The London Falling Sequel Title is...

... we've just decided, following a few days of back and forth between Tor editor Julie Crisp, myself and my agent (who's good at titles)...

The Severed Streets.

It puts together the themes of the series and of this book, and it trips off your tongue, and it sounds like both a crime novel and an urban fantasy novel.  It was one of Julie's ideas (you don't want to see our initial lists, no, really you don't) and is for us quite a big deal.

It's out in December in the UK, and if you liked London Falling... well, this is that universe explosively expanding.  More police tactics, a new extreme villain, a lot more detail about the world DI Quill and his team have found themselves in, a couple of big twists and a surprise appearance by... well, someone. 

There's not long to go now until the release of London Falling in the US (on April 16th), and in the run up I'll be doing loads of publicity to get the word out.  So watch this space.  I'm looking forward to signing copies at C2E2.

Okay, back to work I go.  Cheerio!

My Eastercon Schedule

I'm going to be driving up to Bradford for this year's Eastercon this Friday, getting there, I hope, reasonably early.  If you're going, and want to be sure of locating me, well, there's the bar, but you could also go to one of the following events (room locations in brackets):

Friday, 9pm.  Underground London (Rowan): 'Take one London. Add magical society hidden from most people. Mix in famous places from the city, and optionally garnish with police procedural. Why is this such a great recipe?'  I'll be on that one with Roz Kaveney, Anne Lyle and Simon Morden, so that sounds like a good time.

Saturday, Noon.  Genre Get Together - Fantasy (Conservatory): This is a chance to meet authors and get books signed.  Like an Eastercon in miniature.  At Eastercon.

Saturday, 8pm.  Hugo Shortlist Announcement (Rowan): I'll be attending in my capacity as Toastmaster for this year's Worldcon in Texas, and possibly commentating for the worldwide audience.

Sunday, Noon.  Ready, Steady, Flash (Boardroom): 'Lee Harris challenges authors to produce short themed fiction to a very tight deadline, and then read it out.'  I'll be playing this against Cory Doctorow, Roz Kaveney and Emma Newman, which frankly terrifies me, because last time I tried this I scored nothing at all. Donna Scott will be entertaining the crowd while we scribble.

Sunday, 7pm.  BSFA Awards (Main): With Award Administrator Donna Scott, I'll be your host for the ceremony.

I hope to see some of you there, so until then, Cheerio!

Fantasy in the Court

A freelancer's life has gaps.  These are the moments when you've sorted all your deadlines, and are waiting on notes from editors, and so, if, like me, you actually get afraid when you're not busy, you create new work for yourself.  In this case, that's been starting on a short story the deadline of which is way in the future, and, erm... beginning  a children's novel.  Just because the start of it came to me and seemed so utterly the thing that I had to write it.  You won't hear much of that; I'm going to write it in the background.

Tom's been having trouble sleeping, and we're trying all sorts of new tactics as a result.  The poor little guy.  He's also had his first solid food, a little bit of banana.  He sucks at it thoughtfully, and tends to keep it in his mouth.  We're not sure he's actually swallowed it yet.

Last night I checked the lettering on the finished art of Saucer Country #14, the last issue from Vertigo, out on April 10th.  I'm now almost certain we'll be back next year, but still, it was a sad moment.  We go out on a real high, with some significant mysteries explained (there are even explanatory flashbacks).  Ryan's excelled himself.  I particularly love Chloe's beer salute to camera.

Today I have a television meeting, then I'm going to go along to the monthly BSFA gathering which this time focuses on the nominees for the BSFA Awards.  I'm hosting these at Eastercon, so I'll be interested in the discussion, but won't express any preferences.  Apart from that I think it's a good line-up all round.

One thing you may like to know about is Fantasy in the Court, an evening event at Goldsboro Books in London on Thursday 28th March.  I'm going along, and so are quite a few other fantasy authors.  It's a little awkward, in that that's the night before Eastercon, which is always a favourite bar evening for me, but I intend to zoom up the M1 early the following morning, and hopefully be in Bradford for the start of the programme.  (And requiring breakfast, I should think.)

And speaking of London events, I'll be signing the new anthology Solaris Rising 2, along with editor Ian Whates and fellow contributors James Lovegrove, Mercurio D. Rivera and Martin Sketchley at Waterstone's Gower Street on Wednesday 3rd April.


