Many thanks to Theresa for letting me write this piece for her blog.
I’ve been writing SF and fantasy for almost half a century, but apart from a couple of stories that
appeared in magazines in the 1990s, none of my work had been published. I even had an agent back
then, and although several editors liked my first novel, sadly it didn’t sell. When I took early
retirement from the NHS in 2011, I decided to self-publish e-books on Kindle, so in 2012, I brought
out two novellas, a collection of short stories and that debut novel.
I also had two more short stories published—The Third Worst Thing That Can Happen On Mars, which
appeared in Pro Se Presents #19 in July 2013, and Mountains of Ice, which was in Blood Type: An
Anthology of Vampire SF on the Cutting Edge, a charity anthology published by Nightscape Press in
August 2014. I was delighted to appear in that last one, in a line up that included William F.
Nolan, Mike Resnick and Peter Watts.
Pro Se Press are an independent publisher of New Pulp and genre fiction based in Arkansas. It would
be wrong to call them a small press, as they’ve produced well over a hundred books from many
different authors. They re-released my novel, To Die A Stranger, in e-book and print in January
2014, and it’s sequel, With Amber Tears, will appear within the next few months.
My latest book, Dead Men Rise Up Never, is also from Pro Se Press and has just come out in print and
e-book. It’s an SF/detective novel featuring a pair of recurring characters, Detective-Inspector A.
Afton Lamont and her partner, Jerome. Afton is cynical, middle-aged and immersed in her job, and
Jerome is not quite human, almost seven feet tall and from a high gravity planet, which gives him
above average strength. They work in Prosperity City on a middle-tech colony world, and usually find
themselves landed with weird and complicated cases. At the start of Dead Men, a man is stabbed
through the heart by a unicorn—the police shoot the creature dead, but in the morning, it’s just a
shaggy white pony with a tin-plate horn tied to its head. The victim was an agent representing a
very famous painter, Alexandre DuQuesne, who signs his work using the name Cain. Afton and Jerome
visit his home, a walled estate containing a fragment of the native ecosystem of their world, where
he’s created a bohemian commune of artists. The technology that underpins what seems to be an
unspoilt rural environment is run by an AI—here’s a short extract of Jerome’s first meeting with one
of her avatar bodies:
I wake a little before dawn with a sore head and a full bladder. Afton is curled up in a ball, eyes
twitching beneath closed eyelids, lost in a dream. I sneak away without waking her, wading through
grass wet with dew and walking between trunks that could be carved from marble, eventually finding a
silver-marked tree with its secret way down to the underworld. When I come up again, the forest is
in monochrome, a world of grey mist and opal shadows, so silent it feels as if the world is holding
its breath. I pause with my back against the ironwood, half-afraid to move and disturb that
stillness. The damp air is full of strange scents and I snuff them deep into my throat, the fruits
of an alien ecosystem, resinous and earthy. When something rustles above my head, I look up,
expecting a bird or a spider-lemur, but it’s a girl, an elfin-faced teenager, sitting on a branch
four metres up and swinging her feet. She’s a fragile little thing, with enormous eyes, a halo of
pale hair and an enigmatic smile.
“Hello, Jerome,” she says, waving down at me.
As far as I know there’s only one woman on the estate that we haven’t met and although it seems
unlikely, I have to ask. “Are you Raven?”
“No.” She tilts her head to one side. “Raven spent the night at the grotto. Memory is watching her.
She’s very unhappy.”
Her voice is soft and precise, and her smile never alters. She doesn’t blink either. I wonder if
she’s a construct. “Who are you?”
“Take a guess.”
I move out from the tree to get a better view of her. Under her tunic of iridescent fabric, she’s
unnaturally tiny and slender. Her finger and toe-nails glint like slivers of mother-of-pearl and her
eyes are too big, out of proportion to the rest of her face. Not human, then—engineered. She has to
be a construct, and if she is… the answer comes to me in a lightning-strike of inspiration.
“You’re the persona of the main-brain that lives in the gate-house.”
She claps her hands, laughing, a sudden bubble of delight. “Very good, tek-wiz!”
“Do you have a name?”
“I’m a machine. What use would I have for a name?”
I take a second leap of faith. “No dumb think-box could run a complex system like this, so you have
to be an AI, which makes you a person in my book. What should I call you?”
“Cain calls me Phaedra, the Bright One. Azure calls me the Witch and Anatole, Baba Yaga. Tassie
calls me Dorothy—I rather like that one.” She brushes the hair back from her face in a strangely
human gesture. “You can call me Silky, after an elf who lived in a tree in the middle of an
enchanted wood. I know why you’re here, you know, both you and the Inspector. I know everything
That wakes up my fear. When an AI uses a word like ‘everything’ you’d better believe her. “And do
you know who killed Theodore Dexter?”
“That’s an interesting question.” She wiggles her toes and contrives to look uncomfortable. “A
complex, convoluted conundrum. I have answers on several different levels, logical, rational and
intuitive. Which did you want to hear?”
