short stories

Pledge & Turn

… and, of course, “Prestige.”

(Thank god for that. Leaving it out makes me feel like I want to sneeze.)

And the prestige is, of course, MAGIC: AN ANTHOLOGY OF THE ESOTERIC & ARCANE

Watch closely…

Pretty, isn’t she? And it’s not just the cover that’s pretty: the interior design is also gorgeous, making this one of the nicest-looking anthologies I’ve seen. And I’m not just saying that because I’m biased. Promise.

MAGIC is released this week, with a special launch event at Foyles in Charing Cross Road, London, featuring Audrey Niffenegger, Sophia McDougall and Dan Abnett in conversation with editor Jon Oliver. It’s a free event, but it’s not a bad idea to reserve a space via the Foyles Events site.

If you were at FantasyCon in Brighton this year and swung by the reading room on the Friday evening, you may well have heard either me or Will Hill reading our stories from the book. The theme was, unsurprisingly, “magic” but the brief was specifically for something new; something that looked away from traditional witches and wizards… and judging by the finished anthology, every single contributor took that to heart.

My story, “Bottom Line” is about a man who works in a magic shop; a man who would do well to avoid magic altogether… not that it stops him.

I can still remember the look on his face when I asked for a job. He was sitting at the counter, stringing cards onto wire for the window display. He put the wire down, and he looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Donnie. Of all the places in the world, with your history, why in God’s name would you want to work in a magic shop?”

He had a point. You don’t send an alcoholic to work in a distillery, do you? But that’s just it. There’s magic and there’s magic. There’s tricks and illusions and sleight of hand… and there’s what I do. What I did.

“Bottom Line” is a story about addiction and regret and – maybe – redemption. I’m very proud of it, and it was one of those stories I was sad to leave. I liked Donnie, and I hope you do too.

It’s a pleasure and an honour to be included in this anthology: the line-up is beyond intimidating (if you’re me, anyway) and includes Audrey Niffenegger, Will Hill, Rob Shearman, Alison Littlewood, Sophia McDougall and Sarah Lotz as well as many other people. And muggins here.

You can order online (Amazon UK & US) or pick up a copy at Foyles on Wednesday evening. As well as the official participants of the event, several other contributors will be there to sign copies if you’d like your book scribbled on! There will be ebooks, too, the links for which I’ll add once I’ve dragged them out of the lower recesses of the internet.

If you’re in London this week, come along and help us launch this fantastic book; come and say hi. And if you can’t make it, not to worry: with a line-up like that, there’s bound to be something in this anthology which will enchant you…

 

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FantasyCon 2012

 This weekend sees the annual convention of the British Fantasy Society, FantasyCon, which is heading back to Brighton for the second year in a row. It’s a hugely friendly event with authors, editors, agents, readers and publishers all getting together to spend time together. And there’s a disco. And bars which never seem to close…

I’ve been involved in the background of this one for the first time, helping to organise the reading slots which will be running from the Friday afternoon through to the Sunday lunchtime. We were incredibly fortunate that – thanks largely to the overwhelming success of last year’s event – we had a fantastic pool of potential readers to pick from, and we’ve put together a reading programme which should have something for everyone, including Kate Griffin, Will Hill, Joe Abercrombie, Adam Christopher, Gary McMahon, Mike Carey, Stacia Kane… and more, mixing familiar names with debut authors and up-and-comers.

And that’s just the readings. There are all sorts of book launches, parties, panels, signings and events spread throughout the weekend.

I may have been running around working on this one, but they aren’t letting me off yet. I’ll be popping up a few times across the weekend – so if you want me, I’ll definitely be at these events (and will probably be running around or lurking in the background at a few others. I’ll be the one with a vaguely panicked expression…)

FRIDAY 28TH SEPTEMBER:

4 – 5pm, PANEL: YOUR FIRST CONVENTION. (Fitzherbert Room)

I’ll be discussing conventions with Guy Adams, Tim Lebbon, Joanne Hall and super-con-organiser Mandy Slater: how they work, what to do (or not to do!) and how to get the most out of them. Whether you’re an FCon newbie, a convention virgin or an old hand at both, come along.

8.30 – 9pm: READING. (Room 134)

Solaris are launching their new MAGIC anthology at FantasyCon, so I’ll be reading my short story from that, “Bottom Line” for the very first time. If there’s time, I’ll also try and squeeze in a very short excerpt from BLOOD AND FEATHERS. That’ll be a section I’ve not read before (basically, come to enough events I’m reading at, and you may well hear the whole book by the end of it….)

11:30pm – midnight: JUST A MINUTE (Regency Lounge)

This is the scary one. I’m playing the legendary game against James Barclay, Rob Shearman and FCon Guest of Honour Muriel Gray, all under the watchful eye of Gollancz’s Gillian Redfearn. Swing by the lounge to watch us all fail to talk for a minute without hesitation, repetition or deviation on any given subject. Heckle, cheer, laugh… whatever. But bring your moral support. And gin.

