About Writers, Literary Agents, publishing, Stories, writing technique

Juvenilia

mansfield

I’ve recently read a few short stories by Katherine Mansfield: Germans at Meat, The Baron, The Luft Bad and other equally unknown titles which don’t figure in any ‘best of’ collection of her work. This is because they come from her very first collection, In a German Pension, published in 1911, when she was just 22. They were written during her stay in the Pension Müller, Bavaria, where her mother, suspecting she may have had a lesbian relationship, took her for ‘a course of cold baths and wholesome exercise.’

In a German Pension went through three editions, but then the publisher went bankrupt. Mansfield wasn’t disappointed by this; on the contrary, she no longer liked the stories, and when, after being recognised as one of the leading authors of her day, she was begged by another publisher to let him reprint them, she wrote, ‘I cannot have it reprinted under any circumstances. It is far too immature, and I don’t even acknowledge it today. I can’t go foisting that kind of stuff on the public. It’s not good enough.’ This was despite the fact that she was sorely in need of the money it would have brought her.

Was she right? Yes, I dare say, by the high standards she set herself. The stories lack the depth and intensity of her later work – although, rereading that, I sometimes find it a little febrile, a little too intense. But it would have been a great shame if John Middleton Murry, her second husband, hadn’t included In a German Pension in the complete collection of her stories he edited after her death. They are superbly written, with a deliciously mischievous, biting wit that renders in writing what comes across in the best cartoon caricatures.

Reading it, I thought, ‘Wow! To be writing that so young!’ Writers often repudiate juvenilia, and with good reason, but I would have given my eye teeth to be able to write like that at 21. I thought back to my own beginning: I finished my first novel at 26, about a group of friends in the mid-1970s, driving round France and Spain in a restless search for meaningfulness and adventure. I’d repudiate it now, I guess, but it wasn’t entirely cringeworthy. It earned me an appointment with an agent, who said if she’d read it ten years earlier, she’d have snapped it up. But by then, there were lots of similar explorations of the prevailing counterculture, and it didn’t break new ground. She had her finger firmly on the zeitgeist, and advised me to write a family saga instead, but I never did. Perhaps I should have.

Is there an age at which writers peak? Must good writing be apparent already when young? Mansfield is far from the only one whose talent was obvious so early. This New Yorker article sets the question in perspective, while for those who fear they may be past it already, there’s also ample evidence that it’s never too late to write a book.

Any thoughts on the matter? When you recall your first attempts, do you cringe, puff with pride, or sit somewhere in between?

 

 

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About Writers, blogging, book reviews, Poetry, Uncategorized

Carl E. Reed’s review of Spectral Realms #11

Carl E. Reed has now published four poems in Spectral Realms (issues #10 and #11), with more poems scheduled to appear in issue #12. He has just published an exhaustive and picturesque review of Spectral Realms #11 on John O’Neil’s Black Gate website.

An earlier poem of Carl’s was published in The Iconoclast a decade ago.

Thanks, Carl, for suggesting that we post this link:
https://www.blackgate.com/2019/11/19/terror-existential-dread-and-surprised-laughter-a-review-of-spectral-realms-11/

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About Writers, inspiration, writing technique

Need To Know Basis

James Tiptree, Jr. — aka Alice Sheldon — wrote a story back in 1974 called “Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.” It’s a tale about memory. Scenes from a life play out one after another: a boy on his first duck hunt, failing miserably; a young man in his first, eager sexual encounter, failing miserably; a man back from war proposing, finally, to the woman he loves, failing miserably…you get the idea. Framing this jumbled litany of humiliation and disappointment is the gradual realization that all of these memories are playing out in a sort of repeating loop, observed by — perhaps even instigated by — some unknown presence: alien researchers perhaps? Or even just alien sightseers, feeding on the memories of the long gone inhabitants of a dead world? Because the earth is dead, a burnt out cinder. All that remains are memories. 

But — and here’s the gut punch — the only memories left are unpleasant ones. Only the horrible stuff, incidents our protagonist would rather forget. Instead, he gets to live them out again and again.

A hellacious vision. Thanks, Alli.

