Category Archives: short stories

Review: A Question of Time by Jamie Ashbird

Improbable Press, recently acquired by Clan Destine Press, has come of of its new gate with two new books: A Question of Time by Jamie Ashbird, illustrated by Janet Anderton, and The Case of the Misplaced Models by Tessa Barding.

A Question of Time is the third in IP’s 221B series (which began with my own A Dream to Build a Kiss On and then K. Caine’s A Study in Velvet and Leather) and continues the theme of writing Holmes/Watson love stories a succinct 221 words at a time. (The last word of each short story begins with ‘B’, hence the 221B name for the form.)

The Blurb

Sherlock Holmes
whether he’s a grimy student in 1980, a consulting detective in 47BCE, or a smitten neighbour in 1969, will always find his…
John Watson
whether he is a military doctor in 1917, an angry Saxon with an axe in 1086, or a priest in 1603.

A Question of Time is an illustrated journey through the ages told by our heroes, by their friends, and by a scorched manuscript.

This new collection begins with 221 words set in 2085, a bittersweet eulogy for two men who loved each other all their lives, delivered by their child. There is so much love and humour in these words you feel like you’ve known the three of them. The illustration of the twined elm trees is a lovely, evocative symbol of the emotion of this window into their story.

The remaining 49 stories flit about through time, from 19,873 BCE (oh, how heartstrings can be tugged in 221 words about ochred hand paintings!) through the disco years [and two world wars and molly houses and Jack the Ripper’s London] to a lovely two-parter in 2019 where an appreciative and babbling Watson meets a busking Holmes.

Each is a delicious little tale, woven into history yet standing alone as a snippet of a time and place. Huge amounts of personality, delicious wickedness and humour are part of the weave; as are darker moments during the black plague and its 20th century counterpart during the 1980s with the AIDS crisis.

All the cleverness, compassion, giggle-out-loud-at-the-cafe quirks are turned into double delights with Janet Anderton’s illustration: the orchids, bees, coins, singed manuscripts and strange paraphernalia, and glimpses of hands, mouths, eyes in each setting highlighting elements of and adding dimensions to each story.

In short, A Question of Time is small and perfectly formed, the delights of the text enhanced by the charms of the illustrations, and if you like your Holmes and Watson to be in love, no matter where in time they exist, you’ll get 50 little hits of joy.

Buy A Question of Time

Dublin WorldCon Ghost stories – “Jane” by Narrelle M Harris

I had a blast reading an extract from my ghost story “Jane” at the Irish Ghost Stories panel at Worldcon tonight. Huge thanks to the fantastic Dr Jack Fennell who invited me to participate, and my fellow panellists.

“Jane” won the ‘Body in the Library’ award at the 2017 Scarlet Stiletto awards, and was published in Scarlet Stiletto: The Ninth Cut 2017.

A big shout out to all the people who came to me after the panel to ask how the story ends: you can get it in The Ninth Cut anthology, but the award sponsor, Melbourne’s Athenaeum Library, also has it online.

Q&As from the Scar Tissue Launch

Narrelle M Harris Q&A

I recently held an online launch for my collection Scar Tissue and Other Stories. Part of the launch involved me answering questions, so I thought I’d share that Q&A here for anyone who missed it!

George asked: Will there be a third book for Gary and Lissa?

Yes there will! Once I’ve finished editing my latest Duo Ex Machina novella (which is being serialised on my Patreon) I’ll be writing the third book in the Vampires of Melbourne series!

Question as an image

The working title is “Beyond Redemption” and when it’s done, Clan Destine Press will be re-releasing The Opposite of Life (which is out of print, but I have the rights back for it now) and Walking Shadows with a matching set of covers!

Scar Tissue contains a story set after the end of Walking Shadows: “Bad Night at Bite Club”.

Margaret asked: Will there be more adventures in Australia for Holmes and Watson?

The Holmes and Watson from The Adventure of the Colonial Boy appear in the Scar Tissue story “The Beekeeper’s Children”. I would like to write a short story collection for them, but as a project that is at the back of the queue for now.

I am considering writing a modern Australian alternative universe series for them in my Patreon when the Duo Ex Machina novellas are finished next year, riffing off my short story from The Baker Street Irregulars: The Game is Afoot where are a pair of Aussie hipsters running, solving mysteries while they run a cafe called The Sign of Four. Does that count?

Sally F asked me if I ever put people I dislike into my books and then killed them off. πŸ™‚

I never put people I dislike into my books. If I don’t like them, I don’t want to spend more time with them in my head if I can avoid it!

Instead, I put people I like into my books – sometimes just as a set of background characters, sometimes in minor roles, sometimes in more prominent roles. I do sometimes kill them off too, but usually I give them warning and make sure they’re okay with it.

My out of print Witch Honour and Witch Faith books have lead characters inspired by two close friends. (Sylvia and Leenan become their own people, but they have real people roots!)

A friend I worked with at World Vision was a dead body in The Opposite of Life. (She gave Enthusiastic Consent for that :D) Gary the Vampire is kind of based on every nice geekboy I’ve ever known.

Other people have been in the background (walking their dog on the beach; laughing together at a far table in a cafe; that sort of thing).

Maybe I should make it a Patreon Reward – to become a character in a story I’m writing.

Sally F also asked “Do you think you are on ASIO’s watch list from researching anything odd for your stories?”

