Cityscape with several spires and pinnacles poking up into a grey sky

November’s become very busy for me, and I’m not quite sure how it happened. From ‘absolutely nothing’ I’ve suddenly got two or three things in my diary on some weekends. And I’m having to write KEEP FREE in large letters across the other weekends, because otherwise I’ll be an exhausted sobbing mess before we get to Stir-Up Sunday.

One of the events that I’d really have liked to attend had I not already got something in the diary is Weston-Super-Lesfic, which is coming up on 21 November. However, I’ll be there in spirit, in the form of my short story The Sisters’ House, which appears in the Weston-Super-Anthology.

There’s a broad range of forms and genres represented in the anthology. Mine is a fantasy story set in a landscape inspired by the flat ground and watery cities of Flanders. (That’s Ghent in the picture, standing in for my fictional Drakenrey.) There are warrior women, a commune, some ill-advised magic, and a dragon.

I know there are going to be hard copies on sale at the event, raising funds for North Somerset LGBT Forum. I’m not sure whether those will be available more widely. You can, however, get an ebook edition from Amazon.

C.A.T.S.: Cycling Across Time and Space – Kickstarter live now

Fluffy black and white cat seated on top of a bookcase, in front of a model bus

This is Port. As of last Monday, she lives with us. She has spent most of the intervening week sleeping, eating, mewing for attention, being generally gorgeous, and climbing up to high places. It is very good to have a cat around the house; previously we have had to make do with talking to other people’s cats. Which is not the same thing at all.

In other exciting cat-related news, the Kickstarter for the latest Bikes In Space anthology is now live, and the theme of this edition is CATS, and I have a story in there. In Miss Tomkins Takes A Holiday it’s some time in the 1930s and a union organiser sets out on a well-deserved cycling break, accompanied by her cat Aster. Trouble follows them, but the two of them are very well-equipped to deal with it.

There are ten other sci-fi/fantasy stories in there, all featuring cats and bicycles, and all looking like they’re going to be a fun read. The Kickstarter offers all sorts of combinations of formats and rewards, depending on whether you prefer paperback or ebook or fancy getting a T-shirt or sticker as well. Have a look.

A kid on a BMX bike flies across the moon with a cat in the basket shooting lasers out of their eyes

Wings Over The Plain: new story at Enchanted Conversations

Storks on the bell tower at Belorado
Storks on the bell tower at Belorado

I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve had a story published today over at Enchanted Conversations. If you haven’t come across it before, the site is an utter delight – a treasure trove of stories new and old, essays, poems, and other material related to fairy tales.

Wings Over The Plain is a story that was inspired by the Camino de Santiago – specifically, the long drag of the Camino Frances across the meseta, the plain that forms much of the province of Castilla y Leon. It’s inspired by the landscape, and the skyscape, the longstanding association of the Camino with the Milky Way. But most of all it’s inspired by the storks who build their nests on any elevated corner they can find and who, for me at least, were one of the loveliest sights of a lovely journey.

Winter is harsh out on the high, broad, plain of Castile. There’s nothing to stop the wind: it blows in cold from the sea, and becomes colder still as it crosses the mountains. Sometimes it brings snow; sometimes it just sweeps bitingly around every hunched tree and huddled building, and the people get through the winter as best they can. And on those long, cold, nights, the sky breaks into stars, more of them than you could count, brighter than you can imagine, showing a westward path that only the very devout or the very foolish follow at this time of year…

Read Wings Over The Plain here

Visibility, possibility: links for bi visibility day

I put the finishing touches to The Real World a week ago, and since then I’ve been doing my best to do very little. Writing this book has taken an awful lot out of me, and I’m trying to make up for that by sitting in a deckchair on the lawn, reading other people’s books.

But I do also write things that aren’t 94,000 word novels, and I’m very pleased to have two pieces to share for Bi Visiblity Day. As I wrote in one of these,

my experience of being bisexual has been the ever-present consciousness of other possibilities. I’ve made a particular series of choices, my life has unfolded in a particular way – but I’m always aware that I could have made other choices, that my life might look very different today if… If I hadn’t grown up under Section 28. If I’d heard the word ‘bisexual’ before the age of 20. If, if, if.

