Fox Tales of Nuns & Dragons

So what have I been up to lately? Much of the same, still steadily working through the rewrite of the novel when I get a moment, but I’ve also found time to write some short fiction too.

I’m pleased to say, by way of an interview with the publisher Adele Wearing @hagelrat in SFX Blog, that I have managed to get a short story into an anthology with new imprint Fox Spirit Publishing (@foxspiritbooks): ‘Tales of the Nun & Dragon’. Well, my name gets mentioned at least, so I think I’m in there!

I’m so glad to be part of this project, with many great writers taking part – both established and new. Adele and co have many exciting works in the pipeline. I look forward to seeing what the future holds.

Short Story – Robbers

You’d be ill advised to walk the quarter at this hour but that’s exactly what I’m doing. None of us expect trouble on our own doorstep do we? And yet I can hear trouble approaching: a frenzied whispering and sliding of feet. Drink warms my veins and my ears still ring from the tap room, but it’s not enough to distract me from the hushed conversation taking place just a few yards away.

On instinct I press myself to a wall, almost slipping in something soft and reeking as I try to make out the words.

“Hurry up!”

“I’m trying, he’s fucking heavy!”

Two voices, a man and a woman. The shuffling continues. Where I’m standing a weak stream of light spills through the narrow street, showing the wet cobbles, a bottle, a broken jar, rags and nightsoil. I squint hard towards the sound of them speaking. Two pairs of feet appear, taking small, awkward steps. As they come forward I see they bear something large. A person, slumped into a U shape between them as they stagger and hurry under the weight.

They wear boots, cloaks that hang to their knees and, jutting from beneath the fabric where they bend to their task, swords.

This is no bickering couple, my mind races to keep up with what’s happening. Timing my movements with theirs I slide beneath a window. The light from within casts a pale yellow rectangle in the street in which I’ll be able to see them better as they move past me. I cross my hands and grip my sword and dagger. I wait.


They’ve jumped some poor sod and are taking him somewhere quiet to finish the job.

I bite down the urge to just let them pass, as if I’d never seen a thing.

It’s none of your business, just go home.

They come into the light. Long threads of blood run down the slack fingers of the man they carry. To my astonishment, I take a pace forward. Self defence, that’s what this is, they’ll probably be after me next anyway. I draw my weapons, heart pounding, suddenly very angry and gripping tighter than I would like.

“Who are you and what are you doing?” I hear myself say. I step out and press the tip of the sword into the back of the nearest person. It’s the taller of the two, most likely the man. Everything becomes very still. Someone barks with laughter in the next street, something small scampers in the dark. It seems muffled through the blood rushing in my ears.

“None of your business!” hisses the woman, she faces me, squinting in the light over the man’s shoulder. She has dark, tightly braided hair, long limbs and amber eyes. As she snarls I see one of her front teeth is missing and just above it her lip is scarred deep.

The man doesn’t move.

“Yani!” he whispers back at her in warning, partially answering my question.

“Well Yani,” I say, sounding more confident than I feel “I think two people carrying a body down my street is very much my business. For one thing-”

The man lets his shoulders drop, and there’s a thud as he lets go of the body. My cheeks grow hot as he pivots on his toes, turning towards me. In the same graceful motion he draws his sword, holding it high and pointing it at me. He takes a few cautious paces back, his face a knot of concentration. Yani scowls at him, still holding the body under the arms.

“Mowan! What are you doing?”

She looks at my sword and dagger, and lowers the body to the ground. When Mowan does not respond she draws her own sword and stands beside him. I realise, my insides turning to water, that I hadn’t thought this far ahead.

Mowan’s sword gleams sharp in the light from the window. Yani’s is dull, and I can see the blade is daubed with drying blood. Their points are level with my eyes, beyond the robbers’ faces glare at me. I can see Mowan is dark haired like Yani. He has a few days of scruffy beard on his chin.

“As my sister said,” his voice is deep and measured “None of your business.”

