I always appreciate when a friend of the blog broadens my area of knowledge by suggesting an interview subject. This week, thanks to a suggestion from Allison Baker (of MonkeyBrain Books), I present my interview with self-described strange fiction writer Hal Duncan. Here’s a snippet of Duncan‘s bio: “A member of the Glasgow SF Writers Circle, his first novel, VELLUM, won the Spectrum Award and was nominated for the Crawford, the BFS Award and the World Fantasy Award. As well as the sequel, INK, he has published a poetry collection, SONNETS FOR ORPHEUS, a stand-alone novella, ESCAPE FROM HELL!, and various short stories in magazines such as Fantasy, Strange Horizons and Interzone, and anthologies such as NOVA SCOTIA, LOGORRHEA, and PAPER CITIES.” In addition to discussing his theories on fiction as well as his work in general, he and I also discussed a musical recently produced that was written by him–and the experience of writing a screenplay. I always thank folks when they give me the honor of their valuable time, but I have to give Duncan an extra big thanks for the level of detail and consideration he gave to his answers.
Tim O’Shea: Your first novel, Vellum, was translated into several different languages. How much were you involved in that process? Can you think of any country where you were pleasantly surprised to find readers took strongly to the book?
Hal Duncan: With some of the translations I’ve had no involvement at all; with others there’s been a lot of back-and-forth. They’re not the easiest books in the world to translate by a long shot, I know; there’s all manner of poetic techniques, dialect, wordplay, even a mixture of mythical, historical, and alternate-history settings that means passing references could be authentic history or utterly spurious. I regard my translators with a mixture of shame at what I put them through and wonder at the fact they’re tackling it. So if there’s anything I can do to help, I’ll do it. It’s fascinating to see the process anyway.
The response in Finland has probably been the most pleasant surprise. Not so much the feedback about the translation itself, because Nina Saikkonen is one of the translators I’ve worked closely with, and knowing how much she’s put into it, I knew it was going to be excellent; and there was already a lot of support in Finnish fandom from the response to the UK edition. I got a guest of honour invite came from a convention organised by Finns even before the book was out there. And the novel is fairly outré in some respects — I’ve referred to it as cubist fantasy, and I’m only half-joking — so it was awesome to find sf fans passionate about work that plays fast and loose with genre conventions, focused on that more than the bestseller material, inviting someone like myself rather than an obvious popular choice.
And while that gave me a lot of confidence in how the translation would go down with Finnish fandom, the response beyond that has been way more than I expected. When it was launched at the Helsinki Book Fair, it sold like crazy, sold out twice so new stock had to be brought from the warehouse; before I left the country it had gone to another print run. The coverage was superb too — front page of the culture section of the Helsingin Sanomat, which is basically Finland’s London Times. This may just be a marker of the culture in general. I was over again in June just past, because the translation had won the Tahtivaeltaja prize, and again there was good media coverage — newspapers, a radio interview, a tv interview that hit the nine o’clock news a few weeks back. Maybe it’s not the response to the book per se, but that degree of receptiveness was totally unexpected and wonderful.
O’Shea: There’s been two novels in the The Book of All Hours series, do you have any interest in doing more–or are you content to stick with the two?
Duncan: I’ve returned to some of the characters, and I probably will again, but The Book of All Hours is complete with those two works. Structurally, I couldn’t really expand the series, even if I wanted to. Each book is in two volumes and each of those four volumes is thematically based on a season and a time of day — Summer/Day, Fall/Dusk, Winter/Night, Spring/Dawn — so tacking on a sequel or prequel would just screw up that structure. No, the only way I could expand it would be to break it apart and expand each volume into its own book — which *would* be theoretically possible, right enough, since the narrative is a sort of mosaic structure anyway. And, of course, I could then expand those four books into a trilogy each, so you had one for every month to keep with the seasonal cycle structure. And then…
But that would, of course, be nuts. No, I think I’ll stick with the two as is.
O’Shea: In 2008, you released Escape From Hell!, which was published by Monkeybrain Books. How did this project come about with Monkeybrain?