Should be a good do.

I'm interviewed about London Falling in the new issue (#245) of Interzone, which is very pleasing, since I've been a fan of the magazine for many years (and had a very early story published therein).  Check out the contents here.


I've done two interview pieces about Wolverine recently (and I must say, I've been delighted with how positive the reviews have been).  There's one that covers the comic and all sorts of other things (including the novel and Saucer Country) over at Den of Geek, and then I answer readers' questions in the regular X-Position feature at CBR. (This includes some lovely new Alan Davis art from #2.)

For those of you in a voting frame of mind, I'd like to direct your attention to the Locus Poll for SF and fantasy in print.  It's that time of the year again.

And of all places for Bernice Summerfield to pop up, I wouldn't have expected the website of The Beano.

I hope to see some of you tonight.  But otherwise, until next time, Cheerio!

Wolverine #1: Writer's Commentary

I have a very exciting day ahead.  Tonight from 6pm I'll be signing Wolverine #1 for the general public at London's Forbidden Planet.  They've asked me to come in several hours early to sign a couple of thousand copies to be sold after the event, by mail order, etc.  So I had to get to my desk and get this blog sorted early.

One thing I would suggest, if you're planning on buying Wolverine today and own a smartphone: download the Marvel AR app.  (AR standing for Augmented Reality.)  We've prepared loads of extras (interviews with me, wallpapers, trailer for #2) that you can access by scanning the paper (or digital) copy.  It adds a lot to the experience.

The digital version will be out today around teatime.  I think it's 6pm.  You can pre-order it, or after that time just buy it, on Comixology, here.  That link is now behind the cover image on the right.

The comic's also going to have a letter's page, so check out the announcement about that in the first issue, and do send us your letters.  Some of my favourite comics over the years have had active and thoughtful lettercols, and we're aiming to continue that tradition.  I'll be answering the letters myself.  

There's a new interview with me about Wolverine for USA Today, which can be found here.

And also out today is the penultimate issue (#13) of this volume of Saucer Country.  We're really kicking it out of the park in this last arc, and at the end of this issue, the secret behind one of our biggest mysteries is revealed.  You can see a preview, with loads of lovely Ryan Kelly art here.

Okay, so now to the matter at hand.  This is my first go at something I'm planning to do for every issue of Wolverine: take those of you who've read it through the comic, page by page, talking about the options the team faced, and why we made certain decisions.  The first thing I should say, therefore, is:

SPOILERS.  UTTER SPOILERS FOR WOLVERINE #1.  ABSOLUTE SPOILERS.  WAIT UNTIL YOU'VE READ IT, OKAY?!  DO NOT PROCEED BEYOND THIS POINT UNLESS YOU HAVE OR YOU DON'T MIND BEING ENTIRELY SPOILED!

Which is why I did all the other business first.  Hmm, I may need to thin down that warning.  Okay, so here we go...

Page 1:

Logan's dialogue here sets the theme of the series: what is he, exactly?  I wanted to put him in just about the only situation I could think of where he'd call himself a 'super hero'.  In the earliest drafts he said 'I'm just a normal guy', but me and my excellent editor Jeanine Schaefer felt that would sound, to the boy he's talking to, like a lie.  It also was the wrong thought for Logan at this point in his journey.  We start in the middle of the action, to show how fast we're going to be going from here on in.  One thing I can always count on from artist Alan Davis is excellent character expression, and just look at the look on Logan's face here.

Page 2: 

It was also important for there to be someone there who Logan could say things like 'I heal real fast' to.  I'm hoping that some people who've never read a Wolverine title or a super hero comic before might pick this issue up, and I want to make sure they have all the information they need, without having to look elsewhere.  In Panel 4, the boy protested in that previous draft that Logan just said he was a normal guy, making him add 'and a super hero', which was really kind of awkward.

Page 3:

Right up until the lettering draft (where I'm sent the finished art with lettering, and Jeanine makes suggestions about we should change, and, and this is an occult art only understood by editors, where the balloons should be moved to), Logan's reply in the first panel was 'hey, maybe it's a side effect of that cool looking gun of yours'.  Isn't that awkward?  It's sort of sidelong and squirms out of the way of telling the reader what they need to know.  In the last panel, we originally had Logan making the sound, reacting to having his face rubbed in the dust, but having the father say it just got over the fact that Wolverine snapped his teeth at him so much better.

