The Evolution Of The Split Worlds Novels + A New Split Worlds Short Story
Almost three years ago to the day I woke up one morning with a story in my head. It was one of those rare occasions when the flash (1000 words or less) I needed to post that Friday was waiting there in my brain, fully formed. I posted it on my blog for the Friday Flash community and ran out of the door to an appointment.
It was a simple tale about a woman in a shop making a complaint about a product; a faerie trapped in a bell jar. There are no instructions, she tells the shopkeeper, and having found the address on the package’s label she asks for an explanation. The Shopkeeper of the Emporium of Things in Between and Besides realises his hopeless delivery boy has accidentally delivered a real faerie to a mundane’s house and is faced with a dilemma; turn her to dust or deal with her more kindly. He decides to use a Charm to wipe her recent memory and guides her back onto the high street with a fruit cake recipe and a kindly word.
When I got back later that day there were more comments than usual and it seemed to have appealed to my readers. I had an idea for a follow-up and then stumbled into writing a weekly serial for several months before realising what I had actually been doing; building the world for a series of urban fantasy novels. I ran a short role-playing game set in it too, just to flesh out some story ideas and characters and that was it; the Split Worlds was born.
Eighteen months after writing that first story I secured funding to write the series full-time and self-publish the Split Worlds novels. I decided to release a story set in the Split Worlds every week for a year and day (because that’s my favourite fairytale-esque time span) but a few months in Angry Robot bought the Split Worlds series. That was brilliant, unplanned and the best thing since gluten-free pizza. I paused the weekly stories for a few months whilst contract negotiations and all that stuff was sorted out and then carried on as I had planned.
I decided to write the stories for a number of reasons: 1) I’m mad and when I get an idea in my head I don’t have the sense to say no. 2) It’s a way to world-build and seed Easter eggs, secrets, tiny little clues for novel plots and stuff for planned live gaming events all at the same time and 3) I hoped that it would help to build some interest in the series before it was published, each story being a little taste of the people, places and problems found in the Split Worlds.
But what I really wanted to do with these stories is give something to people who love the little details. I heard someone say recently that life is all about the moments. I think that fictional worlds are all about the tiny details, the little things that may not be noticed the first time we read a book or watch a film. When we know the story and look back and see something in the background which makes that world deeper and richer – that really excites me. My hope is that people who read the stories and then read the books will get a thrill when a character mentions something in passing and they know what really happened. People can read the books without the stories of course, I just like to think that if they went to find the stories afterwards they’d get the same kick from learning some of the details behind what they’ve read.
Which brings us to this week. The story below is the forty-ninth released since the Split Worlds project was launched. Two of the characters in this story are also in Between Two Thorns, the first Split Worlds novel being released in the UK on the 7th of March (cue hyperventilating). Both this story and the novel are set in Aquae Sulis, the secret magical reflection of the city of Bath. Claudia, the Censor, is one of the most powerful people in the city, able to grant or deny a person entry to the city and determine their social status once arrived. I hope that if you go on to read the book, this story may make you feel that secret thrill when you meet her again.
If you’d prefer to listen to the story, there’s an audio version here.
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Aquae Sulis, 2010
Half an hour into the soiree the last guests arrived in a flurry of silk and satin. Claudia saw the white powder crease between her brother’s eyebrows as they passed.
“Darling,” he leaned closer to her, covering his mouth with a lace-edged handkerchief. “Please could you explain why Mr and Mrs Ranunculus are here. I don’t recall seeing any Buttercups on the ‘approved’ list.”
“A last minute addition, darling. It’s a long and frightfully boring story.” She took hold of his hand and kissed the back of it. “I thought they would be a refreshing change.”
He pursed his lips. “The only thing I wanted to be refreshing today is my tea, not those permitted into our first soiree of the season. Besides, I heard that Tarquin Ranunculus is cursed.”
“The only thing he’s cursed with is being a bore. His poor wife is very sweet and, darling, it will be rather fun watching everyone else try to find out why they’re here without being able to ask.”
Richard sniffed and then kissed her on the cheek. “I trust you, sweetling, and you are the Censor, not I. But one would appreciate the opportunity to find something devilish to spread about them beforehand. I’ll have to make a comment or two about curses near Tarquin and see how he reacts.” He offered her his arm. “Shall we?”