I might have taken the road more travelled by, but that doesn’t mean all the other roads disappear from existence. (They closed the road through the woods…) Both of these pieces explore that sense of possibility, in fiction and in non-fiction (A merry road, a mazy road…).

The first one is perhaps more bi audibility than visibility, as it’s a podcast. This is the second story I’ve had featured at A Story Most Queer (the first was Prima Donna), but my first to be premiered there. I’ve added a PDF version too. It’s a fairy tale about a young woman who sets out to look for her friend who’s gone missing…

Daisy’s Yarn (podcast)

Daisy’s Yarn (PDF download)

The second piece is a guest post at Licence To Queer, where I wander all over the 007 canon, both book and film, looking for bisexual possibilities and revisiting my Eng Lit past. I even gave it a proper Eng Lit essay title with a colon in the middle. If that sounds a bit dry, I should also warn you that I fail to answer the question of what Felix Leiter was doing in Bond’s hotel room, and that I do pick up on a surprising allusion to the Book of Common Prayer. Fortunately David’s added some pictures.

“What makes you think this is the first time?”: assumption, possibility, and bisexuality in Bond

If you’re at all interested in James Bond and queer themes I recommend the whole Licence To Queer site heartily: it’s a joyful deep dive into the world of 007 – with some intriguing cocktail recipes too.

Interestingly, while The Real World has turned out to be an extremely bi novel in other ways, the sense of possibility isn’t nearly so present. Except, perhaps, as a sense of something missing, something distorted… Ah, you’ll see.

Two historical f/f fiction podcasts


If you like having other people read you historical f/f fiction written by me, November was the month to do it. I don’t think there was any particular reason why it was November; it just worked out that way. But, because the internet is, if not forever, at least reasonably long-lasting, you can still listen to two podcasts featuring stories that I wrote:

  • Prima Donna featured on A Story Most Queer a couple of weeks ago:

Everybody knows why the great Signora Valli left the Licorne opera company. Everybody, that is, except Monsieur Perret, who has taken the brave—some would say, foolish—decision to cast her opposite rising star Delphine Vincent-Leclerc in Rossini’s Tancredi. But what everybody knows is only half the story.

It’s narrated by Julia Rittenberg and you can listen to it here (34 minutes). The story also appears in the anthology Upstaged from Supposed Crimes.

  • The Mermaid was the last of this year’s Lesbian Historical Motif Podcast fiction series:

Salvaging shipwrecks on the coast of the Isle of Wight in the eighteenth century can lead to unexpected treasure.

It’s narrated by Heather Rose Jones and you can listen to it here (18 minutes). You can also read a transcript here.

I’ve always been a bit hesitant about attempting historical fiction: so much to get wrong! So much more research! I don’t know whether I’d ever have the guts to attempt a full-length novel. At any rate, in both of these stories I found a way in through that old chestnut write what you know.

With Prima Donna, what I know is what it’s like to be an alto, to come to terms with the fact that even if you get really good (I never got really good, and also I have the acting ability of the average house brick) you’ll never get the biggest bouquets. It’s also the reading I did about the time when that wasn’t the case: the first few decades of the nineteenth century, when the castrati were dying out and the heroic roles that they had previously sung were now going to female singers. (Actually, those weren’t necessarily altos, either.) Signora Valli is one of those versatile sopranos who could play either hero or heroine. Delphine represents the new order (soprano heroine, tenor hero, villainous bass, and any other women relegated to confidante or crone) – or does she?

(I recommend Voicing Gender by Naomi André, by the way, if you want to know more about this period of opera – and you feel up to some fairly impenetrable academicese.)

Prima Donna

As for The Mermaid, what I know is the south coast of the Isle of Wight, the way that you don’t really trust the sea even on a calm day, the stories of wrecks and wreckers. This is a coast I’ve walked – except it isn’t, because the cliffs that Alice knows in my story will have long since crumbled into the sea. This is the Island before the tourists, before Queen Victoria, before Keats. This is the south west coast before the Napoleonic Wars prompted the construction of the Military Road, when it was even more remote from the rest of the Island, and anything could happen…

The Mermaid

#indiechallenge – The Silken Thread: stories and sketches (Cora Sandel, translated by Elizabeth Rokkan)


The blurb

‘And so Rosina is set free on the path of candour, where we so easily gallop a little further than we would wish. It looks so innocent to begin with. One starts out so far from the great confidences…’

A silken thread loosens Rosina’s tongue to admit the desperation behind her confident manner. A woman allows herself to feel secure when her lover gives her a bracelet, until the history of the bracelet is shatteringly revealed.

