I’ve been publishing short speculative fiction since 2014 or thereabouts. Mostly, it’s about ordinary people doing ordinary things.
“Dragon-flat nimbu pani,” Priya said, having squeezed past the wizards to get to the counter. The person standing behind it wore a long, homespun cloak, and there was a suggestion of bone and metal in the shadow beneath their cowl. When they gave no reaction, Priya added, in English, “I, uh, used to come here with my dad? I don’t speak the language as well as he did.”
Ekta’s Dadi could tell the future. She didn’t read the tea leaves, or make horoscope charts, or lay bets on the cricket. But she booked the photographer the week before the news came of Purnima Didi’s engagement. She told the panditji to get his blood pressure checked before he told anyone he was short of breath. The day before the Human Spaceflight Programme was suspended, she called Ekta in Sriharikota and said she should come home.
St-Anselm-by-the-Riverside, in Consolation Songs [June 2020, 5000w]
A frost fair, an NHS hospital, some middle-aged ladies in love.
Francis smiled at her. It was a sweet smile, disarming. “There are other places. Other ways of being… here, I guess. Other Londons.”
“Other Londons,” Audrey says, flatly. “There aren’t other Londons.”
Penhallow Amid Passing Things, in The Underwater Ballroom Society (eds. Stephanie Burgis and Tiffany Trent) [April 2018, 8000w] (reprinted October 2018 as freestanding ebook)
Magic, in common with all things, is passing from this world. Penhallow, a Cornish smuggler par excellence, has more pressing problems: most of which are Trevelyan, the town’s austere Revenue officer.
Trevelyan reaches into her pockets and lights a rolled-up strand of tobacco, which startles Pen; she’d never have ascribed Trevelyan any vices. And she does it with no need for matches, which is more startling altogether.
“Well, there’s a thing,” Penhallow says. She’s seen magic cast, even in Kernow, but it’s vanishing rare, an arresting strangeness.
Trevelyan’s hand drops, though the flame stays at her fingers. “Party tricks.”
“Still,” Penhallow says, uncertain. It suggests that there’s something under Trevelyan’s skin that isn’t just saltwater. Something of the places far from the sea.
Refugee; or, a nine-item representative inventory of a better world, in Strange Horizons [January 2018, 1500w]
Mercy, not justice.
The bell, the lantern, the witching hour. Undone shirt cuffs, unkempt hair. A refugee from the republic of conscience.
[Also available as a podcast]
“Ass-naked for the whole neighbourhood,” Elisha says, like his mom would have. Félix laughs. Beautiful to the point of unearthly, but he’s the most real thing in this room full of tchotchkes. Healing crystals, incense sticks, long strings of beads: the things clients like. And a half-done tarot spread, abandoned on a side table.
Eight Cities, in Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-speculation [August 2017, 2000w]
Delhi, after the deluge.
At the bottom of the bag is the hand-crank radio. Raonaid winds it with a sound like a mosquito whining and flicks the switch.
“One, two, three, four,” says a voice distorted by static. Something quickens in Nagin’s heart at the sound. “One, two, three, four.”
“It’ll be on longwave soon,” Raonaid says. “And I ought to be out there above the plains, telling people so. Instead I’m here, chasing after you.”
Nagin lets that pass, sitting cross-legged on the floor, listening to the test signal. One, two, three, four. She lets it run several more times before she asks, “Why are you so angry with me?”
Sara waved a hand. “I don’t want to be Magistra Prospective, Light! What I want is for them not to be building a sewage works outside my house. And for Nanni Julia to stop throwing things at you. Is that so terribly unreasonable?”
“No,” Light said. “But you could have declined the appointment.”
“You’re hilarious, Light.”
[Also available as a podcast]
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.
Quarter Days, in GigaNotoSaurus (December 2015, 25,000w – available in epub/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.
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.” 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.
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!”
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.
[Also available as a podcast]
The mali came in the morning to talk about their plans for the garden. “Flowers, madam,” he said, firmly. “We must have flowers.”
One-Day Listing, in Goldfish Grimm’s Spicy Fiction Sushi (July 2014, 4500w)
A story about a great disaster. Also, cups of coffee, noisy neighbours, long hot days, a giant plant that’s dropping foliage everywhere, and some lawyers.
People say that the asteroid that destroyed 47 Piscium was set in motion by a passing star. That it was a handful of dust coalesced into rock, with a bare nothing of a molten core, minding its own business out on the far reaches of traversed space, until its nearest star puffed off its outer layers in a radiant twinkling and it tumbled into history contrariwise to the spin of the galaxy.