Writing Greenwood Tree – and more

Author Archive

Of Artists and Anarchists

“…A poster, half dangling from its moorings, flutters briefly in the draught created by passing coats and capes, delivering its message in flickers:

‘International… Congress … of Anarchists …’

Various speakers from America and Russia will be present including one Slavic prince lately escaped from an impenetrable fortress – such stuff as legends are made of, thus warranting a giant of a man swathed in dark cape with Byronic eyes and pose; and surely there should be a raven perched on one shoulder to complete the picture. Instead, the audience is treated to a little man of cherubic features, half smothered by bushy beard, whose eyes, Byronic or otherwise, are shielded by thick pebble glasses. …”

  (Of Soul Sincere, Part One, Chapter 2)

This could be called the Story of a Printing Press. Except that there is more than one printing press. It could also be a story about a family – only, there is more than one family.  It might be the story of one particular address – and yet, that too changes. It could also be about anarchists.  It is certainly about writers. Writers with quite an artistic and literary pedigree.

When does it start? I had thought to begin with the late 19th century; but really it could be said to originate in the 1830s when Italian writer and scholar Gaetano Polidori, by then residing in London, set up a printing press at his home near Regent’s Park and proceeded to print, among other things, the early work of his grandchildren: Maria, Christina, Dante Gabriel and William Michael Rossetti.

His eldest son (uncle to Dante and William) was that same John Polidori who became physician to Lord Byron and author of The Vampyre, the first of its kind. Interesting to note that Lord Ruthven, the vampire of the novella, was based on Lord Byron, just as Bram Stoker’s Dracula was based on Henry Irving – inspired by that same draining quality on the energies of the people surrounding them. As much a social commentary as gothic fiction, it is tempting to see in The Vampyre an anticipation of the later Rossettian social conscience in John’s nephews and nieces.

John Polidori by F.G.Gainsford

The two sisters we know went on to write poems and act as models for Pre-Raphaelite opiate-ingesting Dante. Poor Dante. His drawing, anatomically never terribly brilliant, took on near nightmarish qualities as laudanum, alcohol and mental instability progressed – not unlike Friedrich or Blake in its solidity, yet  weightier:  – a tangible expression of the oppression brought on by his mental and physical health. William Michael, by direct contrast, after briefly appearing in one or two paintings, went on to become writer, critic and, along with Dante, fellow founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848; in the same year, Dante began studying under Ford Madox Brown, whose daughter Lucy later married William Rossetti. The network was growing, with a fair amount of cultural overlap – artists with writers and the occasional politician (Burne-Jones, Kipling, Baldwin and Poynter were all connected by marriage).

Dante Gabriel Rossetti at 22 by Holman Hunt

Within the following few years, social revolution and anarchism were bubbling across Europe; the seeds sown by Proudhon gained momentum with Marx, Bakunin, Kropotkin, with its artistic counterpart represented by such movements as the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1853, Millais painted The Stile. In 1854, co-founder member Holman Hunt, produced The Awakening Conscience. Both of these caused quite a stir in their social commentary and symbolism, while contemporaneously in Smolensk a 12-year-old aristocrat called Peter Kropotkin renounced his title of Prince as a result of his republican education. He continued in his beliefs into adulthood, and furthermore, began to share his thoughts through writing and lecturing. In 1874, the year William Rossetti married Lucy, Kropotkin was arrested and imprisoned in the Peter and Paul fortress as a direct result of his teachings. He escaped from imprisonment in Russia and reached London, where he settled for a time, giving lectures on Anarchism.

In 1880 he wrote ‘Appeal to the Young’, a brief and brutally honest critique of living conditions for both rich and poor; by this time, William and Lucy had a family of five; the three eldest of the Rossetti children read it and decided to establish ‘The Torch’ in 1891. It was initially hand written, with small circulation.  Kropotkin travelled from Acton to visit their family home in St Edmund’s Terrace and was presented with a paper by Olivia (Isabel)to sign, regarding the political platform of the Torch. The anarchist was delighted to do so. (He appears, disguised as Count Voratin, in A Girl Among the Anarchists).  The Rossetti children later had tea with him in the British Museum (there were Thursday ‘At Homes’ held by Mrs Garnett in the east wing of her new address at the Museum). In 1881 he lectured at the International Congress of Anarchists, on which is based the meeting described in the opening extract from Of Soul Sincere.

Peter Kropotkin circa 1900

By the late 1880s, Ford Madox Brown was residing at Number One St Edmund’s Street. In 1890, his neighbours the Garrets moved to official residence at the British Museum, and the Rossetti brood moved into the newly vacated Number Three St Edmund’s Street. It was an unorthodox household; free from the trammels of religion, in a domestic environment where freedom and expression of thought were actively encouraged, it was hardly surprising to find the children developing eclectic interests as much in politics as in the arts.

In 1892, a year after ‘The Torch’ had begun, the Rossetti children acquired a new printing-press whch was installed in the Torch Room in the basement; circulation now increased and by 1894 the press moved to Camden Town, then to the West End, under the aegis of Dr Fausset Maconald and finally in December of that same year to Somers Town, near where the British Library now stands (and where the printing-press remained until 1928). ‘The place is constantly observed by policemen.’ (Olive Garnett, Diary)

Ford Maddox Brown continued to be closely connected: as father-in-law and neighbour (from 1890 on)to William Michael Rossetti, and as grandfather to Ford Maddox Ford, supposedly the friend from whom Conrad in casual conversation one day heard the words regarding anarchist activities: ‘Oh, that fellow was half an idiot. His sister committed suicide afterwards.’  Ford later re-wrote the words, and suggested he knew a great many anarchists and a great many of the police who watched them; he would, as cousin to the Rossetti children and as neighbour, have been well aware of the various anarchists who visited the Rossetti domicile.

Conrad visited William Rossetti the late 1890s or early 1900s, (possibly to discuss Nostromo) – Helen, the younger sister, recalled the occasion. She was by then twenty; he did not, according to her, meet Olivia(Isabel) although he may well have based his Lady Amateur in The Informer (1906)on her. He mentions The Torch in the first chapter of the Secret Agent(1907).

The Torch was by no means alone(see footnote below); it is interesting for its literary connections and the germs for narrative that were supplied as a result (The Girl Among the Anarchists, The Secret Agent, An Anarchist,The Informer). The Rossetti connection ended finally in 1896 and the press was handed over to Thomas Cantwell. Life had taken over, or perhaps as described in the Girl Among the Anarchists,  the Rossetti children had outgrown it. Kropotkin continued to be involved with the Freedom press for a while until theoretical disputes within the organisation caused him to part ways.