Page 4: 

Originally, this scene was all done on page 3, but I needed the extra space for the first two panels, which I shall hop swiftly past, because hopefully, when the aim of our first arc is revealed, you'll look back to them and realise what those expressions and words mean.

Page 5:

One of the general decisions I made for this series (along with things like there being no sound effects other than 'snikt'), was that each arc would have a poster-like title page to introduce it, and that we'd tell the readers how long the arcs were in advance.  I think readers felt that my arcs on Demon Knights were too long, so I wanted to go for short and punchy, and to let people know that.  Right now, though this could change, my long-term plan is for arcs of the following lengths, in order: 4; 2; 1; 3; 1; 3; 3.  Which is as far as I've planned up to.  They all add up to a larger picture, though.  The one-line pitch for what this first arc is about came from Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso, during a phone conversation.  I'd flailed about with my initial plot ideas, trying to find a simple premise that could carry all my ideas for Wolverine, and he came up with something that let me sort it all out.  Thanks, Axel.

Page 6:

This was originally a silent page, but, as Jeanine pointed out, it sounded weirdly silent, so just for once, we added some words.  I bet you now think it could have worked silently, but that before reading this, you didn't notice anything odd.  The father's dialogue was originally at the end of the next page, but I think it works better here.

Page 7:

I tend to say 'absolutely black panel' for unconsciousness, and Alan, being wise in these matters, has a couple of times now made them much more subtle.  Just look at how those lines, and their repetition in the next panel, suggest waking up.  Why do they do that?  I have no idea, but they do.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the skill of the comics artist.

Page 8:

And while I'm talking about Alan's skills, just look at the emotional progression of Logan's face in the last three panels here.  It's all in the script (I tend to go heavy on what character emotions are in specific panels, to the point, in a dialogue-heavy title like Saucer Country, where I give the equally brilliant Ryan Kelly a couple of layers of, say, what people are feeling and what they want to project, for instance), but it's always a delight to be working with an artist who can convey exactly what's needed.  And this is why we have to keep the 'snikt', even though we're placing all other sound effects in the mind of the reader.  It's kind of like a character rather than an effect.

Page 9:

One of the great things about writing for an artist whose work you know well is that one has in one's head in advance an idea of what things will look like.  In this case, I knew how great Alan's weird weapons and the beams they fire look.

Page 10:

In case you're wondering, the kid, Alex, isn't going to be in the title beyond #2.  I do wonder if it looks like this is going to be a sort of 1970s 'Logan and the kid' TV show, and that's not what we're after at all.  The plot expands wildly from a small start, and the kid is just the beginning.  I specified the shadows for the killing, and I think that makes it all the more horrifying, because it engages the reader's imagination.

Page 11:

One of the reasons the first panel is so big, apart from the fact that Alan wanted to give us a close up on that lovely expression of Logan's, is that I kept trying to nail down exactly why Logan had to kill rather than just wound or disarm the father.  I got it down to 'if I could be sure I'd get to him'... before he melted me again and was thus free to kill you, being the unsaid part, but we all felt in the end that it distracted from the emotional core of the scene.  We should trust that Logan wouldn't kill unless he had to.  Points like this are sometimes what get comics fans saying 'but that didn't make sense' when actually it's how television works, trying hard not to tell the audience stuff which really could be taken on trust.  I generally err on the side of telling in my comics work, but, now I'm on a mainstream title, I've decided to try and let the drama speak for itself a bit more.  'Normal people' says a lot about how Logan is willing to portray himself in order to try and help a child get through something.  The last panel will, hopefully, resonate with those already following Wolverine, in that he's recently killed two of his own children, while not getting in the way for those new to the character.  It's one of those points where we're trying to say 'this isn't a reboot, everything still happened', while not alienating new readers.

