Well… we made it this far. Let’s press on.
Hello and thank you for jumping on this newsletter right at the beginning. Even I don’t know exactly what this thing is going to be, so I appreciate the leap of faith. In return I’ll do my best not to annoy you too much, and I’ll even attempt to make this entertaining in some vague way. I hope that we’ll work out exactly what this is together. I tend to write a few offline notebooks as I work my way through projects, and while the core of those notes usually make it into the finished thing, there are also flights of fancy and miniature puke-drafts that go nowhere, but aren’t necessarily worthless. I thought a newsletter will provide an opportunity to create a home for some of that and also offer a resting place for a story or two in need of a small readership.
That’s you! Take a bow…
I won’t be commenting on what’s going on out there too much. Nor will I be curating the best things to read and tap and touch any given week - that’s Documentally’s job and I’m not silly enough to compete with him. And I won’t be pulling apart anything that I found, for want of a better word, lacking. Talk to me over a drink and you’ll find I complain a lot, but this space is for the stuff that I enjoy and I like the idea of sharing that rather than create yet more real-estate for ranting.
*muttered relief from audience*
Friday. The girl lifted the gun and, with a frown, tracked the dot on the horizon. It’s a long shot, said the gun. She took it anyway.
So one of the things I aim to do this year is to get things moving along with these two:
I wrote a short story called All You Need for a future war anthology edited by a very smart guy called Andrew. It was well received, and I was curious to see what The Girl and The Gun got up to next, so wrote a few more stories about them. They’re sat in the cloud and haven’t found their way down into the world yet. I have an old index card around here somewhere that simply says ‘The sky is broken’ and that’s the only thing I knew about their universe for a while. One of their outings is a little two-page comic-script designed to expand their world a little more, but Dave and I have both been too busy with Vortex to pick it up recently. He did, however, breathe a little life into them as you’ve just seen. I was completely focussed on the look and feel of the gun so I was pleasantly surprised when Dave not only nailed that, but also added his signature design elements to the figure. If you don’t love those gloves and leg warmers, we can’t be friends.
Please note, I didn’t ask if it was okay to share a page from his sketchbook here, but luckily he’s too busy drawing horses and stabbing pins into my effigy right now to read this so we’ll keep it between us. Also he insists those leg warmers are gaiters. Bless.
Those first stories were a way for me to get back into prose fiction after years of writing screenplays and they turned out quite sparse, but the style seemed to suit them, so I’ve taken it a little further. Between now and the next one of these I’ll dust the pair off and maybe they can find a home here. After all, all you need is a girl and a gun.
Moving right along…
Your imagination was worse than the reality, no?
No… not really.
The final issue of Vortex came out a few weeks ago, but I’m happy to announce that, as with volume one, there’s a collected trade paperback on the way later this year. This is good news because I know a lot of people don’t pick up the individual issues preferring to wait for the big chunky book and also the thing will have enough heft to knock the teeth out of an anti-masker. Hit them with both volumes and it’s goodnight Irene. But here’s Tim Bradstreet with one of my favourite covers:
Taking a break from blood-filled space helmets, I wrote a little Weird West story that will hopefully be in this year’s Halloween anthology from Stormking. Westerns are one of John’s first loves so I got a kick out of writing my second one for him. If you enjoyed The Posse I think Gone to Texas will push some of the same buttons.
Feel free to hum the theme from HORROR EXPRESS (1972) when reading that one.
Sandy (Happy Birthday!) also asked me to help write the final volume of Stormking’s flagship title, Asylum. We just finished the first issue and its a lot of fun. Very METAL. I’ll use this space to share upcoming work, but also dig a little into some of the older things I’ve written if you have an appetite for it. It’s that or just cats punching dogs I’m afraid.
I don’t have a format for this worked out in advance, but going forward there’ll be less talking about the damn thing itself as we settle into something comfortable. For now I do have a self-imposed rule to kick things off and keep me honest. I’m only going to write these things at midnight and then I’ll hit the publish button exactly twenty-four hours later. That means there’s not going to be a lot of polish, but there will be some annoyingly uncredited quotes like this one incoming from Michael Bond’s More About Paddington.
