infinity plus highlight: Spotted Lily by Anna Tambour

“a wicked, thoroughly unpredictable romp” –Locus

Spotted Lily by Anna TambourAngela Pendergast, escapee from the Australian bush, grew up with the smell of hot mutton fat in her hair, the thought of her teeth crunching a cold Tim Tam chocolate biscuit-the height of decadent frivolity.

Now, though her tastes have grown and she knows absolutely what she wants, her life is embarrassingly stuck. So when the Devil drops into her bedroom in her sharehouse in inner-city Sydney with a contract in hand, she signs. He’s got only a Hell’s week to fulfil his side, but in the meantime he must chaperone her … or is it the other way around?

Shortlisted for the William L. Crawford Award.
Locus Recommended Reading List selection.

“I hate giving away the story, but allow me to say that this novel is not going where you think it is….teaming with genuine wit and humor… excellent writing…One thing I’m sure of is that it should be required reading for all those who go into writing fiction with dreams of great remuneration and fame. If it were, Tambour would already be both wealthy and famous.”
Jeffrey Ford14theditch

“…a wicked, thoroughly unpredictable romp . . . Spotted Lily might just be a particularly inventive comic take on wish-fulfillment, but soon enough it strays far from the beaten path…a dizzying but delightful journey through old myths and modern chaos, turning Faust and Pygmalion on their ear as it cuts its own path toward something like self-knowledge.”
Faren MillerLocus

“The main thing is, the novel is real.”
Jeff VanderMeer

“One of the things I liked most about this book was that it was so difficult to tell where it was going…the book is so well written that for a lot of the time you don’t actually notice that it has a supernatural element to it.”
Cheryl MorganEmerald City

“Funny, believable, refreshingly different . . . Perhaps most of all it is a very funny book, without being what you would call a comedy. . . Anna Tambour, on the strength of Spotted Lily and her earlier story collection,Monterra’s Deliciosa & Other Tales &, is one of the most delightful, original, and varied new writers on hand. “
Rich HortonSF Site

More about Spotted Lily.

Extract

‘How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?’ I asked.

‘Six, I think. But, really, dear, this is not my field.’

‘And I read somewhere that you turn us into sort of butterflies, and keep us in lacquered boxes with airholes, for transport.’

‘I couldn’t possibly comment on that.’

The Devil and I were sitting in my room, getting to know each other. He’d just been accepted in our sharehouse, ‘Kitty is thirty-five dollars a week, no coffee or coffee substitutes or power drinks included’ for the room next to mine, which was convenient for both of us.

It was Pledge Week, and we had to make the most of our time, but to do that, we had to get to know each other a little better.

I changed the subject.

‘Why do you have Pledge Week?’

He examined the pressed tin ceiling, seeming to be considering whether he should answer. When I had almost forgotten my question, he answered. ‘We have to. We lose too many to heaven these days.’

I knew I had to learn fast, but if he didn’t start to make sense, this was not going to work. ‘Come again?’

He cocked an eyebrow at me, then scratched himself behind somewhere and examined his nails. I tried not to look at his hands. As he wasn’t forthcoming, I tried again. ‘Isn’t forever forever?’

‘Ah … Yes, it is, in hell as it is on earth. But you make the rules, not we. And when you change your minds, you do manage to make an ado for us.’

‘Like what? Please don’t speak in riddles.’

‘A regular omnium-gatherum of disorder, don’t you know?’

I obviously didn’t.

‘A tumult, bother, hubbub, farrago of disorder. A regular huggermugger of change that we could well do without.’

I still didn’t understand his words in this context, and with some of them, in any context. What the hell sprang to mind, but the words that came out were, ‘Could you give me an example?’

He sighed.

‘And could you please try to speak in more accessible language. We are in twenty-first century Australia here. You do keep up, don’t you? You must have some Australians there.’

He bowed, a trifle condescendingly. ‘I will try. Eh, you know, don’t you read the papers? Don’t you see what you’re doing to us? It messes our morale something awful, you know.’

Although the ‘Eh’ was New Zealand, and he was trying a leeetle too hard, I couldn’t quibble with his delivery. However, I was no closer to understanding. I think he must have thought me frustratingly dense, because his brows beetled, and I felt a prickle of sweat chill my back. He waved his hand, and in it appeared an International Herald Tribune. ‘Look at this article,’ he commanded, and threw the paper into my lap. It was singed but readable, and two days old.

I had no idea which article, so began to read down the first page, with rising panic.

‘Oh dear. I do so apologize,’ he said, in either an apologetic or a patronizing tone. It was so hard to read him. He grabbed the paper and opened it up, folded it neatly, and handed it back. ‘Read that,’ he pointed, ‘and do try to think. Think about the after-effects.’

hate it when someone talks to me like that. But I read.

