Posts belonging to Category Short fiction & anthologies



She-Who-Thinks-For-Herself. A story free to read for International Women’s Day

Resurrection Engines - a steampunk anthology with a twist

First published in Resurrection Engines, an anthology of Scientific Romance published by Snowbooks, and edited by Scott Harrison.

We were invited to write a steampunk take on a classic of Victorian/Edwardian literature. I decided it was time for a Suffragette take on H. Rider Haggard.

An audio version is also available here via Far Fetched Fables, at District of Wonders

A Tale of Modern Women in the Dark Continent

My beloved aunt, Phyllis Charteris, has received none of the plaudits lavished on the laurel-garlanded heroes who explore the remote heart of Africa. The Royal Geographic Society might deign to acknowledge Mary Kingsley after the success of her publication, ‘Travels in West Africa’ but there is not one quarter-inch of a newspaper column recording my aunt’s achievements.

Such injustice has galled me ever since my return from the trackless swamps of the upper Zambesi. However I was sworn to secrecy for reasons which this narrative will soon explain.

Now Mr H Rider Haggard has published the reminiscences of his Cambridge acquaintance sheltering beneath the pseudonym “Horace Holly”. Consequently I am free to share my aunt’s achievements with the world.

But I am outstripping my story’s proper order. Our family’s ties with the Cape Colony were first established by my grandfather’s brothers, both mining engineers. When my brother Eustace took up a position with Lloyds Bank in Cape Town, I had recently concluded my studies at Somerville Hall in Oxford. I decided to go with him as his housekeeper but in hopes that this outpost of Empire might offer more opportunities for educated women than dismissing us as mere blue-stockings.

I had no notion of how wondrously my hopes would be fulfilled.

Naturally I was mindful of following in Aunt Phyllis’s footsteps. She had travelled out to marry a dear friend of one of her cousins, met when both young men returned home for their university education. Alas, her fiancé succumbed to malaria while she was on board ship. Declining to return to England, she joined her uncle’s household as governess to his younger children.

Family lore relates that Phyllis found herself ill-suited to such domesticity. When the ruins of Great Zimbabwe were discovered, she insisted on inspecting these wondrous remnants of lost civilisation for herself.

That was the last heard of her for over two decades. Now I am able to take up her story and a marvellous tale it is.

(more…)

Guest post – Juliana Spink Mills on a winter’s journey.

I’ve always loved reading fantasy books, and a huge part of the attraction has always been the settings for these stories. The rolling hills and woodlands of Narnia. The peaks and valleys in Cinda Williams Chima’s Seven Realms series. The rugged, empty beauty of the plains and mountains in Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy. All of these and many more come to mind, sometimes brought to life on a movie screen, other times allowed to bloom unhindered within my imagination.

A story’s setting determines a lot about the direction the tale will take. Choosing to toss your characters into a scorching desert – or a howling hurricane at sea – means opting for a specific approach to the narrative. Climate and season are an intrinsic part of this choice.

When I first heard about the Journeys anthology from Woodbridge Press, I immediately knew I wanted to write something set in winter. I’d recently seen The Revenant and, all things bear-related aside, I was fascinated by the way the movie uses the snow and cold as a protagonist in the story. It had been a while since I’d read or watched a tale where the setting is such a huge part of things: almost a sentient character in its own right, and not merely a backdrop to the events taking place.

The view from Juliana’s office…

I moved to suburban Connecticut three years ago, after spending almost my entire life in the sub-tropical, big city sprawl of São Paulo, Brazil. In São Paulo, seasonal planning means figuring out new routes to escape the traffic snarls during the summer rainstorms that periodically flood parts of the city and make everyone’s life a very damp nightmare. Suddenly, here I was in New England, stocking up on ice melt and bottled water, and reading endless articles on correct winter prep in the face of incoming snowstorms. Different is an understatement.

(Today, as I huddle over my laptop writing this, we’ve already had eight inches of fresh snow since last night and more is falling relentlessly. And ‘thunder snow’? Is a thing, apparently.)

