Today, in a very special blog post… I’m going to do something I’ve never done on this blog before: post someone else’s fiction. Hell, I don’t even post my own fiction up here that much. I usually wrap it up in an ebook and either sell it or give it away in that format instead.
To be honest, it never occurred to me to do something like this, but then Emma Newman came along. I had the pleasure of meeting Emma — one of my fellow Angry Robot writers — at the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago last Labor Day Weekend. In a lot of ways, the AR crew is like an extended family, and the group of us spent large chunks of the weekend hanging out together swapping publishing war stories and having a fantastic time. So when Emma asked if I’d be willing to put one of her Split Worlds stories up here — set in the same universe as her upcoming urban fantasy trilogy, which launches next month with Between Two Thorns — I only wondered why she hadn’t asked earlier and why I hadn’t thought to offer.
I tried to write a dozen novels last year. Just as ambitious, Emma tackled fifty short stories instead, and she’s still going! Here’s her latest, the fiftieth of the lot.
I’ll let Emma set it up for you.
In 2013 Angry Robot books will be publishing three Split Worlds novels, the first is out in March and 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 fiftieth 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.
This story revisits characters in “The Price of Art” a year after that story takes place. (In case you want to check that one out first!)
The Business of Art
Clive held the hammer in the air, poised to strike as he listened. There was another knock at the door. He swore under his breath and laid the hammer down as quietly as he could.
“Mr Pascoe?” A male voice called. “I know you’re in there, I could hear you down the street.”
“Who is it?”
Clive recognised the voice now; he was the one who’d tried to buy his work. But he’d torn up the cheque and contract and ignored his calls. Why was he there, that day of all days?
He unlocked the door after covering the piece he was working on with a dust sheet. Neugent’s hair was greyer than he remembered but his eyes were the same copper sulphate blue. He smiled and extended a hand which Clive shook.
“It’s the opening day of the exhibition,” Neugent said. “I thought you’d be checking your installations.”
The gnawing anxiety made Clive’s stomach cramp again. “It’s all ready. I know it is.”
Neugent looked at the draped sheet. “Come to work off some nerves?”
“Something like that. Look, it was nothing personal. Before, I mean. I just… it didn’t…”
“Amelia Rose convinced you to sculpt wood,” Neugent said, walking towards the hidden piece. “How has that worked out for you?”
Clive sat on an upturned bucket, tired of pretending. “It’s shit. The whole exhibition, all of it. It’s derivative GCSE art student crap with no convincing narrative between the pieces. But Amelia seemed happy enough.”
“She knows nothing about art,” Neugent said.
“That’s what she says about you,” Clive replied.
“She’s happy with the exhibition, but it’s not because of your work.” Neugent’s hand reached towards the sheet. “She doesn’t care about your career, your development or how you feel.”
“But she’s been funding me for a year!”
“It’s a small price to pay to prevent me offering patronage.” Neugent grasped the cloth and looked at Clive who just shrugged. He pulled it off the unfinished sculpture and let the sheet fall to the floor.
Clive watched the way Neugent touched the metal and the direction his hands moved in. He was following the flow of the piece. He understood what he was trying to capture.
“This is good,” Neugent whispered. “Very good. Steel perfectly balanced between strength and beauty.” His blue eyes were brilliant against the grey metal. “You can’t deny this is your calling. You come here and make this when you should be preparing for your opening night — that says everything.”
“I know,” Clive let his head rest on his hands. “I’m screwed. She’ll go mental if she—”
“Have you eaten?”
“Let’s go and eat.” Neugent headed for the door. “Talk things over. No pressure, no obligations, just lunch. I’ll buy.”
There was a limousine outside. Clive climbed inside wearing his overalls, worrying he would mark the cream leather seats. He only had boxer shorts on underneath and no other clothes at the workshop. The walnut veneer reminded him of the dreaded exhibition.
Neugent offered him a drink and he declined. The limousine moved off and Clive stared out at the grimy streets. This was where he belonged, not the sunny studio in Richmond that Amelia had given him. He needed to be in east London, somewhere that still remembered industry and hard work and didn’t mind the hammering.
“She said you’d burn me out,” he told Neugent as they left the streets he knew. “That you valued money more than art. I suppose I thought I’d be selling out if I went with your offer.”
“Rose is very persuasive,” Neugent replied. “Do you regret it?”
Clive looked down at the black under his fingernails. Nothing felt so good as when he was working the metal. “Yeah. The splinters suck.”
Neugent reflected his smirk but said nothing. Was he going to make the offer again? If he did, what would Amelia say? She could destroy his artistic reputation. But then his own exhibition was about to do that anyway.
He looked back out of the window and waited for Neugent to say something but the minutes passed in silence. What was he doing getting into some bloke’s limo? How had he got so—
They were driving down a familiar street and the car was slowing down. They passed the gallery and parked only metres away, making his stomach churn. The gallery’s owner was outside with a woman in a suit holding a clipboard. The owner was pale and clearly distressed.
“Who’s that woman?” he asked Neugent as they watched through the rear window.
“Health and Safety,” he replied. “What a day to have a surprise inspection.” Neugent pointed at the alleyway running down the side of the gallery. The securing bolts at the top of the metal fire escape had failed and it was leaning away from the building.
A piece of paper was pulled from the clipboard and handed to the owner who scrunched it up and shouted something at the inspector as she left. Clive looked away, not sure whether to feel relieved or not. The exhibition would have to be cancelled, but did he want to be in a car with someone prepared to sabotage another person’s livelihood?
“It looks like you’ll have some time to reflect upon your career,” Neugent said. “If you want to pull out all together I can help with the legal side of things. The gallery hasn’t provided a space so they’re in breach of contract.”
“But what about Amelia?”
“I’m sure a solution can be found.”
Clive sighed. “This isn’t the first time this has happened, is it?”
Neugent smiled. “No. And it won’t be the last. She’ll know it’s nothing personal. You have to consider what’s best for you and your career now. We can talk about it over lunch.”
Clive nodded. He wasn’t going to disagree whilst sitting in his car.
The gallery owner walked to the alley, his back to the limo as he looked up at the fire escape. “What about him though?” Clive asked. “He’s a nice guy. It doesn’t seem fair.”
Neugent pressed the button to open the window an inch and then got out of the car. “Is this the right place for the Pascoe exhibition opening tonight?”
“It would be,” the owner pointed at the fire escape. “It’s going to be delayed.”
Neugent reached into his pocket. “If you need any help, I run a company that can manage communications in difficult circumstances.” He handed the owner a business card. “PinPR.com. We can help.”
“Smooth,” Clive said when Neugent got back in. “You may get a client out of today as well as a pet artist.”
“Art is art, Mr Pascoe,” Neugent said as he closed the window. “And business is business.”
Thanks for hosting, Matt! By the way, there’s a prize draw for those who pre-order Between Two Thorns and information on launch events here.