Interview: Gillian Polack

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We are very fortunate today to have the chance to interview Dr. Gillian Polack who is a Medieval scholar from Australia who also writes speculative fiction. Is, in fact, an award winning author of such with the 2020 Bertram Chandler Award for Oustanding Achievement in Australian fiction. Her latest release, Borderlanders, is currently out on sale from various sources – https://www.odysseybooks.com.au/titles/9781922311184/.   

We asked her a few questions about herself and her work.

What drives you as a writer – what makes you sit down and work through your day enough to get something finished?

I have so many stories to tell. I have so much learning to do. They make tapestries together and those tapestries make me feel as if my life is worthwhile.

You are known as an editor, historian and teacher as well as a writer. What skills from those professions, aside from the obvious ones, do you think have helped you as a writer?

The most important thing I take from all the different parts of myself is learning: I’m always learning how to tell better stories. I’m not convinced I write good novels yet, but all my different skills definitely help me move in the right direction.

Tell me about the place where you live. Have you ever used any aspect of this place in your writing?

I live in Canberra. I call it the centre of the known universe, because many Australians dislike it and most of the rest of the world forgets it’s our capital city.  I also call it a palimpsest city. It’s tucked into the mountains and, if you look around without knowledge, it’s bland.  I love this. A city that deceives others by pretending to be dull…Canberra has so many layers and so many stories

I’ve used Canberra in my fiction for years.  The novels still in print are Ms Cellophane (the public service and how it devastates some souls), The Time of the Ghosts (how ghosts travel with us and how, if we don’t handle our cultural baggage, it will change the world around us), and part of The Wizardry of Jewish Women (bushfires and feminism).

Some palimpsests have just one hidden layer and some have many. Canberra has many, and I suspect I shall write about it again.

What is your favourite historical period? How would (or have?) you used this in your writing?

Despite the fact that I’m a fully functioning Medieval historian, I don’t have a favourite period. I love learning about people, and history is a rich well of stories that help me understand people and their lives. I always use  history in my fiction, even the fiction that looks as if it contains nothing historical at all. Most recently, Poison and Light is set in the future, where the eighteenth century is re-created so that a whole planet can hide from the present.

I had several triggers that set off this jaunt into a future past. One of them was MacHeath (the John Gay version of The Beggar’s Opera, not the one by Brecht). I realised that a reinvented past would have all the aspects of history we regard as sexy, even if, in reality, they’re not sexy at all. Highwaymen, a Code Duello, hot air balloons and so much else are part of a society that discovers this. I love  fiction from the late eighteenth century, and I used it as a springboard. If you look hard, you’ll see them reflected.

Have you ever based any characters on real life people? If so, who and what did they think of it?

I nearly did, once.

In my first novel, I had a character based on a real person. My publisher warned me that this was not a wise thing to do. Illuminations was published in the US and litigation was a major problem at that time. I rewrote the section and changed the character.

There are also sequences in The Wizardry of Jewish Women that are based on actual events, but I modified the characters themselves. In real life, Carmen Lawrence and Anthony Albanese made appearances, but in this version of the same events (in fact, in all the events that are derived from real incidents and enter into my fiction) the characters are different. This turned out to be very wise of me and I will always be grateful to the US editor who taught me to do this, for Albanese is currently one of the most senior figures in Australian government.

Borderlanders involves a character who can produce magic through artwork. Can you tell us more about this? How does magic work in your world?

This is the same weird Australia I used in the short story that Mindy Klasky published in Nevertheless, She Persisted https://bookshop.org/books/nevertheless-she-persisted-a-book-view-cafe-anthology/9781611386875There is a connection between magic and emotions, but there’s often a twist in it. You can never quite be certain that the world you are looking at is the one you thought you were in.

How do you think fantasy writing will evolve over the next few decades? Any trends you are seeing now that you think will become more relevant?

We’ve had a wave of growing cultural awareness recently, where many writers explore their own background in their work, or suddenly realise that when they write about other cultures and lives they have been guilty of ‘othering  characters in the writing. It hasn’t dug deep yet, but if it does, it might change everything.

