FOCUS ON FICTION: Hannah Matchmaker’s New Skates

FOCUS ON FICTION

I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

Short story today!

Short story: Hannah Matchmaker is struggling to make progress as fast as she’d like at Rollerderby, until she gets her hands on some new skates… A story for fans of Rollerderby who are already pretty au fete with the jargon.(I was trying to give this one away as a free eBook but Kindle were like NOPE MINIMUM $0.99)

HANNAH MATCHMAKER’S NEW SKATES

Short story: Hannah Matchmaker is struggling to make progress as fast as she’d like at Rollerderby, until she gets her hands on some new skates…

A story for fans of Rollerderby who are already pretty au fait with the jargon.

This sweet little fable was intended to be encouraging about learning things the hard way and not taking enticing short-cuts that ultimately don’t improve your skills at all. And it’s about rollerderby, because that’s been adjacent to my life, via friends and partners, for well over a decade now. It’s been tremendous to see derby gain more respect and traction as a legitimate sport and, in the same time period, a lot of other sports previously heavily-associated with male-only participation have become more publicly-acknowledged as women’s sports too, which is also very cool.

There’s not much to be said about the construction of this story: demotivation at skills acquired without struggle is something I have personal experience with, so that was my window into it. It’s hard to value something if you feel you haven’t made an effort with it, and the progress you make can feel fake, and not worth celebrating. The idea of cursed objects that both giveth and taketh away is pretty much as old as culture itself, and has been present in stories along these lines going back as far as they’ve been recorded.

As a result I feel confident in describing this as a classic folk/fairytale, with a sports framing. Hannah Matchmaker goes on a quintessential hero’s journey, she learns an important lesson, and she develops as a person as a result. If you’re looking for a story that has a moral and a female protagonist, this is where you come to, of my work.

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FOCUS ON FICTION: Protect Me From What I Want

I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

A novel today.

PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT

When a 40-year-old cold case opens unexpectedly on a sleepy island, John Hennessey (perpetually-on-the-brink-of-being-fired) finds his past comes back to haunt him, too. This unconventional tale is told in the first person to an unseen reporter, and through the eyes of a not-wholly honest observer.

The problematic book. It’s a problematic length, somewhere between novel and novella. It’s problematic subject matter, which I’ll get onto in a minute. Problematic execution. The protagonist, appropos of nothing, is possibly heterosexual? Possibly bisexual? Hard to say. It doesn’t even have a real genre apart from my standard-issue “man has breakdown without realising that’s what he’s doing” plot.

The book set out to do several things. One: to look at the frustrations of investigation in a cultural setting the detective isn’t a part of. If I’d done more research at the time I’d have learned I was underselling that; Jersey is a lot more insular, self-protecting, and corrupt – in particular the police force, although as I’m discovering in my current research, that seems to be the case with a lot of law enforcement agencies – than I gave it credit for. Two: to convey adequately the sense of interconnection between corrupt bodies/individuals and the sense that the press can absolutely be bought and sold, a theme I’ve expanded on significantly in other books. Three: to deal with the extremely thorny issue of relative levels of capacity and non-capacity for consent, the idea of stages of evil, the idea of deeply unhealthy relationships sometimes being marginally healthier than what either party was escaping from before; a contrast between the absolute blackness of one morality and the dirty grey of another. And four: exorcise some general sense of horror over real-life events.

Given a second run at this book I would have done it very differently, and point three I think I wouldn’t have the stones to approach, at least not in the way that I did it here. My protagonist I am largely happy with, even if John Hennessey is something of an archetype that I return to in various forms. The rest… the rest would be rewritten.

Protect Me From What I Want, a troublesome, underresearched, not-always-sensitive-enough work, represents the turning point between hoping that a capacity for strong character voice and evocative physical description could carry a book on its own, and the understanding that I needed to get better at plotting, at research, and at making explicit undercurrents in thought that don’t always make it into the text. Its value isn’t primarily as that turning point – I think the book has good qualities as well as bad ones – but if I was recommending it to an audience it would be for an audience of adults ready to look at work without a clear moral message, and with an onpage message which may be jarring, uncomfortable, and morally unacceptable.