But still, a fascinating premise. Sad memories, painful memories, seem to have a disproportional staying power. Enjoyable memories can linger as well, but they are less vivid, less intrusive. It seems like we have to go looking for those, we have to coax them to the surface. But deeply unpleasant memories find us. We have no idea when they might swim into sudden focus. It’s like they’re always lurking in the shadows, just around the next corner.

There’s a good reason, of course, why we would be predisposed, genetically, to have a better memory for the unpleasant things. After all, unpleasant things are often dangerous things, and it’s an adaptive advantage to avoid danger. If a situation feels unpleasantly familiar, you’ll tend to shy away from it and not repeat it. As for joyous memories of good times, well, it’s nice to remember them, but it’s not usually a matter of life or death. Lack of joy might kill you in the long run, but it’s only a gradual death and it won’t necessarily interfere with your ability to pass on your genetic code. 

But danger? That can kill you right now, the immediate termination of your particular configuration of base pairs. So we avoid unpleasantness. It’s baked in, a survival skill.

And to avoid it, we have to recognize it. We have to remember. If I were an alien, researching the former dominant species of an extinct planet, I might focus on exactly that: what drove their worst memories? What were they so afraid of?

***

So how does this concept relate to stories? Does this predisposition explain why we have such an appetite for tragedy, for conflict-driven narratives? Such a fascination with crime and horror and dystopian futures? Could be. I’d admit that there are other factors. Catharsis plays into it — and the guilty thrill we might feel at experiencing someone else’s misery while knowing it isn’t our own. But it isn’t hard to see how these pleasures might have their roots in the original preoccupation. Suffering fascinates us because it’s important to our survival. We rubberneck the freeway accident because, at some level, we know that could be us. 

And if it might kill us, we need to know about it. 

***

Footnote:  It feels worth mentioning that some of our most persistent personal memories are of rejection and humiliation, which might not correlate directly with situations of danger or physical threat. We don’t, as a rule, die of embarrassment. But being rejected or humiliated, at least publicly, can be correlated with social ostracism, which could be almost as bad as death. In terms of passing your genetic material on to the next generation, it could be exactly as bad as death. The process of natural selection really doesn’t put a priority on our happiness. It’s only concerned with us surviving long enough to procreate. 

***

Another Footnote: I would accept that being joyless might be a hindrance to finding companionship and a partner for procreation. But this seems to me a very modern view of our mating relationships. While romance isn’t very new, it’s pretty new compared to our time as a species, and there’s good reason to believe that marriage probably developed more as a practical arrangement and didn’t necessarily require having a winning personality or a great outlook on life. Fortunately, we’ve progressed beyond that point, mostly — but that’s a subject for another time.

 

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THE ANTI-MUSE

From an online dictionary:

muse: noun

  1. (in Greek and Roman mythology) each of nine goddesses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who preside over the arts and sciences.
  2. a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.

As writers and artistic creators, we know what it’s like to be inspired by a muse. For me personally, it amounts to daemonic possession. I sometimes become driven to write something that insists upon being expressed: a snippet of dialogue, a scene, a story, subplot…the list goes on. Sleep beckons, but the muse is unrelenting. And when sleep manages to intercede, I am prone to wake with new inspiration driving me to make a note, record a message to myself, or even return to my office and proceed with fingers to keyboard, in the zone, channeling the muse-deamon that refuses to allow me to rest, infected as it were with the only remedy being to write, write, write, write. Disregard the eye strain, sleep deprivation, aching neck muscles and celebrate the moment because it may be fleeting, or it may continue unabated. You just never know because there is a fickle character to this whole muse thing. Surf the big wave while the surfing is great and celebrate the moment while it lasts.

Okay…I could go on, but you get the idea. I don’t know what other writers experience. I have spoken with some who completely understand this possession, but we are a varied lot, so perhaps it isn’t universal. I for one am an undisciplined writer. I do not write every day, a practice so many successful and accomplished authors recommend (which could explain my limited success). Like a streaky baseball hitter, I can go from slump to hot streak—from no muse at all to complete immersion and full throttle. While I relish the muse taking over and writing while in the zone, of late I’ve been contemplating something I now refer to as the anti-muse.

