19 December 2013


It's that time of the year again, when we hang mince pies on the tree and children gleefully stuff themselves with mistletoe. It's also the time when I send out a Christmas story to family and friends in, or in place of, Christmas cards. 

This year's one is a bit odd and experimental, and I'm honestly not sure how to go about presenting it here. That's all right, though, because I always blog these stories a year in arrears, so I have twelve months to think about it.

In the meantime, here (and also here) is last year's story, "Jan". This one has a New Year theme, so you should feel free to come back to it in twelve days' time if you want to.

Interestingly (perhaps), while a lot of my fiction has dealt with gender fluidity one way or another, this is the first time I've written about an ordinary transsexual character in a (mostly) realistic present-day setting. I hope I haven't made a hideous hash of it. 


     He was waiting in the doorway as I left the club. Acid-washed jeans, blue converse trainers, spotless white T-shirt outlining his abs. The face I saw was young, white, perhaps my age, with a minimalist goatee I assumed was ironic. He loitered in the doorway, looking as much a fixture as if someone had screwed him there.
     For all I knew, someone might have. It was that sort of club.
     ‘Going home?’ he said, his voice smiling in the semi-darkness. He sounded like someone who was used to getting his questions answered.
     ‘What if I am?’ I snapped. It was none of his business. He wasn’t a bouncer – too slight, too well-spoken, wrong clothes altogether – and anyway their job’s to keep people out, not in.
     ‘The night hasn’t even got going yet,’ he said. ‘You’ll miss the festivities.’
     ‘That’s kind of the idea,’ I agreed, hoping to shut him up. I was in the middle of a major flounce-out after splitting up with a boyfriend, and stopping for an awkward conversation at the door wasn’t part of the plan.
     ‘Nearly midnight,’ he said, ‘on New Year’s Eve. And you’ve decided to split.’
     ‘Split?’ I repeated. ‘What, have we gone back to the ’50s? Crazy, daddy-oh.’ I was itching to leave, dreading the scene if Paul tried to come after me – he hadn’t taken it well.
     I could have just walked away, I realise. Lied perhaps, told him I was going to meet friends at the Square. For some reason I didn’t even think of it.
     ‘Would you prefer cleave?’ he asked. ‘That can mean split.’ It occurred to me then to worry that maybe he was some kind of serial killer. ‘Or it can mean cling. If you told me you were going to cleave fast, I wouldn’t know if you mean split quickly or stay firmly where you are.’
     ‘What are you on about?’ I’d asked, realising I could probably have left off the last word. (Was he high? Or was I, and he was actually talking perfect sense? It’s happened before.)
     ‘They’re called antagonyms,’ he said. ‘Words which can mean one thing or its opposite. Are you bound for home, or has talking to me bound you here? If I relax my oversight and let you go, will that be an oversight?’
     ‘Well, I’m glad we’ve had this chat,’ I said. ‘Call it what you want, I’m going home.’
     ‘Go where you like,’ he said. ‘You’ll still be on the threshold.’
     It was an odd thing, but since we’d been standing in that doorway, almost blocking it between us, not only had Paul not come after me, but nobody else had pushed past to get in or out of the club. I wondered where the actual bouncers had gone.
     ‘I know who you are, Jan,’ he said. And that really bothered me, because that wasn’t the name I used at the club. I hadn’t used it anywhere, except at the support group.
     I’d only recently decided it was going to be my real name.
     ‘Obviously you don’t,’ I said in as alpha-male a voice as I could muster while I tried to remember where in my man-bag I kept my rape alarm. ‘Because my name’s Ian. Jan’s a woman’s name. Or a foreign one.’
     ‘Well, quite,’ he said. ‘Two names, two identities. Two faces.’
     ‘It doesn’t work that way,’ I said, angry at him for making me talk about this at all. ‘There’s just one me. I’m being true to myself, that’s all.’
     ‘Cleaving,’ he said again.
     The clocks chimed then, prompting mad cheering from the Square and all the pubs and bars around.