FOCUS ON FICTION: Pantsgiving

I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

Continuing the Melissa Snowdon theme from yesterday, but this time a short story and a much more recent offering:

PANTSGIVING

Pantsgiving by [Snowdon, Melissa]

David Winthorpe meets Simon Beckett off his flight home with a special gift in mind. Things don’t entirely go to plan, but that’s okay. Short gay erotic fiction from the author of The Breaking of M, and Tame.

As I’m not American, Thanksgiving isn’t a festival I celebrate; as someone with a lot of American friends I’m usually well-aware of when it’s taking place, so I can scrounge some of the offensively large dinners the US immigrants in my city like to cook up. And I love any excuse for a party, or a gift-giving, so I wrote this, for a very dear American, at her behest.

The characters began as nothing very much; they come from nowhere, and they go nowhere from here, but in the course of writing and planning this story, David and Simon have developed a whole life outside these pages, a whole background full of other events and a whole, often precarious, future proceeding on from them. I find it’s often impossible to write anything about a character’s present without finding out things about their past, which inform the choices they’ll make.

The characters began as nothing very much; they come from nowhere, and they go nowhere from here, but in the course of writing and planning this story, David and Simon have developed a whole life outside these pages, a whole background full of other events and a whole, often precarious, future proceeding on from them. I find it’s often impossible to write anything about a character’s present without finding out things about their past, which inform the choices they’ll make.

It’s just two awkward, awkward people in a relationship they probably shouldn’t be in, failing their way through the awkward, awkward situation of seeing each other again after an extended period of absence, right at a point at which they’re still not sure what that means for either of them.

FOCUS ON FICTION: The Curious Case of the Firecrotch

HAPPY MIDSUMMER!

I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

A novella today, and the first featured story from my romance & erotica alter-ego, Melissa Snowdon.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE FIRECROTCH

Wilberforce Kemp is a private detective. He’s not especially good at it, and he has a drink-chugging demon to keep fed, but he’s a private detective all the same and that means when a beautiful red-head comes into his decaying office and pays him to dig up a missing boyfriend, it’s his job to find the guy… even if he kinda wants the red-head all to himself. In a case that will bring him elbow-to-elbow with all the low-lives he’s been drinking to avoid, Wil Kemp is up to his neck in trouble all over again.

This pastiche of the hard-boiled detective trope brings romance and sarcasm a-plenty.

Sometimes you just have to write trash.

If Saint Grimbald’s Men was self-indulgent, this is a case of mutual self-indulgence run riot. It’s cheesy. It’s convoluted. It’s silly. There are bad jokes. There’s a perma-drunk narrator, a beautiful bitchy boy or several, a sketchy detective plot, and a bathetic ending. In short, all the things that myself and my pseudonymous co-author Dionysia Hill (she picked the name, I’m not responsible) absolutely and unequivocally adore. Although in my case I’d probably like to be able to claim to have more elevated tastes, this is the equivalent of having a good, long, luxurious scratch – a frivolity after a hard day of intellectual exercises and historical research.

It’s also got, as noted in the original promotion, “a higher ratio of sex scenes than I usually include”, although since I branched out into writing (truly) pseudonymous gay porn shorts that’s less true than it was.

I want you all to imagine this as a series of postcards: of a hot and rainy city peppered with interesting tiles and grubby cafes, scooters, criminals, and cats. Of a very beautiful boy and a man who probably would be beautiful if he’d figured out how to shave and stay sober: think Philip Marlowe but cast by a modelling agency. Imagine a series of bad mistakes, confusin phonecalls, and a mystery that wouldn’t even be one if all the characters in the story had a lick of sense. Unfortunately, lifelike to a T, none of them have a braincell to share between them.

I also want you to imagine two authors – one of them a very intelligent woman with multiple academic qualifications and the other one me, who has definitely managed to tie his shoelaces the first time at least twice now – cackling over their respective keyboards and shouting marginal instructions at each other as the novella slowly takes shape.

This is co-writing. It might not be Gaiman and Pratchett; I don’t think Hill and Snowdon are quite in the same wheelhouse. It might not be insightful, or highbrow, or morally uplifting, but it’s definitely a story, and there’s probably a dick in it. Both private and otherwise.

FOCUS ON FICTION: Saint Grimbald’s Men

I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

A short story today:

ST GRIMBALD’S MEN

A grim tale.

A short story of most perfidious cruelty and otherworldly horror, set in a monastery.