I don’t have a hard and fast definition of the anti-muse, but the bite of this daemon is every bit as potent. I envision it as a many-headed Hydra with poisonous venom. Once bitten, I am overcome with a certain paralysis. Alternatively, the anti-muse is a Medusa whose eye-catching glance turns me into stone. In either case, the result is the same—don’t care to write at all. Wild horses can’t drag me to or away from writing because I’m not inclined at the moment. For me, this is not writer’s block (I don’t believe in that) so much as non-interest in writing.

I’ve come across a number of different articles, posts, YouTube videos and the like that address creativity, what goes into it, and how to release your creative potential. I suppose a form of the anti-muse (one of the Hydra heads) could be somehow wrapped up in creativity.

Motivation and getting motivated is a bit of a tired topic these days, filled with gurus and Tony Robbins wannabes who want to teach you to reach your full potential (blah, blah, blah). I’m willing to put lack of motivation as one of the Hydra heads. Although, somewhere is this paragraph the notion of ambition needs elaboration. Is lack of motivation the same as lack of ambition? If I felt more motivated I might actually look up the difference between motivation and ambition but I’m not that ambitious. Besides, Caesar was ambitious, and things didn’t work out that well for him. I’m going to imagine the original Hydra head was cut and these two other heads sprang forth, one with the venom of anti-motivation, the other with the venom of anti-ambition.

Stress, time pressures, competing priorities—do I need to elaborate on any of these? Other things occupy the mind and time while effectively blocking the muse from entering.

Procrastination? I know an author who made a career writing books and giving workshops and seminars about procrastination. When the procrastination bug bites writing is simply put off until tomorrow. Even better, as the saying goes, “Don’t do it today when you can put it off until tomorrow and don’t do it tomorrow if you can put it off all together.” That’s probably not an exact quote but you get the idea. Procrastination is a very effective anti-muse.

Of course, the entire notion of laziness belongs in this conversation. I’ve certainly experienced feeling lazy when it comes to writing. In fact, this feeling can last for days or even weeks. This is by no means being sluggish or depressed as energy and upbeat mood can coexist very nicely with the kind of writing laziness I’ve experienced.

Another anti-writing infection can loosely be categorized under distractions. Heck, there are many other ways to spend my time and many of them are more enjoyable and more attractive than sitting down to write, especially if I’m not quite in a writing mood. Distractions are another head to this anti-muse Hydra.

The same can be said of excuses. There seems to be no limit to the possible excuses I can come up with to rationalize why I should not be writing today or at least at any particular moment. Here I am not talking about basic needs such as eating, sleeping, and personal hygiene. Do I really need to elaborate on a long personal list of rationalizations?

My individual list detailing the anti-muse has thus far included:

  • lapse in creativity
  • lack of motivation/ambition
  • stress from a multitude of sources
  • time pressures
  • competing priorities
  • procrastination
  • laziness
  • distractions
  • excuses/rationalizations

I suspect my own personal list is longer and with more reflection I can uncover some more bullet points representing additional heads to this beastly monster that is the daemon that takes tight hold and refuses to let go, that paralyses me into not writing.

With such a monstrosity representing my anti-muse, it’s amazing that I get any writing done at all.

Just wondering what categories you can add to the list. A fellow writer suggested I author a self-help book directed to writers to address blocks to writing (not writer’s block, more along the lines of what I am calling the anti-muse). In fact, that discussion is what provoked me to think about the topic. This colleague even claimed to know a publisher who was interested in the topic.

As for me, I think I can invoke several different reasons why I certainly am unlikely to get bitten by a muse to write such a book.

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publishing, Stories, Writers Co-op Anthology

A weird problem

genres

Not long ago, I did a Freebooksy promotion for Mystery Manor, fourth in the Magali Rousseau series. To do it, I enrolled the book in KDP Select, then ran a five-day promotion during which it was free. For the second day, I booked a slot with Freebooksy, who promoted the promotion to their email list.

Now, the question of whether a book should ever be offered free arouses a lot of debate, and it’s not my intention to go into that here (I will in a forthcoming post). Suffice to say that although I didn’t recoup what it cost for a slot on Freebooksy, the result in terms of purchases of the other books in the series was encouraging enough for me to think that it might be a good idea to do the same with The Rabbit Hole (RH).