Duncan: Two drunken evenings over cocktails. The first was at a World Fantasy Convention — in Austin, I think — where I was hanging with Chris Roberson and Allison Baker of Monkeybrain, drinking white russians and smoking on the hotel bar verandah. Which is pretty much how I’ve spent most WFCs since my first, where I met them and we immediately hit it off in our mutual love of fine cocktails, cancer sticks and good craic. Anyway, there was a conversation going on, if I remember right, about how we were all fed up with books being monstrously huge, and wouldn’t it be great to have one of those nice 150 page paperbacks like you used to get back in the day, something you can just pull off a shelf and read in an evening. There was a bit of amusement at me being enthusiastic, given the doorstop size of Vellum and Ink, but somewhere along the way, or sometime after that — conventions can get a bit blurry — Chris ended up inviting me to do a stand-alone novella for them. Something short and sweet, to be marketed like a paperback, aimed at the bookchains. I was well up for it, so I went away and started work on a novella. Unfortunately, I ground into the dirt on it, and was still nowhere when the deadline arrived. Which is where the second drunken evening came in.
That was a night with my mate Mags in the pub, Mags being a graduate of film studies, working for a small tv production company at the time, and basically a huge cinema enthusiast who’d be well happy to direct a movie. So over dry gin martinis we were kicking around ideas for The Most Awesome Movie EVAR! — big, bold, pulpy fun. It might well have started with me pitching the title and characters — a hitman, a hooker, a hobo and a homo — with a manic glint in the eyen. I can remember Mags being insistent on various things that you had to do in a movie, and me being equally insistent that no, you couldn’t kill off character X, or play out this or that relationship a certain way, because that would be just *too* damn formulaic. Somewhere along the way, we ended up with enough of a framework that I went away and blasted down a quick overview. I fleshed out a bit, added some more twists and scenes, but I didn’t think much about it after that, until I realised I’d got myself into a dead end with the novella for Monkeybrain. There’s kind of a received wisdom that novellas are easier to translate to movies than novels, because they have about the same level of narrative, so I figured the same should be true in reverse. Rather than leave Chris and Allison in the lurch any more than I was doing already, I bit the bullet, fessed up that the novella I’d been working on was dead in the water, and pitched Escape from Hell! as a replacement.
I still ended up taking an inordinate amount of time getting that novella written, I have to admit. I’m immensely grateful to Chris and Allison for their forbearance.
Duncan: I’m not really the one to say. It’s Cheryl Morgan’s press, so it’s a matter of her intent rather than mine, but I know and respect Cheryl as a friend from the convention scene, so I’d be very happy to work with her if I pitched an idea that she liked. And it’s certainly got a focus that appeals to me, when it comes to the e-book market and anthologies highlighting new and minority writers. The latter in particular; I don’t really have anything that jumps out and says, “hey, this should be an e-book,” but editing anthologies is something that appeals generally, and the extra dimension only makes it more so. Again, though, it’s not like I have a killer idea for a theme.
Still, I *can* say that the magazine side of it, Salon Futura, is something I’ll certainly be sending some non-fiction into down the line.
O’Shea: In general, how important are Kindles and the like to authors like yourself, who embrace technology?
Duncan: Actually, despite my background in programming and sf, if you saw the phone I had up until a few months ago, I’m not sure you’d describe me as embracing technology. I blog and tweet, write in Scrivener on my laptop, and spend way too much time on Wikipedia when I’m not obsessively checking my email, but most gadgets don’t really excite me a lot. With the technology I do immerse myself in, it’s mostly about the software and systems, the ergonomics and aesthetics of the interface; hardware is just a means to an end. I want Expose on my Mac, but I don’t care that much about having a camera on my phone.
So while it’s clear that e-books are the shape of things to come, I’ve been dubious of the actual e-book readers available, which seem stupidly expensive and below par. As a medium, absolutely, I think any author who doesn’t engage with e-books is making a mistake, and I’ve happily dabbled — making short stories available in digital formats online, with some non-traditional approaches to getting paid for them — but up until recently the hardware has all seemed very… zeroth generation, prototypes of what I’d really want.
Publishers abrogating control to automated conversion software doesn’t help. Nor does seeing one of the founders of the epub format publicly dismiss typography. I’ll happily read a basic MS for work reasons, but if I’m reading for enjoyment I want a quality of experience that’s dependent on decent typography. The reports of atrociously substandard products being punted out, e-books that look like they’ve been typeset by a retarded monkey — exactly the sort of thing Cheryl’s talking about aiming to address actually — have left me thinking of most e-readers as… well, meh. They’re like the printer I had for my ZX Spectrum as a kid, where the roll of paper was about the width of a till receipt; strictly speaking the functionality of printing was there, but it wasn’t exactly going to print you a resume you’d want to use in a job application.
