Rather than his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with one gripping adventure. A tale of adventure, duplicity and gentility.
Why does an otherwise respectable lady have a pair of sedan chair bearers hidden in her spare bedroom? Why was the middle aged usurer brandishing an axe? Can a gangster’s moll be accepted into polite society?
Answer these questions and more as Tallis Steelyard ventures unwillingly into the seedy world of respectable ladies who love of sedan chair racing.
As with Sue Vincent, I am honoured to open the Tallis’ tour of the blogosphere to promote his new book of a gripping adventure. Episodes published here:
It has always been assumed that I share the fashionable contempt for mime artists. Frankly I don’t. Indeed I’ve worked with them and once they can bring themselves to get over the ‘trapped in an invisible box’ routine, they can be useful partners. Look at their advantages. Unlike musicians and others I could mention, they are, almost by definition, silent. Not only that but whilst they can be somewhat distracting at times, compared to the lascivious gyrations of some dancers, they are staid and uninteresting.
Finally they are often so pathetically grateful to get any sort of paying work at all, that they can be trusted to follow instructions with almost dog-like devotion to the detail.
Now I wouldn’t go so far as to accuse Virgilio, another of Madam Jeen Snellflort’s gentlemen adventurers of being a mime artist, but it must be said he had studied the art and was modestly accomplished in it. When not following his art, or doing whatever gentlemen adventurers are supposed to do when not actually adventuring, he earned an extremely modest living as an assistant clerk of works to the drains department. This organisation might need some explanation. Some parts of the city do have drains, and of course
the Sump has to be flushed. So there is a small permanent staff of workmen who do the maintenance. Whichever Sinecurist picks up the bill for the department is expected to send their household staff to assist if matters get particularly fraught.
Fate, or his own inspired choice, had given Virgilio the task of acquiring the clockwork automaton of Thannial Jett for Madam Jeen. He spent some time in reconnaissance. Every three days Thannial Jett had his automaton perform in Cross-pein Hammer Square just outside Thacker’s Yard. The automaton, man sized, would arrive in a crate. The crate would initially be screened by a curtain which surrounded it completely, Finally when a crowd had gathered, the curtain was whisked away and the crate was opened to allow the crowd to see the automaton sitting writing at a desk. After a couple of minutes it would put down the pen, stand up and walk out of the crate and perform a range of exercises as if loosening up after being seated for too long.
Finally as the clockwork ran down and the automaton started to move more slowly, Jett would gently catch it. Virgilio noted that at this point Jett always pressed a stud on the neck, which seemed to release any remaining tension in the spring for the automaton always relaxed totally at this point.
Merely acquiring the device wasn’t enough for Virgilio. He wanted to make sure that there was no investigation that might lead to difficult questions being asked. He needed a substitution rather than just a removal. His first thought was to just produce a crate and substitute his crate for the automaton and crate. This he discarded on the grounds of weight. There was no way he could have lifted it on his own.
He then pondered briefly breaking into Jett’s premises, removing the automaton and taking its place in the crate. This idea he also discarded when casual conversation with one of Jett’s assistants revealed that the automaton was wound up just before it left the premises. The key was pushed unto a hole concealed between the buttocks.
Finally Virgilio hit upon his plan and made his preparations. Firstly, like every assistant clerk of works since the beginning of time, he habitually added the signatures of his superiors to all the work sheets. Hence he invented an entirely new project, ‘The New Drain.’ The first steps in creating the New Drain were to dig six inspection hatches in Cross-pein Hammer Square. These he marked out on the ground and two of the gangs proceeded to dig them, line them with brick, fit ladders, and fit the cast iron hatch covers.
To be fair the gangs did question their work. Normally when you dig a new inspection hatch you dig down six or seven feet until you hit the drain, and that done you work from there. Virgilio’s explanation that this time it had been decided to install the inspection hatches first and then have the drain dug to join them later struck them as typical of the sort of bright ideas you get from university trained civil engineers.