ANGLONG VENG, Cambodia In a case of Disneyland meets the killing fields, Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism is drawing up grandiose plans to upgrade the final stronghold of the Khmer Rouge into a million-dollar theme park.

I looked up, grinning. ‘This is a joke, isn’t it?’

He scowled, something I do not wish to see again. ‘Do I look like a jokester,’ he asked, rhetorically. ‘Read on.’

I did, all of it, including the part that said:

“Pol Pot was a kind man and the only people killed during the Khmer Rouge time were Vietnamese spies,” said Kim Syon, director of the Anglong Veng health center and son of a senior Khmer Rouge leader. “In the next 10 years people will begin to see the positive result of what Pol Pot did.”

I wanted to wash. ‘But this is gross.’

‘No, love, it is normal,’ the Devil said sadly. Do you know how many people we will lose, and do you know what our futures markets are saying about the new arrivals whom we had banked on for the next few years?’

Whomnow. Was he having me on? Was the ‘on’ itself, the dangling preposition—snide? And … and futures markets. Wait a bloody minute. I thought of something Dad said whenever he met someone he thought was serving him potato skin and calling it bangers and mash: ‘There’s something crook in Muswellbrook.’ I felt in this conversation with the Devil, like I was standing in Muswellbrook’s main street as the main attraction—the town fool. It was about time I assert myself.

‘You’re shitting me,’ I told him. ‘Why are you trying to take advantage of my gullibility?’

His eyelashes fluttered. ‘Oh dearie me. You asked, and I’m telling you how it is. I never lie.’

I shot him a look that would pierce most people of my acquaintance.

He looked blandly back. However, he seemed truthful.

But first, I had to take care of something that was making this getting-to-know all the harder. ‘Would it be possible if you don’t call me “dear” or “love”? In my culture, it is kind of a put-down.’

He might have been miffed, for he said, ‘Miss Pendergast—’

We could not go on like this. ‘Excuse me, but “Miss” isn’t something I’ve been called since I was fifteen, by anyone with whom I wish to associate.’

He looked uncomfortable, and his brows began to move.

‘My friends call me Angela,’ I added quickly, and then wondered if that would offend. ‘Would you mind calling me Angela?’ Or if you prefer, any other name would be fine. Like maybe Imelda. Someone you know.’

‘Imelda?’

She was the only one who came to mind. Perhaps not dead yet.

I was wracking my brains when he coughed. I looked at his face and he smiled. ‘Angela has a certain ring to it. Look, Angela. Think of Jefferson. Do you know Thomas Jefferson?’

‘Yeah. Great American forefather. I don’t imagine you would know him.’

He scratched somewhere I don’t want to know again, this time with a smug grin. ‘You obviously don’t keep up. He’s in our place now. Something to do with his love life.’

‘You mean…’

‘You decide, we abide, my, er … Angela. And we must keep abiding, which means that our populations are forever moving back and forth … and even disappearing and appearing again.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Caligula? You do know of him?’

‘I saw the movie.’

‘Before the movie.’

I don’t like to be reminded of what I don’t know, but thought it best not to obfuscate. ‘No.’

‘You don’t have to feel defensive. Caligula was a wonderful … what would you say … resident, for centuries, and then faded away. He’s only recently come back to us. And with your attention span these days, it could be that we only have the pleasure of his company for one or two of your years.’

‘Unless “Caligula” is re-released,’ I mumbled, thinking.

‘Come again?’

‘Skip it,’ I said, still thinking.

Suddenly a sharp tang of stink stung my eyes and jammed its choking fumes down my windpipe.

‘I do demand respect,’ he said.

‘Sorry,’ I mouthed. And I was. It was impossible to breathe.

He waved his hand and the worst evaporated.

‘Sorry,’ I repeated, to clear the air completely. ‘I think I’m beginning to understand. ‘But don’t you gain from heaven, too?’

‘Yes. Like I said, we’ve got Jefferson now, and the markets say we’ll have Ghandi soon. You know Ghandi?’ he added somewhat condescendingly.

‘Yes,’ I said, somewhat hurt.

‘Well, it is hard to tell, you know.’

‘The markets?’ I had to ask.

I was secretly (though I couldn’t let it show) happy that he looked at last, confused. ‘Don’t you know markets?’ he asked.  ‘Futures trading? I thought you were all obsessed with it nowadays.’

‘Not all of us,’ I had to remind him. And all of a sudden I realized that for all his ultra-cool appearance, he was remarkably ignorant. Very gently and respectfully I asked, ‘You don’t know much about us, do you?’

‘What do you mean?’ he answered, and I was happy to smell that he wasn’t offended.

‘Well, here we are in a share house, and maybe you need some background on your housemates. Kate, remember—the one who chaired the interview today. She teaches ethnic studies at Sydney Uni, but she also inherited this house which was an investment from her North Shore parents who didn’t think enough of her to leave it to her unmortgaged. So then there’s us tenants who are also her housemates. Jason, who is going to bug you to death on your implants. Did you see his bifurcated tongue? It’s very like yours.’

