happen when you’re in a tiny, dark enclosed space trying to kill something that you can’t see. I love the main character, particularly his hilarious inner dialogue! This is my favorite story of the issue."
© COLLEEN CHAN [Tangent]

God of the Gaps:

"...I find it hilarious … worrying, too. It’s hard to explain but this chaotic monologue of a woman teacher in special care of a 12 year old boy in an Alien Museum of sorts, with something missing from somewhere and something else inserted somewhere else where it shouldn’t belong. Prose of crude ‘dying falls’ of backchat colloquialisms – and nothing to stop the flow other than cease reading it. But I couldn’t cease.
"God is a Gap, I guess, but only if you believe in Him. Worrying about the anal probes. But I loved this story that has "even less interest in sci-fi than I do".

The Pest House:

"Johnstone creates a truly unsettling atmosphere and a good buildup to the horrific ending."

"A substantive work: at one level a forensic attempt to create horror in words by painfully hauling out roots, irrespective of the story being told and its difficult suspension of disbelievability. At another level, a compelling, mock-amateurish, story in itself of an ill-suited couple Gregor and Mary, centred on a common trope of many authorial first attempts at writing fiction for commercial readability: i.e. an inheritance and its repercussions. All with an evocatively sick condition of Caithness. Those two levels blend skilfully: making me want to both groan and cheer with a single guttural sound of readerly absorption.
"The larger-than-life ‘roots’ of bottom-fishing, including an almost autonomous phallus, a suppurating cold sore, a planted plague-residue, a paternal dislodged daughter-root, a tortured past, a tortured future, and a present wherein we readers all track the stylised horror-experiment-in-words by exploring a once ’religious’ building now inherited yet still here rooted within the ancient past, a past as pest, the pest of all possible worlds, one that housed plague victims… As ever with this author’s work, loved it."
© D.F. Lewis

The Monster of Venice:

"...This is 15th Century Venice (and it goes without saying with this author, masterfully done as a ‘genius loci’) – yet with the same commercial concerns as a Funfair in California Sands or the red “gold” of the Mermaids. This presents the now final accretion of the maternal back-story – and Pain as a living character itself. The protagonist even studies astrology to assuage it. And reaches towards, now, a ‘female’ front-story that he causes to “enfold” him by enfolding it...
...The darkest possible finale."
© D.F. Lewis

The Claife Crier:

"The Claife Crier by Carole Johnstone is similar thematically to the previous story in that a couple out walking are terrorised by a monster. I think this is an even scarier story than Simon's and manages, in its short length, to create well drawn characters and a completely believable father/daughter conflicted relationship which adds depth to the story. Oh, and there's the added bonus of Carole's trademark writing speech in dialect - a rare skill that's tricky to pull off but which she accomplishes with consumate ease."

"I am not ashamed to admit that I actively avoided Claife after reading Carole Johnstone’s “The Claife Crier”. I’ve not read any of Johnstone’s writing before and I was surprised at how genuinely chilling the story was, the sense of isolation and hopelessness brilliantly built up."

"The three which really stood out for me were Ramsey Campbell's Above the World (who let's be honest, never disappoints), Carole Johnstone's The Claife Crier and Paul Finch's own chiller, The Devil's of Lakeland. Other stories in the collection are also of a very high standard, but for me these three stood out...The Claife Crier also seems simple enough, as a young girl goes out for a walk with her father and they become disorientated and lost in the woods. Again the tension is palpable and Johnstone skilfully ups the ante, with eloquent prose and astonishing insight into the tenuous relationships with exist between children and their estranged parents."
© "Charlie"

Electric Dreams:

"[Electric Dreams] is my favourite story in this collection. Aside from appropriating the name of a song for its title - something I have a penchant for myself - it's a story with a great concept behind it. It put me in mind of the Wim Wenders film "Wings of Desire", although a much darker variation on the theme of angels watching over humanity and assisting in their hour of need."

"From the moment the protagonist (and therefore the reader) gradually awakens to the sound of the underground, it’s clear that Carole Johnstone’s ‘Electric Dreams’ is something special. Eli is a young man accepting food and shelter, and occasionally –perhaps enough to just get him by- money in return for hearing what people need; whether he can work miracles, is a god, or previous events are just coincidence, Eli’s supplicants believe that he can kill the wife’s lover, put the office rival out of action (“You won’t kill him, will you?”),  cure a woman’s mother of end-stage breast cancer, save the rats on the Underground.
"Now Eli has to decide whether it’s time to change again. To start again. Two years was a long time –the longest yet- and success bred notoriety. It’s a top-notch story, one of the best in recent months."