On the day that he had decided to act, Virgilio arrived at the square very early. He was wearing white satin breeches, red jacket, a wig, and a considerable amount of makeup smeared on his face. He opened the inspection hatch he felt most likely to be nearest the crate when it arrived and climbed down the ladder, replacing the hatch cover after him. He then waited in silence until finally Thannial Jett and his assistants arrived. Virgilio
could hear them stamping about and when everything went quiet he carefully lifted the hatch cover and peered out. He was near the crate and better still, the curtain stopped people from seeing him. He hastily clambered out, opened the back of the crate, pulled out the automaton, pressing the stud on its neck to relax it. He then gently lowered it down the inspection hatch, carefully replacing the hatch cover when he was done. Then he wiggled into the crate, pulling the back closed after him, and took his place on the
He was barely seated there when there was some sort of commotion outside, perhaps the curtain being removed. Then suddenly the front of the case was opened and Virgilio was on display. Mimicking the movements of the automaton he wrote briefly then stood up. Here his training as a mime came into its own. He was apparently very convincing as an automaton, having got the device’s jerky movements off pat. As far as I can discover, Virgilio is one of those people who tries not to ‘over-plan.’ Up until this point he was not entirely sure how he would end the performance. After all the minute Jett caught hold of him at the end of the performance he’d realise that this was no automaton. Fortunately chance left an opening for him. A small child had wiggled through to the front of the crowd and was watching the performance with scepticism. Finally when Virgilio’s callisthenics brought him near, the child reached out and grabbed Virgilio’s leg.
“Hey, it ain’t real, it’s a man.”
Virgilio didn’t hesitate, he spotted a gap in the crowd and broke free from the grasp and fled through the gap and away. Behind him he could hear shouts as people demanded their money back from Jett and denounced him as a fraud.
When it came to recovering the automaton, Virgilio’s plans had been suitably vague. He had initially intended to go with a handcart and collect it at night. Unfortunately in Port Naain, moving about at night with a handcart merely draws attention to your activities. There is a feeling that no honest man ever trundled a handcart through the streets in the hours of darkness.
But having handled the automaton he came up with a simpler plan. He removed all the makeup and waited until evening. Then, dressed in his own clothes and carrying a cloak he made his way to Cross-pein Hammer Square. When nobody was about he hauled the automaton out of the inspection hatch, threw a cloak round its shoulders and placed the automaton’s arm over his
shoulder. Then, singing raucously like a drunken student trying to get his even drunker friend to bed, he weaved his noisy way home. Next morning, with the automaton bundled in canvas, he pushed it on a handcart to Madam Jeen Snellflort’s abode and she took care of things from then on.
Thannial Jett avoided being charged for fraud, but was instead charged with common assault when he attacked a bystander with the automaton’s key, knocked him down and promised to ‘wind him up.’ The nameless collector who had acquired the automaton was delighted. The knowledge she gained from studying her acquisition pushed forward her own researches. The gratitude was tangible enough to be expressed in the form of three small freehold properties generously donated to the sanatorium.
There is a truth in fiction that can never be found in most non-fiction save those factual by measure or geography. As I write that sentence I wonder how many exceptions may exist, but generally. In my mind anything biographical or autobio is suspect.
Why? Perception. To perceive something, even that experienced by self, is flavored by condition, circumstance, past, belief, and personal understanding.
Fiction has always been my preference but the wisdom of age encourages me to widen my knowledge base. Seek new things, learn new things, do new things. My friend Joss Burnel who is one Crowing Crone Woman of Wisdom leads by example in stepping out of one’s comfort zone.* I can’t link for some reason so Joss can be found at crowingcrone.com.* I am not sure there is much bravery or adventure in broadening one’s reading preference as she now travels the world having really stepped out, but it is a start.