‘I didn’t notice. I was looking at his tattoos.’

‘They’re only part of his performance. He is a work in progress.’

The Devil yawned.

I tried not to gag. ‘Do you mind if I light a cone?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Incense. I like to burn incense. Little cones of scented natural dried stuff.’

He waved his hand graciously. ‘Be my guest.’

I was crawling over to the little table with its celadon saucer and collection of Celestial Sky, thinking I should possibly change brand names tomorrow, when he grabbed my arm with a grip you might expect the Devil to have.

I thought I was about to die, or whatever.

‘It’s not garlic, is it?’

‘Never,’ I managed to smile.

‘I do apologize,’ he said after a final little squeeze. I felt like a fruit. ‘Did I hurt you?’ he asked solicitously.

‘Only a bit,’ I lied. ‘But what do you care?’

He shrugged, the same shrug as the bank manager gave me in some little French coastal town when he refused to cash my travellers cheque because my signature on it didn’t exactly match the one on my passport.

‘That reminds me,’ I said, (though it hadn’t—I just needed to change the subject), as the scent of, I think it was called ‘Bavaghindra’ filled the room. ‘Why do you have Pledge Week?’

‘You aren’t very perspicacious,’ he observed. ‘Pledge Week,’ he said slowly as if I were a child, ‘is necessary because, outside of our permanent population of futures markets operators, Pledge Week provides the only new source of once acquired, stable and permanent population that we have.’

The fingers of fate frolicked upon my back in a most disconcerting manner. I shrugged, which not only made me feel great and I hope, annoyed him in the same can’t-admit-it way as his shrug did to me, but I think established my position far closer to the peer level necessary to our smooth working relationship.

He must have thought I still did not understand. ‘When you come with me—’

‘My coming is forever.’

We looked into each other’s eyes for so long that I wondered whether it was a blink contest. Eventually I had to blink. ‘That is correct,’ he said. ‘When you come with me, your coming is forever.’ And his face changed from its solemnity, to one of Christmas cheer.

The actual elements of his smile, when I could steel myself to really look, were rather heart-flutteringly beautiful, and not at all like Jason’s barracuda-shaped mouth of crooked, filed teeth. The smile of the Devil was broad, and his teeth looked good enough to be capped.

Buy this ebook from: Amazon US - Amazon UK - Amazon Canada - Barnes and Noble - Kobo - Apple - Smashwords - Robot Trading Company


new: Rites of Passage by Eric Brown

Rites of Passage by Eric BrownRites of Passage gathers four long stories, one of which is original to the collection. “Bartholomew Burns and the Brain Invaders” features a Victorian London facing the threat of alien invasion and the mysterious ‘Guardian’ who saves the day. “Guardians of the Phoenix” is set in a near-future, post-apocalyptic world where water is in short supply and roaming bands will do anything to obtain it, while “Sunworld” is about a strange world where the sun is fixed eternally overhead and Yarrek Merwell makes a discovery that will change everything. The longest story in the collection, “Beneath the Ancient Sun” has never appeared before and is set on a far-future Earth where giant crabs and a swollen sun threaten humanity’s very existence.

Eric Brown’s stories combine memorable characters, fascinating settings, and a passionate concern for story-telling that has made this BSFA award-winning author one of the leaders of the field.

Buy this ebook from: Amazon US - Amazon UK - Barnes and Noble - Kobo -Apple - Smashwords

Buy this book in print (ISBN: 1499500319): Amazon US - Amazon UK - CreateSpace - Barnes and Noble - and other booksellers

“Brown sketches a complex world full of bitter idealists and fantastic landscapes where nothing is as it seems”Publishers Weekly

“Eric Brown spins a terrific yarn” SFX

“This is the rediscovery of wonder” Stephen Baxter on Helix

“SF suffused with a cosmopolitan and literary sensibility” Paul McAuley

“Brown’s spectacular creativity creates a constantly compelling read” Kirkus Book Reviews


new: Fish Eats Lion – New Singaporean Speculative Fiction, edited by Jason Erik Lundberg

Fish Eats Lion - New Singaporean Speculative Fiction edited by Jason Erik LundbergFish Eats Lion collects the best original speculative fiction from Singapore – fantasy, science fiction, and the places in between – all anchored with imaginative methods to the Lion City.

These twenty-two stories, from emerging writers publishing their first work to winners of the Singapore Literature Prize and the Cultural Medallion, explore the fundamental singularity of the island nation in a refreshing variety of voices and perspectives.

This anthology is a celebration of the vibrant creative power underlying Singapore’s inventive prose stylists, where what is considered normal and what is strange are blended in fantastic new ways.

[Note: This ebook edition does not include Stephanie Ye's "The Story of the Kiss", only available in the print edition.]

