Peony, the scientific fairy, suited up to fly into adventure.
‘What do you write?’
As a question, that never used to be complicated. I write comic fantasy, it’s where my heart and mind sit and live and laugh and share. It’s just…me. The first person to inspire me to believe I could write as any kind of professional gig was Douglas Adams, and the ideas which come to me and have the most natural ‘legs’ sit naturally within the comic fantasy/comic sci-fi genre.
Sure, over the years, you have ideas in different genres, and you think ‘Oh, that might be fun, when I’m finished with the story I’m actually writing right now…’ I’ve got a trilogy of darker, more philosophical stories that are waiting in the wings, as well as a kind of Jurassic Park-meets-Brave New World techno-social satire that I’m putting off more or less because it would be deeply difficult to write, whereas the comic fantasy stuff comes easily to my mind and fingers.
But someone asked me the question again recently, and it stymied me.
‘What do you write?’
I stopped and thought about it, because here’s the dichotomy. What I write and have yet to seriously submit anywhere is comic fantasy, and it’s novel-length comic fantasy at that. So I think of myself as a novelist in the comic fantasy genre.
But what I actually write and submit to places is entirely different. Over the course of the last year or so, inspired initially (and somewhat shamefully, in retrospect) by a pal submitting a story and asking me to have a look at it before she did so, I’ve submitted a handful of erotic short stories to three publishers.
I’ve submitted five.
Get yourself some Sinful Pleasures today. You deserve them.
The publisher of the first one – the one inspired by my pal submitting and me, being bloody-minded, thinking ‘Well, why not give it a go?’ – said some very kind words about it. Something along the lines of me ‘having missed my calling in life till now.’ That’ll put a spring in your step, I don’t mind telling you, especially when it was written the night before the submission deadline in a bit of a blur. If you want to catch up with my first official foray into erotica, the anthology’s called Sinful Pleasures, from Sinful Press. Go click and enjoy.
The second one I submitted, a story of vampires on the Queen Mary, I was never happy with and rightly, I think, it failed to get published.
The third and fourth were two different stories in two different anthologies published by an American publisher, SinCyr Publishing, with whom I’m rather smitten for the grooviness of their consent-and-body-positivity politics. Check out Working It and Owning it here. And I’ve heard today that the fifth one is also to be published by them in an upcoming anthology, called Kintsugi. There’s a sixth which is alive in my mind for a submission call with them which has to be done by the end of the month.
So far, my story in Sinful Pleasures was Male/Female, from a Male perspective. The Vampire story was a free-for-all, but again from a Male perspective. Working It was Female/Male, from a Female perspective. Owning It was mostly Female/Female, from a self-evidently Female point of view. Kintsugi was Male/Male and Male/Female, from a Male viewpoint. and the new one which I intend to submit by the end of the month is – get this, it’s in the submission requirements – Male/Male, romantic shapeshifting pregnancy with a happy ending. Which I suppose, if nothing else, brings in a degree of fantasy writing – or at least, it does the way I’m doing it.
All of which is just a way of re-framing how we see ourselves. If people ask you ‘What do you write?’, do you answer them based on what you aspire to be, or based on what you’ve actually delivered? You can argue black is blue that you shouldn’t have to put yourself in a box, but it’s a key question when adding items to your authorial CV – have you done similar things before with any provable success? If you went for an interview, you couldn’t get away with saying ‘Well, I’ve been successful in several positions as a bricklayer before now, but really I see myself as a computer programmer,’ because your proven experience wouldn’t match the requirements of the role.
So what do I write?
Hell, I’m still writing comic fantasy, and enjoying it, and getting good responses when I show it to people. But purely on the basis of production, submission, and popular uptake, I guess you’d have to say the chief strings to my bow are currently erotic short stories and Doctor Who audio drama scripts, of which I’ve also written four in the last year or two, with a fifth to be delivered by the end fo the month. What you write, ultimately, isn’t just a question of what you actually write, but what you write, finish, and submit somewhere, because it’s what other people know you write, or can be shown that you’ve written, that ultimately builds your profile as a writer.
So – best finish a novel then, otherwise I’ll be a short story and audio drama writer, rather than the novelist I’ve always thought I was going to be.
