A Midwinter’s Tale

With Christmas upon us, I thought it would be fun to share a Christmas story with you. This was written for the Southcart Books’ Christmas Readings event that I hosted in Walsall on Saturday, 11th December 2016.

WHEN PUCK SAVED CHRISTMAS

Ah, these are strange times. Change blows like choppy winds through hollow valleys. Enough to make the knees knock and the teeth chatter. But that’s midwinter for you. At least for now.

   Forgive my bestial appearance. My devilish features, my cloven hoofs, my horns and my dwarfish stature. They aren’t meant to offend. It’s my natural form; it’s why they calls us hobs, gobs, imps, pixies, satyrs, changelings, redcaps or fae. Well, those are some of the choicier names. To the Welsh it’s pwca and to the Europeans bocken, which makes me a spirit, a horny old goat, or something in-between. Some are more polite and call me Robin Goodfellow, though Oddfellow would be a better name. Me, I prefer to be called Puck.

Yes, Puck, you heard my impish     name aright.

Old Shakey’s merry wanderer of night,

Who served Oberon in jolly jest,

His faerie eyes and ears, the very best.

But time moves on like shooting stars in haste,

And old beliefs are lost as new are cast.

My King now holds another epithet,

As Father Christmas is my master met.


But enough rhyme without reason, I’m here to tell you a little story. You see, my day job is mischief. Pranks. Pratfalls. I’ll pick your keys from your pockets, fart under your nose, tie your shoelaces together or even teak your heamorrhoids at an awkward moment.

   No manners, me. Which is probably why I’m not the boss. I hate being the boss. I leave that to, well, the boss. And the bosses missus. Can’t forget her. She’s descended from the Greek titans, you know. Terrible temper if you wind her up the wrong way.

   But I’m here to talk about the season. Yule. Christmas. Midwinter.


Yes, I know you think of me as a midsummer faerie, but if it wasn’t always like that. We spritely types change with the seasons, mainly because we’re creatures of belief, and you humans spend most of your time thinking about the here and now.

   Which is sad, because my tale is about there and then. Way back when. Hundreds of years ago. Back to the Old Times. 1647, in fact.

   It was a bad year. Arthur’s seat was empty and Albion was a headless kingdom renamed The Commonwealth on account of common men ruling by the power of the common prayer book. Killjoys they were. No time for feasting or debauchery, nor for the great traditions that made the people happy.

   Oliver bloody Cromwell. The man that cancelled Christmas.  Odd really, that Christians should cancel Christmas. But then it was never really theirs. They kept attacking it with a St Nicholas’ Day here, a St Thomas’ Day there, a St Stephens’ Day over there and a Childermass coming up behind. Except they were mostly Catholic festivities, and if there was one thing those Puritans hated more than they loved their God, it was the Catholics.

   We had always got on well with the Catholics. Theirs was a great tradition. Cultural appropriation you call it. They knew that the power of belief creates spirits, and that the greater the belief the more powerful those spirits become. So instead of going to war with us they subverted us. Change the facts and you change the beliefs. Pretty clever really, but the Puritans were having none of it. 

They even talked James into rewriting the Bible. Made him miserable, but not as miserable as his son. Poor Charley. He was a rum sport, and like his ancestors before him he’d invited the spirits to join in the celebrations, just as the Romans had all those years before.

   Now Old King Oberon was a forest dweller, but in the winter months with the trees laid bare we fairie folk had a tough time if it. We needed cheering up. Like me, he had many names,I and in the winter he was Yule personified. Julnir, they called him. The Lord of the Midwinter, which was, of course, all about getting drunk and not doing much until the spring.

   Now Charley, he was all about the parties, just like his grandma. Old Gloriana, she was such fun. Ran rings round Old Shakey and Ben Jonson. James was the same. But Charley, he was a true libertine. The one thing everyone missed when he came a cropper to the chopper was his parties. Largely because Oberon was a regular feature. Top of the Bill. Yule, you see, rhymes with Misrule, and with a happy band of fairie-folk there was nobody better as Master of Ceremonies for the Christmas Masques.

   Captain Christmas they called him. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but they didn’t have superheroes back then. No mask or cape, just a crown of holly and a nice green robe. As for the rest of us, we were his companions. 

   For my part I threw a shape, the Yule Goat, that was me, all decked out in straw. I’d piggy-back him and gallop around to the beat of drums and the jingle of bells as each of our company made the party go with a swing.

