Tailors to the Horn Fan

There’s a type of clothing that I only became aware of recently: the Western horse show jacket. I think they’re worn for the Western Pleasure category — not sure if they’re worn for other styles/events. At any rate, as a lover of clothes that go up to 11 I think they’re awesome, and could imagine the gents of Ashamoil’s demimonde sporting looks like these. In order, they’re by Lindsey James, Showtimes, Collezione di Anna (Anna Omodeo), and Sho-N-Off.

Or for something a little dialled back, perhaps Italian designer Archetipo:

Or these Jean Paul Gaultier outfits — don’t see why old time blokeswear adapted to women couldn’t be adapted back to blokes (or of course left as is for any ladies on the team — I’m not sure if there are any, I think it’s quite a macho culture, but there could always be exceptions). Also, these make me want to rush out and buy a sewing machine…

I can imagine the ladies in Ashamoil wearing this Gucci:

While I’m on the subject of TEC world, Gwynn has had a few surnames in my mind over the years. I tried putting them in an anagram server. The one that wins hands down is Sinclair, which delivers Crawly Sinning, Canny Swirling, Scar Winningly, Snarly Wincing and Canny Girls Win. It also yields the words ‘wings’, ‘claws’ and ‘scaly grin’, suitably for a basilisk. So whether it’s his real name or not, it will definitely have been a nom de guerre at some point.













Another bit of Knights Out

More from the WIP novella:

Two weeks earlier, Gwynn had paid a visit to his tailor. If a cavalier of Ashamoil suffered from occupational hazards, his wardrobe suffered with him, so that even more than the civilian beau of fashion he required new outfits on a frequent schedule, and the appointment was for the fitting of several works in progress.

The tailor’s name was Aubrin Sill. His shop was in a small street above Fountains Bridge, in that old, trim, sedate quarter, cupped between two rugged hills, whose dominant species was the bespoke clothier. Most of the ateliers in the wooden shophouses affected an ouward simplicity, from which it might be gathered that they offered no more than the most basic correction of nakedness, and Sill’s establishment was no exception. Inside, however, one trod on plush fir-green carpets and sat on velvet seats within a grove of carved teak shelving, under a panelled ceiling with bronze gasoliers and water-powered fans: genius might be modest, but it charged an appropriate price for its works. At the side of the shop was a stall with a young groom in livery of the same green as the carpet, into whose care Gwynn delivered his horse before going inside, looking forward both to the indulgence of vanity and the pleasure of the tailor’s company.

He thought highly of Sill, which of course was nothing out of the ordinary. A tailor is the only infallible being that most people will ever encounter. A man without religion may still be moved to a worshipful state by many things, among them the sight of himself in a looking glass, kitted out in splendour, and view the one who kits him as something of an angel. But even in the sartorial heavenly orders Aubrin Sill ranked among the great ones of many wings and eyes. He was made for his work and was a master of it. He knew everything about flattering a figure and displayed the mind of a philosopher of art when he spoke of cut and fabric; and if on the one hand he found inspiration in a mandate to go a mile beyond the mode, the adventurous and conservative impulses were balanced in his character and he forbade a rabble of infelicities in dress, and thus had the dignity of a lawgiver, and to the man who had run off to join a circus he could give assurance that he would never appear as a clown.

But he was even more than this. If some gracious personalities are obviously false, his seemed obviously true; one would expect to find at the core of him the same refinement that characterised the surface. He possessed a quality above the usual benign dignity of tailors, a soulful radiance that nourished the spirits of all who came in contact with him, as though he were, if not an angel, then at least the human incarnation of some uncommonly effective tonic. Gwynn regarded him as one of the city’s very best features.

On that day, however, Aubrin Sill’s aura was scarcely in evidence.


Note to self

Writing: When a scene feels like a jigsaw with pieces that won’t fit, and keeps asking for rewrites to try and make them fit, it can be a sign that something bigger is wrong, e.g. the whole premise for the scene. Of course, something bigger can be wrong without obvious signs, but I’ve found often enough that ‘jigsaw going badly’ is a warning to check the bigger picture.