There was such a hullabaloo going on it was difficult to write up the notes in his scrapbook.
I want to tell you a story about a bear.
If you’ve had the good fortune to walk with me near the Thames you’ve undoubtedly heard it before, as it’s one of my favourites, but it doesn’t seem to have ever been written down anywhere that I can find. I first heard it almost fifteen years ago from Chris Roberts who readily admits its not 100% strictly factual. At the same time it’s more than a shaggy-dog story, despite any embellishments acquired in the retelling and at least some of what follows is first mentioned by the English historian John Stow in the 1500s. London is built on these kinds of tales and more often than not its best to take them as they are. It’s the sharing that makes the improbable seem possible.
You have to imagine London when it was a little smaller. There was only one crossing over the Thames and this was fine for the most part, because south of the river there was nothing but ner-do-wells; prostitutes, actors, and of course, writers. However, if you were a well-to-do then the lure of more ungenteel pastimes just a river-ferry away was often too tempting to resist. The ugliest entertainment on offer was, alas, bear-baiting. Even Queen Elizabeth herself was a fan, so it was all the rage and gave the nearby theatres a run for their money.
Just behind the Globe even now is a place called Bear Gardens where this story takes place. I used to live nearby and it’s a short walk from the river although most tourists have Shakespeare on their minds and don’t dawdle where a small amphitheatre used to stand. Now imagine a slightly chilly Sunday just before sunset and an excited braying audience wrapped in their finery in the best seats the house has to offer waiting to see some sport.
Well they’re about to get some.
Front and centre is our bear. Originally perhaps from France or Germany, we’re not exactly sure. He’s not a cheap investment, but he’s more than shown his worth over the years. He’s a scrapper, but more importantly a survivor, and has the scars to prove it. But all good things come to an end and it has been decided that today is his last event. He finds himself tethered to a stake and watches as near-starving mastiffs are brought into the ring. There is no Home for Retired Bears in this story, I’m afraid.
Our bear sniffs the air and moves his head to watch the dogs now held back by their own chains in a semi circle in front of him. He lifts himself to his full height on his hind legs and roars at the starving dogs, their straining handlers and the blood-hungry crowd as if they were a single combined enemy and his thoughts at that moment, being a bear, are quite simple.
The dogs are loosed. The first mastiff leaps through the air, jaws open wide and POW… our bear lets loose a Balbola uppercut that not only slams the dog’s mouth shut, but is also powerful enough to propel the dazed animal through the air high above the head of the bear who is already turning to the next dog. And BASH as a second confused and extremely pissed off ball of fur and fangs finds itself tumbling though the sky on a similar trajectory to the first.
The dogs, as they land, are surprised to find themselves now in the seats. Not as surprised of course as the poor bastards who suddenly get the same sinking feeling any normal person does when they discover the show they’ve sat down to see involves audience participation. The dogs don’t care what they eat of course so after a little shake of their heads to reorient themselves they start on the new menu.
Our bear meanwhile is slapping dogs silly. No more land in the amphitheatre seating, but the rest land not far from the men who only moments ago were confidently in charge of them and are now frantically trying to get the fuck out of Dodge. With all hell breaking loose above them and their own vexed dogs at their heels, it’s not surprising that in their haste they neglect to secure the exists. People are bleeding, falling over, being bitten, trampled and generally getting their money’s worth.
Our bear meanwhile is busy pulling on his chains and with a satisfying crack the stake is split and he’s suddenly, for the first time since he met an Englishman, free. Back on all fours now and seemingly in no rush at all he ambles after the men and dogs, through the unlocked gates and finds himself, as many of us have, suddenly in London and at a loose end.
Valentine Askew had worked the river his whole life. He’d married a woman whose only living relative was an uncle who worked a boat-taxi and when that man set off to meet his maker, Valentine, with some relief, gave up the back-breaking work of loading and unloading ships to instead settle into the busy, but much more financially rewarding, deceased uncle-in-law’s gig. He was in the last hour of his working day and waiting for the theatre crowd to throng the South Bank when the beer he’d had not too long ago demanded draining. He gently pushed his boat a little way from his fellow taxi owners and looked east at the rapidly approaching fog, then did his part in raising the water level of the old Thames herself by pissing long and hard.
