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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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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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A cosy dinner for three

– by Jim Webster

+++I suppose that in one way, poets and painters have one specific thing in common. We sketch out the original work, then we work away at it until it is mostly finished. Finally comes the endless tweaking to get it just right. So if I mention that Julatine Sypent can be something of a perfectionist you can imagine that this latter part of the process takes some time.
+++This isn’t something that ordinarily matters. A twee cottage isn’t going to get bored if you sit painting it for a full week. On the other hand when he moved to portraits, some sitters grew restive. Still it wasn’t as if Julatine hid this aspect of his personality. Nobody who hired him to paint them could claim that it came as a surprise. Everybody in society knew that if you wanted your likeness painted by Julatine, you emptied your diary for a full week.
+++Yet outside the circle of well-heeled patrons of the arts Julatine’s foibles were not really known. Obviously this isn’t normally going to be a problem as those less well monetarily endowed aren’t the people who tend to commission him. Yet late one morning he was in the Silk Merchant’s Repose. This is one of the better taverns, the food is excellent and the company tends to be polite. Not only that, but the owner, Omartan, aspires to keep improving it.
+++Julatine was dining alone and sitting at the table across from him was Bolfinch and the two Millan sisters, Winny and Saleni. If I remember aright Bolfinch was courting Winny and Saleni had come along as a chaperone. Or perhaps it was the other way about? Or perhaps he was courting both with nobody quite sure who was chaperoning whom?
+++Still Julatine was immediately captivated by the scene and sketched it hastily on in a notepad. Then he summoned Omartan and offered to paint the scene for him, pointing out that such a vision of attractive young ladies, good food, and good fellowship would inevitably encourage people to come to his establishment. A price was agreed and then Julatine approached the three diners. With the prospect of a free lunch next day they agreed to return, and promised to wear the same outfits.
+++Next morning found Julatine with easel in place and all his impedimenta around him. The diners took their seats and began eating. Julatine blocked everything out and after a mere three hours pronounced himself well pleased with the result. He instructed everybody to be back in their places next day at the usual time.
It has to be admitted that Winny and Saleni abandoned Bolfinch and fled home. This was to ensure that they had time to wash and try their clothes so they would be at their best tomorrow when Julatine had promised he would start painting in the detail. Bolfinch went late to work, and moaned to his colleagues about the problems caused when an artist gets involved in your courtship.
+++Next day the trio were back in place. But unfortunately word had got round. Thus Silk Merchant’s Repose was crowded. Julatine was incensed, all those people standing in the way meant that the light was wrong. Indeed so crowded was it that when he reached out to put some more brown on his brush, he found himself painting with onion gravy he’d inadvertently acquired from the plate of a diner who had cleared himself a space by the simple expedient of pushing Julatine’s paints off the table. For Julatine this was the last straw.
+++Omartan, the owner, knew nothing of this. He was working upstairs in his office. Now even there he could keep his finger on the pulse of affairs below him. A raised voice, angry shouting, the crash of crockery, would all have him downstairs in an instant. But all was quiet. It was only after a while he realised it was too quiet. He stood up and opened the door of his office. Instead of the low hum of conversation and diners concentrated mainly on eating, interspersed with the occasional scraping of a chair or perhaps the slightly louder tones of somebody ordering their meal, there were no sounds at all.
+++Omartan made his way cautiously downstairs to discover his establishment empty save for Julatine and his three sitters. It appears that Julatine had noticed Chesit Quince amongst the spectators. So Julatine had paid him to empty the place and keep it empty. Given that Chesit can carry an anvil under one arm and has stopped runaway horse teams dead in their tracks, this he achieved with no difficulty at all.
+++Omartan could take no more. He demanded that Julatine let customers in so he could continue to run his business. Julatine at this point got on his high horse, accused Omartan of being a gore-bellied gut-gripping hedgemott with no artistic sensitivities. He told him to finish his own painting, grabbed his assorted equipment and stormed out.
+++That evening Ingenious Trool dropped in for a meal, heard the story, and offered to take the painting home and finish it. It was he who added the three diners in the background purely from his imagination. Thus one of them is Lancet and one of them is me. The third, a bearded gentleman apparently asking the clean shaven Lancet for a loan is Sinian Var, reputed to be the wealthiest usurer in Port Naain. Trool also painted the expression of the face of Bolfinch. (The latter admitted later that Trool had caught his emotions perfectly) He also added the cat, which folk felt was a stroke of genius. Omartan was overjoyed, paid Trool with a number of excellent free meals and everybody was happy.
+++Save of course for Julatine, who when he heard his painting had been finished, had his lawyers (the Beenchkin partnership) sue Trool for stealing his painting. Beenchkin sent Trool a bill for one hundred alars to compensate their client. Trool had never possessed a tenth of that sum, so merely offered them the picture back in compensation. The Beenchkin clerk replied frostily that the picture was barely worth a hundred vintenars, never mind a hundred alars. They wanted their money. Unfortunately for them, this letter came into the hands of Julatine who was mortified to see the low value placed on his work. Outraged, he hired a lawyer from the Zare family to sue the Beenchkins. Finding themselves sued by their own client the Beenchkins countersued.
+++At this point Julatine acted with real genius. He approached the court and pointed out that as he was suing lawyers he demanded a blind bench. This term needs some explaining. Because there is a fear amongst the laity that when lawyers are being sued by the laity, magistrates (also lawyers of a sort) might be intimidated into supporting their own kind rather than giving a fair hearing to the lay person who is paying for it all. Thus a ‘blind bench’ is empowered. Three magistrates sit, but they sit behind a screen so that nobody will ever know who gave judgement. Lawyers hate this. If you think magistrates can be capricious when the world is watching them, just imagine how they act when they have anonymity. Julatine was awarded his blind bench. Immediately Beenchkin and Zare both settled out of court, paying large sums to both Julatine and Trool on the understanding that nobody would ever talk about the incident ever again.
—————————————————————————————————————————————-