But the iPad is a game-changer for me here. It’s something that grabs me as a reader because it has exactly what those other e-readers lack in terms of a professional finish. As a writer too, I care that *my* work is presentable to readers; I can actually produce a resume I’m comfortable using in a job application, so to speak. And looking at it from a business perspective, I think it opens up the market. I know I want one, and I can name friends that would never buy a Kindle but might well own an iPad before me, the same as they own iPods and/or iPhones — and these aren’t Apple acolytes or gadget fiends, by any means. So I see this as the real start of something. And after seeing some demos of how children’s picture books and non-fiction can utilise the interactivity of touchscreen technology… well, I’m not sure yet how you might apply that to narrative in a way that’s more than just a novelty, but it is a radical transformation of the medium.
O’Shea: You’ve written extensively on literature–in general as well as in analysis of genres and subgenres. Most importantly you analyzed the category “strange fiction”–and in fact you call yourself a strange fiction writer. What is your hope/interest in defining yourself in such a manner (and exploring the concept as a definition)?
Duncan: Partly I’m just walking away from the overload of definitions. Within the community of readers and writers, labels like science fiction and fantasy have become enmeshed in a turf war of tribes, bitter boundary disputes. It’s like rock and pop were at war with one another, with some insisting that the mere presence of harmonic backing vocals made a rock song actually pop, or somehow polluted its purity. Those terms have become such nominal labels that you can’t talk about works of strange fiction without someone vehemently disagreeing that the work you’re talking about is validly described by whatever label you apply. So I’ve abandoned those rotted names to the tribes, to squabble over among themselves.
I don’t see much value in them in terms of marketing either. Terms like sci-fi, science fiction or fantasy all function as brand images which are loaded with preconception to outsiders. For many, I’d say, those terms will be used the way an aged aunt might describe Mogwai as “that heavy metal you listen to.” They conjure up tightly delimited genre conventions and an adolescent audience. They conjure up the equivalent of spandex and mullets. The actual range of approaches is really more comparable to indie — could be anything from Mogwai to Belle and Sebastian, in a melting pot of genres like garage, punk, glam, folk, pop, disco, and so on — so this brand image is immensely inappropriate. It’s not a good way to sell the fiction.
If I had my druthers in terms of branding, I’d apply the label indie fiction — on a parallel with indie movies and music, where this now refers to an independent style as much as independence from the corporate structures. The point is, this fiction’s key feature is actually independence from the constraints of realism, the presence of quirks that flavour it with a distinct strangeness. Within that you’ll get very commercial fare — just as some indie bands are pretty formulaic — but the selling-point for sf has always been “something different” rather than “more of the same.” The films of the Coen Brothers are actually a good comparison point: this is fiction for people with eclectic tastes but a general desire for something not locked into grim realism. Reorganise the shelfs in the bookstores, and you could connect the works with their core audience far more effectively, I’d say. At the moment it’s like trying to sell Belle & Sebastian in a Heavy Metal section that many of the people who’d appreciate that band’s music will simply avoid like the plague. Sadly, I’m not the Emperor of the Publishing Industry or the King of All Bookstores, so I don’t see that happening.
If I can’t affect the branding though, I can at least clear away the rotted names from the critical discourse, and talk about how fiction works, about how one particular type of fiction works, regardless of what it’s labelled. Or at least I hope I can. I think you can actually disregard the boundaries as a starting point and look at what narratives do in precise linguistic terms. You can address writers like Franz Kafka and Kelly Link in the same breath without any concern for the literary territories they’re associated with, because we’re talking about technical features of the text that are as substantive as alliteration. To look at this stuff as strange fiction isn’t a genre approach; it’s simply looking at that fiction which is strange, where strangeness can be precisely defined in terms of a particular linguistic quality sentences possess — alethic modality aka subjunctivity — which is, in non-jargon, the possibility or impossibility of the events described by it. Are they logical impossibilities, contradictions-in-terms? Are they metaphysical impossibilities, breaches of the laws of nature? Are they temporal impossibilities, breaches of known history or known science? And there are other types of modality — matters of should and might rather than could — which you can bring into an analysis. If you include horror as a mode of strange fiction, you kind of have to, which brings tragedy into the scope as well.
