John Whitbourn

John Whitbourn (born 1958) is an English author of novels and short stories focusing on alternative histories set in a 'Catholic' universe. His works are characterised by wry humour, the reality of magic and a sustained attempt to reflect on the interaction between religion and politics on a personal and social scale. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) says he 'writes well, with dry wit'.


Whitbourn is an archaeology graduate and published author since 1987. His first book, A Dangerous Energy, won the BBC/Victor Gollancz Fantasy Novel Prize (judged by, amongst others, Terry Pratchett) in 1991. In 1562, Elizabeth I suffered from a near-fatal bout of smallpox. In reality she recovered, but that did not occur in the world of A Dangerous Energy and its sequels. Instead, Elizabeth I died from that infection, and her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, succeeded to the English throne, leading to a second and permanent Catholic Counter Reformation in England and Scotland.

A Dangerous Energy was reviewed as "the first Counter-Reformation science fiction novel", and To Build Jerusalem (1995) furthered the story of that particular alternate history. The Two Confessions, a third and concluding book in the loosely linked series (belatedly revealed by the author to be The Pevensey Trilogy), was published in 2013.

Whereas A Dangerous Energy focussed on the Church, and To Build Jerusalem on ‘high politics’, The Two Confessions concerns events in the life of a young would-be industrialist and entrepreneur. Chafing against the reactionary constraints of his civilisation, he stumbles upon a deep secret from the past and is commissioned (as an expendable person of ill-repute) to solve the associated centuries-old mystery. Stirred by his actions, events move to a dramatic conclusion between the most powerful forces of the age. The Two Confessions title is also a play on both the sacrament of confession and a clash between two competing ideological ‘confessions’.

Popes and Phantoms (1993) followed the success of A Dangerous Energy and featured the stoic and somewhat chilly ‘Admiral Slovo’ (a family name often favoured in Whitbourn's works) blazing a trail across the Italian Renaissance – albeit Whitbourn's idiosyncratic and wildly skewed alternate history version of same. Many of the prominent figures of the time are met within and influenced (not always for the better) by their encounter with Slovo. Popes and Phantoms was also published in Russia by Mir Fantastiki.

At the same time Whitbourn has published a steady stream of short stories, including the extensive Binscombe Tales[1] series of supernatural stories set in his ancestral homeland. They were published in two volume collected form as Binscombe Tales – Sinister Saxon Stories and More Binscombe Tales – Sinister Sutangli Stories by Ash-Tree Press in 1998 and 1999, and reissued in ebook and print editions by Spark Furnace Books[2] in 2011.

His fifth book, The Royal Changeling, (described as the first work of Jacobite propaganda for several centuries) was published in 1998 by Simon & Schuster's Earthlight imprint. The book recounts the Monmouth Rebellion and Battle of Sedgemoor (1685) accurately and in great detail, while adding a layer of fantasy that brings figures from English mythology to life as both combatants and political forces. The fantasy layer builds momentum and becomes increasingly vivid as the story of the protagonist, Theophilus Oglethorpe, unfolds. Toward the end, as Theophilus engages in pitched battle with Monmouth and his allies, his wife, Eleanor, is simultaneously besieged by supernatural forces in their mansion in Godalming, Surrey.

Subsequent years have seen the release by the same company of his trio of books which he insists on calling The Downs-Lord triptych (not "trilogy"), including Downs-Lord Dawn (1999), Downs-Lord Day (2000) and Downs-Lord Doomsday (2002). These depict the adventures of a 17th-century down-at-luck curate who crosses into an alternate Earth where – though all physical features are similar to ours – the hapless local humans are little more than food animals of the monstrous life-form known as Null. He appoints himself their liberator, goes back for 17th century weapons, and manages to defeat the Null (at least in that world's version of the British Isles) and in the process makes himself a God-Emperor. But further complications arise from the interference of a power-hungry 19th Century American professor, extraterrestrial creatures known as "Angels" – which is rather a misnomer – and the exploits of the Emperor's Corps of diplomats who refine Machiavellism to unprecedented subtlety.

Whitbourn's Frankenstein’s Legions, a Steampunk and zombie-fiction tinged extrapolation of Mary Shelley's classic gothic tale, was published in both print and eBook form in 2012.