Bury The Truth:

"I am astonished. But in the last two years or so I have become a fan of Carole Johnstone’s fiction, so I already expected something special with this story. And it is.
"[Bury The Truth] is your vision of what your own death process is like as a delivery, when the mid-wife is yourself (my words, not Johnstone’s), with insidious things like Their or Them or They – all in upper case like God with His ‘He’ and ‘Him’ — waiting to share your witnessing of your own death in and out of character.  A League or Company of those in the Dantean know… The Johnstone is extremely frightening, yet fulfilling, as a separate story. I need say no more, I feel."


"I'll come straight out and say it. Frenzy will not appeal to everyone but will certainly hit the right mark with readers who appreciate the kind of high-quality, cerebral horror offered by the likes of Stephen King. It's often in a crisis situation that the cracks begin to show in mankind's thin veneer of a civilization and Frenzy takes readers on this downward spiral...
"...Overall, Johnstone delivers a slick, nightmarish slice of horror redolent with the imagery one associates with fever dreams. Frenzy left me feeling scratchy behind the eyes, and very, very thirsty for a nice icy glass of fresh water."
Read the full review here

"There are echoes in this story, of an episode of the TV show Outer Limits and also of the old joke about different nationalities stranded together in a life raft, reflected here in the dramatis personae of the novella. Hints too of Jaws, and just about every other Hollywood slice of shark fare, of the sea stories of William Hope Hodgson, and of Lost and reality TV in the resolution that is eventually provided. But Johnstone is her own woman and takes this familiar material in a new and unexpected direction.
"[Frenzy] is a bravura performance, and one that is absolutely gripping, as the layers of Pete's psyche are stripped away…and everything revealed is tainted with the curse of the unreliable narrator, the one who hides not only from the reader but from himself.
"Frenzy is Johnstone's first novella and it is an impressive debut at this length, one that speaks of a bright future."
See whole review here

"Eight men are stranded on a raft in the middle of a vast ocean. These men have no idea how they got there, and no idea where the current will be taking them. They have little food and water, and, haunted by their past experiences, they pray for a miracle. Beneath them, an all-consuming shadow seems to be drifting along with them. The men are frightened and paranoid. These eight men are all alone in a black, terrifying abyss. But, as they soon come to realise, the only thing more terrifying than being alone, are the shadows lurking beneath them, watching, waiting to engulf them. Will these eight men survive, or will they be sucked down into the blackness below...?
"I read somewhere that when asked to make Jaws 2, Steven Spielberg wanted to recreate the story of the USS Indianapolis, in which 900 men were stranded in the ocean. Starvation, dehydration, and sharks slowly picked these men off, and finally, only 317 of them were rescued. The movie producers quickly quashed Spielberg’s idea, as they deemed it too depressing for the mass audience. I always thought this was a shame, because a story like that promised to be truly terrifying. Can you imagine what those men went through, hoping for rescue and yet secretly knowing that most of them would die? This is an eerie premise and great meat for a horror tale. For years, I have waited for an author to give this concept, real teeth. And, now, Carole Johnstone has delivered.
"Let me be clear. Johnstone’s Frenzy is not the story of the USS Indianapolis. But, it is how I imagined a tale about the doomed ship would be, if it were to be written.
"I was absolutely thrilled when I read this book. Frenzy eerily encapsulates all the elements required from a tale such as this. These eight men go through all the emotions that this situation demands--paranoia, treachery, hope, longing, realisation, and most grippingly of all, fear.
"In short, Frenzy is an intense thriller with a supernatural twist, and if like me, you were disappointed with the story of the USS Indianapolis, because it was never realised in a book or film, then read Frenzy, because the author, Carole Johnstone, brings to life this situation with her own unique style.
In fact, Frenzy is a transcendent horror tale that will take hold of your imagination and not let you go until the very last page!"