Mind you, one publisher did say they’d take a look at pitches from me for a novel-length erotic story…hmm…
Get yourself some Sinful Pleasures today. You deserve them.
You should get to know the work of Sonni de Soto.
No no, you really should get to know the work of Sonni de Soto. Read on, read more, read everything you can with her name attached to it – including the brand new anthology of erotic short stories from Sinful Press, Sinful Pleasures. In her story in that collection, Sonni reminds us all that life is full of potential if we only dare to sense it, and that sometimes, words can build worlds, can build mindsets and mindscapes and bond us and bind us and make us new.
Kinksters one and all, I am delighted and honoured to share space in an anthology with Sonni de Soto, so here she is, in her own words.
Not About the Whips and Chains
Often, when we talk about kink, it’s always in context of certain acts and toys and roles. Images like whips and chains and spanking and bondage come to mind. We think of leather-clad Doms and collar-wearing subs.
And, while there’s nothing wrong with those images, that’s not what kink is.
Or at least not all it is.
While all those things are wonderful parts of the kink and fetish world, they are not what defines it. BDSM, for me, is a mindset, an approach to sex, love, relationships, and the wider world as a whole. It’s about looking at the world and seeing possibilities not everyone else does. We didn’t create power structures or bondage or crops; we simply see them as more than they are. We look at the everyday and glimpse the possibility of play within it. And that possibility of play can extend far beyond just the usual accoutrements; it can encompass just about anything. While we kinksters love our toys and games, no specific act or implement is necessary to do kink. All you really need is an open mind and a partner who’s just as eager to play.
In my new story, “On the Line,” in Sinful Press’s new anthology Sinful Pleasures, I wanted to explore that idea by making traditional play, as we’re used to seeing it, impossible. Hard to wield a whip or tie a rope when your characters are miles apart. But kink, even from other sides of a city, is always possible. When you think of BDSM as a mindset and not a set of materials, even when touch isn’t on the table, play still can be.
Dirty talk and phone sex often get a bad rep, seen as awkward or forced or corny, but they’re great ways to explore a partner’s fantasies, as well as your own, in a safe space with very few consequences. By constructing imaginary scenes with each other, you can learn how your partner likes to touch and be touched. You can learn what their favorite sex acts are or what they’ve always longed to try. You can discover limits or new possibilities that you never knew were there. And, particularly for those with less experience, it can be a way to foster intimacy and boost confidence, not to mention build anticipation.
And, of course, for kinksters, it’s always one helluva fun game to play!
For more from Sonni de Soto, check out her stories in the upcoming Sexy Librarian’s Dirty 30 Vol. 2, coming out later in July, Sexy Little Pages’ Goodbye Moderation: Gluttony, and Cleis Press’s Unspeakably Erotic: Lesbian Kink, available for pre-sale now.
“Imagine us,” her voice whispered in his ear. “Imagine us in your room. On your bed.”
Chris let out a sigh and tried. His mind focused, picturing her painted and so-mobile mouth forming her words. He imagined the familiar flush that always swept over her cheeks right before he took her mouth, that visible sign of her excitement that never failed to fuel his own.
And then there, in his room, on his bed, in his mind, like magic, she was laid seductive and stretched-out before him. His hands itched to grab the curves of her body. The swell of her sweeping hips. The pointed tips of her delectable breasts. The length of her long legs. The soft spread of sun-ripened skin, that always held the sweet scent of citrus, over the generous lushness of her body.
He could hear his own breath rasp as his mind transported her from her dorm room to the foot of his bed.
“Good,” he heard her coo in his ear. “Now that you have me there, whatever will you do with me?” Her mockingly naïve tone left him feeling provoked and promised.
“I want you naked.”
Sinful Press welcomes you to lose yourself in Sinful Pleasures.
Join us as we weave our way from mainstream erotic romance to surreal sex-filled dreamscapes and everything in between, created by some of the best new and established voices in the erotica genre.
Janine Ashbless, Ella Scandal, Sonni de Soto, Jo Henny Wolf, Lily Harlem, Lady Divine, Gail Williams, Samantha MacLeod, Tony Fyler, Ellie Barker, Lisa McCarthy
Sonni de Soto is a kinkster of color who is also an English major and graduated from the University of Minnesota. She also won the third place 2008 International Aeon Award story winner (Published in Albedo One Issue 38). Sonni has two BDSM erotica novels published, The Taming School with Sizzler Editions and Show Me, Sir with Sinful Press. She also has BDSM erotica short stories inRiverdale Ave Books’s First Annual Geeky Kink Anthology, The Sexy Librarian’s anthology For the Men (and the Women who Love Them), and Sexy Little Pages’ Sacred & Profane and soon Rule #34 anthologies,as well and several others.