Their orange-brown eyes are hungry, like those of wolves. I don’t dare lower my weapons, they would be on me in a breath. I join my dagger with my sword, pointing both blades at each in turn. My heart squirms in my chest. I have to do something. I lunge at Mowan.

He doesn’t move, merely lifts his sword a little, parrying my attack as if he were shooing a fly. In the corner of my eye I see Yani move, her sword cutting high at my head.

“Fool!” she hisses. But I am ready. I catch her blade with my dagger and she frees it instantly, moving to stab me in the face.

“Stop.” Says Mowan. Yani freezes in the act, her brother’s hand on her hilt. She looks at him, chastened, but does not object. I now feel the cold tickle of Mowan’s sword beneath the soft flesh of my chin. For an instant I wonder how many people have died on that blade. He knows his business. I lower my weapons.

“I suppose this is all some unfortunate accident is it?” my voice creaks a little, irritating me for making me sound petulant, scared even, for in truth I am terrified.

Yani’s lip curls up, into what could be the beginning of a smile, but she snorts with disdain. When she speaks her eyes are on me, moving quickly between my face and my weapons, as if weighing me up. But her words are directed at her brother.

“This is getting us nowhere. There’s no time.”

Mowan is silent, staring thoughtfully at me. He takes a small pace forward, and I feel the point press into my skin without yet breaking it. Yani moves to cover him. I swallow, and plant my feet, telling myself not to simply turn and flee. As my weight shifts I become aware of the purse on my hip. A lot lighter than it was before the night began, but it might just save me.

With my dagger hand, I slowly draw back my cloak, showing my purse.

“Listen,” I say, but Mowan frowns. Yani’s eyes dart over me, studying, before opening wide in realisation.

“He thinks we’re robbers!”

Her face pinches briefly as she suppresses a laugh. Her expression moves to irritation. Mowan takes a pace back, and with great relief I feel the sword leave me. Anger rushes in to take the place of my fear.

“You’re moving about in the dark with a bloodied sword and a body, what am I supposed to think?” I say.

Mowan cocks an eyebrow, regarding me from head to toe.

“You’re hardly acting honourably, sneaking up on two people trying to help an injured friend.”

I scoff at the story, and the accusation levelled at me. “Self defence!” I say.

Yani sheaths her sword, draws up her hood and bends to take up the man once again. I can see now that he’s breathing.

“What are you doing with him?”

I gesture with my dagger, lowering the sword and covering the purse with my cloak. Yani snarls impatiently, but Mowan looks at me, his voice soft and dangerous.

“It’s no business of yours stranger. Put away your sword and be on your way.”

Not robbers then. I sag with relief. As I struggle to think what they might be I hear a hissing sound from further down the alley, like iron quenching. Mowan turns his face towards it, and I can see his eyes round and white with fear. I grip my sword once more.

“Yani, quickly!”

He’s about to sheath his blade and help his sister but she’s grunting as she drags the unconscious man to a nearby doorway. Drawing her sword she stands beside her brother.

“No time ‘Wan! We end this here, now.”

I expect her angry gaze to rest on me, but there’s only urgency in her voice, the way she moves. The pair share a brief glance, I feel almost ashamed to witness it. Together they turn to the sound at the end of the street. There’s a tiny light in the darkness, not soft like a candle flame but piercing white, almost blue, like a spark that does not die. I blink and pale ghosts of it swim behind my eyelids. The light’s getting closer and I can see a person carries it, but despite the brightness they remain in shadow, gliding steadily along the ground without quavering.

My gaze flickers to the boots of the injured man, to Mowan and Yani, their teeth bared as they ready themselves. It’s my cue to leave, get as far away from here as possible until all this has died away.

I still have my sword in my hand. We are all in far greater danger than I had initially thought. They’re not going to kill me. With cold realisation it occurs to me that I’ve waylaid them, two people trying to save a friend. They face something so terrible that it makes me want to run, beyond the city, out into the dark and not stop until dawn. I am anchored in place not by guilt, but by what drew me into this foolishness: to protect my city, my street, and now these people. I owe it to them to stay, and fight. I grip my dagger too.