We have some of the tools for that change already: own voices, asking for help with writing people from different backgrounds to ourselves, understanding that some people can be hurt if we choose our subjects lightly. We still have a wider cultural framework, however, that pushes easier, more comfortable and less diverse views.

If we’re very lucky, we might have a brilliant blossoming of new paths in novels as authors discover how much narrative potential there is in getting rid of the most egregious bias.

What big current affairs issue would the main character of Borderlanders, Melissa, have an interest in? What would her opinion be on this issue?

Her main focus would be on current government. Given the Federal government in Australia is not at all supportive of people with disabilities, her life is affected by Federal policies and she would keep an eye on it. That would be very personal, and she might not say anything in public. What she would talk about at a dinner party is how government policies hurt people. I suspect she would simply say that and then be quiet again. She’s not someone who makes the ears of others ring with her opinions.

In Borderlanders, you are writing about disabled characters. How do you feel disabled characters are handled in fantasy media in general and how do you feel this could be improved?

I have a big gripe about many characters in fantasy media in general. The vast majority of those depicting someone ‘other’ (whatever the reason for the othering) are often depicted as shadow figures. Not full characters. I don’t feel as if I want to meet them or avoid them. If I don’t have even an inkling of who they are off the page, then the author has done them a disservice and has put a stick figure in their work in place of a real person.

Since each and every person with disabilities (to use that as an example) is an individual, with a whole life and really interesting things to say, to give them short shrift is to add to the bias about them.

Othering can be done to so many different people – it loses us our humanity. All writers need to do is say “Yes, this person is Black American, or Indigenous Australian, or queer, or Jewish, or Hindu or disabled… but what are they like as a person and how do these aspects of their lives integrate with who they are as a person?”

If I were to ask Melissa what was happening in the story of Borderlanders, how do you think she would answer?

“I don’t know. Really. I’m trying to understand, but, honestly, I need to sort out some issues before I can answer your questions. Can I ask you, though, why you need to ask me this? Books are made to be read, not explained by characters.”

 

 

Blending the Con

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In case you hadn’t noticed, there is something of a global pandemic going on at the moment. You may have picked up hints of it amongst the news of insurrection in the US… This pandemic has led to a series of different measures to try to manage the impact ranging from total lockdown to the uniquely confusing Tier system in the UK.

RomanceSFF panel

Photo of me on the SFF Romance Panel at Worldcon 2019 taken by Carien Ubink‎

This has, understandably, led to some issues with the normal running of events. Anything that requires a large number of people to get together in one place for an extended period of time is a high risk for spreading a virus so any number of LARP events, conferences, conventions and the like have been cancelled since March last year and in some cases we have got to the point where the rescheduled events are at risk of being cancelled as well. Some events, such as the New Zealand Worldcon in August, went fully virtual. Others are still waiting for when they can plan new dates for fully in person meets.

With this in mind, Eastercon (which was due to be in Birmingham last year but got cancelled) has been planning for a number of possible outcomes when it returns on the 1st to the 4th of April, 2021. This is probably wise as there seems to currently be no reliable way to predict the extent of the virus or the progress of the government’s response to it by then and therefore no real way to know what restrictions will or will not be in place.

So, Eastercon’s plans are to assume that at least some of the con will be virtual. Even if hotels are allowed to have guests and host events, even if a significant portion of the UK population have been vaccinated, there is still a high risk that international members of the con will not be allowed to travel into the UK so they need to work on accomodating them. So, working with available technology to figure out how to have both in person and virtual attendees both on panels and in the audience.

Which led me to thinking… assuming we eventually do rid ourselves of the pandemic with its Tiers and Lockdowns and endless Zoom meetings, how should this change conventions in the future?