   The thing about spirits though, is that we all have a special power, an unique kind of magic in which we excel. For me it’s taking the form of whatever men or animals I wish. And holding my liquor. I suppose that’s why I’m such a prankster. You see, the real Yule Goat gets most of his work to the northeast, where they spend more time celebrating an old goat than a jolly old man. For me, a bit o’ wicker and an imagination more than make up for not being the real thing. It also means I get to double up as Cupid, although I haven’t yet mastered the art of flying with feathery flaps yet.

   As for the rest of our company, Master Ben Jonson named them aright. Carol, the singer-from-the-song-book, all dressed up warm in red for fear o’ the frost; Minced Pie, the culinary conjurer that makes magic with nothing more than a dish and spoon; Gambol, the tumbling torch-bearer; Post & Pair, the players-of-games with a card in the hand and a trick up the sleeve; the masked Mummer, always ready to perform; Wassail the toastmaster, with a drink in the hand and another in the other; Gift-giver, always ready with an orange, a sprig of rosemary, a sock of nuts and a bottle of sack; Offering, with a staff and basin–don’t ask–I think it had something to do with the three wise monkeys, but I can’t be sure. And finally Babycake. A baby. With a cake.

   Well the idea was we’d turn up, cheer everyone up, drink all the booze and spirit ourselves away before the dawn brought a hangover.

   You’d think that would be good enough, but no, the moment King Charley lost his head the chains were out. Old Christmas was locked away in a very dark dungeon, and without his leadership we couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewing house.


   They put out this pamphlet that accused Christmas of ‘giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights’. I mean, wasn’t that the point? Getting everyone round the fire for a good old party to get ’em rosy, pair ’em off and give ‘me a bountiful harvest nine months hence? Still, that’s prohibition for you. And what did they replace it with? Fasting and humiliation. Can you Adam and Eve it?

   But while Father Christmas was in prison awaiting his trial, it was up to old Puck here to make things right.


   Now, over in Germany a few years before, some bloke called Martin Luther–another bloody Puritan–tried replacing our continental cousins with the baby Jesus. Part of the takeover plan that saw Old Yule become Christmas in the first place. Fill it full of Saints days and away you go. 

   But this Christ-child wasn’t like the bible baby Jesus, he became something quite different. The Christkind. Yup, a baby version of Saint Nicholas, toddling around doling out the gifts just like a good fairy.

   So off I went to Germany and kidnapped the little bugger. Now, before you tell me off, he isn’t the actual Jesus. We fairies, we’re made of fairy dust, and the fairy dust is the stuff of wishes and dreams. What Richard Dawkins and his learned friends called emits and etics or themes and memes. That’s why it’s important to believe. In fairies. In Father Christmas. Because if you don’t talk about us and think about us and get your kiddies to leave us milk and mince pies, then the magic weakens and the dust drifts away.

   That’s not how Puck wants to go.

    So anyway, the Christkind. Turns out he fit perfectly into a good-sized sack, and it was no trouble to sling him over my shoulder and make like the Yule Goat. Now flying with legs is much easier than with wispy little wings too small to lift you through the air.

   So I brought him over, slipped him through the prison bars and left Father Christmas to teach him what’s what. Meanwhile I threw a new shape and pretended to be Old Christmas myself. Nobody noticed our fairy troupe was one-short.

   Ten years we faked it. Or twelve. Yes, the Twelve Years of Puck’s Christmases, gate-crashing austerity, terrorising solemnity, anarchising propriety. I suppose it was more of a Punk Christmas really, I mean we were certainly anti-establishment, and just for good measure we’d always hit ’em with a proto-acapella verse of ‘God Save the King’.
   Well, Oliver bloody Cromwell went one further. He put Father Christmas on trial. In a court room no less. You’ve heard of the Star Chamber? Christmas Star Chamber. That’s what it was.

   Well, the Christkind was there. Little Christmas we called him, and he clung tight to to Old Father Christmas’s robes. I like to think it was love and devotion, but it could just as easily have been the bottle of gin tucked up the boss’s sleeve sleeve.

   So they tried to condemn Old Christmas. In front of what they were pretty sure was their precious Christ Child. That’s one character witness a good Christian can’t ignore. So guess what happened?

   Acquitted!