I have come to one inevitable conclusion: I would be a useless baker.
All that kneading and proving and shaping and re-proving and waiting, and waiting, and waaaaaaaaaiiiiiting.
Were I, in some parallel universe, to end up on the Great British Bake-Off, I’d be pacing, and crouching, and pacing, and drumming my fingers on countertops, and hitting things with wooden spoons (probably including fellow competitors), and kicking the proving drawer, and reading three books and pondering the nature of spatulas and whistling tunelessly and driving everybody else as far up the wall as I was.
I know this to be true, because, for the first time in recent history, I am being made to wait.
Yes. I know. I’ve got one book out with one agent. I should be you, with your multiple books, multiple agents, Venn diagrams of rejection, lists of people against whom bloody revenge will be enacted when you’re rich and bestseller famous, short stories by the sackful with magazines around the globe, yadda yadda yadda. I’m also aware of the advice I recently gave a ghostwriting client, that if he was going to demand the universe bend to his timescales, he fundamentally wasn’t cut out for the traditional publishing route. I know. I know. I know!
But still, the evil little thought-worms burrow through your brain, don’t they? Wonder if he’s read it it yet.
Haven’t heard a peep – and he asked for it.Surely it was at least peepworthy?
Maybe he’s just not that into me…
Read me, damn you! I worked hard on this thing. Validate me!
At which point, all the rational, logical people (which is to say non-writers), give you good, honest, utterly unhelpful advice.
He’s got a life, you know?
How would you feel if someone was pressurising you to validate them?
Have you any idea how much he has to read?
You remember at the conference, agents said they only read new writers in their own time, right? Between breakfast and the office, between the office and dinner. Give the man a break.
Sure, right…Write the next one…
Write the next one while you’re waiting.
All of which, as I say, is perfectly reasonable, logical advice, and all of which makes you want to scream “But I’m DIFFERENT!” The illusion of one’s own difference, of one’s own secret, hidden away literary genius burns, however much you try to tell the world and yourself that it doesn’t, deep down inside you. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t have put up with all the nonsense that writing a book entails. You’d have had…well, a life of your own! Your family would remember what you looked like, and wouldn’t have that slightly glazed look on their faces when you emerge periodically from your self-induced isolation to grab a coffee or some toast. Personally speaking, I’d have hair. A working liver. Probably wouldn’t have had to switch to the pointlessness of decaff as the ideas and characters prodded me with sticks to write all through the night. Goddammit, man, validate my existence and answer me!
There comes a point when even a “This is nonsense, go away and live under a stone” answer feels like it would be better that the nothing. The hopeful, hopeful nothing.
That’s the point when you can collapse the waveform of this particular hope and move on to the next one on the list, opening yourself up to the next set of critical boots. But that’s just the masochism of the writer talking. My wife calls it my “Fifty Shades of Writing” instinct.
So what the hell should we do, while the dough of our hope rises, or doesn’t, in someone else’s hands?
Probably, this. Probably getting it out once in a while among a community that doesn’t think we’re stark raving bonkers is the healthy thing to do. It’s probably the thing that saves us going up somewhere high with an automatic weapon.
Write. Any damn thing you can. I know from personal experience that there’s a sense of living in the shadow of one book until you know what, if anything, is happening to it, so I understand it can be hard to “Start the next one” while your mind is still entangled with your current progeny. But don’t let yourself get rusty, or you’ll have a longer journey back to the kind of form of which you’re capable when you do start. Articles, short stories, blog entries, diaries, write any damn thing you can, but write it as if it’s for public consumption, even if it isn’t. Polish it if you can. You never know, it might turn out to have a market down the line.