Should you wish to know more about Port Naain and Tallis Steelyard you might fancy reading Tallis Steelyard. Playing the game, and other stories.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tallis-Steelyard-Playing-other-stories-ebook/dp/B07PV1N7XZ/

https://www.amazon.com/Tallis-Steelyard-Playing-other-stories-ebook/dp/B07PV1N7XZ/

As one reviewer commented, “Another great collection of short stories about Port Naain poet Tallis Steelyard. This is the second collection I’ve read, and I enjoyed it as much as the first one – if not more so. The individual stories are amusing, and a little quirky, and well suited for a quick read to disconnect from reality after a long day.
Heartily recommended.”

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A man who doesn’t pay his bills never lacks for correspondence

A man who doesn’t pay his bills never lacks for correspondence

Wilton Stillwater wasn’t the sort of person you’d immediately accuse of being a puking, ill-minded, fustilarian. He was, in his own eyes, a man of impeccable honesty who always paid his bills. Eventually. So he was somewhat irritated when Struan Cruet, the grocer, paid a small boy to follow him round shouting a variety of insults after him.

On the other hand, I can rather see where Cruet was coming from. Stillwater owed him money, yet paid his bills, in full, every five weeks. The problem is that Cruet sent a bill out every four weeks and had initially been entirely happy when Stillwater seemed to be so prompt with his payments. It only eventually dawned upon him that, actually, for every five bills he sent out, Stillwater had only paid four and after three years there was a considerable amount of money outstanding.

I, as a poet, know the standard of living to which I aspire, and attempt to achieve it. Obviously there are times where patrons are remiss in sending me money, or even in offering me work, and the flow of funds, never exactly a torrent, dries up to a trickle. Well I can hardly be expected to go without eating, or sharing a glass of wine with my friends, just because others have failed in their duty.

But with Stillwater he seemed to avoid paying his bills as a matter of policy. It wasn’t that he hadn’t got the money, it was simply that he would put the money on deposit, or invest it in some money making scheme. Thus when he finally got round to paying you, he could keep the return that his investment had made.