They entered the ballroom and the dancing began. Claudia kept an eye on the Buttercups as she waltzed with the latest batch of hopefuls planning to woo her over the season. Their attempts at flattery were so tedious she only managed five dances before deciding she had to have a drink. The fact that Louisa Ranunculus was standing next to the punch bowl was more than a happy coincidence.
The Buttercup curtseyed too deeply but Claudia pitied her; she was out of her depth, having had the misfortune of being married into one of the least popular Londinium families. No doubt she was afraid of making a mistake and being ejected from the city before the end of the evening.
“How are you enjoying the soiree?”
“Oh very much, Lady Censor, I’m so delighted to be here. Thank you for inviting us.”
“It can get rather warm in here,” Claudia said, tapping her left ear with her fan with a glance at the idiotic Peonia across the room to indicate she had no desire to dance with him. “Would you like to see the gardens? There’s a beautiful view from the drawing room.”
Louisa understood what she really wanted to do and accepted the invitation. Claudia noted the way most of the people in the room watched them leave, imagining the wash of whispers they would leave in their wake.
The drawing room had not yet been appropriated by lovers desperate for privacy; it was too early in the evening. Claudia shut the door and led Louisa to the window.
“I understand the Duchess of Londinium is hoping to obtain a certain novel in the next week or so.” With anyone of higher social standing she would have approached the topic obliquely, leading the conversational minuet in wide circles before closing in on the true subject she wished to discuss. She suspected Louisa would appreciate a more direct approach.
“She’s very keen to acquire it, Lady Censor. I’ve had no less than ten letters from her on the subject.”
“I’m told she has an eye for the talented and a voracious appetite…. for the arts.”
They shared a smile, both knowing how voluptuous the Duchess’ appetite had made her.
“I should imagine she’ll receive delivery tomorrow,” Louisa said. “Unless…”
Claudia repressed a laugh. She was so clumsy, so obvious. It was like speaking to her hopeless niece.
“If I were to offer you the best guest residence in Aquae Sulis for the season, would you be willing to give it to me?”
Louisa’s eyebrows twitched upwards, revealing how much she wanted it. “Well… I would risk insulting the Duchess. There’s only one novel produced a year, as you know.”
So she was willing to bargain. “Perhaps if I saw it, I would make a more generous offer.”
Louisa pulled back the thick curtain, revealing the mists of the Nether and a carriage waiting further back from the others, as had been arranged. She nodded to the footman and in less than a minute he arrived with a large bundle of red velvet.
Under Louisa’s instruction, the man placed it carefully on a nearby table and stood to attention, close enough to indicate he would be able to snatch it away at a moment’s notice. Louisa unwrapped the velvet reverently, revealing a leather bound book that wouldn’t look out of place in the library of any grand house.
“Feel free to open it,” she said. “But may I respectfully advise you to look at only one page, Lady Censor, considering you are not alone.”
Claudia actually felt a spark of excitement as she approached the book. She’d heard so many rumours and it had taken years to discover the truth. She opened the bound tome and, instead of the expected smell of old paper and ink, caught a whiff of sea spray and wet sand. Her breath caught in her throat as she read the first line and heard the roar of waves and felt the warmth of summer sunshine on her face for the first time in over two hundred years.
“Claudia,” a man’s voice seemed to float up from the pages. “I’ve been waiting so long for you. Look to the horizon. That ship and its crew are mine and so are you.”
She gasped as she felt stubble against her chin and smelt the musky, salty smell of a man who-
There was a thud as the book was closed and she found herself in the drawing room she’d never left. Her chest was heaving up and down as her body struggled to manage the rush of lust.
“Oh my…” she managed to say as the book was wrapped in velvet once more. “A book about… the sea?”
Louisa’s smile was dangerous. “Pirates, Lady Censor, battling for your – the reader’s – affections. It’s my finest yet, I believe.”
There was no way the Duchess of Londinium would ever open a book like that again. “My dear, you will have a permanent residence in Aquae Sulis, with the best staff and the finest chef. And,” she lowered her voice, taking a gamble. “I’ll see that your husband is kept busy… so that you may enjoy all that Aquae Sulis has to offer.”
Louisa was the epitome of delight. “The book is yours, Lady Censor. I’m sure the Duchess will understand you made an offer I couldn’t possibly refuse.”
“I’m sure she will,” Claudia replied. She was more certain the Duchess would understand she’d been outdone. It was almost as exciting a thought as retiring to enjoy the book once the party was over. Alone.
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You can find all of the stories released so far (and sign up to get one a week in your inbox, free, for a year and a day) here.