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Flying on the Ground: An Assortment of Short Fiction

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"A book that transports you to fantastic realms, but at the same time keeps you rooted in the familiar territory of our everyday lives... A struggle to protect the similar, understand the different, find the meaning of life, reclaim and rebuild it." Book Review Hub

"Billing is an imagination stoker, a writer cloaked in humanity’s secrets, with a coveted writing style that grips a readers own inner demons. He is an author to watch." Whiskey & Wit Book Reviews

Richie Billing’s short fiction has been published by Kzine, TANSTAAFL Press, Fiction Vortex, Far Horizons, Writing on the Wall and a dozen more. Flying on the Ground is a collection of the majority of these pieces, in addition to two stories unseen by the eyes of the world.

Inside, you'll find twelve short stories from the genres of fantasy, historical fiction, general fiction, horror and crime. Tales of adventure, of intrigue, of defiance, love and the morally grey, exploring myriad themes from loneliness, fear, and pride, to the nature of creativity and the cycle of addiction, to name a few.


Published December 2, 2019

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About the author

Richie Billing

13 books35 followers

Richie Billing writes fantasy fiction, historical fiction and stories of a darker nature. His stories often explore real-world issues in fantasy lands.

His short fiction has been published by, amongst others, Kzine, Bewildering Stories, Liquid Imagination, and Far Horizons.

His debut novel, Pariah's Lament, was published by Of Metal and Magic Publishing in March 2021. 

Richie hosts the podcast The Fantasy Writers’ Toolshed, a venture inspired by the requests of readers of his critically-acclaimed book, A Fantasy Writers’ Handbook.

When not writing, Richie works as an editor and digital marketer and teaches creative writing both online and offline, as well as speaking at events and conventions like Fantasycon.

Most nights you can find him up into the wee hours scribbling away or watching the NBA.

Find out more at www.richiebilling.com.

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Displaying 1 - 10 of 10 reviews
Profile Image for Steph Warren.
1,210 reviews19 followers
May 5, 2020
*I received a free copy of this book with thanks to the author. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*

This anthology features an assorted collection of Richie Billing’s short stories.

The stories are mostly unconnected (with the exception of ‘The General’ and ‘Forgotten’ which are set in the same world) but there are some commonalities between them.

All of the fantasy stories feature everyday people or underdogs, and their small daily struggles, rather than epic battles, princes and dragons, knights and mages. Similarly, the general fiction is a mixture of homelessness, addiction and the real-life foundering of an ocean liner in the Liverpool docks. The problems are real and engrossing, but on a small scale – ideal for the format.

There are a couple of horror stories too: a creature feature about a man, a dog and a dark, dark hole; and a serial killer who targets society’s monsters for horrific torture… a very unheroic hero!

Each story here is different, but they are all well-written and filled with a wealth of detail that draw you in and make you feel that you are riding along on real events, rather than reading a story.

I would love to see some of the fantasy stories widened out into bigger fantasy worlds, as they had the tantalising feel of catching an interesting bit of conversation and being aware that there is so much more just out of reach.

The collection really gives a good feel for the scope and range of Billings’ writing, and makes an excellent advert for his future work.

The thud of a hammer woke me. It was at the edge of my hearing, travelling up from downstairs. I checked the windows. The ledge was too broad to see the alley below. Hide or investigate? Curiosity won.
I went barefoot, boots too clunky. The hammering grew in volume as I neared the shop floor, and when it faded, another more distant strike filled the silence. Had the workmen returned? Panic consumed me. I didn’t want to give up this place. Here I had some level of comfort, a comfort I’d sought for a long time. They would take it away. Maybe do worse. I’d heard stories of people paid to make squatters disappear. Few people ever asked questions about the forgotten.