Some debts were older than others. Hence he purchased a suit from Sakes. This he bought to get married in. He finally paid for it when he needed it altering so he could wear it to marry the second Madam Stillwater. Given that he and the first Madam Stillwater had had five children, you can see that he hadn’t actually rushed into handing over the money. Indeed the only reason he paid at all was that Sakes held the suit to ransom, refusing to hand it over, or even do any work on it, until he had been paid in full for the purchase, and in advance for the alterations.

This incident aside, it has to be admitted that Stillwater wasn’t often outwitted.

Dame Readle, who ran the dame school Stillwater’s children attended was perhaps the worst hit. At the end of the first year she asked where the money was, and by the end of the third year she was threatening to expel the children, on a weekly basis. Yet when she finally managed to catch up with Stillwater, he merely pointed out that she was educating the children, she was not educating him, thus it was only proper than she approached the children for money. Indeed he pointed out that for the last three years he had been teaching her several valuable life lessons. Thus it had occurred to him that she ought to be paying him. Finally Dame Readle had to be happy with a promise that the children would pay the debt back out of the money they earned once they started work.

Perhaps inadvertently, it was the children who were the cause of Stillwater’s schemes coming to an end. For Madam Stillwater’s first confinement, husband and wife decided to approach Mord Filch who provided a midwife and generally remained in the background. Still he was on hand and maintained a watching brief. The midwife was entirely competent and the mother blessed by nature with a physique well suited to childbirth. Mord Filch’s role in the whole process was dropping round after the birth to check up on things and to congratulate mother on such a beautiful baby. Still the midwife needed paying and by the time Mord Filch had got round to sending the bill (he was somewhat lax in these matters,) Madam Stillwater was once again expecting. So it seemed not unreasonable to pay for both together after the second baby was born. Again due to delays on both sides, when the bill arrived, Stillwater wrote back asking whether there shouldn’t be a discount for quantity, and whether he could expect to get three for the price of two? Finally Mord agreed to four for the price of three.
When the fifth child arrived the midwife stepped in and refused point blank to do anything until the money was paid in advance. Her implacable stance collapsed when Madam went into labour and Stillwater disappeared. The midwife sent Stillwater a note telling him that he wasn’t getting his wife and child back until he’d paid the bill for her services. Stillwater, calculating the savings that would ensue from not having meet the day to day expenses of wife and child, never bothered to answer the letter.

Finally after three weeks, Madam Stillwell, exasperated beyond measure, went home to her mother and sent her husband a note which effectively stated that she was resigning from the role and dignity of being his wife and would like back the funds she brought to the marriage. Wise to her soon to be ex-husband’s little ways, she asked the court not merely to dissolve her marriage, but also to instruct Stillwell to pay her the money.

The court took cognisance of her request and instructed Marisol and Chesini Clogchipper, forensic accountants, to investigate the financial affairs of Wilton Stillwater. They reported back, laying before the court the whole sordid picture. The court was unanimous. Wilton Stillwater had arrogated to himself the privileges of late payment properly pertaining to the public purse. He was instructed, firmly, to cease this behaviour. The court also pointed out to Madam Stillwell that she had been happy enough to benefit from her ex-husband’s business practices whilst she was married to him, so complaining about them now seemed a touch hypocritical. Hence she would merely be added to the end of the list of his creditors once she had divorced him. Given that during this somewhat lengthy legal process Stillwater had already married the second Madam Stillwater, he did attempt to appeal the court’s decision on the grounds that the cost of maintaining his current wife must surely be sacrosanct and should not be counted as his income for the purposes of calculating how much he could afford to pay back his first wife.

Instead the court repaid all the debts from court funds and told Stillwater that he was now in debt to the court and that the court would charge interest on this loan. This would be calculated at the rate of six percent, per month, compounded. Stillwater paid off the lot within the first month but the experience broke him. He was never the man he had been. He couldn’t get over the fact that a policy, considered entirely normal when carried out by the public authorities, should be considered immoral when put into effect by a private citizen for their own benefit.