     * * *

     ‘Do you think you’ll ever replace him?’ he called after me as I left the club. I guessed he was talking about Paul, who still – I noticed – wasn’t following me. It still wasn’t any of his damn business.
     I walked to the nightbus stop and rode home with the rest of the city’s least enthusiastic revellers. At home I stripped off Ian’s paint-the-town-gay party outfit and put on the clothes I’d bought for Janet. I phoned Declan, wished him a happy New Year, and arranged to meet him for a drink that Saturday.
     I called it off when I heard about Paul.
     Poor Paul. I’d been living with the knowledge of my hidden self for ages, but he’d had no idea.
     That night I’d told him I wasn’t who he thought I was, that Ian was just a part I’d been playing since I was born, and that the real me was someone Paul wouldn’t be interested in, what with him only fancying men and all.
     I might have tried to soften the blow, a little. In fact I’d suggested that the last thing Jan needed as she embarked on her new life was a gay boyfriend reminding everyone of where she’d come from, what I’d been before.
     Like I say, he took it badly.
     He’d wanted to follow me out of the club, I heard later, but his mates – my ex-mates now, mostly – held him back. Let him go, they’d said, the silly drama queen. Let him screw up his life his own way. Paul wasn’t convinced, but he’d never been in the running for the Most Assertive Homosexual awards, so he let himself be persuaded.
     He wasn’t happy, though. After the party ended, when the others left the club and headed back to Clive’s for more drinkies, Paul said he’d take a taxi home. Instead he wandered the streets – thinking ahead, looking back. New Year’s a time for reflection, after all, and I’d given him plenty to consider.
     I suppose he was thinking about transitions and transformations, the faces we wear inside and outside. The people we are with other people, the people we are on our own. Whether he’d ever see me again, and if so who I’d be.
     They cornered him behind the railway station – a bunch of drunk straight lads turfed out from one of the clubs, poisoned by lager and machismo. The police said it was a mugging, but the CCTV footage showed them beating and kicking him without any preamble, one of them grabbing his wallet just before they ran.
     By the time I heard about it Paul was in hospital, in a coma. They’d kicked him in the head a lot, and he had bleeding on the brain. I tried to visit, but his parents had already heard I’d dumped him, and had come to their own conclusions. That door was closed to me now.
     The one I opened led somewhere different.
     The support group where I’d met Declan was a mixed one, men who were really women getting together with women who were really men to swap advice and experiences. Declan had been born Deborah, Deb rather than Dec, and he was further along the way than me, three months of testosterone injections under his belt and living as a pretty convincing man despite his woman’s body.
     At first, things with Dec were fine. He knew his own mind, which I liked, especially compared with Paul’s diffidence. I liked the way he took charge and made me feel protected. With Paul it had usually been me in the driver’s seat, and no girl – I’d told myself, not really having a clue what most girls wanted – wants that.
     After we moved in together, things began to go downhill. Dec started wanting to know where I was when I was out, who I’d been seeing, who I’d been talking to, especially about him. When I said I was allowed some privacy he’d get shouty, sometimes aggressive. He’d always apologise afterwards, blaming it on the hormones.
     How much of it was really the testosterone, how much was acting out his newfound manhood, and how much was just Declan being Declan, I don’t know. My own hormone regime was making me weepy and moody, and living as Janet I was getting depressingly familiar with the kinds of perils that wait for a woman out in the world on her own – stuff which had never impacted me when I walked and talked and dressed like a man. All in all, I was inclined to forgive Dec and preserve the status quo.
     That was until I discovered he’d been cheating on me. An impressive feat, you’d think, under the circumstances, but obviously there are methods. We had a stand-up, knock-down row which ended with me telling him I was leaving. That was when he hit me – for the first, and I’m pleased to say the only time. Luckily his body was still mostly a woman’s, and mine still mostly a man’s, so I was able to get away from him with little more than a black eye.
     The local women’s shelter wouldn’t have me – people like me are always a bit of an embarrassment in those sort of places – and I spent a tense few weeks with my brother and his wife, who ‘understand my lifestyle choices’ but won’t trust me near their kids, before I could get a flat of my own.
     By then, Paul was dead, without ever coming out of his coma. They’d caught the bastards who’d done it from the CCTV images, and put them away for a few years – that’s roughly what a gay man’s life’s worth, apparently – but it hadn’t helped him. He’d hovered on the threshold between death and life for six months, before eventually his parents took the plunge and pulled the plug.
     I was devastated. I told myself it was the thugs who’d killed him, not me, but it was still my fault he’d been in their line of sight that night. I wondered how much more could go wrong in one year.
     I was still transitioning, of course – no-one could take that away from me, at least – but I couldn’t go to the support group any more. I’d tried for a while, but it hadn’t worked out, not with Dec there. My one-to-one counsellor worked out that I was depressed – not a very strenuous way to earn her paycheque – and flagged up a concern that the hormone treatment was having an adverse effect on me.
     And so there I was, that next New Year, having lost not one but two boyfriends to horrific male misbehaviour, with no friends, no likelihood of any new boyfriend any time soon, and the threat that the one source of hope in my life might soon be taken away from me.
     A couple of Paul’s friends – my former friends – had kept in touch with me for his sake, though fewer and fewer during the year, and after his death only the ones who’d liked me more than him in the first place. A couple of them – Ryan and Geoff, specifically – invited me along to their New Year’s bash. Come on, they said, everyone’s going to be there. Nobody will think anything of it. There’ll be all sorts.
     It was idiotic of me to take them up on it, really – but honestly, where else was I going to go?

     * * *

     As I passed through the lobby of the intimidatingly expensive apartment block where Geoff and Ryan had their flat, someone was waiting for me. Converse trainers, tight white T-shirt, acid-washed jeans – the styles a year advanced, the goatee even more microscopic and self-aware.
     This wasn’t him, though. This was a black guy, with the same self-assured air. ‘Leaving already, Jan?’ he asked.
     The voice was different too. I mean, obviously – it was a different guy. But he had the same amused drawl.
     ‘Um, yes,’ I said, a bit nonplussed. ‘Do I know you?’ I hadn’t seen him at the party, but I’d been hideously distracted for most of the time.
     ‘You met my other half,’ he said. ‘This time last year.’
     ‘Ah,’ I said, and paused. He didn’t volunteer a name. ‘So is this a hobby, or do you both loiter professionally?’
     I was just passing the time. The evening had gone badly – very badly, excruciatingly badly – and I was off home to watch Jools Holland on the TV and drink about a pint of vodka. Either that or throw myself quietly off a bridge somewhere – not at the stroke of midnight though, because that would have been tacky. I hadn’t quite decided.
     I suppose I was on what you’d call a threshold.
     ‘You could stay too,’ he said, ‘if you want. Of all Ryan and Geoff’s friends, they’ll be saying later, only Jan’s left.
     I remembered his boyfriend’s obsession with ambiguous words and phrases. At some point in the year, when I’d been bored, I’d looked antagonyms up on Wikipedia. Janus words, they’re called, after some ancient god with two faces. I tried one of my own. ‘So are you going to sanction me for leaving, or are you going to sanction it?’
     He looked at me calmly. ‘You haven’t had a good year, have you?’
     ‘Wow,’ I said. ‘You guys are perceptive as well as weird and creepy.’ I never had worked out how his boyfriend had known that I was Jan.
     He smiled. ‘Wait here with me,’ he said. ‘It’s not long till midnight.’ He was right, I hadn’t made it out in time to get home for the chimes. Too many people had wanted to talk to me about Paul.
     ‘With you?’ I said. ‘Why would I want to do that?’
     ‘It may help,’ he said. ‘You ran out on us last year, and that didn’t work out too well, did it?’
     I shrugged. ‘I don’t suppose I’ve got much else to look forward to.’ He was the first man who’d seemed interested in my company for quite a while, and it wasn’t long to wait, in any case.
     I stayed with him till midnight sounded and all the roars of welcome for the New Year rose up from half the flats in the building. As the clock tolled on the church down the road, he said, ‘New Year’s a time for reflection, after all.’
     The way he said it, it sounded like the sort of thing people say in church.

