Short story: Falling on Medium


white feathersGabriel has fallen to Earth and God has left his throne. Read Part 1 of Falling.

I’ve just had the first two parts of my short story, Falling, published in The Mad River on Medium. It’s four parts in total and will all be published in the next few days. I’ll stick links to the whole thing up here when it’s finished. (Medium have created new friend links to get past the paywall, so I can now share those here, but the first part is free, anyway.)

Falling is a story of queer angels, old gods, syncretism, identity and social media tribalism. Some sort of hybrid mythic sci-fi mix. (I’m not very good at sticking in one genre, but I’ve really blown the envelope up here.) I hope you enjoy it. Most of my short stories have been coming out pretty long this year, so this is a bit of experiment in posting a longer work in parts, to see how it goes.

Flash Fiction: Emotional Labours


Some gothic horror fun for Hallowe’en. Cross posted from Medium. Happy Hallowe’en to everyone who follows this blog.

There are subjects in every family which are not spoken of. In mine, it is my father’s death. Since my father died when I was five, spending time with my family has been a chore. The manner of his death was ridiculous, because my father cannot do anything that is not ridiculous, but also more ridiculous is the pretence his death never happened. Inevitably the whole charade will slip, he’ll walk through a wall without thinking or drip the ectoplasmic remnants of the puddle he died in all over the hall floor and my mother will loose another piece of her favourite china at the kitchen wall.

We have always spoken of my mother’s nerves but really it is my mother’s anger that hangs over us and makes my father’s death an impossibility. I suspect they would both be happier if he were simply allowed to pass in the ordinary way. She has always found him the most infuriating person and her anger has always brought out the worst in him. But I’ve noticed as I get older that people are prone to falling into habits and in time those habits become cages. So it was with my parents.

Those of you who are eldest children will understand there are certain emotional labours which befall us, to which our younger siblings are blithe, if not entirely oblivious.

Unfortunately, my younger brother and sister had invited me to a family get together which I felt obliged to attend.

My sister, Millicent, sent a handcrafted invitation to each of the family, even though most of them are still in residence in the old family home. My brother, Algernon, phoned me to ensure I’d received mine and spent a painful fifteen minutes extracting praise from me which he would pass on to her. She included my partner, Francis, but I refuse to involve him in our ludicrous affairs, having carved out a small niche that is entirely apart from them.

I suspect my siblings have become somewhat deranged over the years, maintaining their blithe spirit.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to fix them for you?” Francis asked, as I picked up my sword cane and made for the door. Outside, the rain poured down in a solid sheet and the taxi driver tapped the steering wheel impatiently.

I stood on the threshold and sucked in a breath. “They’re still my family.”

“Is that not rather the point?” Francis asked. He did away with his own many years ago without a great deal of fuss. The police have still to find any suspects, though they nebulously blame the act on occult practices. He considered me from under his heavy brow and then with a wave of a hand, added, “Well, if you change your mind….”

“Of course,” I said non-commitally. He is wont to fly into a funk if he thinks I’m at all critical of his life choices.

I found some consolation in shutting down all small talk on the taxi ride over. I caught myself sliding the blade from my cane absent-mindedly when it winked at me in the streetlights.

Milly and Algy crowded me as soon as I was through the door of our old pile, deluging me with hugs and kisses which I tolerated for a few moments before setting them both aside.

“Did you like my invitation?” Milly asked. She was dressed as some kind of witch, with her hair teased into a demented fuzz around her head.

I slipped the grey card from my jacket pocket and ran my finger over the real spider she’d trapped there under a plastic coating and the ‘Trick or Treat’ she’d scrawled across the top in someone’s blood. “Charming,” I assured her. “Very inventive.”

“Papa’s in disgrace, again,” Algy confided. He’d favoured a vampiric costume for the evening. “He keeps re-enacting his death. I don’t think he can stop, poor thing. It’s driving Mama wild.”

“Do you think you can fix him?” Milly asked. Francis’s offer ran through my head. Milly meant it in a completely different sense, of course.

“Oh, do try, Gus,” Algy pleaded. “You were always ever so good at that sort of thing.”

I nodded and went through to the sitting room, my cane tapping lightly across the ornate hall tiles. My father lay hovering an inch above the floor, face down in a puddle of blueish-grey fog. He was particularly insubstantial.

His words came back to me from that day. You can drown in a puddle of water, Gus. Only takes a couple of inches.

And of course, I hadn’t believed him. And of course, he had to demonstrate.

I walked over to the centre of the room, where he lay. A spectral chill cooled me to the bone. What had I said?

Nothing. I’d giggled. And then he’d turned blue and my mother had looked up from her roses and seen us. She’d come flying across the lawn.

“What are you doing, stupid man?”

I turned to her now, standing in the doorway. Yes, that’s just what she’d said that day. And then she’d pushed me aside and hauled him up by the back of his tweed jacket. But it was too late, of course.

