“When Mastered, a Graceful Accomplishment”

Bicycles & Broomsticks, the ninth volume in Elly Blue’s Bikes in Space series, is now out in the world. (You can buy the paperback or ebook direct from the publisher or your favored retailer.) I’m very proud that my historical fantasy “When Mastered, a Graceful Accomplishment” is part of the table of contents.

I had a lot of fun writing this story. I wanted to play around with material culture (clothing, as well as bicycles) and with an imagined eclectic English witchcraft emerging alongside occultism, before Gerald Gardner’s Wicca or Margaret Murray’s witch-cult hypothesis. It also became a #MeToo story, possibly related to a public discussion of Shitty Men in SFF that was happening during the submission call.

Of those elements, I had the weakest grasp on the development of the bicycle, so I went down a bit of a research rabbit hole. I discovered the Victorian subgenre of the cycling romance, stories that both capitalized on the popularity of bicycling and made it more socially acceptable. The fictional Miss Anastasia Welsh referenced by my story’s protagonist comes from the Catherine Adams story “A Romance of Four Wheels,” published in The Strand in 1897. I recommend Eva Chen’s article “”The Hate That Changed”: Cycling Romance and the Aestheticization of Women Cyclists” for an academic discussion of the subgenre.

Ink drawing of a woman in Victorian dress bicycling, with a cottage and a gentleman on the side of the road beside his own bicycle
Illustration of “A Romance of Four Wheels,” Paul Hardy (public domain)

I’d also like to point interested readers in the direction of The Victorian Cyclist, a blog by social historian Will Manners. It’s a great public history project full of tidbits from Manners’s research. The title of the story comes courtesy of one of the posts, which discusses an 1890s article quoting a number of prominent individuals’ opinions on whether women should cycle.

You ask my opinion on ‘cycling for women’. I think it is a healthy exercise, and, when mastered, a graceful accomplishment. It is certainly exhilarating, and useful for developing self-reliance and dexterity. If, as some schools of medicine hold, the physical perfection and nervous dexterity of our limbs react favourably on our intellect and moral character, then cycling must have a high educational value.

George Wyndham, M.P. in Hearth and Home, 1896
Cover of Bicycles & Broomsticks
Cover art by Gerta O. Egy

This is the third time I’ve been part of a Kickstarter-funded project (Community of Magic Pens and In Somnio are the others), and there is something exciting, affirming, and extremely anxiety-inducing about watching the pledges tick upward. I do not think I would enjoy running a crowdfunding campaign at all, but I am happy with this degree of involvement and grateful to the backers who thought the project sounded cool.

And since this has become a shout-out post, I absolutely want to shout about Rose S. Marshall, an intern at Microcosm who provided fantastic editorial feedback and made “When Mastered, A Graceful Accomplishment” a stronger story. The lead time on these anthologies is not short, but the process has really been a pleasure.

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