In the full system, I think there’s a capacity to get to grips with any narrative in terms of strangeness, and to look at how that strangeness drives it. It becomes a model of narrative dynamics itself. It’s really only of interest if you’re into literary criticism, analysing how texts work, but I’m fascinated by that sort of techincal gubbins. And if I can’t brand myself as an indie fiction writer, at least when somebody asks me what kind of stuff I write, I can say, “strange fiction,” and then just throw out some benchmarks — “like, there’s Escape from Hell!, which is sort of Escape from New York meets Jacob’s Ladder. But there’s also Vellum, which is like James Joyce crossed with Michael Moorcock.” And so on.
O’Shea: In developing the column Notes from the New Sodom, does it sometime help you indirectly in how you approach your fiction writing?
Duncan: I don’t know. There’s maybe an element of clarifying my thoughts on this or that by articulating them properly, but I’m not sure what I’m focusing on makes that the kind of thought that feeds back into the craft. It might be different if I was doing more critique, but largely I’ve been dealing with those turf wars or political issues like segregation in the media, so it’s more of a cultural commentary at the moment than anything else. Where it does stake out an aesthetic stance, to be honest — where challenging the false dichotomies between positions automatically becomes a position of opposition in its own right — this is largely an attitude I’ve already thrashed out over the last few years, in more off-the-cuff posts on my blog. I think the columns are really end-products — or even by-products. Like if I’ve started a column on something, that means it’s already processed past the point where it’s going to factor into my writing. I’ll already have been thinking about how my fiction might tackle segregation, for example, by the time I tackle it in a column.
O’Shea: In addition to fiction, you also are a poet. Are there ever ideas you explore in fiction that you decide to consider in poetry as well (or vice versa)?
Duncan: Themes more than ideas. There’s definitely an overlap in a very general way, in terms of subjects I tackle. Granted, I tend towards the big topics — sex and death, humanity and religion — but even the particular takes can be very similar, down to the sort of imagery I use, the tropes I’ll play around with, like the figures of Dionysus, Orpheus, Lucifer. And where some of my fiction is fairly heavy in poetic technique, much of my poetry has a strong narrative element. I’ve got some short stories that are pretty experimental, so heavy on the poetic and rhetorical techniques — alliteration, rhythm and such — that they’re heading towards verse. Meanwhile my taste in poetry is for writers like Blake, Yeats and Stevens, where there’s a sort of oracular thing going on, a vision playing out; and my own writings reflect that.
There’s even one unpublished work that’s gone back and forth between fiction and poetry. It started out as sort of Joycean narrative, intended as part of a novel long since abandoned. I went back to the material later, and got some stories out of it, but this part of it didn’t take shape properly so I started treating it as poetry instead. I ended up taking out the line breaks after, and felt it sort of worked as a short story now… but not quite. So currently it’s a poem again. Similarly, I just finished reworking another orphaned novel-scene into a long poem. This one, at least, I’m happy with as poetry.
Usually though a story idea has a form that’s distinctly story-shaped. It’s a tale, or it’s a conceit that suggests causal ramifications, conflicts and resolutions, and that oracular poetry I like doesn’t really work that way. It’s not epic in the classical sense. It’s “The Second Coming” rather than “Paradise Lost.” So there is a point where ideas end up going one direction or the other. Like, I’m not going to write a poem about a hitman, a hooker, a hobo and a homo breaking out of Hell. And I’m not going to write a story based on the core image of a poem like “The Fiddler and the Dogs.”
O’Shea: Some of your other most recent work has taken you in new directions, as you recently had a musical of yours staged in Chicago–and you’ve recently completed a screenplay. By your own admission these are departures from your typical creative output, how did these shifts in creative gears come about?
Duncan: The musical came out of a three day fling that left me smitten, writing sonnets and everything, only for him to not return my calls afterwards, the bastard. Not being the sort to go stalker-boy, but definitely being the sort to sit up drinking in some dive bar into the wee hours, I threw myself into a week of absinthe and misery. I figure performative devastation is the best cure for heartbreak; don’t wash, don’t eat, drink and smoke constantly and rail bitterly at the gods and fates to the extent that even *you* can’t take yourself seriously any more. So somewhere in the midst of emulating a character from a Tom Waits song, I ended up actually writing, to all intents and purposes, a Tom Waits song — two indeed, “That Great Big Sanatorium in the Sky” and “Tango for the Dead.” And somewhere in the midst of imagining that character, he sort of started asking for a story.