Resist. Oh my WritingBrothers and ScribeSisters, resist at all costs the urge to tinker. The minute you tinker in a feedback-vacuum, the version that gets accepted or rejected is not the ‘right’ version in your head. When the answer comes, one way or another, tinker your ever-loving hearts out if you need to, if the answer to why a scene never quite worked has come to you. But resist the urge to change what’s on your machine without the feedback of the people you’ve sent it to. That way lie multiple literary dimensions, and it’s the easiest way to get lost in Version-Hell. What’s perhaps more, it’s the easiest way to dodge the pain of rejection, falling back on ‘Ah, but they haven’t seen the tweaked version.’ Take your licks when they come, for everything they’re actually worth.
Plan. You can be a pantser all you like, and absolutely, sometimes, the best, funniest, most dramatic or emotionally intense scenes comes from a blank screen or a blank sheet of paper and absolutely no fixed idea of what the next scene should be. But your next book will be aboutsomething. Answer the question of what. Answer the question of why. Let the characters wander into your mind, look at your answers and kick them around a bit, and see what they look like then. Once you’ve answered the what and why questions, let the spiderwebs begin to form, the connections between one thing and another. Let the world begin to build itself inside your head – ultimately, the only thing that’ll stop you obsessing over your current book is the dynamic force of the next one needing to be written.
Read. Read and read and read. Listen, the world’s a big place, and it’s been around a while. You’re not going to live long enough even to read everything you want to read, but chain-reading’s the only way to get even close. Read widely within your genre, so you know its heartbeat, its must-haves, its already-dones. Read widely outside your genre to bring your difference. Read sideways, read random, read books you’re not even sure you want to read. You never know what might end up feeding in to your worlds, your books in the future. I got what turned out to be a major underpinning factor of my current book from a marked-down, torn-cover book of quantum biology I bought in a post-Christmas sale the year before last. Always allow yourself to be surprised by things you read – after all, it’s not like you’ve got anything else to do while the inbox stays silent and the phone doesn’t ring.
Live. You know you’re probably going to turn into a grumpy, fizzing but strangely uncommunicative hermit once you start your next book. So take time out to reconnect with the people who still love you. Take time out to catch up with people who probably used to love you before you locked yourself away and started shouting at the walls.
Now, you’ll have to excuse me – there’s a woman sitting across from me, raising one eyebrow. I’m fairly sure at some point I was married to her. I should probably try speaking to her in the ‘out-loud’ world.
Hammersmith, Bailey and Hark – Wonderful. Image from PSBrooks.com
That’s it, then. Draft Three, the polishing draft, of Wonderful is complete. After feedback from my editor, the only thing that really hurt was changing the ending, but as it turns out, she was so ridiculously right I’m a little gobsmacked I couldn’t see it myself. So, big thumbs-up to editor Sam on that one, and proof if proof were needed that you should always get a set of professional eyes on your work, even when your day-job is casting a set of professional eyes over other people’s. You’re simply too close to your own work to make solid editorial judgments 100% of the time.
The book’s gone out to a few friends for beta-reading as we speak, and I’m getting some feedback that’s making me think seriously about the beginning. To show the behind-the-scenes action, or to leave it mysterious in the first chapter? Hmm.
It’s possible this is a viable concern, and that the behind-the-scenes…erm…scenes in Chapter 1 are giving a false impression of the book as a whole. But it’s also entirely possible that I’m just finding ways to stall myself from sending the book out into the world, where it has to stand or fall to judgment by others. I might take just one more look at just that first chapter. Then off it goes – I’ve been through the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook today, selecting my first handful of agents to try it out on. After the advice I got at York though, and if I’m honest, the advice I’ve pretty much given myself having read through it for Draft Three, I need to alter the tone of my synopsis and covering letter. I’ve always thought that what I was writing was a comic fantasy. But I’m not sure you can still get away with calling it that when it covers the persecution of Galileo, when it goes to Ethiopia in 1985, and when one of its key scenes takes place in an Auschwitz gas chamber. Besides, if I came away from York with one message ringing in my ears it was that the writing was great – but comic fantasy is the hardest thing in the world to sell.
The synopsis and the letter need to change – but this is something I’m sure isn’t me stalling. This is me trying to give it the best chance of being understood, marketed and eventually sold. Knowing the difference between stalling and perfecting is probably important. Getting the hell on with it is even moreso.