I wanted my story for Journeys to reflect some of the challenges that living through a cold winter presents. Not the temporary snow-sun-sparkles joy of a ski trip or mountain holiday, where you can quickly shake off the shivers in front of a log fire with a mug of something warm, and then fly home when you’ve had enough. But the bone-deep chill of day after day of cold weather, and the ‘absolutely done with it’ feeling you get when March rolls around, and there’s still an entire iceberg of snow plow leftovers sitting in your driveway, big enough to sink a cruise ship or two.

Winter, with a capital W, in all its blazing, white, complicated, wet, nasty glory.

So now I had my setting. I had the feel I wanted to capture – trudging through snow, cold hands, cold face, and warm breath that quickly turns to ice when it condenses against your scarf. All I needed was a cast of slightly shady characters (because let’s face it, you’re not going to be out travelling in the middle of winter unless you’re deeply motivated!), and a somewhat stabby little plot to move them forward. Everything in position? Ready, set, frostbite.

Juliana Spink Mills is the author of the short story Fool’s Quest in the Journeys anthology, as well as the YA urban fantasy novel Heart Blade, Book 1 of the Blade Hunt Chronicles (Woodbridge Press, February 2017).

“I blog about a variety of incredibly random and not very serious things at www.jspinkmills.com, and you can find me on Twitter as @JSpinkMills.”

Guest post – Dan Jones on his “Journeys” story

One of the many interesting things about writing for an anthology is encountering new-to-me authors’ work, and thanks to the wonders of the Internet, getting to know those authors themselves. Here are some interesting thoughts and observations from Dan Jones on his own path to having a story in the new Journeys anthology.

Dan Jones on his “Journeys” story – and the importance of the one before that…

When Woodbridge Press announced their open call for their forthcoming fantasy anthology Journeys, back in Spring 2016, I was immediately hooked. A stellar line-up had already been secured, including such illuminaries of the genre as Julia Knight, Adrian Tchaikovsky, John Gwynne and Gail Z. Martin – not to mention our esteemed editor Teresa Edgerton – and so I decided I would apply.

My successful submission to Journeys capped off an interesting learning experience: I had just come off the back of a rejection from Woodbridge for their previous call for submissions for the excellent Explorations: First Contact, for which I’d submitted a short story that was ultimately rejected for being not mainstream enough for the collection.

It’s highly tempting for us writers to sometimes get lost in our art, to spend so long considering the deep thematic resonance, the recurring motifs, the profound messages that occasionally we forget such fundamentals as a compelling plot and interesting characters; I am definitely guilty of sometimes getting a bit overexcited about form and structure, and it came back to bite me with that particular rejection.

For the next call, I cast aside my pretences, and for Journeys I decided to write a simple, rollicking adventure story, and it got accepted. It’s a worthwhile thing to remember: know your audience, write for your audience, and keep it simple.

Well, at least start simple, and then add the flourishes when you have the basics in place. My Journeys story, A Warm Heart, started with a very simple premise; a world-weary assassin-in-training, Tarqvist, is unwillingly joined by an unexpected companion on his first assignment, a wise-cracking, annoying and arrogant young girl he calls Nobody. From this simple set-up almost anything is possible, and it was liberating to consider all the fun things, like theme and structure, once the initial foundations were sound.

Conversely, if I think back to the story that was rejected for Explorations, I was more interested in establishing the structure first – a non-linear sequence of dream-like scenarios – and only applied plot and character afterwards, and it must have showed. It’s a well-known trope among writers that there really are only a small and finite number of plots (Christopher Booker famously posited that there are in fact only seven), so it stands to reason that establishing your plot (and the characters who will travel along that plotline) should be the first thing to get right before one starts dabbling in the trickier arts of form, structure and theme.

I’m super grateful for that rejection, as it taught me a valuable lesson and helped shape the story that now sits inside this superb collection of stories and authors, which I’m proud and exhilarated to be a part of. What’s more, it’s one of a handful of books I’ll be having published this year, including my debut novel, Man O’War, to be published by Snowbooks in October, so it’s a grand start to the year for me personally.

