In Scarlet Town

murder-balladsMurder Ballads is now available for preorder from Egaeus Press, producer of dark and imaginative books. My tale “In Scarlet Town” will mark my second appearance in an Egaeus anthology. I’m proud to be included among a host of fine writers such as Angela Slatter, Reggie Oliver, Philip Fracassi, Helen Marshall, Timothy J. Jarvis, Alison Littlewood, Daniel Mills, Avalon Brantley, Stephen J Clark, Lisa L Hannett, Louis Marvick, Brendan Connell, Colin Insole, Rhys Hughes, Charles Schneider and Albert Power.

When editor Mark Beech sent me the guidelines, I took many trips down my musical memory lane. There’s such a wealth of material. I found my interests gravitated towards the more contemporary(ish) side of the genre. I considered PJ Harvey’s Down by the Water, Neko Case’s Furnace Room Lullaby and Inkubus Succubus’ The Rape of Maude Bowen with its angry chorus:

“Now here is a tale, a story to be told
Of a young girl but fifteen years old
Impaled as a vampire, her mother burned as a witch
Now these were the crimes, the crimes of the rich…”

But it was Gillian Welch’s enigmatic “Scarlet Town” that captured my imagination in the end. So what the hell was going on in Scarlet Town? The name itself conjured up a dry and dusty place, but one that is full of colour, fragrance and the timeless pursuit of pleasure. I saw menacing beauty that disguised a host of ugly secrets.

I discovered that Bob Dylan also wrote a song called “Scarlet Town”, which came out after Gillian Welch’s tune. Dylan portrays a place with the “evil and the good livin’ side by side”, where “all human forms seem glorified”. I mulled over a fascinating discussion on the themes of the Dylan song, with its echoes of the traditional ballad Barbara Allen alongside more current concerns. Dylan’s imagery is complex and contradictory, complementing the starkness of Welch’s song.

Gillian Welch references the traditional ballad “Pretty Polly” with the line: “You left me here to rot away, like Polly on a mountainside”. I’ll add that conflicting interpretations have appeared: some song lyric websites seem to think she’s singing “like holly on the mountainside”. But it sounds like ‘Polly’ to me and it makes more sense, so my story contains a pinch of that old ballad too –  have a listen to an old-timey Appalachian-style version by Patty Loveless and Ralph Stanley.

angel-trumpet-509445_960_720The final ingredient for this story was suggested by notes I made over a year ago. I was walking down the road near a friend’s house in North London. I was so lost in thought that I walked right into the overhanging branches of a tree full of incredible yellow flowers as big as my face. What the flowering fuck indeed… I’d never seen anything like it. And the scent was intense and entrancing. Honey-sweet, but lemony too with a touch of spice. It was a complex scent I needed to keep sniffing at… addictive and enthralling.

I later looked up these flowers, Angel’s Trumpet aka brughansia. I discovered that these plants have a long history of lore and myth, along with close cousin datura or Devil’s Trumpet. Their hallucinogenic and potentially toxic components have been used in shamanic rituals; it was believed that they enabled people to communicate with the dead and denizens of other worlds. According to some accounts, brughansia and datura were used as aphrodisiacs in brothels. And the plants also had more prosaic medicinal uses, such as treating asthma and haemorrhoids.

I’ll note that one component, scopolamine, plays a less than enlightening role in the weird Netflix series The OAThese plants have also been used to induce disorientation and docility.

I read an article about a town in Louisiana where teenagers were raiding front gardens for drug-related purposes. It got to a point where the cops went knocking on doors if they spotted Angel’s Trumpet growing in a garden. A few people actually destroyed their plants. But many of the comments at the end of the article basically went: Fuck the police! They’re not gonna mess with my brugs!

I made notes about all this and put them in one of those little folders on my computer that just sit around for a while. But I came upon the material again and realised that these beautiful yet deadly blossoms will show me the way to Scarlet Town…

My story also includes a tip of the hat to Leena Krohn’s novella Datura, Or a Figment Seen by Everyone, where a woman acquires a datura plant, uses it to help her asthma and becomes addicted. She observes:

“I hope you understand that plants, too, are conscious. The consciousness of plants resembles human dreaming. That, too, is consciousness.”