   Again, I like to think I played my part. I did the shape-throwing and made a marvellous wandering wart. Poor old Oliver didn’t know why everyone was staring at him so. On the pews of the chamber there were whispers of “don’t mention the WART” running from east to west. Of course the occasionally coughed out exclamation of “CARBUNCLE” or sneezed “FACEACHE” went practically unnoticed by the ugly old so-and so, but it kept them in good spirits, and good spirits make happy spirits, and we were, indeed, happy spirits when the Jurors set the old man free.


   Well, Cromwell was not a happy chappy, and he died shortly after. Within two years Charley Junior was restored to the throne and the so-called austerity was null and void and the partying was on again.
   But it was never quite the same. Little Christmas buggered off to America to strike out on his own. They call him Santa Clause these days, while we went underground for a few years, turning up with a sock full of fruit and nuts or a lump of coal whenever the mood struck.

   Christmas is an industry these days. Indentured fairy pickers and packers doing twenty-four hour shifts at the North Pole. An online naughty-or-nice list. A Santa tracker – Little Christmas has gone global and all the old Christmas fairies are facing redundancy. That or enduring a treetop in the arse.

   Even Father Christmas gave up his holly crown for a pointy hat and his green robe for a red one. And on that note, hear my parting plea. When you think of a traditional Christmas, don’t think of the fat Santa in the red coat on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Think of Oberon, king of the fairies and his loyal Puck, because Albion is our patch, and I’m fed up of having to throw reindeer-shapes year after year. I want to be a boozy, horny old goat again.
Copyright ©2016 Adrian Middleton

   

   

Advertisements

What I have written

I’ve told you what I write, now it’s time for a little more depth (or marketing), to talk instead about what I have written.

One day I might reveal the schoolboy adventure story I plagiarised at the age of 10, or the comic I produced at 12 – the same year I wrote an entire Star Wars sequel in fountain pen (let’s just just say a lot of it ended up in Return of the Jedi!). Perhaps I’ll resurrect the Cyberpunk short story I wrote back in 1982, or the Lovecraftian time I invented in 1984. Or the Hitchhikers’ Guide shorts I kept to myself until years later.

My first published ‘thing’ was in Drabble Who. It was… a drabble. I guess that kicked off my 90s phase of writing Doctor Who novel pitches, which led to lots of fanzines and short stories, two book deals that fell through, and a long hiatus where I mulled over the work in progress that existed only in my head.

Finally I turned to comedy, writing a novel called Dwat; or Psychopomp and Circumstance which described the adventures of Rabbi Moysheh Ben Amram of Golders’ Green. This was followed by a Millennial novel, which I started six weeks before the millennium (talk about bad timing). Called Millennial Rights it was an unfinished sequel planned to be part two of a trilogy due to finish with Moses the Musical, which was to involve airships, Corporal Hitler and the Titanic.

I then didn’t write for anything but personal pleasure until 2005. Encouraged by my friend Craig Hinton, I wrote a Doctor Who novel called Blink of an Eye in the style of Virgin Books’ Missing Adventures. It was too late to do anything with it (and the central idea got pinched and used elsewhere by another Doctor Who writer).
This was followed by a couple of first drafts – The Man in the Clean White Underpants and Fat Man Dances. I remember that these were written between the death of Douglas Adams and the death of Craig Hinton.

After losing Craig, I agreed to publish an anthology, Shelf Life, which was produced in partnership with Jay Eales and David A McIntee. I wrote/co-wrote/completed several short stories in that volume, and in turn it set me up for starting Fringeworks, a publishing venture that was spawned in 2009 but didn’t start until 2012.

Since then I’ve drafted three novels: Memetect, Starfish and Golden Isle, plus a novella due to be completed this Christmas.


My published Fringeworks bibliography then, is:

  • Ain’t No Sanity Clause

  • Grimm & Grimmer (volumes 3 and 4)

  • Weird Trails (volume 1)

  • Eliminating the Possible

  • The Scoundrel of Bohemia

  • The Lavender Men

  • NeaDNAthal


There are several other things awaiting publication, and I haven’t included essays and forewords and the like, not books published by me but without my input.

Outside of Fringeworks, besides the stories on this and other blogs, I have written in:

  • Drabble Who

  • Shelf Life

  • Steam Flashes

  • The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories (Part I)


There is more, some in draft form (probably written during NaNoWriMo) some under pseudonyms, but with Fringeworks I rarely have time to submit stories to someone else.