Cora Sandel’s short stories are about what is concealed behind ordinary situations; what people really want to say to each other when they argue about money or exchange niceties or merely sit in silence. This collection displays the extraordinary economy of Sandel’s writing: finely tuned and exquisitely understated, yet full of meaning.

The author

Cora Sandel is the pseudonym of Sara Fabricius, who was born in Kristiania (Oslo) in 1880. After studying to be a painter, mainly in Paris, before and during the First World War, she abandoned painting at the age of forty, settled in Sweden, and turned seriously to writing, publishing the first volume of her Alberta trilogy in 1926. She died in Sweden in 1974.

The publisher

The Women’s Press now seems to be defunct, but it used to put out a lot of feminist fiction and non-fiction. Its steam iron logo and stripy black-and-white spines are still worth keeping an eye out for when browsing charity shop shelves.

The bookshop

I can’t remember – this has been hanging around on my shelves for ages, waiting for me to read it – but am fairly sure it must have come from a charity shop in Woking.

The bingo card

This could count towards: ‘A Women’s Press’ (obviously); ‘An author from another country’; ‘A book from your TBR’; ‘Translated book’; ‘A press over 20 years old’; or ‘An anthology’.

My thoughts

There are some gems in here, set across quite a wide range of places and, to a lesser extent, times. The one that’s stuck with me ever since I read the book (several weeks ago, now) is Artist’s Christmas. It’s a detailed, atmospheric piece that evokes all the chill of winter and the misguided idealism of the bohemian lifestyle – with a vicious sting in the tail.

Some I inevitably found less successful, such as The Broad Versus the Narrow Outlook, in which a dispute between neighbours made a slightly clumsy metaphor for the Nazi occupation. On the other hand, I did find There’s A War On very moving – and a timely counter to the assumption that the Blitz was something that happened only to Britain.

This is by no means a comfortable read (and I would recommend skipping The Polar Bears or Two Cats in Paris and One in Florence if you’d rather not read about harm to animals) but I found it a worthwhile one, and am rather regretting letting it languish on my bookcase for so long.

Rainbow Bouquet

Rainbow Bouquet 500px

Rainbow Bouquet is live! There’s a pleasingly eclectic mix of stories in this anthology: the narrator of mine is an English Civil War ghost on a mission to save the family home from being turned into offices. It owes something to Eleanor Farjeon’s Faithful Jenny Dove, and something to Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost, and a little to my parents’ short-lived plan to buy a water-mill and operate it as a tourist attraction.

I’m also very pleased to say that A Spoke In The Wheel was a finalist in the North Street Book Prize 2018. It’s pleasing that there are more competitions out there that are willing to consider self-published books, and very pleasing that there are some set up specifically to honour self-published books, and – of course – very pleasing indeed when they honour mine!

Three good things


Well, after a winter that I’ll freely admit has been a bit of a slog in terms of writing, I’ve got three pieces of good news to share this week.

The Selfies

I’m very pleased to announce that A Spoke In The Wheel appears on the first ever shortlist for The Selfies Award. Self-publishing can get you second-guessing yourself and your work, and it’s such a delight to have the quality of your work recognised. Kudos to BookBrunch for establishing this award.

I’d also like to say how good it is to be part of the self-publishing community. All eight women on the shortlist seem to be as pleased for each other as they are for themselves! I’m really looking forward to meeting them at the awards ceremony.

Rainbow Bouquet

My short story Stronger Than Death appears in Rainbow Bouquet, a Valentine’s anthology from Manifold Press.

Cecily Strangways could never see ghosts – until she became one herself. Now, three hundred and fifty years later, she’s got to find some way of saving the family home from being turned into offices – and persuade the Grey Lady to help her.