"Frenzy was essentially a powerful psychological horror about a random assortment of eight guys who wake up on a life raft together floating over the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean with no memory of how or why they got there. Writing it out like that may not sound like much, but when you get into the story it has an ever growing feel of desperation and foreboding that leads to a tension filled climax.

"The characters and their interactions are top notch, and the scenes are presented to the reader crystal clear so that you can really see it in your mind. It’s fast paced, with no speed bumps slowing down the momentum, and leaves you wanting more. Many writers who put out a lot of books haven’t been able to pull off these things I’ve mentioned nearly so well as Carole has done with this one, and I’d say she has a lot of good books in her future."

"Carole Johnstone’s novella Frenzy is a tense, horrifying, and very well-written foray into a world of terror. This is the kind of horror story that makes you hold your breath, turn the pages quicker, hope desperately for a glimmer of light, and fear that there will be none.
"Frenzy progresses through the experiences of one man, Peter Sherlock. We watch the events unfold before his eyes and delve into his mind during his nightmares and recollections. We experience his horror and his agony as he watches what happens with his fellow castaways, and when answers come to light towards the harrowing conclusion, we share in his disbelief and resignation.
"One wouldn’t think that a story about eight men floating in the middle of nowhere in a life raft would be all that interesting. One would be dead wrong. This story gripped me soundly by the throat from the very first page, shook me around a little bit just to make sure I was good and rattled, and held me tight until the bitter end. It left me stirred up, shocked, and not just a little saddened. And all I can say is …wow.
Excellent job, Ms. Johnstone. I look forward to whatever you have to offer us next. If it is anywhere close to as well-done as Frenzy is, we’ll be in for a treat."
Rating 5/5

"Eight men wake up alone in a life raft, in the middle of the ocean, with no idea how they got there. That’s the premise in Carole Johnstone’s thought-provoking debut novella, Frenzy.
"The story is true horror, but anyone looking at the cover and expecting to see the thrust of the story being the characters bloodied and devoured by sharks and other marine nasties is going to be disappointed. Or perhaps pleased, because although big fish add to the effect, this story takes you into the true fears lurking in the recesses of the characters. At one stage I was really inside the mind of the hero, Pete, as he looks down into an almost bottomless depth of water beneath him. I could feel his frustration, surrounded by sea, but unable to drink. In the almost exquisite characterisation, as we see what makes each of the characters tick, and the personal demons driving them.
"Johnstone has put together a mishmash of people, cleverly using characters who play off each other to increase the tension. Some get on, some don’t, but all serve their purpose. The story pulls no punches in playing on the character’s relationships. It is very raw and maybe near to the knuckle in places, a feeling helped by the stark writing style and the decent pacing. It had me questioning myself, asking, ‘would I behave like that?’ given the stress of the situation. The author has obviously done her research on the effects of exposure at sea, and the deterioration in mind and spirit comes over excellently.
"I have – rightly, I think - enthused over the book; but was there anything that didn’t work for me? Well, I always felt slightly in the dark about the ‘why’ of the men’s captivity – I would have liked to have the hints thrown at me earlier to avoid the nagging feeling of not quite knowing everything I wanted to.
"The novel includes a lot of flashbacks. These are notoriously difficult to incorporate into any work, and to a large extent Johnstone skilfully pulls them off. In one or two places, though, I did feel the flashbacks butted in when the now was more important.
"My criticisms are only minor nits, though. All in all, this doesn’t read like a first stand-alone release. Frenzy is a mature-looking work from a writer who clearly enjoys the craft and who hits the keyboard with confidence."

"Frenzy by Carole Johnstone kept me on the edge from beginning to end. The constant rush of adrenaline injected into my brain while I read was an unusual experience for me. I found myself side by side with these characters going through the same terror and feeling the same uncertainty for my survival. If you love horror, and suspense then this is an absolute must for your collection."
***** 5 Stars
© MARILYN THOMPSON [Mind Fog Reviews]

Between a Rock and a Hard Place:

"Johnstone is excellent at bringing the minatory nature of the largely deserted city streets to life on the page, with a wealth of sensory detail – the smells and sights and sounds, those things that go bump in the night and whose cause can only be inferred, a dimly lit landscape in which help seems far away and danger ever close to hand....Johnstone’s prose seeming to fracture in token of the character’s near hyteria, concision giving way to blurred impressions and imagery.
"I’ve often felt that most horror stories pale in comparison to the dangers implicit in walking the streets late at night (dangers that, as here, are mostly imagined). Johnstone’s story taps into this incipient paranoia and brings it to vivid life on the page."