Some heady thoughts to go along with a very heady scent…

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Scarborough bound… and a Remy Martin straight up

grand_hotel_scarborough_yorkshire_england_1890sSo it’s time for Fantasycon! This year it takes place in Scarborough, known for its fair and a faded seaside ambiance that horror writers find particularly attractive – I can see the story-spinning wheels whirring already. For more information, have a look at the Fantasycon by the Sea website.

This time around I’ll be involved with three events: a panel, a book launch and a reading.

On Friday 23 September at 4pm I’ll be on a panel called Out of the Woods. The programme poses these questions: are we growing out of rural and into urban horror? Is it safe to go back into the woods? Steve Shaw will be chairing, and other panelists include Simon Clark, Collen Anderson, Ian Whates and Charlotte Courtney-Bond.

Those involved have already exchanged some lively emails and this promises to shape up into an intriguing panel. Sense of place has always been a subject close to my heart. My South London surroundings have played a big part in recent stories like The Pleasure Garden and Lambeth North. Other stories have taken place in the Bronx and the semi-suburban reaches of New Jersey as well as the Pine Barrens (Jersey Devil and all).

Next on my schedule is the Alchemy Press book launch that takes place on Saturday 24 September at mid-day. The unique Joel Lane tribute anthology Something Remains will be launched along with The Private Life of Elder Things. A lot of authors will be on hand to natter and sign a few things and there will be wine! 

However, I will have to avoid over-indulgence in the wine because I’ll be involved with a reading shortly afterwards at 14.00-14.30. This will in fact be a joint reading with another Something Remains contributor, Jan Edwards. We will both be reading from our stories in anthology and we might say a few words ābout it too.

Speaking of Something Remains, it is the subject of a ‘realtime review’ from Des Lewis. I thank him for his in-depth coverage of the book, and for his kind  comments on “The Pleasure Garden”:

“Rosanne’s evolved fragment becomes an evocative summoning of the cranes as the girders of a cat’s cradle genius-loci of South London, now and then… Daniel reaches some Lane-like choreography (amid the ‘crane constellations’) with a music mix of old times and wrought passions, with not a diaspora but a regathering, a regathering, each to each, for this book, amid the still recognisable fragments of the Pleasure Garden…”

I will now close on a very different note. This hasn’t been a very up-close and personal kind of blog, but I will mention that my father died very recently. Though he was 91 and not well, it was a shock and it’s taken a while to sink in. I wasn’t sure if I’d make it to Fantasycon, until I remembered that my dad was a very show-must-go-on kinda guy. He’d want me to get on with it and do the things I love – writing, reading and schmoozing.

In his honour I’ll share some of his favourite songs. The Weavers come top of the list of old family favourites, and I’ve already posted a few times about them. So you’ll find some great Weavers tunes in my post about The Lady in the Yard and my tributes to Ronnie Gilbert and Pete Seeger.

Another album my dad loved was Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera, specifically  the 1955 Broadway cast recording that features Lotte Lenya. He especially liked “The Army Song” (aka “The Cannon Song”) and sang along to it all the time. For years I thought the lines “Let’s all go barmy, let’s join the army” went ‘Let’s all go bombing…”.

Unfortunately all tracks from the 1955  album have been removed from YouTube but I’ve found a reasonable equivalent here.

Anyone familiar with the old US recording will notice some differences in translation. I find it interesting that “Because we like our beefsteak tartare” became “Because we like our hamburger RAW“.  I suppose an American audience in the 1950s wouldn’t have had a clue what ‘beefsteak tartare’ would be… I certainly didn’t.

Moving along into the 1970s, my dad got to be a Shel Silverstein fan and we all ‘dug’ “Freakin’ at the Freakers Ball”.

And needless to say, when we didn’t do our chores we were treated to this other Shel Silverstein number…

So I’ll also be lifting a glass to my dad sometime this weekend. I’ve already lifted a few over the past week. One of his favourites was Remy Martin – straight up!*

 
cognc_rem4

*unmixed, without ice

Something remains…

something-remains-a002I’m pleased to say that my story “The Pleasure Garden” will appear in Something Remains, a new anthology from Alchemy Press. It will be launched 24 September at Fantasycon by the Sea.