Cover for The Torch

And there you have it, a story that is more a mish-mash, a patchworky sort of a thing, where east meets west through the printed word; a mosaic as complex as the beings it describes. There is of course a lot more to it than the compressed version here; the following books are on my wishlist and will contain a great deal more detail and cohesion than my meagre effort and they are:

Conrad’s Secrets by Robert Hampson

Conrad’s Western World & Conrad’s Eastern World by Professor Norman Sherry

Essays on Conrad by Ian Watt


(FOOTNOTE)The main anarchist paper of the time was the Freedom, published by the Freedom Press, which publishing house still continues today, although the paper itself had ceased to run in 1927 (a year or so before the main action of Of Soul Sincere). (Freedom Press : History)




Appeal to the Young, by Peter Kropotkin can be read online here:




The Stile, by John Millais


Notes on The Stile by Millais:


The broken wall: if it is meant to be symbolic, then it could be suggestive of lost virginity – elsewhere it has been suggested that the wall represents a boundary, a form of innocence. If the sitter is indeed Effie Gray, as has also been suggested, the fact that Millais is painting her unchaperoned, in such a scenario, when she was trapped in an unconsummated marriage, offer even more interpretations, especially as Millais became her lover and eventual second husband.

In another interpretation the stile she sits upon acts as the stepping stone, or portal, of the wall; beyond it the viewer is treated to another landscape, fresh, green, apparently uncontrolled – a horizon of desire for freedom, perhaps, a hint at a more positive future. (If the model was instead Annie Miller, as has also been suggested, the symbolism does not change – he had taken her under his wing and educated her with a view to marriage – the relationship did not change until the 1860s when he decided she was unsuitable).


1853 : The Order of Release has Effie as the wife – but who is the wounded soldier husband she has rescued? Ruskin or Millais ?

The Order of Release by John E. Millais

Of Buns and Balancing Acts

‘Trunk – check.

Knees – check.

Now …. Up-si-daisy…creak, groan, not getting any younger, y’know. And we’re up! Loiter forward slowly – don’t let them think you can run or there’ll be no end to their demands …

Step one: collar the one in the top hat – he knows where the food is.

Step two : Walk, don’t run (see above).

Step three: allow them one encore then back out quick in pursuit of top hat (see step one)

Oh yes. The ball thing. Roll it about, kick it, balance it – keeps the punters happy.

And the old trick with the plate thingy.

Not sure I see the point to it, to be honest; perhaps it’s some form of exercise in Gestalt philosophy. More of a Copernican myself – when I’m not feeling Darwinian. But they’re a light-hearted lot here…

Right, done that, pick him up and carry out to rapturous applause. Where’s the grub?’


Well, I would quite like to think of Jumbo and his counterparts engaged in such ruminations while balancing balls and tossing plates (or was it vice-versa?) before being led off for a well-deserved pile of buns.

Elephants joined the circus relatively early in its evolution; the cavalcade of horses under the aegis of Mr (Sergeant-Major)Astley evolved in the late 18th century, and was quickly embellished with exoticism: as early as 1812 the first trained elephant performed at Cirque Olympique in Paris. This in turn set off the winning combination of circus and wild animals, most notably developed in Germany by the Hagenbecks, the world’s foremost importers and dealers of exotic animals.

The sheer logistics of transport quickly take on mind-boggling proportions in the 19th century, when the travelling circus became big business. Whole trainloads of performers both human and not travelled the length and breadth of Europe, some of them jumping aboard a passing steamship to America along the way – when Barnum’s came to London’s Olympia in 1889 their entourage comprised 450 performers, 300 horses and 21 elephants. The amount of hay alone required must have been astronomical.





A field. An ordinary, uncultivated field. Nothing untoward about it. A path running diagonally across, and a ditch running alongside. A handy pool in the middle distance, a tree or two, some wild flowers. And an elephant.

The elephant was not alone. She had wandered across to inspect the taller of the two trees tentatively with her trunk. A man with a canvas bag slung across one shoulder sauntered up beside her. ‘Come along now, old girl, you don’t want those, do you—look what I have here…’ And so saying he delved into the canvas bag and drew out some bread. This was quickly disposed of by the wandering proboscis.

A muted trundling in the distance grew gradually as a series of brightly coloured caravans grumbled across the ground; there was the occasional bark from the three dogs gambolling about, the chatter and clanking of pots and pans, swinging from their hooks in constant confabulation, a murmur of voices both within and without as the troupe dispersed, picking out their spots with the practised eye of a proprietor lately established in his new home. Each had its own identity: the fortune teller’s caravan had a huge white circle painted on the side, on blue sky with stars across which was emblazoned ‘L’Oeil Voyant’. Another, decorated with a mage in star-bespeckled robe spreading out his arms against a panoply of curtains, playing cards and tripods, heralded the coming of the Great Doctor Miraculous. A third, modest in comparison, yet of content explosive enough to outdo them all, featured a small man sailing across a night-sky, with below him the mouth of a magnificent cannon pointing diagonally up. And if the viewer were still in any doubt as to its significance, the whole was topped off by large, clear lettering that declared the occupant to be the one and only Human Cannonball: Blazer, A Marvel of the Modern World.

And so on: the clowns sported balls and hoops, the balancing act plates and cups teetering on poles and trays, and most imposing of all, the ringmaster’s own domicile, with both sides adorned with top hats, plumed horses in mid-leap and a whole collection of colourful performers, with the magnificent emblem ‘Roly Tadger’s Remarkable Circus of Oddities’ running in cheerful colours across. A modest king this, who, rather than take centre stage, chose to set his abode in the wings so to speak (in the shade of the trees), at a slight distance from the rest. A tall man in a chimney pipe hat stepped out and wandered amongst his citizens, checking on this, minding that.

Water was fetched from the pool, a clearing made for a fire, and food prepared. The elephant keeper wandered off, munching on an apple, sizing up the surrounding area. He ambled about, stretching occasionally, squinting up at a wintry sun, meandering along until he ended up near the ditch. The elephant, her curiosity regarding the trees now sated, drifted in his direction. Absently, her keeper fished another bread roll from his bag and handed it to her over his shoulder. His gaze focussed on a clump of grass overhanging the ditch.

‘Did you hear something, Milly?’ he enquired. Milly responded with a furtive rummage in his bag.

