More MacGuffin

Once before, I shared an excerpt from the MacGuffin Island Mystery: a collaborative whodunnit (and more importantly, whydunnit) that was undertaken by the T* writers at TransScripts back when we were still getting to know one another. We were working in pairs and taking turns to move the story forward.

While I don’t believe the whole story will ever see the light of day – too many cooks stirring that particular broth – it was certainly fun. Each author had skin in the game, having contributed one (in some cases, two) of the characters from their T* fiction to a gathering on a remote Scottish island where nobody was quite what they seemed and suspicions abounded. My character was the terrifying Drusilla Spankwell, disgraced former Headmistress of St. Slattern’s, an expensive finishing school for gir– er, for young people.

I was freebasing on a potent mixture of ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ and ‘Sir Henry at Rawlinson End’ at the time, so everything I wrote was a little bit crazy. On this occasion, Rebecca drew the short straw and had to work with me. Here’s what we created: as we rejoin the tale, it’s time for dinner and the guests have each been given a fancy dress costume chosen by their host, who has yet to appear. Dot, dot, dot.

Over aperitifs, the guests had shared what in some cases was an awkward discussion about the costumes that their host had provided. At last, Chrissy announced that it was time for dinner, and ushered the guests into the Great Hall. (It was formerly the Quite Good Hall, but Sir Bernard had got the decorators in and brought it up to snuff.)

Resplendent in her blue prom dress, Rebecca Cross tried her best to make an elegant entrance, but she almost stumbled as her attention was distracted by the sheer quantity of death that the room appeared to celebrate. As is traditional in Scottish castles, the walls were festooned with the heads of dead animals: mostly deer shot on the mainland; a few badgers and lesser critters. Unfortunately, a first-rate marksman like Sir Bernard always went for a headshot and when the shooter’s preferred weapon is an antique elephant gun, even the best reconstructive taxidermist can only do so much.

Beneath the cross-eyed gaze of a hundred deceased wild things, the dining table was enormous. There were fifteen place settings, each with five wineglasses and a bewildering array of silverware. Always one with a craftsman’s appreciation of well-kept tools, Rebecca cast a processional eye over the cutlery: some looked as if it might be more at home in the hands of a dentist, while other pieces looked like instruments of torture, models of the devices used aboard whaling ships in the 19th century, or miniature medieval weapons. There were a few good old-fashioned knives, forks and spoons around the table, but these were outnumbered and clearly outgunned. Each place setting featured up to nine different pieces of silverware on each side, and no two were exactly alike.

At the head of the table there was a chair that might almost have been described as a throne. (In fact, as Chrissy would have been happy to explain, one of the many features incorporated into the chair by a former Laird was a commode – but that doesn’t form a part of our story.) No eating irons had been provided at this place setting and it was clear that this had been left vacant for Sir Bernard.

There was no indication as to who should sit where and Maid Chrissy wasn’t offering any clues. Faced with the twin challenges of trying to sit with a stranger who wasn’t too obviously irritating (or intimidating) and choosing a place setting that featured cutlery that they at least recognised, the guests all shuffled awkwardly into place around the table. At last, everybody had a place, although the two who found themselves at Drusilla’s left and right may have felt that in this they had been outmanoeuvred. 

Everybody sat.

Rebecca regarded the motley collection of diners. Proceeding widdershins (anti-clockwise, as is the practice when describing seating arrangements in 21st Century Scotland) from the empty ‘throne’ of Sir Bernard, she could see Leslie Kerr – appearing in a fancy dress that was half male, half female. It was cleverly done; particularly his/her hair that showed in equal parts a bedraggled, casual look that a male could pull off with ease, and a neatly-styled female ‘up-do’. Like his/her neighbour, Leslie wore a ballerina’s tutu, and this seemed to be a source of some amusement.

The ballerina neighbour was Leila Nordham – a striking transwoman who moved and spoke with precision. From the little that Rebecca had heard, a sharp mind was at work behind those baby blues, although she seemed unsure of herself.

Next was Abi Mayland; a riddle wrapped in an enigma. Maybe even an enema. Rebecca simply didn’t know what to make of her – and the girl wasn’t offering any clues.

