Fiction in 2019 #6 – Proof of Concept

There was nothing unusual about the postcard. It waited on my doormat, nestled within a bill and some junk mail. On the front of it was a photo of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the sleek, flowing curves bathed in moonlight by the river. I smiled. I didn’t have a choice. It was like a painter receiving a postcard of The Starry Night or Water Lilies, a nudge to the soul, a reminder of what they longed to be able to create. Scrawled across the back, an inked afterthought, letters curved together to say: Even now, made me think of you. Hope you’re doing well. Erin x. My finger traced the words. There was nothing unusual about the postcard.

Except Erin didn’t exist.


A trap street is an amazing idea. Mapmakers, if they want to protect their copyright, historically have added “trap streets” to their maps to ensnare any would-be nefarious copiers. How it works is that the mapmaker would add a fake or incorrect street to their map. If someone else then subsequently copied their work, they also copied the trap street. It would be impossible to explain how you independently came up with the same fictional street as someone else, and therefore it neatly shows that you have copied the original mapmaker’s work.

The question at the root of Proof of Concept is: what if you had trap people to serve the same purpose?

From that one single idea, I found the story unfolding in front of me. It evolved to also consider the nature of reality and hit a theme for me of whether it really matters what is real and what is not, as long as you live your life. I’m thrilled that this story found a home in Issue #49 of NewMyths and I urge you to check out the entire issue here (it’s free to read!):

And this brings to an end my series of stories published in 2019. I hope you found something you enjoyed, and I hope you continue to read my work going into 2020!

Fiction in 2019 #5 – The Glassblower’s Peace


Tomaso da Guda chose to remember only one thing about his father: he had too many sons. The proper amount was three. With three able-bodied men, a man could plant his seed into the most important areas of Venetian life. The eldest would be trained to go into government. The next would receive some patronage from a rich merchant and be given a berth on his most profitable ship. The youngest would be given to the clergy; it was important to have a direct route into Heaven. Tomaso da Guda knew all this because his father told him these simple truths on his deathbed. Tomaso was his fourth son. He was left to float rudderless through the canals of the city.

From this inheritance, Tomaso chose the most strictly regulated routine he could think of: the army. No one pointed out to him that in times of perpetual peace, the army wasn’t particularly well-drilled. Being a soldier mostly meant spending your afternoons moving from bar to bar, trading illusions and downing alcohol to fuel the next round of more outrageous stories. Tomaso didn’t care much for the storytelling, instead choosing the quiet, dark corners that existed in every establishment. Still, he was paid well for his drinking. It gave him a modest house and the potential to spin modesty into respectability.

At the very least, he was doing better than his older brothers. The eldest had disappeared into the bowels of some prison after seeking to ban the use of magic within the city’s borders. The youngest had drowned. Even in a city like Venice, priests never learned to swim. The deepest cut was his second brother vanishing somewhere north of Egypt, along with the rest of his crew mates. As children, the two of them had banded together against the world and ran through so many cobblestoned streets that they went through shoes twice as fast as anyone else. Now Tomaso was alone, his parents dead, his brothers gone. There was no aunt or uncle to offer an understanding nod and laugh through tales of family joy, no cousin to lend a sympathetic ear. There was no one. In a way, his father was right. He had too many sons and the spare was left to soldier on alone.


‘The Glassblower’s Peace’ was originally published in 2018 in Issue #114 of Aurealis and is possibly one of my best stories so far. I know it’s possibly my wife’s favourite. It ventures into the heart of an alternative history, where Venice enjoys a prosperous peace under the protection of a magical glassblower. Now, though, cracks are emerging and a young private of the Venetian army might be the only to save the floating city from invasion. If you enjoyed Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell then I would hope you’d find a lot to like in ‘The Glassblower’s Peace’.

The reason why it’s appearing in this list of 2019 stories is that it was picked to join an incredible line-up of short stories written by New Zealand writers in Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy: Volume I. While I obviously have a vested interest in this book, I think what Paper Road Press and editor, Marie Hodgkinson, are doing with the Year’s Best series (Vol 2 due next year) is fantastic. The short fiction world is a disjointed old one. You get work published in various different places, with little overlap, and often stories can get lost in the churn. However, with Year’s Best, some stories have been salvaged from this fate and given an opportunity to extend their moment in the sun.