This is an incredibly self-indulgent story and I am proud of that. I don’t actually write that way very often with original fiction, because I like to include a degree of people-pleasing and I’m a slut for validation, and also a bit embarrassed sometimes about how completely cheesy my narrative Id is capable of being.

That said: this is self-pandering and I love it.

It took a whole bunch of elements I’m enamoured with monasticism, yearning gays having a serious self-examination and a little bit of a self-loathe (look, I spent my adolescence in the 90s and we didn’t really get Joyful Homosexuality until pretty much the end of that decade, at least, not in the media I consumed – and it’s made an impression), and body horror… and just smashed them together with wild abandon.

Alright, there’s a little more to it than that. Technically it’s a metaphor about repression and the way it eats away at you on the inside, but it’s possible the narrative image obscures that.

Interestingly I didn’t actually set out to write it as body horror, that just kind of happened, which is usually how body horror works in anything I write: I think I’m writing one genre and halfway through my hands just get their own ideas and announce, “and now it is time for something really, really GROSS”. The image kind of came along later, although it was captivating when it did.

Fortunately, that blindsiding with grossness also appeals to some readers, and this short story has the distinction of being the only one for which I’ve ever received fanart! From no less of an eminently talented artist than @misterlucian/Lucian Stephenson, so I feel quite privileged.

FOCUS ON FICTION: Pass The Parcel

I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

A novel – my longest novel – today.

PASS THE PARCEL

Pass The Parcel

The world is populated by everything from humans to Artificial Humans, but speciesism runs rampant. Everything that can go terribly wrong does; and while it always comes back to Brazil, it all seems to be going down in London, which is a seething pot of conflicts and crossed wires, as new lies are told and old ones resurface; as old murders are recalled and new ones committed; as history is rewritten; and as a very ugly but potentially extremely powerful statue is passed from wrong hand to wrong hand.

My first full-length work that I published, my longest work that I’ve ever published, the longest thing that I’ve ever written and in terms of cast size and continuity almost certainly the most complicated.

This took me a long time to actually write out – the genesis was in 2002, when I went to a literary festival at my university while drunk and had a small epiphany regarding how, to most characters, the main through-line of action in a story’s plot is actually a very minor part of their lives, and that we only see a snapshot of their existence around this. I wanted to write more of the flesh around the pit, as it were, and had a few characters beginning to talk who seemed like they could make it happen. I got about 35,000 words in and collapsed on myself because I had NO IDEA WHERE IT WAS GOING.

Fast-forward to 2007: I diagrammed. I drew maps. I wrote about 150k in one month; worked on one chapter for a year; wrote another huge chunk and finished the first draft. Somewhere in this time, a whole other version of what was at the time the near-future – and is now the increasingly distant past – came into shape.

This has been the book which received the most enthusiastic response from readers as it was written, the most intense fannishness, and I can understand in some regards why that is: it’s fleshy, organic, something which lives and breathes as its own world, with mechanisms that function and characters whose lives – as I’d dreamed – didn’t revolve around making them accessories to the plot, but rather continued with their own preoccupations and problems while the plot – the “parcel” – passed between them, in some cases almost unnoticed, in others a little more catastrophically.

I threw ideas into a pot and distilled them into an alterna-London, drawing on personal experience (intimate relationships with certain sections of the unhygienic club scene and the particular joy of living right at the poverty line in a large city) and wild imagination (having a job that pays a rent, robotic lobsters, Android rights, wayfinding technology that actually works), and the logical human responses to living in a world where they’re not the only intelligent species, or even form of sentience. I wanted something big, bright, and dirty – real, down to the tiles on the kitchen floor and the thumping hangovers, but hallucinogenically Other at the same time.

More than anything, Pass the Parcel was about the physical and emotional feeling of being in place; the way that events boil up out of seeming nowhere, but also how the world you live in reacts with your body and mind. I think it remains one of the most solidly-grounded of the books I’ve written.

It is also, in a very real way, about bathos.

FOCUS ON FICTION: Vessel 151-B

I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

Today, a short story.

After a terrible accident Calvin Owusu-Baah wakes to a silent ship and a strange, nagging sense that something is not right. As he begins to investigate he finds that things are far, far worse than he could have imagined, and that his efforts to improve the situation are only going to make things wrong.(short story)Available for Amazon Kindle (UK | US), and most other eReaders (here).