 

And now we’d better hear from Jim Webster.

So here I am again with another blog tour. I’ve released two collections of short stories from Tallis and if you’ve enjoyed the one you just read, you’ll almost certainly enjoy these.

So what have Tallis and I got for you?

Tallis Steelyard, A guide for writers, and other stories

Well first there’s, ‘Tallis Steelyard. A guide for writers, and other stories.’ The book that all writers who want to know how to promote and sell their books will have to read. Sit at the feet of the master as Tallis passes on the techniques which he has tried and perfected over the years. As well as this you’ll have music and decorum, lessons in the importance of getting home under your own steam, and brass knuckles for a lady. How can you resist, all this for a mere 99p.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tallis-Steelyard-guide-writers-stories-ebook/dp/B07TRXJH8C/

 

Tallis Steelyard, Gentlemen behaving badly, and other stories

Then we have, ‘Tallis Steelyard. Gentlemen behaving badly, and other stories.’ Now is your chance to see Port Naain by starlight and meet ladies of wit and discernment. There are Philosophical societies, amateur dramatics, the modern woman, revenge, and the advantages of a good education.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tallis-Steelyard-Gentlemen-behaving-stories-ebook/dp/B07TRYZV6C/

So come on, treat yourself, because you’re worth it.

 

 

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book promotion, humor, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Just keep knocking

 – by Jim Webster

Have you noticed how there are people who never get the attention they deserve? Obviously it can work both ways. I know one or two people who really ought to come to the attention of the hangman, or perhaps that of a philanthropic assassin wishing to square his account with society. But there are also perfectly decent people who get overlooked or even ignored, often from the paltriest of reasons.

Take Morn Willit. A young man, handsome enough, intelligent, courteous and kind. Not only that but he had prospects. There again, there were unfortunate disadvantages as well. Firstly he was painfully shy. So shy that his two sisters feared he’d never pluck up the courage to speak to an eligible young lady, never mind ask her out to dine with him. Secondly he walked with a pronounced limp, from the time when a Partannese mace had smashed his leg.

Morn signed on as a squire with Lord Cartin’s company and in due season rose to become a man-at-arms. It has to be admitted that his shyness wasn’t a problem. Wearing a helmet with a full-face visor it didn’t matter whether he blushed or not, and anyway it wasn’t as if he was ever formally introduced to any to the Partannese brigands he was hired to fight. Unfortunately during his second season in Partann a backhanded blow with a mace smashed his calf. The surgeon started the operation by cutting away the heavy riding boot, shook his head sadly and did his best to mend what some other fool had marred.

Say what you want about Lord Cartin but he looks after his people. With his weak leg, Morn might be able to ride but he would never be able to fight as a man-at-arms. But Lord Cartin found him another job. He was to assist the Grand Provost in Port Naain.

Every time a ship sails or a company marches, sundry provosts and similar scour the bars and bordellos of Port Naain looking for men who have overstayed their leave. The role of the Grand Provost was to ensure that is an up-to-date list of these establishments which were known to be frequented by people of this class. Thus the busy ship’s captain didn’t have to scour the entire city, he merely handed his boatswain a list of suitable establishments and told him to get on with it. To be fair these establishments tend to cluster in certain areas. Bordellos and other establishments outside those areas probably try to serve a more distinguished clientele.

Morn’s job was to deal with problems that inevitably arose, when a boatswain who didn’t know Port Naain tackled the wrong bordello, or fighting arose because crewmen had decided that they no longer fancied a seafaring career.

This now brings us to Lucila. A rather pretty young woman, intelligent and determined to make her way in the world. Her grandmother died leaving Lucila a reasonable legacy. She pondered and then purchased a large house just off the Ropewalk. She had spent wisely, she got a lot of house for her money. Indeed she still had enough money left to renovate it a little. Then she rented out individual rooms to respectable young women who were working in the shops and businesses round and about. She was very insistent on them being respectable because she didn’t want the house to get a bad reputation with people treating it as a bordello.

