Ashes in winter

Cry Murder!
in a Small Voice

Cry Murder! in a Small Voice

London, 1603.

Ben Jonson, playwright, poet, satirist ... detective?

Someone is murdering boy players and Jonson, in the way that only Greer Gilman could write him - "Fie, poetastery." - is compelled to investigate.

Cry Murder! in a Small Voice is a dense poetic novella that mesmerizes, horrifies, and fascinates.

It won the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award for best novelette; in her acceptance sppech, Greer said: "Guess I'm scary. Who knew?" (Read more of Greer's accpetance speech)

Published in September 2013 by Small Beer Press saddle-stitched paperback, 978-1-61873-077-0
ebook from Weightless Books, 978-1-61873-078-7
Cover by Kathleen Jennings.

* * *

Guess I'm scary. Who knew?

I was monster angry when I wrote this. That - film Anonymous had just come out, and the media was full of its promoters, saying that the glover's son Shakespeare wasn't privileged enough to be a writer. Here:

"Whoever Shakespeare was, he wasn't a little ordinary yeoman ... I'm quite certain that he was a quite exceptional aristocrat who had to keep totally quiet and needed Shakespeare as cover."

"A little ordinary yeoman." My little Haitian dressmaker. My houseboy.

And that? was Vanessa Redgrave of the Workers Revolutionary Party. As my friend Cathy Butler said, "Scratch a socialist, find an extra from Downton Abbey."

Shirley Jackson would have laughed.

Look around this room, Vanessa. We're all weird.

All of us write.

The Anonymian cult also believes that writers only write about their own quite exceptional lives. One must be a prince to write Hamlet, a vampire to write Dracula -

Let's stake that conceit, shall we?

I myself have been a ghost, now and then, a whole pantheon of vengeful goddesses, a murder of crows - and I love that I get to be Ben Jonson, in all his fury, his fatness, and his honesty. I love playing in his world of players, writing poetry and taking names.

The full speech is in Greer Gilman's LiveJournal.

* * *

"It's about transformation, trauma, and the supernatural; gender, the stage, and the ghosts of history. It's probably no surprise that I adored it. Between the richly realized setting, the clever haunting of the text with the poets and playwrights who loom large in the English tradition, and the stunning prose, I was enamored from the first - and my appreciation didn't dwindle as I kept reading.

"As a whole, Cry Murder! in a Small Voice is a brilliant, small, dense piece of work from a writer playing to great effect with a fascinating set of historical figures. The dualistic structure - a sort of two-faced narrative, a coin-flip of a story - lingers with me, the frightful mystery and the underlying presence in it alike. I wholeheartedly recommend investing some time and effort giving it a read, or two."

Brit Mandelo,

"This goes well beyond mere meticulous research. Gilman pulls us into the milieu with an intense immediacy, as if she had just stepped out of the Globe's tiring-room ... But the real richness here is the language. It is not Shakespeare's language, not Jonson's, but Gilman's own unique and inimitable wordcraft ... This is to savor."

Lois Tilton, in Locus

"...a jewel of a novella...

"Gilman's novella marries narrative to the sensibility of poetry: in language, but also in logic. The logic of poetry relies on the interrelation of symbols and allusions, the unstated - sometimes the unstatable - to give shape and meaning to what is voiced in words. That makes this, for all its brevity, a novella that will reward attention and revisiting: each new reading wrings some fresh connection or different possibility from the words on the pages."

Liz Bourke, in Strange Horizons

"A delight. Greer Gilman's Cry Murder! in a Small Voice is a highly original, thought-provoking and beautifully polished tale; a short story written in a chewy, glistening Jacobethan prose which is entirely the author's invention. ... Its mystery is an afternoon's diversion but its craft is there to be enjoyed with selective and repeated study."


"The Best Book of 2013."

Henry Wessells, The Endless Bookshelf

* * *

An excerpt:

"The Devil is an ass, I do acknowledge it."

- Ben Jonson

Venice, 1604

A coil of scarlet round the sweet boy's neck: swan-white he lay, his whiter smock outspread as snow, his hand - O piteous! - imploring still. Venetia dead. Above her stood her lord and lover, still as if he held the loop of cord. A silence -

Mummery, thought Ben, remembering. The play was trash. Unworthy of the getting up, the less at court. 'Twas tailor-work: a deal of bombast and a farthing lace. And yet these shadows haunted him, foreshadows of an act unseen: the boy, not feigning now; the sullied smock; the cord. The Slip-Knott drew him in, inwove him in a play of shadows; now had tugged him halfway to Byzantium in its service. Enter Posthumus: a player-poet with a hand in Fate. Though he'd a quarrel to his fellow maker, History: that it wanted art. To lay a scene in Venice, helter-skelter! - Bah. The unities - But soft. On stage, the tyrant speaks.