During the first lockdown in March 2020, there was a lot of talk about ‘the new normal’ and how our newfound powers of being able to ‘work from home’ (that we’ve really sort of had since the 90s but nevermind) would change the workplace. Some assumed that once the pandemic was gone ther would be a return to the ‘old normal’. Others suggested that, having realised that it is possible, some might ask for more chances to work from home. How will conventions go in this? Will they return to as it was before or will they adapt by adopting some of the tricks they learned during lockdown? I’m going to consider some possible benefits of the latter…

Authors incliding Jacey Bedford and Ruth Long doing a panel at Mancunicon Eastercon

Mancunicon – me on a panel about Romance with Jacey Bedford and some others. There was standing room only… Taken by Russell Smith

One huge advantage will be space. Eastercon and Worldcon are both getting much bigger. To the extent that some venues can no longer house them adequetly. In 2016, Mancunicon in Manchester had significant  problems with space, with some panels being in rooms that were too small for the audiences who wanted to see them. Hell, this was so bad that even a panel I was on had standing room only and people waiting outside because they were not allowed in. At Worldcon 2019 in Dublin, a guest of honour almost did not make it to a panel I was moderating because the room was full so they were stopping people getting in. Luckily they knew who she was and let her in. This can lead to disappointed attendees because they cannot get into something they wanted to see and be an issue for the organisers who might have to deal with complaints and also set up systems for queuing for panels so there is no huge crush at the door. While the obvious solution might be ‘hire bigger venues’ that comes with the problem that, actually, in the UK at least we seem to be running out of ones that are big enough.

So, running the convention virtually will minimise this to an extent. First of all, attendees present in person might be disappointed that they could not get into the room. However, if the panelists are all on camera and the panel is being streamed, they can access it on a laptop or tablet or even a smart phone in the bar or even their hotel room.

Secondly, more people can be members of the convention full stop. A set number of ‘physical tickets’ can be sold to those who want to attend in person but there can also be ‘virtual tickets’ on sale at a lower price. This increases the overall income of the convention, which should hopefully cover additional cost of the tech to achieve it. This may be an option for some international attendees. I know that I could never afford the travel to the US or New Zealand for a Worldcon but I could afford a ticket to watch elements of it online.

Another issue, linked to the above, is volunteers appearing on panels, workshops, talks etc. As pointed out above, not everyone can travel to a con. Some simply due to distance but others maybe because of disability or childcare issues or similar commitments. There have been a few people who I would love to see on a panel or doing a talk at a UK convention like Eastercon but they have been based in the US or Canada and while some Eastercon attendees are from the States, it is still a significant investment in time and money to make the trip. If the tech can be in place to project a panelist on a screen so they don’t have to be present in the room but they can still interact with the panelists who are present and the audience if needed this would be an improvement.

OK, my experience of conrunning is limited – I volunteer at some cons but have not had to organise the logistics of one to any extent – and my experience of AV is based purely on using it to teach and the same experience as pretty much everyone else since March 2020 so I may be missing huge issues with this. However, I do see that this is an opportunity to think about this longer term than just the current crisis. Like workplaces in general, maybe it is time to start working out what the ‘new normal’ is actually going to be.

The Elementals: Russell A Smith interview.

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So, in the fugue of Christmas and New Year, you probably forgot all about The Elementals. So, being the helpful chap that I am. I thought it time to remind you…

Cover of The Elementals in the element of air (surrounded by clouds)

So, remember The Elementals is still available on ebook and paperback! You can get it from this Amazon Link!

RusseditToday we are interviewing Russell A Smith, author of the final story in the collection – the Social Contract. We’ve spoken to Russ before, way back when and he did of course get interviewed by F.D Lee at the same time I was for Super Relaxed Fantasy Club. As the only other UK author involved in this anthology, I could in theory have done this interview in person had the world been less virus ridden…

The anthology theme is ‘Elementals’, what does this mean to you and how did you interpret it in your story?

Growing up much in the known western tradition I often think first of earth, air, fire and water. I am pleased spirit is an addition to our options here and I spend far, far too long thinking through metaphysics and how understandings of each of these elements affects the practitioner in the first place. Which led me to how some of them work together, how some really shouldn’t, etc. I really didn’t have time to get into it all on my story here, but thinking about that gave me a whole world to play with, complete with current standings, alternate world histories and suchlike. In the universe I’ve got running, there are a number of options for the magically talented beyond elemental, but we have a specific focus here. My lead protagonist has a talent for manipulation of air and water in particular.

Where is your story set? Is it a real world location or one you made up? What drove you to set your story there?

My story is set in East London, and I’ve joked a few times that I know some friends who could see some of the first part of it from their house! I can’t remember exactly what order things came in, but there’s a particular event taking place that happens in that area which I wanted to include in the plot. I should make sense when you meet a couple of the characters. I may have slightly fudged a calendar date or two, but I’m fairly certain it’s not that important.