This is rather ironic as whilst it had stood empty for some time, previously it had been a bordello. Thus it was on the Grand Provost’s list of bordellos in the Ropewalk area. Now this needn’t have been a problem. Except that Lucila and her tenants had been ensconced in their new home for no more than a few months when trouble struck. There was a tremendous hammering on the door at about midnight. By the time Lucila had managed to get a dressing gown thrown over her nightdress and got to the top of the stairs the hammering had stopped. This was because whoever was hammering had lost patience and had smashed the door in. Standing in her hallway on the shattered remains of her front door was an ensign and three crossbowmen. They were searching for defaulters from a condottiere company that was to march south next morning.
To be honest, at this point I must confess I feel a degree of sympathy for the ensign. He is expecting a bordello. He looks round and peering over the banisters at the top of the stairs is a growing number of young women in their night attire. In his defence I insist he was never less than polite. Not only that but after very few minutes he realised that whilst these ladies were in night attire, it was not ‘that’ sort of night attire. Finally he accepted their assurance that this was not the bordello he was looking for and he retired to continue his quest. Being the gentleman that he was, he left a crossbowman on the door to ensure that they didn’t have any other unwanted visitors.

Obviously this is the sort of problem Morn was paid to deal with. He rode up to the house next morning and inspected the damage. His sense of duty ensured that he was brisk and business-like and managed to cope with the terrors of dealing with Lucila and her tenants. He listened to their story, apologised profusely and then he and Lucila went to purchase a suitable door. Obviously as a gentleman he couldn’t ride whilst she walked at his horse’s head. And because he was lame, Lucila wasn’t going to let him walk whilst she rode. And equally it would have been fatuous to both walk with the horse coming along as a chaperone. So Morn climbed up onto the horse and Lucila sat behind him with her arms around his waist to help her stay on. A door was purchased, and the carpenter promised to fit it that very morning. So Morn and Lucila rode back to await his arrival. Lucila felt pleased to offer Morn coffee, and he drank it and chatted happily. His shyness seemed to have abated somewhat, but perhaps it’s impossible to be shy with somebody who has spent half the morning with her arms around your waist? The door fitted to everybody’s satisfaction, Morn left, taking the crossbowman with him. For the record, Lucila stood in her doorway and waved him off.

That, I suppose, would have been that. Save for the fact that three weeks later, Lucila was once more awakened by her front door crashing onto the hall floor. There were the usual somewhat tense discussions and next morning Morn arrived. Over coffee, matters were resolved, a new door was purchased and fitted. Before he left, Morn promised that he would see what he could do to stop these assaults on her property. Alas Lucila lost four more doors before the visitations finally ceased. Mind you, Morn and Lucila had been married for over a year before Morn admitted to her that he could have corrected the Grand Provost’s list after the first occasion. It was just that he couldn’t think of any other way he might get to meet her.

Tallis Steelyard
Should you wish to learn more of the world of Tallis Steelyard, you could do worse than read, “Tallis Steelyard, shower me with gold, and other stories.”
https://www.amazon.com/Tallis-Steelyard-shower-other-stories-ebook/dp/B01MRQFSGF/

As a reviewer commented, “This is a great collection of quirky little tales which are a spin-off from a series featuring Benor Dorffingil. Tallis is his friend, landlord, drinking companion and a jobbing poet. There are some lovely phrases used in here, as you would expect from a wordsmith like Tallis, who presents us with his pragmatic take on life. It’s an example of what happens when a minor character takes the reins and gallops off on his own. A great little book.”