– Richie Billing, from ‘The White of the Canvas’ in Flying on the Ground

Review by Steph Warren of Bookshine and Readbows blog
Profile Image for Cerulean.
22 reviews
February 22, 2020
I really loved this short story collection. I'm a big fantasy fan, and he is brilliant at world building. Rather than focus solely on the big picture (kings/queens, warring territories etc), he hones in on the little guys and the vulnerable (children, the elderly, to name a few), which I found refreshing. He paints a really vivid picture of their daily lives and struggles, addressing issues such as poverty, hunger, addiction, and much more. There were some really poignant moments in both his fantasy and other fiction. He's definitely one to watch.
Profile Image for Helen Gould.
Author 3 books21 followers
December 17, 2019
As the author explains, this book is a collection of various pieces of shorter fiction previously published in a selection of magazines and anthologies. Hence their subject matter is quite diverse, and their genre varies from one story to another.

Fantasy section

Some of the stories in this section are linked in setting if not subject matter. In Noodlin’, Edaw, a fisherman all his life, sees his career coming to an end. After a visit to the pub he guddles for fish and gets more than he bargains for. The topical theme of water pollution threatening the fishing trade could perhaps have been emphasised further, though word limits always govern short fiction. But the characters’ accents establish the setting and distinguish between them, a necessity when introducing several characters one after another in a single situation, and the tale sucks the reader in. Follies of the Proud introduces Jyn, too proud to accept help from his friends and neighbours when he falls on hard times, who fishes at a lake away from his home in an attempt to feed his family. Two Oryks, aggressive monstrous fighters who’ve raided local villages, attack him as he takes home his prized monster fish. At home, he discovers his wife has in his absence worked for their neighbours to earn money to feed the family. There is a clear moral to this story: pride can lead you into an impossible position. Jyn now faces the possibility that his actions will bring disaster to their village. The action balances the introspection in this story. In The Pigeon Catchers, a brother and sister go in search of pigeons to sell to raise cash for medicine for their sick mother. This starts off slowly but builds to a crescendo of action and adventure as the children take risks to achieve their aim. The General leads his men through a sweaty forest, and discovers a huge tree growing out of a massive hole in the ground, providing a home not just for epiphytes, ferns and its own ecosystem, but also a previously-unknown race of fighters. This action-packed story ultimately champions the theme of the futility of war.
Forgotten is another visit to the environs of the Forest of Shedun, the setting of most of the action in The General. I like it when stories overlap! This story focuses on the nomadic River Folk – equivalent in this society to gypsies –specifically on a 90-year-old woman who takes action when the soldiers make contract with the River Folk to convey prisoners to the King, but behave badly towards the River Folk women. I especially like the theme of the validation of life. It’s well-written, with good use of foreshadowing, and while the ending is downbeat, paradoxically it still manages to end on a high. In Ducks a young girl falls into the river as she returns home from interacting with a family of ducks, and is captured for sale as a slave. This is part of a cycle of stories centring on the same society as the previous two stories. Finally, The Monster of Grug mainly takes place inside the Barrow of the Forgotten King mentioned elsewhere in this volume. With children disappearing from the town of Grug, and Gregor and his companion Jak seek to discover their fate, in an action-packed tale that introduces the Magpies, a warrior group, and the Dakyra, who are definitely the enemy. Gregor falls into and explores the barrow, and comes face to face with one of the dread Dakyra.