Page 12:

'He was never like that before, it was like he changed in a second', was the dialogue that persisted as the first line for Alex right up until the lettering draft.  Me over-explaining again, and, as I'm finishing the second draft of #6 today, I've decided that since we snipped it, I can tweak a bit of my plot and make it now untrue!  I think 'get me some damned pants' sounds and looks very like Hugh Jackman at those moments when he channels Clint Eastwood (older Clint being an influence on the tweaks I'm making to Logan's voice patterns).  One of the very last things we did, in emails before the issues went out, was add lines to suggest a prior connection between Logan and Chieko, so that we weren't taken aback by just how brazen she was in her desire to see what would otherwise be a random member of the public naked.

Page 13:

Here we start with what might be some over-explaining that stayed in.  You be the judge.  I imagined that people might wonder what Logan was doing in this mall in the first place.  I like the sound of 'the Wolverine', and intend to use it as standard.  'Oh, take a guess' was added late in order to make the joke land properly. This scene got restructured a lot, in ways which would be dull to relate, in order to make up for the extra page added earlier on.  Now I think we have a balance, where it tells you what you need to know in the space available.  I like that I can indicate to Alan that Logan and Chieko are mildly flirtatious with each other, and that he'll do it with some very subtle expressions.

Page 14: 

The single biggest page of back and forth notes and rewrites, as we tried to sort out the correct tone of voice for Alex, what everyone here is after, the geography of the scene and what info gets conveyed to the reader. What remained constant throughout was the need to place the right emotional beats for Alan's lovely two panels of Logan's expressions in two and three.  I also think he nails 'sudden kid scariness' at the end.

Page 15:

Now is the moment for Logan to say he's just a normal guy, in reaction to Alex saying he's not.  One of the brilliant things about working with an editor who cares about the details as much as Jeanine does is that we had a conversation about differing US and UK uses of the word 'look', which was a suggested opening for Logan's speech balloon here.  I thought it made it sound too forceful.  And, huge confession time, I managed to forget to script Alex taking the weapon.  Alan saved us, as he has on so many occasions concerning storytelling, by asking us if he could add the last panel here to the script.

Page 16:

It was pointed out to me, late in the day, that it looks like Chieko's going to open fire on a little kid who she so far only has a confusing and hardly damning amount of info about.  So I added a couple of lines to indicate she wasn't going to fire until Logan grabbed the gun.  (I should have sorted that out before we got to the art stage, I think.  I prioritised having Logan put his hand in the way of a bullet.)

Page 17:

I love Alan's way with action here.  It was going to be a completely silent page until Jeanine noted that a little bit of dialogue would make us feel the last panel more, and I think she's right.

Page 18:

Again, this was all going to be silent.  I try to go for silent pages as much as possible, but for some reason it doesn't seem to suit Alan's art.  This is something we'll be working through, in actually a rather fun way, as the series progresses.  I'm determined to write in the way which most suits his art.

Page 19:

But silence this time largely works.  The mysteries of comics, eh?  One of my earliest versions of this arc had the little boy shooting up the town for several issues, but actually such property damage for the hell of it gets dull.  (I had in my head some Mark Millar-style extremity, but we quickly discovered we had bigger things to deal with and wanted to get to them more quickly.)

Page 20:

The Guernica bar becomes important in this series.  We go there in #3.  It's where most of Logan's new supporting cast will hang out.  In panel two, Logan originally announced a plot point that we now leave until next issue, because here it's more important to get the emotion out there.  The ending I think sets up the emotional arc for Logan, some fine ideals which rather get derailed later on.  And I wanted the next issue caption to indicate something which, by the time I got to put cherries on top of this issue, had become a big feature of the book, the new young Nick Fury's status as regular buddy movie guest star.

And there we go.  I think it looks cool.  Next issue is especially strong, featuring as it does a last page game-changing reveal of a character from an entirely unexpected corner of the Marvel Universe.  I wanted to start with a limited, new-reader-friendly situation, and have it grow bigger and bigger, and involve more and more of the wider Marvel world.  Thanks for coming along for the ride.   Cheerio!

Wolverine Preview Pages... and all the Covers

I thought this was worthy of a blog post in its own right.  You can read the fully-lettered and coloured first three pages of Wolverine #1, out next Wednesday, here.  I think they demonstrate how awesome the Alan Davis art is.  And that we start right in the middle of the action.  And that we're aiming for this comic to be attractive for people who've never read a Wolverine comic, never read a super hero comic.  We'll tell you all you need to know.