He stepped forward, and peered over to look at the ditch more carefully. He had not been mistaken. Another groan, as if in confirmation, came up from the sorry individual lying there.

‘Dear, dear. Footpads, no doubt. No good travelling alone in these parts: you wait there,’ murmured the keeper, as if the unfortunate man in the ditch were chafing to be off; the keeper turned and cupping his hands to his mouth let out a hearty ‘hallooo’ to his companions.

Instantly doors opened, feet clattered down caravan steps and an assortment of oddities both human and otherwise spilled across the field. One of them, in elegant coat and moleskin hat, with the air of a medical man, knelt in the ditch and checked the insensible body for breaks.

A decision was reached, a stretcher made up from coat and boom handles, and the unconscious man was lifted and carried back to one of the caravans. By general consensus, they put him in the caravan belonging to the Human Cannonball, he having the least cluttered of all.

Day passed into evening, evening into dawn, and come the morning the caravanserai set off again. From time to time they paused along the way: the tall man in a chimney-pipe of a hat would leap up and down steps, knocking on the door of the Human Cannonball to see how the patient was doing.

‘No memory yet? Well, well, but from the look of him, one of our kind. And we could do with an extra set of hands…’ ”

(From ‘Of Soul Sincere’, Part Three)

circus filled


By the time Roly Tadger’s troupe is travelling the counties in the 1880s, the wildlife element of his ‘circus’ is reduced to a few horses, Milly the elephant and some performing dogs. By the late Victorian period, the trapeze artist and acrobat had come into their own, fuelling a re-discovered interest in athletics which led to the Olympics of 1896. Roly Tadger is relying more and more on human  performers (and probably his drinking has made it inadvisable to keep big cats on the programme anyway).


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It is summer, 1928.

When invited by her publisher to assist a well-respected M.P. write his memoirs, Julia Warren is at first reluctant to concentrate on anything other than her next novel; however, circumstances(involving among other things unexpected plumbing) conspire to change her mind and she finds herself at once guest and employee at the great man’s rather bohemian household.

Almost immediately she encounters memories from the past, of a rather unsettling nature …

Of Soul Sincere, coming April 2 2016, published by Grey Cells Press 

Lot 34 (Unexpected Auctions)

‘Lot 34, what am I bid, gentlemen, what am I bid? Very nice piece of classicism here, highly sought after, a sound investment – wide-sweeping vistas, possibly crumbling a little at the edges, but plenty of wear left in it yet,  never mind the quality shall we say, feel the breadth, ha,ha, – what am I bid? Thank you sir, you won’t regret it – any more? Come, gentlemen, a wide range of assets here, own in-built infrastructure, huge returns, no effort required; well, very little, anyway, minimal maintenance necessary as free service is included – won’t let you down, – unless you turn a little tyrannical, eh? Ha,ha, sorry – what am I bid? My, but we are all eager, aren’t we  – hardly surprising: the elegance, opulence, the sheer size and scale are unequalled. A growing concern, constantly expanding, new annexes all the time… Admittedly not the original Greek version, but as is often pointed out, a fair copy nonetheless, I think we are all agreed – thank you, sir – any more? And going, going, – GONE! Sold to the gentleman in the toga at the back there: one Roman Empire to …Senator Didius – Julianus, wasn’t it?’

No, it probably wasn’t quite like that, but tempting to imagine even so. Old Marcus Aurelius got into the habit of auctioning goods to get out of debt, and with a rather generous commodity in slaves and unwed females, auctions were the norm. Still, to end up auctioning a whole Empire. That takes some seriously bad housekeeping. But then, by 193 A.D., things were perhaps getting a little crumbly around the edges: conspiracies, messy murders and war have a way of leaving moth holes in the furniture, so to speak.  The result was the Praetorian Guard who, having relieved Emperor Pertinax of his position (and life), offered the Empire up for auction – and Julianus rose to the bait.

Auctions can be such emotive things. Drama, comedy, tragedy – it is an extension of theatre, filled with emotion and excitement, tension and hypocrisy, plots and paranoia, acts of pernicity coupled with acts of generosity. Witness the dramatic candle auction in Moonfleet, or the pathos of Dobbin secretly buying Amelia’s harpsichord in Vanity Fair. In the case of the Empire, it did at least kick some of the provincial commanders into action, and Severus marched on Rome to pull it back into shape. The Praetorians were sent into the corner for being such naughty schoolboys, and poor old Julianus was executed. Let that be a warning to greedy bidders: you never know what you might be buying into. Which leads me neatly (or probably not) onto the opening scene of the second Julia Warren Mystery (Of Soul Sincere) where a house with a past is auctioned off to the highest bidder: in this case, another politician. He too, didn’t know what he was buying into …



 A catalogue of household furniture, one piano-forte, a capital eight-day clock, plate, silver, ornamental china, a few pictures and drawings and numerous curious articles, the property of the late Geoffrey Bosquith, Esq, deceased; which will be sold by auction by Mess. Cardew & Penn, on Friday the 10th, and Saturday the 11th of June, 1791, at eleven o’clock, on the premises, at Bower House, South Lambeth, by order of the executors.

Bower House, an elegant building completed in 1762, property of Geoffrey Bosquith, Esq. deceased, will be sold by auction, also by Mess. Cardew & Penn, on Monday the 13th of June, 1791, on the premises, by order of the executors. …

‘GONE!’ The auctioneer’s gavel lands heavily, with a resounding bang! and the auctioneer wipes at his perspiring face with a piece of cambric. A last minute bid. No one had challenged. The bid had stayed. One of their more favoured clients, too. Henry Paglar Esq. Member of Parliament. No question of Queer Street with HIM—money fairly pouring out of his pockets in musical fountains. The auctioneer bows, smiles, extends his hand towards the register. The auction house clerk scurries across, hair tied back in a knot, with limp cravat and worn coat two sizes too large for him, holding quill and inkpot.

The auctioneer bows again. Henry Paglar Esq. (Member of Parliament) leans over the book, holding out his hand for the quill. It is dipped in the ink for him, and proffered with due reverence. He takes it and scratches his name in the ledger. The deed is done. There are bills of exchange and terms and contracts to be drawn up; the executors are even at this moment in the house, through there, dear sir, preparing the papers. The Member of Parliament is escorted to the next room and the business is concluded.

Only a few members of the audience remain to act as chorus to the whole scene; the rumour that sped through the air moments before hovers yet around them.

‘But is it true then? And that gentleman has gone and bought it even so?’

‘I would not live in such a place, not if you was to pay me for it—why, even just standing here, in full light of day, makes me shiver.’