Puking up storyballs

I know some people say the muse is a load of nonsense and what you really need to do is get your backside in the chair and just write, get someone to hold a gun against your head if that helps. But I am starting to believe in the muse. To me she or he is not some sylph-like grecian beauty dancing around in diaphanous gowns, whispering plotlines to me in my sleep, it’s a cat*.

(please forgive the following extended, gratuitous metaphor)

When you want it is never there, it’s off with someone else giving them all the attention that you crave, growing fat on someone else’s better quality cat food. Or it’s sleeping in the back of the greenhouse for 15 hours at a stretch. You stand in the garden screaming for it, banging tins with spoons, rattling boxes of biscuits and still it ignores you. So you put the food out, go to bed and give up. 

Next day the stuff is still in the dish, untouched. The cat might yawn and stretch, come in and nibble at it, but it will largely ignore you. Then when you have given up, gone to watch the telly, or do the washing up, go on the computer, go to bed . . . it’s there. In your face, pawing at you with insistent claws, in the bathroom staring at you while you shower and there is nothing you can do about it.

You’ll have spent an entire day cleaning, because you have visitors on the way then the muse-cat comes in and pukes up on the carpet. But in that puke is the stuff you have been longing for. The story, right when you least expect it, when you least WANT it. So you get down on your knees, give thanks for this irritating beast that brightens your life in the strangest ways and you try to catch its brief moments of attention.

* We no longer have one as the kids are allergic, but I have much experience of these awkward creatures.

I’m famous on the internet (briefly, well my cakes at least)

Paul Cornell mentions me and some fellow AltFiction peeps here.

And my cakes are even more esteemed by SFX here.

It’s been a very productive weekend: got a short story up to speed, did some proper brainstorming with David and am very excited to write these new scenes for the novel. I didn’t get to do any swordfighting unfortunately so I guess I’ll just have to work extra hard tomorrow. There’s a big event to train for at The Martial Arts Show which Mr T and I are very excited about.

It’s all go at the moment!

Oh, and I have a hopeless Drawsomething addiction. I blame @swordpanda

Altfiction 2012

Hot on the heels of last weekend’s Eastercon I woke at dawn with my tin of cakes and made my way to Leicester. Gorgeous place, beautiful buildings, I wish I’d had more time to take it all in. This was my first Altfiction and it’s significantly more about the craft and business of writing compared to Eastercon, which focused more on fandom. Nevertheless there were plenty of reviewers and readers, as well as writers, who were all enjoying themselves thoroughly as far as I could tell. There was cake, and there was possibly the best fudge I have ever tasted. Everyone was very friendly, warm and welcoming. Even better still, the bar was very reasonably priced.

I began at Mark Chadbourn’s (non) workshop in which he spoke about the business of writing. This was fascinating, positive and really encouraging. It focused on writing as a profession rather than an art, and went into detail about the various ways one can make a proper living from their skills.

Next I went to the New Writers’ panel, chaired by Jon Weir of Gollancz. The authors were Emma Newman, Vincent Holland-Keen, Tom Pollock and Lou Morgan. It seems that most people start their writing career in very similar ways – the imaginative, geeky kid at school that likes to entertain their classmates with stories, for example. But the path to publication varies wildly. Some go the traditional submit/agent/publisher route but there are many serendipitous events and uncanny ways in which things come together. That’s not to deny that there are many years of hard work involved in getting to that stage, but it’s always inspiring and fascinating to hear these stories.

Sunday was more leisurely. There was a fascinating discussion between Kate Laity and Graham Joyce about the Extremely Dangerous Fairy Folk, and their cultural history. I could have listened to it all day.

Straight after was a panel on diversity chaired by Mark Charan Newton with Anne Lyle, Sarah Cawkwell and Adrian Tchaikovsky. Gender parity is a hot topic in SFF at the moment, and it came up again at Eastercon, albeit in a more positive light. I was quite relieved to find that this discussion focused on representation of LGBT and ethnic minorities (or majorities as the case may be). It did touch on the subject of gender, and the dreaded words “As a woman . . .” came out. Puh-lease can we focus on people as writers and not genders?