     * * *

     We stayed together a little longer, chatting some more before I went back inside.
     I caught up with some old friends, made up with a few I’d fallen out with. By the time I went home to change, a few short hours before the sun returned, I felt – not happy, certainly, but not as bleak, and certainly with no immediate thoughts of suicide.
     Over the following weeks, I learned that my counsellor had cancelled her note of concern, predicting that my spirits would soon be improving. I started going to the support group again, despite Dec’s presence. It helped a little.
     After a while, I sold my place and went to stay with my brother and sister-in-law. When I slowly developed a black eye, I took this as a signal to move in with Dec.
     Our first hours together were stormy, violent even, but when he healed the pain in my eye I forgave him. I even forgot about his infidelities. Over the coming months I watched as he became less domineering and controlling, at times even sweet and affectionate as the testosterone left his body.
     My oestrogen levels were decreasing too, the hormone drawn out steadily into the doctors’ needles and packaged away. I found myself becoming more irritable and angry. It wasn’t something I liked about myself, but it seemed a tiny price to pay for all the other ways in which the world was getting better.
     Halfway through the year, at the flick of a switch, Paul returned, suspended between death and life. His parents waited anxiously at his bedside for the first signs of his consciousness returning.
     By the time Declan and I parted company, we respected each other as equals. We’d go on seeing each other at the support groups, of course, but by then I was too excited about Paul’s imminent recovery to go on worrying about him. In anticipation I stopped wearing women’s clothes, and started dressing myself as Ian again.
     They’d searched the prison system diligently for men who could redeem themselves by curing Paul. They’d brought them together in a courtroom so that they could be given their mission. Eventually, as New Year approached, the hospital put him in an ambulance and shipped him, still unconscious, to the back alley where these good samaritans would do their healing work. A crowd of well-wishers had gathered, and one by one they left him lying there, calmly waiting for these men and their merciful ministrations. One of the ex-convicts had even found his wallet, and was looking after it for him.
     A little later, Paul was restored to full and vibrant life. By the time I reached the club, he was waiting only for me to make him complete.
     ‘Do you think you’ll ever replace him?’ someone asked me as I stepped up to the doorway, and I knew that I never would.
     A great roar went up all around us, as midnight chimed.

     * * *

     ...Thinking ahead, looking back. New Year’s a time for reflection, after all...

     * * *

      ‘Do you think you’ll ever replace him?’ the white guy with the acid-washed jeans and minimalist goatee called after me as I left the club. I guessed he was talking about Paul, who still – I noticed – wasn’t following me.
     I started to walk toward he nightbus stop, planning to ride home with the rest of the city’s least enthusiastic revellers, worrying slightly that the weird word-obsessed stranger would follow me, half-hoping that Paul might.
     Suddenly I stopped, and turned round. I’d realised that those last words were another of the man’s weird equivocations. It might well be true that I’d never find another boyfriend to fit the space that Paul had taken up in my life... but I could easily put him back where he belonged. I’d taken him out, but I could still replace him. It wasn’t too late.
     I stared at the stranger, who was looking after me with a sly smile.
     So what if I was a woman inside? Paul loved me, I knew that. He wasn’t a shallow person – less so than me, in fact, if I really thought his presence would hamper me in my new life as Jan. If I could adjust to being a woman, perhaps Paul could adjust to loving one. It should be his choice, in any case, not mine.
     The alternative... well, I didn’t know what the alternative was. Declan, I supposed. But that was all unknown territory, and I wasn’t looking forward to exploring it.
     I hurried back. Paul couldn’t have left the club yet.
     As I approached, the stranger stepped aside, moving across the doorway in front of me. He slumped there, forehead to the wall, hands folded behind his back. His other face smiled ironically at me: a skinny black guy leaning comfortably back against the doorjamb, the beard this side of his head even tinier and more self-restrained.
     ‘Tell your other half Happy New Year,’ I said.
     His smile didn’t waver – I didn’t even see his lips move – as he replied, ‘You’re welcome.’
     I stepped back across the threshold.

© Philip Purser-Hallard 2012

A merry Christmas -- and, vitally, a happy New Year -- to all. 

26 October 2013

Competition winner

I can now announce that the open submissions competition for Iris Wildthyme of Mars has been won by Daniel Tessier's story, "Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Bad Weekend". If you've been paying attention, you may realise that this is a sequel to the out-of-copyright Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation, aka Gulliver of Mars. It's a lovely idea for a story, and one I'm really looking forward to editing.

Congratulations Daniel!

16 October 2013

Gullivar's Trousers

It's often difficult to know whether Edwin L Arnold's Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation, known more pithily as Gulliver of Mars, is meant satirically, as its even more cumbersomely titled predecessor was.

Then Arnold throws in a passage like this:
     What had they done with her? Surely they had not given her to the ape-men -- cowards though they were they could not have been cowards enough for that. And as I wondered a keen, bright picture of the hapless maid as I saw her last blossomed before my mind's eye, the ambassadors on either side holding her wrists, and she shrinking from them in horror while her poor, white face turned to me for rescue in desperate pleading -- oh! I must find her at all costs; and leaping from bed I snatched up those trousers without which the best of heroes is nothing, and had hardly got into them when there came the patter of light feet without and a Martian, in a hurry for once, with half a dozen others behind him, swept aside the curtains of my doorway.
...which (I hope, at least) rather gives the game away.

The open submissions competition for Iris Wildthyme of Mars is now closed. Many thanks for all your submissions, and a winner will be announced to appearing in the anthology by the end of the month.

03 October 2013

Three Announcements

OK, pay attention. 2014's going to be a ludicrously productive-looking year on my CV, as in addition to Iris Wildthyme of Mars, I'll have three projects being published. I'm announcing them now, in order of overall excitingness.

* * *

First of all -- and least exciting in that you could probably have guessed it was going to happen, but still I think pretty cool -- I'm editing a third City of the Saved anthology for Obverse Books, for publication next Spring.

This one has a more focussed theme than the others -- it's called Tales of the Great Detectives, and it deals with the adventures of the City's Sherlock Holmes remakes. I'm delighted with the authors I've lined up for it, including one returning contributor from each of the first two City volumes, and a couple of rather higher-profile names. I'm really pleased with how this is looking, and will add further details here as they firm up.