The other stories in the anthology also look like a lot of fun! You can pre-order it at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and Smashwords.

Lesbian History Motif Podcast

You’ll have to wait a bit longer for this one, but I’ve also got a short story lined up for the Lesbian History Motif Podcast’s fiction series. Again, the rest of the table of contents looks very intriguing as well.

In The Mermaid, a farmer’s daughter on the treacherous south-west coast of the Isle of Wight finds unexpected treasure in a shipwreck. But someone else thinks it belongs to him…

Upstaged! anthology out today

Prima Donna

I’m very pleased to say that Upstaged!: an anthology of women who love women in performing arts is available now, and that it contains my story Prima Donna. It’s a delightful selection of short stories published by Supposed Crimes, who specialise in F/F fiction across a variety of genres.

The ‘performing arts’ in question are many and varied – my story is (of course) about opera, while others feature panto, silent film, burlesque, plays and musicals.

The genres are many and varied, too. We have steampunk, sci-fi, romance, slice-of-life, and straight (or not-so-straight) historical. Settings range from the 1830s to the far future, from Broadway to New Helsinki. Not all the stories will be to everyone’s taste – that’s the nature of such a diverse collection – but all the same I think there is something in there for everyone.

There’s an interview with me about the inspiration for Prima Donna and about my future projects over at the publishers’ site today.

As for the book itself, here it is at Amazon.com…

… at Amazon.co.uk…

… at Kobo…

… at Smashwords…

… at Barnes & Noble

UPSTAGED cover-2

A Christmas Cavil

A short story for those for whom the Christmas spirit is cynicism. Content note (white text; highlight to read): hospital trauma; implied stillbirth; enforced fun; social awkwardness.


It was dark outside. Rain pattered half-heartedly against the window. The meeting was almost over.

‘Item five, office renovations. Roy’s office should be finished next week. After that we can have the meeting room back and not have to do our team meetings in the middle of the office, which I admit isn’t ideal.’ Donna looked over the top of her spectacles. ‘Finally, arrangements for Christmas social events, and then you can all go. Over to you, Carol.’

Carol smiled at the team. ‘Friday is Christmas Jumper Day! It’s all for a good cause! Two pounds if you wear a Christmas jumper! Ten pounds – Scrooge tax – if you don’t!’

Ten pounds?’ somebody squeaked.

Carol pretended she hadn’t heard that, and continued to smile around the office. She had saved the best news until last.

‘And… you’ll never guess what! I’ve been able to change the booking for the Christmas dinner! I’ve had to bring it forward a bit, but I’ve looked at everybody’s diaries, and I’ve found a date when nobody’s on leave! Not even Justine!’

‘Oh,’ Justine said. She didn’t seem particularly pleased.

Carol asked, ‘Is there something wrong?’

‘I don’t celebrate Christmas,’ Justine said in a flat, emotionless tone.

‘Oh, come on, Justine!’ Carol said. ‘Get in the spirit of things! Even Amina’s coming out!’

Amina smiled tightly and said nothing.

‘Personally,’ Tim said, ‘I’m with Justine.’

Betrayed, Carol whirled round. ‘You can’t tell me that you don’t celebrate Christmas!’

He smiled slyly. ‘I can. It’s against my religion to celebrate Christmas before the twenty-fifth of December. I’m celebrating Advent at the moment.’

Carol did her best to be patient, but this was just like Tim. ‘You’re just being pedantic now.’

‘Perhaps I am,’ Tim said. ‘But honestly, if the Church gives us a whole season in which to be miserable and pessimistic – which is my default state, come on, Carol – you can’t expect me to pretend to be cheerful.’ Behind him, Justine had slunk back to her desk. She was shutting down her computer, slipping her pass into her handbag, and putting her coat on. Tim continued, ‘You need to have some consideration.’

Carol was infuriated. ‘Really,’ she said, ‘I think some people need to lighten up a bit.’

Donna was trying to look disapproving, but she was laughing anyway. ‘I think some people need to grow up. Thank you for that, Carol. I assume everybody’s menu choices still stand?’

‘Well, I’ll need some from Justine, obviously,’ Carol said.

