Novellas, SFF

“The Life in Papers of Sofie K”

sofiekcoverMy new novella is out! My new novella is out!

The Life in Papers of Sofie K. is based on the life of Russian mathematician Sofia Kovalevskaya. It’s basically a literary/fantasy bio, maths meets magical realism. The premise comes from events in Sofie’s childhood – the poor kid had the most terrible Nanny. This cheerful woman apparently had a bent for macabre tales, and Sofie had life-long screaming nightmares about witches and werewolves and the Black Death. Now, I’m not a parent but I dare say if I had a small child I wouldn’t be tucking them into bed with stories about how people infected with bubonic plague were nailed inside houses that were subsequently set alight.

I mean, come on! Nanny dearest makes the Brothers Grimm look like fluffy bunnykins.

In my novella, Nanny’s nightmares come to life: Sofie is shadowed by a monster that is all her nightmares combined. But it’s not an enemy – it’s her shadow-self, sort of daemon and direwolf and Patronus, following Sofie through the universities of Europe. Because Sofie herself is also monstrous – or perceived as being so, with her enormous mathematical talent that allows her to break out of traditional gender roles and make her own way.

My last two novellas have been published by Masque Books, and Masque’s great. But this is too short for them, and I’ve been curious about self-publishing for a while now. I’ve a few more short novellas nearly ready to go that will probably end up the same way but Sofie K. is the first. Here’s a brief taster:

Sofie wants to study at the university at Berlin. This is not an easy thing: she lacks the parts preferred to do so, and the monster is no help. The professors do not want it in their libraries and their lecture rooms, with its thick soft paws and teeth that are too crescent for them, too light and lunar for comfort. Sofie cannot argue that they take the one without the other, cannot leave the monster at home. It is bound to her and will not leave, and she does not try to make it. If it were lost she would lose herself, so while she stops it from burying its teeth in those that thwart her, keeps it from poison and breaking and hammers, she does not leash or muzzle it.

Despite this, there is yet an avenue open to her: an appeal to the senate, a plea for scholarship. A chance for talent to rise above, to compensate for monstrosity. Sofie knows that she will need to sell herself, to walk the line between sty and nightmare, to look the part of a serious student. She holds herself as her father does, stiff-spined. She must appear more pig than monster, a curiosity in place of threat. Her shoes are sensible, rubbed clean of mud with thin lines of delicacy and they make a subdued clatter when she walks. An ugly bonnet makes her look older than she is. It shadows her mouth, and if Sofie ever had a tendency to simper then the bonnet does away with it, because she saw herself in mirrors before she came and this is not a hat to simper in. She does not wish to appear ridiculous.

(She knows some people will see her so anyway.)

The senate is unmoved. Talent is not enough for them–nor ability, nor enthusiasm. Even in clattery shoes she walks too lightly for them, has too much the whiff of monster. An aberration: something to be kept out with spells and salt and silver. They see only the bonnet (not how ugly it is, or the careful preparation behind it) and their fixed idea of women says that Sofie would be happier if she left maths well alone and circled millinery instead.

Anyway. If you want to read more you can find Sofie and her monster on Amazon. Check it out if it sounds like you!


SFF in Conversation: Smugglers and Magical Creatures

A couple of months ago, I got an email from Ana and Thea over at The Book Smugglers. They were doing a round table on diversity in spec-fic and wanted me to take part. Specifically, diversity in magical creatures – and as someone who’s getting really bloody sick of reading about elves and dwarves and goblin-types, all I can say to that is Yay.

I mean, there’s more to fantasy, right? You’d think with all the options out there, the widest-open genre would be able to mix it up a little. Yet in many ways fantasy is a conservative beastie – the province, often, of kings and queens and social structures that belong more to hundreds-of-years-ago if not to today. It’s bizarre – these continue to exist even when imagination is hurling up weird shit all over the place. Look, for instance, at what reliable, accessible contraception did for women and women’s rights in the real world. But insert that into a mediaeval society – as Martin does with moon tea in ASOIAF – and nope! No difference. Traditional models remain, against all odds and common sense. Little wonder that in a lot of fantasy lit the critters tend to the traditional as well.

Luckily, the recent push in spec-fic for more diversity, more inclusion, has seen a number of authors bringing different ideas to the table. Different monsters, different animals, different magical creatures. As a reader, I’m all for this – reading should stretch me beyond what I already know, expose me to new ideas and new ways of looking at the world. Otherwise it’s just baby-food, right? Apple sauce and sugar puffs. Fun and entertaining, but not enough to learn from.

I live in NZ, so even pasty white as I am there’s at least exposure to another culture’s mythology – I’ve never met a Kiwi who doesn’t know what a taniwha is, for instance. That exposure gives a certain advantage, but by itself that isn’t enough. No-one wants to be an appropriator, to rifle through another culture’s stories and misuse them for gain. Likewise, it’s hard to write with any integrity if you’re deliberately excising the rest of the world from your work so you don’t have to deal with it. I mean, for fuck’s sake. You’re a writer. Crack a book sometime, it won’t kill you. Talk to people. Communicate, learn. There’s more out there than mirrors.