New story: “Flightcraft”

New story: “Flightcraft”

New story!

Flightcraft, in Luna Station Quarterly
A romance in its beginning, an ancient craft, and an aeroplane named for a traitor.

Cat knows when she’s finished speaking that she must be flushed with emotion – it’s a practised spiel that nevertheless works its way through her body every time, like a form through canvas. But she looks up and Talitha is smiling at her, tentative, luminous.

“We could do this again,” Cat says, suddenly. “I mean, it’s nice to have company at lunchtimes. It’s been lonely since everyone up at the base started to leave.”

“I’d like that,” Talitha says, and she’s smiling again.

Flying Scotsman

Flying Scotsman

So, A. said half-joking last night that it was a shame I wasn’t going to be on the morning train that passed the Flying Scotsman, it’d be the one before. I considered it for a bit and thought, well, I can get up twenty minutes earlier, maybe, though it’s a silly and foolish whim (self, why are you such a nerd and such a multidimensional one at that).

Friends, it was a great decision. The 7.45am Cambridge > King’s Cross train is a lonesome creature. It’s usually silent save for snoring and the tapping of keys and it crams up with people and misery after Royston. I sat by the window watching it cross the frosted landscape and started seeing people on the trackside, in the station car parks, on the ridges in farmland which pass for elevation in Cambridgeshire. There were people standing with binoculars on bridges and people dotted like stars across the fields. I was following along with realtimetrains, which is a great resource that not a lot of people seem to know about, and that was fun in itself – watching the train I was on cross its passing points, and watching as the other train got closer. A little way along from Stevenage there was a whole family holding up their kids on the garden fence to see, and then the 7.45 crossed the Flying Scotsman at Welwyn.

I only had a glimpse of it – the faceplate, the billowing steam, the fresh paint – but that’s okay! It was beautiful regardless. The BBC described its departure from King’s Cross amid a cloud of mist as something out of a British Pathé newsreel; on the suburban commuter platforms at 7.30 in the morning it seemed like a dream.

Here’s the thing, though: so many people. People pressed against trackside fences. A man opposite me on the 7.45 who perked up from commuter somnambulism at the words “Flying Scotsman”! Some guys in Network Rail high-vis standing around the trackside, very ostentatiously not doing any work. Crowds crammed onto stations at the arse-end of the morning, happy and excited. It was freezing overnight and the wind was biting and people had been standing there since dawn to see it flash past at eighty miles an hour. I feel much better about the whole godforsaken world.

Random things spotted on the internet:

-The BBC’s live blog of the entire journey, now the train has arrived in York;

-Great Northern at Welwyn, ruining someone’s life as ever – this was the train I was on!;

-The namesake electric Flying Scotsman passes the LNER Flying Scotsman somewhere near Peterborough, despite several hours’ head start.

I am shortly to stop commuting on this line, after two and a half years; this was the way to see it out.

Awards eligibility 2015

Awards eligibility 2015

I was afraid to make this post, but I am being brave. (Hello, internet. Hi. I’m being brave.) Here are the things I’ve had published this year just gone that might be awards-eligible, depending on what you’re nominating for.

Short stories:

Alnwick [5000w, in Middle Planet, April 2015]
A faster-than-light ship, bureaucracy, tinned pineapple and queers.

Nine Thousand Hours [5000w, in Strange Horizons, April 2015]
Magic, a lighthouse, and an absence of text.

Archana and Chandni [3200w, in Betwixt, July 2015]
Indian wedding in space!

And a novella:

Quarter Days [25,000w, in Giganotosaurus, December 2015]
London, 1919: magic, recovery and major railway disasters.

And because a couple of people asked, I am in my first year of eligibility for the John W. Campbell award for Best New Writer. (My initial qualifying publication was “Nine Thousand Hours”, published by Strange Horizons in April 2015).

Novella: “Quarter Days”

Novella: “Quarter Days”

This story is my first piece of longer fiction – at 25,000 words it’s a novella rather than a short story – and I’m very excited that it’s being published at last. As noted elsewhere, it is a story about magic, and also about major railway disasters, but mostly about coming home.

Station sign seen through lift: "Way Out and Temple station"Quarter Days, in GigaNotoSaurus (25,000w – available in epub and mobi at the link)
It’s the winter of 1919, and the war is over. Grace, Ned and Thanet have returned to the only world they’ve ever known: the magical courts of the City of London, the Temple gardens, and the river.

But while they were gone, it changed.

“It would be,” Ned said, with some difficulty, “grievous, for us to have fought so hard for – for what is ours. And then, after everything…”

Grace nodded, allowing him the time to finish that sentence, or choose not to. Ned lit another cigarette, and she waited, thinking of how she had kept the practice running even when the windows were blacked-up with crepe and Salt magic was as strictly regulated as sugar and petrol. She had written letters to Ned about it, and had them returned with “Not known” written on the envelopes, by order of the War Office, but in Ned’s own familiar hand. They had laughed about it, in their separate places, and afterwards.

“We go on,” Ned said, finally, “like we did before. We just go on.”

