The sun was bright and confident yesterday and I’ve started wearing short-sleeved shirts to work. When I was at secondary school, on days like yesterday I’d take a long walk home through the fuel allotments. I remember early one March when I was about fourteen and I was walking alongside a heather-covered hillside. The sun was so bright the whole world was in that high contrast that makes you squint. I paused, and watched a bee doodling its way though the air. It was my birthday in a couple of weeks. No one cared but me and my parents. The sun was warm, but not hot, and the bee’s buzz was loud in the quietness of the allotments. I smiled to myself. I’ve always been a spring person.
When I returned to work on Wednesday (I was unwell on Tuesday, having caught a cold which took up residence in my chest), it was to find the postman had been very kind to me. I had a copy of Mrs Durberly’s War waiting on my desk and later on he delivered a copy of Jetse de Vries’ Shine anthology.
I can’t praise Jetse enough on Shine. I’ve not read it yet (more on that later), but when he stepped down from Interzone and announced his intention create an ‘anthology of near-future, optimistic sci-fi’ I couldn’t be more turned off. ‘Near-future’ is a waste of sci-fi, and ‘optimistic’ is just unrealistic. Or at least that’s what I thought at the time. I think Jetse’s campaign coincided with a period of personal growth for myself, and so a lot of the effort he put into raising awareness of the anthology became fuel for me. ‘Daybreak Magazine’ is an utter gift to readers and the Shine blog has much to interest those who want to care about our world.
Mrs Durberly’s War is the collected letters from one of the Crimean WAGs. Trevor Royle’s book gave me the context for The Colossus Engine, but I need the atmosphere. I need to know the type of mud they had there and the little in-jokes the soldiers shared. I need to know what one did when they needed to go the toilet in the middle of the night and what it smelt like inside the tents. Sure, I could make it up. I could probably even do a believable job of it. But then I’d be cheating myself out of the chance to learn. And reality, very often, turns out to be far more interesting than fiction.
While I’m still gathering the constituent parts for The Colossus Engine, all this reading about the Crimea has given me another story to work on. British society has broken down entirely and a charismatic new PM has taken charge, drawing on the mythical Unflappable Redcoat to give the country a sense of pride in itself again. The story mainly takes place as a division lay siege to a ‘neighbourhood’, a kind of cross between a 1960’s council estate and city block from Judge Dredd. This being in the future, I’ve spent the last week or so noodling around, trying to design a firearm which will both be near-future, and close enough to the Minié rifle for the atmosphere to work.
And while I’m not doing that, I have another Feathers story. It’s set in a town besieged from within and without. Who’s the town besieged by? According to Smith, the main character, it’s besieged by the regular army, the revolutionaries, the counter-revolutionaries, the counter-counter-revolutionaries, the counter-counter-counter-revolutionaries, and the counter-counter-counter-counter-revolutionaries. Her description is a bit flippant, but does a good job of getting across just how stupidly confused and arbitrary things tend to get in civil wars, and the pointlessness of demanding to know who’s side someone is on.
But all that’s on hold. Cal brought me a copy of Watchmen for my birthday, and I’m utterly hooked. She gave it to me yesterday and I’m half-way through Chapter IV. If I thought I could get away with it, I’d be reading it at my desk instead of working. The only reason I’m not further through it is that I’m also reading through the SPM slush. The words I’m using most in rejections so far are, ‘under developed’. A good piece of writing is made up of a dozen or more brilliant ideas all fighting for the spotlight and the writer’s job is to make them all work in harmony. When I say something is ‘under developed’, there’s two, maybe three ideas in there. If the trend continues, I’ll do a longer post about how I think all those different ideas get woven into a narrative.