I’m thrilled that ‘The Glassblower’s Peace’ is one of those stories. It is fantastic to actually have this story out there in paperback as well.

So, I highly recommend that if you’re interested in what New Zealand speculative fiction writers have been creating recently, you check out Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy: Volume I. There’s a lot of great work in this collection, book ended by two incredible stories from Octavia Cade and Andi Buchanan. Find out more, or simply just buy a copy straight away, here:

Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy: Volume I

Fiction in 2019 #4 – A Parcel a Day


Let’s hit pause here. If we’re being honest, most people don’t know what a parcel is. Oh, they might hear it on the news. Some anchor might say ‘stock prices fell today as the government rejected BT’s bid for three hundred parcels’. But you don’t know what that means. Don’t sweat about it. Neither does the anchor. The words pass through one vessel of incomprehension to another. Most news is like this if we’re honest: war, politics, science. Magical trading is no different. You don’t care how magic is really divvied up. You don’t bid each year, taking your slice of the government’s contracts with a dozen faerie realms. You don’t hire Lichfield & Moore to negotiate deals, to fight for your position. That’s just not how the world works for you. Instead, you queue at the Office of Magical Allocation and wait for some grad straight out of university to stamp your application form. What you might be allowed wouldn’t even be one tenth of a parcel. Still, it lets you grow vegetables in amusing shapes, or curse your son’s sandwiches so they scream embarrassing stories out of his bag until he eats them.

So, what’s a parcel then? All around the world, countries have agreements with faerie realms. The British government works with seventeen fae courts. That’s a lot of magic, but not as much as one hundred years ago when every otherworldly prince and duke wanted to do business with us. So, the government needs to ration it. They package it into parcels. There’s meant to be some sort of symbolism here. We, Brits, love our postal service. We make cartoons about it; we have a mythology of the postman. Every child once wanted to be one. When a parcel lands on your door, it could be anything. It could be a case of gold, or a horse’s head. Like magic, the parcel is limitless. It’s probably a book, though. The French government refers to parcels as tranches instead. I like that word better.

As an aside, the Spanish market deals in huevos. That’s Spanish for eggs. I’ll never eat an omelette in Madrid again.


When we want to describe stories, we tend to rely on other stories to do the heavy lifting of the description. That’s why Marlon James’s Black Leopard Red Wolf was described as an “African Game of Thrones”. It’s a shortcut. A way to avoid having to condense down the dense world that James created. This way of describing things often goes astray. After all, Black Leopard Red Wolf isn’t really anything like A Game of Thrones. So, I always try to avoid such easy explanations of my work.

Despite all this, ‘A Parcel a Day’ in Issue 76 of Andromeda Spaceways is basically The Big Short but with magic. The tone, the setting, all of it was inspired by The Big Short, a great film about the 07 financial crisis. The only difference, and it is a big one, is that these stockbrokers are dealing with magic, not money.

I could say more than this, but honestly, sometimes the easiest way to describe a story is the best way. So, if you want to read about a team closing out a once-in-a-lifetime magical deal, then check out ‘A Parcel a Day’ here:

ASM #76

Fiction in 2019 #3 – Inheritance


After a period of quiet, no doubt connected to the birth of four lively and rambunctious children, Harris returned to the art world in 1955 with ‘Their Founding Fathers’. The painting, from outside the frame, seems merely a historical scene recreated. It is one any American would be able to recognise in a heartbeat: the signing of the Declaration of Independence. However, the inflammatory title (Their, not Our) is a clue to what might be found within. It is truly a remarkable painting to enter.