That’s all about to change…

What I Write.

Quite often, I get asked “What do you write?”, to which my usual, rather flippant answer is “Nowhere near enough”.


I write adventure stories.

I’ve written for my own pleasure for most of my life, starting out with adventure stories and science fiction (cyberpunk was an early favourite, with a socially dystopian edge). Although I wanted to be a writer, I went out and got a career first.


I write science fiction.

Then I got into writing stuff for Doctor Who. Loads of short stories, hundreds of fanzines and a number of pitches of which some were successful up until the point that I sabotaged them inadvertently (long story). I then shifted my attention to science fiction and fantasy comedy before returning to Doctor Who for my first anthology, Shelf Life.

I write fantasy.

It may have taken 10+ years to go from editing fanzines to editing anthologies, but a flurry of stuff followed: bizarro, SF, weird, fairy tales, historical, steampunk, urban fantasy, Sherlock Holmes etc.
Now when I write it’s mainly SF, Pulp and weird. But I will try my hand at anything and everything.

I write horror (Art by Cyril Van Der Haegen).

As for who I write for, well, my own imprints come first (I write as a back-up plan when we have emergencies) as I hate pitching. In fact most of my stories have been by invitation rather than randomly submitted. I’m far too bad at self-promotion to sell myself.

I write steampunk (Art by James Ng).

In fact, if I can get away with a pseudonym, I will. Over the years I’ve used so many of the damn things that I sometimes lose track of my own identity. Imagine finding a story, appreciating it and then, halfway through, realising that the author is actually you!

I do that a lot.

I write genre comedy (Art: BBC).

I suppose, when it comes down to it, I’ll write about anything that I enjoy. Non-fiction, comic scripts, audio scripts, role-playing adventures, poems.

Heck, I’ll even write westerns…

I also do stories as gifts for friends on occasion. My current WIP is an overdue wedding gift that has time travel, Nazis, Vikings, Dragons and variously other obtuse elements.

When I have time, of course.

Next time, maybe I’ll focus on what I have written instead.

(photo courtesy of Beastie/Craig Beas).

Memes, Ideons and the IP Volcano

Back in 2004, when I started blogging, I was working in the field of innovation. Back then, innovation was about introducing new ideas and processes. The ideas didn’t have to be original, just new to those to whine they were being introduced. We talked a lot about knowledge transfer, and the upper echelons of higher education sniffed opportunity, convincing the powers that were to invest in the transfer of knowledge from universities into business rather than from businesses to businesses.

Of course, while academia was focused on how it could make money from these opportunities, I was making it my job to give them away for free or, as was more often the case, to memorise, repeat and perpetuate revolutionary ideas from multiple sources to as wide a local audience as possible.

Often these ideas would be genuine transfers from evidence-based projects scattered across the four corners of the world. Sometimes they would be my own half-arsed meanderings, fuelled by insight, curiosity and not a little mischief. You didn’t have to quote research if you could recall that there had been several anecdotes that needed to be explored, or else you remembered that someone had done some research somewhere, and it was on the tip of your tongue.

I’d been doing it for terms in a creative context, but to have the opportunity in a business one was hard to pass up. Richard Dawkins, in his book The Selfish Gene called it the meme – that self-propagating pattern of information which replicates itself across the minds of billions of people throughout the world – embedding itself as a cultural phenomenon. It might be a tune, a fashion, a process, a habit, or an idea. All knowledge is mimetic, and therefore all ideas will eventually be propagated in some form.

Terry Pratchett, as I mentioned recently on the day he sadly died, called it the ideon, that which floats into your brain, takes a short rest, and then if you have decided not to make use of it floats off to inhabit someone else’s brain. In referencing it out of context, my words – particularly those suggesting that I had had, and failed to use, ideas which Pratchett himself made better use of – were mistaken by one person as hubris or arrogance, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Some of us are lucky enough to be ideon magnets, pulling these great ideas in from the wider memesphere and maybe even, on rare occasions, making use of them (Since my original blog I’ve been able to use far more than I used to, but still not enough). Sadly, far too many of the ideons which had inhabited my brain upped and left for pastures new long before I was able to fully realize the benefits.