* * *

The second thing is eerily similar in one respect, but distinctly more unexpected. I've contributed a short story to George Mann's Further Encounters of Sherlock Holmes, the follow-up to his 2013 anthology Encounters of Sherlock Holmes, which will be published by Titan Books in February. This is a straight Victorian adventure (more or less), without the SF trappings of the City stories.

I've adored Sherlock Holmes since I was at school, and the fact that I've somehow ended up nearly simultaneously writing a story about the original and editing a book about his various media incarnations, is odd and thrilling. Writing for Holmes, in Watson's voice, was a real buzz -- so much so that I went slightly mental and wrote the last 5,000 words of the story in an afternoon, completely shattering my previous words-per-day record of a little over 3,000.

I'm really pleased with my story for Further Encounters, which is called "The Adventure of the Professor's Bequest", and is a sequel of sorts to two of the canonical Holmes stories.

* * *

And, best of all... For a while now, I've been being mysterious on Twitter and Facebook about a secret longer project I've been working on. For various reasons, it's taken a while to finalise, but I can finally announce it.

In May next year, Snowbooks will be publishing my novel The Pendragon Protocol[*], the first volume of a trilogy named The Devices. It's a slipstream urban fantasy thriller, and the blurb I've suggested to them (still subject to change, obviously) goes like this:
     The Circle are the modern-day successors of the Knights of the Round Table.

     Armed with the latest military hardware and operating from a hidden fortress on the South Bank of the Thames, they protect 21st-century Britain from certain very specific threats – criminals who, like the Circle’s own Knights, have characters from Arthurian legend living inside their heads.

     Jory Taylor, the Knight bearing the device of Sir Gawain, has grappled on the Circle’s behalf with mercenaries, serial killers and far-right terrorist cells. However, when he is captured by Gawain’s traditional enemy the Green Knight, he discovers a new side to the myths he lives by – one which, as he learns more about this clandestine world, becomes both threateningly personal and terrifyingly political.

     The legends of King Arthur are not the only stories with influence on the British psyche – and some of the others have their own, very different agendas.

     A smart, contemporary political thriller and a new kind of urban fantasy, The Pendragon Protocol is the first volume in the Devices trilogy.
The sequels will probably be published around the same time in 2015 and 2016 -- again, more details here as they emerge.

I am, as you might be able to imagine, so terrifically excited by this as to be nearly incoherent.

* * *

For all I know there'll be other things next year as well -- it's still only October 2013, after all. In the meantime, though, that's surely enough to be getting on with.

[*] Or possibly The Pendragon Protocols -- we're still deciding.

02 October 2013


You may remember me a year or so ago mentioning Matt Kimpton, a fine writer of short-stories who died from complications arising from his cystic fibrosis at the tragically young age of 35.

Obverse Books published more of Matt's fiction than anyone else. In memory of him, and in aid of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, Obverse have put out a collection called Storyteller: A found book, which I'd urge you all to buy. (That's Matt on the cover, dressed as an Anglo-Saxon skald.) The authors of its thirteen stories include some of my favourites among the writers I know -- such as Simon Bucher-Jones, Liz Evershed, Ian Potter and Rick Wright, who've all contributed (as I once hoped Matt might) to the City of the Saved collections.

There's no particular genre or series connection, but the book's based round an exceptionally cool concept: the authors have each taken a title from an endpaper listing books published by the long-defunct Unicorn Books, and created a new short story to fit it. Contributor Cav Scott goes into more detail here.

So -- it's a book written with love, based on an intriguing concept, by excellent authors, in an impeccable cause. What more would you need?

Oh, yes -- at £1.99, it's also astonishingly cheap. Do buy it.

23 September 2013

Iris Wildthyme of Mars Open Subs: Supplemental

Further to this post, and this webpage which it links to, discussions with potential entrants to the Iris Wildthyme of Mars open submissions competition have thrown up a few points of clarification.

1. I'd like the competition (and I really should have been clear about this) to be for unpublished authors. If you're a published author of fiction, you're very welcome to pitch a story for the anthology, but it'll go through a rather different route, to keep the field clear for the newcomers. Contact me at irisonmars@infinitarian.com for further instructions.

2. Multiple entries per person are allowed, though not especially encouraged. They'll make my life a bit of a pain, but I didn't explicitly rule them out when I had the chance, and it would be unfair to now. Don't say I never do anything for you.

3. While using anyone else's copyrighted characters or settings is a definite no-no, fiction which is in the public domain in the UK (where Obverse operates) is fair game for inclusion in the anthology. The UK's copyright laws are specific, though, that all works remain in copyright for 70 years after the author's death, so some material which is in the public domain in the USA is off limits -- most notably HG Wells's (1866-1946) The War of the Worlds. (The two most significant early Mars texts which are out of copyright in the UK are probably Gulliver of Mars and Edison's Conquest of Mars.)

Hope that all makes sense. Happy typing...

16 September 2013

Iris Wildthyme of Mars

This actually isn't one of the three exciting things I was mentioning yesterday, but it ought to have been. (And yes, I'm editing the book.)

* * *

Open Submissions Competition for Obverse Books

The short version: We’re looking for stories of 6,000 to 8,000 words, featuring the ‘Barbarella’ incarnation of Iris Wildthyme, and set on Mars – any version of the Red Planet you feel like (provided it doesn’t infringe copyright).  Please send a 600-word synopsis and a similar-length sample of your story to opensubs@infinitarian.com.

Click for the long version.

15 September 2013

Review and Prognosis

I'm very much hoping that in the next week or so, I'll have something very exciting to announce here. In fact, there are three things I need to get around to announcing: one entirely predictable if you've been paying attention to my recent career, but with some cool aspects; one rather more exciting and also cool; and one very exciting and cool indeed. I might even announce them all at the same time.

For the moment, though, you'll have to accept me being mysterious. Sorry about that.

I realise now that I never updated this blog to mention that More Tales of the City is available to buy (as paperback or ebook) from Obverse Books: it also has an Amazon page (UK and US) which should shortly be enhanced by the addition of the cover, although I wouldn't recommend trying to buy it through that route.

More Tales has had a couple of rather decent reviews since release: this one from Andrew Hickey (also on his blog) and this from JD Burton (registration needed) are particularly pleasing. I'd also commend this flattering review of Horizon to your attention.