There’s one problem. Freebooksy doesn’t have a ‘weird’ genre, nor even one for anthologies. They stick to highly mainstream genres like ‘mystery’, ‘fantasy’ or ‘romance.’ Similarly, there’s no ‘weird’ category on Amazon, where RH1 is in Fiction: anthologies and Fiction: fantasy: collections and anthologies, and RH2 is in Fiction: anthologies and Fiction: short stories.

Nor is there any BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) for ‘weird’. Draft2Digital, which incidentally does a great job if you’re going ‘wide’ (i.e. not giving Amazon exclusivity), uses the BISAC categories; RH there is in Fiction, anthologies (multiple authors) and I recently added it to Fiction: Absurdist. Whether that’s accurate is debatable, but authors as diverse as Sartre, Vonnegut, Murakami and Kafka have been classified as absurdist, so it could be said that it’s a very broad church. Besides, it doesn’t hurt to be in company like that. I could also add dark fantasy, humorous or alien contact, as each of those pertains to at least a couple of stories in the two volumes so far published. But with multiple authors, there are multiple themes and topics, and no single category covers them all.

For RH2 we defined different themes: weather, science and entertainment. But although these produced some excellent contributions, they don’t fit into a genre. Of course, it’s not because you do fit into one that you make your life any easier, because it’s then that the competition gets fierce. But for RH3, I’m thinking it’s worth a try.

So here’s the idea. When the call for submissions for RH3 goes out in January, it will be for a specific genre, one of three I’ve selected from the Freebooksy list: thriller, romance or horror. Many thanks, then, if you could fill in the poll below. To test this isea out, which of those genres would you like to see adopted in RH3?

Note that whatever genre is chosen, ‘weird’ remains the defining feature of The Rabbit Hole. So if, say, horror is the genre, a story about a psycho hacking people to pieces won’t make it. Because weird as that may be by the standards of normal behaviour, it doesn’t include the surreal, wondrous or out-of-this-world element that makes a story qualify as weird. Similarly, there are many ways for romance to be weird, but a kinky sex story might not be the best way to set about it. Not that we’re averse to sex, kinky or otherwise, but if that’s the only weirdness in the story, it’s not enough. Weird romance, of course, wouldn’t be the same as mainstream romance, so that would need to be made clear in the blurb, but at least it would fit somewhere into the genre. As for thriller, plenty of scope there, though I must admit that handling a thriller, weird or not, in a short story is quite a challenge. But hey, all writing is.

Over to you, then. And feel free to chip in with your own thoughts.

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, book sales, humor, Magic and Science, publishing, Satire, Uncategorized

More trite tales for little people.

11) More trite tales for little people.

As you doubtless remember, I left the city because I was being blamed, (I feel unfairly) for the publication of a book of children’s tales. These tales were claimed by some to cast a harsh light on the antics of the rich and powerful, amongst them, Radsel Oeltang, chair of the Council of Sinecurists. The claim was that his latest manoeuvrings were described in forensic detail in the stories. To be fair, had this been true I can see why he might be legitimately angry. But the intrigues he was accused of actually happened after the book had been published, and between two and three decades after the stories had been written.

Now normally I am somewhat cavalier when contemplating what upsets those in high places. I tend to adopt a robust attitude to their problems, feeling that if they have both considerable wealth and great influence, they can cope with a little disappointment. On the other hand, when they make their unhappiness felt by hiring thugs to hand out beatings, I take their transient unhappiness rather more to heart. My difficulty was that I couldn’t keep sneaking around the city, attending upon my patrons and simultaneously trying not to be seen. After all some of my patrons are friends of Master Oeltang. He could well turn up at an event where I had been asked to perform. I felt I had to do something to spare him embarrassment and me bruises.

I decided to call upon Desli and Misli and discuss the stories with them. Perhaps they could throw some light upon their mother’s apparent political prescience. When I arrived, Desli was out selling pies and Misli was cooking, assisted by a rather shy young man who was taking cooked pies out of the oven. I vaguely recognised him, he was one of the wherry fishermen who take boats out on the falling tide and bring them back in as it rises.

Misli introduced him to me as Villen, and explained he was the crew-member sent to buy the pies they would take with them when the boat sailed. I merely said, “How wise.”
At the same time I was thinking to myself; when a young man walks an extra half a mile there and half a mile back, every day, to buy his pies from one sister, rather than purchase them from the other sister who is far more conveniently located; he is thinking of more than pastry. But still, I estimate at least three-quarters of all courtship happens before the couple realise that they’re courting. I made no comment.