Whitbourn's Nothing is True… - The First Book of Farouk, was published in 2018. Supposedly ‘divined’ by Whitbourn, and purportedly edited with copious notes by Philip Larkin's long-term lover and muse, Monica Jones (1922-2001), it comprises a fantasy-tinged and highly unreliable alleged autobiography by the infamous playboy-monarch King Farouk I of Egypt (1920-1965). Faithful to the book's title, little (to put it mildly) within is likely to be true. A companion and concluding volume, And Everything is Permissible - The Second Book of Farouk, covering the deposed King's sybaritic European exile, 1952-65, was published in 2019. Its title completes the first book's use of valedictory words attributed to Hassan i Sabbah, twelfth century founder of the Order of Assassins.

Whitbourn's works were reissued in eBook format by Orion Publishing Group Ltd's SF Gateway in 2013.

A rare press interview with Whitbourn in 2000 was entitled Confessions of a Counter-Reformation Green Anarcho-Jacobite.

In 2014 a new housing development in the village of Binscombe, Surrey, was named Whitbourn Mews in honour of the author and his The Binscombe Tales series.

Complete Works


A Dangerous EnergyVictor Gollancz1992 (paperback 1993)
Popes & PhantomsVictor Gollancz1993 (paperback 1994)
To Build JerusalemVictor Gollancz1995 (hardback & paperback)
The Royal ChangelingEarthlight – Simon & Schuster1998
Binscombe Tales – Sinister Saxon Stories (Vol. 1 collected short stories)Ash-Tree Press1998
More Binscombe Tales – Sinister Sutangli Stories (Vol. 2 collected short stories)Ash-Tree Press1999
Downs-Lord Dawn – Vol. 1 The Downs-Lord TriptychEarthlight – Simon & SchusterAugust 1999
Downs-Lord Day – Vol. 2 The Downs-Lord TriptychEarthlight – Simon & SchusterDecember 2000
Downs-Lord Doomsday – Vol. 3 The Downs-Lord TriptychEarthlight – Simon & SchusterFebruary 2002
Frankenstein's LegionsSpark Furnace Books (Kindle edition)2011
The Complete Binscombe Tales (Vols. 1, 2 & 3 collected short stories)Spark Furnace Books (Paperbacks)2011
The Complete Binscombe Tales (Vols. 1 to 6 collected short stories)Spark Furnace Books (Kindle editions)2011
Binscombe Tales – The Complete Series (One volume)Spark Furnace Books (Hardback)2011
That Devil Wilkes! (Play)The PARVUS Press (Kindle edition)2011
Frankenstein's LegionsSpark Furnace Books (Paperback & eBook)2012
The Two ConfessionsSpark Furnace Books (Paperback & Kindle edition)2013
Nothing is True... – The First Book of FaroukThe PARVUS Press (Paperback & Kindle edition)2018
Everything is Permissible – The Second Book of FaroukThe PARVUS Press (Paperback & Kindle edition)2019