Are there any personal experiences in your story? Things you have done, people you have met etc.?Island Gardens - Wikipedia

I’ve been to every location featured in the tale bar one, which I’ll leave you to guess! The characters themselves are entirely fictional, though one of the characters is very loosely inspired by someone I know. Again, I shall leave you to speculate as to which. I also featured another character mostly after exchanging a very short prompt with another friend of mine, whose name I even riff off slightly.

[Editors note, the embedded video below is a clue as to one of the locations used…]

What drives the main characters of your story?

Honestly, I can tell you that the lead was just wanting to have a nice entertaining weekend, and that plan hits a barrier almost straight away. However, the title of my tale, The Social Contract, probably gives away a big theme of characters having numerous obligations within various communities. And they may not always have a universal understanding on this. This starts with some quite real-world issues which I don’t delve into heavily here because that’s not what I’m going for, but it still affects the supernatural in some ways, which will quickly become clear.

How would any of the characters in your story respond to the current world of 2020?

I’m fairly sure it’s not explicitly mentioned, but I set the tale in 2019 quite deliberately. Although there’s certainly peril, I very much wanted to ensure there was joy and light-heartedness on the page, which thankfully my lead lives for. She’ll certainly not be enjoying 2020 one bit, but would absolutely be sporting a Black Lives Matter badge and even though better equipped to handle matters of air transmission than most, will sport an array of geeky masks at all times.

What was your writing ‘method’ for this anthology? How did you progress from initial idea to the final, published story?

Embracing the chaos of my surrounding environment would be the short answer! I turned up quite late to the party so had to come up with something fast, was thinking about the starting location and reasons for the initial conflict first, knew I’d be keeping my end of the prompt I mentioned earlier up, then worked out how I was going to put it all together . I had to quite hastily get some more eyes on my initial draft, then go again!

Describe the premise of your story.

A young witch has plans for a nice chilled weekend break hanging out with her cousin. Would it surprise you to know this does not go according to plan? She starts her perilous night in East London with the police getting in her way by arresting her cousin, but that’s soon interrupted there’s the unknown demonic thing terrorising the local park nearby. So her cuz doesn’t even get to be the first rescue attempt she has to make. After that, she might be able to begin to work out what all of that is really about. Oh yeah, there’s also a really special dog.

The Elementals: Heather Young Nicols interview

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For our next interview with an author from The Elementals, we have Heather Young-Nicols. Heather Young-Nichols is a USA Today Bestselling Author of YA and contemporary romance author and a native of the great and often very cold state of Michigan. She is better known at home and to her friends as the Snarker-in-Chief, a job she excels at beyond anything she could have imagined. She loves many things, but especially cold coffee, hot books, and baseball. But not necessarily in that order. You can find out more about her on her website: http://www.heatheryoungnichols.com You can also see more on her Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Instagram accounts. And don’t forget, you can buy The Elementals from Amazon UK and Amazon US! An image of the Elementals cover in a setting representing waterThe anthology theme is ‘Elementals’, what does this mean to you and how did you interpret it in your story? Elementals to me revolve around the elements. As this is an elemental witch anthology, I focused on a witch that can use the elements from another series of mine. Where is your story set? Is it a real world location or one you made up? What drove you to set your story there? The story is not in a real world location. As the first story takes place in a fictional town called Warwick, and the warlocks came from another fictional town, I created a third for Devious Magic. Are there any personal experiences in your story? Things you have done, people you have met etc.? There are some personal experiences in the story, but they aren’t unique to me. There’s a carnival/fair. There are rides. Things of every day nature that most people can place themselves. What drives the main characters of your story?40410982. sy475 My characters are driven by a few things. The desire to do a good job. The desire to have their owns lives, but in the end, they are driven by taking down a dark coven. What was your writing ‘method’ for this anthology? How did you progress from initial idea to the final, published story? My process is always the same. I have a concept, plot it out (which is crazy as a former pantser), then get to writing. Then comes editing, more editing, even more editing, proofing, and bam. Finished book. Describe the premise of your story. Oliver is sent to keep Mila safe from a dark coven trying to recruit her. She has no knowledge of the world of magic. Which means, Oliver not only needs to protect her, he must also teach her about the abilities she has no idea of. All the while, he must also fight his growing feelings for her.