My own perception of age is changing from a youthful belief that old age is a time to take it easy, a well-earned rest, to one that continuing to change and learn and work is vital. To stop learning, to stop changing is to stop living and all of a sudden having reached the sixth decade and soon to see it in the rear view mirror of life, the ability to learn seems crucial. Now when I check out of the library every few days I include at least one non-fiction in my haul. Included are several bios and autobios as well as books on religion, politics, sciences, well, almost anything that catches my attention. Almost all autobiographies are difficult reads, presented in very two dimensional slices with gaping holes big enough to qualify for the Swiss cheese designation. I have read biographies that seemed to have way too much of the author’s persona imbedded too deep to recognize resulting in a ‘barely there’ subject leaving me feeling too much has been glossed over. How much do we really want to share about our lives anyway? How much should we share?
I have made several starts at a family history, something I think my children might value. Part way through it occurred to me to question exactly how much information should I be passing on? We are all entitled to privacy I think and I believe our paths are very private. We all make mistakes and that is how we grow and learn. Do we need to hang out all the dirty laundry?
Celebrities and the over exposure of their lives make for great entertainment, at least as far as the public is concerned. God knows every magazine and entertainment show knows this and they reap mega bucks in the revelations. Mind you some so called stars beg for the exposure and then whine when lines are crossed.
The thing is, people tend to believe what they read. Good fiction makes you feel the possibility. Do you think that is true? I mean look at those who so wanted to believe Dan Brown’s story The Da Vinci Code that they now believe. Of course that is why I love fiction – I, you, any of us, can make it real thanks to the wonder of imagination. The greatest skill, the greatest gift in any work of fiction is to make it real.
Is there any truth at all in biographical non-fiction? Probably about as much as there is real milk in some so called dairy products? Does it matter? Perhaps not. One recent book of biography was a welcome refreshing exception to my perceptive bias. And a bias it must surely be since I have not read every bio ever printed so can only judge on very limited experience.
I’M YOUR MAN: The Life of Leonard Cohen
Sylvie Simmons was a new author to me and of course the initial draw to the book was the subject, Leonard Cohen, someone to whom I would declare complete and total admiration. Why? I guess because he did it his way with no apology. Did he do it right with no regret? Of course not. Are there any of us who have no regret? I’d sure like to hear about it if he/she is out there. Without dissecting the content I would just say it is a good read that felt more honest than most.
What do you think about when you pick up a story? I hesitate to say ‘pick up a book’ because stories are accessed in many ways today. The most obvious answer is entertainment, a peek at, and an opportunity to enter someone else’s world for a while. To become a part of another experience and by the time the last page is perused a sigh perhaps of satisfaction, or frustration, or contemplation.
Most of us have favorite authors we depend on, knowing what we will get, not necessarily in the events contained within, but a guarantee of familiarity. What I like to think of as the Comfort Food of literature. Some of you follow the top sellers keeping abreast of what’s in, providing opportunity for new experiences and thoughts. I make it a point during my weekly library trips to include new authors, at least to me, and when a book is recommended by a friend, I read it. I am not much for romantic themed or erotic stories and therefore have never read Fifty Shades of anything, the series that brought shades of education and blushes to the cheeks of females who otherwise may never have admitted publicly taking delight in sexual adventures. When pressed by many acquaintances to at least give a read, my response has consistently been that I do erotica, I don’t read it. Ha Ha. Whether that is true or not is not for discussion, but it was a glib enough response to satisfy and take the encouragers off on another path.
My Comfort Food Fiction listis fairly extensive and is the source for rereads as well as waiting in anticipation for the next volumes to appear. Included are Koontz, Crichton, King, Cussler, Meyers, Rowling, Buck, and Dickens. Of course those that have passed on can only stand as rereads and that is fine.
Comfort is hard to come by with a few authors and yet I embrace them heart and soul. Reality in fiction can be sad, even depressing but the struggle, or rather surviving the struggle is a story worthy of notice. I wonder in this western culture of pursuing happiness, if we have done ourselves a disservice and weakened our ability to survive by believing that happiness is indeed the gold ring of achievement and not survival itself.