Shivering slightly as the fog began creeping over his boat and fastening his nethers back up he was surprised to feel the boat give an almighty dip and - years on the water or not - almost lost his balance. Taking the Lord’s name in vain, he tottered on the one leg as the boat became a little more stable and peered through the fog at the seat which now sat a little lower in the water. Confusion made way for a smile as he took in his passenger now seated with his back to him and obviously eager to beat the crowds back to the opposite bank and more civilised society. Begging his customer’s pardon for the curse he’d uttered he pushed off with a cry of, “Westward Ho!” He guessed that any gentleman who could afford such a lavish fur coat and also the meals extravagant enough to fill it would be heading perhaps as far as Covent Garden and would be a large enough fare to make his fellow taxi-men gnash their teeth.
His customer settled himself against the chill and with an affirmative grunt, that sounded to Valentine almost like a growl, watched wide-eyed as lights on the far side of the river began to glow in the thickening white fog.
Mid river now and passing his usual spot Valentine was surprised to see some kind of commotion unfolding on the southern bank. Whatever had happened had drawn a large crowd that now included his fellow boatmen. He frowned as he found himself seemingly the only boat on the Thames. Then one of his friends spotted him and waved. He held a hand aloft in greeting and watched as more boatmen turned and also began waving at him. They were quite animated and he could hear they were shouting something at him, but not quite what it was. Without thinking he allowed the boat to slow and drift back slightly hoping his customer wouldn’t notice. What where they saying? One word now it seemed. Over and over.
The boat moved as his passenger turned around slightly, almost certainly to ask what he was playing at, so Valentine Askew reluctantly turned away from the mystery on the riverbank, happy he wasn’t a part of whatever was making his associates behave so oddly, and opened his mouth in apology as three things happened simultaneously.
1. He saw his passenger clearly for the first time.
2. The single word screamed from the bank, this time in unison rather than overlapping noise, reached his ears perfectly clear.
And 3. he, at the exact same time, found himself screaming it right back.
Thomas Janner, who had never liked Valentine, laughed so hard watching the poor man throw himself into the Thames that he lost his own balance and toppled head first into the water himself, resulting in both men being pulled out at the same time, Janner being as much as a splasher as Valentine was a swimmer.
Our bear meanwhile was living his best life. The afternoon had begun with a death sentence, but here he was alive and unscathed and now marvelling at the water passing beneath him as his boat - truly his boat, for poor Valentine Askew never saw it again and stayed on dry land for the remainder of his life - turned slowly in the current and began drifting east. A small crowd ran for a while along the South Bank, eager to see where the boat would land and ready to warn anyone close by, but soon realised the boat was now locked on its journey away from them. Away from people, dogs and sport. Away from London itself and out to sea.
The last anyone saw our bear, he had made himself comfortable at the bow of his boat and with a satisfied happy roar disappeared into the fog. Perhaps back to France or Germany, where we’re not exactly sure, but that little boat took him there all the way out of this story.
Is this how you write a newsletter?
I’ll keep stabbing at it for as long as there’s a reader or two. I don’t feel comfortable charging you for yet more email so I’d like to keep this free. Instead, on the advice of more experienced newsletter creators, I’ve set up a Buy Me A Coffee instead. That somehow feels more friendly and the next time we’re in the same place I’ll gladly buy you one back. Only if you enjoyed some of the above of course.
Let me wind this up with one thing that kicked me in the balls recently and the inevitable kick-ass piece of music to end on and then you’re free of me.
Quite simply the most consistent and entertaining TV show I’ve seen in years:
Feel free to let people know I’m doing this if you think they’ll get a kick out of it and I promise to throw another story and some bits and pieces at you again soon.
Until then keep on keeping on…
Speaking as one of the people who commissioned All You Need, I'm delighted to hear that there are more stories about them! I actually distinctly remember reading that story and the feeling I got from it, so I'm hoping to see them someday!
Wow Mike. This is most certainly how you should write a newsletter.
But few do.
Really looking forward to the next instalment. And thanks for the mention.