Paige and Jessica, each dressed in a sexy parody of a flight attendant’s uniform, Rebecca had already dismissed as a pair of sluts. They seemed determined to treat the whole occasion as a joke and an opportunity to down as much free booze as possible. A nagging voice of reason said that perhaps they were simply nervous, but they were loud and their laughter grated. So what the hell: sluts.

Then came the chilling figure of Drusilla Spankwell. Beneath the hood of the black robe and the strangely repulsive tiara, her face was hidden in shadow. She seemed content to let it remain so and Rebecca wasn’t going to argue. If it meant that the cold-hearted woman could shut out the others and refuse to participate fully in the gathering, so much the better.

At Drusilla’s right hand was Delilah Devereaux, in a beautiful evening gown. The contrast really couldn’t be greater. Rebecca understood that Delilah was a pianist of some renown, although it seemed unlikely that her skill as an entertainer would have been the sole reason that she had been invited to this strange gathering.

What, then? The founding of some new, secret order? A hard sell for some questionable Scottish property scheme? Rebecca realised she was speculating wildly and returned her attention to the diners.

At the far end of the table, where she would have faced the absent Sir Bernard, sat Danni Wentworth. She looked more than a little uncomfortable in a striped prison uniform. What did that signify? Was she a jailbird? Was she on the run, or perhaps guilty of something that Sir Bernard could only hint at? Perhaps time would tell, but she put out a powerful “don’t fuck with me” vibe and Rebecca decided not to test her patience too much.

She sat on Danni’s right, in her blue sheath prom dress, still astounded that Sir Bernard could find, let alone know about, the dress that Katherine had worn all those years ago when Rebecca took her to her prom, from before. It was an exact duplicate in every way, other than the size. She would have thought it impossible, there being only around eight pictures from that night in existence. Plus it was just so long ago…

If Sir Bernard had gone to that much trouble to ensure that her own costume was so thoroughly authentic and deeply personal, what did that say about the attire of other guests? Was Danni really a convict? Did Drusilla’s ‘mad monk’ attire indicate that she was a cultist of some kind? Curiouser and curiouser.

On her right were Angela Clemence and Anwyn Danforth. Despite the different family names it was clear that they were a couple. Maybe in a… what did the limeys call it? A civil partnership. Angela was Emma Peel to Anwyn’s John Steed, just like the old TV series. From something she’d said earlier, it appeared that Angela was some kind of private dick.

Beyond were Jenny something-or-other (wealthy dilettante, and perhaps something of a control freak, although Rebecca was still making up her mind about this one) and her girlfriend Alexa. Both were dressed as University of Minnesota cheerleaders and so clearly a couple. Young love… didn’t it just make you want to vomit?

Beyond was Esme Entwistle, not so much a wolf in sheep’s clothing as a journalist in school uniform. More than a few of the guests had resolved to tell her as little as possible about themselves – just in case. Rebecca recalled a newsman who had once told her, with wisdom garnered from the bottom of his glass of bourbon: “I like ya: don’t ever make me write about ya!”

Finally, there was another Jessica: Silverman, was it? She appeared as a classic Disney princess, but apparently she was a pharmaceutical whizzkid, or something. She was the archetype of a Jewish mother; competitive, hard-nosed and maternal. Rebecca thought she might come to like her, if she could weather the initial storm of sarcasm from the talkative New Yorker.

This completed the group: if Sir Bernard had been present, Jessica Silverman would have been sitting on his left hand – as it were.

With everybody seated, there was an awkward pause. Nobody suggested that they ought to say grace. Nobody said anything at all, in fact. The pop of a cork was a welcome distraction as Chrissy opened the first of an apparently endless supply of wines. There was no butler, so it seemed that self-service was the order of the day. The bottles were deposited unceremoniously in the centre of the table: no two alike and no apparent rhyme or reason for their selection.

Leslie, something of a wine connoisseur, suspected that the Bordeaux that had been left at the other end of the table, beyond his reach, was all but priceless. The Blue Nun left in from of him was far less appealing. Elsewhere, there were sparkling wines, rosés, and reds that should really have been cellared for a few more years (plus others that ought to have been drunk or disposed of long since). There was even a dessert wine. He suppressed a shudder: people were using the wrong glasses.

Rebecca had her back to the door and she jumped as the maid dragged in a protesting trolley that needed some oil. Upon it was a large, steaming tureen that resembled an upturned armadillo. With difficulty, Chrissy lifted it onto the dining table.