Mixed fiction section

Death of the Empress is the story of a crew lost on a sinking ship. The action, while not the fantasy worlds Billing and I usually inhabit, focuses on the experience of one of the crew, providing a more intense read than some of the other stories. But I enjoyed the message of hope and adaptation to change. In Soap, a man helps an associate by fixing up an interview for him, but his assistance is repaid by ingratitude.
A homeless man, who has been squatting in a disused building for some time, one day hears people moving about below in The White of the Canvas. Fearing discovery and eviction, he’s too afraid to venture out for food thrown out by shops, but wanders round the building at night and discovers it has become an art gallery. This was probably my favourite story of all, for the hope it conveys to the reader. Again, the characterisation was interesting, because the story explored what would happen if ingenuity was substituted for a survivor’s hope – in a hopeless situation. In The Pit, a dog walker loses his puppy as he crosses a wooded area. He eventually discovers the dog in a deep hole between the roots of a tree, and is then pushed in himself. He finds the dog at the bottom of the pit trap. The last story is The Culler, in which a vigilante/serial killer justifies his actions to himself and his latest victim. This story explores a response to the revelation that some of our most well-known public figures have turned out to have perpetrated some terrible crimes on some of the most vulnerable people – especially young people – in our society. Again, very topical.
I have to confess that I wasn’t previously aware that Richie Billing wrote fiction in any genre other than fantasy, but I always say one should write what comes, and this collection has opened my eyes to his versatility and engagement with various fiction genres. Many of the stories balance introspection with action to facilitate discussion of the various situations between the characters and the reader. It covers a lot of ground in one short volume, with many ideas and themes. It’s an enjoyable read and a great introduction to the land of Tervia.
Why not try it? You won’t regret it.
Profile Image for Lael Braday.
Author 11 books13 followers
December 2, 2021
I love short stories, little vignettes into the lives of other beings. Billing ventures beyond fantasy into other genres with his unique style that at times makes you work for the essence of the story. I was gifted this collection for an honest review and I recommend it.
Profile Image for Keith Croteau.
25 reviews
June 5, 2020
Honestly one of the best short story collections I’ve ever read. A handful of different genres to keep the reader interested and a glimpse into worlds I want to know more about. Loved it!
3 reviews
October 27, 2019
I recently signed up to read Richie Billing's Flying On The Ground. I wondered when the smoking skeleton on the cover would show up in his collection of short stories and I figure it's poor, old Johnny who loved to smoke and, in Death Of The Empress, ends up a corpse. From the psychedelic overtones I'd mistaken it for a joint.
Richie's non-fiction, A Fantasy Writer's Handbook, is a real gem and useful for all kind of information but here in Flying we get a look at his skill with fantasy fiction. He exhibits a great grasp of the English language and the reader must realize his spellings are those from the UK. This Liverpudlian takes us into a scene without beating us over the head with descriptions and his characters to heart whether we like or dislike them. His fantasy worlds are sparse and war-torn peopled by cruel soldiers and hungry common folk. I cringed as the spiders crawled over Gregor in the cavern in The Monster Of Grug. I hate creepy, crawly things.
As soon as I began reading the foreword's description of Noodlin' and his admiration for Jeremy Wade, I got a smile on my face. Noodling in the US is going without your underwear and I suspected we were in for a story of some fool who went wade fishing without benefit of his tightie whities. No, in his world it's fishing by shoving your hand into a hole to snatch your catch barehanded. In Texas we call it stump fishing and it's a damned good way to get snakebit.
In the general fiction section The White Of The Canvas begins with a bleak picture of a homeless man, dumpster diver by night and crouching mouse by day, and ends with his hopes and dreams being realized. This is in direct contrast with Soap, a Salvation Army resident and employment seeker chucking it all to go back to the bottle. The Pit is a nasty horror-mystery story that harks back to cavernous spaces and things that crawl on you, all the more sinister because all anyone will believe of the man's ordeal is that he fell into a hole as had a few small animals, their bones left behind. They won't believe he was pushed or there are outsized ants and centipedes down there. This could happen again to some other unwary soul.
The Culler is the final offering, a vigilante who does the work of a God he doesn't believe in: ridding the world of rapists and murderers by appalling means that don't always result in death. Sick of contradictions and society's worship of cartoon superheroes, The Culler goes out and does something about it. No cape required.
Richie Billings has written a stew of the disgusting, amusing, pathetical and frightening. And it tastes good.
Profile Image for Charles Remington.
Author 8 books10 followers
November 18, 2019
Flying on the Ground by Richie Billing is an eclectic mix of tales in which the author displays his ability and competence over several genres. The early tales, seven in all, are set in an imaginary medieval world where hunger stalks the land and peasants struggle to survive. Strange creatures roam the dark forests where battles are fought with crossbows and swords. It is a dark, unforgiving world where even children must play their part in providing for the family. These Fantasy genre stories are followed by three more contemporary tales set in the author’s home town of Liverpool. The first, Death of the Empress, chronicles the escape of a sailor from the burning Empress of Canada at Liverpool’s Gladstone dock in 1953. It is followed by Soap, a poignant story of an attempt to rehabilitate an addict. The third is a truly moving tale of a rough sleeper in a derelict building where the lower floors are turned into an art gallery while he hides among the empty rooms above. It describes his initial fascination with the works of art and his eventual discovery of his own artistic talents - a harrowing but ultimately heart-warming tale. The anthology concludes with two gruesome horror stories that will certainly chill your blood. The Pit concerns a man who, while searching for his dog, falls into a deep pit where weird creatures, invisible in the darkness, assail him. This is followed by the final story, The Culler, about a serial killer who takes bloody and terrible revenge on paedophiles and abusers on behalf of their victims.

