Holmes and the Indelicate Widow – new fiction

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

I still squeak with delight about this: I’ve written a Sherlock Holmes short story.

Holmes and the Indelicate Widow, will be published in The Encounters of Sherlock Holmes, edited by George Mann and published by Titan Books in February 2013. Other authors in the collection include Paul Magrs, James Lovegrove, Mark Hodder and Kelly Hale.



I’ve always been a fan of Sherlockian fiction. I find it delightful that there is so much of it, and that it is a whole world where people – fans – play with the tropes of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. Sherlock is the most extreme example, with dizzingly fast nods to the canon that swirl around as fast as Dave Arnold’s eastern-European inspired score. And within the web of references, any genre, style and viewpoint is permitted. I’ve read books of the stuff – there’s some reviews on here.

So when George Mann asked me if I had any ideas for a Sherlock short story the main issue was not just blurting out a dozen pitches in a big excited mess. Instead I pitched three, and Holmes and the Indelicate Widow was the one I was asked to write. Holmes investigates strange goings-on with the Necropolis Railway, bringing both him and Watson face-to-face with the Victorian way of death.

I used to go past the Brookwood Cemetery when I used the Waterloo line into south London. I’d walk past the remaining facade of the Necropolis Railway’s buildings hard by Waterloo station. The idea – that bodies would be transported to their final resting places by train – is so wonderfully Victorian. It combines that period’s ability to apply industrial concepts to human needs, along with the fetishised middle-class ideas about respectability and conspicuous displays of status.

I read several books for research, especially ones around how London dealt – or didn’t deal – with its dead. I suspect I get quick service in a Pizza Express near the British Museum now due to sitting there reading such grim material when staying in London for work. I also read a proper railway history book, of the kind that my father would be proud to see me going through. There were three classes of funeral service available, matching the three classes of railway travel.

For some reason, the Necropolis Railway never flourished, never made the returns it had promised the London and South West Railway it would make and, when its London station was bombed in World World 2, it never ran again. All that is left is the facade on the street and its faded promise of a discrete service.

To find out what Holmes – the rational scientist – and Watson – the emotive doctor – make of the Necropolis, you can buy The Encounters of Sherlock Holmes from all sorts of places.

Chicks Unravel Time announced

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

I’m delighted to say I have an essay in Chicks Unravel Time, the follow-up from the Hugo-winning* Chicks Dig Time Lords team.

The editors set themselves the challenging task of finding female fans to write an essay on every season. And then juggling the logistics of who would do what and editing it all.  But look at all the women they got!

In Chicks Unravel Time, Deborah Stanish (Whedonistas) and L.M. Myles bring together a host of award-winning female writers, media professionals and scientists to examine each season of new and classic Doctor Who from their unique perspectives.

Diana Gabaldon discusses how Jamie McCrimmon inspired her best-selling Outlander series, and Barbara Hambly (Benjamin January Mysteries) examines the delicate balance of rebooting a TV show. Seanan McGuire (Toby Daye series) reveals the power and pain of waiting in Series 5, and Una McCormack (The King’s Dragon) argues that Sylvester McCoy’s final year of Doctor Who is the show’s best season ever.

I’ve written about season 7, which might come as a surprise to people who know my opinion of Pertwee. It will surprise those of you all the more to know I pitched for that season.  I wanted to critically examine a period I’m not fond of: would my ingrained views hold up when I rewatched it. My essay is called ‘Seven to Doomsday: the Non-Domestication of Doctor Who’.

The hardest bit was finding the time to watch 25 episodes. I couldn’t do it with GJ running about as she’d distract me.  Or scrawl over my notes. So I’d get through a couple of episodes per nap at weekends, or one whilst Mark was on bedtime duties. 

One of the ironies of it is I couldn’t have written the essay – which touches on the politics of the time, including gender politics – without Mark’s DVD stash and Jim Smith for bouncing ideas around with and production note nerdism. These guys know their stuff. 

While I was editing the essay Caroline John, the actor who played Liz Shaw, died. Miss Shaw had been the reason I asked for season 7 over, say, season 11. Like Barbara Wright and Tegan Jovanka, she is a woman rather than a girl. And she’s a career woman too: like Babs, Liz works because she loves it. She’s not in a dead-end job, like Rose or Donna. And she’s not floating about with mysterious independent means like Polly, Nyssa or Romana. Or a schoolgirl. 

I think this matters. This essay on The Jetsons puts forward the idea that the visions of the future we absorb as children has an impact on the world we accept/build as adults. Doctor Who needs to show futures, even nominal futures as season 7 was, where women have independent lives. Where intelligence and drive are lauded, and being a woman with a career is accepted. 

To read how well that opinion fits with season 7, you’ll need to buy the book. ;)

*might be my only chance to write that

‘Grass’ giveaway

Sunday, 24 April 2011

I don’t normally run giveaways on this blog, but this is an odd case and will interest anyone who reads me because of my Doctor Who stuff.

Fantasy & SF, Sept 2001

I’ve the September 2001 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction to giveaway. Eagle-eyed readers will spot it’s been defaced by Faction Paradox creator Lawrence Miles, whose short story ‘Grass’ is published in it. That’s the one with mammoths and President Jefferson.

It also contains a novella by Kate Wilhelm, and short stories by Alex Irvine, Michael Kandel, Robert Sheckley and Laird Barron.