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book promotion, Flash Fiction, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Jim Webster, Guest Author

“Gentlemen behaving badly”
 – by Jim Webster

The blame for this whole sad episode I lay most firmly at the feet of Mutya Ardlevice, daughter of Calthrop Ardlevice. Old Calthrop himself was a usurer, a man of substance, one of the wealthiest and most respected men of business in Port Naain. He was universally known as Ballplein from his habit of messing about with mechanical contraptions in his leisure time. The name came from his bald pate being considered remarkably similar to the hammer he tended to carry. His wife, known to everybody, (including, apparently, her husband) as Madam Ardlevice, was a patron of mine.

Young Mistress Mutya was a delightful child who grew up to become an attractive young woman. The presence of two younger brothers ensured that she was prized rather than spoiled. As is the way, she had many close friends amongst the young ladies of her age and they tended to meet socially on a regular basis.

One summer, they formed a picnic club. They would chose a location and meet there for a picnic. There was safety in numbers and whilst all you would see was the young ladies, just out of sight but still in earshot were domestic staff with ponies, traps and hampers. To be fair I merely heard about these events as the ladies entertained themselves and could fill a pleasant afternoon with convivial gossip and good fellowship. They did not feel the need for the services of a poet.

They made a rule for themselves that their picnics would be ‘ladies only.’ Whilst at any given time a number of them could boast gentlemen admirers, it was felt that they needed a space in which they could relax. Not only that but it meant that they had a forum where, should it be necessary, the failings of someone outwith their fellowship could be discussed in confidence. So the unreasonable demands of mothers, the financial constraints imposed by fathers, and the inane activities of brothers all got a proper airing.

These are doubtless reasonable, even proper subjects for discussion. Yet Mistress Mutya took things to another level when she discussed a young gentleman called Crisanto. It appears that this individual had caught Mutya’s eye and she was disposed to smile upon him. Crisanto seemed to be flattered by this attention, but seemed to be a most inconstant admirer. She had no evidence of him paying court to other ladies, but he seemed to struggle to ‘fit her in’ and she could go for days without hearing from him.

This got other young ladies pondering the issue. Finally one of them, Sissi Clearsmith, who was ‘walking out’ with Bromar Heel, rather smugly drew the attention of the meeting to the fact that Bromar was always charming and attentive. The meeting took heart from this. This inattentiveness wasn’t a universal failing. There were gentlemen out there who could behave properly.

Once this was accepted by the meeting, the discussion moved on to what should be done about it? Some sort of corrective action was obviously called for. The problem is, what should this action be? On this note the picnic ended but the young women agreed that they would ponder, and suggest remedies when they met the following week.

Unfortunately Sissi Clearsmith decided to discuss the matter with Bromar Heel. The problem she faced was not that he was unwilling to dance attendance upon her, but that she had great difficulty finding excuses to go and meet him. It might help if I were to explain that there are two opinions about Bromar Heel. A fair number of ladies consider him to be charming, personable, and excellent company. A lesser number of ladies and virtually all men regard him as a cad and dastard. Indeed I have known men with no female relatives whatsoever who will still instinctively reach for their horsewhip in his presence. Sissi’s father could not say the man’s name without spitting. It was only because her mother rather liked the young man that Sissi could get to meet him at all.

When Sissi brought her problem to Bromar Heel, he did not hesitate. “Any man so discourteous as to ignore the wishes of a lady deserves to be taught a strong lesson. A flogging is too good for him.”
To be fair to Bromar, when you have been threatened with as many floggings as he had, the temptation to get your revenge must be overwhelming. Unfortunately whereas an older or wiser lady would have disregarded his comments, Sissi hung on his every word and reported them verbatim to her confederates when they held the next picnic.

Again here I find myself wondering at the unfortunate combination of circumstances. Whilst this collection of young ladies might lack experience of the world, they were not to be treated lightly. Their parents were successful people, prone to take decisions and act decisively. These weren’t the daughters of a decayed aristocracy. These were the daughters of men and women who had made the most of their advantages and had worked hard to get where they were. I have noticed that this sort of thing can rub off on their offspring.

