Category Archives: short fiction

Unsung Live #7

I’m delighted to join the line-up of authors for Unsung Live 7 on Tuesday 21 February, an evening of storytelling for fans of contemporary speculative fiction. The evening runs from 7.00 – 9.00pm at The Star of Kings (126 York Way London, Greater London N1 0AX, London).

If you’re interested to attend, it’s a free event but space is limited so you’ll need to sign up here.

You can find out more about Unsung Stories – a fiction imprint of independent press Red Squirrel Publishing – on their website here.

Now We Are Ten

NewCon Press celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and I’m delighted to have a story in one of several anthologies commissioned to mark the milestone. Here’s the table of contents for Now We Are Ten, edited by Ian Whates: 

now we are ten_cover1. Introduction by Ian Whates
2. The Final Path – Genevieve Cogman
3. Women’s Christmas – Ian McDonald
4. Pyramid – Nancy Kress
5. Liberty Bird – Jaine Fenn
6. Zanzara Island – Rachel Armstrong
7. Ten Sisters – Eric Brown
8. Licorice – Jack Skillingstead
9. The Time Travellers’ Ball – Rose Biggin
10. Dress Rehearsal – Adrian Tchaikovsky
11. The Tenth Man -– Bryony Pearce
12. Rare As A Harpy’s Tear – Neil Williamson
13. How to Grow Silence from Seed – Tricia Sullivan
14. Utopia +10 – JA Christy
15. Ten Love Songs to Change the World – Peter F Hamilton 
16. Ten Days – Nina Allan
17. Front Row Seat to the End of the World –  E. J. Swift

Cover artwork is by the brilliant Ben Baldwin, who also produced my US covers for Cataveiro and Tamaruq.

You can order the anthology through NewCon Press here or via Amazon here.

Happy birthday, NewCon!

Strata launches

StrataI’m very happy to have a piece of short fiction in a new digital project from Penguin Random House: Strata, launched this week. You can take a look here.

A digital book about the future, Strata explores a dystopian world through pairings of short fiction and non-fiction essays, with stories by Laurie Penny, James Smythe and Lavie Tidhar. My story, “A Handful of Rubies”,  takes the theme of food.

Strata is created in partnership with Lex and Editions At Play, directed and illustrated by Tommy Lee Edwards, with music and sound design by I Speak Machine. It’s designed to be read on a smartphone, but can be viewed on a desktop too.

Here’s a video of me talking about the project:

 

In conversation with Speculative Fiction Author Anne Charnock

ACharnockPortrait

Anne Charnock

I met Anne Charnock (@annecharnock) last summer when we shared a panel at LonCon 3, with David Hebblethwaite and Adam Roberts, discussing writers who cross the boundary between mainstream fiction and science fiction.

Since then, I’ve completed my trilogy, The Osiris Project, and Anne has finished her second novel, Sleeping Embers Of An Ordinary Mind. Anne’s debut novel, A Calculated Life, was shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick Award 2013 and The Kitschies Golden Tentacle 2013.

We felt it was time for a catch-up chat—about past writing and future plans.


Anne—
So, E.J., we’ve both written fiction in which climate change is part of our world-building. Tell me how you became interested in this subject and the part it plays in your trilogy The Osiris Project.

E.J.—Climate change was something I’d had a growing interest and awareness of for a few years, and then I read Mark Lynas’s Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, and that was really a game-changer for me. The geo-political scenarios it hypothesizes were at once utterly horrifying but also, from a fiction writer’s point of view, fascinating. I’ve always been drawn to isolated landscapes – the bleak but beautiful. When it came to writing The Osiris Project, I had the world map in mind very early on – a world radically altered by climate change, with borders redrawn and civilization shifted towards the poles. And that underpinned so much of the trilogy, in terms of character, society, political agendas, particularly in the second novel, Cataveiro.

Anne, how important was climate change as you were developing the world of A Calculated Life? Because as a reader, it feels like a noticeable but very subtle element, which I loved – for example, the vineyards, olive and citrus groves surrounding Greater Manchester.

ACalculatedLifeAnne—In any dystopia there are winners and losers—in terms of wealth and freedom—and it’s the same with climate change. I felt it would be interesting to locate my dystopian world in a region benefiting overall from climate change. In my imagined future world, Manchester and the north west of England become the new Tuscany of Europe. I’ve been tuned into climate issues for many years because I studied environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia, home of the Climatic Research Unit. I remember ice-cores being delivered to the department for historical climate analysis. And in 2006, I helped launch the Ashton Hayes Going Carbon Neutral Project in the community where I live. It’s now an exemplar for grassroots action thanks to the community’s enthusiasm. So far we’ve cut our carbon emissions by 25% through behaviour change and we’ve set up a Community Energy Company to generate power from solar energy. Our primary school now has free electricity!