It is like stepping into a furnace. That is the first thing someone experiences upon entering the painting. The heat embraces you, squeezes you. It sinks deep into your lungs. Before you can even recognise the faces of Washington or Jefferson, you are dying. The music comes soon after. Pushing dangerously on the eardrum, it drowns out any of the Founding Fathers’ conversation. Unmistakably, the words of ‘Go Down Moses’ fill the room. The singer is unidentified. The voice is croaky, dry. You wonder if he’s going to be able to make it to the end of the song. The feeling is only emboldened when you hear the snapping of a whip and the cry of anguish reaching every corner of the room. Coupled with the heat, the music makes the room almost unbearable to stay in. You take a step back, readying to leave. And that is when you notice the floor. The dark, varnished floorboards the Founding Fathers stand on are not wood at all. They’re men. Eyes look up at you. Mouths scream.

It is perhaps impossible to state the impact and outcry that ‘Their Founding Fathers’ had in 1955. There were several genuine attempts to have Harris charged with a litany of crimes, including treason. She had to hire private bodyguards for security, but she remained firm in her work. In later years, she refused to discuss the aftermath, and we can only imagine how frightening such a time must have been with four young children. Her commercial reputation was shot. But while the public recoiled from the painting, some progressive critics raved about it. It was a stinging indictment on America’s founding myth, an expression of African American distaste for how a nation of freedom was built upon the back of slaves. More work came, the brushstrokes of Harris lashing out at centuries of injustice.


There are stories you just love once you’ve finished writing. This is one of them. ‘Inheritance’, found in Issue 124 of Aurealis, is possibly my favourite story which has been published this year. It takes a simple premise, a magical painter who can create art you can walk inside of, and spins out an entire new world through the form of an art history essay.

‘Inheritance’ really sticks to the art essay approach, including footnotes alluding to events in this parallel world where magic exists. There is worldbuilding in this story and there is, of course, magic. But the story is also concerned with politics, family and the fragile nature of memories. I’m always fond of a twist, but I don’t think I have ever landed one at a thematic level as well as I have in this story.

I really urge you to check out Aurealis #124 if for no other reason that this is the story I’ll be shilling when it comes to nominating season for awards. I love this one. I hope you do too.

You can find Aurealis #124 here:

Aurealis #124

Fiction in 2019 #2 – Ten Stages of War

alternative apoc

“And people are saying, they are actually saying, ‘oh the President is making this up. There are no aliens. They don’t exist’. I can’t believe people are saying that. If I was going to lie, I’d come up with a better lie than that, believe me. But this is the truth. We are under attack. I think you all have a right to know by what.

“The media, they’re not reporting on it. They’re being so dishonest. They won’t report on what Conaxas is capable of. So many capabilities. I can’t believe it. They weaponise everything. Water, water like you wouldn’t believe, so hot and boiling, melts a man in seconds. And, let me tell you, their leaders don’t have to worry about the dishonest media like I do. In fact, they don’t even have media. I know. Sometimes I think, hey, you know, maybe these Conaxasians are onto something. I joke, I joke. It was a joke. The media is very important but only when they’re being honest, and they are being so dishonest right now. They write stories about lies. People come up to them and lie, they say, ‘oh the President is doing this’ and they never even check with me. So dishonest.

“The media is like the Conaxasians; they are basically on the same team. Conaxas has weaponised facts. They don’t believe in them. They just say what they want, and it becomes true. You see that wall, it’s blue right? A lovely blue wall. Been there since Reagan I believe, and I love Reagan. Well in Conaxas, they just go, ‘oh that wall is gold now’ and it is. It is, folks. The wall becomes gold. How do you fight that?”


When it comes to ‘Ten Stages of War’, published in B Cubed Press’s Alternative Apocalypse, we have to look to Argentina. The world of literature is vast and glorious. That’s a great thing. The sad downside to this fact is that you’re never going to be able to read every good story. Also, your tastes can become insular, less a comfortable blanket and more a strict prison. There are heroes, though, fighting the good fight in providing us with a chance to broaden our reading: translators.