This unique and moving collaboration differs from any book I’ve contributed to in the past. When Joel Lane died in 2013 he left many handwritten fragments behind. Some were sketches, others closer to complete stories.

Peter Coleborn and Pauline E Dungate teamed up to edit an anthology based on these fragments. Various friends and associates of Joel’s selected pieces that sparked their imaginations. Out of this emerged a collection of stories, poems, and reflections on Joel’s poetry and critical work.

I chAntithesisose a sparse and suggestive piece called “Antithesis” – here’s the original on the left. I’ll add that an important facet of Joel’s writing was its dark sense of place and its rootedness in Birmingham. However, contributors were free to place their stories in other locations if they weren’t familiar with Birmingham. For me, this translated to Kennington and Vauxhall in south London. The latter is home to a few well-known gay pubs; it is also the site of a massive surge of corporate construction projects marked by some scary crane-related activity. So out of this melange sprouted “The Pleasure Garden”.

As you’d expect, some fragments appealed to more than one contributor. I ended up sharing “Antithesis” with Alison Littlewood, an altogether fab writer and lovely individual. I’m looking forward to seeing what she’s made of the same source material.

This book will do Joel proud with its powerful line-up of authors. Sales will benefit Diabetes UK, since Joel suffered from type 2 diabetes.

“The Pleasure Garden” is technically my second collaboration. The first was with Mat Joiner – who also contributes to Something Remains – for our story in Eibonvale’s Rustblind and Silverbright anthology. Back in 2013 Joel gave us generous and incisive feedback on our tale. I only wish that I could have sent “The Pleasure Garden” to him as well.

On 24 June, the day after the EU referendum, several contributors noted the irony of the title in the wake of Brexit – and Joel sure loved his puns. A few of us wondered what Joel would have made about this turn of events. We can only speculate, but I’m sure he would have been appalled by the post-referendum explosion of bigotry and he would have put himself on the line to oppose it.

Anyway, here’s the table of contents for Something Remains. And remember, if you can’t make it to Fantasycon, Something Remains is now available for preorder here.

  • Foreword by Peter Coleborn
  • Introduction by Pauline E. Dungate
  • Not Dispossessed:  A Few Words on Joel Lane’s Early Published Works by David A. Sutton (Essay)
  • Joel by Chris Morgan (Verse)
  • Everybody Hates a Tourist by Tim Lebbon
  • The Missing by John Llewellyn Probert
  • Charmed Life by Simon Avery
  • Antithesis by Alison Littlewood
  • Dark Furnaces by Chris Morgan
  • The Inner Ear by Marion Pitman (Verse)
  • Broken Eye by Gary Mcmahon
  • Stained Glass by John Grant
  • Threadbare by Jan Edwards
  • The Dark above the Fair by Terry Grimwood
  • Grey Children by David A. Sutton
  • The Twin by James Brogden
  • Lost by Pauline Morgan (Verse)
  • Through the Floor [1] by Gary Couzens
  • Through the Floor [2] by Stephen Bacon
  • Bad Faith by Thana Niveau
  • Window Shopping by David Mathew
  • Clan Festor by Liam Garriock
  • Sweet Sixteen by Adam Millard
  • Buried Stars by Simon Macculloch
  • And Ashes in Her Hair by Simon Bestwick
  • The Pleasure Garden by Rosanne Rabinowitz
  • Joel Lane, Poet by Chris Morgan (Essay)
  • The Reach of Children by Mike Chinn
  • The Men Cast by Shadows by Mat Joiner
  • The Winter Garden by Pauline E. Dungate
  • Natural History by Allen Ashley
  • The Second Death by Ian Hunter
  • The Bright Exit by Sarah Doyle (Verse)
  • Blanche by Andrew Hook
  • The Body Static by Tom Johnstone
  • You Give Me Fever by Paul Edwards
  • The Other Side by Lynda E. Rucker
  • Of Loss and of Life: Joel Lane’s Essays on the Fantastic by Mark Valentine (Essay)
  • Shadows by JJoe X Young
  • I Need Somewhere to Hide by Steven Savile
  • Coming to Life by John Howard
  • The Enemy Within by Steve Rasnic Tem
  • Afterword: The Whole of Joel by Ramsey Campbell (Essay)

 

 

At long last: X Marks the Spot, Great God Pan the opera, Eastercon and a belated tribute to Vi Subversa

book_x_marks_the_spot_front_2It’s been a while since my last post, to put it lightly. What can I say? Deadlines, deadlines, day job and all the usual. I should know by now that the best way to blog is to fire off quick items, otherwise you’re faced with the prospect of knitting together disparate events. But that’s life, a series of disparate items.