The Elementals: Jared Lain interview

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54704904In the next of our interviews of the authors of The Elementals, we have Jared Lain who wrote Weyward City Blues – a detective story with an elemental twist.

Jared has collaborated with Timber Phillips and Liz Knox on a few other projects, including The Waters Edge and Romanticizing the Gods.

The anthology theme is ‘Elementals’, what does this mean to you and how did you interpret it in your story?

The Elemental motif is popular in fantasy, and extending this to a romance story was easy. I liked creating archetype characters for each of the elements. I interpreted the theme to create a modern setting where five castes of predominantly female magic users lived in harmony with each other, where their elemental magics were put in a superior position to our modern guns and computers male dominated world.

 Where is your story set? Is it a real world location or one you made up? What drove you to set your story there?

Weyward City Blues is set in a fictitious city set in a vaguely PNW/Northern California vibe. The city is completely made up, and I was drawn to this part of the country for it’s revolutionary spirit, and more nature and spirit oriented views on religion and politics.

Are there any personal experiences in your story? Things you have done, people you have met etc.?

One of the biggest influences on my writing in this story comes from my own place of employment, where the company is owned by women, and the overwhelming majority of the employees are women.

What drives the main characters of your story?

The main character of the story is driven by the fact that he is an outsider, and an apostate. In a city dominated by female magic users that have thrown off the old model of police and leadership, he is a former cop and one of the rare male witches. He’s conflicted because of what he can’t let go of, and what he can embrace, i.e. the past and the new present respectively.120266372_995263047627536_6798282828157499657_n

What was your writing ‘method’ for this anthology? How did you progress from initial idea to the final, published story?

I used a basic plot outline, and started with the initial concept of flipping the roles, magic is prevalent but almost all the users are women, witches. The main character has gone from being part of the old majority, a cop and a man to being a serious minority, an ex-cop in a city where the police are gone, and women with magical power are in control.

Describe the premise of your story.

A former cop turned witch is called into an abduction and murder mystery where he has to look at who he is, who he isn’t anymore, and how he can resolve the abductions, face a chain wielding biker, and will the girl get him, or will he mess it up?

Release day tomorrow!

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Tomorrow is the long anticipated release day of The Elementals!

120266372_995263047627536_6798282828157499657_n

Those of you who have pre-ordered (and still time to do so!) should be getting their copies delivered to your Kindles on the day. The rest of you can just order it and get it straight away.

This week I have been doing interviews with some of the authors. We have already had Timber Philips and C.M Kane answer questions, next week we will see answers from others including Heather Young Nichols, Russell A Smith and myself!

Yes, I am going to be interviewing myself… and trust me, it is going to be an indepth and brutal interrogation. You see, I know all my secrets…

If you have pre-ordered or plan to order, feel free to comment here to tell me. Also, any and all reviews of this book would be very welcomed.

Get your copy here:

The Elementals: C.M Kane interview

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In the second of our interviews with the authors of stories from The Elementals (still on pre-order until Saturday 28th…), we have C.M Kane. She is the second author to hail from the Pacific North West. After this interview, I am now looking forward to reading about how an air elementalist can get involved in baseball. And maybe learning more about baseball (which I know very little about…).

Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, CM Kane was fed a steady diet of sports, particularly baseball. Having this love of the game instilled in her at an early age, she found that nothing was better than getting lost in the game. Storytelling was another gift that was encouraged in her youth, and she’s taking to the written word to explore a new aspect to the game she loves.
 
 
If you wanted to learn more about her, you can check out her links below:
 
 

The anthology theme is ‘Elementals’, what does this mean to you and how did you interpret it in your story?

The elements have so many meanings. I knew I would have to use air for my short story since it was baseball themed, and didn’t seem to coordinate with any of the other elements. It was fun to dive into witchcraft and the elements to find the best blend for this short story.

Where is your story set? Is it a real world location or one you made up? What drove you to set your story there?