Thing is, I had a bunch of other songs I’d written a while back, mainly daft punk numbers with titles like “Suck Me, Fuck Me, Chuck Me,” but I can’t sing or play any instruments, so these songs attach in my imagination to an imaginary band, Fagsmoke, invented as part of a character’s backstory. These were his songs. So suddenly I find that character (Jack) sitting beside my Waitsian waster (Chorus) in a bar, and telling him why *he’s* there, also wallowing in drunken misery. One of these songs, “Nowhere Town,” becomes a thematic core, while another, “Junkie for the Sound,” attaches to Jack’s lost love (Puck.) Before I know it, I’m writing medleys of the two, reprises, a big ensemble number, and an even bigger medley-*and*-reprise as the grand dramatic finale. In less than a week, I have a fully formed “gay punk Orpheus musical” — Nowhere Town.
Which is to say, I have all the dialogue and lyrics written down, and all the music in my head, with no way to communicate it. Can’t sing, can’t play. A friend with actual musical ability tries to help me out, but it’s a lost cause; I’m just making noise at him. Painful noise.
Fast-forward a year or two though, and I switch from PC to Mac, start messing around with GarageBand and discover that one of the piano loops in their library is the exact refrain I had in mind as the basic theme of “Nowhere Town.” Long story short, I find that by layering tracks upon tracks of cut and spliced loops, I can actually construct the music for all the songs. I still can’t sing to put vocals on them, but I have instrumental versions of all the numbers in the show. So I mix them down to mp3s and stick them up on the blog with the libretto as… a curio for readers. Only then, a while later, these college kids in Chicago, Beth and Ben, email. They’ve read my books, follow the blog, caught the musical and fallen in love with it. Is it OK if they stage it through their university theatre group? Hell, yeah! I say.
Of course, they still had no idea how the lyrics were meant to sound, so I had to rope in mates who could sing, and put them through a hellish process where I recorded my godawful attempt at it, they sang back what they thought I was going for, and by a process of trial-and-error we eventually got to mp3s with their vocals on the numbers. Over in Chicago meanwhile, the musical director, Tristan, has to try and turn what I’ve given them into something performable. There’s no sheet music, just these mp3s and GarageBand project files — where the basic melody might be constructed from three or four piano tracks, from the way they combine. But at the end of the day it worked. They did it, and they did a fucking immense job of it. It was a Mad Folly from start to finish, but this musical written in the head of a tuneless wastrel on a week-long bender actually made it to the stage. Which is kinda awesome, I think.
With the screenplay, I’m kind of hoping that I haven’t exhausted my luck when it comes to Mad Follies, cause that’s a similarly unlikely candidate for fruition — a high school movie based on As You Like It, but with the female character gender-switched to male. Like, think of it as the gay Ten Things I Hate About You. It’s called Whatever the Fuck You Want. Cause, yeah, a Hollywood studio’s going to *love* that title.
This left-field project came about from an experience that dropped my jaw. A while back, I blogged reviews of two little indie flicks I’d seen — The Curiosity of Chance and Were the World Mine– both set in high schools, with gay kids as the main character. One I say is the best high school movie John Hughes never made; the other is a musical riffing on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They’re both a lot of fun, if you like the idioms. They’re both a cut above some of their competitors despite the microbudgets — zingier script and acting in one, edgier music in the other.
Anyway, in a discussion that emerged in comments, I ended up having to defend these from a po-faced commenter dismissing them as cinematic candyfloss. He was arguing that Were the World Mine just looked vapid in comparison to, say, The History Boys. I was arguing that these weren’t aiming to be The History Boys, that these were good examples of their genres and, crucially, used gay protagonists in utterly populist idioms — which is a big step forward. I mean, serious cinema like Brokeback Mountain is all very worthy, but what’s out there for the 14 year old who wants the gay Ferris Bueller? Movies with gay central characters aimed at a mature audience have been mainstream since My Beautiful Launderette, and that was decades ago. But where are the popcorn flicks with gay central characters? Where’s the boy-meets-boy version of Ten Things I Hate About You? Still, to make sure I wasn’t talking through my arse about the absence of such, I did a quick Google on “gay kid” and “high school movie.” And got my own post on The Curiosity of Chance as top hit.
I know my own blog stats, and they’re not that high. And that’s hardly an exotic combination of strings, so the fact that it doesn’t lead to *something* with a higher profile — an IMDB page, reviews, whatever — that’s shocking to me. And if I do the same search right now, the top five hits are all me talking about this in various places. The top hit is now actually the post where I talk about the Google results. Just awesome.