My first ideons were role-playing memes. One can never truly say that they were “the first” or “the inventor” of an idea, but in my time I invented and even designed/wrote many games which drifted off to become someone else’s brainchild. In particular, I remember creating a car-combat game loosely based on Death Race 2000 (suggesting, of course, that Ib Melchior was visited by these particular ideons first) a good three years before a near-identical game-system called Car Wars was launched by Steve Jackson Games. This, along with another meme which drifted over from the Mad Max films, doubtless inspired the Games Workshop Dark Future Universe, and in the age of computer games this inspired the Carmageddon computer game which, in a strange twist of fate, then benefitted from its creators acquiring the Death Race franchise! Obviously, that particular example of memetics involved me getting infected rather than the other way around. The game I wrote and designed was never shared (or even play-tested), so I was not responsible for any propagation into the wider world whatsoever.

A harder one is the chaos-death-spiky-meme. Inspired by Michael Moorcock’s Elric and the Stormbringer RPG (yet again I was inheriting ideons), I decided to update Stormbringer into science fantasy setting, replacing Moorcock’s Young Kingdoms with a Galactic Empire in which the Mabden, Eldren and Dwarves battled the encroaching forces of the Gods of Chaos who spread across the galaxy in the name of Lord Arioch. In this case I did indeed tour the gaming circuit, going from convention to convention passing on by word of mouth my experiences with the campaign that I had somewhat prophetically called ‘Stormbringer 80,000’.

I can even recall my conversation with a Games Workshop employee I can only imagine was Rick Priestley, who was spreading the meme of his own game, Rogue Trader. I believe that was the day the chaos-death-spiky-meme floated over (or perhaps just travelled via sound waves) to Rick, whose Warhammer 40K has proved to be one of the most successful wargame brands on the planet.

Needless to say, I spent a little time wandering around moaning lots about how my idea had been pinched (it hadn’t – i had given it away freely) but then I remembered that you couldn’t copyright ideas, and that the only way to stem the tide of ideon leakage was (shock! horror!) not to communicate.

Drifting away from role-playing games, I knuckled down to have a go at writing. I plotted out my first so-great-it will-fly-from-the-shelves debut comedy novel, Flloyd – The Musical.

Flloyd was a story about rock-and-roll, Norse mythology, and the rapid pace of technological change. It had seminal sequences involving a DC-Dakota landing on a rainbow, valkyries on motorbikes, and a bus-full of Norse Gods on a day-trip to Midgaard. Flloyd himself was the Norse God of the Twentieth Century, and looked a lot like Captain Sensible. At some point between completing my synopsis and completing Chapter One, I discovered the works of Tom Holt. That should have spurred me on to make use of my Ideons before they left me, but…

Bugger.

All I can say is that Tom used concepts that were just like mine and used them in a different way. Who’s Afraid of Beowulf? Was very similar, but also very different, to why I would have written.

Then I shifted to Doctor Who fiction. The chalice of unsolicited submissions, the wealth of continuity to dip and mix with was irresistible. Eighteen chapter ones and three years later I had succeeded in writing/editing close to 200 Doctor Who fanzines (only 200? I’ve been telling people 300? Oh, how the memory cheats!), inspired (and wrote the very first submission for) the Doctor Who Drabble Project (see Drabble Who?), and influenced – through conversations, debates and drinking sessions – as many as eight published Doctor Who novels, none of which were written by me. Indeed one of my greatest pleasures in the days before Doctor Who returned to our screens was to read new ‘Who’ fiction and see how many of my ideons ended up in other writers’ heads without me even communicating with them.

Then, in 2005, I wrote a Doctor Who novel as a dare. Not only did some of its plot end up in an audio drama not of my making, but it also shared some amazingly cool similarities to the TV episode The Impossible Planet. Then again, in my Doctor Who anthology, Shelf Life, I co-authored a story (Jumping the Shark) with equally strong similarities to Neil Gaiman’s first foray into official Whodom, The Doctor’s Wife.

These things happen. They really do.

This brings me to Douglas Adams, who once pointed out that Intellectual Property and Copyright only emerged as a response to linear media such as books, films or TV, which are only capable of communicating in one direction. He also said that before television came along the word interactive didn’t exist, because it wasn’t needed. Adams’ point was that the internet, as an interactive environment, would make the issue of ownership redundant. It isn’t what you create that matters, but what you do with it.

And he wasn’t wrong.