Reynolds Price wrote a book published in 1998 called Roxana Sladewhich was referred to me by a friend. It almost seems that this man merely channeled the voice of Roxana who at ninety odd years relates her life tale and takes you, the reader on a journey of struggle, loss, and survival. His (the author) is so skilled that you quickly embrace Roxana and fold her being into your existence. Whenever I put the book down for a bit, the characters and situations stayed with me, and I found myself thinking about them throughout the day until I could again curl up and turn another page. Now that is amazing writing.
I have another favorite author that I simply cannot allot to my Comfort Food Fiction list, and that is Patricia Cornwell. Her Scarpetta Seriesand characters are as familiar to me as my own family, but I seldom feel a sense of comfort. The most recent read is ‘dust’.
Cornwell is a must for me even though I know there will be questions, anxiety, and frustration from time to time. All of her characters are flawed and not in the cute little way popular fictional hero characters are flawed but overcome, but in a haunting kind of way that strikes me at times as too real.
As a Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta always has a mystery to solve but the story is more about the struggles and survival of our characters, the things they battle internally to still carry and on and succeed. People get unjustly fired, are not well liked, have struggles with what they wish life was like and is not. Justice does not always prevail. Solving the mystery, catching the bad guy is often anticlimactic to the process, the living, the surviving.
Frankly, for me, experiencing the discomfort of some of these stories, the reality and the survival helps me keep my own reality in perspective. There are sad, bad, unjust, horrible things in life. But there is much more to be valued.
Have you found the same thing? What do you get out of Fiction? Why do you read Fiction?
I have wakened between four and five each morning for a while now. Usually I lie and consider the warmth of my bed, snuggling in a little deeper and give thanks for my comfort, and then, turn over for another couple of hours of comfort. Always a quick little thought intervenes that says, rise, spring up, start the day with vigor and through much self-discipline I stay abed. Simply because I can. This morning was a little different as a softer thought gently wafted into my brain. How about getting up just to see what the day might hold for you? No rush, no fuss, no muss. So here it is, 6:18 am, showered, sipping a cup of tea, and considering some very Important Thoughts. (I have mentioned before that my early early morning thoughts seem to carry concepts and originality the rest of the day never sees.)
So what wonderous pervasive notion has captured my mind today?
Champions or perhaps non-Champions or perhaps some kinds of Champions. (No I have not been eating ‘Wheaties – The Breakfast of Champions lately’) What has been on my mind of course is NaNoWriMo as it is for many in this magical month. And that got me to thinking – great thoughts (depending on the time of day of course).
Now you won’t find any whining and snivelling oh poor me here. This is a journey of discovery. Yep, I have the concept, the plot, story, beginning, and ending. Like all people, many of whom have full-time jobs in addition to this commitment, time is a challenge and my life much like yours is going through a period where the fates have increased the drama quotient by whirling up a stew of deaths, heartaches, illnesses, more illnesses, strife between people, stressors (none of which are mine personally, but family and friends) all in the last ten days, stirred it all with the mighty universal spoon, thrown in our bowls and said, “Now deal with it.”
Now the scene is set. No excuses to be had as life tends to do that to all of us sometimes, and while we look at our own set of problems there are way too many dealing with much much more. Now setting all this in its place comes the crux of the matter.
I like to write. I will finish this story because it deserves to be told. I will finish it on time.
It did get me thinking about different kinds of Champions though and my mind turned to running and races.
There are for instance Sprints, 100, 200, 300 meters which require a quick and large output of speed and focus on the athlete’s maximum attainment of speed. Whew even the thought leaves me breathless and my heart feels like it should start pounding explosively. ( I won’t let it of course – much too old for such nonsense). But the Sprint is pretty much what we bloggers do on a daily basis.
Then there are the Middle Distance Runners at 800 or 1500 meters. This takes a little more strategy in accomplishing a win without blowing all your energy in the first quarter or half. Different mind set.
Then, aha! The Long Distance Runner. Now that’s what I am talking about. Going the distance. The Novel.
My ever trustworthy and sharing friends at Wikipedia have this interesting tidbit of information.