‘And where was it they found him?’

‘Up the stairs, hanging, from the stairwell.’

‘Was it… was it murder then?’

‘No,’ and here the voices lower still more. ‘By his own hand, they say…’

A short pause. Then: ‘Shall we go and see?’

Almost on tiptoe, the little group wanders out into the hallway, to gaze with ghoulish relish up at the sun-filled stairway and landing.

‘Aye,’ murmurs one of them at last, ‘he’ll not rest easy, that one.’

‘Well, I do not know about such things,’ blusters one of the party, sticking his chest out, ‘but I should say the Honourable Member made a sharp bargain, and if he ain’t concerned about suicides and unquiet graves, why then, he is welcome to it. And I, for one, say well done for catching a bargain before it can wriggle away.’ With that, he declared himself ready to partake of a pint of ale and a pork pie at the White Horse down the road, and set his hat firmly upon his head.”

 (Opening from ‘Of Soul Sincere’)

It is odd. I wouldn’t have made the comparison, but for stumbling upon this historical footnote re Ancient Rome, yet in a way, the thread is similar. The House is bought, and becomes the nucleus for the same family all through the rest of the 18th century, the whole of the 19th century, to reach the year 1928 – when Julia arrives on its doorstep, to begin unravelling its secrets. In the same way that the Empire was sold, bought, and stayed with the same family, enduring the usual untidy asides of plots, murder and strife. Well, that’s families for you. Another coincidence: two of the female members of the Severus line were called Julia. Disconcertingly, both ruthless poisoners and political intriguers by all accounts.

I have a pet wish to set a whole series of stories in and around an auction house; most likely in the 18th century – they somehow belong there. It was when the big auction houses took off: Christies, followed by Sothebys, and perhaps some not so big, such as Cardew and Penn…


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It is summer, 1928.

When invited by her publisher to assist a well-respected M.P. write his memoirs, Julia Warren is at first reluctant to concentrate on anything other than her next novel; however, circumstances(involving among other things unexpected plumbing) conspire to change her mind and she finds herself at once guest and employee at the great man’s rather bohemian household.

Almost immediately she encounters memories from the past, of a rather unsettling nature …


Of Soul Sincere, coming April 2 2016, published by Grey Cells Press 

A Question of Binoculars…

Rehearsals have been in progress- broken up over the week, the time available necessarily making these short, frequent and concentrated. A week also to source props – the essential ones. Once the script was run through a few times, the essentials were narrowed down to barely three items; one of which stands out for being woven into the text, and without which the piece might actually lose a sense of place and time.
Simply put, we need binoculars. These happen to play a fairly important part in the piece throughout.
Well, not binoculars perhaps – immediately an image is conjured up of hefty field glasses. We need something a little more delicate, something you could hold in one hand (there’s a bit of business involving some snatching, physical banter so to speak); and a little bit vintage (the characters are in 20s -30s get up) so, … ah. Opera glasses. Now there’s a thought. Yes, they might do.
Head for Google. Websites. Not many, in fact. The same website for props in London pops up repeatedly, followed by vintage wedding supplies. The website that actually has opera glasses does not however indicate any price. My immediate reaction is to move away, just as I would from a beautiful window display, following the old adage: if the price isn’t showing, you probably can’t afford it.
Can I make them from scratch? Possibly. Can I make them in less than two days? Perhaps, had I the basic materials to hand (I start calculating what would be needed: small pastic bottles, tape, paint, glue, additional bits and bobs to finish off and realise this not a viable option). Can I adapt one?
Ho for home supplies, where I spot a simple black plastic little item for ₤6.00 or so. The basic shape is there. Otherwise they look hopelessly modern. I consider how long it would take to get them, and to find suitable materials to convert them into the kind of thing required. Too long.
The local hospice? I have on occasion seen the odd costume (mermaid, to be precise) but it’s a long shot as to whether they have a spare pair of opera glasses kicking about, and I don’t want to risk wasting time on it to no purpose.
It is now evening, and dress rehearsals due the next afternoon.
One more try online – a last resort, I did not expect to find anything now, yet within seconds I had an image on screen of a smart set of ‘generic horse race and opera glasses’ in wine red and chrome: they looked the part, didn’t cost much at all and offered next day delivery. Bingo! I clicked the button and arrived at rehearsals with only a slight delay, proudly bearing the prop. It feels like something of a triumph. It now only remains to source a couple of sandwiches (yes, these are props too, although how long they will last is moot point as I haven’t had any lunch yet….)



No U-Turn runs Sunday 17th at the Pleasance Theatre.

No uturn 3



A Special Humility

It’s been rather crowded recently – people, theatre, words, more people, more theatre, more words – on paper, in the air, in that dusty attic posing as my brain. Characters that had previously inhabited the relative comfort of notebooks, sleeping between the pages, are at present being made ready to be brought to life. Dusting off their wigs, hats and coats; now a little fard, a little rouge and powder; polish those shoe buckles, and they are standing in the wings, ready to leap out into the spotlight. Nothing huge, mind, in the way of actual stage-work; just a little conversation here and there – only with unexpected results. It has been an ongoing creative process, with more to come: something else I had previously written to no end has now been taken on board by another set of creatives who are actually enthusiastic to bring it to life; and all of this happening all at the same time. A little whirlwind made up of other people’s imagination, energy and perception is making its way across the pages; words, lines, dialogues, whole scenes have life breathed into them, and the transition from paper to that unreal reality of theatre is made, almost without you realising it. The magic has begun – thought processes start to whir, kickstarting a series of added details, gestures, inflections and more; some of these will be kept, others discarded, there is a constant moulding and re-modelling until the piece of art that is an imaginary character stands up on stage and takes command of itself.
The bubbly enthusiasm and creative energy brought to the rehearsal space by the actors themselves speeds up that process.

Watching someone take on board your ideas, thoughts, words and characters and invest their energy, creative, physical and even psychic, in something you have written could be a challenging experience – horror stories abound of writers turned homicidal after the perceived mangling of their work by negligible directors and/or actors; so far I can only say how pleasurable it has been, and how curious I remain to see what happens next, how those same characters will develop on stage. It is all part of the huge ongoing creative process called acting – and when you are fortunate enough to find those who can jump in, focussed, and pick up the shreds and patches we offer them, it is a magical thing indeed.

It takes a particular kind of humility to submerge one’s own ego in another’s; it is what drives many very fine actors (whom we may never actually see on the big screen), and a quality which makes such actors very special people indeed.