It’s fitting that the theme for the collection is Journeys, as I feel as though I’ve been on my own mini-quest in getting here, just as have all the other authors, I’m sure. We’re all journeymen in this business, you know.

Dan Jones is a science fiction and fantasy writer, but when not writing he works for the UK Space Agency on a space robotics technology programme, which comes in rather handy for coming up with new story ideas. His debut novel, Man O’War, will be published in October 2017 by Snowbooks.

Twitter: @dgjones81
website: www.danjonesbooks.com.

“Journeys” on Amazon UK

“Journeys” on Amazon US

“Journeys”, “The Road to Hadrumal”, and a story’s journey

Today sees the publication of an anthology which I’m very pleased to be part of: Journeys (from Woodbridge Press) offers fourteen epic fantasy stories of daring, death and glory from an array of talented and interesting authors. To be precise, there are tales from John Gwynne, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Gail Z. Martin, me, Julia Knight, Juliana Spink Mills, Jacob Cooper, Samanda R Primeau, Steven Poore, Davis Ashura, Dan Jones, Charlie Pulsipher, Anna Dickinson, and Thaddeus White.

My own story? Well, I may not be writing novels set in Einarinn at the moment but that world is still very much in my thoughts, both in terms of what’s going on with all the characters we know and also, I find I reflect now and then, on key moments in that world’s history. The Road to Hadrumal picks up on some hints dropped throughout those books, from The Thief’s Gamble all the way to The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy, about the origins of wizardry’s organisation. I thought I’d look a little more closely at Trydek, the very first Archmage. Who was he, before he became the revered father of magic? Before he made his way to Hadrumal? What prompted him to make that particular journey? What sent elemental magic down the path that’s lead to its power and influence in Einarinn’s present day?

Well, you can read the story to find out. What I want to talk about here is how writing this particular story enabled me to show a group of aspiring SF&Fantasy writers the journey that a piece of fiction takes, whether you’re just starting out, or whether you’re someone like me with fifteen novels and umpteen short stories to your credit. More than that, I’m convinced that every story must take this journey if it’s going to be worth reading.

Last December I was teaching on a residential course at Moniack Mhor, the Scottish Creative Writing Centre, up near Inverness. As part of my preparation, I had submissions from the students to critique. This means I arrived a folder of pages extensively marked up with red pen… Now, getting your work back covered in queries, suggestions and corrections is not necessarily an easy thing to handle. Writing’s such an intensely personal thing and we invest so much time and effort in it, that seeing it criticized can really sting. I know that full well myself. So what could I offer these keen writers, to ease that impact?

I realised I could show them the editorial notes that I had been sent for this particular story. As it happened, that was a page’s worth. Now, Teresa Edgerton knows what she’s doing. She started off by telling me what she particularly liked in the story, highlighting original angles that had caught her eye and complimenting me on my clean prose. That was about three or four lines worth.

And then… she highlighted the things which I needed to address in that final draft story. Points where the pace needed looking at. Points where character motivations and their reactions needed further consideration. Points where what I had written might challenge reader engagement. She offered a few thoughts on possible routes to pursue, though of course, as all good editors agree, deciding what to do was up to me. It’s my story after all.

Those notes filled the rest of the page. Did this mean this was a bad story? Did this mean I was kidding myself calling myself a writer? Did it mean that I’d learned nothing over those fifteen novels and however many stories? Not at all. I’m an experienced author and I’ve learned to demand a high standard of myself. (Go and read some of these free stories if you want to check.)

But every story needs fresh eyes. In this particular instance, Teresa’s viewpoint was invaluable and all the more so because she’s not an established reader of my Einarinn books. Her comments made me realise that I had been subconsciously writing for people with a far greater knowledge of my existing work than was either fair or desirable in a story like this. Among other things, I was presuming background knowledge that would generate tension that wasn’t there on the page. I was including additional details to tweak tantalizing loose threads from the novels which played no direct part in these events.