Now that I’ve written two standalone novels, E.J., I’d love to know how you approached writing a trilogy. When did you realize your subject was too big for a standalone novel? And was it instantly clear to you how to break the narrative into three books?  

E.J.—I actually wrote Osiris as a standalone novel in the first instance, but when it came to submitting to agents I had a feeling I’d be asked about plans for sequels, and I left the story deliberately open-ended. The only thing I knew about the second book was that the location would move to outside Osiris, with an almost entirely new cast – I didn’t want to end up writing three variations of the same book, but rather to expand the canvas and the narrative points-of-view with each installment. But then I had so much fun with Cataveiro, the challenge in the third book was pulling everything back together, when my mind wanted to be off exploring an entirely different story! I think if I ever did another trilogy (and it’s definitely not on the cards anytime soon) I’d approach it quite differently. I love those trilogies where you might have hundreds, even thousands of years between books. And hopefully I’d be more organized too…

By contrast, I think you’re doing almost the opposite with your current novel, in terms of structure? Can you tell me a bit about the approach you’ve chosen, and why?

Anne—I spent several years mulling over this novel—Sleeping Embers Of An Ordinary Mind—before I settled on the structure. One of my main themes is the nature of success including, more specifically, how women’s achievements have tended to be overlooked. I decided to write three inter-weaving storylines set several hundreds of years apart. A trilogy of sorts!

I hoped this fractured structure would create a sense of immediacy. It’s proved both a challenge and immense fun to write. The settings are Renaissance Florence, present-day China and a future London in which The Academy of Restitutions is attempting to lift women out of undeserved obscurity.

My first novel, A Calculated Life, is dystopian science fiction so, as you can see, I’m now moving into new writing territories—that of contemporary and historical fiction. How do you feel about entering new territory—switching to standalone novels following the success of your trilogy? Do you feel it’s a risk?

E.J.—I’m really looking forward to the era of standalones, I like the containment of the single novel. Of course you can’t guarantee readers who liked one book will automatically be interested in the next, but that goes for series too. I think perhaps the greater risk is moving around genres – the book I’m currently writing has a contemporary setting, and it’s quite different in tone to The Osiris Project books, though it also contains speculative elements. One writer I really admire for this versatility is Genevieve Valentine, whose novels aren’t constrained to any one genre – she’s gone from steampunk circus to 1920s prohibition to future eco-thriller, and seems to be able to turn her hand to any subject material.

I should say I’m a big fan of multilayered and intersecting narratives (writers like David Mitchell, to cite an obvious example) and I absolutely love the sound of Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind. Both of your novels have explored future projections – would you say you’re naturally drawn to the speculative in writing (and in art!), or is this just coincidence?

Anne—I think I’m naturally drawn to speculative writing because it offers a huge canvas. Having said that, I prefer to create plausible scenarios. In my new novel the main characters are connected to the art world—I’m making use of my background as an artist—and two of the main characters are based on real people in Renaissance Italy. I feel the future storyline in my novel is perfectly plausible.

Your current work-in-progress, E.J., brings to mind Ben H Winters’ novel The Last Policeman in terms of setting because Ben’s premise is science fictional but it’s really a contemporary novel! There’s an asteroid hurtling towards Earth and the story imagines how people react when they know the world will end in a year’s time. I find that combination of contemporary fiction and speculative fiction extremely engaging so I can’t wait to see how you bring them together.

Sometimes I test my ideas in a short story—for example, to try out a different style of writing or to find the voice of a character. Your short story “The Spiders of Stockholm” was long-listed for 2015 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award. Many congratulations. What an achievement! Can you describe the attraction of short form for you?

E.J.—Thanks, Anne! That was the loveliest surprise – I’d completely forgotten my editor had even submitted the story. “The Spiders of Stockholm” was part of the Irregularity anthology from Jurassic London, who are a joy to write for because they always put together such thought-provoking briefs (in this case, the tension between order and chaos in the Age of Enlightenment).

I don’t feel that I’m a natural short story writer, so I like having some ideas to springboard from. But one thing I love about the form is the opportunity to hone your language at the editing stage, whereas with a novel it feels like there’s always something that escapes you. Having said that, some of my favourite novels are short story collections in disguise, like Angelica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial, or Rana Dasgupta’s Tokyo Cancelled, and I’d love to write something in that vein one day.

Have you published your short stories, and if so, where can we find them?

Anne—My short story, “The Adoption”, will be published this autumn in Phantasma an anthology of horror, SF, urban fantasy and paranormal fiction, including stories by J.D. Horn, Roberta Trahan, Kate Maruyama and Jodi McIsaac Martens.