The IP Volcano

Trying to protect ideas is, frankly, a pointless exercise. You can post it to yourself in a sealed envelope if you like, but it won’t stop the meme from spreading. And using the law to ‘protect’ your ideas is merely a means of stifling the others ideas that may come along because it has been shared and slowed to mutate.

If one idea is equal to six months of legal activity, then you become limited to only handling two ideas in a given year. I had – and still have – a problem with this, because I usually have at least three new ideas between getting out of bed and having my breakfast.

I would contend that it is better to let the ideas flow. Have lots of them. Write them down, talk about them, tell people how they can change the world. If they steal your idea and do something good with it well, so what? It’s one less idea you have to worry about using, and if it succeeds it means that you have had a positive influence, made a difference.

Whenever someone does intentionally beg, steal or borrow an idea of mine with the goal of making money from it (and they have), then I try (I’m only human, I sometimes fail) to just shrug my shoulders and cross it off the list of ideas I need to do something about, and feel proud that I have achieved something for nothing.

Another good thing about having lots of ideas – and not protecting them – is that ideas beget ideas. A creative environment not bound by petty legalities or corporate bureaucracies will attract the kind of people hungry to make a difference themselves, people who will bring new ideas with them, and even more new ideas will spawn as a result. It is how the industrial revolution happened; and Hollywood; and Silicon Valley.

I call it, for obvious reasons, the IP volcano. That small trickle of unfettered ideas overspill and spread while all the new ideas bubbling at source exert a kind of… memetic pressure which will result in an explosion of ideas.

It doesn’t matter what these ideas might relate to – creativity, industry, politics, society – what matters is that they happen. Rules, protectionism and isolation stifle ideation and innovation. But if people are free to think, They they shall come…

Drabble Who?

20150319-000654.jpgFirst, a bit about drabbles.

I first encountered the concept back in the 1980s, oblivious to the fact that it was nailed down as a thing by the very people who introduced me to it.

Cast your mind back to 1993.

The Drabble Project was originally published by a chap called Roger Robinson under Beccon Books. It had lots of short (i.e. exactly 100 word-long) stories by famous SF writers, including Isaac Asimov, amongst others. It was soon followed by Drabble II, which was co-edited by David B. Wake, a very strange man if ever you were to meet one, made famous for sci-fi convention party pieces that included the adventures of Captain Tartan, breaking his leg whilst dressed as an Alien Queen and doing a multi-Doctor quick-change routine whilst coming out of a TARDIS-wot-he-built, all whilst starring in plays-what-he-wrote. He is also well known among his friends for taking more time to write his magnum opus fantasy novel than Harlan Ellison took to edit the last volume of Dangerous Visions.

Dave was chair of the Birmingham University SF Society at the time, and was promoting the drabble in its 100-word short story format to anyone that might listen. Whether it was he or Roger Robinson that invented it, or whether they merely defined the modern and most accepted format, I can’t be sure. I do, however, know the term “drabble” was lifted from Monty Python’s Big Red Book (1971). In that is was a word game that involved racing to finish a novel first. To make such novels possible, the BUSF made up the 100 word target and promptly started approaching SF authors and publishing their contributions for charity.

I remember well a conversation with Dave (which he rigorously denies) in which he revealed that a third volume of the Drabble series would focus on Cult TV (or possibly Star Trek) and announced that the cover would be Spock’s head, with a third ear slap-bang in the middle of his face. This, Dave boldly announced, would take the Drabble Project where no drabble had gone before, and would inform the title of this salubrious tome: Drabble III: The Final Front Ear

I remember thinking it wasn’t the best idea he could have come up with (Dave had a lot of them, and most of them were utterly barking) and suggested that perhaps he could approach the Doctor Who community for a Who-themed volume instead. He dismissed the idea, but I was so taken with it that I set about writing a Drabble to submit. At the time I had just abandoned a Doctor Who New Adventures pitch called Haven (which later mutated into a role-playing scenario called The Village of Harmony), which was a thinly-veiled homage to The Prisoner.

My co-conspirator, Steve Jones (writing as Steve Graeme), decided instead to commemorate the idea with a Doctor Who-themed drabble which I dashed off before arguing hours on end with Steve over the last line. Typical. That meant we spent more time arguing about it than writing it. Eventually we agreed to submit my version and Steves, and leave it to Dave Wake to choose (he chose mine, hehehe…), and then we took a joint credit and waited to hear.