No U-Turn will be at the Pleasance Theatre Islington, on Sunday 17th: www.directorscuttheatre.co.uk/nouturn

No U-Turn at the Pleasance Theatre


No uturn 3






A Night at the Theatre…

The other day I spent the afternoon and evening in the company of Mr Goya and Mr Foote – and a good time was had by all: Mr Goya as irrepressible as ever, his tone a little less acerbic than in his ‘Disasters of War’; his sitters treated with sympathy for their intellect and made approachable. Here he shows his other side, that of the court painter, analyst, friend and colleague – there is no sense of status quo, only of Goya’s striving to grasp the essence of his subject.

He proceeds to fling and slap and dash loosely at his subject; he glares up at us briefly from his easel, eyebrows  inquiring as to what, exactly, we are doing there – can’t we see he is busy?

Occasionally his stare is more abstract; concentrating on some study he hasn’t quite resolved – and later, his expression is the stark, tragic one of the deaf-smitten. Only recently appointed as Director of Painting at the Royal Academy of San Fernando, he was forced to resign owing to this disability, brought on by a mysterious illness in 1792-3.

The portraits follow his development in style, and to a degree, his life, among friends, patrons and (legitimate) family until finally we are allowed to sit at his bedside, while he is administered to by his brilliant friend, Doctor Arrieta. Behind the two men shadowy figures hover, in distant conversation – are they alive or imaginary?

I made my excuses and hurried on, anxious to visit Dona Isobel de Porcel, who had been given a whole wing to herself some distance away. She had been the main draw of the show for me, yet was not included in the main exhibition. The simplicity of her portrait is misleading. The verve and zest of the artist is in very lightness of touch – her black lace veil, wound carelessly about one arm, barely covering her bronze hair, is but a few hasty brush strokes, yet convince utterly in their loose deftness. All the portraits, drawn together from collections across the globe, demonstrate his in-depth study of character, his mastery of technique; all share a play on light and shade, and a radiance of the skin. Eyes bright, their skin luminous, they glow from within the shadowy framework of the canvass he places them in.

I left Mr Goya and company reluctantly, and wandered down from the National to Regent Street; on turning a corner I bumped into Mr Foote, showing off his other leg at the Haymarket, like the brazen hussy he was. On an impulse, I allowed him to usher me in to witness the story of his life, though swift scene shifts and quick, lively banter enriched by occasional visits from Mr Franklin expounding the theory of electricity, and Prince George himself. Mr Garrick was there too, along with Miss Woffingham, and of course Mr Foote’s servant Francis Barber (on loan from Dr Johnson). All of the company gathered there were bustled through backstage, upstage, dressing rooms and wings of the theatre as Mr Foote trod the high and low.

The action is fast and merry, the whole piece is a vigorous theatrical tour-de-force, with scenes reminiscent of a Gilray or Rowlandson brought to life (the sorry incident of his leg being removed by Doctor Hunter is a prime example) – visually, the colours, lighting and period detail are atmospheric and well-studied; candle light and shadows play against walls, ceilings and floors, (for we rarely leave the theatre, save in the dark) adding drama, terror and warmth to this most engaging of plays.

Both Mr Goya and Mr Foote share a ferocious vitality, a splendid disregard for convention and status, as well as surviving life-threatening situations : Goya’s illness resulting in the loss of his hearing, Mr Foote’s ill-timed wager resulting in the loss of a leg. Both satirize, challenge and explore; both lived through turbulent times and both made enormous contributions in very different ways to our ideas on perception and cultural development.


Mr Foote’s Other Leg runs until 23rd January at the Haymarket.

Goya The Portraits runs until 10th January at the National Gallery.


A Night at the Theatre: The Wonderful World of Dissocia at Questors, Ealing

Impressive space, amazingly well supplied with comfy bar and very relaxing cafe/lounge area upstairs….


The trailer is up and the rehearsals are winding down – or up – to the big night: Anthony Neilson’s The Wonderful World of Dissocia, which opens 22nd May at The Questors Theatre in Ealing.

The play won the 2004-05 Critics’ Award for Theatre in Scotland for Best New Play and made its London debut at the Royal Court Theatre in March 2007; it was also included in The List’s Best of a Decade in 2009. But as for what to expect when you go to see it, that is perhaps best left to the wonderful words of the director, David Emmet and stage manager Cathy Swift:

 A Wonderful World Awaits

 What’s the most frequent conversation you’ve had over the last year? Mine goes like this:

Member or friend: Hello David. What’s your next production?

Me: The Wonderful World of Dissocia.

Member or Friend: Oh. I’ve never…

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A Night at the Theatre: Animals at 503 (Latchmere), Batteresea

Arsenic and Old Lace meets George Orwell in this dystopian comedy noire; admittedly, we are missing mad uncle Teddy and murderous brother Jonathan with his creepy alcoholic surgeon Dr Einstein – still, the spirit is there and continues unabated throughout, almost as madcap and surreal, threaded through with a social consciousness of how close humanity can trip over the edge in the hands of … bureaucracy. And not just any bureaucracy. Orwell was disturbingly prophetic in many ways, and the one conjured up in Adams’ play has already spiralled out of control, making gods and demons out of the characters that live it: farce, blackmail and something nasty in the woodshed combine to make this a pleasantly chilling and surreal mystery.
It is the Future. Arguably, a not too distant one, with thinly disguised policies of the present done up as a meritocratic system: those who can still pass ‘Utility’ tests (to prove they are functioning, ‘useful’ human beings) keep Green or Amber Permits and are permitted to live while those who don’t…are not. A lethal injection of air is promptly administered to those considered ‘useless’.
Enter Norma in her reclining armchair (which Joy her cohort is not allowed to sit in for fear of spoiling the warranty), getting by on a forged Amber Permit and a spider’s web of intrigue and blackmail. She is waiting for neighbour Helen (fighting fit on Amber) to finish the crossword before the 5 o’clock post – it might almost be the beginning of an Agatha Christie. The fun has only just begun however: the usual Utility Inspector (or Exterminator, depending on how you look at it) who so far has been able to help cover up for her, as been replaced (the term redundancy taking on a whole new sinister meaning here) and the new one is shortly expected on the estate where Norma lives.
Enter the new Utility Inspector: go-getting, zero-hours contracted Noah, who is keen, enthusiastic and under a lot of pressure to give his daughter Maya a ‘Fun’ day so she can pass her birthday test tomorrow, or else risk becoming a mere Comfort Girl.
Enter Maya. Maya has a pink balloon. Maya loves her pink balloon. Maya wants to have fun. Maya is nearly 18 and challenged – and continues to be so: first by Daddy, who has to go off and ‘assess’ the inhabitants of the estate (‘Stay in the van, Maya,’ which she doesn’t), next by losing her balloon, and then by getting lost. She is found by Joy (out on an errand) – and discovery of her father’s important position as Utility Inspector can mean only one thing: Joy takes Maya back to Norma’s house. Now the plot begins to thicken. Maya is both deliverance and tumbling block to the ladies’ conspiracy – the question is, who will come out top?
The dystopia unfolds piece by piece against Norma’s web of deception and secrets, a web that stops at nothing in the business of survival.
There are enthusiastic and sympathetic performances from al the cast,and excellent character acting: Marlene Sidaway as Norma is the jewel in the crown – on stage from start to finish, spewing intelligent cunning and indomitable spirit in equal measure, she is a force to be reckoned with.
The whole piece is played with good-humoured menace and classic comedic delivery, against a set reminiscent of a ruined French chateau or Italian palace, down to the broken wallpaper on the wall echoing an unfinished landscape by Boucher or Tiepolo in a rococo frame; the wall itself is cunningly back-lit at crucial moments to display the room beyond – where the larder is…