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll have a story in an anthology X Marks the Spot, published by NewCon Press to mark its tenth anniversary in July. It doesn’t seem long since I went to an event to celebrate the publisher’s fifth anniversary.

I previously published with NewCon in the anthology Conflicts. Some time ago at a bar, editor and writer Ian Whates told me he wanted stories for an anthology called Conflicts. Conflicts? You want conflicts, I’ve got conflicts! So I sent him “Harmony in My Head”, a story set around the time of the 2005 7/7 London bombings and the anti-G8 mobilisation in Scotland. Tinnitus and parallel universes were also involved.

It turned out that Conflicts (2010) was primarily a collection of military SF, which my story wasn’t, but Ian published it anyway. At least one reviewer expressed bemusement that the only military hardware in the story was a quick glimpse of a Chinook helicopter in a newspaper photo.

I’m very pleased and proud to have a story published by NewCon again, and be on board to celebrate its tenth anniversary.

Easterconeastercon cate and rosanne
I attended Eastercon at the end of March. It’s been my first Eastercon for several years. I felt sentimental about it being in Manchester, site of the first con I ever attended – Eastercon 1998. I went to some good panels, but now that I’m looking back over a few months and my memory is hazy I have to admit that a high point was dinner in the Greek tapas bar over the road in the company of Simon Bestwick, Nina Allen, Cate Gardner and Priya Sharma. And here’s a nice photo of myself (left) and Cate (right), taken by Cate. I’m notoriously camera-shy but I’m glad I gave in to the cajoling for a selfie. A ‘good’ photo of myself is one where I don’t look like a zombie or an axe murderer – so I think this one fits the bill.

Great God Pan – the opera
Those of you who enjoyed Helen’s Story might be interested in a forthcoming opera based on The Great God Pan. While I’ve not been an opera follower myself, I’m taking a great interest in this one. Composed by Ross Crean, the opera sets out with similar aims to give the vilified Helen Vaughan a voice. In her final aria she sings:

We will raise the living dead
Through the power of horned head,
Cloven foot and revelry.
Thus the Lord of Trickery will
Set this mortal coil on fire
With every succulent desire.
Pan is all, and all is Pan,
And we will hence return again!

Here’s a clip with some background information and music. Apparently, the production will be given a steampunk aesthetic. I really hope I have the opportunity to see it some day.

Vi Subversa (Frances Sokolov) 20.06.35–20.02.16
So now we’re going to hark back to earlier in the year… If you recall, my last blog ended with reactions to the deaths of David Bowie and Paul Kantner. Since then, we’ve lost even more creative people, including Prince, Victoria Wood and Vi Subversa.

Several months gone, I still want to say something about Vi – guitarist, singer and songwriter with feminist punk band Poison Girls. She died at the age of 80 last February.

I first went to see Poison Girls in 1980, and went to their gigs many times throughout the decade. Conway Hall, Chat’s Palace, the Cricketers at the Oval, the squatted ambulance station on the Old Kent Road, other venues with names that have long slipped away into the spaces between my brain cells.

I also remember when Vi performed at a picnic in the garden at the occupied South London Women’s Hospital in the summer of 1984. She was accompanied by one guitarist, 17-year-old Debbie Smith. I have a vivid recollection of Vi performing “Under the Doctor”, very appropriate to the hospital setting: “What I’m trying to say… is you’ve got to be strong, so strong/Because nothing takes the pain away for long!” Sadly, the garden  where this took place is now a carpark for the Tesco superstore that replaced part of the hospital.

In December 2015 I went to Brighton to attend what was to be Vi’s final gig, thrilled to see her performing again. Along with her own songs she sang several Brecht & Weill compositions including “Pirate Jenny”. Her voice was perfect for Brecht. Songs such as”Old Tart’s Song” and “I’ve Done it All Before” (just about the only love song I can stomach) acquired even more resonance when sung by an 80-year-old woman. I especially liked the little polyamorous flourish she added at the end: “I’ve done it all before, but not with you… and you… and you.”