My running joke is that ASIO keeps two lists: one of dodgy individuals with criminal leanings and writers. When they get a ping about someone researching murder, how to hide the bodies, explosives, detailed building layouts and schematics for aeroplanes and trains, they first check to see if the Googler is on the Author list (and maybe bookmark to see what novel results a year down the track).

I’ll be very disappointed if I’m not on the ASIO Writers to Watch For list purely on the strength of my research for crimes for Sherlock Holmes stories.

You know who is stalking me though? Google ads. And some of the ads that come up for me on the strength of writing some of my stories is HILARIOUS.

KRin asked “Has a story idea ever stopped you in your tracks and you had to write it down then and there?

The answer is “all the bloody time”. My phone is full of ideas and bits of prose and dialogue I’ve emailed to myself, and I always carry a notebook (or three) into which I scribble down ideas.

Because of course the time when I am most likely to come up with an interesting new concept or resolve a plot problem or think of some really sparky dialogue is when I’m walking or in the shower or in bed, rather than in front of the computer. So I leap up, scribble things down and hope it’s still legible when I got to type it up.

Robin asked “How do you dream up your characters?”

My characters come from a variety of sources, but a lot just seem to manifest themselves. I’m sure they spring from somewhere that I just haven’t worked out how to articulate.

Some of course are inspired by fictional characters, and very directly too – my versions of Holmes and Watson are obviously derived from Arthur Conan Doyle and have elements of the Granada Holmes & Watson too – but I’m often writing romances with them, so I try to work from the source material that I then extrapolate from to create the Victorian-era men in love, or the modern-era versions.

A few are inspired by people I know personally, though there it’s more that I might be inspired by a facet or two, rather than inserting them wholesale (see my answer to Sally’s question about putting people I know into my books.)

Some are inspired by other fictional characters I’ve liked (me and Lois McMaster Bujold both cherry picked some personalities from Blake’s 7).

Often, however, the concept that I want to explore in a story readily suggests the personality type that will be involved to help tell it, and the other kinds of characters they need around them to create balance, conflict and drama. The characters evolve within that context, so I may begin with particular “types” but then they grow.

When I was writing Kitty and Cadaver, I initially plotted about half of it then only sketched out the rest. I had to write the first half before completing the plotting – because I had to get to know everyone better before I knew how they’d respond to all their troubles. Once I knew who they were, it was easy to plot the rest of the book with each of them behaving in character.

KRin asked “What is your favourite colour?”

…which should be an easy one but it turns out, no. I will not make this easy.

I suppose the short answer might be ‘red’ but I like it in combination with black. and jade green. But I love that brilliant peacock blue too. Also rich purples.

I’m not a huge fan of yellows and oranges in my clothing because they make me look jaundiced, but a glorious buttercup yellow or bright burnt orange? Gorgeous.

I should have gone with the answer Janet MacLeod once gave: “My favourite colour is shiny!”

Robert asked “What’s your favourite story in the collection? Why?”

This could be like the ‘what’s your favourite colour’ question, or possibly make me howl DON’T MAKE ME CHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSE.

I mean, I loved getting back to Gary the vampire for “Bad Night at Bite Club”, and it’s primed me for getting to work on the 3rd of the Vampires of Melbourne series. It made me happy to write Ravenfall‘s James and Gabriel again in “Shadow at my Shoulder” – I’d really like to write another novel with them some time.

I think of the long stories, maybe “The Beekeeper’s Children” is my favourite – Holmes and Watson (from The Adventure of the Colonial Boy) in a loving relationship, in retirement in Sussex – but Sherlock is off in danger, John is caring for the bees (and reading the oblique love notes Sherlock has left for him) and also caring for two young men who are negotiating love as well as trauma.

Of the super short stories I have a soft spot for “Long Live the King” because I feel Richard III has been given a rough deal by history, but my favourite is “Plot Bunny” because of the juxtaposition between the sweet little toy bunny and its murderous intent.

But otherwise, don’t make me choose – they are all my favourite.


Scar Tissue and Other Stories is available in paperback and ebook directly from the publisher, Clan Destine Press, as well as the usual online sellers: Amazon, Kobo, Booktopia etc.

Cover Reveal: War of the Worlds – Battleground Australia

I am absolutely thrilled to be able to share with you the cover for the upcoming anthology, War of the Worlds: Battleground Australia, featuring sixteen stories by some fantastic Australian and New Zealand SF, crime and spec-fic writers!

Battleground Australia was conceived and edited by Horror Australis – the collective moniker for Steve Proposch, Christopher Sequeira and Bryce Stevens – and explores how the Martian invasion first imagined by HG Wells affected the other side of the world!

Movie director Alex Proyas (The Crow, I Robot, Gods of Egypt) has written and introduction and the stories are illustrated by Jan Scherpenhuizen and Sholto Turner.

War of the Worlds: Battleground Australia will be released in hard cover, paperback and eBook.

The stories, set in Australia of the past, present and future, are by Kerry Greenwood, Carmel Bird, Jack Dann, Janeen Webb, Sean Williams, Angela Meyer, Lindy Cameron, Jenny Valentish, Narrelle M Harris, Lucy Sussex, Rick Kennett, Jason Franks, Dmetri Kakmi, Bill Congreve, Jason Fischer, and Kaaron Warren.

Continuum 15: soft launch

The book will be soft launched at Melbourne’s Continuum 15: Other Worldson Saturday June 8.

As this launch is open only to convention attendees, a public launch will be held at a later date. Stay tuned!