Flying on the Ground is an accomplished anthology which displays Richie Billing’s undoubted talent. The stories are well-written and peopled with solid, believable characters. Each genre is handled with skill, and although the author declares his preference for Fantasy, my personal favourites were the more contemporary tales set in Liverpool. I particularly liked The White of the Canvas. Mr Billing could also excel in the Horror genre, as the final two tales in this anthology are suitably grisly and impressively scary. A fine collection of stories, one that will appeal to a wide range of tastes.

Profile Image for Whiskey & Wit Book Reviews.
258 reviews6 followers
November 4, 2019
I was first introduced to Richie Billing through his nonfiction book, A Fantasy Writers' Handbook https://whiskeywitbook-reviews.com/bo... I found Billing to be well-written, articulate, organized and focused while his study showed little resemblance to the dull, dusty handbooks of yore. When Billing reached out to me to review his collection of short stories, I was intrigued. In Billing's AFWH intro he writes, "They say write the book you want to read." I'm extraordinarily pleased he takes his own advice because Flying on the Ground is exceptional.

Billing's shorts cover a wide range of genres including fantasy, historical fiction, horror, and crime. With this amount of genre-topia, one would think it difficult to find a commonality in the pieces, but there is an unexpected cohesiveness. Billing knows human nature, he understands our light and dark sides, relationships, love, loss, hatred and jealousy, comradeship, living in the moment, and when we reach for the stars or hide in the shadows. No matter the genre, it does all come down to the characters, and this author writes with heart, soul, and a splash of devil-may-care darkness that will rivet readers.

I am drawn to many genres - fantasy and historical fiction (or a combination of the two) rate high, and while I have favorites (The Monster of Grug) each short story is compelling. There is an otherworldly, almost ominous feel from the collection that feeds the reader just the right amount of mystery. The low-down skinny of this review - Billing is an imagination stoker, a writer cloaked in humanity's secrets, with a coveted writing style that grips a readers own inner demons. He is an author to watch.

Whiskey & Wit Book Reviews

Profile Image for Jay Batista.
Author 5 books86 followers
October 29, 2019
I was lucky to procure an advanced release copy of this book for reviewing. This is a masterful collection of short stories, this author has a true skill for lyrical writing, excellent talent for vocabulary and succinct storytelling. These tiny tales cover historical fiction, fantasy and horror, and all have been previously published before they were collected in this work. A few of the tales are placed in a fictional world where fantasy collides with the gritty realities of the hand-to-mouth life of a fishing community, and leave the reader wishing for more of the stories. The fantasy work is detailed, thought provoking and shows the talents of this scribe, who is well known as a teacher as well as an author.

“The Death of the Empress” first person account of a life changing event and personal loss is bittersweet and clearly based on a real-life event of a ship wreak on the Mersey River. The tale of the homeless man squatting in an abandoned building that converts beneath his feet into an art gallery is poignant and I found it uniquely connecting to personal experience. Catchy first lines draw the reader into the story immediately, such as “It wasn’t uncommon for people to disappear in The Fingers,” the opening line from The Monster of Grug. Bird themes underly the work, ducks, pigeons, magpies and make for a fascinating correlation between the seemingly unconnected works.

The stories are quick reads, memorable and well worth your time.
1 review
November 20, 2019
This book is a mix of captivating stories and personalities in uncommon situations, He captures the imagination with his use of imagery and setting. This is a not-to-be-missed collection of engaging writing.
Displaying 1 - 10 of 10 reviews

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