“Soup,” she announced, simply.

Next, she dashed around the table, depositing a bowl before each diner. Then she made another lap, seizing the outermost implements from every place setting (and in two cases, from the hands of diners) and replacing them with soup spoons. Delilah was relieved as she hadn’t had anything resembling a spoon before her, and the tiny halberd that was taken from her certainly wouldn’t have done the job.

Looking somewhat pained, Angela dared to ask: “What soup is it?”

Chrissy halted, and bit her lip. If she’d ever known, she couldn’t remember. She leaned forward, to get her nose close to the tureen, in the process forcing herself between Jenny and Alexa. She sniffed several times, like a bloodhound.

Rebecca noticed that Abi gazed at the drudge’s cleavage. That wasn’t lust, so… was it envy? Interesting.

“Dunno,” the maid said at last. “Broccoli? Chicken?”

Chrissy seized the ladle and dredged experimentally. Assorted small cubes of vegetable and animal matter were revealed.

“Oh,” she said, “it’s Cook’s Special Soup.”

That, it seemed, was the only explanation the diners were going to get.

Rebecca thought that it smelled surprisingly good. Better than anything she’d had during the journey, anyways.

As she headed back down the passage to the kitchens, Chrissy resolved to ask Cook what she was serving up for the subsequent courses: it seemed that there might be some fussy eaters in the assembled group.

There was another pause.

Few in the group would have identified sufficiently as ‘gentlemen’ that they might be disposed to offer assistance in the matter of serving up the food to those assembled, but old habits die hard: perhaps the sluts really were flight attendants, because they took pity on their fellow diners and one collected the bowls while the other ladled out the soup.

It really was surprisingly good and the diners all had some. Rebecca was two thirds of the way down her bowl when Chrissy reappeared with a tray of assorted bread rolls. Seeing that she was too late, the maid was nonetheless unapologetic: she grunted in disgust, whirled and took the bread back to the kitchen.

More courses followed, the diners picking as best they could from among the supply of curious cutlery. (How does one best eat whale bacon gnocchi? If you use the thing that looks like a miniature harpoon, as would seem appropriate, you might have nothing suitable when the roast suckling porpoise is served…) Air-dried hyaena in camel hoof jelly seemed a curious sort of salad, but apparently the Old Laird had picked up the recipe for this while campaigning in the Sudan and it was something of a MacGuffin staple.

The hubbub of conversation was generally comfortable, and it became increasingly companionable over time – with one exception. Apparently oblivious to the discomfort of the woman opposite her, Angela had asked Drusilla about her career – which led inevitably to questions about St Slattern’s. 

Who, exactly, held Saint Slattern as their patron saint, Rebecca’s neighbour inquired.

The question was met with a brief silence. Within her shadowy cowl, Drusilla was as inscrutable as ever. If she was glaring at Angela, nobody could tell, although in that instant the room seemed to have become fractionally colder. Drusilla raised a napkin to her lips, but her normal poise appeared to have deserted her: as the linen square was raised it dislodged a Moroccan truffle skewer, which tumbled to the floor with a clatter.

This made matters worse: everybody fell silent, regarding the dark spectre in their midst.

The napkin was frozen, halfway between dining table and mouth: the hand that held it shook, as if palsied.

Drusilla cleared her throat, and at last she spoke:

“St Slattern is a mentor for those in dire need of changing their erroneous ways,” she said – apparently through clenched teeth.

“Are you a fan of the Avengers?” Rebecca asked Angela, seeking to reduce the tension in the room by changing the subject. It worked, and the other diners breathed again.

By the time they were cleansing their palates with partridge sorbet, the supply of silverware had diminished to the point where the diners were using entirely inappropriate utensils. Leila’s unwise use of a head cheese strainer for the miniature capybara burgers had left her with a stain on her costume, and it was at this point that Rebecca cut her tongue on the wickedly sharp serrated edge of a whelk spoon.

Throughout all this, the wine was flowing. Especially the bottle that Alexa had knocked over. Fortunately, the ancient table had gutters carved into it for just such an eventuality and none of her fellow diners were greatly troubled.