Was I thrilled to learn this? No, of course I wasn’t, not initially. I told you that feedback can sting, even now, even just a little bit. Surely my story was perfect? I must have grumbled into my coffee for oh, at least two minutes…

Then I told myself that was more than enough self-indulgence and got to work. Because on my personal journey as a writer over nearly twenty years now, I’ve learned that this is how writing good fiction works. So I sat and thought and then I tightened things up here and there. I cut and trimmed elsewhere, and clarified this and that. It wasn’t a great deal of work but now that I had seen this story through Teresa’s eyes, I had a whole new, sharper focus.

So that’s the story of this particular tale’s journey. Enjoy!

Oh, and those aspiring writers at Moniack Mhor? They worked with me so positively on my feedback that I have great hopes of their future success.

“Journeys” on Amazon UK

“Journeys” on Amazon US

The ‘Journeys’ Anthology. My first publication of 2017!

Pre-publication news! As of 15th February, the new anthology ‘Journeys’ will be available. Fourteen tales of daring, death, and glory, by fourteen talented writers – to be specific: myself alongside John Gwynne, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Gail Z. Martin, Julia Knight, Juliana Spink Mills, Jacob Cooper, Samanda R Primeau, Steven Poore, Davis Ashura, Dan Jones, Charlie Pulsipher, Anna Dickinson, and Thaddeus White

Better yet, the ebook’s currently available for pre-order at the princely sum of 99 pence (Amazon UK) or $1.19 (Amazon US)

My particular story is The Road to Hadrumal which longstanding readers will be interested to learn features Trydek, the very first Archmage of Einarinn. Not that you have to have read any of my work for this story to make sense. Indeed, making sure of that was one of the most interesting aspects of this particular writing process. But I’ll write more fully on that in due course.

Revisiting the Icicle Witch and the days before The River Kingdom

Artwork & layout by Ben Baldwin

Artwork & layout by Ben Baldwin

Those who’ve enjoyed the short stories free to read on this website will find a familiar name in the tale ‘A Warning Shiver’, which is now to be found in the new ‘Shadow Histories’ collection. They will discover that the Icicle Witch is now firmly entrenched in River Kingdom folklore, years after the first references to her, in ‘Patience, a Womanly Virtue’ which you can read here.

Is this all part of some cunning writerly plan, eight years in the making? That story was first published in the British Fantasy Society Yearbook 2009 after all. Sorry, no. ‘Patience’ is simply another short story where I was exploring elements that I first started putting together in the new collection’s first two stories, ‘Walking Shadows’ and ‘Noble Deceit’. The Sun Goddess and the Moon God both feature, along with the religious orders that honour them, as well as noble barons owing fealty to a king.

Though it’s interesting to look at this tale alongside the other Shadow Histories stories. It’s now apparent, with the benefit of hindsight, that this is a tale from the days of long ago, before the River Kingdom was established. It’s a story of a fragile and disputed royal succession, and of the merciless lengths some people will go to, in order to secure their own power. As well as the enduring power of enmity and the way such hatreds take on a life of their own.

Where did the idea of the Icicle Witch come from? I’m honestly not sure, other than recalling my thoughts turning to cold and ice, when I was looking for a concept of malice to set against the twin and cooperative, complementary deities embodied in the Sun and the Moon. I’d say it’s fairly obvious my subconscious went riffling through memories from my childhood reading, to draw on Narnia’s White Witch and Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen, among other precursors.

I decided not to include this story in the new collection. For one thing, it’s been free to read here for a good while now. More than that, all the other stories take place in the same general time frame, generations later, when the River Kingdom is secure and prosperous. The collection’s tales also all have a magical element that’s notably absent here.

But still… if the myth of the Icicle Witch was already becoming common currency in rumour so many years before, how would such folklore become manifest in the era of the Shadow Histories? As soon as I wondered that, I realised I had the basis for a new and original story. That was something I wanted to write for this book, so that even my keenest readers will find something they’ve never seen before.

As for the sequence of events between the days of Valdese wreaking her patient vengeance, and the unquestioned rule of the Paramount King? That remains to be seen… and perhaps, written…

To learn more about the River Kingdom, its places, its peoples and its magic, click here.

For links to buy the Shadow Histories collection, click here

Got a story about Robots, Water or Death? Here’s your chance!