I'll be doing a writer's commentary blog on the release date of the first and every subsequent issue.  And of course next Wednesday from 6pm I'll be signing the first issue at London's Forbidden Planet.  (And if you're not there you can use that link to order signed copies by mail, especially those with the FP variant cover.)

As you may have guessed, I'm rather enthusiastic about this title.  I asked, when Marvel editors Nick Lowe and Axel Alonso approached me at San Diego Comic Con last year about returning to Marvel, to be given a title right at the heart of the Marvel Universe.  And they responded beyond my wildest dreams.  I'm working with a brilliant art team and a brilliant editor, Jeanine Schaefer.  I'm getting to write a full-on action-packed mainstream super hero title that also gives me room to do what I do, and that makes waves in the wider Marvel continuity.  I've just written, in #8, what may be my best single comic.  I couldn't be happier.  I think that energy is obvious from the comic itself.  (Just wait until you see the ending of #2!)

Here, for the collectors among you, are (I think!)  all of the different covers the #1 will go out under...

The common or garden variety, lovely art by Alan Davis.


The sketch variant of the above...



The Olivier Coipel variant...

The Skottie Young L'il Marvel variant...


The Mile High Comics variant by Humberto Ramos...


And the Forbidden Planet variant by Salvador Larroca...


Which has Deadpool on it, though he's not in the issue.  But hey, neither is Cyclops as a toddler.  If you come across any more variants in the wild, do let me know!  Until next time, then, Cheerio!

Split Worlds

It's been an exhausting week.  I've been plotting an episode of a new TV project, and writing Wolverine #8, which I think is one of the best single comics I've been responsible for.  I may actually give myself tomorrow off, and bake a cake.  Tom had three more inoculations yesterday, and was upset for a couple of minutes, but remains a very brave boy.  We've been enjoying our long daily walks, when he goes to sleep and I listened to audiobooks and podcasts, including, this week, Grant Morrison's rather wonderful Supergods.

Next Wednesday is the release day of Wolverine #1, and I'll be signing it at (and you can get an exclusive variant cover from), London's Forbidden Planet, from 6pm.  The last of my week of interviews about the project deals with Wolverine's friends, and can be found here.

Tonight is rather special for a friend of mine, Eddie Robson, in that his BBC Radio 2 SF comedy series, Welcome to our Village, Please Invade Carefully, starring Hattie Morahan, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Peter Davison, begins at 9.30pm.  I found the pilot episode utterly delightful.  You can find deleted scenes and see the cast here.  (US readers will indeed be able to hear it when it's on the BBC iPlayer, radio being more amicable than TV in that regard.)

There's a new Kickstarter project I'd like to bring to your attention today: the Arthur C. Clarke Award people are holding a one day conference at the Royal Society on May 1st, called Write the Future, and they're selling tickets and gathering revenues through this very modern means.  You can see the scheme in full here. And here's the video...



It's interesting to note how many people have opted for one of the more expensive pledge rewards, £100 getting you Clarke Director Tom Hunter's skills in social media, marketing and PR.  I should think this project will easily get the £2001 (ahem) it seeks in the next 25 days.  

I'm very enthusiastic about another Kickstarter project, Goldtiger by my friends Jimmy Broxton and Guy Adams.  They've recently added pictures of the rather wonderful faux-1960s merchandise a pledge can get you to the site, and they've been out and about promoting it, both of them being interviewed and Jimmy answering Nine Questions (some of which are about our time together on Knight and Squire here. Goldtiger looks to be an excellent recreation of the feel of 1960s British newspaper strips, and has a fashionable zing about it.  Do check it out.  

I had a good time at the Sci-Fi Weekender, hosting a very warm and happy panel about worldbuilding in novels, having drinks with many old friends and new and running another game of Just A Minute...



(Photo by Aidan Moran.)  From right, that's Emma, Gareth, scorer Fran Terminiello, me, Stacia and Chris.  Gareth beat Emma by one point, and a good time was had by all.

But speaking of Emma Newman, it's a big day for her too, and I'm pleased to say she's chosen this blog to host the final installment of what's been an enormous project for her: her Split Worlds stories.  I'll let her explain it herself.  Take it away, Emma...