So when Villen had paid for the pies, I explained my problem to Misli. In short, it was that people saw in antics of the imp Pugglewood the devious deeds of Radsel Oeltang.

Misli burst out, “But I loved Pugglewood when I was a child. He was the one who saved everybody.”

This came as a surprise to me. “But he’s always playing devious tricks on people.”

“Well he does that a bit, but when you get to the end of the story, you’ll see how those tricks make people better able to cope with the callousness of the world.”

“They do?” I obviously sounded bemused, because Misli added,

“When the bladdersnitch arrives, it’s only Pugglewood and his tricks that help them survive.”
It was at this point I realised I had better go home and re-read the stories. The problem was that when I first put the book together for Desli and Misli there was far more material than I needed. So I started reading through from the beginning, intending to discard that which was unsuitable, hoping I would have enough material for the book. As it was I got half way down the heap of stories, had discarded nothing and had enough. So being busy, I hadn’t read the rest.
Once home, I had read the rest, I could see what Misli meant. To be honest, in the first half of the material, Pugglewood is one of those somewhat vexing characters. One instinctively feels that they would be better for a swift kick. He intensely irritated me. But when I read the second half of the material it slowly dawned on me that Pugglewood was a far more complex and farsighted character than I had suspected. In the first half of the material Pugglewood is a childish and irritating nuisance who makes life difficult for a lot of ordinary folk who’re just trying to make the best of things. In the second half of the material you realise that Pugglewood has thought his actions through, lifted his fellow citizens out of their rut and has set them along the path to self-reliance. Hence when the bladdersnitch arrives, he leads them to defeat it. At the end of the book you realise that Pugglewood is the one truly sympathetic character and his neighbours are a bit lumpen and unenterprising and really do need shaking up.

It struck me that somebody had erred, and that somebody was probably me. The obvious thing to do would be to publish the second half of the material. I bundled it up and took it to Glicken’s Printers. They were perfectly happy to print it. Given the first volume was still selling well, they welcomed a sequel. I waited for a proof copy fresh from the press and, greatly daring, I called upon Radsel Oeltang in his office at the Council of Sinecurist’s building.

Now it has to be admitted that I have, on occasion, had dealings with him before. But as far as I knew, the Pugglewood business was the only occasion when I’d seriously offended him. I knew I had done things which would upset him but I was moderately confident he didn’t realise it was me who had done them. So armed with my copy of ‘More trite tales for little people,’ I attended upon him in his office.
It has to be admitted that when I entered his office the atmosphere was distinctly cool. He was formally polite in a way that tends to make a person nervous. It was the way he called me, ‘friend’ Steelyard, that told me I was not forgiven. So I confessed all. I explained what had happened and passed him the second volume to peruse.

He started reading it. After ten minutes he rang for coffee. The fact that he specified a cup for me as well struck me as a good sign. After an hour he closed the book.

“So Tallis, what do you intend to do now?”

I’d given a lot of consideration to that. “The two young women cannot afford a large print run. But if you were to invest, say, twenty alars, I’m sure that the printers would be delighted to print a few hundred extra copies.”

He looked at me over half-moon glasses. “Hmm. I will, but in return you can reprise your explanation to the entire council. That way we can put this matter to bed, once and for all.”

It struck me as a not unreasonable suggestion. “And I will sell copies in the foyer afterwards. This will ensure that people read the full story.”

I have addressed the Council of Sinecurists before. It’s not something I do lightly. After all I firstly have to convince them of whatever it is I’m addressing them on. But also, and this is of almost equal importance, I want to use the chance to prove that I’m the person whose work they love and who they want to hire. In this case it was even tougher, because I had to point out to them that they were in error. Not merely that but that it was I who had inadvertently deceived them. So most of my address was by way of apology. To be fair, when dealing with the pompous and the powerful, one can rarely apologise too often.