Ebook available from: Amazon US - Amazon UK - Barnes and Noble - Kobo -Apple - Smashwords

“Lundberg combines accessibility with a uniquely Singaporean flavor in his selections. SF readers looking to expand their horizons will enjoy visiting new worlds from an unaccustomed point of view.” – Publishers Weekly

“I doubt I’ll read a more engaging collection this year. [...] There’s a rich optimism to be found here that speaks of lesser-known spec-fic writers rising to a challenge, and that challenge being more than adequately met.” – Pete Young, Big Sky

“Entertaining in this post-colonial era, it hints at how storytellers can become mythmakers, with the power to change the world.” – Akshita Nanda, The Straits Times


new: Future Perfect by Chris Evans and Roy Kettle

I love the look of this one. I’m not familiar with Roy’s work (he co-wrote several novels with John Brosnan), but I do know Chris’s writing which immediately makes this a must-read for me. The print edition is out now, with an ebook version to follow soon:

Future Perfect by Chris Evans and Roy Kettle

Amazon US / Amazon UK
Future Perfect website

Future Perfect by Chris Evans and Roy KettleNot many people knew Leo Parrish or were aware of his science-fiction stories. Even fewer people noticed when he disappeared. So why, 50 years later, is everyone looking for his work? The police, the FBI, the cult of Ascendancy, religious fanatics. And how is all this linked to President Muvart of Khanistan and his wild threats against the USA, or Ryan Carmichael, the notoriously unpredictable Hollywood star?

Nick Randall, head of Xponential Films, simply wants to make a movie based on one of Parrish’s stories. But he’s being followed, attacked, interrogated, misled. His office is burgled and his computer hacked. Being caught up in one conspiracy would be bad enough. But he seems to be involved in several. And no one wants him to find Parrish’s stories. Not even the woman he loves.

FUTURE PERFECT is a modern thriller with lots of military, scientific and political intrigue, set both in the UK and the US. Readers will have their own views as to whether it’s science fiction or not. But the world of science fiction is integral to the story from writers, magazines and political paranoia in the 1950s to modern books, TV, graphic novels, digital newszines, an international SF-related cult, a World Science Fiction Convention and even an American theme park inspired by science fiction views of the future.

“Future Perfect is a sharp, witty, ingenious conspiracy thriller set in the worlds of science fiction geekery, political chicanery and crackpot cultery that skewers real-life analogues with merciless precision while advancing unsettling notions of the way our lives have been shaped by fifty years of true believers. Roy Kettle and Chris Evans know this world from the inside, and yet open it up to the uninitiated. I enjoyed this book immensely and the alien waves penetrating my tinfoil hat convince me that you will too.” Kim Newman – journalist, film critic, and award-winning fiction writer, author of the ANNO DRACULA series.

“A dogged amateur sleuth, a trail of clues through the jungle of mid-twentieth-century pulp fiction, and a startling conspiracy theory. The revelations keep you hooked and the detail sparkles. Unmissable.” Stephen Baxter – award-winning science fiction writer, author of THE LONG WAR with Terry Pratchett.


Carpe diem as a political response

A personal post, for a change…

~

I used to be committed.

I used to think that there was a future in collective action, that we were in a process of coming to understand the impact our resource-hungry species was having on the planet and maybe we might just find a solution that would give us some hope of a future. Some kind of liberal, hippyish blend of technology and changed lifestyle might just emerge.

I worked with campaigning groups, I supported the right charities, I lived what was my best attempt at a sustainable, ethical lifestyle. Perhaps the culmination of this was nearly ten years ago when I stood in local council elections for the Green Party, not with even the remotest possibility of getting elected but in the belief that by having candidates in every election in the country we were helping establish the credibility of a growing political force.

No more.

After that election I started to withdraw, to lose faith. For me it became increasingly difficult to sustain any belief that we were heading for anything but calamity. I’ve written about the kind of near future I see in a couple of novels (forgive me, but this isn’t a crass marketing post – my marketing posts are far more obvious than this – but more a case that these two novels are where I’ve explored my position most thoroughly; to back that up, I won’t even name the novels): in these books Europe is torn by the growing pressures of climate change, resource depletion and the resulting mass migration and conflict.

As things get tight, we’re faced with choices. Push forward for sustainable change, or close in and exclude? In my increasingly pessimistic vision, as explored in these two novels, we turn inwards: we close the national boundaries to the Other, we turn against the weak and anyone we can label as different; our resources are *ours* and we will defend them at all costs. “English jobs for the English”, as a particularly vile election leaflet recently pushed through my door stated.

Increasingly believing that this future had become inevitable I stopped my campaigning, unable to see any way forward. Instead, I chose simply to appreciate what we have now. This world really is an incredible place and I’m often struck by the sheer beauty and magic of nature. Let’s enjoy it while we can; enjoy the world’s literature and art and fabulous cultures before we lose that option. And hope against hope that in fifty years, a hundred years, people will still be able to do that and won’t just have been busy burning all their bridges in a short-sighted frenzy.