I ended up sitting across a table from Vi before she went on stage. She was talking to one of the gig organisers, then to another musician. I wanted to say hello since I interviewed her for radical women’s magazine Bad Attitude in 1995, which marked the release of a retrospective CD and a grand reunion gig at the Astoria. I also went to her 60th birthday party and had the pleasure of getting to know her a little then.

But as I sat there at the Brighton venue I was thinking: ‘Better not disturb her before she goes on stage, she might be preparing for her performance and getting into the mood… etc etc… I’ll catch her afterwards.’

But I didn’t manage to find her that night, so that didn’t happen. Perhaps she left just after her performance. And now I know it won’t ever happen.

I deeply regret that I was too stupidly shy to say hello, but I am grateful that I had a chance to see that wonderful gig. Vi Subversa was – and still is – an inspiration to me.

Here are a couple of songs from that gig, “Persons Unknown: and “Old Tart’s Song”. As you might expect, the acoustic version of “Persons Unknown” is quieter than the original, but even more powerful: “Survival in silence isn’t good enough no more…”

And here’s the original “Persons Unknown” for a bit of contrast… I believe this was the first Poison Girls record.

I’ll now share a scan of the article I coauthored in Bad Attitude. The other article on the spread is about an ill-fated UN women’s conference in Beijing, in case you’re wondering. Back in the day I suppose our prevailing aesthetic was: “We’ve got a new font and we’re gonna use it!”

Vi2Vi1

If you have fond memories of any Poison Girls gigs or want to find out more about Vi and her wonderful music, you might be interested in joining a Tributes to Vi Subversa Facebook page. There you can find personal reflections and links to music videos, interviews, obituaries and tributes.

There may be trouble ahead…
Now I’m just getting up to speed. The events of the past few weeks weigh heavily, but this post is long enough. I’m sure more ranting, writing and serious thinking is called for in the near future. So at the risk of appearing flippant, I’ll close with a certain old Nat King Cole tune…

 

Fantasycon, book nerd problems and book love

Book_nerdThere I was, volunteering to organise a workshop on Universal Credit and benefit sanctions for working people (aka in-work conditionality‘) at the London Anarchist Bookfair when something went ping in the twisted passages of my brain as I noted the date of the bookfair – 24 October. Could that be… yes it is… the same date as Fantasycon in Nottingham! Yes, I had double-booked myself, despite the many lists made and calendars defaced. As a friend suggested, this clash of events is a classic #booknerdproblem.

Usually Fantasycon takes place at the end of September, but this year it’s moved to the end of October. A couple of years ago the World Fantasy Convention took place on the last weekend of October, just after the London Anarchist Bookfair and it was fun to go from one to the other – I wrote about this in my 2013 post From Austerity to Fairyland. But it’s bookfair weekend rather than Halloween weekend this time around.

Since I had arranged everything in Nottingham, Fantasycon won out. It did give me some pause for thought. While I’ve been ruminating on the conjunctions between political action, creativity, weirdness and writing, have I been caught in a situation where the interests of geekery, fantasy and activism stand opposed?

Not entirely… The story I’ll be reading in my slot is about in-work conditionality too – kind of – with a definite twist of weirdness. Plus, the panel I’m on will tackle alternative social structures in imaginative fiction. And of course, the anti-austerity anthology Horror Uncut is shortlisted for the best anthology award.

So here are my events for the weekend. And no doubt I’ll also also be hanging out at the bar…

PANEL: Saturday 24 October
The Fantastic Mundane: Imaginary Social Infrastructures
12 midday (
Conference Theatre)
Health, wealth, law, government & learning are key parts of our lives, but how are they depicted in genre writing? What do these and other ‘everyday’ social establishments offer within created worlds?
My personal starting point in this discussion will be Ursula K LeGuin’s comment: “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.” I’m also interested in how we can envision alternatives when writing speculatively about ‘real’ settings as well as secondary and far future worlds .
Moderator: Karina Coldrick
Panelists: Leigh Bardugo, Lucy Hounsom, Rosanne Rabinowitz, Brandon Sanderson, Neil Williamson

READING: Saturday 24 October
8.40pm
(Reading Room)
I plan to present “Keep Them Rollin'” from the anthology We Need to Talk. Quantum computing meets Universal Credit! This is my first truly ‘short’ short story that I can finish in one reading.
Afterwards, I’ll be heading to the launch party for Undertow Publications, which will celebrate the launch of VH Leslie’s Skein and Bone and Aickmann’s Heirs, edited by Simon Strantzas. I gather there will be wine and conversation until late. Anyone wanting to chat afterwards is welcome to join me at the launch.