But Justine had gone.


Carol slept badly that night. She always slept badly after distressing encounters like that. And she dreamed.


She was alone. The place was dark, a maze-like complex of shadowy passages. Incomprehensible signs dangled overhead; the floor felt slippery.

‘Hospital…’ she murmured. But not like St Mary’s. This wasn’t her rheumatology outpatients’ appointment; this was much longer ago than last Wednesday.

The sound of a radio drifted down the long, low-ceilinged corridor. The stars in the bright sky Nobody was around. Carol held her breath. She knew that she was out of place.

A voice. ‘Please… please… come back… don’t make me stay here… let it be over…’ It was familiar; it belonged to someone she knew, a woman, but scared, and young. She couldn’t place it.

the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes…

‘No, oh, no… please…’

Walking on tiptoe, Carol followed the voice.

Somewhere in one of the other rooms – wards, they must be wards – a baby was crying. But Carol was walking away from the baby, towards the voice, towards the grief and the pain. She wanted to stop, but she couldn’t; her feet wouldn’t obey her. She just kept on following that voice.

It was too late. Whatever was happening, it was too late. And yet it wasn’t ending.

Footsteps. Not hers. Someone was coming, someone in charge, someone who could do something. ‘Why didn’t you come before?’ she asked. ‘Why didn’t you come before it was too late?’ But the figure walked straight past Carol as if it couldn’t hear her. She shrank into a corner, knowing that neither of them could see her or hear her, yet still feeling that she was intruding.

The rustle of paper. ‘Justine Denham?’

Justine. Of course it was.

‘Mrs Denham. I’m so sorry.’ The voice was kind, but uninvolved. It skated over the surface of the pain and loneliness. It had other things to worry about. Living, crying babies. ‘I realise this is all very upsetting for you, but you need to pull yourself together.’

The door opened and shut, and Justine was alone again. Except that Carol was there, too.


‘No Justine today?’ Carol said brightly.

Tim looked up. ‘First Aid course. She said she’d come in if it finished early, but I don’t see how she’d manage it. It’s miles away.’

‘Oh,’ Carol said. To tell the truth, she was relieved. She had no idea what she was going to say to Justine. Justine, I had this dream… Ridiculous. Justine, I found out why you don’t like Christmas… No. Horrible. Justine, I’m really sorry. It’s none of my business what you do at Christmas time, and I shouldn’t have pushed you… That was… getting there?

She pushed it from her mind and logged on to her computer.


When she passed the reception desk on the way out, Roy was talking to Michelle. He caught Carol as she passed. ‘Just a minute, Carol. I’ve just been telling Michelle, she doesn’t need to wear a jumper tomorrow. I want her presenting a professional impression on the front desk here. So you don’t need to charge her, er, ten pounds.’

Carol smiled at Roy. ‘Oh, come on, Roy. It’s Christmas. It’s not fair on poor Michelle, to keep her out of the fun.’

Michelle was blushing furiously. ‘It’s up to you,’ she said. It wasn’t clear who she meant by you. ‘I’m quite happy not to wear one.’

‘Don’t be silly, Michelle,’ Carol said. ‘Of course you must wear one. You don’t want to be left out.’


She dreamed again that night.

Darkness. Not lonely, like yesterday. This was chilly, intimate darkness, smelling of humans and cheap soap. Somebody’s bedroom? But goodness, it was cold.

Someone was in there. Carol could hear breathing. Two people, close to sleep, but not quite there. Suddenly, a sigh.

‘What’s up?’ A man’s voice.

‘Nothing.’ This time, Carol knew the voice immediately. Michelle.

‘I bet it isn’t.’

‘Carol, at work. Christmas jumper day. Two quid. And if we don’t turn up in a jumper, then she’s going to charge us a tenner. Scrooge tax, she says.’

The man – he must be Michelle’s husband – sucked his breath in through his teeth. ‘A tenner? She’s got to be joking.’

‘You don’t know her,’ Michelle said. ‘She isn’t. It’s going to be cheaper to buy the bloody jumper.’

‘I don’t suppose my mum could knit…?’