Conventional Weapons

Last week, cuddly thug and part-time London mayor Boris Johnson committed one of the trademark blunders for which idiotic people seem to delight in forgiving him, by claiming that President Assad's Syrian regime is worse than that of Nazi Germany, on the grounds that "Not even Hitler used chemical weapons, as far as I can remember."

A lot of people have condemned this as thoughtless, and rightly so: for any politician to pontificate about Hitler without keeping the Holocaust foremost in his mind is crass and horrifically insensitive. All the same (and without condoning his fundamental point), I can see from a purely semantic point of view what might have caused Johnson to phrase his statement the way he did.

It seems to me that generally speaking, the conventions of English don't tend to include tools of execution under the category of "weapons". Obviously some execution methods (beheading, firing squad) involve items whose presence in other contexts makes them unambigously weapons, but despite the dictionary definition (which will usually be something along the lines of "Device designed or used to cause harm to a human [or possibly "a living"] being"), I've yet to hear a guillotine or an electric chair described as a "weapon". As far as I can remember, I've never seen crosses included in lists of Roman weapons, either.

So what exactly makes a killing implement a weapon? It isn't use in combat (as Johnson's hasty clarification seems to assume), because a sentence like "Poison was a favourite weapon of assassination" sounds perfectly reasonable. It isn't use by an individual rather than the state, because (to take an extreme example) almost nobody would call the deployment of a nuclear weapon at Hiroshima the responsibilty of the bombardier on the Enola Gay.

Thinking about it, I suspect that what makes the difference is that there's an element of chance in a weapon's operation, arising from the uncontrolled conditions in which it's used. A poisoner's victim may decide they don't fancy the figs today; a sniper may hit a member of the President's security detail by mistake; even an atom bomb may miss its target or fail to go off.

Executions, though -- and all the more so the industrialised mass murder of the Final Solution -- happen under highly controlled conditions, failure is rectified, and death is (barring the occasional miracle) certain. Such killings become a process rather than an act, and English speakers, probably entirely subconsciously, feel that the term "weapon" no longer really applies.

Which is interesting, I reckon.

Linguistics aside, the only real point I have arising from this is that, if we accept methods of execution as weapons, the United States has been using chemical weapons against its own citizens for decades. Are we going to do anything about that?

06 June 2013


A brief note, after all the advertising material of the last couple of months, to point out that More Tales of the City is now available to pre-order in its paper format at £9.99, with a release date of Saturday 15 June, and that the ebook version is available right now at £3.99 for those whose impatience, parsimony or lack of respect for proper paper editions of things make them unwilling to wait. 

Please buy it. It has some really wonderful stories, a dramatic monologue in iambic pentameter and two fantastic endpieces by my talented little brother.

25 May 2013

More Tales of the City: Trailer #6

Meet Isabelle Gebhart:
     The woman introduces herself as Isabelle. Setting her sunshiny countenance next to Arianrhod’s icy visage makes them look like drawings of the seasons on a medieval map.
     She launches into her tale: ‘I walk into a bar carrying all of creation enthroned in a hollow. A tomb already raided and looted of treasure. I’m taking it out for sleazy one-night stand.
     ‘“So, what’s your passion? What do you totally love to do?” asks Gemini.
     ‘I call him Gemini because of the hair. Part of it is gathered onto the top of his head in fat-rat tubes of a dirty straw colour. The underneath and sides are shaved and dark brown. He’s got Gemini written plain as day in the dreads on his head and the clean-cut nape of his neck. He’s dabbled in veganism, but (judging from the Nachos Grande platter in front of him) feels no moral obligation to avoid strange meat. A deep thinker too. Mostly about pot I imagine.’
Isabelle is the primary narrator of Kelly Hale's "The Isis Method", the final story in More Tales of the City.  Here's Kelly:
Kelly Hale’s contribution to twenty-first-century Earth’s human social welfare was a practical fairy-godmothering network serving children in foster care. She lived in quiet, vaguely contented poverty during which she raised children and authored several works of fiction for small-press publishers. Her first novel, Erasing Sherlock – a fantasy about a time-travelling maid-of-all-work whose case study of the real Sherlock Holmes goes terribly awry, resulting in all sorts of madcap adventures, exciting chases, kidnappings, various acts of reckless passion and an actual volcanic eruption – was awarded a prize for literary awesomeness. Imagine her surprise and delight when, some several years after Resurrection Day, her very own version of Sherlock Holmes walks into her little espresso bar in New London having found her through CreatorMatchCreation. They’ve been creating together ever since. Their critically acclaimed series The One and Only pits Sherlock against Sherlock in a race to beat the clock as these great detectives and chosen contestants chase after clues and each other to solve mysteries spanning every District and to the farthest reaches of the City of the Saved.
I was enormously pleased to get Kelly to write a City of the Saved story -- though selfishly so, as she's an outstanding writer who deserves far wider recognition than she'll get from the small-press circles I move in. Erasing Sherlock is the standout novel of the Mad Norwegian Faction Paradox range, published both before and since as a non-series novel. Her other works (including Grimm Reality, co-written with fellow Tales of the City contributor Simon Bucher-Jones) demonstrate her to be a quite brilliant author. For my money Kelly's one of the two best prose stylists to have written for either Faction Paradox or Doctor Who, and her characters are vivid, conflicted and always utterly convincing. Seriously, I can't praise her work enough, and if I tried this post would get quite boring very quickly.

"The Isis Method" is about how the patterns of the past can dog the present; about the developing relationship between two damaged people; about healing, renewal and rebirth; about the investigation of a macabre crime. It's gorgeous, and I love it to pieces.

Oh, and just in case that doesn't make it sound cool enough-- it's got Nikola Tesla in it.