Selfish? Hell, yes.

Realistic? I think so. We live in an amazing world, we’re an amazing species – even if we can’t save it, we really should appreciate what we have.

But am I really advocating carpe diem as a political response to the rise of fascism today’s European election results show?

I don’t know. I really don’t know.

In the lead-up to and immediate aftermath of these elections some of my friends have talked about the noble choice of abstaining from voting in a system they see as corrupt. My argument then was that for anyone who has any kind of decent ethical convictions not voting is simply giving a voice to the fascists. As they say, if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.

A bit hypocritical, given the shift in my own political commitment, huh? Even though I’ve always voted, I’ve been abstaining from actual political involvement on a far larger scale, after all.

But what else can we do? I really struggle to see…


New: The Bone House Gang – haunting horror for 9-11 year-olds from Nick Gifford

A dark and wickedly funny story by “the king of children’s horror” (Sunday Express)

The Bone House Gang by Nick GiffordThere’s no such thing as ghosts. Everyone knows that.

Twelve-year-old Jools Bone lives in a run-down mansion, surrounded by a large collection of treasures gathered by his family of explorers and adventurers. When a TV crew arrives to film a new hands-on history series, Digging for Dead People, family friends the De Veres come to help, along with their three children, Ned, Helen and Billy.

As filming starts with the search for an ancient burial mound in the forest surrounding the Bones’ family home, the gang learn of the ancient legends surrounding the tomb of the lost prince, including tales of hauntings by the spirit of the prince himself. The children are much too rational to believe the stories: there’s no such thing as ghosts, of course. But when one particularly grim legend threatens to come true, the kids are faced with a life and death rush to prevent history repeating itself.

Buy this ebook from: Amazon US - Amazon UK
Buy this book in print: Amazon US - Amazon UK - CreateSpace

~

Extract

1. The Legend of the Lost Prince

Jools Bone came to the edge of the wood overlooking the house and saw the TV people arriving. Over the next few weeks they were going to film the search for the tomb of the lost prince, but this evening they were all getting together for a party.

It was early spring, and Jools was home for Easter. He had spent the day exploring the pine forest and the open heathland, keeping out of everyone’s way. It had been a good day, but the peanut butter sandwiches he had made himself for lunch seemed a long time ago now.

He watched the people arriving. The Bone House was Jools’s family home. All this land surrounding it was Bone land. These people were taking over his territory and he didn’t like it at all.

But there would be party food in the house…

“There will be all kinds of people,” his mother had told him that morning. “There’ll be … oh, I don’t know … that girl from Eastenders and I think there’s a newsreader coming. And there’ll be Fanny Albright, of course.”

Celebrities he’d barely heard of didn’t hold much interest for Jools, but the party food was calling louder and louder to his grumbling belly.

He watched more headlights coming up the long, straight drive. He’d never seen so many expensive cars.

Jools stepped out from the edge of the wood.

This was his house, and so it was his party, and his party food. He would go down and have something to eat, but he wasn’t going to be at all impressed.

~

Jools pushed at the front door and went inside.

After the woods everything suddenly seemed bright and loud.

People stood in small groups around the big entrance hall. The wide double doors through to the dining hall were open, and Jools could see more people through there.

The front door swung open again behind him and two people swept through. The man wore a black dinner jacket and the woman wore a long, sparkling evening dress.

Jools turned away from them.

Then he looked back.

That man … Surely he was Darren Beasley? He had spent two years in the Arsenal reserve team before joining Norwich City. Darren Beasley!

And the woman with him. She was a singer. The podgy one in Nite Gurlz who couldn’t mime. Or dance. Or, for that matter, sing.

They came up and stopped by Jools. He knew his mouth was hanging open. In fact it was so wide open his jaw must be resting somewhere in the middle of his rib-cage by now.

The woman – the one who had problems with tight clothes and who couldn’t sing or mime or dance – smiled at him. She took her wispy jacket off and dropped it in Jools’s arm. “There’s a dear,” she said.

Darren Beasley did likewise, except he said nothing and his coat was thicker and leatherier and not at all wispy. Then the two turned away and headed on into the house.

Jools stood there, touching the coat that had touched midfield supremo Dazzer Beasley.

He closed his mouth and remembered that he wasn’t going to be at all impressed. He turned and dropped the coats on a wooden chair.

He remembered that he was hungry, too, and so he followed Dazzer and wotsit from Nite Gurlz through into the dining hall.

All around him, people were kissing the air by each other’s cheeks and exclaiming loudly as if they hadn’t seen each other for a century or two. Jools was sure he recognised most of the people here. There was a weather man from breakfast TV, and someone who used to host a gardening programme. Even the people he didn’t recognise acted as if everyone should know who they were.