SATURDAY 29th SEPTEMBER

2 – 3pm: MAGIC LAUNCH (Bar Rogue)

Along with other contributors (including Rob Shearman, Alison Littlewood, Thana Niveau and Will Hill) I’ll be signing at the launch of the fantastic Solaris anthology. I’ve read a couple of the stories in this now, and I can promise you it’s worth it…

5 – 6pm: launch of A CARNIVALE OF HORROR: DARK TALES FROM THE FAIRGROUND (Regency Lounge)

Another anthology launch: this time, a collection of dark circus stories, edited by the Paul Kane and Marie O’Regan and featuring my story “Face of the Circus”. I’ll be signing, as will Rio Youers, James Lovegrove, Muriel Gray and the cover artist Ben Baldwin.

I’m incredibly excited about both these anthologies, as I’m very proud of those stories and I’m thrilled to be in such amazing line-ups.

###

Someone asked me whether I’ll be at the Big Solaris Give-Away & Signing on the Saturday afternoon: the answer to that is “sort of”. I’m not actually involved (I think the lovely Solaris crew will all need a bit of a break from me, to be honest…) but I may well be hovering somewhere in the background and I *will* be around most of Saturday afternoon – most likely either hanging out in the bar or running interference on launches and other events. So if you have a copy of BLOOD AND FEATHERS that you’d like me to sign, just keep an eye out for me and I’d be delighted to oblige!

As an aside, we’re also running a CHARITY CUPCAKE SALE on the FRIDAY AFTERNOON from 2 – 3pm (I think it’s in Bar Rogue, but please check the programme). All cakes are being made specifically by a group of crack volunteer bakers and have a fantasy theme. I’m told there *will* be some GF / vegan choices too, and all proceeds will go to the National Literacy Trust.

My contributions will have a Once Upon A Time theme, and (barring bakery disasters, which are entirely possible, given this is me…) be:

Rumpelstiltskin’s Revenge: chocolate & rum cupcakes with chocolate fudge icing… and plenty of gold.

Snow White: rose-flavoured cupcakes with vanilla icing

The Dark Curse: blackberry and lemon marbled cakes with chocolate icing

So there you go. FantasyCon’s shaping up to be a fantastic (gettit?) weekend all round. Weekend memberships are now sold out, but there may still be some day tickets available for the Saturday.

If you’re coming, I’ll see you in Brighton in a few days. The full programme is online here, with details of launches here. I’m looking forward to it….

Jukebox

Lots of writers use playlists when they work: I’ve seen some great ones online over the years, for all sorts of different books.

I’ve lost track of the number of songs I’ve killed by listening to them over and over and over and over again while I’m writing – a couple of Nero’s songs being a case in point. I had the two of them running as background while I wrote “At The Sign of the Black Dove” – my story in “Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse”.

The problem was that I put in a lot of hours on that story. Which meant the same two songs on a loop for many hours. This isn’t exactly helped by the fact that they turn up very early on the album, and it’s one of my husband’s favourite records.

We have the routine down to a fine art: he goes pottering off down to the kitchen. He puts some music on. Two chords later, there’s a howl of despair from my study, followed by my stomping down the stairs, grabbing the remote control (all the while muttering expletive-laden things like “Are you trying to kill me? Are you? ARE YOU?!”) and then disappearing back into my study. Door slamming optional.

It’s not that I don’t like the songs – I do – and it’s not like I’m scarred by the process of having written a story to them (well, only a little) but the second I hear them, I’m back in “work mode”. It’s the strangest thing.

Anyway. Because someone asked me a while back about the music I wrote to, I thought I’d round up the obvious ones. I do rather give away my love of dubstep, particularly when it comes to the short stories, I’m afraid…

BLOOD & FEATHERS:

I relied on this massively when I was writing. Given I wrote it in 4 different places: my old house, two rented flats and – most memorably – the balcony level of the Barbican Foyer (and yes, I still remember exactly which scenes I wrote there!) the playlist was the rock I clung to in order to keep things on an even keel. Now there’s a nice mixed metaphor for you.

Some of the songs go with particular scenes, some with particular characters, but the song on here which matters the most, if you like, is Linkin Park’s “When They Come For Me“. In part that’s because, hey, I like Linkin Park – but it’s also because this is where it all made sense. I can hang the whole book on this song.

All the Right Moves: OneRepublic

Make Me Wanna Die: The Pretty Reckless

Believe Me: Fort Minor

Slip Out the Back: Fort Minor

It’s Not the End of the World: LostProphets

Only Man (Jakwob Remix): Audio Bullys

Burning in the Skies: Linkin Park

When They Come For Me: Linkin Park

New Divide: Linkin Park

Dreamcatcher: Unicorn Kid

The Island, Pt I (Dawn) & Pt 2 (Dusk): Pendulum

Witchcraft (Rob Swire’s Drum-step Mix): Pendulum

Ich Tu Dir Weh: Rammstein

Bulletproof Heart: My Chemical Romance

The Only Hope For Me is You: My Chemical Romance

Teeth: Lady Gaga

Walking in Circles: Dead by Sunrise

Dead Reckoning: Clint Mansell

End Credits: Chase & Status with Plan B

For those of you on Spotify, my friend Paul (better known as @pablocheesecake on Twitter) has been an absolute sweetie and put a Spotify playlist together for all your BLOOD & FEATHERS listening needs. And you can find it here: spoti.fi/zGhqZN

The only thing not on there is Rammstein (which, let’s face it, isn’t surprising…). It’s very neat, and I’m incredibly grateful to Paul: thank you!