So I basically realised that the movie I was looking for simply didn’t exist. It’s not hard to imagine, I think. Just picture Glee as a movie rather than a series, focused on Kurt rather than Rachel and Finn. Not as an indie flick filmed in Belgium, like The Curiosity of Chance, but made within the Hollywood studio system, aimed at the multiplexes rather than the gay film festival circuit. A movie like that could be pretty big with the right names and budget attached. But it’s not out there.
Rather than just bitch about it though, I figured that what a writer does to try and remedy a situation like that is write; and thinking about the classic Shakespeare-update strategy, As You Like It is a perfect candidate for that treatment, and for a gay spin. Hell, the screenplay wrote itself when I got down to it; Shakespearean pastoral translates to a high school movie with just the gentlest nudge. Whether there’s even the remotest chance of it getting made though, I deeply doubt. It’s been punted off to my agent, who sent it on to his co-agent for film and television rights, so it is actually somewhere in LA right now, but that just means it’s another screenplay in LA. I dont hold out much hope, to be honest.
Mind you, I didn’t think the musical would ever get made.
O’Shea: Do you have an interest in doing more of either types of work?
Duncan: I don’t see myself doing another musical any time soon. Writing songs is a real rarity for me; once in a blue moon I’ll get a tune in my head and scribble down the lyrics, but not being able to sing or play an instrument, it’s kind of pissing in the wind.
I could definitely see myself doing more screenplays though. I’m half-tempted to adapt Escape from Hell! into a screenplay, since it was originally envisioned that way. (Hell, in writing it, I was totally picturing two of the characters as played by Samuel L. Jackson and Lawrence Fishburne. They’ve never been in the same movie together, you know, and how awesome would that be?) And generally… I can easily imagine future works aimed in that direction. You might expect screenwriting to be a bit unsatisfying for a word junky — for someone whose fiction is heavy on the prose style and poetic technique to work in a form where that craft is confined to dialogue. But I loved the structural work in writing Whatever the Fuck You Want; I liked fitting the narrative into that three-act shape, making sure the narrative beats were evenly spaced. It felt a little like working in some tightly-defined poetry structure, like crafting a sonnet. There’s something kind of formal about screenplays that appeals.
O’Shea: What’s on the horizon for you creatively?
Duncan: I’ve got two projects I’ve been working on for way too long, so I need to get my head in the game and get them done and dusted. One is the next big novel, a retelling of the Epic of Gilgamesh set in three time-frames — mythic, historical and futuristic. It’s a similar approach to Vellum and Ink, actually, a sort of cubist take in which the same story is playing out in three narratives. But it’s demanding a lot more gestation time than it has a right to. The other is a sequel to Escape from Hell!, with the equally John Carpenteresque title of Assault! On Heaven! I have a third and final installment brewing as well: Battle! For the Planet! Of the Dead! Given the shameless pulp approach, I reckoned I had to increment the exclamation marks for each installment. I’m not really getting into the zone with that either at the moment, so I’ve been doing a lot of short fiction in the meantime. None of this is contracted at the moment, at least, so I’m not tied into slogging through them to make a deadline; if something else comes along that *does* just write itself, I can grab the inspiration and run with it.
Some of those short stories are looking like they might shape up to a larger project too. I came up with a conceit at the end of last year that has a lot of scope in it, I think. It’s sort of a punky city-urchin take on the Lost Boys from Peter Pan, with huge dollops of Michael de Larrabeiti’s Borribles. Stories are set throughout history around the idea of “Scruffians,” kids who’ve been stolen from minority communities, bought from workhouses, or similar, and “Fixed.” They don’t age, don’t change, always return to the state in which they were Fixed… which makes them very useful as slaves during the Industrial Revolution, say. Some escape and set up in squats, try and rescue others. There’s a Waiftaker General — like Peter Cushing as the Witchfinder General meets the Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It sort of masquerades as children’s fiction at first sight but gets really twisted in all manner of ways. Anyway, I’ve got a good number of stories out of it so far, a good few more lined up to be written, and a narrative arc emerging between them. I was experimenting with releasing them online for Paypal donations, but the ball didn’t keep rolling in terms of meeting the targets, so I’m thinking about where to take it from here. For now they’re available via the blog for free download from a fileshare site.