Hammersmith, Bailey and Hark – Wonderful. Image from PSBrooks.com
I completed Draft Two of Wonderful the night before going to the Festival of Writing at York. The net result of York was that I spoke to three agents. One specializes in fantasy, but wondered if the opening wasn’t perhaps trying too hard to be jazz-hands funny. He also said I needed to figure out who the extra market for the book would be, given that comic fantasy was the hardest thing in the world to sell, even when, as he kindly put it, it was genuinely funny, as mine was, and the writing was damn good, as mine was.
The second was a substitute for the guy I was supposed to see from her agency. She loved everything about it – absolutely everything. But she doesn’t represent fantasy. She did give me the name of the guy at her agency who’s building a fantasy list though, and tell me to contact him.
And the third was a guy I’d met before. I can’t help liking the guy – he’ll happily tell you he’s going to bullshit a crowd, just before going to do it. And he enjoyed the sample I presented too, but said this: ‘Fantasy’s only about five per cent of my list. I’ve only sold one comic fantasy before in my life. But I’m a gambler – there’s no reason you shouldn’t send this to me, but I can’t promise anything.’
As the last bit of Draft Two went to my pal and fellow editor Sam just before York, I’m going to do Draft Three, the polishing draft, before I send the book anywhere. But the feedback feels generally encouraging about the quality of the work – if less so about the state of the market.
If you shut down the access to worlds of wonder, we’re probably not going to get on.
The closure of libraries is a crime against the intelligence of future generations and the pleasure of the present.
I just went – as a white male with a full-time job and a company of my own, meaning I can afford it – into Waterstones, and the price of a new hardback book was £25-£30.
I can spend that if I want to, but the point is, the closure of libraries means that same book, which would have been available to everyone, is now only available to people like me, who decide it’s worth paying £30 for quite a slim volume on, say, George, Duke of Clarence, or the latest scientific advances. Or it’s available to those who accept the monopoly of e-books and the companies that supply them.
That’s turning reading and learning into a fetishistic pleasure of the rich, rather than a pleasure or an escape route for the poor. Books are becoming the hand-rolled Cubans of knowledge, the caviar of understanding, the Bollinger of entertainment.
When you stop up or tear down the access routes for people of all ages and incomes to access information, enlightenment and the sheer pleasure of writing, you engage in a war. A class war, that claims only those who can pay can educate themselves.
This is of course not even to mention the range of social functions libraries perform, or the fact that they allow older people on limited budgets the chance to keep their minds active and to interact with their community if they want to. By closing libraries, the message you send is that you want older people, who’ve built the society you stand in, to hurry up and die and decrease the population, to stay alone, to spend their last years in isolation, without so much as the window to another world that books, and company, and a friendly word can give them.
Draft two – in the middle distance. Draft three, close up – with rings! The joys of working between worlds.
Well hello! It seems to have been forever since I actively blogged about writing. There’ll be more of this from now on – mostly because there’s been a lot of writing of late.
You may remember I originally gave myself three months to finish the first draft of my novel, Wonderful. I hit that target within hours of its expiration, writing 90,000 words. Then I put it away for three months to get some editorial detachment from it. I’ve been moving through it slowly since, but with increasing rapidity and severity in recent months. As it stands, I’ve written Draft 2, to within the last 80 pages. I’ve also submitted the rest of it for professional editing with my friends at Bowler Fern, So while most of me is in Draft 2, a sizeable chunk of me is now in the middle of Draft 3, working with them. And there’s a deadline – On 1st September – less than two weeks from now – I start another three month stint of active writing, on the second novel, Fired! It rather behooves me to have finished the first one properly by the time I start the second, and besides, I’m going to the York Festival of Writing on the 5th September, to try and pitch the book to three agents. They really do tend to get cranky if you try to sell them unfinished work, and while technically the book does come to an end-point, it needs quite a lot of work in those last 80 pages to make it properly the book I wanted to write. So – a little pressure then, to get the pedal to the metal. This is me, working between worlds, working between drafts and realities to try and end up with a coherent, rich, fully-realised dimension when all is said and done.
In the first of an occasional series, we talk to pulished author Wendy Jones.
Who are you and what have you published?
Wendy Jones – Doctor, wife, mother and now novellist. Two books so far – The Songbird and the Soldier and By My Side, both romances, both published by Harper Impulse.
Concise. Let’s get deep and meaningful. I’m going to lob this question then retire over here to do my Sigmund Freud impression. Why do you write?
