Urban Fantasy is dead – What?



I feel an attack of slottishness coming on. Slottishness is when the book you’re submitting is the wrong genre for the current climate. You’ve learned, painfully resuscitating the trampled corpse of the novel you wrote for everybody, anybody and their little dog, to give it a category in the submission letter so the agent knows what they’re dealing with beyond the fact your naked longing is clogging their in-box, along with the other 500 hopefuls (that’s about one month’s worth of unsolicited submissions for a good agent).

It is very tempting to force what you’ve written into a popular slot, a literary sluttishness that comes to all of us. My breaking point came with a direct submission for an 80,000-word urban fantasy which was rejected because the publisher wasn’t taking urban fantasy. The reason being

Urban Fantasy is dead.

“I submit my urban fantasy … complete at 83,000 words …”

No, don’t hack the corpse around. It’s gross – and unnecessary. This living, breathing piece of writing, hewn from your pulsing viscera, is what it is. The genre is just the label put around its wrist to distinguish it for the purposes of assessing, financing, producing and selling a book.

For the purposes of identification between SF/F/YA/litfic I’m fielding The Story Dolly. It has bendy arms, depending on the label on its wrist.

YA (Young Adult)

Still alive and kicking ass, any book where a young-adult protagonist bursts through the door, bleeding from cuts to their head, face and torso from an attack by: apocalyptic gangs, contemporary gangs; vampires; dystopian police states; spaceships.


The gaps in the ring-fencing around this one are growing but broadly, any book where the protagonist comes through the door emotionally or mentally bleeding from attack by bad relationships or angst. Deep-mined metaphors are OK, but actual elves/zombies/time travellers, you’re in genre territory, however cast-iron your lit cred.


Sci-Fi escapes all gravitational pulls and takes you with it. Yes, I’m a fan.

Fantasy (trad/hard core)

Protagonist bursts through the door, pursued by orcs/something with a sword.

Fantasy (contemporary)

Protagonist bursts through door, pursued by pterodactyls that have climbed out of wheelie bins.

Did you see what I did there? OK, so I don’t have pterodactyls, I have south-London tattooists re-writing themselves and other people into a meta-punk dimension, but it is

NOT urban fantasy.

Oh no, it’s contemporary fantasy.









The Continuation of Cats



This picture, from a series by Miyoko Ihara/Rex Features about her grandmother’s cat, Fukumaru, reminded me of something about the continuation of cats.

A few years’ ago, I decided to learn the piano. I was the teacher’s last pupil (which may or may not be significant) so my struggles with “Peasant Dance” can no longer be laid at her door.

My teacher’s cat was of a whiteness that would be fine and dandy anywhere within the Arctic Circle. In Surrey everything could see him coming from miles away. My displacement activity, faced with the major challenges of “Study” which involved a lift-and-drop move of the left hand from the safety of middle-C, was the white cat. I watched as he shuffled on the newly-dug earth of the garden below and finally stretched out, ridiculously white with the sun on him.

“Study” took some time. The evenings were drawing in by the time I was on “Study – Chords” (page 9). Below, the cat gleamed palely in the dusk. My teacher explained they like the warmth of the earth and, to re-focus me on what was under my fingers, promised he’d come in later.

Two weeks later I was on “Peasant Dance” (page 8) after we’d realised “Study: Chords” was a step too far. The cat went into the shadows and was nowhere to be seen. I can only vaguely remember “Peasant Dance” although some residual muscle-memory might kick in if I sat down in front of a piano keyboard . When I left, in darkness, the cat had not come in. My teacher, kindly, patient and encouraging about “Peasant Dance” was firmer on my offer to go out and look for the white cat. It knew what it wanted she said. Thank you, but no. I realised the cat did not want to be found.

In the way of cats it kneaded a comfortable place in the laps of all of us who have grasped, dragged, thumped our way to fleeting moments of peace. Now, increasingly uncomfortable, it withdrew, a little bored, perhaps, with even a minor negotiation with a world of bowls and catflaps. 

A white cat, glimmering against warm, dark earth, moving from the staccato rhythm of waking and sleeping, to the unbroken legato of the life glimpsed in sleep.

Very little of my attempt to learn the piano remains. I learned a lot, though, about the continuation of cats.

Fanfic is Real, OK?


Well, maybe not “real” in the usual sense. Re-reading one of my fanfics it is a heady brew of reverent but extreme use of Joss Whedon’s wall-to-wall fan catnip, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the unravelling playfulness and unrivalled banter of the Big Purple Forehead’s scripts lifting it (just) above oestrogen-fuelled passion and plot arcs on a permanently disintegrating orbit around Spike’s fallen angel.