When I had finished my discourse, I made my way to the foyer and there I sat behind a table with the books on it. It had occurred to me that there might be some who hadn’t read either of the two volumes, so I’d fetched a stock of both. In the course of the afternoon I sold perhaps a hundred copies, which considerably exceeded my expectations. Still I felt that with a little bit of luck, I’d not merely turned away the wrath of the powerful, but I’d managed to help boost the earnings of the two sisters. I made my way back to the barge a happier and less nervous individual.

Two days later a note was delivered to the barge by a footman in the Oeltang livery. It merely read, “And now they’re calling me the bladdersnitch.”

Still he included a bottle of a perfectly drinkable wine with the note. I felt this gesture indicated I wasn’t being blamed. So we opened the bottle to go with our evening meal and Shena and I drank a toast to his continued good health and prosperity.

♥♥♥♥

 

And now we’d better hear from Jim Webster.

So here I am again with another blog tour. Not one book but three.

The first is another of the Port Naain Intelligencer collection. These stories are a bit like the Sherlock Holmes stories. You can read them in any order.

 

On the Mud. The Port Naain Intelligencer

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mud-Port-Naain-Intelligencer-ebook/dp/B07ZKYD7TR

When mages and their suppliers fall out, people tend to die. This becomes a problem when somebody dies before they manage to pass on the important artefact they had stolen. Now a lot of dangerous, violent or merely amoral people are searching, and Benor has got caught up in it all. There are times when you discover that being forced to rely upon a poet for back-up isn’t as reassuring as you might hope.

 

Then we have a Tallis Steelyard novella.

Tallis Steelyard and the Rustic Idyll

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07ZKYMG1G/

When he is asked to oversee the performance of the celebrated ‘Ten Speeches’, Tallis Steelyard realises that his unique gifts as a poet have finally been recognised. He may now truly call himself the leading poet of his generation.

Then the past comes back to haunt him, and his immediate future involves too much time in the saddle, being asked to die in a blue silk dress, blackmail and the abuse of unregulated intoxicants. All this is set in delightful countryside as he is invited to be poet in residence at a lichen festival.

 

And finally, for the first time in print we proudly present

Maljie, the episodic memoirs of a lady.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07ZKVXP24/

 

In his own well-chosen words, Tallis Steelyard reveals to us the life of Maljie, a lady of his acquaintance. In no particular order we hear about her bathing with clog dancers, her time as a usurer, pirate, and the difficulties encountered when one tries to sell on a kidnapped orchestra. We enter a world of fish, pet pigs, steam launches, theological disputation, and the use of water under pressure to dispose of foul smelling birds. Oh yes, and we learn how the donkey ended up on the roof.

 

All a mere 99p each

 

 

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, Satire, Uncategorized, world-building

Coming clean

4) coming clean

It has to be said that I have always enjoyed immersing myself in the great bath at the Goldclaw baths. The water is heated by the next door Goldclaw Foundry and Metal Works so there’s plenty of it. Now one reason I specifically like this establishment is that they have a ‘washing baths’ that everybody goes through before they enter the great bath. Thus the water of the great bath is remarkably clean.

To explain the layout, gentlemen enter at one end of the baths, ladies at the other. (Actually there’s a central door as well but you then turn left or right to get to the appropriate changing rooms.)
From the changing rooms you go straight into a ‘washing bath.’ Here one washes away the grime of the day. Some venture no further, but if you wish, when you’re clean you can proceed through into the great bath. Whilst there are separate washing baths for ladies and gentlemen, the great bath is for everybody.

Things worked, the management was polite if casual and everybody tried to keep to the rules, written and unwritten. But then, as inevitably happens, the old manager of the baths finally retired and his replacement was determined to make her mark. To be fair to her, somebody may have commented that people were entering the great bath without washing properly in the washing bath. So she decided to stamp down hard on this behaviour. Again, I rather sympathise with her.

At the men’s washing baths a fellow called Ebbit was hired. He was quiet and tactful. He would merely approach the guilty party as they walked, stark naked, from one baths to the other, and comment quietly that, “I think you may have missed a bit sir.”

Unfortunately at the ladies’ washing baths a woman called Haggine was employed. She was a large muscular lady. Shena described her to me as a harridan. Others were less generous. Apparently as the ladies processed elegantly, dressed as nature intended, from their baths to the great baths, Haggine would make offensive comments about an individual’s figure, would stop a victim and check her in invasive detail, and would even flick them with a wet towel.