I knelt down by his side, as I had that damp autumn day, and pressed my palm down on the back of his head. Just so. And she came flying across the room.

Queer Book Club: Nik’s Revenge Road Trip Mixtape by Jack Swift

niks mixtape coverA transgressive adult novel. When a voice from his past intrudes on his fragile recovery, Nik hits the road in his Dodge Dart and begins his revenge road trip, accompanied by the perfect mixtape and the ghost of his dead friend.

This is an incredibly intense, almost feverish tale of Nik’s attempt to get even with his past, from his abusive relationship with ex-boyfriend, Harley, to the depths he sank through his heroin addiction, and the horrific act he can never forgive his ex-band members for. It’s an amazing read from start to finish, sometimes disturbing, sometimes extremely moving. I cried a couple of times and wanted to puke a few others. It’s definitely full on, but I like a book that makes me feel something. Jack Swift experiments with non-standard narrative techniques to express the experience of trauma; the portrayal  works so well because it’s delivered within the tight structure of the road trip revenge spree.

A story with a trans guy as a main character, written by a trans writer. If you’re bored by the current fad for queer fiction full of sunshine, lollipops and mainstream wish fulfilment, this is a good antidote. A story where people are allowed to be just as messed up as reality. Full disclosure—I first came across this novel as an earlier draft, through a writing group. I fell for the writing first, before I became friends with the author,  so I feel I can recommend it in good conscience.

I wish there were more books like this—honest and raw, with an uncompromising punk rock sensibility. Nik’s Revenge Road Trip Mixtape tackles trauma, addiction, recovery and the possibility of redemption without sentimentality, but with humanity and dark humour. Definitely worth a read.

(TW/SPOILER: This story is part rape revenge fantasy.)

Nik’s Revenge Road Trip Mixtape is released in ebook format on 24th May 2017. You can order it here. Or you can buy the paperback here.

Being Coy about Queer Characters


Lestat and Louis, Interview with the Vampire (1984), Warner Bros.

Books with queer characters in are much more common these days than they were in my teens, when I was poring over Anne Rice’s vampire stories, teased to beyond an inch of my life by the homoerotica, and how tantalisingly close those novels came to being a big queer riot.

I’m glad I grew up on that vampire craze. I enjoyed the homoerotica, and the historical romp. I suspect more recent rescue fantasies would have left teenage me a little cold. But, Lordy, I wanted someone to get it on. Not in a fleshy, mortal, sex-fest sort of way, because y’know, Vampires don’t have to do that. That’s cool. Tab A need not be inserted into Hole B, per se. Gothic is all about metaphors for our desires and fears. But going all the way emotionally, that’d have been satisfying. I’m not looking for a happy ending. Just a relationship. It can be nasty, fucked-up, and damaging. But don’t tease me, and then not come through.

I’ve noticed there’s a little strain running through literature of writers who kind of want to feature queer characters, but maybe feel a bit coy about it. G.R.R. Martin does this with Renly and Loras, The Knight of Flowers. What were they doing together in that tent? As neither of them is the point of view character, we’ll never know. And when Renly dies, Loras is heartbroken. But as everything has happened off screen, you could be forgiven if you blinked and missed it. Some people think this is subtle, or tasteful (hmm), but given there’s a twin brother and sister getting it on in the opening chapters of the first book, I’d say maybe Martin isn’t all that fussed about subtlety. I think what’s happened here is that strain of coyness creeping in. Should I or shouldn’t I have a queer character? Maybe if I sneak one in, no one will notice. To me, it comes across as a writer who hasn’t quite made peace with their subject matter, and is particularly noticeable in this case, when so much else is explicit.

The final one is a bit trickier. Harry Potter. As my partner says, no matter how much I might want retro-flashbacks to Sirius and Remus having angsty teen goth sex in the Shrieking Shack, to the strains of Joy Division and The Smiths, these books are not for adults. However, I don’t know about anyone else, but my teens were populated in a good part by me and my friends having a bunch of crises about our sexuality (and in some cases, gender). It’s hard to believe, out of two generations of teenagers, that the only person who’s queer is the headmaster, and then mostly off-screen. It’s cool that he is, don’t get me wrong. But it does feel a little bit like a half-measure.

I’m a geek at heart. I care about genre fiction. I want to read about queer characters having grimdark adventures, or immortal angst, or wizard powers. I enjoyed reading all these books, but it’d be great if, when people think they might want a queer character, they just go right ahead and embrace that notion. I know how it goes. You can tie yourself in knots as a writer, worrying yourself about representation, and what you can get away with, and how people will react. People will tell you that fewer people will buy your books if you fill them full of queer characters. Then again, surely we’re past the point where we have to sneak queer in under the radar. To quote Yoda: Do or do not, there is no try.