I thought the panel handled the issues well. I think it is true that fictional worlds in fantasy, secondary worlds especially, must obey their own logic. If we seek to mirror or show an alternate world to ours we often replicate a vast majority of what is or was real, and if we are going to be truthful we need to acknowledge that we live in a world and society filled with many different types of people, who all deserve representation.

The social time was wonderful, the venue is perfect for such an event. I met some fantastic people who I’d only ever tweeted or read about before. It was a very warm and welcoming atmosphere. People often describe the SFF community as being like a ‘family’, and I definitely felt that this weekend.

Thanks to: @RenWarom @Erik_Lundqvist @KTScribbles @FionaSutton3 @ctjhill @hagelrat @mygoditsraining @PabloCheesecake  Adrian Tchiakovsky @MadNad @patkelleher @ClarkeAward @Paul_Cornell @AnneLyle @LouMorgan @tompollock @kaitharshayr @AMhairiSimpson @MarkChadbourn @mariaAsmith and plenty more for a sublime two days.

Eastercon Olympus 2012

My third con ever, and my first Eastercon it was by all accounts its most successful year. No doubt the main reason for that being the main GoH George RR Martin, who featured prevalently in proceedings. This is the first year they have actually sold out of tickets. I felt privileged to be at the 63rd British National Science Fiction Convention. It was held at Heathrow Radisson Hotel, a building someone described as built by an architect unfamiliar with euclidean geometry, and composed entirely of gleaming marble, glass and wood panelling. Confusing as it was, it was pretty luxurious, with a price tag to match (£9.45 for a gin and tonic), and some very strange artwork in the atrium bar.

Unfortunately I was only able to make Sunday but it felt good to arrive when the party was already in full swing, so to speak. The first panel I attended was ‘Promoting Yourself Online’. It was chaired by Danie Ware of Forbidden Planet (as well as author of debut novel Ecko Rising, a hotly anticipated genre mash-up coming out later this year), and the panellists were Elspeth Cooper (Author of the Wild Hunt Series), Paul Cornell, Tom Hunter (of the Clarke awards) and Simon Spanton of Gollancz.

Danie began by commenting on the early days of Twitter, when just a few souls used it and thought themselves very clever, before it exploded in size on an unimaginable scale. Since that growth the importance of Twitter (and to be honest, it was Twitter that the talk focused on) has increased to the extent that, as Danie pointed out, a top-selling author who isn’t on twitter will attract fewer customers to a signing than a newer kid on the block who is actively tweeting.

The panel reflected on what Twitter should and should not be about. There was overwhelming agreement that it should not be the place to push your books, chat about mundane, irrelevant things, nor overshare personal information. They agreed that to promote yourself you do so by helping other people, and by being yourself. Simon Spanton commented on the way that it enables the writer and reader to really get to know one another, and how this can only be a good thing.

Next on my schedule (all worked out by a cunning app available on the Olympus website called Guidebook) was the GRRM interview. This was a fascinating talk, and in the hour and a half that I sat there (it really didn’t seem that long) George described his path to success, the pitfalls of writing and television work, some humorous anecdotes about filming the pilot of the hugely successful television series A Game of Thrones and some genuine nuggets of wisdom for all the aspiring writers in the audience. What resonated with me was his comment on Tolkien (he has been dubbed the American Tolkien, which I don’t think is entirely fair to either man). He said that we are all (fantasy writers) in the man’s shadow, and that it is a common error of the newbie author to spend vast amounts of time worldbuilding, when they should be concentrating on the story and the characters. Tolkien was not primarily a writer, he was a linguist and an Oxford Don. He was drawn to creating languages and cultures at a level far deeper than most people go. George talked of the iceberg of worldbuilding beneath the Lord of the Rings books, the portion that we see above the surface. Our stories, he said, should be akin to ice rafts, it’s not worth fleshing out and wasting time on stuff that nobody is going to read. A language student wrote to him and asked about the Valyrian tongue, to which he replied ‘I’ve written seven words in Valyrian, when I need an eighth I’ll make one up’.