VESSEL 151-B

After a terrible accident Calvin Owusu-Baah wakes to a silent ship and a strange, nagging sense that something is not right. As he begins to investigate he finds that things are far, far worse than he could have imagined, and that his efforts to improve the situation are only going to make things wrong.

In 2003 a man I used to know commissioned me to write a piece for a short fiction anthology his small press was preparing; the anthology (and associated fee) never saw the light of day, and the story got lost somewhere in the many computer deaths every writer’s life consists of (in between the “where the hell is that notebook” scuffling which dogs the more analogue among us), but the core of the story remained in my head.

Since then my tastes in science fiction have evolved, and my understanding of what is frequently left out of popular sci-fi developed. Whole continents have been ignored in the future of humanity in too much of classic sci-fi literature. I made myself a small rule: if it’s in space, if it’s The Future, the Future is Africa.

Since making that rule I’ve found anthologies, short films, and the occasional novel to add to my own supposed future when I finally have time to read the African sci-fi I want so badly to see; but this little re-working of a a re-working is my beginning.

Some very clear images remained of that first story: the lone traveller, isolated in a vast space civilisation which had unexpectedly expired, leaving them in the worst psychological state a human can be in – cast away without hope of ever making contact again. Another was the image of a man labouring away trying to create something beautiful with a technology he doesn’t really understand, which is definitely not a metaphor for trying to get the hang of Photoshop but might as well be. The third image was the idea of a failed Pygmalion, perhaps somewhere in the region of God confronted with the wickedness of the world prior to the Flood, but without the same moral trappings; a Frankenstein story driven by loneliness, instead of arrogance.

Other images came later, from the practicalities involved the running of the ship, and the destruction of the population; but the real genesis of the story – the germ – was one lonely person using a wire-frame model to create a friend, and accidentally bringing to life a monster wracked with suffering.

Focus On Fiction: The Other Daughter

FOCUS ON FICTION:
I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available. If anyone’s read any of them and wants to add their impressions or things they think...

I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

A novel today:

THE OTHER DAUGHTER

Polly Mazlowczy has returned from a fictitious conflict in North Korea a changed woman. Just how changed, her strange and insular family and the people of an isolated Midwestern town are about to discover. The Other Daughter is a revenge tragedy of the old school given a modern twist.

With this book I’ve definitely been a victim of my inability to stick to one genre; it is technically a revenge fantasy, yes – based on a play which certainly falls into that category – but it’s also a fantasy novel, and a family saga.

I began with the house. Polly, the protagonist, came into shape in relationship to that stifling, oppressive, semi-haunted building and its horrible secrets. Her supernatural entourage (and her brilliant, rude, amoral girlfriend) came soon after. As the first of my published works to actually see completion – although it wasn’t the first published – I think The Other Daughter represents an interesting snapshot of an earlier stage in the development of my personal style and approach to writing.

It’s dense, and visceral, thick with minute descriptions which I think add to the oppressive atmosphere the whole narrative carries with it, and the sense of an impending storm. I think, too, a lot of my literary influences are closer to the surface than they are in other work, meaning it’s an interesting read in terms of analysis as well as enjoyment – and surprisingly also probably some of the freshest, most interesting characterisation I’ve done. I could stand to revisit this for my own development!

The Other Daughter, a story about secrets, lies, and coming back to the place that made you in order to see that process through no matter the cost, carried with it some very clear mental images, and a while back I commissioned B. L. Becotte to draw one of them:

image

Originally I described this as:

“It features ass-kicking lesbians, creepy ghost monsters, horrific mutilation, and a plot stolen from inspired by Shakespeare. Clearly the stuff of powerful cinematic legend or, more accurately, just me having a good time with writing something rather than making an enormous fuss about the moral and social implications of the text.”

While that’s true to a degree, there’s definitely some examination of the monstrous feminine and the damage women can do to each other in here that I just took for granted when I was writing it.

Focus On Fiction: The Renaka Device

I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

I’m starting with a short story:

THE RENAKA DEVICE

My name is Potsve Revolution Renaka.

I was born a month after the fall of the old order. In celebration, my parents named me Potsve Revolution.

Set in a dystopian, unnamed country in which a revolution hasn’t quite successfully brought about the grand liberation that everyone had hoped for, The Renaka Device of the title is a piece of technology intended to streamline the process of composition through to printing. It both is, and isn’t, the point of the story.