I owe an enormous debt to Gregory Rabassa for translating Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Charlotte Barslund and Emma Ryder for translating Carsten Jensen’s astonishing We, the Drowned. However, the biggest debt might be owed to those translators (too many to list unfortunately) who translated the work of Jorge Luis Borges. Borges was a genius and I urge you to read some of his work. ‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote’ is one of the funniest short stories I have ever read. ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’ is dealing with quantum mechanics in literature a decade before quantum mechanics was even being dealt with in science. And ‘Three Versions of Judas’ is a staggering thought experiment even for a non-believer such as myself.

However, one story, seems particularly prescient. ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ imagines a world of subjective idealism, where reality itself can be rejected. It is a philosophical issue. It also seems entirely fitting to the political environment of the last four years. We pick our sides. We choose our own subjective reality. There is no objective narrative, only alternative facts.

So, ‘Ten Stages of War’ is a Borgesian tale, a remake of ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ in a Trumpian world. There are ten stages until the Earth is a lie.

You can read it in the best-selling Alternative Apocalypse (ebook and paperback):

Fiction in 2019 #1 – Much Obliged, Stephen


I was in a right pickle. Not one of those pickles someone says before telling you they’re stuck between choosing two lovers, one a busty maiden perkier than Everest and the other some Adonis bathed in the remaining olive oil reserves. That’s not being caught in a pickle as so much as being trapped in a light French pastry. No, I was well and truly swimming in the vinegar, hurtling toward the Sun in a single-seater ship with a lick of power, no plan, and no hope. You could spread me over a sandwich I was in that much of a pickle.

Honestly, I suppose I should bally-well row back a bit and explain exactly how I got into this mess, but it seemed important to establish the rumblings of the train heading toward me. It’d be a bit like introducing the kids to the stray tomcat you’re about to beat over the back of the head with a shovel because it won’t leave the prized-winning tomatoes alone. I’m the tomcat and the shovel is the Sun. Don’t grow too attached.


And with such a start, it should be immediately obvious if Much Obliged, Stephen might be a story you are interested in. Published in Issue #10 of MYTHIC, Much Obliged, Stephen is essentially a love letter to the style of P.G Wodehouse. But in space.

I’m aware I’m not the first person to try this. Charlie Stross’s Trunk and Disorderly is another short story that takes a Wodehousian sensibility to science fiction. I enjoyed his spin on things, but I wanted to write something that was even more of a Wodehouse send-up. I took all the major trappings of Jeeves & Wooster, from a helpful butler, a semi-hopeless aristocrat, a convoluted scheme and a troublesome aunt, and then gave them sci-fi makeovers. The butler is now an AI, the aunt is a post-local entity, and the convoluted scheme involves space racing.

Personally, I love this story. I think it is very funny, while still retaining an interesting plot. I recognise, though, that this might not be for everyone. This is Wodehouse through and through. It is about trying to find the perfect comical description for every moment. It is for witty asides. It has an unexpected discussion of Jeremy Bentham’s view of utilitarianism. If you like your sci-fi with a whole lot of funny, or you really wished someone was willing to send Jeeves up to space, then please check out Much Obliged, Stephen. I think you will love it.

And if you read that introduction and thought that you wanted to stab yourself with a fork, well, I’m sure I’ll have another story that might be a better fit for you instead. Let’s find out over the next week.

You can buy MYTHIC #10 and Much Obliged, Stephen in both ebook and print form here:

Jerusalem Syndrome

“Yeah, uh, Steve? What are you doing, mate?”

“I’m building Jerusalem, ain’t I?”

Keith nodded, as if this was a sensible answer to a question asked in the middle of Suffolk. Indeed, the collection of boxes, fencing, tiles and bricks was an admirable effort for a middle-aged plumber. Steve had even gone to the trouble of using a cricket helmet on an Ikea box to recreate the Temple Mount.

While the tiny city made of litter had upset people, it wasn’t what finally caused the Neighbourhood Association of Little Felsham to act. Direct confrontation was frowned upon, whether it was about garden fences or recreating a foreign city on the village green. It was rather because Steve had taken to wearing nothing but a semi-transparent sheet as a toga. There was no option left after that. A meeting of concerned residents met at Cassandra’s house, and over tea and biscuits, it was decided Keith would be the one to investigate what was going on.