Ultimately this is a play about secrets, survival and what actually makes murderers of us all. It will also bring laughter even to the jaded theatre-goer weary of contemporary themes.
Just don’t eat the sandwiches. You’ll wish you hadn’t.

Animals runs until 2nd May at 503 Theatre, Battersea

The Rapid Write Response (on Sunday and Monday) offered variety and invention in reply to Animals – all held together with the common theme of horror, each ten-minute sketch holding at least a pinch of it in the palm of its text: survivalism, the evaluation of life (human and animal), murder and its definition, even Maya’s Pink Balloon turned up in Pop! and offered the exuberant message of seizing the moment and letting things go – there were also themes of memories and coping with them, the sub-culture and influence of reality TV, and dystopian futures.

A special mention for actors Jill Riddiford and Keith Hill in Deadlock,  who showed intelligent acting and such ability to actually listen to each other on stage – a skill not always evident even in the best run West End shows …

A Handful of … Words.

I went to see a play the other afternoon; I had been waiting to see it ever since I spied a line about its intriguing title on Twitter in September: Fear in a Handful of Dust.

Then I saw it was set during the First World War. More, it was set in the trenches. Not much else was said at the time, but it was enough to whet my curiosity, so when last week I saw it was on – and further, that there was a writing opportunity involved, I stuffed my note-and sketch-books into the Black Hole that serves as a bag, and set off.

Had I been there before, I might have made a better choice of bus; next time I shall be more prepared. I arrived at CogArtSpace, lunch-less and virtually breakfast-less, in time for one very welcome mug of tea which they kindly allowed me to take upstairs to the theatre. I did my best not to slurp. I suppose I should have been drinking it out of a billy-can, in keeping with the setting of the play.  I relinquished it fairly quickly in favour of my note-books, however. I would have sketched (I generally try to when I go to the theatre unless the charcoal makes too much noise during the quiet bits), but the ideas, once they started coming, didn’t really allow me to do other than scribble.

The action evolves in a trench in early September 1916 – the audience becomes part of that trench, listening in on two soldiers, battling their way through fear, hope, despair and contrasts – contrasts in their backgrounds, culture and beliefs, struggling towards an uneven camaraderie, ultimately attempting to save each other’s lives.

The atmosphere is faultless as is the acting – well-chosen, well-placed and well-delivered, they convince, involve and empathize.

The size of the theatre naturally makes it an immersive experience – yet the trench itself takes on a larger presence as the play goes on, until it becomes one of the players; in turn sheltering, challenging and intimidating until the final challenge is set and accepted.

What I found particularly engaging, aside from the striving of humanity against all odds, was the theme of India: until now there has been little Western coverage of the Indian Army in the trenches of WWI – yet its men did help shorten the war  (1914sikhs.org) and battles like Gallipoli might have had a very different outcome had more of them been deployed.

Happily the focus is gradually changing from general unawareness to acute appreciation, and the poignant images of wounded Sikh soldiers at Brighton Pavilion Hospital, the poetry of their letters home, the dauntless courage shown in the face of a seemingly implacable enemy and more will, I hope, take their true place in the annals of history alongside the Owens, Sassoons and Graves of the Western Front. It was with this in mind that I wrote my pennyworth of response, and while there was a great deal more I wished to put in, there is only so much anyone can fit into fifteen minutes of stage. Yet from this I hope something more may come. (And now to find some actors …)

Meanwhile I close with an example of the Indian Army’s own particular brand of bravery in the following anecdote from the interview with Gordon Corrigan on 1914sikhs.org:

“…There is the story of Rifleman Gane Gurung, 2/3rd Gurkha Rifles, at Neuve Chapelle. A British advance was held up by a house in the middle of the village which was fortified and strongly held by German infantry. Without orders, and in an example of suicidal stupidity (and bravery), Gane alone ran across the square and burst through the front door. Everyone assumed he would shortly be dead.

There was much shooting and shouting, then silence. The front door opened and out came a file of seven large Germans, hands in the air, followed by a 5ft, 2 inches Gane with rifle and bayonet. The village was captured shortly afterwards.”

"Hodsons Horse France 1917 IWM Q 2061" by Brooks, Ernest (Lt) - This is photograph Q 2061 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hodsons_Horse_France_1917_IWM_Q_2061.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Hodsons_Horse_France_1917_IWM_Q_2061.jpg

“Hodsons Horse France 1917 IWM Q 2061” by Brooks, Ernest (Lt) – From the collections of the Imperial War Museums. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Fear In A Handful of Dust by Sevan K.Greene will run through December until January 9th at Cog ArtSpace

Fearful Response, 5 writers’ responses to Fear in a Handful of Dust, will be directed and performed at Cog ArtSpace on the 16th of December

Admission free

Halloween Special

Like buses – nothing for ages, then three at once …

To help round off the Coffin Hop with a grand finale, I got together with a couple of publishers to hold a (nearly)week long giveaway (Monday to Sunday), with the chance to win 3 titles together: Cass McMain’s Watch (vampirism) and two ghost tales: Summers’ End by V.RChristensen with a rather sinister  pair of spectacles and my sorry excuse for a ghost tale, Ungentle Sleep which is a tongue-in-cheek take on haunted houses, with attics and, well, things going bump in them ….