“Go on,” Grace echoed, and then fell silent, watching Ned’s hands move to his mouth, and the cigarette tip glowing in the darkness.

New story: “Alnwick”

New story: “Alnwick”

A little belatedly, a new story, about spaceships, queers and beleaguered civil servants:  Alnwick, at Middle Planet. Here is an excerpt:

Meg hesitated, and in that moment of silence, the shuttle left the ground, moving straight up as though hung from a cable, rapidly enough to make her ears pop. The city receded beneath then, becoming a jewellery box of shining lights. “I don’t like to say, Minister,” she said, at last, and to her surprise, he smiled as though he’d been expecting her response.

“I won’t push,” he said. “Oh, one more bit of shop-talk: I suppose it’s all lost beyond recovery, but what was the cargo in the pod?”

“Tins, sir.”

“Tins?”

“Tins.” Meg spread her hands. “There’s going to be hydroponics and food reclamation on board, but it’s a long way to Barnard’s Star. It was thought the crew might like—well. Tinned pineapple. Cream of tomato soup.”

“Tinned pineapple,” the minister said, faintly.

New story: “Archana and Chandni”

New story: “Archana and Chandni”

A new story! This one concerns Indians, weddings and spaceships.

Archana and Chandni, in Betwixt (3000w)
There was a package from Tara-didi in the morning, delivered via orbital station pickup with a note stuck to the outside. Should be opaque to little sister’s sensors, she’d written. Us bad girls need to stick together. Archana only had time for a quick peek at something pointy-pink with four speed settings before Dabbu Auntie barged in to call her to the beautician. “She has come from Naya Bharat!” Dabbu Auntie announced. “To thread your eyebrows! You want to get married with those so-shaggy caterpillars? Come!”

New story: “Nine Thousand Hours”

New story: “Nine Thousand Hours”

A story about magic and mayhem and words, but mostly about a colossal fuck-up, and a lighthouse. This one is published by Strange Horizons.

Nine Thousand Hours by Iona Sharma (5000 words)
You must understand: there wasn’t anything to do, at that time. You couldn’t go online, or read a book. You couldn’t check your email or read the news. So many people took up running that there were two London Marathons that year. And magic had become a primal thing – you could do it if you knew the working so well it was part of your body; you couldn’t look it up. And I remember people didn’t even do that: they were frightened, because of me, because of what I had done.

 

The Local Strangers, Take What You Can Carry

The Local Strangers, Take What You Can Carry

Take What You Can Carry album coverAnd now for something completely different! I don’t talk much about the music I listen to here, because I’m not at all cool, okay, I still like most of the music I liked when I was a teenager and a lot of that was nineties girl bands. At this advanced, tragically unhip age, the music I like divides into two neat categories: soulful queerish lady music (Vienna Teng; Dessa; Deb Talan; Dar Wiliams; Kris Delmhorst) and soulful, soft Americana: the Horrible Crowes; the Gaslight Anthem; the Oh Hellos; the Civil Wars… etc).

The Local Strangers are in the second category, an American two-piece a friend introduced me to last year when I was in Seattle for a con. Last weekend, I listened to their new track, “Gasoline“, about fifty times in two days, and I’ve spent the rest of the week listening to their new album, Take What You Can Carry, and… what to say, when you have no vocabulary for this sort of thing? Other people can talk about all the things I can’t articulate, the sweetness in the vocals, maybe, and the cutting simplicity of the instrumentals, maybe also; I like “Gasoline” because it seems to have so many layers, down and down, and the lyrics are deceptively simple, and more than that  I can’t tell you.

Off the rest of the album, I particularly like “Red Dress”, which reminds me of Kim Addonizio, and “1947”, which is intimate, and again more a poem than anything else; and then there’s my hands-down favourite, which is “Pilot Light”, a love-song lullaby with simple, soaring lyrics (I will be your pilot light / I’ll burn for you through the night), that fall away into lamenting, wordless harmonies. And see above re: super uncool, okay, but I have never grown out of being seventeen in musical terms; I have never not listened to the same song over and over twenty, fifty, a hundred times, and over years, because it’s something you carry with you; when I was seventeen I still lived up on the Sefton coast and we used to hang out and drink on the pier head, watching the lights on the docks, the lights shining on the water, yearning for something. (Do people love music differently, people who don’t grow up in crappy seaside towns? Who even knows.) Anyway, that’s it, that’s the thing I’m reminded of: because I went to dinner with an old friend on Friday and we talked for a while about it, about how London isn’t easy – high rents and commuting, middle-class British woes par excellence – but we left the town we grew up in and I still listen to the same song over and over, still capable of being transported. It’s a lovely, varied, sweet album, and if I’d listened to it aged seventeen I would have come to it all in inarticulate emotion. And though I didn’t and haven’t, in its multiple sweetnesses, its simplicity, there’s still all that there: still all that falling into wordlessness, on the edge of something. I wish I had the wits to write about music: to write more than, it spoke to me, perhaps it will speak to you, but there you are. Take What You Can Carry is coming out on March 3rd, and my press copy was provided by Matt Hart of the Local Strangers – thank you.