“It’s just, well, Steve,” Keith said, hands buried deep in his pockets. “There already is a Jerusalem, isn’t there? You’ve just been there?”

“Yep,” Steve said, bending over to pick up a brick. Keith averted his eyes. “Those Jews and Muslims arguing over who owns what. It’s a damn shame, Keith, that’s what it is. I knew then I had to go and help.”

Unable to find a link somehow between the litter city and securing peace in the Middle East, Keith resorted to nodding again. “Mmm.”

“It’s pretty simple when you think about it. Once I get this place finished, I can pop back over there and lead the Jews home, you know. Tell them there’s a completely free Jerusalem waiting for them over here. My mother always wanted me to be a prophet.”

“I think she wanted you to always be honest, Steve,” Keith said, feeling himself being sucked into the insanity like a spider toward a sink drain. “Hang on, why are you picking the Jews to come here?”

Steve paused at this question, running a hand through his unbrushed hair. “Look, I ain’t got a problem with those Muslims, but well, I figured bringing over the Jews might be less damaging on property prices, you know?”


“Anyway,” Steve continued, barrelling through Keith’s objection. “I really can’t talk. I’ve got to finish this place by Christmas. Give everybody time to settle in.”

Taking that as his cue to leave, Keith wandered back to his house. While he liked Steve and all, he wasn’t going to try and restore his sanity alone.


((I’ve been busy with Masters study. Proper blogging will try and resume later. Until then, I may post a few old piece of flash fiction.))

The Haunting of the Author #1

As I’ve promised, I’ve added another bit of work to my ‘Free Writing’ page. You can read We Need to Talk About Susan here. I strongly suggest reading it before coming back to this post! We’re going to get down and dirty in its entrails.

Back? Hopefully you enjoyed the poem? Now, onward.

Ronald Barthes once wrote an essay called The Death of the Author. It’s one of these critical essays, that many people might claim to have read, but secretly have just gone to the Wikipedia page. I will frankly admit to falling somewhere between that. I’ve never read the original essay, but I know a little more about the premise than a cursory Wikipedia glance. This midway point is also, funnily enough, exactly how I feel about the essay itself; I’m at a place somewhere between agreement and total disagreement.

The central premise of Barthes’s essay is that upon finishing their work, the author dies. They produce, but they do not explain. It is for the reader to take meaning away from a story. The writer should not tell people what the meaning is. Further, the reader shouldn’t look to the writer’s background to try and figure out what the work is about.

I have a weakness for the argument, because I don’t think a writer should explain what they mean. That’s what the story is for in the first place. However, I also find Barthes’s argument entirely silly. The writer and their background is important to how the story came about. Can you ever divorce the story from the writer? I’m not so sure.

Regardless, I’m always hesitant to explain my stories. On the other hand, it can be extremely fun. And so, occasionally, when I post or publish a story, I may “haunt” you here and discuss what I was thinking at the time. Ronald Barthes suggests you don’t click through.  Continue reading “The Haunting of the Author #1”

The English Evergreens

One of the things I’ve had to grapple with when it came to deciding to make a blog was to do with my actual work. It seems silly that I would have a website that would have no writing on at all. It would be like a painter or photographer running their own blog and not using a single image. Yet, what could I share here?

You see, the very best things I write I’d like to try and publish. The less good stories, the failed attempts, I don’t want to share at all. Which doesn’t leave me with much left over! Still, I think a writer’s blog should have actual writing and so I shall be posting things over on my ‘Free Writing’ page. What type of things? Work which I like but no one seems to want to publish. Works which I think are good but even I know are unpublishable. And stories and poems which I like but simply don’t want to publish at all, but rather just share.

This first story is of the latter category. It was written on Tuesday, 12th January 2016. Only today have I come back to edited the rawness I wrote. Some people will figure out what it’s about instantly, and I hope you enjoy it. Some of you might have no idea, and hopefully it is still enjoyable, rather than incoherent. There will be a comment sections for every story and poem I post, so please, let me know what you think.

Please click through to read The English Evergreens.