Why am I giving it away? We need every scrap of space we can get. If you’d seen some of the early drafts of other writers’ novels I’ve shredded in the last year, some of you would weep…

How to enter

  • Leave a comment below, including a name and email address. (The email address will not be published – it’s so I can contact you.)
  • Entries close at 12 noon BST on 1 May 2011.

The winner will be picked using a random number generator and contacted via email.
The mag will be posted to anywhere in the UK, Europe, North America, Australia or New Zealand by standard first class post/airmail.
Note: you can buy an undefaced issue from the publisher.

ETA: this giveaway is now CLOSED. Congrats to the winner, as per the random number below:

Owlmen (with spoilers)

Saturday, 13 June 2009

I keep meaning to finish all my annotations to my novels, but never do. Instead, here are some notes on Sovereign (available now in Iris Wildthyme & the Celestial Omnibus). This story started with a classic one line pitch and ended with me bundled into layers trying to write during the coldest winter I’ve experienced since moving back south from Yorkshire. The writing history is here. Some of the background notes – spoiler alert! – are below.


Sunday, 22 February 2009

Sovereign is my latest short story. It’ll be available in the collection Iris Wildthyme and the Celestial Omnibus, published by Obverse Books in the spring.

I am unusually happy with this story. It went from a casual pitch (“Iris goes on holiday to an artists’ commune in 1950s Cornwall, where they are being menaced by a giant owlman”) into something rather stronger. The artists’ commune is now a remote house, as I had to cull extraneous characters, but the themes almost drew themselves out of the idea.

When people ask what the point of twitter is, I make the usual replies most twitterers do. But here’s another. My twitter – like those of many other artists and writers – gives a curious insight into the world of writing. It’s not the same as blogging, which is a more considered process and where each post has a purpose (buy my story!!). I did blog briefly about the story earlier this year though. Here, for anyone wondering, is the inner workings of writing:

10:13 Dec 28 has started writing. Is miracle.

1:15pm Dec 29 is making the drawers on new spare bed, fiddling with new camera and planning to write 1k+ today (yes, @stuartamdouglas, am on it)

9:24pm Dec 29 is gorging on chocolate…and trying to get on with writing

10:12pm Dec 29 has FAIL on writing – will work on train tomorrow.

7:06pm Dec 30 is meant to be typing up notes but is looking at Ollie & Nic sale prior to spree shop there tomorrow.

4:28pm Dec 31 @KittyJimjams strangely, I *always* manage to write several pages when in Foyles cafe, even now Ray’s Jazz has been moved to the 3rd floor.

7:40pm Jan 2 has written up writing from train & is too cold to carry on writing in the attic. Going downstairs for takeaway and warm writing cranny.

10:32am Jan 3 is back in attic, with 600+ words written in bed last night to transfer. Frost so heavy that the road’s gutters were solid ice 1st thing.

12:12pm Jan 3 the 600+ turned into 743 words. Yay!

11:31pm Jan 3 is going to bed early and writing her wintery story there as the temp is due to drop to -4C tonight: http://tinyurl.com/8fs8z3

1:03AM Jan 4 has around 1.5k words to type up tomorrow. This writing in bed lark really working.

1:47pm Jan 4 suspects the story works just as well without 1K of what she wrote yesterday. Arses. This is mainly as she’s worked out a key change.

11:54 Jan 5 had forgotten how knackering working a full day and then writing for an evening is.

9:39pm Jan 7 is conducting experiment. Is having your road dug up more likely to distract you from work than the internet? http://tinyurl.com/8omzkk

9:48pm Jan 8 is trying to write epic fantastical end of story but is mostly wishing she had some cake in the house.

11:43pm Jan 8 hates duplex printing at home: always seem to bugger it up

10:36pm Jan 11 has edited her story but still needs to write a missing scene. But wants to watch ER instead.

10:19 Jan 12 is reworking story. And resisting urge to look at vids on you tube.

10:22pm Jan 12 is peeved she can’t use ‘Morgan’ as surname as will look like wicked fangirl.

10:47pm Jan 12 is wishing she’d nicked The Darjeeling Ltd back off the chap. And wondering where her copy of ‘Wild Wood’ by Weller is

12:37am Jan 13 is done! Hurrah! gin!

    As you can tell from that, I was writing the story during the very cold snap in the first weeks of January. What you can’t tell is that it was so cold in my attic that I was sitting here with three or four layers of clothing on, and a rug over my legs. I’ve also deliberately excluded a couple of tweets where I asked if anyone could remember something I’d forgotten, as those give away elements of both the plot and theme and the answer led to the story’s eventual title.

    If you are interested in seeing the minutae that crosses the minds of writers/artists on twitter, you can try following: Dave Gorman, Jon Ronson, Charlie Brooker, Jamie Smart, Jamie McKelvie, Graham Linehan, James Moran, Stephen Fry, Paul Cornell etc etc.

    The Wild Wild Wood

    Sunday, 18 January 2009

    Over the break, I was writing a story set in a West Country winter. One image I had in my head was of wild, bare trees tangling together, and I kept thinking I ought to go up to the ridgeway by my house to get some good photos. The story is done and in with an editor, and finally, yesterday, I walked up to the ridge.

    It’s why I love living where I do. I’m in an urban area, all takeaways and Saturday night fights. But I can walk for ten minutes and be on the cusp of the countryside: the city sits in the Exe valley to the east, but to the west is farmland and high hills. The Exeter Green Circle is like this a lot of the way. This was up by Barley Valley Nature Reserve, about an hour before the winds started to pick up. And it’s just the sort of image I was trying to describe.

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