Owing to WordPress’s layout, the giveaway page is again reduced to a link, however, it will be posted elsewhere and tweeted not infrequently. And there is the tale of the Red Footprints in A Night  at the Theatre meanwhile…

Simply click on the link here below, or top right  (on the main page), and choose how you want to participate (via tweeting, FB-ing, visiting the Coffin Hop!); there will be 5 prizes and around 10 runners-up… (if anyone joins in…)

About the Coffin Hop: this is the annual Halloween blog hop with over 60 authors & artists participating, each with something to offer, whether giveaways or contests as well as some fun tales of terror.

The Coffin Hop Bumper Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Coffin Hop Giveaways …

Starting on the 29th and ending on the 30th, there will be a Giveaway of ghost novella, Ungentle Sleep – set in 1930, a house party has gathered, in part to celebrate the recent engagement of the daughter of the house. But there is. apparently, an uninvited guest .. inadvertently let out, to wreak mild havoc and insanity on the Maydews and their guests. That nasty incident involving Eleanor, followed by unpleasantness over Penny’s dress, and what is it Aubrey can hear, on the outer edge of his dreams?

Hysteria, missed cocktails, and something nasty in the attic.

Snrrip, snrrip. Snip, snap.

Even the rats run away.


This will be followed by another Giveaway straight after, starting on the 30th and ending on the 1st November: a free copy is to be won of Cass McMain’s Watch, an alternative take on vampirism (great review here on Alibi) –

Before he knew about the bruises, he knew about the cheating. And before he knew about the cheating, he knew about the blood. He’d seen Edgar with blood on his hands before, after all. But there had been more and more of it – and  Edgar had seemed less and less concerned about hiding it…”

Watch is published by Holland House Books, and is about really scary people …

Watch - DIGITAL web

Happy Spooking !

A Night at the Theatre ….

(‘Tis that time of year again …. and I am late. And it is late. And this is a little long. Still, I hope it pleases ….Happy Spooking ! And don’t forget to hop along to all the others taking part in the Coffin Hop (links on the site), the annual Halloween blog hop with over 60 authors & artists participating, each with something to offer, whether giveaways or contests as well as some fun tales of terror … in a few days I’ll be offering my tale Ungentle Sleep and there will also be a chance via giveaway to receive Cass McMain’s unusual take on vampirism in Watch, from Holland House Books (30-31 October, post coming soon…)

Pad, pad, pad, pant, pant, pant, pad, pad, pad, pant, pant. Woof.

‘Good boy, sit. All right, don’t sit, but stop wandering around, there’s a good fellow. Where were we?’ Felix Hartley, proprietor of the Rose Theatre, turned back to the theatre’s director, Daniel Wells. ‘Props, wasn’t it?’

It wasn’t props (Felix had a terrible habit of not paying attention) but it didn’t make much difference. Felix tended to leave everything in Wells’s capable hands, as he worded it. Thereby adding to the general headache of the thing.

‘It’s the footprints,’ repeated Wells, not a little wearily. Added to Felix’s propensity for not listening, he had a seeming inability to grasp the whole question of the reddish footprints appearing unannounced in various parts of the building. They did not make an impact on him, even when pointed out in all their disturbing detail. ‘Oh, ah, yes, those,’ he would say, patting his pockets, followed by ‘Now, about rehearsals for next week …’

Woof, went the overweight Pekinese at his feet, as if in support.

‘A few more have handed in their notice,’ continued Wells, now a little crossly, ‘and I simply do not have the time to be looking for fresh staff at such short notice – there’s the opening night in a week’s time, the scenery still to be sorted, and the lighting.’

‘Dear, dear, no, of course not. What a thing to happen. Cleaners, again ?’

The Pekinese started snuffling at Felix’s trouser hems.

‘Cleaners, call boy and now the prompter. Some of the cast are getting nervy too. Isobel’s threatening to pull out altogether unless something is sorted. What are we to do?’ This was serious. Isobel Courtney was the leading lady and a positive catch for the theatre itself, which had been teetering gently for a while now.

Finally Felix looked quizzical – a sign he might actually be applying himself to the problem in hand. The Pekinese meanwhile started padding around the room again.

‘Well,’ he said, after a long pause which indicated he had been debating with himself on a ticklish issue, ‘you could try … Septimus Brink.’

‘Septimus Brink? Who or what is Septimus Brink?’

‘Old crony of mine.  Knows this place. He’ll also know what to do with, ah, them.’

They were interrupted by muffled pandemonium from below. A red-faced youth in ill-fitting cap and suit appeared breathlessly at the open doorway of Felix’s office. ‘It’s the dresser,’ he gasped,  ‘something nasty in the wardrobe, so she says, threatening to hand in her notice.’ He gazed appealingly at Wells. ‘Will you come?’

‘I’ll be there in a minute – where is she now?’

‘Miss Aikfield’s dressing room, with the smelling salts.’

‘Very well – send for a doctor.’

Felix stared after the departing youth in puzzlement. ‘Isn’t he the understudy for –‘

‘Masefield, yes, he’s now doubling up as call boy until we get a new one. This Septimus Brink –  when can he come?’

Septimus Brink was a large presence; while not overweight, his bearing was of the sort that can fill a room on its own and knock an elephant down at ten paces flat.  He had a tendency to boom at people in a kindly manner until they gave in and let him carry on whole conversations uninterrupted. He was not what you might imagine a ghost-catcher to be, having none of the airs and graces of society mediums nor the mystery of a psychic, yet he proved very efficient at relieving people of unwanted ‘presences’, real or imaginary, with a happy combination of curiosity and common sense.

He swept into the theatre later that day with ample coat tails and a sleek top hat, and on sighting Felix boomed out: ‘It’s you again, is it?’ in avuncular fashion. Felix actually shuffled his feet and looked a trifle sheepish. His Pekinese let out a yelp of welcome and began wagging its tail.

‘Well, what is it this time?’

Felix turned to Wells, who took over with a resigned air: ‘I’d better just show you – and you could try talking to the dresser, the prompter; they haven’t left – yet.’

Wells escorted Brink along the corridor, towards the dressing rooms, whence an increasing volubility could be discerned; notably, the dresser and various members of the cast.

‘’Orrible it were,’ came the nasal tones of the dresser, ‘only saw it for an instance, but my life, never again – you won’t get me inside that room, I tell you – ‘orrible!’