Excellent news – the ZNB Kickstarter to fund these three new anthologies has reached its funding target! Here’s what our lovely backers will be reading –

SUBMERGED is to feature science fiction or fantasy stories that are set underwater at some point. It does not have to be set completely underwater, but at some point the events of the story must lead in a natural way to an underwater adventure. There should be a significant reason for why the action must take place underwater; this should NOT be a story where it easily be rewritten on land and maintain its cohesion. We are attempting to fill half of the anthology with science fiction stories, and half with fantasy stories. Stories featuring more interesting settings underwater and twists on the typical underwater themes will receive more attention than those that use standard underwater tropes. In other words, we don’t want to see 100 stories dealing with Atlantis. If we do, it’s likely that only one, at most, would be selected for the anthology. So be creative, choose something different, and use it in an unusual and unexpected way. We are looking for a range of tones, from humorous all the way up to dark.

ALL HAIL OUR ROBOT CONQUERORS! is to feature stories where the robots of the story somehow harken back to the 50s/60s style of robots. The story can be set in the far future, but at some point there should be a significant nod toward the robots from that era—either a significantly advanced robot that is simply housed in a 50s/60s style shell, or a robot exactly like those from the 50s/60s but used in an interesting and believable way in the story. Stories featuring more interesting takes on the 50s/60s style robots, and twists on how they are integrated into the story, will receive more attention than those with more generalized robots. So be creative and use your robot in an unusual and unexpected way. We are looking for a range of tones, from humorous all the way up to dark.

THE DEATH OF ALL THINGS is to feature stories where Death is a character in the story. The version of Death used should be unique, so consider all different types of versions of Death seen throughout history and in different cultures. Stories featuring more interesting takes on Death, and twists on how Death is integrated into the story, will receive more attention than those with more standard depictions of Death. So be creative and use Death in an unusual and unexpected way. We are looking for a range of tones, from humorous all the way up to dark.

Now, as I’ve mentioned before, one reason why I enjoy being part of these projects is each ZNB anthology offers open submission slots. This really is a great chance for aspiring writers to be involved in a thoroughly professional publication.

So while I get on with firming up my ideas for a ‘Death of All Things’ story, have you got a tale ready to be told, or even just the see of an idea for one or more of these themes? Get thinking and writing!

Always remembering to read the Submission Guidelines in full – click here.

znb-submerged

So epublishing’s great for short stories – but how exactly do you do an anthology…?

The advent of ebooks has made all sorts of differences to the publishing landscape. The resurgence of shorter form fiction is merely one example. Now we’re seeing standalone stories about our favourite characters. We’re seeing writers gathering up short stories they’ve written for widely scattered publications and issuing them as collections (like my River Kingdom stories). We’re seeing authors getting together to write stories around a common theme – with some uncommonly good results, as seen in ‘Alien Artifacts’. Readers can now enjoy all these different approaches via their phones and tablets, as they travel to and from work and/or in other bits and pieces of downtime which don’t necessarily suit the next chapter of a novel.

But as with so much in epublishing, just throwing something together and throwing it out there isn’t going to win success. There’s just as much hard work involved, requiring the application of specific skills, involved in making an anthology which people will read, enjoy and recommend, as there is in epublishing a novel. One key difference is – there’s all manner of useful advice out there on how to write a good book. How to put together a decent anthology? Not so much.

Realising this has thankfully prompted Joshua Palmatier to embark on a detailed and illuminating series of posts, drawn from his own experience editing anthologies first for DAW and more recently for ZNBLLC. If you’re thinking of doing any sort of collection, this is essential reading. Even if you’re not, I’ll bet you’ll learn something new and useful.

And since we’re here, let’s check on the latest ZNB Kickstarter – for three intriguing anthologies so far. At the time of writing? $16,899 pledged of the $20,000 goal with 8 days to go.

Close enough to be thrilling. Far enough away to be challenging. I really do want to see these anthologies funded, so if you haven’t already checked them out, do go and take a look!

ZNB-alien artefacts

So how’s ‘The Death of All Things’ coming along?