I’m a Spuffy. Bangel shippers, I respect your tenacity but have you noticed Bangel shares the same initial letter with “Beer Bad”? The cookie dough speech is, of course, open to interpretation, and I’m not speaking out-of-canon by suggesting the space bonking in the comics was possibly heavily influenced by the freedom of the format. Or something. But if we’re reading the subtext, that coupling of initial letters is …

Yes, OK. Moving on.

My first real writing was fanfic. I still think it is real writing, and I have six reasons for thinking it was the best place to start:

Fans Go Too Far

In fandom there is no such thing as going too far. In my slathering adoration I wrote violence, scenes of a sexual nature (see below), shedloads of extreme threat, for the first time. The posting algorithms on my fanfic site were touchy about certain words which I’ve used with a sense of gleeful freedom every since. But otherwise, I had powered through a personal reticence, in and out of writing before I realised I’d done it.

Stripping Off

Never mind baring your soul, fanfic is about writing while stripped down to your knickers. We’ve all done it, written our favourite characters into hot and heavy scenes. I bottled out at the last minute and didn’t post, most fanfickers do post. Whether the result is eeewwww, genuinely erotic or ingenious and insightful slash fiction (the best place for written gender bending), fanfic is where you learn to write from below the waist.

Real for Me as Well as You

I never wrote from a distance, a perspective, coolly (or indeed calmly). Writing for people as passionate about the Jossverse as myself, taught me to write from the gut, and believe me, it had to be bloody good.


Ah, yes, best of times, the real-time convos like stepping onto a moving carousel, scrumptious dialogue spooling into pages, the fastest, most exhilarating writing experience ever.

‘… beat me with a scapula’ …’Was that when you came out?’ … ‘No, I hadn’t tidied’ … OK? … SORRY JUST TAKING WASHING OUT … ‘my room for six weeks’ … Who says that? … Patrick … THAT’S SCRUMPTIOUS.

Also, as the old saying goes, when you aren’t loving the people who love what you love, you hate them. Wolfie, that time I spent three days on the scene between Patrick and Andrewwhile you had Willow and Kennedy, but I gave it wall-to-wall character development and that, and you wrote one line

“That far into the closet you should have discovered Narnia.”

and the whole forum was squeeing over that line (twenty-four people quoted it in Comments)?

Well I forgive you. Ten years’ later.

Joss is my Master

I was trying to write like Joss Whedon. This was impossible, but the sheer audacity of it got me a long way, like somebody running over a cliff and doing that mid-air cycling when you look down and realise.

Into the Ferdy-verse

Eventually I got comments like, “It’s really good, but it’s not Jossverse, it’s Ferdy-verse.” And that was good, because I started writing in my own way. But without fanfic, I wouldn’t have reached Ferdy-verse, it was as far away as Narnia.

Here’s a sample of what I wrote as Ferdy-m. I still think it’s bloody good. Manga Spike, I salute your scrumptious cheekbones.













Out of the Muffin Zone


Surrey is leafy. Every few weeks I think I’ll go out for a walk in all this “leafy” that I’m paying for on a par with Westminster and possibly Kensington. So yesterday I set off, the sun shining through the canopy of trees fringing a back road. Research has shown that Surrey gets 10% more sun than the national average.

But it comes off the rates.

I sat in the middle of a well-tended common with a feta cheese and beetroot salad that I’d picked up on special offer in Waitrose. It looked like this.


It was all going to go seriously North by Northwest.

I’d forgotten to keep to my allocated district. I had strayed into District Two under the mistaken impression the countryside was free for all. Surrey was about to show me what happens to people who stray out of their social demographic. It was, like, a re-run of The Prisoner, which is probably before your time so you’ll have to trust me on the synchronicity here.

Up in the high-saturation, blue sky a helicopter holding position the other side of the common moved my way and spent the next ten minutes doing circuits, getting lower and closer. Yes, I took it personally because there wasn’t another sodding person in sight and they were TOO LOW. Eventually, they moved away. I thought it was because I gave them the finger, because everyone knows you can see that from a thousand metres up in the air but it was because someone, somewhere in Surrey, had authorised Stage Two.

A council grass mower the size of the Death Star moved from a circuit of a neighbouring tree in my direction. I collected my stuff up and went to the tree he’d already done. As he came close I realised what was happening, he had orders to clear any social debris lower than banker or Chelsea footballer from cluttering up the landscape. He came close, but I was framing the shot or perhaps he didn’t want to untangle my sliced and diced body parts from the mechanism.

