Helen Barrell, author of the upcoming Victorian arsenic tome Poison Panic, has interviewed me about Beauty Secrets of The Martyrs, and my 2016 non-fiction book, The Mighty Healer.
I know, too early for snow. But my short, nasty, and very cold story, The Frost of Heaven, will be included in Fox Spirit Books’ Winter Tales anthology coming early next year. Fox Spirit won Best Independent Press at the British Fantasy Awards today. Well done, guys!
Beauty Secrets of the Martyrs – my peculiar little novella of magic, makeup, crypts, and clownfish – goes out into the world today. Thank you to everyone who’s already pre-ordered the paperback. Help yourself to cake.
While you’re waiting, have a peep inside the cover…
My novella of magic, makeup, crypts, and clownfish is now available to pre-order in paperback all over the show.
Get it from Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, or scare the living daylights out of your local bookseller by walking in and actually buying something. Alternatively, get your local library to order it in.
If you end up liking it, it’d be lovely if you left a short review somewhere or told your fantastically-minded friends.
(Ebook formats will be coming soon.)
2015 is off to a busy start. I’m very pleased to say I’ve been commissioned by Pen & Sword to write a book on Thomas Holloway, my Victorian ancestor, who made his fortune with patented pills and ointments.
It’s due for publication in 2016, so I’ll be spending most of this year poring over material like this…
My magical realist novella, Beauty Secrets of The Martyrs, will be published in paperback and ebook formats later this year.
“Once we looked to earthquakes to gauge the mood of God. I mean, I’ve seen some sights since the fourth century… but lately things have taken a creative turn.”
More details to follow, but here’s some blurb to tide you over…
Saint Silvan is a miracle. Since he died two thousand years ago, not one atom of his beautiful body has succumbed to the natural decay of the flesh. But the planet is not so fortunate. In a small church in Croatia’s Dubrovnik, Silvan lies in state for the veneration of the faithful while nation after nation succumbs to the rising tides of climate change. When an immortal dandy calling himself Az offers Silvan a job boosting humanity’s morale by prettifying the revered dead, Silvan is eager to offer his talents, unaware that someone may be playing him for a holy fool.
From Imperial Rome to Soviet Russia, Silvan crosses the worlds of the living and the dead to uncover his past and divine his future in a dying world.
This is a story of magic and makeup, crypts and clownfish.
The Watchmaker’s Gift
I returned from midnight Mass eager for the warmth of my master’s hearth and something indulgent to drink. I had enjoyed the Christmas service, on the whole, but I was saddened my master was too unwell to accompany me as he had for many years. I was a small boy when he selected me as an apprentice, appreciating the slender dexterity of my fingers, naturally suited to the intricate arts of the watchmaker. Since then, his astounding miniature creations had earned us both considerable fame – timepieces no bigger than buttons, working clocks for dolls’ houses, and even a jewelled ring that chimed on the hour and was rumoured to have been purchased for a Russian princess. With his advancing age, my master’s mounting obsession to create the tiniest watch imaginable had claimed his eyesight. Now, even with his thick spectacles, he struggled to see so much as his own knife and fork when I served him supper. It pained him, and at church that Christmas Eve I said a prayer to all the saints I knew:
“Return my master’s sight to him, even just for the night. Help him craft one more tiny, wondrous thing.”
When I returned to our home above the workshop, I found only one candle lit beside our diminutive Christmas tree. My master sat in the gloom. I could barely ascertain the glint of his spectacles. The dark was bad for his eyes and the cold bad for his chest, but I hadn’t the heart to scold him, particularly when I noticed, next to the tree, an enormous box. It was wrapped in red paper and sealed with a ribbon of gold, and was almost as tall as me. It had not been there when I left.
“A small token, dear boy,” I heard my master say, from the shadows. “Unwrap it, please. It is past midnight, after all.”
With a glimmer of childish pleasure, I set about opening my gift. As I tore through the red paper, thinking I would find some large wooden chest or armchair, I was surprised to find neither of these things, but another layer of wrapping.
“Smaller,” he chuckled. I smiled, heartened by the return of my master’s good humour, and continued to unwrap my gift. Yet I found only another layer of paper.
“Smaller,” said my master.
After some time and much bemusement, I was surrounded by mounds of discarded red paper. The package had shrunk to the size of a shoebox, but I was no closer to my gift.
“This must have taken you hours to wrap,” I laughed. How had he hidden something so large from me? Our workshop was modest, our rooms above intimate. I knew of no-one with sufficient humour to help him in such a task. I was the only family the old man had.
“Smaller,” my master coaxed from the darkness.
Dawn approached. My head swam with my need to sleep, and the gift, still neatly wrapped, was now small enough to hold in my palm. I was irritated with him, and annoyed at my own pettiness in the face of such an elaborate and no doubt well-intentioned joke, but still I tore through layer upon layer of paper and ribbon. My fingertips grew sore. My eyes ached with the lack of light, and for another hour the only sounds in the room were the tearing of paper and the soft, infuriating laughter of my master.
When the gift was the size of my thumbnail, I thought that surely, at last, I was close. It would be one of his miniature timepieces, the smallest yet, a wonder of the age. My prayer would have been answered. We would share a brandy and chuckle at my astonishment, and in the light of Christmas Morning we would eat fruitcake and play cards as we had together since I was a boy.
Yet as I peeled back the final layer of paper, no bigger than a postage stamp, I found the package to contain nothing.
At first, I simply stared. My hands shook. There was no miniature timepiece, no gift, not even so much as a grain of rice for my labours. And my master, not a cruel man, not a man given to spiteful gestures, was laughing in his chair, in the corner, in the darkness. Laughing at me.
I snatched up the candlestick and strode with it to his chair to demand an explanation, to touch his brow for signs of sickness, or worse, some brain fever brought on by frustration and old age. I lifted the candle above my head to better view him and was about to open my mouth, unable to contain my annoyance any longer.
He had, for some considerable time, been dead.