The City of the Saved logo

07 May 2013

More Tales of the City: Trailer #5

Here's the preamble and beginning of Richard Wright's "The Mystery of the Rose", the fifth story in More Tales of the City:
     ‘Enough of idling! Let the show go on!’ a voice cries, smooth yet commanding. It is the trenchcoated man, fedora in his hand now, revealing slicked-back hair. ‘My lady –’ he smiles ingratiatingly at Arianrhod ‘– I beg leave to tell my tale.’
     Arianrhod nods. ‘It would be... apposite to recommence.’
     The other patrons settle, as the mikedrone rises from its charge-port on the bar, and the man begins his soliloquy:
     ‘Now immortality makes malcontents of men once neutered by the threat of death, and schemes erst fettered by a mortal dread now flower through the City of the Saved. Released from Time’s restrictive, crushing grip, with all infinity to realise its dreams, mankind’s potential is exposed as nothing grander than it ever seemed. Eternity must rue the trick of fate that locked it to our tawdry monument.
     ‘So my eye perceives, yet may I trust it? I am no more than I was writ to be, remaining a most dutiful cynic.’
Richard is one of the most prolific of the (admittedly only twelve) authors I've acted as editor for to date: his CV looks like this, and spans an impressive range of publishing models. Here's what his contributor biog has to say:
Richard Wright's pre-Resurrection life was spent fielding questions about why he wasn't the African-American author of novels such as Black Boy and Native Son, the keyboardist in Pink Floyd, or the goalkeeper who played for Manchester City. When not denying that he was any of these people he managed to scribble some short stories and novels of his own. Residing for much of his life in the United Kingdom, Richard met an early end shortly after moving to India, where he discovered that snakes found him even less charming than humans did. Since Resurrection Day he has shared a house with Richard Wright, Richard Wright, and Richard Wright. He has waited centuries for one of the other Richard Wrights to be asked by a stranger whether they are that one who wrote those Iris Wildthyme short stories for the Obverse MegaText Conglomerate. To date, only Ms Wildthyme herself has done so, and as she seemed rather annoyed about the whole thing he kept his head down and pretended to be Dave Gilmour.

I first encountered Richard's work in the Doctor Who anthology Short Trips: Transmissions, and subsequently in the Obverse Books anthologies Iris: Abroad and Wildthyme in Purple. All of these stories are disturbing and profound: the last, "The Many Lives of Zorro", shows the titular masked swordsman succumbing to mental breakdown as he tries to reconcile the multiple conflicting narratives which have built up around him.

"The Mystery of the Rose" is also about fictional identities and the struggle against them: like several of the stories in the volume, it deals with themes of duality, of predestination and free will, and of the search for a meaning in paradise. Specifically, it's about the kind of life a villain can expect in the City of the Saved, and the accommodations he might need to make in order to live there.

A careful reading of the excerpt above may tell you who his protagonist is. Alternatively, you could read Richard's own blog post on the subject.

The City of the Saved logo

29 April 2013

More Tales of the City: Trailer #4

Jay Eales' story isn't quite like the others in More Tales of the City:
     As the clapping subsides, a harsh voice says, ‘That sounds like my cue.’ The old man with the disfigured face is standing by the fire-pit, ready to speak his piece.
     ‘This one’s from a very old friend of mine...’ he begins. ‘Jim Sheldrake.’ The storyteller pauses to let his name-drop take effect. ‘You might have heard of him.’ He smiles, as he pushes back an unruly dreadlock and casts a hooded glance at his audience, looking for recognition, but finding none. He presses on, the gravel in his voice grown organically over years and lifetimes beside one fire or another.
     The name he has chosen for himself is Story. It is not his birth name, or any of sundry identities he has worn, but it is the one he has borne the longest, both before and after his rebirth. In truth he has always been Story. Every wrinkle and blemish upon his skin tells its own tale, so no wonder he was rebirthed exactly as he went out.
His author biog isn't either:
Jay Eales, ya say? I knew the fella, once upon’a. On the road to St Ives or somesuch. Northampton? Sounds about right. Land a’ the Blessed Alan. Back in them days, people had holes in they shoes, they gots Elves ta do the fixin’. Well, somebody gots ta pay ’em, right? Fer his sins, that’s what he done. Paid off them Elves ta keep ’em tap-tap-tapping soles ’n’ heels all night long. Elves being Elves, it din’t last, so he sold elbow grease ’n’ long weights ta simple folks, and a spell lockin’ up wrong-uns. But all through, he’s scritch-scratchin’ away at his stories. Some got bought and some didn’t. Did he ever make it here to the City? There’s the thing. I ain’t rightly sure he atcherly died... Plain forgot to pick up the knack of it from ol’ Sister Death, he tole me. Laid hisself down, but it just never took. He be out there somewhere, pissin’ an’ moanin’ ’bout editors, I ’spect.
I mentioned the "fanthologies" which I -- and Susannah Tiller, and Simon Bucher-Jones and Kelly Hale and Dale Smith, and any number of writers who've been professionally published since -- contributed to, around the turn of the century. The two specific ones I wrote for were edited or co-edited by Julian "Jay" Eales, an author, editor and publisher with an impressive track record in small-press prose and comics. His most recent editing work was, in fact, the Faction Paradox anthology Burning with Optimism's Flames, for which I wrote "De Umbris Idearum".

Jay's fiction is weird and spiky, with a habit of defying clear categories, and indeed description. His More Tales of the City story, "Born among Briars", draws heavily on the folklore of Br'er Rabbit, hence the style of that biog. It's a sequel of sorts to "Mightier than the Sword" in A Romance in Twelve Parts, the story of a convict over whom a pulp author named Sheldrake exercises an inexplicable influence, and it's fantastic.

The City of the Saved logo

15 April 2013

More Tales of the City: Trailer #3

Introducing More Tales of the City's third narrator:
     Arianrhod calls for silence, and as Harry scurries back with his tray of drinks, Akroates is surprised to see that the next storyteller, a young human-standard woman – he suspects genuinely young, rather than a resurrectee – is another whom he had pegged as strictly audience material. He saw her earlier, a petite brunette in sober clothes with an immodest price-tag, sitting quietly attentive as Lewis spoke his piece, alone but for a small personal drone.
     That machine buzzes unhappily now, but stays in place guarding the young woman’s wine, as she abandons it for the mikedrone at the fire-pit.
     ‘When I was little, I used to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I say “kitchen”, but it wasn’t just one room, it was a whole labyrinth of them. The actual room where all the cooking was done, the pantry, the rooms where the servants lived, cool rooms, and more. It was its own little world down there. And Mrs Gladstone, the housekeeper, was like its own Resident. Whenever I went downstairs, she’d always be in the middle of everything. Even if she was off in a corner somewhere adding up accounts, the staff would still come to her, and ask her advice, and make sure that she knew what was going on.’
Considerably before I had anything resembling a writing career, I contributed stories to two Doctor Who 'fanthologies' -- unofficial, unlicensed short-story collections, written, edited and pubished by fans, and tolerated by the BBC solely because they had minuscule print runs and were produced on an entirely not-for-profit basis in aid of charity. 