One day she was particularly bellicose, and Shena, who was present, was the target of her ‘wit’ and the wet towel. Finally Shena turned to face her and said, “You have now irritated me.”
This brought more mockery, but Shena had had enough. She went back to the changing rooms, dressed and came home. I was busy at the time, editing some work. As she came into the cabin I could tell by her expression she had passed through anger and was calmly encamped on that featureless icy plain beyond.
“Tallis, what’s the name of that big watchman, looks like somebody has shaved one of the greater apes?”

There could only be one who matched that description. “Makan?”

“That’s him. You know him?”
“Oh yes, he might look like some sort of man-beast but he’s a poetry lover and has quite a nice way with romantic verse.”
“Good, I want him here this evening if possible. I want a private word with him.”

What can a husband do? I found Makan, explained that Shena wanted a word with him, and left them to get on with whatever Shena was planning. After all I knew that if I had a part to play in whatever was going to happen, Shena would inform me. Admittedly she’d inform me at the last minute when it was too late to improvise, but still, I would be given my role.

As it was, I didn’t have a part in this drama. Next day Shena had a word with her fellow ladies. Now up until this point Shena had not really been part of any clique. She had a few friends who did attend, but as they were rarely there when she was. She had what one might call, ‘A large circle of vague acquaintanceship.’ The fact she had stood up to Haggine meant that quite a few ladies now recognised her, and they seem to have been happy to fall in with her suggested plan. So that evening, Makan finished his shift and went to the Ladies’ changing room. There Shena introduced him to all the other ladies, and he joined them in stripping and washing in the wash bath. Then he joined them in the walk to the great bath.

Now it should be mentioned that because he is large, muscular, and hirsute, people make the mistake of assuming that Makan is stupid. The fact he speaks slowly and carefully, weighing his words, encourages them in this fallacy. When Haggine saw him she was initially speechless. Finally she found her tongue.

“Hey you, what in the forty-seven hells are you doing!”

Makan said, reasonably, “Going to the great bath with the rest of the girls.”

“You’re a bluidy man!”
To be fair, this was blatantly obvious. But Makan looked down at himself and said, slowly, “Are you sure? My mother cannot have lied to me.”

This outraged Haggine, indeed she was so angry she slapped Makan with the wet towel. Makan said not a word. He merely picked her up, ignoring totally her wild punching and kicking, and carried her to the edge of the great bath. Here he did not merely drop her in, he hurled her. So when she finally did hit the water, it was some distance from the edge, where the water was deep enough for swimming. Immediately the women converged upon her, complaining that somebody wearing clothes shouldn’t be in the bath. Thus as she struggled to get to the edge, they stripped her. Finally they chased her out of the baths and into the street slapping her with wet towels.

As a result of her part in the overthrow of the tyrant, Shena became generally popular with the women bathers. (So was Makan but that is another story. Apparently there is a shortage of competent, quietly spoken men who can produce romantic verse at the drop of a hat.) Still as the ladies got to know Shena better, they came to regard her as universally competent. Again this is something I can sympathise with. But still it was quite common for them to come to her quietly and ask her advice on all sorts of issues.

One evening she brought one of her new acquaintances home with her. This lady, Madam Vear, explained her problem. She’d purchased one of the two maps Illus Wheelburn had drawn of Port Naain. Apparently she’d been in Prae Ducis at the time, dealing with family matters, had seen the map, had been amused by it and had bought it.

To be fair, she had, at the time, been in funds. Apparently she had followed her husband to Avitas because she’d heard rumours that he had another wife and family there. When she arrived, unexpectedly, he fled abandoning his second family. She followed him to Prae Ducis where she discovered he had a third family. He fled again and she got reports that he’d died in a bar room brawl in Chatterfield. She then acted swiftly. She forged his signature, sold everything he owned in Prae Ducis for cash, and then rode hard for Avitas where she repeated the process. All this before news of his death reached the city.

Since then her circumstances had changed, she had remarried. She had put her funds into a new family partnership with her new husband and matters were proceeding well. But suddenly she discovered that she urgently needed money. She didn’t want to bother her new husband with details, so she intended to sell the map.