Oooh, errrr… I’m not your usual writer. I sort of fell across it by chance. I became completely caught up in a dream one morning. I had woken early and so I lay there thinking, ‘What would have happened if I hadn’t woken up right then?’ and ‘What must have happened to get to that point?’ I kept thinking and thinking about it and eventually started writing it down. I wrote every night for 6 months. Then I thought, ‘Well I might as well try and make something of it; I’ve come this far.’ My dad encouraged me to give it a go, saying I had nothing to lose, and so I did. By then, I guess I had the bug.
Ah, the bug. All hail the bug. We love the bug here at Fylerwrites. Speaking to writers, there are those who must have a particular environment and a particular time to write, and those who write anywhere. What about you? Do you have a routine?
Simple answer: No. None at all. I write when I can, if I can. I may write all day, or not for weeks.
And how do you write? What’s your process?
How do I write? Slowly (mostly). My ideas come over time. I wrote the story that is in with the editor at the moment in only 3 months, which was incredible for me, but usually it’s more like 9. I have no set pattern of inspiration. I generally have the idea of what I want to happen to the main characters, but then I have to work on how that happens. They just evolve, like an onion, one layer at a time, going over and over the story to see what’s missing with each read through.
The Songbird and The Soldier.
Both your published works so far are romances. What drew you to that genre? I love the ‘falling in love’ part of any story. I love the drama, the excitement. I may sometime dabble in other genres or most likely, subgenres, but it will always be a love story at heart.
How long were you a starving artist? How long were you submitting before you were published? I think it was 4 or 5 years before I got published. I wrote one story a year and tried maybe a dozen agents with each manuscript and never got much more than, ‘No thanks, not for us’ back from them. I had no idea if my writing was nearly brilliant, or dross.
So is writing your main job now you’re published by a traditional publisher – and a leading one at that?
Well yes, it’s my main job, but if I didn’t have a husband to support me, I’d starve. I read somewhere that you generally have to get to your 14th book before you see any kind of supportable income. Only another 12 to go then!
What’s the hardest part of writing for you? For me, the hardest part is starting a new novel. It’s a confidence thing. The ‘will I be able to write another one?’ stuff sneaks around in my head. I procrastinate and avoid it for ages until I finally bite the bullet and just start. Once I’m a couple of chapters in, it gets easier, but the first few are like pulling teeth.
You initially self-published The Songbird and the Soldier. What’s the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing for you?
Traditional publishing is SLOW!! Self-pubbing, you’re (mostly) in control. Traditional, it’s out of your hands. This can be frustrating. The up side (personally) is the validation of your work. It makes me less guilty about ignoring the family to get some more writing done.
So do you feel like an author now? Are you going to be putting ‘Author’ on your passport soon? Absolutely not! Well… I did when I went for a meeting at HarperCollins in London and I have started admitting to it when asked what I do, but… Maybe it’s like a ladder: people like JK are on the top rung. I’m still languishing somewhere near the bottom.
By My Side
Any advice for those of us who still can’t even see the ladder?
Get to grips with some grammar, analyse stories as you watch and read them for why you liked/didn’t like them and how the writer achieved this and when you’re done, get an outsider’s opinion. Get an impartial editor to read your work *coughs JF into her hand*. The rest is finding a publisher/agent who likes the same thing as you. It’s just luck.
Read more from Wendy Jones at Amazon today. You won’t regret it.
Rebecca Williams. International megastar. And my mate.
I just posted a news story about it being Tom Baker’s 81st birthday today, and realised I hadn’t really though that through. You see, while I bow to no-one in my admiration for Mr Baker, I have someone of staggering talent and breathtaking personality much closer to home who also happens to celebrate her birthday today.
I’m talking about Rebecca Williams.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you may be a bit of a geek, and so may not know who she is. If on the other hand you happen to follow the World Rally Championship, you’re probably swooning right now and calling me a lucky bastard (she has something of a fan base). Yes, I mean that Rebecca Williams. And yes, I real-life know her.
Rebecca Williams is a journalist, broadcaster, honey-voiced vocal artist and in specialised circles, a bit of an international megastar. She’s also my friend.