Back then -- as now, of course -- there was a thriving community of Doctor Who fanfic authors, and Susannah Tiller was one of the best. My favourite story of hers was "Caveat Emptor", in which the Doctor saves the last survivor of humanity from being sold at auction. Many contributors to those collections had gone on to professional writing careers, within or even outside the broad and varied universe of Doctor Who and its spinoffs. Susannah was not one of them, which seemed to me an injustice, and one I wanted to rectify.

I'm very glad I did, because 'Eternity Is Just for Starters', Susannah's first professional writing commission, is very good indeed: a tale of a City-born student with an isolated, privileged upbringing, and the political awakening she experiences through the unexpected medium of gastronomy.

With a doctorate in psychology, Susannah Tiller’s writing, both fiction and non-fiction, reflected her interests of people interacting with technologies, human relationships, and ethical issues. She was a noted fan-fiction writer in the Doctor Who universe, and contributed to numerous anthologies. ‘Eternity Is Just for Starters’ was her first professional fiction work, unless you count her second place in a Choose Your Own Adventure synopsis competition when she was twelve. Susannah’s plans for world domination led to her untimely death, in an accident involving industrial quantities of chocolate. Since Resurrection Day, Susannah has lived in the City’s arts and crafts district. Learning from the world’s best chefs, embroiderers, and psychologists, she creates edible delicacies that double as wall hangings and personality tests. Her plans for world domination continue. She dedicates her story to Tom, her partner in life, and in dining. Together, they created and shared many memorable meals.
The City of the Saved logo

11 April 2013

Horizon, or Señor 105 contra las Momias Locas de Odinhotep

...is the title of my e-novella, number 006 in the Periodic Adventures of Señor 105 series, published today and available for download for £1.99 from Manleigh Books.

Though written solely in English, all the Periodic Adventures e-novellas have dual-language titles, with the English and Spanish bearing no noticeable resemblance to one another. It's a tradition. Although I've been referring to the ebook as "Horizon" for short (and that's what's on the cover -- see right), I see the two as equal halves of the full title, the stolid austerity of one counterbalancing the lurid hysteria of the other.

Here's the blurb:
Horizon, Nevada is suffering a mass haunting. Ghosts and UFOs harass the townsfolk while mysterious graffiti in no known alphabet are found inscribed across their walls. Señor 105 and his friends Sheila and Lori suspect extraterrestrial intervention, but the truth – as the enigmatic Ms Wood and Mr Stone could tell them, were they so inclined – is far stranger.
I previously posted an extract from the book (quite early in the writing process, so some of the wording has changed a bit).

I've added a page for the ebook at my website, including a larger cover image and some background notes. At roughly 23,000 words, Horizon's the shortest thing I've written for separate publication: pretty much half the length of Peculiar Lives, but twice that of my last Faction Paradox short story.

In unrelated news (apart from the facts that Manleigh Books is the electronic imprint of Obverse Books, and that the editor of the Señor 105 novellas, Cody Quijano-Schell, is also Obverse's graphic designer and thus the creator of both books' covers), I can also now share the full and final version of the cover of More Tales of the City (which will be appearing in both paper and ebook versions). Click on the preview below to see a full version:

Lovely, isn't it? As is the Horizon cover, of course. Further trailers for More Tales will follow in due course.

01 April 2013

More Tales of the City: Trailer #2

Here's Hal Benson, the narrator of Simon Bucher-Jones' story in More Tales of the City, seen through the eye of Akroates the cyclops barman:
     To his surprise, though, after the obligatory foot-shuffling and eye-contact-avoidance, it is one of the stag party – a lean young man in a natty houndstooth suit, with a slightly puzzled look in his blue eyes – who is inveigled into telling the evening’s third story. His protestations that he ‘was just about to get a round in’ are met with scant sympathy from his peers, who are braying, ‘Tell ’em the one about the bodysnatchers, Hal!’
     Arianrhod nods graciously, and the mikedrone swoops across to hover next to the young partygoer.
     ‘My turn to tell a tale then? That’s fine, if you can get the drinks in. I think I’ve got them pegged, but I can barely afford the ink to jot them down for you.
     ‘A rum and splash, a finnegan’s slake for the corpusclevore, two whampagne fizzles, a G.&T. and a Castrol GTX. And for me?
    ‘Well that’s kind, a glass of Worpelston’s finest ale. It’s good of you to stand the round. I would get these if a recent investment on the racecourse hadn’t let me down in the handicap. I mean, I should have known Shergar wouldn’t turn up to a face-off against Red Rum...’
Simon's one of the most outrageously creative talents to emerge from the Doctor Who novels of the 1990s and early 2000s, a writer of enormous invention, verve and erudition. His novels are full of brain-stretching concepts like a 'haunted' dolls' house whose unique properties are the result of a colony of quark-sized lifeforms taking up residence, or a community of poets who progressively lose the faculty of language as a 'memeovore' eats their alphabet, or the revelation that fairytale giants are of no fixed size.

Here's his biog:
Born in 1964, Simon Bucher-Jones worked for the Old United Kingdom Civil Service in the years 1988-2030, before his retirement at age 66. He also augmented his eWorth on the then primitive YouExchange by writing, and originating the Oceanic Ocelot Meme. A conscientious objector to the Proactive DeAging of 2037, which applied a post-SNPD Solution to the ‘pensions time-bomb’, he remained a Natural Ager until his death in prison at 78. A woolly-thinker, then a Christian, then an atheist, then a surprised atheist, since Resurrection Day Simon has been a writer-librarian and is presently dedicated to reading every book ever written. His most notable work (with Jonathan Dennis) remains the unfinished and cursed The Brakespeare Voyage, which he is promising to complete soon. At the last count it has now had the highest number of prospective publishers of any long-awaited twenty-first-century novel.
Simon's also an astonishingly literate man, one of the most voracious readers I know, and his story for More Tales, 'Double Trouble at the Parasites on the Proletariat Club', reflects his reading of the works of P.G. Wodehouse in particular (though it by no means stops there). Faced with the challenge of writing a story set in a world where the threat of physical violence is absent, Simon has turned to a literary world where (although sometimes present) it's never actually put into practice, and where loss of status, social ostracism and sheer overpowering embarrassment are the chief motivating factors.