My experience of AIs is limited—Silky brings my quota up to three. Imagine a mind with infinite
access to all human knowledge in less than an eye-blink, capable of juggling more tasks than you can
count inside the same second, with the curiosity and clear vision of a child and an adolescent’s
inadequate grasp of emotion. They scare me; I don’t understand why they consent to work with mental
pygmies like us. “All three.”
“That’s just greedy!” She scolds, flashing a brief, very natural smile. “The logical answer is no. I
didn’t see Dexter die, therefore I have no data on who or what ended his life. The rational answer
is maybe. Most victims know their killers, so it’s reasonable to assume that the guilty party is a
member of this community. As far as I can determine, Dexter had done nothing to anger anyone here,
apart from having a sexual liaison with Raven, and jealousy, historically-speaking, is a very
significant motive for murder.”
Colour is seeping back into the forest, hand in hand with the unseen dawn. Silky’s tunic is wedgwood
blue and matches her eyes, and her hair is palest primrose. It seems absurd to be discussing violent
passions with such a delicate, fey creature. “Did Raven have any other lovers?”
“Yes. All of the males and one of the females. The pairings and couplings around here are governed
by a very advanced set of equations. I haven’t worked out the math yet!” She giggles and the humour
sounds authentic. “Raven showed a preference for Fionn and Oliver, and avoided Anatole and Azure.”
“And the woman?”
“Angelyke. She shuns men, except for Cain. No-one refuses a summons to his bed.” Her eyes are
abruptly empty, the mask slipping back. “Not even me.”
I’m starting to work up some real dislike for Alexandre DuQuesne. “We haven’t had the chance to talk
to Cain yet. Where can we find him?”
“He left the estate at nineteen twenty-three yesterday and went towards the City. He hasn’t returned
It’s just a dumb piece of data to her, one of the millions of fragments she records every second. I
try to hide my shock.
“Jerome, I’ve a message for you.” She bites her lip. “Well, it’s for the Inspector really–it was
logged on her phone. It’s from your Forensics department. The sample you submitted for analysis
appears to be ash. Its composition is consistent with the combustion of wood and canvas at a
relatively low temperature, laced with traces of pigment.”
“Right.” I wonder how she manages to monitor calls on an inactive mobile locked in a strongbox.
“Could we send an answer if we wanted to?”
“Thought and Memory are programmed to handle communications. Just whistle down the wind and they’ll
come to you, my lad.” She’s fidgeting, swinging her legs. “Look, I have to fly. You take your coffee
white and frothy, while the Inspector prefers hers black, with precisely five grams of brown sugar.
Is that right?”
Silky stands up suddenly, balancing sure-footedly on the narrow branch. She shakes herself and
extends a pair of wings from her shoulders, wings like a dragonfly or fairy, as fragile as gossamer,
transparent and washed with a rainbow play of colour, like oil on a puddle. I only see them for a
moment, then she steps into the air and hovers there, supported by the whirring blur at her back.
“I like you, Jerome,” she says, her elfin face grave. “I’ll help you, if I can, but you should
remember that Cain owns me. He had me built and programmed, and he had this body designed and grown
for me. My loyalty-matrix is skewed in his favour. I have to love and obey him, and I have as little
choice in the matter as any other woman here.”
As she speaks, she sinks towards me until she’s almost close enough to touch. When I reach out to
her, she darts away. Then she’s gone, slipping through the trees faster than a man could run. As I
walk slowly back to Afton, my mind is reeling with the sheer magnitude of the technical wizardry
I’ve just witnessed. What does it take to make a woman fly? Hollow bones probably, and wings crafted
of an ultra-light alloy and synthetic membrane, and that’s just the easy part. Factor in an improved
heart, lungs and circulatory system to pull in enough oxygen, plus a boosted metabolism to provide a
glut of ATP to fuel the muscles used to beat them fast enough to attain a hover—and all of this, for
what? To make a pretty toy for a very rich, very privileged man? The waste of resources makes me
Dead Men also contains a bonus short story, Five of Humours; one of Melancholy; one of Honey, about
our heroes drinking down their sorrows after an upsetting case.
The start of Afton and Jerome’s partnership is told in The Spook and the Spirit in the Stone, in
which they have to find the kidnapped daughter of Earth’s ambassador to their world. It’s currently
available as one of my e-books, but Pro Se Press intend to publish it in the future.
I know that self-publishing gets a lot of flack and is often considered to be poor quality rubbish.
Many of my friends have released excellent books and there’s a lot of good stuff out there. My own
books were carefully edited and produced as professionally as I could. I’ve also found that
self-publishing work is no barrier to being picked up by a publisher—as well as Pro Se, I have a
short story reprint and a huge SF space opera coming soon from another indie press, and I’m also
negotiating with another to bring all of the short fiction out in print.
Here’s a list of links that you may want to use–
My blog – https://tabbycat.wordpress.com/
My Amazon UK Author Page –
Dead Men Rise Up Never on Amazon UK –
The Spook and the Spirit in the Stone on Amazon UK –
Blood Type (charity anthology in aid of The Cystic Fibrosis Trust) on Amazon UK –