My story is set in Lincoln, Nebraska. While it is a real place, the magic Cover of The Elementals in the element of air (surrounded by clouds)within it is not. The reason I chose this place is because my love of baseball came from my father, and this is where he was born. I wanted to include him in my story in some way, so chose to set it in his home town.

Are there any personal experiences in your story? Things you have done, people you have met etc.?

It’s completely fiction. While I have watched many baseball games, and been to them as well, I have not ever played baseball, nor do I have any connection with any professional players.

What drives the main characters of your story?

Murph is driven by his desire to win. Soibhan is driven by her desire to help, no matter who asks.

What was your writing ‘method’ for this anthology? How did you progress from initial idea to the final, published story?

I knew I would be writing about a baseball player, so found a way to incorporate the elements into that basic theme.

Describe the premise of your story.

It’s about a baseball player and a witch. Not much more without giving away things.

The Elementals: Timber Philips interview

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In case you may have missed it on the many times I mentioned it already, The Elementals comes out on the 28th November – this coming Saturday! To celebrate this release I have interviews with some of the authors who have stories in the anthology. We are kicking things off with Timber Philips!

Things I learned from this interview – I was not the only one in this anthology to use characters from an existing series and there are now two characters called Ashlyn or Ash in this book. Great minds think alike…

An author photo of Timber PhillipsTimber Philips hails from a land filled with beauty and steeped in magic; the Pacific Northwest. She swears you can see fairies and goblins, magic and promise around every tree and in every drop of water and she shares that magic whenever she can. She loves welcoming everyone to her worlds of romance rooted in fable and fantasy.

The anthology theme is ‘Elementals’, what does this mean to you and how did you interpret it in your story?

I interpreted it as just what it is, the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. I already have a witch series that the four of them each have been born with an affinity for a particular element. I decided to focus on Water for this anthology piece, and thus decided to focus on the back story of my water witch Ashlyn Tremblay.

 Where is your story set? Is it a real world location or one you made up? What drove you to set your story there?

All of my witches are from the fictional small town of Loving, Massachusetts. Ashlyn has since moved on from Loving and so I have her and this particular story set in the nearest big city which is Boston.

 Are there any personal experiences in your story? Things you have done, people you have met etc.?An image of the Elementals cover in a setting representing water

LOL no. I used a friend of mine’s name for the lead bad guy in this story, but there is in no way any other resemblance to the actual person.

 What drives the main characters of your story?

Loss, grief, and the need to be the good guy. Ash is a very mixed up character. A good person who has just suffered a pretty tremendous personal loss. She is trying to find her way in the world, just like everyone else, she just has the added complication of being a water witch.

What was your writing ‘method’ for this anthology? How did you progress from initial idea to the final, published story?

You know, I always get this question, and I never have a good answer. I don’t know how I do it. I just sit myself down and write. I just do it.

Describe the premise of your story.

 Ashlyn Tremblay is a mess. Her twin sister has died, her circle is broken, and she has taken to reckless behaviors in order to mask her pain. Her boss, Hatchet, is less than thrilled, and though Ashlyn knows she’s ready to go solo in their bounty hunting endeavor, Hatchet’s saddled her with a babysitter for her next job… his son, Stone.

Release date for The Elementals is 28th November 2020.

You can pre-order (or buy if its past the 28th!) on Kindle from this link:

SRFC – Interview with Russell Smith and F.D Lee

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So, on Friday, 20th November the Super Relaxed Fantasy club (a London based group that used to meet in physical space but during the Pandemic has been doing virtual events instead) played host to myself, Russell Smith and F.D Lee while we promoted The Elementals and discussed random stuff about Urban Fantasy and History. The video is above for you to watch.

I had great fun doing this but it was very nerve wracking. I much prefer doing things like readings and Q&As in person and this was the first time I had done anything like it on video. Turned out it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be…

The Elementals is released this coming Saturday on the 28th November. You can pre-order the Kindle edition now by following this link:

It includes a selection of 13 stories by different authors, all on the theme of ‘Elemental magic’. It includes my entry – ‘Transgressions’ – and Russell’s ‘The Social Contract’ as well as stories by Liz Knox, Timber Phillips, Heather Young Nichols and others.

Starting this week I am going to be hosting interviews with some of the authors so keep an eye out for those…