"In 2013 Angry Robot books will be publishing three Split Worlds novels, the first is out in the UK today and is called Between Two Thorns.  I've been releasing a new story every week for a year and a day, hosted on a different site every time, all set in the Split Worlds.  I wanted to give readers a taste of my kind of urban fantasy and have the opportunity to build in secrets and extra bits for those people who, like me, love the tiny details.  It's also been a major part of my world-building work alongside writing the novels.

This is the fifty-fourth – and last - tale in the year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds.  If you would like me to read it to you instead, you can listen here.  You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here.  You can also sign up to get the stories delivered to your inbox, one per week for a year and a day.

The Ugly Wish

Cathy leaned out of the open window further than she was allowed. She could smell honeysuckle and car fumes. The low rumble of the city's traffic comforted her. She wished she could see it from her bedroom window but there was nothing except the beautiful garden with its perimeter of dense hedges and tall trees. A vapour trail scratched a white line in the blue above her and she wanted to be on the plane making it.

A knock on the door made her pull back in and sit on the bed, but when she saw it was only her brother she was back at the window in moments.

"Nervous?"

She nodded. "Do you miss it Tom?"

"What?"

"Mundanus."

He came to her side, so tall now. His shoulders filled the remaining width of the window. He drew in a deep breath and smiled. "Sometimes. It gets easier. There's less pressure on me to stay in the Nether of course."

"I thought you'd have left for your Grand Tour by now."

"I do miss the birdsong in the morning."

He was holding something back. "Don't you want to see the world? I'd do despicable things for the chance to leave Bath."

He rested a hand on hers. "I wasn't ready to leave yet."

With a sharp stab of guilt, Cathy realised why. "You don't need to stay for me."

He kissed the top of her head. "I'd worry too much. I want to see you settled. Somewhere else."

She looked away from the sadness in his eyes and focused on the poppies waving in the breeze below. She shivered. "Were you nervous?"

"A little, yes."

"What's the Patroon like?"

"Stern. Like father but much older. The oldest person I've ever seen. He has rather large ears. Don't stare at them like I did."

"Did he give you what you asked for, then and there?"

"Cat," he prodded her ribs. "You know we're not supposed to talk about that."

The door opened with no warning knock and her younger sister, Elizabeth, entered in a bouncy froth of lace and ringlets. "It's today! Oh, hello Thomas. I woke so early. Are you excited Catherine?"

"No." She didn't want to participate in her dramatics.

"I suppose it's because you're so ancient," Elizabeth flopped onto the bed. "Fancy, eighteen years old! You must be the oldest debutante in the history of Aquae Sulis!"

"Elizabeth." her name emerged as a rumble from Tom's mouth.

"It's only the truth! Mama says I'm so accomplished I'll debut at sixteen."

"So you'll be married off a whole two years earlier, lucky you," Cathy replied but Elizabeth had never grasped sarcasm.

"I know exactly what I'm going to wish for. Do you?"

"You know the rules, Elizabeth," Tom said and she pouted at him.

"What are you doing here anyway? You had your coming of age ceremony months and months ago."

Tom shared a look with Cathy that she'd missed since he left, the one expressing disbelief they could be related to such an empty-headed doll of a girl.

"I came to see if Cathy was-"

"Golly! I'll be the only one left in the mundane wing of the house! I hope they find a new governess for me soon, I shall be lonely. Hopefully she'll be better than the last one."

Cathy leaned further out of the window, hoping the breeze would cool the urge to punch Elizabeth into next week.

"She doesn't understand," Tom whispered to her.

"She never will, the spiteful little b-"

"Time to get dressed, Catherine." Her mother's announcement from the doorway made her bang her head on the window frame.

Tom embraced her and led Elizabeth out of the room as she chattered about the gown she wanted to wear for her ceremony. Cathy followed her mother into the main part of the house, disliking the feeling of crossing the threshold into the Nether. It was like walking through spider webs and the air seemed stale on the other side. It was really happening. Would she be able to do as she planned? Could she see this through?