He spotted a plate stacked high with tiny triangular sandwiches and took seven. From a bowl he scooped a handful of nuts which he tipped into a pocket, and then he took some more sandwiches.

He saw his mother with her hair done up like a pineapple, laughing with a famous-looking man in a bad wig.

With them were two people Jools vaguely recognised from old family photographs.

The woman wore jeans and a Simpsons tee-shirt. The man wore cords and a badly-fitting tweed jacket. And muddy wellington boots. She had neat short hair. He had straggly grey hair and a big shaggy beard that was probably full of wildlife.

These were the De Veres, Jools remembered. Mack and Jenny De Vere had been at Cambridge with Jools’s mother Judith and his father, the late Sir Christopher Bone. Like his father, they were archaeologists, which explained their appearance.

Jools looked around and realised that there were other earth-grubbers here, too. This entire gathering was an odd mixture of shiny media types in designer outfits and without a hair out of place, and … well … the archaeologists.

Jools liked the archaeologists most of all. They knew what it was like to be out there in the real world. They knew how people lived, and how people had lived long before. They were real people with mud under their finger nails, and usually smeared over their faces and through their hair, too.

Jools tried to puzzle out how to eat his sandwiches when they were stacked up high in both hands. He could find somewhere to put them down. Or he could just try to tease the top sandwich from the stack with his teeth and his tongue and … slight misjudgement there … his nose.

He didn’t know what was in the sandwich, but getting the filling up his nose certainly made his eyes water. He rubbed his nose on his shoulder, dropping three of the sandwiches as he did so.

“Darlings, darlings!” called a woman, whose voice Jools thought he recognised.

He backed away into a corner of the room where a girl of about his age and an older boy stood guarding a plate of flaky pastry things.

“Darlings,” called the woman again, and Jools remembered that this was Fanny Albright. Fanny had first come to public attention as the posh one voted out of the Big Brother house. She had lasted about half of the series before viewers had had enough of her. Since then she had appeared on a variety of TV shows, some of which had even lasted into a second series.

Her new programme, Digging for Dead People, was a big break for her. Prime time TV on one of the main channels with Fanny as the host.

“Darlings,” Fanny bellowed again, as if she was struggling to remember all the other words she wanted to say.

Jools stretched, and saw the top of Fanny Albright’s head through the crowd. It didn’t help that she was so short. It was always hard to stamp your authority on an audience when you were looking up their nostrils.

Suddenly, she loomed over everyone. Someone had found her a chair to stand on.

“Darlings,” she said again. Jools wondered if that might be all she would ever say.

“Thank you so much for coming to this darling little party,” said Fanny, suddenly remembering some of the other words that made up the English language. “And thank you so much to darling Judith Bone–”

That’s my mum, that is, thought Jools.

“–for hosting this party in her darling little country home.”

Jools looked around. There weren’t many “darling little country homes” with a dining hall that could comfortably hold a hundred guests, and with so many spare floors and wings that most of the place was locked up and covered in dustsheets.

“And thank you so much to the heroes on my production team – you know who you are – for this party marks the start of work on a series that will mark a revolution in the history of factual television. My new prime time series, Digging for Dead People, will do for the dusty old world of archaeology what nobody has done before!”

“I can hardly wait,” muttered the girl guarding the flaky pastry.

Jools braved another sandwich, careful this time not to get the filling up his nose.

When he looked up, Fanny Albright was holding what looked like a vase in the air over her head, as if she had just single-handedly won the FA Cup.

It wasn’t just any old vase, Jools saw.

It was an earthenware pot, reddish brown with a thick lip. You could see the lines around it where it had been built up from rings of river clay and then smoothed over. The top was sealed with a clay plug.

This was ancient – Neolithic, Jools thought. Probably Bronze Age.

It looked very much like one that Jools had seen in his father’s collection upstairs.

It would be priceless. Not that you would ever think of such a thing in terms of how much it was worth. It could never be replaced, that was for sure.

And Fanny Albright was waving it around as if she’d just snatched it off a stall at a jumble sale.

“Meet the Lost Prince,” she said, shaking the pot for emphasis. “Here we have the star of the first programme in my new prime time TV series, Digging for Dead People . Here: in this jug. The Lost Prince’s ashes.”

“It’s not a jug. It’s a funerary urn,” mumbled the girl with the flaky pastries.

Jools couldn’t help but agree with her. She may be hogging the pastries to herself, but she certainly seemed to know her Neolithic earthenware.

“According to local legend,” Fanny Albright went on, “somewhere nearby, deep in the darkest deep gloomy bits of the forest, there lies the tomb of the lost prince. The prince himself lived thousands of years ago, and even though he was only a boy he led his tribe to victory in a great battle while his father lay on his sickbed.