A bubble of laughter. ‘Amazing and lovely as your mum is, even she couldn’t knit me a jumper in eight hours. Anyway, I’d have to give her money for the wool.’

He tried again. ‘I haven’t topped up the gas key yet…’

‘It’s not going to last if you don’t, is it?’

‘No,’ the man admitted.

Michelle sighed again. ‘OK. I’ll just tell Carol we can’t afford it, and let her think what she thinks, stuck-up cow. I’m not having the kids going cold. Or you. It’s not like I need a jumper in the office.’


And yet, when Carol got in the next morning (a little late; the traffic was appalling) Michelle was sitting there in a bright red jumper with white snowflakes knitted into it. ‘Good morning, Carol,’ she said sweetly. ‘Two pounds, wasn’t it?’

Flabbergasted, Carol took the money. She thought of saying something, but all she could think of was, ‘Well. Thank you.’

All day she wondered about it.


Tonight, the lights were blazing. There was no mystery about where the dream had taken her this time. Back to the office. But it wasn’t as she’d left it. The computers were newer, sleeker; the blinds had been changed; the pot plant on Tim’s desk had grown about a foot.

Tim was there himself, and Donna. (Blonde suits her, Carol thought.)

‘So,’ Tim was saying. ‘Christmas party day. Your first one as senior manager. How’s that going?’

‘Take your feet off the desk,’ Donna said, not meaning it. ‘It’s going fine. It’s the first year that poor Justine hasn’t had to pull a sickie to get out of it.’

‘Well, I hope she’s enjoying wherever it is she’s gone,’ Tim said. ‘If she’s gone anywhere. Maybe she’s just having a quiet day at home. You never wrote a single one of those sick days down, did you?’

‘Roy told me not to,’ Donna said.

Tim nodded. ‘It’s fair enough. We all knew that she’d have been in work if only Carol hadn’t badgered her into going to the Christmas dinner. And it’s not as if anybody would have been doing any work, anyway.’

Donna said, ‘I always thought that Roy should have had the fight with Carol. Tell her to lay off a bit. But he never would. I think he was scared she’d go to the tabloids or something. War on Christmas.’ She chuckled. ‘You used to do a good job of drawing her fire.’

‘Oh, shut up. I saw you slipping your Christmas jumper to Michelle and stumping up a tenner, the year before last.’

‘I seem to remember that I had a meeting with the national head of Finance,’ Donna said stiffly.

Tim snorted. ‘Pull the other one, it’s got bells on it.’

‘I did. You put it in my diary yourself.’

‘Oh, Carol,’ Tim said, shaking his head.

‘She meant well,’ Donna said.

‘Yes,’ Tim agreed, his voice carefully neutral.

There was a little silence, and then Donna said, in a rush, ‘But, do you know, I’m really enjoying things this year.’

‘Peace,’ Tim said. ‘Goodwill to all. Particularly the peace. It’s rather nice, isn’t it?’


Carol’s first thought was, Didn’t I have a retirement do, then? Then she opened her eyes. Her work skirt and blouse were hanging, neatly pressed, from the hook on the back of the bedroom door. It was still very much now.

‘I haven’t missed anything,’ she said, out loud.

Then she remembered.

Justine, alone in the hospital. Michelle, scratching around for cash to keep her children warm. Donna, tactfully admitting that Carol was a management nightmare.

Her face was hot. She wasn’t sure she could face any of them. Maybe she should pull a sickie herself. Surely they didn’t think those things about her. Surely not. After all, it had only been a dream. Even if it was true – and she didn’t believe it, not for a moment – well, then, it had given her a useful insight. Perhaps the restaurant would change the booking back. And she could tell Michelle that she’d thought about it all and agreed with Roy after all: it would look more professional if she didn’t wear a Christmas jumper.

Really, she thought, Tim and Donna, talking behind her back like that!

Michelle had found two pounds from somewhere, hadn’t she? She couldn’t have been as desperate as all that.

And it would do Justine good to go out with the gang and take her mind off it all.

No, Carol would go to work today, and she wasn’t going to change a single thing.

You know, she’d say, last night I dreamt I was retired. And I was really upset because I couldn’t remember my retirement do! So let’s make this Christmas one to remember!