Stride rate and types
Exercise physiologists have found that the stride rates are extremely consistent across professional runners, between 185 and 200 steps per minute. The main difference between long- and short-distance runners is the length of stride rather than the rate of stride.
During running, the speed at which the runner moves may be calculated by multiplying the cadence (steps per second) by the stride length. Running is often measured in terms of pace in minutes per mile or kilometer. Fast stride rates coincide with the rate one pumps one’s arms. The faster one’s arms move up and down, parallel with the body, the faster the rate of stride. Different types of stride are necessary for different types of running. When sprinting, runners stay on their toes bringing their legs up, using shorter and faster strides. Long distance runners tend to have more relaxed strides that vary.
Reaching the finish line.
It’s wonderful to have dallied all these many many years thinking what a wonderful novelist I would be. The thought first arrived on a sunny June afternoon about fifty years ago (oops a little of my procrastination side showing here). I think it is pretty much time to find out and the ‘have to’ of a deadline makes it exciting. Push come to shove I may just find out I am a Sprinter, in which case I shall devote all energy there. Lord knows I am in exemplary company there.
Mondays are Plot days. Stories from the press with a few ‘whys’ and ‘what ifs’ which could be the makings of a possible story line. A bit of creative brain exercise. Yes I know this is Tuesday but since the last few days have been spent with my Scots Cuz Rachael and other family members, ‘making merry’ as Bob Cratchit would say, I have seen neither newspaper or telecasts.
So today’s ‘What ifs’ are really one line from two different stories, one last week and one from ages ago that I tucked into my grey matter for future use and wonders of wonders was able to extract.
The first was a headline in our local rag; MAN ACCUSED OF ARSON AND MURDER A NORMAL GUY. Huh???? For some reason the press decided to lead with a statement from the accused’s brother. Being a wordsmith my response remains ‘Huh”????? I mean I suppose there are some possible ‘what ifs’ but geez (wordsmithing again) they pretty much only extend to alien or evil possession and that story has been told time and time again.
The other line from a past story concerned a man whose office was relocated to a very high newly constructed building. Some of the office staff were apprehensive about safety issues. The man said he would show them how safe it was and launched himself against the plate glass which promptly broke and he fell to his death. The statement in the article was, “He was a very smart man.”
I’m sure he was but the statement begs another big ‘Huh’???? I am not sure I can even come up with a what if for this one. Can you?
Have you witnessed or read anything in the last week that got your mind churning with ‘what ifs’. They are all around us just waiting to be snapped up. My hero Stephen King does it all the time.
Now for that less than delectable lunch of crow:
My sibs and I are very close and really like each other. My brother Keith who is less than a year younger than I is more like me than not. At least that is what his wife says. I have always placed my brothers on well deserved pedestals, but there is one specific situation in which we clash. It has now happened twice in the last two years now.
Here is the scene: five people are driving in a car to a specific location. The same location as two years ago. Our destination is in an area I frequently drive through. He does not. I am sitting in the back.
Me: Keith what route are you taking?
Me and my sis in unison: FIFTY-TWO??????
Through further dialogue not necessary to record here he finally goes my suggested route. Once we arrive at our destination he madly drives first down one road and then down another until he in fact finds 52. Not a word is said as we proceed back to our target. When we leave at evening’s end he quickly heads down the road to 52. Nary a word is spoken by me. Somewhere in the conversation earlier he said something to my cuz in the front seat about not having duct tape when you need it.
Okay here comes the Crow eating. Ahem (clearing throat).
Dear Brother, whilst my directions did get us there I have to confess openly, and generously, and modestly, that left to your own devices you would have reached your destination just fine.
PS (not for Keith’s eyes) I still could have gotten us there more directly.
PPS Next time I shall supply the duct tape and apply it to myself prior to launch.
PPPS I just love how magnaminous I am!
PPPPS I guess 2 head-ons in 2 years isn’t so bad.
***It is highly unlikely that my brother will not read this as he does not read my blogs. However there is a chance my cuz may.