Book review: The Heat, by Sean O’Leary

8 09 2019

Jake works nights as a security guard / receptionist at a budget Darwin motel. The job suits him: he has an aptitude for smelling out potential trouble, and he has no qualms about enforcing expectations of reasonable behaviour whenever guests under the influence of alcohol or something stronger look to make trouble. But Jake’s problem is that he seldom knows when to back off, and it’s this characteristic that gets him into strife.

The Heat

The strife around which The Heat, Melbourne author Sean O’Leary’s noirish Darwin / Bangkok novella of intrigue and natural justice, revolves begins with the murder of Jake’s friend, the Thai prostitute Angel. Jake’s certain that he knows who’s responsible for Angel’s demise; but the Darwin police aren’t overly interested in the woman’s death and certainly aren’t interested in Jake’s theories on that death, see him only as an unreliable witness with behavioural issues and a police record of his own. But Jake’s not the sort to take defeat lying down, and he’s determined, for the sake of her young daughter being raised by her grandmother in Bangkok, that something positive is going to come out of Angel’s death.

I edited O’Leary’s second collection of stories, Walking (now sadly out of print), in 2016. O’Leary’s writing is taut, visceral, and vivid, as at home within the framework of a literary short story as in an exploration of noirish criminality, and his evocation of place and personality is excellent. The Heat simmers throughout, and its characters amply earn their keep in a story that feels substantially larger than the novella within which it’s confined. If you get the chance to read it, don’t turn down The Heat.

A spot of signal-boostification

15 11 2016
The powers-that-be at Peggy Bright Books have alerted me to the following, which I’m passing on for your edification and delectation:
Peggy Bright Books is having a November E-book Giveaway and Summer sale!
We have 5 e-copies of our latest titles, Walking by Sean O’Leary, and The Tame Animals of Saturn by Adam Browne to give away.

To enter the draw, just send an email to stating which title you’d prefer, and what format. Both
Walking and The Tame Animals of Saturn are available in mobi, epub and PDF versions. (NB: due to the large number of illustrations in TAOS, these are large files: 2MB–7MB).

Entries close 25th November, 2016.

Our two anthologies, Light Touch Paper Stand Clear (featuring stories from Joanne Anderton, Adam Browne, Sue Bursztynski, Brenda Cooper, Katherine Cummings, Thoraiya Dyer, Kathleen Jennings, Dave Luckett, Ian McHugh, Sean McMullen, Ripley Patton, Rob Porteous, and Anna Tambour) and Use Only As Directed (stories by Stephen Dedman, Dirk Flinthart, Dave Freer, Michelle Goldsmith, Alex Isle, Lyn McConchie, Claire McKenna, Charlotte Nash, Ian Nichols, Leife Shallcross, Grant Stone, Douglas A Van Belle, Janeen Webb, and M Darusha Wehm), are only $AUD15 each (including postage within Australia) until 23rd December.
Support Australian small press and get yourself a bargain!

Book launches: two books, two launches

6 06 2016

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They’ve been around unofficially for a couple of months, but they haven’t officially been launched yet. The launches happen this week, and if you’re in Melbourne you’re welcome to attend one or both of them. The books in question are The Tame Animals of Saturn, by Adam Browne, and Sean O’Leary‘s short fiction collection Walking.

Here are the details. (Note that each launch features both books):

Launch 1 is at the Kathleen Symes Library and Community Centre, 251 Faraday St, Carlton VIC 3053, on Thursday 9th June at 7-8 pm. The launch, in ‘Multi-Purpose Room 1’, will have light refreshments provided. The reading from Adam’s book will be by Australian actor Francis Greenslade, while the reading from Sean’s book will be by the author himself. Both authors will be on hand to chat about and sign their books, and there will also be art on display and for sale.

Launch 2, with readings by both Sean and Adam, is at the Hotel Jasper, 489 Elizabeth St, Melbourne, on Friday 10th June at 6-7 pm. This launch, in the Granger Room (‘room 1’), is part of Continuum 12; since it’s part of the convention, there’s an entry fee of a gold coin donation which gets you access to all of Friday evening’s events at the con. There won’t be refreshments provided at the launch itself, but I’m given to understand the hotel bar is in reasonable proximity.

As the typesetter for both books, as well as the editor for Sean’s, I’m hoping we get a good turnout for the events.

And while I’m on the subject of free samples …

4 05 2016


I’ve made mention previously of the two recent Peggy Bright Books which I’ve had a hand in producing: Sean O’Leary’s noir/lit collection Walking, and Adam Browne’s weird bestiary The Tame Animals of Saturn. There are now free e-samplers available for both of these tomes, through the PBB website, should you wish to dip your toes in the prose: the Walking sampler is on offer in pdf, epub, and mobi formats, while the Tame Animals sampler is proffered only in pdf. (That final link actually does double duty, because it also provides a purchase opportunity for the hot-off-the-press epub/mobi editions of Tame Animals: these e-reader-friendly versions of the book inevitably lack some of the aesthetics of the printed version, but they do allow Kindle junkies, for example, to access Adam’s twisted masterpiece on their preferred platform. The e-versions of Walking have been available pretty much from the outset.