But she’d had the foresight to pace around the areas marked on the map with annotated comments. There was one which hinted that a considerable treasure was to be found buried at number sixteen, Grettan Walk. This was pleasant enough street on the edge of the Merchant Quarter. Unfortunately number sixteen had been recently demolished. Not only that but according to Madam Vear the area was boarded off and the whole area had been dug out. She assumed that the purchaser of the site had dug out ready to put in new foundations and a cellar, and had then called a halt to the process. Why? She’d asked round and had heard rumours of a death in the family and a shortage of money. But as she admitted, from a purely selfish point of view, her discovery somewhat devalued her map. After all everybody could look and see nothing could be buried there. She wondered if I could re-annotate the map, adding a couple of extra details which would enable her to get a good price for it.

I confess that I was a little torn. Obviously there were the ethical implications, but frankly the more I looked at the map, the more I was taken by the challenge. Also it seemed that Shena was building for herself a wider circle of acquaintance who valued her omnicompetence. I felt I ought to help, not hinder. Also I sensed I had an obvious solution. Due to the style Illus had adopted with his numerals, one stroke of the pen would turn sixteen into eighteen. I sat and practiced the handwriting, mixed an ink that matched that used by Illus, and set to work. Not only did I change the sixteen to eighteen, I felt that I had to explain away the fact that the site of number sixteen was given more prominence on the map. So I added a brief note. “Start tunnel here, dig to next door.”

I sat back, surveyed what I had done, and felt it was an excellent piece of work. Shena was pleased with my efforts and Madam Vear was delighted. A week later Shena mentioned in passing that Madam Vear sent her thanks, she’d sold the map for rather more than she hoped. Another week went by and Madam confided to Shena that the reason she had needed money was that her first husband had reappeared in Port Naain. Reports of his death had obviously been exaggerated. Now it appears he was trying to get his money back and was attempting to do so by pointing out that she was a bigamist and threatening to bring this to the attention of the authorities. Fortunately the sale of the map had nicely covered the hire of a very competent professional person. This person quietly approached the first husband and pointed out that when he had been dead, there had been no problems with bigamy. Thus this dark clad and limber individual suggested that the surplus husband return once more to being dead. Indeed he more than hinted that the time for contemplation was limited, and that if he remained alive and bothersome, his return to his previous deceased state could indeed be organised for him.

It appears the first husband fled Port Naain that very evening and Madam Vear has heard no more from him.

♥♥♥♥

And now we’d better hear from Jim Webster.

So here I am again with another blog tour. Not one book but three.

The first is another of the Port Naain Intelligencer collection. These stories are a bit like the Sherlock Holmes stories. You can read them in any order.

 

On the Mud. The Port Naain Intelligencer

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mud-Port-Naain-Intelligencer-ebook/dp/B07ZKYD7TR

When mages and their suppliers fall out, people tend to die. This becomes a problem when somebody dies before they manage to pass on the important artefact they had stolen. Now a lot of dangerous, violent or merely amoral people are searching, and Benor has got caught up in it all. There are times when you discover that being forced to rely upon a poet for back-up isn’t as reassuring as you might hope.

 

Then we have a Tallis Steelyard novella.

Tallis Steelyard and the Rustic Idyll

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07ZKYMG1G/

When he is asked to oversee the performance of the celebrated ‘Ten Speeches’, Tallis Steelyard realises that his unique gifts as a poet have finally been recognised. He may now truly call himself the leading poet of his generation.

Then the past comes back to haunt him, and his immediate future involves too much time in the saddle, being asked to die in a blue silk dress, blackmail and the abuse of unregulated intoxicants. All this is set in delightful countryside as he is invited to be poet in residence at a lichen festival.

 

And finally, for the first time in print we proudly present

Maljie, the episodic memoirs of a lady.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07ZKVXP24/

 

In his own well-chosen words, Tallis Steelyard reveals to us the life of Maljie, a lady of his acquaintance. In no particular order we hear about her bathing with clog dancers, her time as a usurer, pirate, and the difficulties encountered when one tries to sell on a kidnapped orchestra. We enter a world of fish, pet pigs, steam launches, theological disputation, and the use of water under pressure to dispose of foul smelling birds. Oh yes, and we learn how the donkey ended up on the roof.

 

All a mere 99p each

 

 

 

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