So Sissi made her suggestion, it was generally agreed and various of those present put forward names of young men whom they felt were in need of correction. Mutya was deputised to arrange matters, and the ladies all chipped in a sum so that there was a budget for the project. Mutya’s childhood nurse, now retired, was the sister of an elderly enforcer, Brag Three-Teeth. Mutya merely dropped in on the old lady and finding the Brag present, gave him the list of names and the money to go with it.

Here Mutya was lucky. Provided you aren’t fussy about your instruments it is remarkably cheap to get somebody killed in Port Naain. Admittedly at the cheaper end of the market one has to deal with drunken psychopaths who will probably kill the wrong person. Still when Brag looked at the names and the sum of money he had been given, he realised that he could hire competent assassins. At this point he decided that for Mutya’s sake he would instead merely hire ruffians to administer a beating. This took a mere third of the budget and the money saved would keep his sister and him in some comfort through the next winter.

Now it may be he had been too economical.  Had he paid somebody who had enough good hard lads to deal with everybody on the list on the same day, then matters would doubtless have gone much as he expected. Unfortunately he gave the job to Young Maggins. This doubtless capable individual was starting out for himself. No longer satisfied to just wield a truncheon at somebody else’s direction, he had decided to put together a team of his own and to tender for contracts directly. I confess I can see where Brag was coming from. We ought to encourage those just starting out in business. But in this case, whilst Maggins was conscientiously working through the list, there was only him and three lads. The list was going to take him a couple of weeks. So inevitably word got round. Young men, realising that a friend of theirs had been beaten up by hired professionals, would take more care. Indeed they made a point of going round in groups. Soon, rather than administering a perfunctory beating, Maggins found he was forced to fight pitched battles. Others got drawn in, and generally things got out of hand and over budget. Finally when one brawl had brought Ropewalk to a standstill the Watch took an interest. Maggins, his leg in plaster and with his head aching abominably, confessed that it was Brag Three-teeth who had given him the work. But because Brag had been sadly loose-mouthed, Maggins also mentioned Mutya.

Here the watch was discreet and efficient. Rather than go through the proper procedures, they merely raised the matter with Madam Ardlevice. As I was present, helping to organise Madam’s Summer Ball, I was retained by Madam as a witness. Mutya was summoned to her mother’s presence, and on being questioned, candidly explained how the situation had arisen. Madam, to my surprise, was more exasperated than angry.

“Mutya my girl, would you describe your father as a good father?”

Somewhat surprised at this line of questioning, Mutya loyally answered in the affirmative.

“So Mutya, would you say he is ever attentive, constantly dancing attendance on my, and pandering to my every whim?”

Here one could see Mutya’s instinctive loyalty to her much loved father battling with her innate honesty. “No.”

“For as long as I’ve known him, your father has had a fascination with mechanisms. Indeed when we were courting there were times when I realised that he hadn’t time for a lady-friend and his beloved steam engines, and I loathed those little engines because of it.”
I could see from Mutya’s face that she both followed her mother’s argument and agreed with it. Madam continued. “But when I became the wife, I realised I loved those little engines for exactly the same reason. He still hasn’t time for lady friends and steam engines.”

Here the slow dawning of realisation was visible on Mutya’s face. “You mean….”

“Yes, no woman in Port Naain has a more loyal or obliging husband than I.”

With this Mutya was silent and I could see her mother watching her. It was obvious to me at least that the older woman was struggling to remain stern-faced.

“Do your brothers have hobbies?”

Mutya looked up. “Yes.” Then with a note of distaste she added, “Their rooms are filled with stuffed animals or insects pinned to cards.”

“All men have interests they follow assiduously throughout their lives. They are by nature collectors. But you will notice some men seem to avoid this, and instead they will be charming and attentive and ladies find them excellent company.”

Cautiously Mutya said, “I have noticed this. I assumed it to be a norm from which other men had fallen.”

“No Mutya, they are merely men whose hobby is women. Have you ever known a collector whose collection stopped with one specimen?”

Swimming for profit and pleasure  Tallis Steelyard, Deep waters, and other stories

Jim’s Amazon author’s page:
https://www.amazon.com/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I?

 

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