Then, in a 250-yard walk across a field, the entire Surrey demographic came out, primed like extras from The Truman Show. Two women with four dogs. The dogs were confused, their olfactory centres registered a District Nine female but they didn’t have the training to deal with it. A collection of Surrey people. If four well-meaning labradors didn’t know how to deal with me, they were well out of their depth. A male jogger who I could’ve creamed, if I had to, in six seconds. And the cyclist. Yes, you had the mountain bike (for a path across a field in Surrey? Please) and the gear but I could’ve taken you.

And the dogs, and the jogger and the Surrey extras.

But hey, you know what? You’ll all be holidaying in your second home in a couple of weeks. I’ll be back.




Tube Striking Muffins


At some point, I’ll forget to check the meaning of these blog headings with urban dictionary and find they’ve gone viral for all the wrong reasons. This is more likely than it sounds; I once typeset chapters of a sex guide in the middle of the client’s London office and had trouble avoiding looking surprised.

Who would have thought you did that?

Yes, today’s coffee-and-muffin blog is about the #tubestrike. I remember working the food section in a well-known supermarket on Christmas Eve. Most customers were white-faced because the luxury mince pies had run out. I was white-faced with concerns about surviving Christmas, let alone earn enough to get through January. What I’m trying to say is that my sympathies are probably with the strikers, it means more to them than my inconvenience.

But more than that, any disruption in a city the size of London, on a transport system like the Tube, is like a glimmer, waving in the corner of your eye, of a dystopian future. It’s all it takes, to realise how quickly a city is just a place you can’t get around in. So you walk, and now you own the city. I once got in to work by riverboat, Putney to Westminster. The journey, smelling of water and air, the sights of London passing at a fast walking pace, the one-and-a-half hours off-line, made that the best trip into work ever.

I was working at the Dept of Transport at the time. Go ahead and laugh, the irony was not lost on anyone.

No Muffins for YOU


There is something about being ignored when the muffins are handed out that goes right back to a classroom. I haven’t seen any child, however eye-wateringly their behaviour has gone over the line, denied the same hand out as the rest of the class. It makes you realise how steep the learning curve is for any adult who is put into the situation where there are

No muffins for YOU

There are muffins for everybody else, but none for you; perhaps you didn’t pay back the IMF loan on them fast enough. I’m not passing political or fiscal comment, just saying the Greek response has been interesting. What seems to have happened is that the creditors on the original muffin loan have relied on two classroom responses which haven’t worked out for the very interesting reason that blows the whole muffin exclusion zone out of the water.

First classroom response, fear of exclusion. I’m not Greek, but any country that fields a cool guy in a leather jacket to discuss fiscal policy with a bunch of suits is clearly not bothered about being in somebody else’s gang. He’s a true indie, as proved by his elegant response when his current gang needed him to go because, let’s face it, jacket-envy plays a big part in international politics, and his boss had to ask him to stand down. The country that jumpstarted western civilisation and Yanis Varoufakis is unlikely to start boohooing because you choose to pass on the muffin handout. Perhaps some smart-aleck has already pointed out that the muffins aren’t distributed equally anyway.

Some people have more muffins than other people.

Second classroom response rarely happens in a classroom because it takes a real adult to say, maybe I don’t want your muffins.

And there’s the answer, when the small child thinks its missing out on what everyone else is getting.

I don’t want your muffins.


The Muffin Bird


This afternoon, I was working on a short story when I heard a small ‘thump’ and found a half-eaten muffin on the flat roof outside my window. No-one can access the flat roof except me, no-one could have thrown it from a neighbouring window and yes you may think why would anyone do something like that and I would reply with this quote from the property management representative, “Buildings are easy, people are the problem.”
So, it had to be a bird. What sort of avian twonk leaves most of a muffin uneaten?

Was it bored with muffins? I well remember taking (having bought specially for the purpose) a small loaf down to feed the waterfowl in a cold snap and seeing the whole local demographic laid bare in the disinclination of the fowl to make the one-foot climb out of the water (Well, throw it in, then. No, YOU come out and get it. Stop messing about and throw it in, right?) Also, I needed the small loaf more than they did.

It could be boredom, perhaps it reached satiation point with the Waitrose equivalent of avian feeding. There is an Essentials range, but most shoppers only buy it to put into the Food Bank.

And then, it struck me in a random connection, ringing with the subtle harmonies of the soundtrack to the universe.



I was writing about a small, rocky island off the west coast of the Hebrides. I was thinking of puffins and in that bizarreness that characterizes random linkages, a muffin appeared.