Just have to remember to heed it, as of course it’s tempting to ignore it and try and force the pieces to fit!


A bit of Knights Out

A bit from the start of WIP novella Knights Out:

‘Then how admirably mad,’ Gwynn amended his opinion. His look had grown a mite abstracted.

‘Indeed. Of course, Mattie sees her as a nice little windfall, though she thinks she could choose a better class of gentleman to get disenchanted with. Bless girls and their little ways, eh?’

Gwynn nodded in agreement, reaching for his cigarettes. He wondered, thumbing open the silver case, if he had not just been offered the solution to a problem that was lying on his mind.

Lighting an Auto-da-fé and inhaling at thoughtful length, he let his eyes drift up the steep hill above the street—with all the humid smog, coloured yellow by the lamps of the city, it was more an impression than a view—piles of bumptious marble and stucco blunted like ancient dolmens, traces of domes and balconies and narrow stairs, the farther up the further lost, drowned in an iodine sea—and on the other side, where the low parapet followed the edge of the terrace, with shabby palm trees spaced along it, the valley was filled with a golden gloom in which cupolas and statues on the roofs below were pasted like specimens pressed in tissue. In the road ahead were unknown companions—looking lost, too, as if they had until recently been part of a larger life form which had come to an incomplete end—shuffling along by the parapet, or groping forward with its support—one or two proceeding humbly but nimbly on all fours, like leggy novelties of the sea bed; not to disregard those over whom the promise of day held no power and who remained with the night, lying down under the palms in the truce and refuge of sleep; a humid breeze stirred the fronds above the stubborn bodies; an early rising bird cried out its heart to a vanished shore. Something beautiful was washed up, naked save for a sequinned mask and a saintly smile.

Of course it was the hour for inspiration to show up, gliding by on hypnagogic wings.

Reeling himself in, Gwynn questioned Jasper: ‘Have any of her recent affairs not ended in murder?’

Jasper gave a shrug of bullioned epaulettes. ‘Mattie didn’t mention any.’

‘Did she happen to say how the room mate rates?’

‘High enough to make her greenish—not that that takes much.’ An note of suspicion entered Jasper’s voice. ‘Planning a tragic love story?’

‘In my mind,’ said Gwynn, waving his cigarette for emphasis, ‘it’s more of a comedy. I don’t suppose Mattie would mind a little help with matchmaking?

‘I don’t suppose she would. Who’s the lucky punter?’

‘No one to worry your pretty head about. Just bring this wondrous Pharice along on a night out and I’ll call it a favour.’

Jasper turned on him with a deep scowl. ‘Aye, I’ll bring her, and kiss your pisspot too. I thought we trusted each other. I must have been thinking of someone else.’

‘Jas, I trust you with all my heart,’ Gwynn protested, laying a hand over the sparkling mineral layer to the fore of that organ, as Jasper continued to look disgusted. ‘I’m only trying to spare you a tedious exposition.’

‘Maybe I like tedious expositions. Who is it, you cagey fuck?’



The Memorial Page at Lightspeed

Lightspeed has reprinted my story ‘The Memorial Page’, and there’s also an Author Spotlight on the story. This issue features stories by Ian R. MacLeod, A. Merc Rustad, Seanan McGuire, Jack Skillingstead, Kelly Barnhill, Ashok Banker and Brian Stableford, and the nonfiction includes an interview with Connie Willis. Ebook editions of Lightspeed, featuring an additional novella not available on the website, can be purchased for $3.99, and annual subscription is $35.88.


Figuring out…

With the yard for the road, neighbour’s fence for the parapet and a ladder for a horse, figuring out how much the characters can actually see. Conclusion: if they’re near the parapet they could probably see down to the river, and if they’re in the middle of the road probably not, which suits me as I don’t really want to do a full view of the city here.

Off to the foundry tomorrow — early start to try and beat the traffic. Supervising welding and patina, and hopefully I’ll come home with some rabbits and ravens.


