Once, not so long ago, a marvellous stag lived in the forest at the foot of our mountain, on the other side of the little bridge you must still cross when you leave our village…
My (very) short story “The Wonderful Stag, or The Courtship of Red Elsie” has just been published on Tor.com — with this gorgeous and luminous illustration by John Jude Palencar.
That lit crescent of its antlers! The strange wise oddity of its face! The texture of its fur! The ears!
A fun fact about this story is that it actually began as an illustration — one of the earliest of the ink-and-gold Inktober fairytale illustrations I did in 2019.
The story I imagined behind this illustration was a little different (although it survived as one of the narrator’s asides about possible origins). It was prompted by a @fairytaletext tweet “Before long, the suitor fell in love with a mischievous stag.”
I couldn’t shake the image of a stag running through the forest, hung with rings with which it had made off. When I sat down to write that, however, the consequences became rather deeper-reaching, and George-the-Wolf emerged to listen to the rumours, and Red Elsie flickered into being, and all the courtship arrangements of the isolated village…
“Framed as a bit of history, part anecdote and part fairy tale or myth, the piece is quietly moving and archetypal, sweeping and sweet and dark all at once…. It’s a piece that looks very much at the almost accidental power of small good things.”
It’s a story of promises and hospitality, set in Australia (or something like it), and I’m still rather fond of its heroine and her not-entirely-absent family.
This is the first publication of Undine Love since it appeared in ASIM in 2011, and although Tor.com doesn’t usually illustrate reprints, I wanted to do a fresh set in the style of the silhouettes in Flyaway.
My quite short story “The Present Only Toucheth Thee” has been bought by Strange Horizons!
It will come out in a few months and I will definitely tell you about it again then. (What I can tell you now is that I had to include a caveat in the cover letters for this story that it’s not in faux-Elizabethan! The title is an allusion.)
This will be my first publication by Strange Horizons as a writer, and I’m thrilled. They’ve brought out some lovely pieces, and I recommend checking out their text and audio issues: Strange Horizons.
Huge thanks to Ellen Datlow, editor for Tor.com, and Angela Slatter, story doctor extraordinaire, for all they contributed, and to publisher and art director Irene Gallo who let me have Audrey Benjaminsen’sbeautiful art. I think it’s the first time a story of mine has been illustrated by someone else and I think it is remarkable. I keep staring at all the little details. Thanks also to Noa Wheeler, copyeditor, who gamely catalogued all the careless inventions and copy-edited with an ear for the weird structures, and to Jodi Cleghorn who kickstarted me into writing this particular project when I was focussed on drawing.
Also, a word to the wise: baroque stylings exponentially increase editing difficulty. Thanks here to C.S.E. Cooney who is the sort of person you want on your side to find replacement words that slot into a particular matrix of sense, feeling, alliteration and anachronism. And also to Amber Gwynne, who diagnosed me with semantic exhaustion.
“A Hedge of Yellow Roses” is the story of Vermeille, a vagabond knight (perhaps), who bears three messages out of a kingdom torn by revolution, and on the way stumbles across an old farmhouse and its enchanted, enchanting residents.
The Year’s Best also has all these other most excellent reasons for buying it:
Joanne Anderton, “2B”
Alan Baxter, “The Chart of the Vagrant Mariner”
Deborah Biancotti, “Look How Cold My Hands Are”
Stephen Dedman, “Oh, Have You Seen The Devil”
Erol Engin, “The Events at Callan Park”
Jason Fischer, “The Dog Pit”
Dirk Flinthart, “In the Blood”
Kimberley Gaal, “In Sheep’s Clothing”
Stephanie Gunn, “The Flowers That Bloom Where Blood Touches Earth”
Did I mention I have a new story out in issue 31 of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet? I do! It is called “Skull and Hyssop” and is an airship adventure, introducing the would-be-dashing Captain Moon, an enigmatic Weatherfinder, and Eliza Blancrose (who always wears a very smart hat). I say “introducing” because I have started a story about Eliza’s arrival in Poorfortune, and What She Found There.
Here is the full table of contents:
Jessy Randall, “You Don’t Even Have a Rabbit” Goldie Goldbloom, “Never Eat Crow” Kathleen Jennings, “Skull and Hyssop” Owen King, “The Curator” Sarah Micklem, “The Necromancer of Lynka”
Nicole Kimberling, “Crazy-Sexy Agriculture = CSA” About the Authors
Lesley Wheeler, “Four Poems”
The two pictures in this post are older drawings which date from the early drafts of the story, when I was still trying to work out the look and feel I wanted – from recollection it spun off a glimpse of the figurehead of the Cutty Sark, a girl with whom I used to work, and the idea of “steampunk but blue”.
‘Mama’s little darlin’ loves‘…: A short story from Martin Livings which has changed the way I think about presents (from his series of Tuesday short stories).
And not disturbing at all (in a negative way – in a positive way it has ruffled my equilibrium delightfully) but relevant because the title of this post is from one of his books:
A new Shaun Tan book is coming out! Tales from Outer Suburbia! If the scattered pictures I have seen are from it, it promises to be beautiful in a way only a book in which a waterbuffalo giving directions captures perfectly a certain suburban serenity can be. And I was right – I did see his name in the Horton credits. He was involved “at an early stage” so I won’t hold the movie against him.
I make a point of reading everyday, and sometimes on weekends when I don’t want to read a book I associate with bus travel and coffee in McDonalds, I pick up odd volumes at home – Labyrinth manga, histories of King John and bound volumes of Windsor Magazine. As a result of which I am left cold by internal inconsistencies, fascinated and frustrated by introductions to books that keep sinking down in the pile of Books to Read and calling friends and saying “Oh. My. Word!”
Oh. My. Word.
This last is because the story I read this weekend was just the sort of story that Anne Shirley and Katy Carr and The Story Girl and Jo March and their friends-and-relations read and wrote and swooned over and learned through the trials of life not to write anymore. Exactly.