This is a tale I’ve tried hard to write in multiple formats for a long time. Eventually I realised that the best thing to do was simply to strip it down to its essentials – streamline it the way the device was intended to streamline telling a story.

This is also where I got the bare-bones narrative voice of the genderless protagonist; the repeating refrain, on the other hand, is what you get when someone who learnt to write by writing poems turns their hand to any kind of prose shorter than a novella. At least some of the time!

The language is broadly, or at least partly, cod-Slavic, with no real underlying structure – something I’d like to change if I work on something longer set in this world, because I’m armed to the teeth with a full version of Vulgar and eager to use it.

The Renaka Device has a kind-of partner/sequel story, The Traitor, which also examines the use of stories and truth and the effects of power vacuums, and how difficult it can be to really change a society for the better. While so far I’ve only really managed to illuminate the world in which The Renaka Device and The Traitor take place with tiny glimmerings in sparse short fiction, I feel like by implication and inference there’s a large, and oppressive structure out there waiting to be explored in more stories.

Or more simply, I want to revisit this world, and write more about it.

[PUBLISHING] A Fool For You by Less Than Three Press

I know it seems like all I do at the moment is promotion but at least I’m posting at all, right?

And I come bearing more good news in the form of an anthology!

A Fool For You is an LGBTQ romance anthology built around the theme of tricksters and deception (but with guaranteed happy endings), edited by Samantha M. Derr and published by Less Than Three Press. I’m fortunate enough to share space with some fascinating-sounding stories, under my romance-and-erotica pseud Melissa Snowdon (because really, who is going to trust a man to write romance). 
Fool for You by [Derr, Samantha, Kelly, Ava, Maeve, Helena, Idonea, Asta, Hamlin, LJ, Kelly, Laurin, Defore, Daria, Snowdon, Melissa, Majumdar, Kashmira ] 
I’ll let the blurb speak for itself:

Wagered & Won by Helena Maeve—Nearly caught picking pockets at a casino in Silvergarde, Kathra owes her closest getaway yet to the mysterious Cecily, a bewitching gambler with a lethal secret. Over the course of a single night and a high-stakes card game, Kathra is drawn into a web from which she may not wish to escape.

Toils & Tricks by Asta Idonea—Centuries ago, the gods grew tired of being forever on call, and so they hired counterparts to be their representatives. When Sverrir, Loki’s representative, is called on to foil a blackmail scheme, he think it will be a simple task…

Whiskey & Pixie Dust by L.J. Hamlin—Shane loves and hates his best friend, a mischief demon, in equal measure. But when the demon takes it upon himself to play matchmaker, Shane thinks the hate might just win out.

Sussicran: A Love Story by Melissa Snowdon—Eager to escape an otherworldly bet, mirror demon Llednew determines to steal the life of a lonely young man. But executing his brilliant idea proves to be more difficult than anticpated.

A Spell for Luck by Daria Defore—When he’s forced to spend the summer studying magic at his aunt’s house, a bored Tom promptly starts looking for any way to escape. He probably shouldn’t resort to making a deal with an extremely friendly demon, but he’s too curious to say no…

Kneadful Things by Laurin Kelly—When Adam answers an ad for work at a local bakery, he has no idea what he’s in for. Despite the storefront’s dilapidated condition and isolated location, a steady stream of customers come through hoping to find what they’re looking for from Jin, the mysterious owner.

How to Trick a Trickster by Ava Kelly—Eric is a trickster working for the Corps of Undercover Passion Instigators and Distributors. His latest assignment takes him to a bookstore where he has to bring together Ivo Newton and Tom Euler. What he’s not supposed to do is fall in love with both his targets.

The Great Coke Robbery by Kashmira Majumdar—Charlie and Jack used to be the best in the business in the heist business. And then Charlie fell in love and settled down. Ten years later, Jack is debt-ridden and down on his luck, and in walks Charlie, proposing to pull off the most outrageous job of their lives.

As I’m drowning in research reading and outline editing at the moment I haven’t had the chance to read the works of my co-contributors but I’m pretty sure from these blurbs that they’re an absolute treat.

The book’s available on Kindle, and I believe there are plans for it to come out as a paperback as well.


The author has been enjoying the sudden sunshine in London and hopes you have too.