"...Daubed with a wonderful sense of place, the story revolves around a woman who finds herself walking home on her own at the end of a disastrous night out with friends. Johnstone perfectly captures not only the sense of misery and anger that accompanies a parting on bad terms but also the sense of vague menace that can hang over British city centres on weekend evenings...
"Between a Rock and a Hard Place perfectly captures what it feels like not only to be freaked out but to know that you are freaking yourself out. Delicious stuff."
© JONATHAN M [SF Signal]

"[Between A Rock and A Hard Place] is a welcome return for a writer who shows better than almost any other how fearful the night-time urban environment can be for women...Like all the best horror stories, there seems to be no respite for Molly or the reader, right to the last line. Recommended."

"...[Between A Rock and a Hard Place] is a remarkable tightly threaded threnody of staccato surrogate stalking. The prose is pitch perfect. And its ending also strangely relates to the 'aquarium' in the previous story. More dead loss bottom-fishing in the urban storm. It's Ramsey Campbell but with Garrison Church bells on. I loved it!!!!"

Dead Loss:

"Dead Loss by Carole Johnstone is an exquisitely detailed account of a commercial fishing expedition. This marvelous, spooky tale has now been added to the long list of reasons why I do not swim in the ocean. Never. Not under any circumstances. Don't even ask. Carole Johnstone knows why."

"Carole Johnstone's "Dead Loss" is a mash-up of Lovecraftian 'something dwells below' Horror and Spielbergian 'we're gonna need a bigger boat' Thriller set on a Scottish fishing boat."
© JONATHAN M [SF Signal]

"And the story-winners keep coming, no mistake! Hugely impressed by this tale of the North Sea near Scotland and Creation's pecking-order takes on a new dimension, and you won't know exactly what I mean till you read this literally reverberating story.
Giantism-in-action. Shock and awe. But I've only skimmed the surface."
Read the full review here

"Johnstone's grim portrayal of the men working in a fishing industry that itself is a ghost of its former grandeur is finely detailed rings utterly true. Highly Recommended."
© COLIN HARVEY @ Suite 101

The Discomfort of Words:

"It's rare that I get to read an anthology in which virtually every story is a standout piece, but Morrigan Books have delivered exactly that with Grants Pass...a remarkable, disturbing, and worthwhile read that is likely to stay with the reader for some time to come. I'm predicting that this anthology will be up for a swag of awards come the next round of Aurealis, Ditmar, and Australian Shadows nominations."
Full review @ Horrorscope

"I believe this to be a worthwhile gathering of post-apocalyptic tales by some wonderfully talented writers...well worth the read."
© BT. Full review @ Horrorscope


"A woman who is on the run seeks a refugee in a hotel room only to find that the needed sanctuary might not be on her liking. The character of this story has difficulties in discerning the reality from the illusion and the reader will find at the end that he has to make his own choosing, how much illusion surrounded the character?"
@ MIHAI ADASCALITEI DarkWolfs Fantasy Review

The Morning After:

"Carole Johnstone’s ‘The Morning After’ is a debut story that reeks of location, and has a nice twist that’s so subtle it has to be read carefully. It’s a first sale that bodes well for Johnstone."
© COLIN HARVEY; Suite 101

"There’s some vivid descriptive writing in the opening paragraphs, and indeed throughout the story, Johnstone capturing the glamour of the story’s backdrop – light on the castle in the distance, a rocky peninsula, the river Clyde – and contrasting that with the terrain through which the narrator is moving, a short cut down a steep slope, one that is agony on the knees, overgrown with vegetation in places, the haunt of junkies and teen gangs. The ‘good life’ is somewhere off in the distance.
"There’s a subtext, a cosmic irony...the slightly breathless last paragraph captures this feeling perfectly, that from now on everything is fated to be downhill for this man, reinterpreting the story’s opening in fateful terms and also, in the wording, echoing the penultimate paragraph of The Great Gatsby:-
'Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future, that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further… And one fine morning –'
"But for the protagonist of Carole Johnstone’s story there is no tomorrow, just an endless today."