Short stories

TitlePublished inPublisherYear
"Waiting for a Bus"Third Book of After Midnight StoriesWilliam Kimber1987
"Roots"Fourth Book of After Midnight StoriesWilliam Kimber1988
"Waiting for a Bus" (full version)The Year's Best Fantasy Stories 14DAW Books (USA)1988
"His Holiness Commands"
"It Has Been Said"
"No Truce With Kings"
"Let The Train Take The Strain"
Binscombe TalesHaunted Library1989
"Rollover Night"
"I Could A Tale Unfold"
"The More It Changes"
"Appendix: A Complete List of Binscombe Tales"
Rollover NightHaunted Library1990
"Every Little Breeze"All Hallows: Journal of the Ghost Story Society. No 2.1990
"Peace on Earth, Goodwill To Most Men" (paperback 1991)Mystery for XmasMichael O'Mara1990
"A Partial Cure"Transactions of the Doppelganger Society1990
"Hello Dolly"Fifth Book of After Midnight StoriesRobert Hale1991
"Peace on Earth, Goodwill To Most Men"Mystery for XmasMichael O'Mara1991
"Be Assured, He Is Not There"
"The Flowering of the Reformation"
Popes & PhantomsHaunted Library1992
"The Fall of a Dictator"All Hallows: Journal of the Ghost Story Society. No 41993
"Justice Without Respite"Ghosts & Scholars. No 15Haunted Library1993
"Walk This Way"All Hallows: Journal of the Ghost Story Society. No. 71994
"Only One Careful Owner"A Binscombe Tale For XmasHaunted Library1994
"Here Is My Resignation"Lychgate1995
"Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside ( Within Reason )"A Binscombe Tale For SummerHaunted Library1996
"Ingratitude"All Hallows: Journal of the Ghost Story Society. No. 151997
"Bury My Heart at Southerham (East Sussex)"Midnight Never ComesAsh-Tree Press1997
"BINSCOMBE TALES" (collected short stories)Sinister Saxon Stories. Vol. 1Ash-Tree Press1998
"In the Name of Allah, the Omnipotent?"Interzone no 135September 1998
Introduction to "Litany of Strange Sorrow" by John GaleDoppelganger Press1999
"MORE BINSCOMBE TALES" (collected short stories)Sinister Sutangli Stories. Vol. 2Ash-Tree Press23 April 1999
"In the Name of Allah, the Omnipotent?"Nowa Fantastyka (Poland)September 1999
"The Way, the Truth..."The Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionJanuary 2000
"Culloden II"All Hallows: Journal of the Ghost Story Society. No. 232000
"Democracy" (part one of the 'Stalinspace' series)Nowa Fantastyka (Poland)March 2000
"Just Hanging Around"Ghosts & Scholars. No. 312000
"Excuse Me"Shadows & SilenceAsh-Tree PressDecember 2000
"The Hills Are Alive"Interzone no 165March 2001
"The Sunken Garden"Acquainted With the NightAsh-Tree Press2004
"A Pillar of the Church"At Ease With the DeadAsh-Tree Press2007
"Enlightenment"Exotic Gothic 2: New Tales of TabooAsh-Tree Press2008
"You Must Be Cold"Terror Tales of the Scottish Highlands. Ed. Paul FinchGrey Friar Press2015
"Mebyon versus Suna"Terror Tales of Cornwall. Ed. Paul FinchTelos Publishing Ltd.2017


TitlePublished inYear
"The Day The Cornish Invaded Guildford" (1497 rebellion)The Surrey Advertiser2 June 1989.
"The Bones of a Revolutionary" (Tom Paine's remains)The Surrey Advertiser22 September 1989.
"A Gift To Woden From Pevensey?"The Parish Pump No. 65Spring 1990.
"A Gift To Woden From Pevensey?"Wiðowinde: Journal of Ða Engliscan Geðisdas No. 88August 1990.
"What Would Have Happened If..."The Catholic Times6 November 1994
"Taking Fantastic Liberties With Our History"The Surrey Advertiser29 May 1989
"Sticks & Stones"Wiðowinde: Journal of Ða Engliscan Geðisdas No. 113Spring 1998
"Why I Like It Here"Downs Country Magazine no. 22May 1998
"In the Shade of the Typewriter Tree"Interzone no 135September 1998
"'Orrible Massacre in Sussex"Downs Country Magazine no. 26January 1999
"The 'Prehistory' of St. Edmund's – 1534 – 1899"
Essay in The Catholic Parish of St. Edmund, King & Martyr, Godalming, 1899 – 1999 – A Centenary Commemorative History November 1999.
"Monmouth's Stalin Organs – or Ingenious Inventions and Annoying Authors"The So-ho Gazette – Newsletter of the 1685 SocietyJuly 2000
"Confessions of a Counter-Reformation Green Anarcho-Jacobite" (Interview)Starburst Magazine No. 266October 2000
"Whitbourn's Wisdom" (Interview)SFX magazine no 73January 2001
"Angles, Saxons, Normans – & Vandals (& Scots)"Wiðowinde: Journal of Ða Engliscan Geðisdas No 128Summer 2002
"Looking For New England"3SF Magazine No 1October 2002
"A Hymn To Merrily"All Hallows: Journal of the Ghost Story Society No 32February 2003
Author Profile – Phil RickmanSFX magazine no 124December 2004
"Borderline Gothic: Phil Rickman & The Merrily Watkins Series"21st Century Gothic: Great Gothic Novels Since 2000. Ed. Danel Olson. The Scarecrow Press Inc.2011


  • Publish & Be Damned! The Suppressed/Depressed Edition. Ash-Tree Press. Web publication. 2003.


Frankenstein's Legions at Spark Furnace

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