School’s Out

It’s been a bit of a marathon: at eighty-five and a half thousand words, ‘Schooled’ is the longest story I’ve ever written… but at long last it’s finished and live on Amazon.

By happy accident, the “look inside” preview portion of the book provides just enough to show the direction that the story’s going in, while also serving as story arc in its own right. I’m quite pleased with the way that worked out.

Because Amazon always show a fixed percentage of a book in the freebie preview, you can use that to gauge the length of a story before you buy. I’m frustrated to see how many thirty-page fetish ‘stories’ are listed for $2.99. (Hint: if the preview only shows you four hundred words, you can’t expect much in the way of value for money.) In what sense are stories like that ‘books’? If all you want is a quick description of a compromising situation in order to get your rocks off – and for some reason, you can’t find something at Literotica – then fine… enjoy, but I’m in the business of writing stories – where you get to know characters and discover their hopes and fears. Where there are trials, obstacles, choices…

Ah, well. The market will show what it wants, as always. But please have a look at the free part of ‘Schooled’ on Amazon, at least.

Cover art for Schooled
On sale now

Sneak Preview

I’m getting close to the release of ‘Schooled’ now. Very close. I’ve wrestled with Kindle Create; I’ve made a book cover; I’ve uploaded everything to the Amazon development environment and seen a preview. Only my urge to get everything perfect is keeping me from saying “what the heck?” and hitting the ‘publish’ button.

Cover art for Schooled
Coming soon: my next book

Perhaps you’d like to know a little more? If so, you can start reading right away: the first part was already published on this blog long ago. ‘Schooled’ started life as a short story with a cliffhanger ending: what would happen to George, after his head teacher discovered his secret? Now we know… or at least, now I know.

Have some blurb, dear reader:

At work, George is passionate about teaching. At home he’s Jessica: the woman he wishes he could have been. When George inadvertently ‘outs’ himself to his head teacher, the terrifying Ms Victoria Stanton, her reaction surprises him: she insists on meeting Jessica… but what are her motives?

Both George and Jessica are drawn into the orbit of Victoria, a woman of considerable strength but with secrets of her own. As her passions threaten to destroy Jessica, George knows he ought to leave her… but that’s not easy when you’ve fallen in love.

A story of crossdressing, domination, submission and redemption.

As ever, thanks to the good folks at TransScripts TG Fiction for encouragement and for listening patiently while I agonised over various points of plot. The result was a surprisingly gentle tale… with some “fladge” that I’m really proud of.

London Calling

It’s been some years since Chris Archer (sometimes Christina Bowman) gave up on Fictionmania and BigCloset. I think we’ve all had our own problems with bizarre reviews, at times: perhaps that’s why Chris chose to branch out instead – as you’ll see if you investigate the link to ‘Chrysalis2017’ in the sidebar.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with story hosting in a blog format, but a collection of web pages are one thing and an ebook is quite another. A good story deserves a place on your tablet, leading to a somewhat different, more natural style of reading. The good story in question is ‘Special Inquiries’, a crime novel set in London and featuring a trans character, IT expert Abi Mayland.

I’ve been saying this for years, but I’ll say it again: this is a game-changer. People who share my interest in T* lit inhabit a very tiny corner of the Internet and it’s rare that our community produces something that deserves the attention of the mainstream: a story that really is a story, worth reading even if you’re not remotely interested in gentlemen who pretend to be ladies.

Special Inquiries book cover
Worth the asking price for the cover alone! Er…

Game-changing features that demonstrate a break with the majority of T* efforts begin with its production values: here’s an author who understands grammar and bothers to proofread properly. (For contrast, I recently gave a one-star review to ‘She Made me a Women: a Crossdressing Tale’ by Suzie Wang. Pro-tip, Suzie: people aren’t going to buy your plagiarised drivel if you can’t even produce a grammatical title…)

‘Special Inquiries’ isn’t just technically good, though: Abi Mayland is a fascinating character, made so by her flaws. In this, she works rather like Saga Norén in the Danish/Swedish TV series ‘The Bridge’. Norén’s Asperger’s is what makes her interesting, and in Abi Mayland we see her trans nature work in a way that feels (to me, at least) similar. Good characters need weaknesses. Abi’s not a tough police officer: she’s just been brought in for her computer skills and the result is a vulnerable yet resourceful character that you’ll love.