As tradition dictated, she was dressed by her mother instead of the maid and it was deeply unpleasant. Her mother's critical eye scanned her appearance at every stage, from chemise, then corset to ivory gown. Poppies were embroidered around the top of the bodice and the edge of the train. It was the grandest dress she'd ever worn and she felt just as fake as the stitched flowers.

"Have you decided what to wish for?" Her mother asked.

"I think so."

"It's a difficult choice," she said. "But having reflected upon it, I think you should ask the Patroon for beauty. You're so plain it's a necessity. Whilst I feared you'd be unable to survive without wishing for grace, I think that could be overlooked if your face was more pleasing to the eye. And grace charms are less expensive and easier to maintain."

Cathy looked down at the rug. At that moment she would have wished for another mother.

Once the maid had arranged her hair - and her mother had disapproved of how it refused to curl and stay pinned where it should – Cathy was led to the drawing room where her father was waiting. It was hard to control her shivering. Then the urge to giggle began to build so she bit her tongue in the hope the pain would quell it.

"Have you made your decision, Catherine?" he asked.

"She's going to ask for beauty," her mother replied.

Cathy just kept looking down. If she looked at him, if she opened her mouth, she feared what she would give away.

"Remember what we've taught you," he said. "This is the only time in your life that you'll be given such a powerful wish. I'm glad you've made a sensible choice."

She clenched her fists as he kissed her forehead, bristling at the contact but it was over soon enough. He went to the cheval mirror, pressed the signet ring bearing the family emblem against the glass and whispered a Charm.

"Don't forget to curtsey," her mother whispered as the glass began to ripple like the surface of a pond. "And for all our sakes be respectful. He's the head of the family and this is-"

"I know," she cut her off, unable to bear the reminders a moment longer.

Cathy could see a different room in the mirror now, one larger than that she stood in, with elaborately carved wooden panels covering the walls. The Patroon was behind a desk and she couldn't help but stare at his ears.

Her father extended a hand to her and when she took it he led her through the Way opened in the mirror. The Patroon's study smelt of old wood and cigar smoke.

"May I present my daughter, Catherine Rhoeas-Papaver," her father said and she curtsied on cue.

The Patroon barely glanced at her. "I recognise you as the daughter of Charles and Isabella Rhoeas-Papaver of Aquae Sulis."

"Thank you, Sir Papaver," she said, as rehearsed.

"Leave us," he said to her father and he obeyed.

The Patroon seemed bored. Cathy noticed a fountain pen still in his hand. They'd all made out that this was something so special and serious. She smiled at the reality of it. This was just one tiny entry in his diary.

"Now you have come of age, Miss Papaver, it is the tradition in this family to offer you a wish. As a young lady you'll want to choose something that will benefit you in your first season, which as we all know is the most important time of your life. You'll want your family to be proud of you and able to make an excellent match for the good of us all. Therefore, think carefully now. What will you wish for? Beauty? Grace? A superlative singing voice? Whatever is in my power to give will be yours."

Cathy wondered how many times he'd given that speech over the last few hundred years. He hadn't even pretended to be interested in her as an individual. She was nothing but a commodity to him. That's all she had ever been to her parents. And that was why, faced with such an opportunity, she knew what she had to wish for.

"I have made my decision, Sir Papaver," she said, the nerves making her voice croak a little. "I suspect it's something you've never had to grant before."

He frowned. That wasn't in the script. "Is it in my power to grant?"

"Yes, Sir Papaver. In fact," she took a step forwards, feeling bolder, "you're the only man in the Nether who could grant this wish."

"Speak it then."

"I wish…" she hesitated. Her father would be furious. Her mother too. What would Tom say? Could she really ask for something so scandalous? Then she thought of that blue sky, the vapour trail. She couldn't just let them drag her into the Nether without a fight. "Sir Papaver… I wish to go to university!"

---

Thanks for hosting, Paul!"

Thank you for doing that, Emma.  You can breathe a sigh of relief now the project's complete.

I'll be popping along to Forbidden Planet in London on Friday night to join the crowd for Emma's London book launch (the actual launch is at Bristol FP tonight), and then again the next day to see Ben Aaronovitch, Terrance Dicks, Gary Russell and Dan Abnett signing their Doctor Who books.  If I don't see you there, I hope you'll come along on Wednesday.  Until then, Cheerio!