Thursday, 12 September 2013

Return of the Scarlet Empress



There's a wonderful blog piece today by Daniel Tessier about my book, 'Doctor Who - The Scarlet Empress.' This month it's fifteen years exactly since my first Who book was published. (C'mon BBC Books / Ebury - where's the E-Book..?!)

Iris's anniversary is being celebrated elsewhere by a fourth season of audio adventures from www.bigfinish.com and a new anthology of a short stories from www.obversebooks.co.uk.

But today I thought I'd mark the moment by posting an excerpt on my blog from one of my recent novels featuring Iris Wildthyme, 'Wildthyme Beyond!', which Snowbooks published last year. Like its 2011 predecessor, this novel features a return to the wild, perplexing world of Hyspero - as fans of 'The Scarlet Empress' might be interested to learn...

(The conceptual artwork for Iris' bus is completely nicked from the internet. If it's yours - let me know!)





She was the oldest - therefore the smallest and the most obscure - Empress of Hyspero.

Her reign had been so long ago that hardly anyone remembered it. There were monuments to her everywhere, including within the Scarlet Palace itself, but no one ever thought about Euphemia much any more.

Certainly no one thought she was still alive.

But I am, I am! She cackled triumphantly inside her glass jar. Not only am I still alive after so many millennia on this world, I’m currently sitting at the back of a double decker bus on a road trip across the inhospitable sands of Hyspero!

Never in her previous life had she travelled so widely. Reigning Empresses had a rather dull time of it, actually. They crouched inside their jars in the throne room and various supplicants and officials would shuffle in to ask them things and whatnot. No one ever thought of the Empress as a real being inside her glorious jar, no one really thought of her as a woman. It was a dreadful life, really. And then, at the end of it, they took out your withered, exhausted body and crammed it into a different, much smaller jar. They took you down into the labyrinths beneath the palace and stored you away like winter fruits in the furthest, driest corner they could find.

Euphemia had lived there for many thousands of years, seething with boredom and a horrible feeling of betrayal. She had watched the internment of the Empresses who had followed in her path, and she saw them installed in their own hidden niches. Dozens and dozens of Scarlet Empresses, long past their sell-by dates.

Out of all of them, it was the original who had kept her marbles and her wits most about her. While the others sunk into misery and inactivity Euphemia managed to keep that spark of life glowing inside her. Somehow she always knew this wasn’t the end for her.

And one day she was proved right, because she was rescued from that subterranean obscurity.

A thief stole into the passageways beneath the palace. Euphemia was aware of him at once. A man! There was a man down here! Her mind came alive with possibilities. She used her mental powers to reach out and investigate this terrible thief… he probed the gloom and tip-toed towards her, intent on stashing her away in his bag. She was secretly thrilled and longing for the touch of his hands on the glass jar that contained her…

And this was the way she had been set free upon the universe once more. So long after she was meant to have died.

After that there were all sorts of complicated events to do with being taken to a distant world called Earth, and ending up in the hands of a young man who had inherited a bookshop. And Euphemia had passed into the hands of the members of a secret Earthling society known as MIAOW. And then she had been ineluctably drawn into the orbit of a space and time traveller known as Iris Wildthyme.

It was her bus that Euphemia was now travelling aboard, feeling much happier than she had in ages. Also, she was in the care of a youngish, rather snappy woman called Jenny. There were other companions too, all of whom Euphemia found more or less interesting, including Simon, the said owner of the book shop, Barbra - a kind of living machine, and Iris Wildthyme herself, who seemed a rather difficult figure to pin down. Sometimes she was incredibly happy and excited at the prospect of traversing the face of Hyspero in her bus, and other times she went off in the most incredible sulks about it all.

Euphemia sat in her jar and mulled it all over. Occasionally she would issue out through the lid and manifest herself fully, into her favourite form – a kind of very glamorous dwarf. She liked to do this in order to feel fully part of the quest.

Oh yes, it was a quest they were on. And Euphemia was quite glad to hear that she was at the heart of it.

So far they had skimmed across the forest floors in some region or other Euphemia had never heard of. They had navigated a murky and terrible swamp inhabited by uncouth reptiles she had never come across before. There had been some kind of ravine thing that the bus had to be carefully driven through and everyone had had to pipe right down in case a single sound dislodged a deadly avalanche. And now they were in the blazing desert, driving through the day and camping at night. Iris spent long hours consulting maps, charts and her single remaining volume of her diaries and her friends did the best they could. Barbra the machine jollied everyone along, in a way the Empress Euphemia found grating to her nerves. She was tired of being offered something called ‘crisps’ and ‘pop.’

The Empress got the idea that they were taking her back to the City of Hyspero. At least she thought that’s what they were intending. Her memory had become slightly fuddled recently – probably something to do with the time she was spending jumping in and out of the jar. It might be bad for her – so used to seclusion – to be as active as this, but she didn’t care. Yes, the idea, surely, was to return her to the palace and the city she herself had created… and there to… and there she must…

No. No use. She couldn’t remember. She didn’t know why it was so essential she return. It was a troubling thought, too… the very idea of going back to that place and possibly being taken far underground again, back to her dusty shelf. Why, it hardly seemed any time at all since she had been liberated by that thief – that fabled man with two plastic arms – and she was loathe to give up that freedom now.

Euphemia had fallen into the hands of travellers. She was in the company of adventurers. She wanted to tell them – I’m happy like this! I’m content to stay on the road with you forever! Please don’t take me home! Not yet… please! Let me stay with you, aboard this double decker bus…!






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