It was a surreal feeling seeing George among the attendees, milling happily without any pretension. I did get a bit of a silly fangirl moment when I asked him for his autograph and could think of nothing to say other than ‘I enjoyed the talk’. I don’t know if it was his beard and bearing but I suddenly felt like a kid brought into Santa’s grotto and overcome by awe.

The dealer room was very large and constantly busy. At the Angry Robot table I was disappointed (and yet pleased) to see that Anne Lyle’s The Alchemist of Souls had completely sold out. I got a copy of Adam Christopher’s Empire State which he kindly signed for me after his gripping first chapter reading of Seven Wonders. I will definitely be buying that book.

Something that pleased me about being at Eastercon was the broad spectrum of attendees, and according to the reports, the near equal gender parity among them. I also noticed this on the panels and it was refreshing to see a lot of women leading the discussions (this in wake of the seemingly unequal gender balance at the recent SFX Weekender). I was disappointed to miss the panel on minority representation in fandom, but I hope in the future we will see an even greater diversity in the SFF crowd at cons.

There was only one low point which I will briefly touch on, the thirty eight minute preamble to the BSFA awards. I was brought to mind of the panel on Promoting Yourself Online when smartphones all around me glowed beneath the faces of the audience, a furious storm of reaction unfolding on my twitter feed. Despite the irrelevant, confusing and at one point offensive nature of this skit, I was completely baffled by the amount of time spent on it compared to the actual prize giving itself, which was over in something like ten minutes. One of the winners was Christopher Priest, who ironically lambasted the Clarke Awards recently for its shortlist (of which he was not a member). His one liner about the quality of the award itself was far funnier than anything in the previous ‘entertainment’.

As well as the panels, readings, stalls and goodybags, what cons are really about are the people. It was such a pleasure to meet people in the flesh who I have read about and tweeted to over the last few months. I caught up with old friends, made some new ones and I would liken to experience to a reunion of the best kind. There were no boundaries or barriers: between ability, race, generation, gender, writer or reader.

Next week: Alt.Fiction!

Lucky 7 Meme/Seven Sentence Snippet

I needed an excuse for a new post. I was tagged by Gayle Ramage as part of this Lucky 7 Meme. Here’s how to play (not compulsory!)

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS (or if you haven’t 77 pages, 7 or 17, or 27 etc)
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next 7 lines – sentences or paragraphs – and post them as they’re written. No cheating.
4. Tag 7 authors
5. Let them know

I’ve decided to choose seven from a short story I’ve just finished the first draft of. The working title is ‘Mrs Numler’s Gold’.

“Won’t Lord Slavin wonder where his clerk is?” said Slant, pouring the brandy with a gug-gugging sound into the glasses.
“Still up on The Rise for all he knows. I don’t think he’ll begrudge a restorative.”
“And this nephew of Mrs Numler, what’s your take on it?” said Fonbrace.
Gim sank into the velvet chairback, blowing through his lips like a horse.
“The god damn me if I know, but you can bet he’s not got a good reason for coming out this way, whatever it is.”
“When’s he coming?”
Gim took out the missive shell and showed them the tiny script.
I now tag:
1. Colin F Barnes
2. Ren Warom
3. Tammy Crosby
4. Celyn Armstrong
5. Matt T Dillon
6. Lucy Morgan
7. Mhairi Simpson

Another Girls’ Guide to the Apocalypse Blog Post

I just can’t stop myself it seems. Another article with more feisty female fighters. Enjoy.

Another Apocalypse Girls Article

I’ve been at it again. This time focusing on historical examples of fighting females to inspire would-be women warriors of the apocalypse.

Apocalypse Girls Article

I knew my swordy skills would come in handy, one day the bullets will run out you know.

See my article at The Girls’ Guide to the Apocalypse.