Staying Fresh

Now and then a scene just comes and hardly has to be altered — it starts fresh and stays fresh. That’s nice of course, but it’s not that common — or not for me, anyway.

I keep multiple drafts backed up and often revisit early ones to try and salvage material as the needs of the story force changes on the writing. I’m all too capable of wandering miles away from a first draft then coming back closer to it after realising I didn’t need to wander so far — but I probably needed to see what was over there in order to decide to come back. (And I might find something useful over there, too.)

I always fear that redrafting will produce a laboured product — maybe an odd fear for someone who likes fancy language, but there’s fresh fancy and stale fancy. The reader’s going to find it how they find it, but it has to seem fresh to me. I like to keep dialogue pretty close to its original state, if plot permits. Sometimes the characters come up with lines that are obviously better, but I seldom feel compelled to extensively revise dialogue. But I almost always rewrite descriptions, sometimes many many times. Sometimes the right words don’t come until I’m tired or doing something else. And I find that action scenes can ask for a lot of revision, though that’s a bit different as it’s as much about choreography as aesthetics. When I was writing TEC I did a fair bit of climbing around on furniture trying to work things out.

I’ve been redrafting this story a lot. Additions to plot give me no choice. However much the story may be improved, I always feel a certain regret for the lost first draft. But onwards and upwards. I’m enjoying it.

Back to dialogue for a moment — I was having trouble writing some lines. Then I imagined Yul Brynner saying them, and some better words came. Whether it was the added persona or the cadences of a distinctive voice, something helped. So next time I’m stuck with lines I’ll borrow an actor.


Knights Out

Some readers might remember a story I was working on a while back, about Gwynn and Sharp Jasper and a bet.

Well, I went back to it this year. It’s now called Knights Out: or, A Significant Ornamental Feature. It’s going well enough that I don’t feel like I’d jinx myself if I mention it. I think it’ll be about 30K words. There might be enough plot for a novel, but I don’t think it should be one.

It’s set in Ashamoil before The Etched City, and the tone is lighter. I started writing it as an exercise in plotting, and since my favourite kind of plot is a complicated farce like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, that was the kind of thing I attempted here.

I’ve learned a few things while writing it:

  1. I can write without hearing characters in my head. I used to feel like I had to follow them and not make them follow too much of a predetermined story, and sure I like writing that way; but I have trouble doing it at more than short story length. But actually, yes, I can have them follow a plot, too. As long as their planned actions aren’t OOC, they shouldn’t be either, and they still have room to improvise in dialogue and smaller actions. It’s really in dialogue that I tend to ‘hear’ them (obviously, because they’re talking).
  2. Writing a rough but complete first draft is a good tactic for me. It might change a lot, but it lays a foundation.
  3. Plot can be filled in. If something absolutely has to happen, there can be any number of reasons why it happens.
  4. Some characters write themselves, and which ones do can be surprising. I already knew that. But if a character isn’t self-writing, they can still be written. It might take more time, but it’s doable.
  5. To persevere with a long piece of writing I have to enjoy it. The characters have to be having some kind of fun, and/or I have to enjoy hanging out with them. Which makes sense because I’m the same as a reader. I read non-fic for information, fiction for entertainment. That doesn’t mean I only want to read trivial fiction. But there are approaches to writing that I find more entertaining than others, e.g. writing the serious as black comedy. Grotesque and gothic approaches, e.g. Carson McCullers, Patrick White, Yukio Mishima, also work for me.
  6. I rather enjoy writing plotty stuff. Who’da thunk it?


First things first: Writer, historian, educator and culinary adventuress Gillian Polack now has a Patreon — check it out!

Other stuff —

Read lately and recommend:
Dying for Strangers: Memoirs of a Special Ops Operator in Iraq by Brennan Morton
Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere by Jan Morris
A Dark Stranger by Julien Gracq (enjoyed it for atmosphere and description, not so much the characters)
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (not a fun read, but it has stayed with me and probably affected me more than most books do)
The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars by Maurice Dekobra