Like Ian Potter's 'The Long-Distance Somnambulist', 'Double Trouble at the Parasites on the Proletariat Club' was originally submitted for Tales of the City last year, but I kept it back confident that it would sit very happily in a second volume. And so it does.

The City of the Saved logo

(Incidentally, that's a first glimpse of the wonderful Cody Quijano-Schell's fantastic cover for More Tales above. I'll be posting a fuller version on my website in the fullness of time.)  

Meanwhile, Back When There Were Fewer Tales of the City...

In coincidental but not exactly unrelated news, I can report that my original Faction Paradox novel featuring the City of the Saved, Of the City of the Saved, is now available as a Kindle ebook from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, and as a Nook ebook from... well, currently Barnes and Noble, but presumably from other retailers (including some UK-based ones) later.

This is a revised Mad Norwegian Press edition of the 2004 novel, which corrects a number of errata in the first edition, and restores some passages which had to be cut due to the pressures of space. It also incorporates some extras first published on my website. I may post a definitive list of the changes here at some point, but in the meantime I'll let you discover them for yourselves.

18 March 2013

More Tales of the City: Trailer #1

Hullo. You may remember the trailers I blogged last year for Tales of the City? Yeah well, I'm doing it again for More Tales of the City, whether you like it or not.

Here, look:
     A second volunteer stands – another of the World’s regulars, a florid, grossly fat man in a tailored suit that could clothe a double bed. He is immediately joined by the floating mikedrone. Finding no other calls on his attention, Akroates leans forward on his bar, eager to hear what story this new teller has to tell.
     ‘People used to say there were just seven stories, didn’t they? Well, they did in my day. When you tried to pin down what the seven actually were they’d usually get a bit vaguer.
     ‘As a matter of fact there’s just the one story. You just have to choose how you slice it.’
Ian Potter is an author I've had my eye on for some time.

(That's not him in the description above, by the way. That's the narrator of his story, Lewis Greaves. And it's not Ian's description, either, it's mine -- though Lewis's words are Ian's own. This may make more sense later.)

Ian's an accomplished writer of radio comedy, drama and documentaries, as well as a historian of television, but I know him from his splendid short fiction: five short stories in Doctor Who anthologies and two in previous Obverse Books collections, including the excellent Faction Paradox story "The Story of the Peace" in A Romance in Twelve Parts. All his stories are well worth reading, but my favourite is probably "Erato: Confabula" in Short Trips: The Muses, an extended misdirection which just happens also to be a sustained piece of deft and convincing worldbuilding. As it turns out, the story's true interests lie altogether elsewhere.

Ian was one of the first authors I asked to write a City of the Saved story (after he'd contributed one of the guest drabbles to my own "A Hundred Words from a Civil War"), and although for various reasons his submission then didn't quite fit with the others in Tales of the City, I intended all along to resurrect it for More Tales.

It has the marvellous title 'The Long-Distance Somnambulist', and it's midway between bildungsroman and detective story. It's about how people -- in this instance, a historian, a murder victim and one other -- adapt to eternal life.

(Ian himself disagrees with me about his merits, or so it seems. Here's his author biog:
Ian Potter is a loathsome human being whose Wikipedia entry contains Qliphothic snares for the unwary. You have vowed to destroy him should the chance arise. I will be believed to have had no part in it. When he was alive he was mainly older than he seems now and wrote jokes, plays, short stories and factual things no one much cared about. He’s most famous for that really bad thing that kicked off after he died that he’d no idea he set in motion. It was definitely his fault though. He hides in darkness underwater now. When you find him, understanding these words means you’ll know what to do.
No, I don't know what "Qliphothic" means either.)

The City of the Saved logo

18 February 2013

More Tales, More Tellers

After teasing you the other day with the blurb for More Tales of the City, I'm now in a position to reveal the full lineup of authors and titles. And here it is:
The Long-Distance Somnambulist by Ian Potter
Double Trouble at the Parasites on the Proletariat Club by Simon Bucher-Jones
Eternity is Just for Starters by Susannah Tiller
Born among Briars by Jay Eales
The Mystery of the Rose by Richard Wright
The Isis Method by Kelly Hale
I'll be providing linking material to introduce and frame the stories.

Followers of Faction Paradox and Obverse Books will need no introduction to many of these names, but I'll be posting some more detailed stuff about them, their careers and their stories to this blog in the next couple of months. I'm really pleased to have assembled such a talented set of writers, for a second year running, to create wonderful stories set in my City.

More Tales of the City will be its own entity, not part of the (excellent) Obverse Quarterly range. With any luck, there'll be several more City of the Saved anthologies where this one came from.

16 February 2013

Telling More Tales

It's currently in the limbo state between being mentioned publicly and being formally announced, but I have a second anthology out later this year. It's called More Tales of the City and is, unsurprisingly, a follow-up to Tales of the City, set in the City of the Saved. I sent out editorial comments on all six stories earlier this evening, and I'm hugely impressed by their quality: I believe readers who enjoyed Tales of the City won't be disappointed.

I'm not going to reveal the author and story lineup just yet, except to say that four of these authors haven't written anything set in the City of the Saved before, while the other two have written exactly 100 words set there.

Meanwhile, here's the draft blurb:

‘Once upon a time, the universe ended. And they all lived happily ever after.’

In a pub on a hill by a bay in the technological utopia beyond the end of the universe, customers gather to tell the stories of their afterlives.

An older woman steals intangibly from her boyfriends, while a naive student learns more about her world. A historian and a detective made in a king’s image seek answers to long-standing mysteries. A man-about-town makes a living finding people’s doppelgangers. Another may be not a storyteller, but a story.

These are their tales.