It was Lancashire Day on the 27th November and this year it was marked by the release of Lancashire Stories, an anthology of original tales featuring a new story of mine. It's a scheme put together by a cabal of libraries in and around the fair Red Rose county, and was published by UCLan Publishing. 12,000 copies of this tome now exist and, most thrillingly of all, it is completely free-of-charge. You can wander into most libraries of Lancashire right now and pick up a copy to keep.
I pitched the story idea to the cabal way back in the dying embers of 2021 and was lucky enough to be accepted. I then had a quite brilliant time researching and penning my tale in the early months of 2022, much of it put together while on a mini writing retreat at Gladstones Library in Wales. Just the other evening I gathered with fellow scribes Neil White and Naomi Krüger for the Preston launch event, and we had a wonderful discussion about short fiction, Lancashire, and why we do what what we do.
My tale tells the story of some plucky teenagers fighting power in a Preston of a non-too-distant future. Except this is not the Preston of Earth, but a partially replicated settlement on Mars known as New Preston. The teenagers there are first generation Martians; born and raised on the red planet, where their relationship with Earth is one of longing, mystery and nostalgia for something they've never actually known. Interested in the history of the city that shares their name, they decide to resurrect the Preston Guild, an 800-year-old carnival that takes place in my hometown every 20 years. But those in power are not keen. They'd rather move on from Earth traditions, suspicious of their decadence and freedom. So the Guild is cancelled. At least officially.
Following a bit of research around the projects in place that aim to get us to Mars, my thinking ran like this. Early settlers will soon be keen to distance themselves from Earth and establish a Martian independence. Also, almost all activities on Mars will be aimed at improving the habitation on the planet, from growing crops to sealing towns in domes, from dealing with the radiation to the eventual terraforming of the globe into Earth 2.0. This will likely mean that all schooling of Mars-born children will largely ignore the Humanities and focus much more on the sciences. And yet the humanities will never be quashed - the young people of Mars will still crave music, television, film, and games. As there will be very little of this content created on Mars, most of it will be beamed from Earth. That distant homeworld will show itself as a place of abundance and life, a stark contrast to the dangers and dust and deathliness of the red planet.
This presented a conflict I could explore. The young people of Mars would perhaps come to cherish the rich media and culture and history transmitted from Earth, while the older generation might start getting quite puritanical about it all. In my story, the mayor of New Preston starts to call the place 'Newston' - an alarming sign that he intends to shift his people away from being so Earthbound. The Preston Guild thereby offered a wonderful opportunity to bring these tensions to a melting point and see what happens. To find out exactly what does happen when the combined forces of the determined Cassidy, the trickster Ribble, and the brainy Arkwright take on the sinister mayor Ehlo, you'd have to read the tale itself.
This mini-project has been an absolute joy to work on. It was just what I needed after the epic efforts of the PhD and all that came after it. In contrast to the often labyrinthine and demanding world of academic outputs, this was a neat and self-contained project with research time, a fee, a deadline, and a clear end result. Plus the editorial and publishing team were a dream to work with - special shout-outs to project lead Robin Crawshaw and editor Kathy Webb.
It's left me wondering if there's more to be written about 'Generation Ares' as I've been quietly calling them. Is there a bigger story to tell there? Might this spark of revolution change things on Mars forever...? It's an idea for the pinboard that I might never get to. But I can dare to dream.