“The battle was won, the tribe was saved, but tragically the prince lost his life to the disease his father was recovering from. He was buried a hero and given a tomb fit for the king that he never became. Somewhere…”

Fanny clutched the pot one-handed and used her free hand to wave out, beyond the walls of the Bone House to the forest.

“Somewhere out there…”

The gathering had fallen silent as Fanny told this tale.

Jools knew the story, of course. His father had told him of the legend often enough.

“Darlings, the first programme in my new prime time show, Digging for Dead People, will tell the story of the lost prince. We’ll be filming here in the forest as my team of valiant researchers seek out the prince’s tomb. We aim to uncover it for only the second time since the prince himself was buried.”

A man somewhere near Fanny cleared his throat. “Ms Albright?”

She smiled at him.

“You just said this would be the second time the tomb had been opened?”

She nodded. “Several hundred years ago,” she said, “when the Vikings were doing all those things the Vikings did. You know. Well, anyway… All that time ago, a group of Vikings found the tomb and dug their way in. Probably hoping for gold and jewels and all that.”

“What did they find?”

“There may have been treasure. We don’t know for sure. But what they did find was the cremated remains of the brave prince – his ashes.”

As she said this, Fanny Albright raised the earthenware pot above her head again. “This pot,” she said, “has belonged to the Bone family for generations.”

That would explain why it looked so much like the one Jools had seen in his father’s collection, then.

“It is the pot stolen from the tomb of the lost prince,” said Fanny Albright. “It is…” She paused, and looked around the crowd. She waited.

This was clearly meant to be a dramatic pause. You know the kind. But Fanny left it too long. Long enough for people to start looking at each other, shuffling from foot to foot and wondering if she had actually finished what she was saying. Or had, perhaps, forgotten what she was saying.

Finally, she continued: “It is the pot that contains the ashes of the lost prince himself!”

She leaned forward, with the pot held high.

Which wasn’t her smartest move, considering the fact that she was standing on a chair. A rather wobbly chair, at that.

As Jools watched, he saw her expression change from one of fierce intensity to … eyes widening, mouth opening … surprise, panic.

As she tipped forward, the chair’s wooden legs made a loud groaning sound on the dining hall’s stone floor.

She gasped.

She cried out.

She threw her hands in the air and spread her arms to catch herself on the people right in front of her.

The earthenware pot!

Jools tore his eyes from the falling TV personality and saw the pot flying high across the room. It was a big thing, about the size of Jools’s head.

Which was a good comparison, because it was flying directly towards Jools’s head.

Fast.

Somehow, he managed to duck, drop the remaining sandwiches, and raise his hands at the same time. A great weight suddenly struck his palms.

He looked up. The pot was there, in his hands.

“Nice catch,” said the girl with the flaky pastries. “Shame about the jumper, though.”

Buy this ebook from: Amazon US - Amazon UK
Buy this book in print: Amazon US - Amazon UK - CreateSpace


BlogHop: Three Things I Don’t Write (and Three Things I do)

First, a background note:
This is one of those blog hop things where one writer makes a blog post and tags others to follow on with a post on the same subject. In this case, I was tagged by Neil Williamson, a writer I’ve long-admired and whose fabulous novel The Moon King is just out. Also tagged in Neil’s post were  Chris Beckett and James Everington, so I’m keeping excellent company.

So… what are three things I don’t write? This is actually a tough one, given that I write in many different genres under a few different pen-names.

  1. What I’m asked for.
    One of my favourite things is to be asked to write something specific – a story for a themed anthology, a feature on a particular subject. But I always want to do things differently. Hell, my first reaction when Neil asked if I’d like to write this blog piece was to wonder how I could subvert it and write something completely different. Don’t get me wrong: I can and do hit the brief when required, and like almost any writing project I enjoy doing so, but my inclination is always to look for another direction. I could dress this up in all kinds of ways: if you’re writing for a themed anthology, for example, it makes sense to write that story that just hits the brief but is totally different, rather than one of the many that hit the brief comfortably, and predictably. So is it a deliberate career strategy? God no! It’s a gut thing, an instant reaction that has often served me well; the career strategy is to then step back and judge whether to trust that instinct or rein it in.
  2. The same story, over and over again.
    Years – decades! – ago, one then-prominent anthology editor told me about a dinner party he’d just attended with other then-prominent anthology and magazine editors. They got to talking about the new wave of writers emerging at the time (this was late 1980s or early 1990s, when the Interzone generation were starting to get lots of attention). They discussed various names and when mine came up, this editor said that what he really liked about me was that whenever he got an A4 envelope with my return address on it (that shows how long ago this was), he never knew what was going to be inside. He meant this in a good way, not a creepy-stalker way. He explained that every story I sent him was different to the last; the others around the table agreed that this was so. Career strategy? Again: God no! A career strategy would have been to hit a trope and hit it strong, not keep flitting around between all the multitude of things that interested me. A career strategy would have been to accept that huge offer I received from a leading US publisher to write a sequel to my first novel (military SF), rather than insist on following my muse and writing a fantasy novel about the death of fantasy
  3. Poetry.
    Sorry, I know this reveals my inner heathen, but I just don’t get poetry, no matter how hard I try. Sometimes, when poetry is being read, it works for me. I love John Hegley’s work, for instance, but that’s probably more because it’s funny and comes close to stand-up comedy; I’ve enjoyed Martin Newell’s work, too, for similar reasons (he lives in the same village as me, so I’ve heard him read a few times). At least when poetry is being read I have someone controlling the pacing for me; if I’m reading poetry myself I think I rush, as if I’m reading prose, and I don’t give the words the space and time they need. Music works far better for me: I understand lyrics, and I write songs because when poetry is tied to music I can get my head around it – the words are paced for me. But poetry in its own right? I don’t get it, and so, however much I’d like to, there’s really no point in me trying to write any.