A month or so later Doctor Who Magazine announced the book, revealing it was a Doctor Who volume, now called Drabble Who?, co-edited by Dave Wake and David J Howe. it also ran a competition for fans to submit drabbles.

Drabble Who?is sadly out of print now and, having been limited to just 1000 copies, is never to be republished. Funds went to the RNIB.

Next time I saw Dave Wake I congratulated him on his wise choice to use my idea. He smiled momentarily, then blank-faced me, and said “what idea?”, consigning my enthusiasm to the the bin bags of history.

Anyway, I really should have entered that drabble competition, because I never knew that multiple entries were allowed (and that Ness Bishop got THREE drabbles accepted!). Anyway, the book was launched later that year (at Eastercon, I think, where it won an award), and Steve and I duly headed down to London for the launch.

What a day! We were cheapskates, I seem to recall, and travelled down by coach. I wore a fetching t-shirt and a big beige trenchcoat, which I planner to remove upon arrival. However, our coach arrived a little late, and we had to hard it across London on an unreliable underground day with barely an hour to spare. Sadly, I was bursting for the loo, but had neither the time nor found the place to go.

Eventually, with moments to spare, we reached the hotel. By this time my poor bladder was fit to burst, and I dived into some nearby shrubbery to pee before entering the convention’s hallowed halls.

All I can say is never pee on a rubber plant. At least I think it was a rubber plant. Well, it behaved like a rubber plant. Untying my coat I quickly relieved myself. Unfortunately, while my wee was powerful enough to bend said plant upon impact, it wasn’t able to sustain enough force to keep it at bay. The broad leaf against which I peed sprang forwards, spraying a line of wee across the chest of my t-shirt in a manner that rendered my apparel moot. Quickly tying up my coat and rearranging myself so the wee couldn’t be seen, I blushingly entered the convention and was immediately greeted by Dave Wake, who ushered me to the photocall of doom. There some fifteen or more writers gathered in their t-shirts, ready to pose for the cameras. I meanwhile, refused to remove my trenchcoat, in the desperate hope that nobody would ask about my cologne. Among the drabble authors gathered were the likes of Paul Cornell, Simon Bucher Jones, Andy Lane, Mark Morris, Nick Royle and Kate Orman, who kindly told me that mine was the best drabble in the book (and given my hubristic belief that it inspired the whole project, I should jolly well think so!), and promptly drew a picture next to it – a bouncy cartoon of The Prisoner‘s Rover. She proceeded to do the same to several other writers’ copies of my drabble, as if it had been her own. I naturally forgave her naive antipodean insolence. As for that drabble well, as Drabble Who is out of print, I offer it here for those who haven’t seen it:

Doctor Where?

Materializing in an office at Shepherd’s Bush, the police box doors swing open. The tasteless curly-haired pied piper storms over to Mr Grade. Firsts slam upon a table.

“I will not be cancelled! I resign!” He re-enters his timeship. It dematerialises.

“Come on, old girl, we have an appointment with a cottage in Wales.”

Arriving on a beach overlooked by cottages, he sees a giant bubble bounce towards him from the sea. Fleeing to nearby rocks, he crashes into a short shabby hobo with a recorder, who says…,

“I am Number Two. You are Number Six. Welcome to the Village.”

There is one good thing about drabbles. They count as a published story. Some of the early drabbles from volumes I and II were later developed into full stories at their authors’ leisure, because as previously published stories the ideas contained therein were about as protected as it is possible to be. In fact, Stephen Baxter’s drabble mutated first into The Time Ships and later into his manifold trilogy (Time, Space and Origin). So forget about emailing yourself or posting yourself a manuscript, just get your story published as a drabble, and it will be yours forever…

POSTSCRIPT: I hereby coin the term “twibble”, being a short story of exactly 140 characters. Here’s a Chris Rea inspired sample twibble:

The race to hell was short but exciting as they accelerated towards the pit of suffering. Brakes squealed, rubber burned, and they all died.

Please feel free to post your twibbles in the comments section, and if we reach 140 I’ll publish them for charity!!!

Doctor Where? is copyright ©1993 Adrian Middleton and Steve Graeme.

“Enter freely, and of your own will…”

“…and leave behind a little of the happiness that you bring.”

Lovely sentiment.

Wasted on the lips of Count Dracula though.

My name is not Metabaronic, but Adrian Middleton, and this, for better or for worse, is my blog.

Continue reading “Enter freely, and of your own will…”