This collection is for all those people who asked, 'Where can we get your stories?'
In 1997 our musician friends William Pint and Felicia Dale were staying with us for a few weeks, off and on, whilst on tour in the UK. Felicia was working on a short story for an anthology, 'Warrior Princesses' edited by Elizabeth Anne Scarborough for the publisher, DAW. We fell to discussing story types and I said I didn't think I could write a warrior princess story, with all the expectations that went with it. (Xena was then on TV, though I'd never watched it.) Felicia told me not to be such a writing wimp. Of course I could. I emailed Annie and asked if the anthology was still open and to cut a long story short, it was. She invited me to submit something – on the grounds that she'd read one of my unpublished novels so she knew I could write. Still unsure as to whether I should take the project seriously or do a send-up I opted to do both and let Annie choose. She picked the serious story and in 1998 gave me my first professional writing sale.
Amazingly nothing was wasted because a couple of years later I sold 'Aunt Agatha's Amazon Agency' – the send-up story – to the English small-press magazine 'Scheherazade'. It was about a bunch of Warrior Princesses (from an agency supplying Warrior Princesses to those in need) let loose on a day trip to Blackpool circa 1955. It was Xena meets the saucy seaside postcard.
In the meantime I'd managed to sell 'Baron Boscov's Bastard - A Cinderella Story,' to 'Twice Upon a Time' another pro-anthology from DAW in the USA, this time edited by Denise Little. I was, at this time, singing full-time with Artisan. As part of our Christmas Show tour we used to include a mini-pantomime, which I usually wrote. 'Baron Boscov's Bastard' started out as our Cinderella panto, 'The Wrong Fairy Godmother.' in the stage version it was all in rhyming couplets, of course, in the best English pantomime tradition, so I rewrote it and extended the plot to make it into a short story. The premise? Cinderella gets an overworked, underpaid locum Fairy Godmother who delivers Sleeping Beauty's hundred year sleep spell instead of the expected pumpkins to coaches one. She never gets to go to the ball, so it's up to the stable-boy, Jimmy Buttons, to set things straight. It's especially for anyone who – like me – always thought that in the pantomime version Cinderella ends up with the wrong man when she marries the prince and leaves poor sweet Buttons (a good loser) trying to be happy for her.
Next came another retold fairy tale for another of Denise Little's anthologies, this time written to order. The brief was to take a wicked or minor character from a well known myth or fairy tale and re-tell it from their point of view. I really got my teeth into this one and it turned into a story that was 'Snow White' meets the 'Six Wives of Henry VIII.' I called it 'Mirror Mirror'. In one of those weird happenstances of synchronicity I had delivered the finished manuscript, been paid, and done all the page proofs when the novel 'Mirror Mirror' (a retelling of Snow White from the Wicked Queen's point of view by Gregory Maguire) hit the book shops in a welter of publicity, Bummer! You can't win 'em all.
'The Urbane Fox' came next for another of Denise Little's DAW anthologies, 'Mystery Date'. Unusually this story started with the title and grew from there. The brief said it had to be a story about unusual happenings on a first date, so I wrote a story about sewing and shapechanging. I have a fair amount of experience of sewing. The shapechanging? Not so much, but it was fun working it out.
Back to my own side of the pond for the next anthology story 'The Whitby Jets'. Sue Thomason and Liz Williams decided to repeat the idea of the 'Fabulous Brighton' anthology (which Liz had co-edited), but this time with stories centred on Whitby, home of Dracula, Goths and ghosts. Would I like to submit something? Of course! The anthology coincided with the amazingly badly thought out Licensing Bill of 2003 in the UK which insisted that all premises presenting live music and/or dance had to have an entertainment licence. Their meaning of 'entertainment' was so badly defined that the act could theoretically be used to imprison children caught committing the heinous crime of carol singing from door to door if applied to the exact letter of the law. Many small pub venues simply refused to go through the tortuous and expensive rigmarole of applying for a new licence, so some folk clubs, musicians' jam sessions and morris dancing venues suddenly found themselves homeless. My favourite newspaper headline related to an incident in Cerne Abbas when the local council applied the new legislation heavy handedly. (Their officials stormed in and stopped a Christmas morris-dance.) Next day the newspapers screamed: 'Double Cock-Up at Cerne Abbas.' (If you don't get that then I suggest you google 'Cerne Abbas chalk figure'.) The legislation has since been amended, sadly some eight years too late to save many music events and folk clubs from folding.
Anyhow with all this in the news I decided to look ahead fifty years to when the 2003 legislation might be used to 'disappear' people for the crime of morris dancing in public. In the story, the Whitby Jets are now the last team in the whole world. It's May Day Eve and if the Jets don't dance up the sun on May Day Morning the world will end. The trouble is that the law is closing in fast. My especial thanks to Bryan Ledgard for reminding me about the secret (smuggler) tunnels and passageways running under and through Whitby town.
I've been concentrating on writing my novels for the past few years, so not writing many new short stories, however in 2009 I sold a short-short, 'The Oracle Never Lies' (written several years earlier) to the web based 'AlienSkin Magazine.' Everyone knows the place, date and time of their own death, but the price for this knowledge is that they don't try to evade it. When a young man misses his own death by accident there's a big problem.
What next? Novels I hope – with a scattering of short stories just for fun.
Thanks for reading