And now for three things I do write:

  1. Scenes that not only make the reader squirm and wonder where the fuck they came from but which do the same to me.
    My virtual reality novel The Accord had several such scenes, one of which actually prompted one of my writing students to stop me in the street and, with a somewhat aghast look on his face, ask me what was wrong with my head; he meant it as a compliment. The premise of the book is that what is, in effect, a VR heaven has been created where you are uploaded on your death and are then immortal; in a world devastated by climate change and resource shortages, there’s a scene in a refugee camp where a VR team is recording people’s personas so they can then be uploaded when ready. A mother waits until her little daughter has been recorded and then, as calm as anything, murders her child in front of everyone so that the girl will not have to wait. I didn’t see that scene coming until it unfolded before me, and I could barely type fast enough to keep up. When I finished writing the scene I was exhausted and spent and had no idea what had just happened. There are other far more extreme mind-fuck scenes in that book, and I still don’t know where they came from. What they do have in common is that they take a premise and extrapolate it as far as possible. And then some. As far as I’m concerned, hitting those scenes are as good as the writing process can ever be.
  2. Certain tropes I never thought I’d tackle.
    This year marks 25 years as a professionally-published writer for me. Passing 20 years and then approaching 25 seemed to trigger something; that and editing a book about the sub-genres of SF for Palgrave Macmillan. These things made me aware of which genre tropes I’d tackled, and which I’ve avoided. And they made me wonder why. Three big ones stood out: aliens, alternate history and time travel. I could have taken this as a challenge to go ahead and write about these subjects, but I didn’t. Not consciously, at least. Subconsciously, however, it seemed to set the what-if? part of my mind working. I didn’t write aliens because I couldn’t make them convincing enough for me to last the duration of an entire novel. I didn’t want to write aliens that were merely humans in rubber suits, but then if you write something truly alien how do you get inside it enough to find any kind of story we can relate to? I didn’t do alternate history because I don’t have enough historical expertise to either come up with the inspiration or make it credible. I didn’t do time travel because, well, it’s all been done before, hasn’t it? So that what-if? part of my mind came up with Harmony, a novel crammed full of aliens in what was to me the ultimate alternate history, addressing the Fermi paradox as an added bonus; that it was shortlisted for the Philip K Dick Award was an added added bonus. And Tomorrow, a time travel story that goes to town with the whole concept as a bunch of teenagers struggle with destiny and a future that nobody in their right mind would want.
  3. Horror.
    I’ve included this, at least partly because it’s a bit of a surprise to myself, so maybe it will be to whoever reads this, too. A little context… Back in the early days my output was probably fifty-fifty between horror and other genres. My first novel was SF; when I finished the first draft of that I was on such an adrenalin rush that the very next day I started an unplanned horror novel. That second novel never sold, but I think it shows at least that my attentions were divided. My short fiction included a lot of horror, enough to later be gathered together in the collection Embrace. But then it kind of tailed off. I was finding more success as an SF author, and that seemed to feed the part of my brain that came up with ideas: as SF took up an increasing proportion of my time, so more and more of the new ideas were SF, too. Looking through my bibliography, I see that my last published horror story was “Embrace”, back in May 2004. (As a sidenote, most of my teen fiction as Nick Gifford was dark stuff, but even there, the most recent horror novel came out in 2005.) But recently things have changed again. I’ve returned to full-time writing and for one reason or another my short fiction has turned to horror, once more. I’ve just sold a horror story I’m particularly pleased with to Postscripts, and the next thing I do after drafting this blog post will be editing another new horror tale, a particularly creepy piece where I’ve tried to make a modern office a dark and scary place. Given some of the places I’ve worked, perhaps that’s not too much of a stretch, but hey.

Passing it on

To keep this blog hop going, I’ve asked three more fabulous authors to tell us three things they write about, and three they don’t: Kim Lakin-Smith, Stephen Palmer and Mike Revell. I’ll link to their pieces when they’re up.

 

 


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