You know that feeling you get the first time you meet someone truly extraordinary? Not just common-or-garden extraordinary, but the kind of extraordinary that leaves you with your mouth hanging open and your brain double-checking – ‘Wait, did that really just happen?’
That’s the feeling you get the first time you meet Rebecca Williams. I was a teenager, volunteering in a local hospital radio station when this child with hair the colour of hellfire, eyes a ridiculous whirlpool blue and a personality like a benevolent punch in the face breezed in, introduced herself, made everyone in the room smile and breezed right the hell out again. This, I thought, is a kid worth getting to know.
One of the best instinctive judgments of my life, that. We got to know each other more and more, and, at this remove she’s perfectly aware that as I happened at the time to be in my ‘scheming Machiavellian bastard’ phase, I threw various notes of chaos into her teenaged life, mostly as a way of keeping us both interested and keeping us on the same side.
We held teenaged crisis briefings at my house or hers to sort out her insanely tangled life, and at one point, we were writing a book together. It came from a moment of sharing the same sense of humour about, of all things, contaminated custard slices, and I swear to this day it’s the thing I’ve written that makes me laugh most in the world. Sure, everyone else hates it, but in a way, that makes it even better to me.
Rebecca’s gone on to entrance a generation of Rally fans around the world, but she still technically lives here in Merthyr, near her mum, because above all, and beyond the intellect and the skill, beyond the incredible personal maturity I’ve seen her show in her life, refusing to be trapped or boxed or accept only pre-determined options for her life, beyond the fantastic capacity for silliness and the autumn sunshine laugh, Rebecca’s got one of the best hearts I’ve ever seen. No matter what, she’s got time for people, for her family, for her fans, for her friends around the world.
So on this day of celebration that she’s here on this planet at the same time as the rest of us, I figured it was time to say a thank you. ‘S’been a ride so far, Bec. Happy birthday, and here’s to the fabulous future, daaaaahling!
I promised the Wonderful fans a scene tonight, as it’s all been a bit Who-centric round here lately recently, and is likely to continue to be through next week.
We join the action as Hammersmith, Guardian Demon to the suicidal George Bailey, and Hark, the original Joyful Noise, have been transported back in time by a little angelic jiggery pokery, so as to avoid some demons and to allow Hammersmith to teach Hark the wonder of humanity. Oh, the Boiler that’s mentioned is the gigantic steampunk engine that processes human belief and keeps Hell rooted in the universe of the Real. Is that all you need to know? Probably not – I’m probably doing you all a massive disservice, but there you go. Enjoy. Shrug. Consider the whole wretched thing a waste of precious minutes of your remaining life – all reactions are equally valid at this stage.
Galileo Galilei, circa 1605
They appeared with a soft popping sound in a bustling, pleasantly pastel-coloured city, no less teeming than the London they had left, but painted in a kinder, warmer, more earthy palette. Bailey blinked. It was incongruously bright and warm, the sky a burning blue expanse of daylight.
Hammersmith smiled so brightly it was as though he was challenging the sun to a duel. He breathed in deeply. ‘Aaaahhh,’ he said, enjoying the business of exhaling. ‘Breathe that air, the pair of you.’
Bailey did as he was told, and immediately doubled up, coughing and choking.
‘No discrimination, some people,’ said Hammersmith, the smile not slackening even a little.
‘Too-’ spluttered Bailey. ‘Too much, more like. What is that stink?’
‘That’s life, that is,’ said Hammersmith, breaking into a chuckle. ‘Life in a city where the sewage system’s medieval, and attitudes to bathing aren’t quite as petrified as you’re used to. But raw, vital, red in tooth and claw and cutpurse life, nonetheless.’ Hammersmith dropped his arms to his sides and spread out his palms. ‘Ohhh, it makes my fingers itch. I can’t believe we’re really here.’
‘Really where, exactly?’ asked Bailey. ‘And come to that, really when?’
Hammersmith chuckled again. ‘I give you the city of Padua, Italy. Or at least, what will be Italy. The year is 1605. Great year. Primo year. Absolutely-’
He stopped abruptly, staring into the crowd of people on the street, fixated. There were a lot of people coming their way, many of whom were staring at them, and crossing themselves as they passed. Hammersmith didn’t notice them, he was watching one man. One man who seemed lost in deep concentration. Every now and again, he would mutter a phrase into his dark brown beard. His clothes were good quality but unobtrusively styled. He seemed to be navigating by memory, while his conscious mind was somewhere else entirely. His memory had done a reasonably good job of navigating him through the crowd, but he didn’t see Hammersmith, Hark or Bailey until he walked into them.