In a recent thread on Fictionmania, ‘Nothing new or exciting in FM’, the community lamented that so many of the stories there (in all their many, many parts) were formulaic. User ‘Ralphi’ extended that to stories on Amazon, too: “He crossdressed, sex happens, story over. And his crossdressing could be replaced with rubber, leather, diapers, boxers, or anything and the story doesn’t change.”

I’d like to think that some stories are better than that, but it’s certainly a genre that has yet to find its own Marcel Proust. Still, while we’re waiting for that noble personage to show his or her stuff, here’s a lovely little T* novel that we can all read.

Just one complaint: the bitch is giving it away for free. How am I supposed to afford treats for my cat, Dzhugashvili, when I’m trying to sell books and a rival offers you quality novels like this, completely kostenlos?

Still, here’s wishing Chris every success with it. Find a free download of ‘Special Inquiries’ on Smashwords and tell her Bryony sent you.

Caught Out

WordPress is a bit funny about hosting ebooks for download, but let’s see if I can make this work if I offer you a PDF…

‘Caught Out’ (or “caught with consequences”) is a classic theme in T* lit, but in this case the title is taken from the slang term used by those who hitchhike aboard freight trains: they call it catching out.

Shawn Dyson dresses in the clothes of his late mother, finding that this helps him to cope with his feelings. When his step-father bursts in to find Shawn dressed, both are shocked. Shawn decides that he has to run away and on his low budget, that means a freight hop – but you never know where you’ll end up once you hear the whistle of a distant freight train.

I shared this short story on Big Closet a while back and it’s been ‘story of the week’ over at Anna’s place, but I never did put it on Fictionmania. If you haven’t seen it before, enjoy…

Schooled: Revisited

I have previously shared ‘Schooled’, a short story that was published on Fictionmania in mid-2018 under the category ‘SIBC’, which means “Should It Be Continued?”

This was a departure from my normal modus operandi as I don’t like multi-part stories. I think that quality is likely to suffer if we take the freedom of being a writer and stuff it into an arbitrary framework where similarly-sized chunks need to come out regularly; where each needs to have a mini story arc with a lesson or a cliffhanger ending; where the characters need to be simplistic enough that people can put the story down and pick it up again… argh! No. Just no: let’s leave serialisation for episodes of silly television sit-coms. I really don’t need to put myself under that kind of pressure.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I failed to write any more of ‘Schooled’ – despite receiving some really positive responses that called for more episodes. We left George the hapless schoolteacher who had inadvertently outed his female alter-ego wondering what the fierce head teacher had in mind when she said she wanted to meet her. It worked as an ending to the story: it was a bit of a tease, but you could consider it complete as it stood, at the 1,500 word mark.

While I didn’t fancy serialising, I don’t have anything against longer stories. At last, when I’d got the gods of ancient Egypt out of my system – and skydiving for that matter – I came back to check in on George and see how he was getting on with with Ms Stanton, his boss.

It turns out, the story had ‘legs’: sixty thousand words later, I’m cruising towards the finish and it’s been loads of fun to write. Today I asked the Fictionmania staff to pull the original version of ‘Schooled’ and I’m hoping to release the full story through Amazon, next month.

A Cover that Didn’t Make the Grade

I do all my own book covers – and a few for other folks, too. I like having a certain level of control over that part of the process. Getting an artist to really understand what you’re trying for is a lengthy and thus expensive process, so I prefer to puzzle out the graphics for myself.

Not everything that I make is a winner, however. Friends at TransScripts TG Fiction weren’t afraid to tell me that I was heading off-course with this one:

Proposed cover art for my third book

Aisha knows that she’s a reincarnation of Eshe, who lived during the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. She’s particularly disturbed to discover that her old skeleton is still in the lab, being investigated by her fellow Egyptologists. There is some leakage between ‘then’ and ‘now’ and Aisha sometimes needs to look in the mirror to reassure herself that she’s more than just dry old bones… so the image fits to story, but everyone said it was too nasty.

There you have it: a cover that might have been and ultimately wasn’t. Thanks to everybody who’s still buying and reading this book, with its more neutral cover art. I’m surprised and delighted by how well it’s done.