STORIES:

At The Sign of the Black DovePandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse.

An apocalyptic story needs an apocalyptic soundtrack… and in my head, this is exactly what the end of the world sounds like…

Nero – Doomsday

Nero: Fugue State

Murderess Lane: Hub Fiction

“Murderess Lane” is a story about another London – a London which always was, and always will be: the kind of London which has flagellants roaming the streets, and an underground chamber hung with bodies hidden in the heart of the City. It’s not a very nice place, and it’s confusing and noisy and frightening. So, naturally, while I was working on it, I listened to this.

Pendulum: Through the Loop

Kudos and cookies if you can name the sample. It’s easy, honest.

Signal Boost: Pandemonium

Anne Perry and Jared Shurin – better known collectively as the team behind amazing website Pornokitsch – today unveiled their latest dastardly plan to enslave humanity… project: “Pandemonium“, a post-apocalyptic anthology of original short stories.

Or, as they put it:

We’re very pleased to announce our first anthology of short fiction, Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse.

The collection features stories set at the end of the world, as imagined by some of the biggest names and hottest newcomers in science fiction.

Pandemonium collects over a dozen original stories inspired by the art of John Martin, and will be released this October to coincide with the Tate Gallery’s new exhibition of his work.  Martin (1789 – 1854) was a Romantic painter with a taste for sweeping Apocalyptic scenes. Although he never received much positive critical attention, his huge and wildly imaginative paintings were popular with the masses. Since his death, Martin’s reputation has gone through periods of complete insignificence and others of great renown. In short, he’s our type of guy.

Pandemonium will be edited by Pornokitsch’s Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin, with a foreword by Tom Hunter, director of the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Pandemonium will be available to purchase as an ebook through Amazon or the project website. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the UK’s most prestigious prize for science fiction literature.

For more information and to join the mailing list, check out www.pandemonium-fiction.com. A partial list of contributors is already on display, with several more to be announced soon.

This promises to be an outstanding collection, with some fantastic contributors, and looks about as exciting as anything which doesn’t feature Gerard Butler pouring me a margarita possibly could.

And anyway, who doesn’t love an apocalypse…?

Return to Murderess Lane

“May you live in interesting times.”

That’s the saying, isn’t it?

Boy, are my times interesting.

As I mentioned before, the Other Half and I sold our house and moved out just over a week ago.

There were a couple of delays in the purchase we were making, an old barn which needed renovating and converting, and while these were causing a bit of a headache they were no major problem: we’d rent somewhere for a couple of weeks, and it’d be fine.

Until the whole thing fell through.

Like I said, interesting times.

So for now, we’re holed up in a little flat on the edge of the City of London, not even a hundred yards from our old stomping ground of the Barbican. The deli I worked in after college is round the corner, as is the church where we were married. But more peculiar, for me, is living an offal-fling from Smithfield market again.

This is, hands down, my favourite part of London (and I’ve lived all over it in the last 12 or so years). Smithfield being a trade market specialising in meat, it’s nocturnal; the market itself locked-up and dead in the day. Despite the office workers buzzing round (and they do: we’re still in the City, just) and the traffic stampeding in and out of St Bartholomew’s Hospital (possibly my favourite saint: he’s the one who carries his own flayed skin over his arm. Lovely.) there’s still a hulking great behemoth in the midst of it all, silent until the sun goes down.

I wrote a story about Smithfield a while back. It’s one of my favourites, although sometimes I wonder whether I wrote it, or whether I uncovered it and that it’s about something that was always there and just needed the words lining up on the page.

When people think about the City, they think of banks and bonuses, skyscrapers and steel. They forget what’s underneath, and has been for a very, very long time. That was where “Murderess Lane” came from: the things that are hidden, and the things that should stay hidden—because the oldest cities are built of more than bricks and glass.

In a funny way, walking around these same places a decade after I last lived here, I feel like a ghost. Not quite connected to them as they are, but not seeing them as they were. Some things change; some things stay the same—but some parts of the City never do either. They adapt, and what was once above is pushed below, where it hides in the darkness; waiting to snatch at your ankles or whisper in your ear when you least expect it.

“Murderess Lane” was published in Hub Fiction #127. It’s still available online and free to read (if you like it—and are a BFS or Fantasycon member—I’d be thrilled if you considered recommending it in the “Short Story” category for this year’s British Fantasy Awards).

As for me? I’ve got plans. Well, a plan. Which you’ll agree is better than no plan at all. I might be a bit sporadic, but I’m still here. And in the meantime, I’ll be making sure I don’t go wandering into any dark alleys. Who knows what I might find…