I was just putting the finishing touches on this post, when I went over to Facebook and discovered a somewhat relevant article in the Mirror16 of the scariest things we just learnt about benefits reform should definitely appeal to horror fans, and it also features an incident involving time travel, or at least the expectation that claimants have access to some means of time travel: “One man received a letter telling him about an appointment on 27 June 2014. It was dated 26 June 2014 and told him he had to go to the appointment one day previously – 25 June 2014. Even though he showed officials the letter, he was sanctioned.” 

To end on a more cheerful note, the second printing of Soliloquy for Pan is out. According to the publisher, about half were sold by pre-order so get in there if you want one. And here’s a review from When Churchyards Yawn. The blogger, John C Nash, writes appreciatively about the physical presentation and feel of the book, accompanied by luscious photographs of the book in autumnal settings:

“The foliate arabesque cartouche surrounding the gold-foiled Pan on the front cover and the gold-foiled Trajanesque typeface on the spine is reminiscent of the Arts & Crafts movement; which is, of course, the perfect choice for the theme of the collection as there was a massive resurgence of interest in Pan at that time.”

I certainly feel honoured that my story, “The Lady in the Yard”, is encased within an object of such beauty. Meanwhile, I hope that John enjoys the text as well… 🙂

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Universal Credit and the multiverse – and a tribute to a friend

6a00d8345295c269e201b8d12175b2970c-200wiWe Need to Talk has just been released by Jurassic London, the same folks who published Jews vs Aliens. I have a story in this new anthology, which is themed on ‘difficult conversations’. I am very pleased with this because it’s the only story I’ve written that comes to a mere 2000 words. When I’ve previously submitted 2000-word things to critiquing groups, I received comments along these lines: “This reads like the beginning of a novel.” But wow, here’s my first proper short short story. I’ve pretty much decided on this one for my reading at Fantasycon.

Jurassic is a not-for-profit publisher specialising in charity and benefit books. It worked with the Kindred Agency to produce and promote We Need to Talk, and proceeds will go to the Eve Appeal, a charity dedicated to supporting research into the early detection and prevention of women’s cancers. The stories were selected by Susan Armstrong, Anne C Perry, Anastasia Scott and Athena Lamnisos.

My story “Keep Them Rollin” in this anthology involves Universal Credit, quantum computing and multiversal weirdness, which results in a very difficult conversation indeed… It was inspired by my involvement with Boycott Workfare, which campaigns against forced unpaid labour and benefit sanctions.

When I was researching ‘in-work conditionality‘, the extension of sanctions and compulsion to low-income workers who claim top-up benefits, I never expected it to turn into a story. At the time, I was investigating a pilot scheme that started last April, reading through the DWP’s guidelines for ‘job coaches’ (once known simply as advisors) who would be harassing working claimants on these pilots. They were advised to initiate ‘challenging conversations’ with their ‘customers’.

And then when Jurassic London sent around an email announcing a competition for short fiction about ‘difficult conversations’, the story took shape.

A few of my friends have died from gynaecological cancers, so that’s another reason it means a lot to be in this anthology. I’d like to dedicate “Keep Them Rollin'” to my good friend Jill Allott, who died in 2012 from a secondary brain tumour related to ovarian cancer. Here’s a photo and a link to a little bio in History Made At Night. This was based on a Facebook tribute I wrote before I’d joined the blogosphere. Jill was a former stalwart of Brixton squatting and a wonderful friend, whose enthusiasm boosted many anarchist, feminist, lesbian/gay and community projects.