Lockdown: Naughty NSFW

Here’s a little something I wrote last year. It might seem a rather different from the usual fiction that you get from the pen of Bryony Marsh, but I’ll say something more about that at the end. Enjoy…

A Note to a Lover, Under Lockdown

Sex is a dull and pedestrian concept.

Others might spice things up by nibbling away at the edges of monogamy. We never have, but how are you supposed to make love to the same person for the rest of your life?

Even the words are wrong. To “make love” sounds clunky, as if some non-native English speaker were inviting you to make fuck.

I love you all day, every day. But when we screw, you and I are both very different people. Kaleidoscopic in our wants and needs – and in what we give. Respect; gentleness; kindness; friendship… of course. But I think we both agree that twenty-three hours a day is more than enough time for those things.

Then there’s something else. Not the self-conscious spluttering and moaning of a partner who is, if truth were told, a little ashamed at their orgasm. That other kind: the sex that annihilates. The sex of surrender: being well and thoroughly used, where no thanks or apologies are necessary.

But sex in lockdown is hard.

When every day is the same, every night is the same as well.

No sleepover with grandparents for the kids. No weekend trip to a country hotel. No more days spent “fucking from home” while the school system serves as babysitter: occasionally refreshing the screen, or sending a short message, giving our employers the impression that they exert mastery, somehow.

No more: the girls are in the next room.

Quiet sex, then?

Simple, basic, vanilla sex where we each keep a pyjama top on, so we can roll apart and feign innocence at the first sound of a child’s footstep.

The innuendos we whisper about “lockdown sex” hint at what we really want.

I want to feel the tightness of the locked collar around my throat, holding the hood in place. I want to be blind. I want to be helpless.

I want my arms to be fastened – uncomfortably – beneath me, each hand at the opposite elbow. Freed from the niceties of mere “lovemaking”, such that I don’t have to return each caress.

To be objectified is astonishingly self-indulgent. When you’ve surrendered yourself so completely that movement is impossible, there’s no remaining obligation to move. There’s only pleasure. When I give myself up I’m selfish and selfless, simultaneously.

This is confusing. Thank goodness I no longer have to think.

Please can’t I just cease to be a person? Just for a little while: I want to be an object. One of your sex toys.

Just one of your sex toys.

I want to wait, in my blindness, while perhaps you tease me by doing nothing at all. I’m just one toy. Perhaps you’ll pleasure yourself with another, or with none, or not at all.

It’s not for me to say. I’m a thing. I’m an object.

For a little while, I don’t want to be a person. I don’t want to read the news to discover the latest death toll. I certainly don’t want to spend my time coming up with new ways to entertain the girls, or to cajole them into doing a little more of their schooling-at-home.

I don’t even want you. Not really: I see too much of you now. Instead, I want to be apart from you, in my darkness. I want to sink into that headspace of acceptance, where time is nothing because I have no choice as to when it ends.

Or if.

Lockdown. I am locked down.

Perhaps you’ll startle me out of my blissful nothing with a tweak or a lick at one of my nipples. Perhaps you’ll ease a well-lubed plug into me, enjoying how I start at its first, cold touch.

But I can relax again, once I’m plugged. It’s just one more accessory, for one of your sex toys.

I am locked.

I am locked down.

The flick of a riding crop against my thigh would bring me back: the pain like a flash of summer lightning, searing my blindfold vision. The irregular pauses between these strokes: sweet torture. Is it the pain, or the anticipation?

I creak in my bonds, like a ship at moorings. I, too, am tied fast. I will not go with the current.

Or perhaps, at last, you’ll permit me to disintegrate.

I can’t beg. I’m not a person: just a thing. The rubber cock that you pushed into my mouth, right after that last kiss, made me into a mute thing. At best I can grunt like an animal.

I can’t speak. But I don’t have to speak. I don’t have to explain myself.

If the moment should come, I’d grunt my intense, muffled pleasure into that gag, strapped and locked into place.

But none of this is happening: I’m stifled in a different way.

This is lockdown.

The girls are two metres away: the flip-side of social distancing.

There will be no sex. Or if there is, then only sex of the dull, pedestrian kind that neither of us want.

So, yeah: a departure from my usual thing. I was inspired to write this when I was working through some exercises at Writers’ HQ – and then didn’t dare share it with them. Instead, I put it up on Literotica, which represents another departure from the usual modus operandi of Bryony Marsh.

