Been a while since I announced some publishing news. You might have been thinking, what’s he doing these days? Lying low? Off on some secret mission or other? Abducted by a foreign power?**
Well, I can’t possibly confirm or deny any of those rumours, but I do have a bit of news. I have a new story, The Long Game, coming very soon in an anthology from Fox Spirit Books called The Jackal Who Came In From The Cold. What’s that about, you ask, pricking up your ears? Well, it’s an anthology of spy stories featuring characters who are furry or anthropomorphic animals.
Intrigued (I certainly was)? Read on.
As a short story addict, I’m constantly aware of new themed anthologies popping up. The concepts often don’t grab me, but this one really caught my interest. Pretty much instantly I had a complete story for it in my head, and you don’t ignore those. You see, in addition to loving the speculative genres I’m a massive spy story nerd, with a particular love for John le Carré. I adore those downbeat 70s and 80s settings: safe houses above corner shops, retired spies teaching in public schools, moles in the Circus, all of that. And I love le Carré’s most famous character, the formidable George Smiley – portrayed with legendary granite on TV by Alec Guiness, world-weary poise on film by Gary Oldman and on radio with the most complete mastery by Simon Russell Beale.
So my idea was: what if a Smiley-type retired Cold War era spy was a tortoise? And what if he was on a stake-out with an antsy, nervous hare? And what if my old fella (his name is Fred*** in the story) was playing a long game: patient, slow and inexorable…?
See? How could you not write that? So I did, and the result was The Long Game, a le Carré-esque take on The Tortoise And The Hare complete with danger, double crossings and death.
And this is where the second part of the theme comes in. From Aesop onwards, anthropomorphism has been about examining human behaviour through the characterstic traits we associate with animals. It’s an interesting lens through which to work and I really enjoyed the creative process. Sometimes it’s done flippantly, but the second plank of the animal-related part of the antholgy’s theme opens up the subject up to seriously considering the question: “what would it be like to be an animal?” To this end, Fox Spirit employed a sensitivity reader from the furry community to make sure the selected stories were presented in a positive way and ensure that this is a book that will be enjoyed by that community, as well as adding that extra layer of deep speculation and exploration that the fantastical genres do so brilliantly well.
I’m really pleased to be involved in this book and the line-up, revealed today, looks terrific. The Jackal Who Came In From The Cold will be published by Fox Spirit very soon. Keep your sniper scopes peeled.
**Yeah, you probably weren’t thinking that, but it gives me a thematic intro for this post, so let’s go with it…
***Blue Peter viewers of certain age will get that reference.