Jill has also come up again in my thoughts because I’ve just been interviewed for a forthcoming documentary, London Rebel Dykes of the 1980s, which brought back many memories of her. In fact, we went together to the infamous Treworgy Tree Fayre festival in 1989 – referred to in the story – along with a posse of other friends. So this story belongs to Jill in many ways. And it is now available here on my Free Fiction page!

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Jill Allott on drums in our late 1980s-era band, the Sluts from Outer Space

The Vatican Vaults are open!

1795476_1084280334918889_265400601105857995_nIn Going Retro: Ringing the Bells of the Harelle, and the Pikart Posse Returns I wrote about my story “Bells of the Harelle”, which was accepted by David V Barrett for Tales of the Vatican Vaults in Constable & Robinson’s Mammoth Books series. Now this anthology has been let loose upon the world. As befits the series name, Vatican Vaults is a substantial 500+ page volume packed full of stories and helpful editorial commentary.

It’s based on a unique alternative world premise: Pope John Paul I did not die a month after his accession in 1978. Instead he lived for over 25 years, and opened up the most secrets parts of the Vatican Library to scholars. We will find all the manner of strange and suppressed stories within…

I tend to dip in and out of collections of shorter fiction between novels, so I’m only just beginning to read through this anthology. I’ve found it fascinating just as a casual reader as well as one of the contributors. Each story has a preface and an afterward giving scholarly comments on the contents. This has let to a lot of excited googling, wanting to find out what’s real and what’s made up. So this anthology is wonderful in the way it blurs the boundary between the real and the fantastical. Sarah Ash had me looking up the history of Allegri’s Miserere: yes, it really was forbidden to transcribe this piece and those who did would be excommunicated. And what is the connection of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Order of the Golden Dawn, as explored by JM Brugee in “Songs of Love”? While tantalising to the historically minded, these rollicking tales also entertain in their own right.

My own contribution,”Bells of the Harelle” is a chronicle of fourteenth-century rioting and eroticised heresy; it also reveals that certain medieval sects had stumbled on scientific mysteries much earlier than we imagined. In some ways this story is a prequel to my novel-in-progress about a woman leader of the Pikarts or ‘Adamites’, an anarchistic and free-loving faction in the Hussite revolution of fifteenth-century Bohemia.

As I wrote “Bells of the Harelle” I grew very fond of my character Seraphine. We meet her as a young wife in Ghent, where a revolt by weavers in the 1380s gives her the impetus to leave her unhappy marriage and dedicate herself to changing the world, a mission that takes her to the turbulent streets of Rouen, to Brussels and Tournai. After the Inquisition cracks down on Seraphine’s sect of sensual heretics, she ends up as a refugee in Prague on the eve of the Hussite revolution. And that’s where my novel Heretics begins.

After the defeat of the 'Harelle' in Rouen in 1382, the army removed the tongues from the bells that had summoned people to rise up against a new tax. The bell tower was later destroyed

After the defeat of the ‘Harelle’ in Rouen in 1382, the army removed the tongues from the bells that had summoned people to rise up against a new tax. The bell tower was later destroyed

When I first started writing Heretics, Seraphine dies early in the novel. She was getting on a bit, after all… But now that her character has grown more in “Bells”, I now feel like I’d rather keep her around longer. She’s sly and salty, tough and humorous, as well as a bit grumpy.

So that’s yet another decision looming on the horizon now that I’m looking at this book again. Is dear old Seraphine one darling I’ll have to kill? Yet gratuitous character carnage always annoyed me as a reader. Oh we need something dramatic, let’s shoehorn in some of that Hollywood Screenwriting 101 brand of ‘Conflict’ – eeny meeny mighty mo, that one has to go!

No doubt I’ll have more thorny thickets to clear out as I work on Heretics. Meanwhile, if you want to meet some of its characters and read some enjoyable stories, Tales from the Vatican Vaults is available in paperback and on Kindle. You might even find it in a non-specialist bookshop on your high street.

And since we’re on publication news, I’m pleased to announce that Soliloquy for Pan will have a second printing at the end of September, so those who missed out on the first run will have another chance. The second edition will also feature some new illustrations. Watch this space or visit the Egaeus Press website for more news.

Another great development is that Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Unease has been nominated for the British Fantasy Society’s best anthology award. The winner will be announced at Fantasycon at the end of October. I’ll have more information relating to Fantasycon in the very near future.