Other than that I’m currently hoarding several drafts of short stories—more like vignettes. They’re on a single theme—how human relationships will be affected by advances in human reproduction technologies. I’m a huge fan of fragmented narratives and I’m now inclined to incorporate these vignettes in larger piece of writing, possibly a full-length novel.

One of my favourite examples of fragmented-narrative writing is Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad and I’ll definitely read Angelica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial. Thanks for the recommendation. I do feel that short form and split narratives suit me as a fiction writer. It’s possibly a throw-back to my days of rattling off short pieces of journalistic writing. Having said that, short fiction requires a great deal more honing that journalism deadlines ever allowed.

Let’s have another conversation, E.J., when some of our plans have played out. And good luck with your current writing.

Anne’s new novel, Sleeping Embers Of An Ordinary Mind, is published by 47North in November 2015. You can pre-order it here and find out more about her work at her website.

“The Spiders of Stockholm” & The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award

Some very exciting news which I can finally share – I’m thrilled and delighted to announce that my story “The Spiders of Stockholm” from the anthology Irregularity (Jurassic, 2014) has been longlisted for The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award!

The 19 longlisted writers and their stories are:

The Indian Uprising by Ann Beattie
The Collected Tricks of Houdini by Rotimi Babatunde
The Ways by Colin Barrett
Fat White Cop with Ginger Eyebrows by Louise Doughty
Qualities of the Modern Farmer by Emily Franklin
The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon
The Glove Maker’s Numbers by Rebecca F. John
A Sheltered Woman by Yiyun Li
Hungry by Elizabeth McCracken
False River by Paula Morris
Interstellar Space by Scott O’Connor
Jules Verne Seeks Dreamers for Long-Distance Travel in Time by Mary O’Donoghue
The Referees by Joseph O’Neill
Lucky by Julianne Pachico
After the War, Before the War by David Peace
Holiday by Mona Simpson
Still Water, BC by Erin Soros
The Spiders of Stockholm by E. J. Swift
The Wedding Cake by Madeleine Thien

The shortlist will be announced on Sunday 1 March. You can find out more about the award and read the stories online here.

“The Spiders of Stockholm” was published in Irregularity, an anthology which explores the tension between order and chaos in the Age of Enlightenment. If you like the sound of “The Spiders of Stockholm”, please do consider checking out this wonderful anthology, and of course, the rest of Jurassic’s titles. Jurassic have a history of supporting new and emerging writers, and producing really beautiful books, inside and out.

Irregularity

Delighted to say I have a story in upcoming anthology IRREGULARITY from Jurassic, the details of which were posted today – very exciting as it’s the first I’ve seen of the table of contents. Here’s a bit about the inspiration behind the anthology:

“Using the Longitude Act as the jumping off point, Irregularity is inspired by the great thinkers of the Age of Reason – those courageous men and women who set out to map, chart, name and classify the world around them. The great minds who brought order and discipline to the universe. Except where they didn’t.

Irregularity contains new stories of natural law and those that disobey it, including:

  • “Fairchild’s Folly” by Tiffani Angus
  • “A Game Proposition” by Rose Biggin
  • “Footprint” by Archie Black
  • “A Woman Out of Time” by Kim Curran
  • “The Heart of Aris Kindt” by Richard de Nooy
  • “An Experiment in the Formulae of Thought” by Simon Guerrier
  • “Irregularity” by Nick Harkaway
  • “Circulation” by Roger Luckhurst
  • “The Voyage of the Basset” by Claire North
  • “The Assassination of Isaac Newton by the Coward Robert Boyle” by Adam Roberts
  • “Animalia Paradoxa” by Henrietta Rose-Innes
  • “The Last Escapement” by James Smythe
  • “The Darkness” by M. Suddain
  • “The Spiders of Stockholm” by E. J. Swift

IRREGULARITY will be available in ebook, paperback, and a limited edition hardback.

I’ll be attending the launch event at the National Maritime Museum on 24 July – tickets are a fiver and you can get them here, so do come along if you can.

Noir

I arrived home last night to book post (the best kind of post), which proved to be contributor copies of the anthology NOIR edited by Ian Whates, which includes my story The Crepuscular Hunter. And very stylish they look too!

Ian describes the anthology as ‘thirteen stories that dance around genre boundaries but are linked by a sense of foreboding, a prickly itch that will unsettle and leave you with the impression of something sinister lurking just beyond the reach of awareness.’ 

Noir anthology

There’s a review of the anthology over at Amazing Stories which you can read here.

You can order copies in paperback, hardback or ebook (for a very reasonable £2.01 on Kindle) over at Amazon.