An interview with Sean O’Leary

8 04 2016

I recently mentioned Walking, Sean O’Leary’s second short fiction collection, as one of two books I’d been working on in recent months. I’ve since conducted an interview-by-email with Sean, which I’ll present below.


1. Your biography makes  it clear that you’ve lived in many different parts of Australia, and your story settings are similarly far-flung across the country. To what extent are your literary stories informed by personal experience?

Quite a lot. Mainly because it’s easier to set stories where you’ve been and I was itinerant for quite a while. Trying to find my place in the world. But I worked in five star hotels and places like the YMCA Hostel in Darwin so, I had a look at the world from both sides of the street. At times because of my ‘habits’ I might have been having breakfast at the Salvos and then turning up to work in a shirt and tie on the reception desk of a five star hotel.

2. You’re open in your fiction about the impact schizophrenia has had on your life; in Walking, both the title story and  ‘Slipping Away’ speak to this impact. Aside from its relevance as subject matter, how has schizophrenia shaped you as a writer?

I’ve never quite experienced exactly what went on in ‘Slipping Away’ but there have been times in my life when schizophrenia or its effects on me have made me frozen in fear or literally bolting down the street away from some imagined happening. I have found that at times my whole day to day living has been so heightened it is either scarily brilliant or scarily too awful to ever want to go there again. I have been hospitalised three times due to schizophrenia for a variety of reasons but having said that I’ve been happy and healthy for a couple of years now with no incidents.

3. Several of your stories veer strongly into ‘noir’ territory. What attracts you to this style of writing? And what authors would you cite as influences for these stories?

Everyone likes ‘noir’ don’t they? I am a big fan of Ian Rankin and the Rebus books, which are quite dark. I actually think the Rebus TV series, in parts, may be even darker than the books. But I really like American author George Pelecanos and his crime fiction set in Washington. Pelecanos was a writer on The Wire too, a brilliant crime fiction TV series. And I think a lot of the very great crime fiction these days is also in TV series. Starting with The Wire and The Sopranos through to Dexter and Breaking Bad. So, if you can write both like Pelecanos can, then you’re something special.
I am also a huge fan of Arnaldur Indridason, who is a crime fiction writer from Iceland and the stories are set in Iceland, mostly in Reykjavik featuring his detective, Erlendur. Very dark and very bleak.

4. Various stories in Walking have either a literary or a crime-fiction flavour, and in some cases the two overlap quite strongly. There’s also an element of SF in some of your stories. If you had to focus on just one style of writing, which would it be, and why?

I couldn’t separate literary and crime. I love them both. And I think they sit quite well together. I really respect writers like Garry Disher and Peter Temple. You could say their novels were literary crime novels. Peter Temple won the Miles Franklin Award for his novel, Truth.
John Burdett is a an English writer who spends most of his time in Asia and writes brilliant novels set in Bangkok, which has to be the greatest place on earth to set a crime novel.
And sci-fi is great. I have read the John Christopher trilogy that included The City of Gold and Lead and I have to say I really loved the Hunger Games trilogy. And I read The Day of the Triffids and Chocky by John Wyndham. But once again I think movies and TV do it well too. The Twilight Zone is amazing still today and the Alien movies are unreal and my story ‘Proktor Man’ gets its inspiration from Blade Runner.
I love this quote I read from some sci-fi magazine submission guidelines. It says, All fiction is written to examine or illuminate some aspect of  human existence but in science fiction the backdrop you work against is the size of the universe.

5.‘Connections’, the longest story in Walking, hovers around the 7500-word mark, on the borderland between ‘short story’ and ‘novelette’. Do you see yourself as continuing solely or predominantly with short fiction, or do you have an ambition to produce longer works, such as novels? What are your plans for the future?

I am writing a crime fiction novel right now set in Sydney in 1990/91. I lived in Sydney for more than a few years around that time also so once again I think I have the locations down and I worked a lot in Kings Cross, mostly at night so I really did see both sides of the street. I lived in Bondi and Leichhardt and Coogee, the North Shore too so … I have my fingers crossed I can write a cool noir crime novel.

If you’re interested to learn more about Sean’s writing, a great place to start is Walking. You can find the details here, on the Peggy Bright Books website.

‘Walking’, by Sean O’Leary

2 04 2016

Further on the ‘what have I been doing over recent months’ front, there’s this. Walking is a collection of seventeen short stories by Melbourne author Sean O’Leary.


As well as editing the collection, I also did the typesetting and the cover design, so my perspective on the book is hardly that of a detached observer. But be that as it may …

Sean’s stories mostly fall into the ‘crime’ or ‘literary’ category (although a couple of Walking‘s stories qualify as SF), and are narrated with a plain immediacy that keeps the pace fast and throws the characters into sharp relief. The settings are, without exception, various versions of a real or imagined Australia (Sean seems to have lived in almost every city or town in the country); recurring themes within the stories are attraction, responsibility, retribution, and schizophrenia. Sean has an eye for the grittier, less pretty side of life, and he tells a good story. His work has been praised by Garry Disher and by Les Murray. This is his second collection: his first, My Town (Ginninderra Press, 2010), is now, I gather, quite difficult to locate.

If you’re interested to learn more, Peggy Bright Books has the book on sale (in paperback and e-book versions), at a reduced price prior to its June launch.