Story at Clarkesworld

I have a new story at Clarkesworld. “Born Outside” mixes pandemic, alien invasion and ecology themes. There is child illness and death.

Story Link:

I often include a few story notes when I have a new story out. In this case, the story notes are life notes. I caught COVID-19 in February, 2020. That was the end of writing for a bit. I had a couple of stories published after that, but they were both written and sold before.

It’s interesting that discussion keeps coming up about a lack of pandemic stories, whether directly about the one we’re in, or just in a general way. But people are vastly underestimating how many writers were hit by it. Including such themes isn’t going to happen when nothing is being written. In the case of older contemporary series, many will be set before that time, and continue on from their chosen time period. Assuming the author can still write.

Anyway, I’ve never really been a denial sort of person. So this is a little bit pandemic (in a general way), but nothing is ever only one thing. Ecosystems adapt, including the people within them. Things about the housing, woods and school are based on things from my past and present. I still live in the area with the broken roads covered in weeds.

The first draft of this story was written at the end of 2023. It sold a little over four years since I first got sick. It’s been a long journey to get here. But for now, I’m still alive, and here’s a picture of some tulips.

A field of colourful tulips. Full description below.

Image Caption: A field of tulips at Keukenhof Gardens in The Netherlands. They are planted in clusters. Plain pink at the front, white and red stripes in the middle, yellow a bit behind, and then red at the back. A small variety marker sign is visible near the back, but the writing is too small to read.

The Flower – John Light (author), Lisa Evans (illustrator)

The Flower CoverFirst Published: 1st April, 2006
Genre: Children’s Dystopian / Picture Book
Available: | Amazon UK | Child’s Play

Brigg is a child living in a grey city. He works at the library, where he finds a book he isn’t supposed to read. It’s filled with pictures of flowers, which he hasn’t seen before. If only he could find a flower in the city.

Dystopian futures are tricky to condense for picture books, as there’s not a lot of space to explain what’s going on, and early readers may not be familiar with the tropes of the genre. This book does a good job of tackling that issue. There are many small details, like Brigg having a job and living alone rather than with parents. Brigg has never seen flowers before, and doesn’t recognise a seed packet or understand how plants grow.

It focuses on a personal act of revolution, rather than trying to overthrow the system. Brigg can’t change how the city runs, but he can try to grow a flower. The theme of finding a point of happiness when the world seems bleak will resonate with children going through tough times.

There’s also a suggestion of post-apocalyptic themes, with the environment changing so there aren’t any plants in the city. It takes something pretty major to kill off all the weeds.

The art reinforces the story, by showing the city as a dull grey place. Brigg is shown walking the other way to everyone else, or sitting apart from other children, highlighting how out-of-place he feels. His room is very plain, with few personal items. Once the flower appears, it’s a point of colour and life in an otherwise dull environment.

I wasn’t sure whether Brigg was intended to be mixed race. The art style has everyone with very lightly shaded skin, making it rather ambiguous. He also has somewhat European facial features. But his hair texture suggests black ancestry. So, I personally saw him as mixed race when I read it, whether or not that was intended.

This is an enjoyable book that packs a lot into very few words. It touches on things like feeling alone, environmental issues and book censorship. It’s an accessible introduction to dystopian fiction for younger children, with darkly whimsical artwork.

English Wild Flowers in Spring (Photos)

These are some photographs of the flowers in bloom in my local woodland (South England). I’ve been practising with my new camera, which allows closeups. So I went and invaded some floral personal spaces.

Wood Anemone

Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa) – It was a cold and dimly lit morning, so most of them had their flowers closed. The woods are currently awash with wood anemones. I used to call them ‘Wooden Emilys’ when I was little. It’s a hard word…


Lesser Celendine (Ranunculus ficaria) – Celendines can often be found growing among the wood anemones.


Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) – Most of the bluebells haven’t flowered yet, but a few have come through in sheltered areas.

White Flower

Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea) – These white flowers grow in a few sheltered spots.


Wild Violet (Viola riviniana) – A few wild violets are flowering, though there will be more later in the year. They’re small plants, so they’re easily missed. They’re my favourite of the woodland flowers.


Daffodil (Narcissus spp. ) – A cultivated variety of a native wild flower. The graveyard in the woods has many daffodils.