Let’s have a quick look at the new Kickstarter from ZNB. Okay, doing nicely so far but a fair way to go before the finish line. Do take a look because these anthologies promise a great choice of excellent reading – as well as the opportunity for new writers to submit their work to one or more of three thoroughly professional projects. And there are all sorts of bonus offers and incentives for backers.

What’s my incentive? I want to write a story for the ‘Death’ anthology. How could I not, with my lifelong fascination with myth and legend? It’s one of the universals, the book-end to the origin stories which tell us so much about a culture and its world view. Some belief systems have more than one aspect of Death personified. Some are benign, some are neutral while others are malicious. Some are male, some are female, some are animal. Some manifest with multiple aspects.

What about the various guides and guardians of the newly dead? Sometimes you’ll get some warning – is that a good thing or not so much? Sometimes who you meet depends on how you died. Got a couple of coins in your pocket for the Ferryman after breathing your last in bed? Or are you hoping that ‘the Kindly Ones’ will avenge your untimely slaying down some dark alley?

What about all the stories of those who thought they could cheat or mock Death and get away with it? That’s merely one aspect of encounters with Death which persists in popular fantasy fiction; in the Discworld most of all but cropping up here and there in TV series as varied as Supernatural and Reaper.

How could I not want to tackle the challenge of finding some new facet of all this to explore, in ‘The Death of All Things’?

Just as my fellow authors are keen to dive into the depths of ‘Submerged’ or get to grips with the nuts and bolts of ‘All Hail Our Robot Conquerors’.

Back the Kickstarter and help make all this happen 🙂

What I wrote on my holidays – stories for Novacon!

This year sees Novacon 46, the UK’s longest running regional SF convention and I have the considerable honour of being the Guest of Honour. As programme and other plans are now being finalised, it’s safe to say I’m going to have a hugely enjoyable weekend on 11th-13th November, along with everyone else.

But there’s still more to this particular honour. Novacon has a tradition of publishing a special, limited and numbered edition of a chapbook by their Guests of Honour each year. So while I was away for the past few weeks, I polished up my own contribution to this series. I’ve written two stories. One’s a fantasy set in the River Kingdom, exploring another facet of this new world I’m currently creating. The other’s a science fiction tale, to honour the Birmingham SF Group‘s fine tradition.

And this is where it get’s even better. David A. Hardy is doing the chapbook cover – and what I’ve seen thus far is awesome. That’s not the only reason I’m so thrilled though; as an epic fantasy writer, it never occurred to me that I’d be lucky enough to have him illustrate my words.

I’m a huge admirer of David’s work, seen on so many of my favourite SF novels for literally decades – and in so many other places. Just this week, I learned that he did the planetary backgrounds for the second series of Blake’s 7! I seriously recommend you find the time for a good long browse of his website. If you’re ever at a convention where he’s the Artist Guest of Honour, do NOT miss the opportunity to see and hear him explain his working process. Even for non-artists like me, his slideshow and commentary is utterly fascinating.

So what’s this particular SF story about? Well, it’s another tale set on Titan Lagrange Four, the deep space industrial facility I first visited in my story for ‘Eve of War‘. I do find space stations fascinating. The notion of an enclosed environment. What happens when a situation prompts ‘fight or flight?’ The need for multiply redundant and fail-safe systems, because if something goes badly enough wrong, there’s a good chance that everyone will die. Except, the people out there can’t let things like this prey on their mind or they’d never be able to function. I remember having a fascinating conversation along these lines with a scientist working on North Sea oil rigs, when I was visiting the Aberdeen SF society many years ago… And then there are all the different possibilities for a space station’s functions? These aren’t the only reasons why Deep Space Nine is my favourite Star Trek series, but it’s definitely a factor. The same goes for Babylon 5.

So I’m really looking forward to Novacon. If you fancy joining the fun, you can find out all the details here.

And incidentally, if you’ve read The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy, you may like to read Helena Bowles’ review of the series in the convention Progress Report 2 – downloadable here. She not only gets what I’m aiming for with these books but also highlights relationships between some aspects that I hadn’t consciously articulated to myself, if that makes any sense. I do like reviews that show me something new about my own work!