Nothing I shared in the text above is gender-specific, though. Many readers will automatically assume that the person who wrote that letter and imagined the scenario is female – but they don’t have to be.

When I first shared My Constant Moon, I fretted that perhaps it didn’t feature enough sex for a piece of TG fiction but a reviewer (‘Salrissa’) assured me that it had enough: it “just wasn’t spelled out with every squelch narrated” – a wonderful phrase that I’ve never forgotten.

Exhibit ‘A’, the short fladge piece presented above, has a somewhat higher squelch ratio than I commonly aim for, but I hope you enjoyed it all the same.

In Armour Clad – readers react

I’ve been watching the sales figures: the release of ‘Ground Rush’ in August gave me my best month ever. That’s great… but another good thing that’s happened is that it seems a lot of people are picking up a copy of ‘In Armour Clad’ – a science fiction story that’s been available since late 2018.

I was always a little bit worried that my depiction of Europe going to hell in a civil war would attract a very negative response, coming not very long after the UK voted to leave the European Union. As I discovered with ‘Sissygeddon’, a contentious political issue can polarise the readership and upset just about half of them. It seems that it’s not a problem where the story is more clearly a work of fiction: nobody has criticised me for my depiction of a Europe fragmenting into smaller, hostile states that wreck everything and commit various atrocities on each other. (We have a very apt word for this, with its origins in history and geography: Balkanisation.)

‘In Armour Clad’ is ultimately about a boy and a girl. The boy is a soldier and the girl is the forty-five tonne vehicle that he rides… but that’s par for the course in the future that I created. When he’s wounded and she’s damaged, they’re brought together. You don’t have to be a fan of tranny fiction to enjoy the story, but if you are… I think you’ll like it.

A review by user Garuda said: “This is not a TG story. It’s possibly a story for those who fall in love with robots, or a war story, or even a generic sci-fi. If I found this in a book of short sci-fi war stories, I wouldn’t think it out of place.” That’s more-or-less exactly what I was pitching for. The same reviewer also identified “flavours of the settings for Ogre and Bolo” which I will cheerfully accept.

I have happy memories of playing ‘Ogre’ by Steve Jackson Games

User psi babe said: “Love that Noelle wasn’t just a sex thing but a smart and self-educating partner.” This was important to me. My major female characters are always strong and resourceful or at least brave. It’s something of a theme for authors at TransScripts: we don’t get off on shame, victimhood, helplessness… so I wanted Noelle to be able to help herself. Nice that this is recognised!

User rydz reported “I really want to play a video game based on this,” which made me smile. Unfortunately my skillset does not extend to video game development, but Nikki Whyte said I should put it on Kindle and Garuda said I should see about getting it published. Sure enough, the story was pulled from Fictionmania, expanded a little and generally given a makeover before I self-published it.

I kept a copy of all the reviews it had received during its Fictionmania phase – eighteen of them, all very positive – and I’m glad I did because it hasn’t attracted much in the way of feedback on Amazon. It’s so nice to see the story reaching a new audience now.

“Attitudes have changed!”

“No.” Noelle spoke forcefully. “Attitudes did change for a while, in some circles, but now we’re sliding back into lawlessness and look what’s happened: women have become possessions again.”

“The civil war can’t last forever,” I protested, although privately I had to admit that Europe had never worked the way the politicians had promised.

“It runs deeper than that,” Noelle insisted. “de Beauvoir says that women and men diverge from the outset. Not just because of biology, but culture as well. Girls in stories are weak: they’re victims. The damsel in distress, waiting in a tower for the knight to save her. It’s alright for the girl to cry, because she’s the victim. The boy who comes to rescue her must be brave.”

“What about warrior girls like you, or Sergeant Kieffer?” I interjected.

“We still need to become women. One isn’t born a woman: it’s a process of self-discovery and invention.”

“Like the first day you painted yourself pink?”

“I was young,” Noelle sighed. “I guess I looked kind of stupid.”

“At the time, I thought of it as kind of heraldic,” I replied. “You know, like how Captain Durand had his tank in yellow and blue, because he supported FC Chalon.”

“Ah, Durand,” Noelle said. “I saw him die, you know.”

“You did? You never said.”

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“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” — Maya Angelou