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Interview: Marc Laidlaw on “The Ghost Penny Post”

– Tell us a bit about “The Ghost Penny Post.”

One of my favorite writers, Anthony Trollope, is beloved for his novels, but what seems to have mattered to him most was his career with the Post Office. He spent his life in the civil service, writing his books on the side, and at one point was ready to give them up in order to secure a promotion–which indicates which occupation he considered more important. “The Ghost Penny Post” is the second story I’ve written that owes such a clear debt to Trollope, the other being “The Vicar of R’lyeh.” It just occurred to me that, oddly enough, both stories are about games.


– What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I got into the game industry in the late ’90s, when massively multiplayer online role playing games were spreading as fast as the internet. MMOs were new, I had never played any sort of RPG, and I was thinking a lot about all types of storytelling, new and old. I started wondering what would have happened if the Bronte Sisters, for instance, had come up with an RPG. How would one make an MMO in an age without the internet? Imagination was not the limiting factor so much as technology. A game designer in any age would exploit the available technology to involve people in their game. I always figured the story would have the plot of a detective story, but starting with a murder seemed too heavy for the airy tale I wanted to tell…and I could never figure out what kind of crime might bring an inspector, and how they would go about discovering what was really afoot in the remote English village where I pictured the story unfolding. I thought about this story for so long without writing it, that I figured I never would. But an invitation to write a story for a video game anthology spurred me to give it a try. That was when I went back to Trollope, and hit upon the idea of following a more ordinary fellow, a civil servant, instead of a colorful detective. (Although the detective still ended up coming along as a kind of foil for the boring guy.) When I finished the tale, it was obvious that there was no video aspect, so it didn’t suit the anthology’s theme except in the most tenuous sense. But even so, it was the story I’d always wanted to write, and I was grateful to finally have found the excuse I needed to get me going.


– What are you working on now?

I am taking a break from the game industry, working on fiction again, trying to figure out which ideas are still worth developing. I’ve put some off for so long that they’re dead but they still don’t know it yet. One or two other notions are starting to come into focus. Of interest to F&SF readers, I’ve got another Gorlen Vizenfirthe story underway. I am also planning to get my old novels and stories digitized so I can make them available as ebooks, or on my website,


– Anything else you’d like to add?

My latest publication is a novella, a horror story called White Spawn, printed up as a beautiful chapbook by PS Publishing. It’s also available in various electronic editions, including Kindle. More can be found about it here:


“The Ghost Penny Post” appears in the March/April 2016 issue of F&SF.

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