‘Scusi, Senore,’ he said gruffly, moving around them and going on his way. Hammersmith turned to watch him go.
‘I love that man,’ he breathed. ‘You see that man?’ he asked. ‘I love that man.’
‘Who was he?’ asked Bailey.
‘Who was he?’ Hammersmith laughed. ‘Who was he? Only the man who worked out pendulums, that’s all. Only the man who took the idea of telescopes and made them sing! The second best friend the sun ever had-’
‘A name would be good.’
‘You just met Galileo Galilei,’ said Hammersmith with the kind of reverence usually reserved for people who claim to be born of virgins, or the kind of emperor with high opinions of themselves and itchy trigger-fingers.
‘Galileo Figaro,’ sang Bailey. ‘Sorry – couldn’t resist.’
‘This man is important?’ asked Hark. ‘He is “wonderful”?’
‘The father of modern science? Maybe just a little bit wonderful, yeah,’ chuckled Hammersmith. ‘And d’ya know what else?’
‘You love him?’ asked Bailey.
‘I do,’ said Hammersmith, ‘yes. C’mon, let’s get after him, I know where he’s going today.’ He moved forward, and accidentally trod on the heel of an old Paduan woman.
She whirled around, looking like an extremely angry sultana in a dress. She had clearly been trained from her cradle in the fine art of Paduan invective and obscenity, and had apparently been waiting for the opportunity to make use of her education. She unleashed a torrent of North Italian filth in Hammersmith’s direction, but he just stood there, smiling placidly, as though this was a treat that had been laid on for them. He let her continue for a few moments, then he stuck out his hand and turned an invisible dial. Nothing happened. Hammersmith frowned.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked. ‘Why can’t I understand her?’
‘Do you speak seventeenth century Italian?’ asked Bailey lightly.
‘Well, no,’ said Hammersmith. ‘Not as such, but…’ He extended his hand, and deliberately turned his invisible dial again. Still, nothing happened. The old woman slapped his hand, and waggled her finger at him accusingly.
‘Ow!’ he said. ‘Wait a minute, can this prune-faced old bag actually see me?’
‘But of course,’ said Hark, sounding perplexed at the question.
‘But – but I made us invisible!’ said the demon.
‘Demons cannot travel in time,’ said Hark in her best explaining-to-a-three-year-old voice. ‘Obviously they do not retain their powers when transposed backwards in time.’
‘So… so you’re saying that the monastery-educated man who revolutionised our understanding of the scientific universe… just saw an angel in the street?’
‘Well,’ said Hark, frowning, ‘yes.’
Bailey joined in with the frowning game.
‘Well that’s just great!’ said Hammersmith. ‘Just thank your deities of choice he didn’t seem to really see us, or we could have changed all sorts of history.’
‘So,’ said Bailey to Hark, jerking a thumb at Hammersmith, ‘he has no powers here?’
‘No,’ agreed Hark.
‘But I’m here somewhere,’ said Hammersmith. ‘Well, I mean, technically in 1605, I’m in London, but I’m in this timezone, all demoned up and ready to go.’
‘That is you at the appropriate point in your timestream,’ said Hark, raising her voice slightly to be heard above the continuing rant of the aged Paduan. ‘This is not,’ she finished, shrugging as if that settled that.
‘What?’ Hamersmith rubbed his brow. ‘Hold on, so, the me from the first time around is the one with the connection to the Boiler, so he has all the powers? I don’t get ’em back till I, I mean me, I mean this me goes back to when I’m supposed to be?’
Hark rolled her eyes, nodding slowly.
‘Seriously, no powers?’ said Bailey. Hark kept nodding.
‘Now wait a minute-’
The punch came with 83 years of frustration and resentment behind it. Normally, Hammersmith’s demonic reflexes would have allowed him to see it coming and dodge the blow with ease. Here and now, he went down like a sack of squirrels.
The old Paduan woman screwed up her face into a satisfied scowl, gave a humph, and went about her day, unburdened of a significant portion of her life’s irritations.