‘There, there, dear, have some more brandy – oh, you have already,’ comforted one of the actors. The dresser, wobbly and sliding fast into mild incoherence, tottered over to a small easy chair and sank into it.

‘Show us the wardrobe, then,’ said Brink, to nobody in particular. Felix escorted him to the end of the corridor; on the left was a recess, with a cracked and peeling door on which was scratched in chalk  the single word ‘WARD’.

‘Ran out of chalk?’ asked Brink.

‘Something like that,’ murmured, Felix, now distinctly ill at ease. ‘We just never got around to adjusting it.  Whole place needs doing up, really …’ His Pekinese started to whimper.

Brink opened the door and fumbled about for the switch.

‘Allow me,’ offered Felix.  ‘Yap,’ went the Pekinese, cringing.

For barely a second as the light switched on, a figure was visible, smack in the middle of the room. Even Brink was visibly shaken. The light flickered and the figure moved towards them – then was gone.  The Pekinese yapped and yelped and had to be picked up.

‘Yes,’ commented Brink, ‘yes, I see. Quite upsetting, I imagine.’

‘Anything you can do?’ asked Felix.

‘Show me where these footprints are.’

‘Wells can do that – where is he…’

‘They turn up in different areas,’ explained Wells, once they had tracked him down to the stage where he had taken refuge behind a leftover precipice from the Tempest or something,  ‘– sometimes outside a dressing room, sometimes in the wings, once they followed one of the cast out of the theatre – at least, it looked like that.’

‘And then vanish?’

‘Yes, yes. Quite annoying, really.’

Brink walked over to face Wells, studying him carefully. ‘Follow people about, do they?’

‘Well, I don’t know about people generally – ‘

‘Which actor was this?’

‘Portland, Dicky Portland; he called in sick today – hope he’s not another one skedaddling off …’ Wells rubbed his head wearily, Felix jingled change in his pocket, whistling silently and the Pekinese, at his heels, woofed in muted sympathy.

Brink studied Wells a little more, then clapped him on the back.

‘Show me, as far as you can remember, the areas where the footprints have been seen. Starting with the first time they were seen.’

‘Oh dear, as far as I can remember … well … as to when, that’s easy enough – two days into rehearsals. At least, that’s when I saw them, just as I was coming up to the stage from the wings.’

‘Anyone on stage already?’

‘Oh yes, most of the cast, in fact. ‘

‘What did you see, exactly?’

‘Just that – footsteps, red ones – going around the stage as if someone were looking for something – or someone. I called for it to be cleaned – but by the time the boy came with mop and bucket, they had faded. Most perplexing. However, they didn’t reappear for a few days and we got on with things.’

‘Where next?’

Wells led them through the wings offstage and back to the dressing rooms. ‘Several times here, stopping outside different doors. Which ones? That I actually can’t remember, sorry, – but gave several people a fright. ’

‘How long would you say it took for them to fade?’

‘They seem to last a little longer each time – most recently, a day.’

‘Most satisfactory,’ said Brink comfortably. Wells stared at him. ‘Well, I’m glad to hear someone thinks so,’ he exclaimed, somewhat bitterly. ‘The question remains, what are you able to do about it?’

‘It might not rest with me, however,’ replied Brink, still completely at ease. ‘I would say however, that things are reaching a climax.’

‘I should say they are,’ complained Wells. ‘I have a cast in shreds, and notices being handed in left right and centre.’

‘It will require a late night at the theatre – let me see …’ Brink rummaged around in his pockets and drew out a small almanac. ‘Yes, I would say, in two night’s time.  Full cast present. No excuses. I meanwhile shall attend to a little research.  You can perhaps show me a list of all performances given here in the last, ooh, shall we say, twenty to forty years?’ Wells was quite nonplussed at this; Felix stepped forward. ‘I have records in my office. Follow me.’

Two nights and many, many complaints later, the full cast was assembled on stage: pale, wary and nervous. Wells, Felix (followed by Pekinese) and Brink joined them, bearing respectively an object strongly reminiscent of a gramophone player, a round folding table and a tripod and camera.

The table was set up, the object strongly reminiscent of a gramophone player placed upon it, and Brink proceeded to set up the tripod and camera. The cast, with expressions varying from mild incredulity to outrage, gazed on speechless. Which, as Wells said afterwards, was something of a miracle in itself and passing all matters supernatural.

Brink took centre stage and began.

‘How does the ditty go – I have a little list, I have a little list,’ he chanted, pulling out a folded paper from his pocket. He proceeded to unfold it, as he went on: ‘After a little hunting about in the history of this place, and a little puzzle-solving, I rather think I have found a solution. By midnight or a little after, this theatre should be freed of its uninvited occupants and the show can, as they say, go on … The fact that there is to be a full moon should assist in the energizing of the elements involved.’ He ignored the derisive snort or two from his audience and continued, while consulting his notes: ‘From the records kept here at the theatre, I have discovered the following facts: one, that a performance of Macbeth was held in this very theatre in 1900 – no more than ten years ago.’

A slight stiffening of the cast here. Several members resolutely avoided looking at each other.

‘Said performance ran for one week only, owing to a fatal accident, depriving one of the actors of their life.’

Various intakes of breath; a collective, muted hissing. The Pekinese sniffed. Brink paused, looking around. ‘Indeed. I see some of you recall the episode well. But to proceed: the name of the hapless thespian was one Edward Vaughan.’

‘Really!’ expostulated Isobel, wrapped up in a mink stole and very irate, ‘is this necessary? Leave the poor man’s memory alone!’

‘I would, if he would – but his memory, it appears, lives on regardless. On the night of the performance, he was acting the part of Banquo – and, on cue, was indeed found dead; rather messily with a genuine claymore rather than the prop one. It appears he did not die immediately, but attempted to make his way backstage towards the dressing rooms before collapsing and expiring. Foul play was naturally not ruled out – but his assailant was never found.’

The Pekinese, still at its master’s feet, crouched down and whined a little.

‘’Those of you with longer acquaintance with this theatre might be able to recall the names of the cast of that final performance.’ He paused for dramatic effect. Nobody replied. ‘No? Then allow me to refresh your memories. Lady Macbeth, Miss Isobel Courtney, Macbeth, Roland Masefield, Macduff …’ Brink paused again.  Was there a sharp movement from within the group huddled together on the stage? ‘Macduff,’ repeated Brink – ‘Richard Por-’ he was interrupted at this point however by Mr Portland who, cursing and swearing, knocked over Brink and dashed from the stage. The Pekinese set up a wild barking and bounded about in paroxysms of hysteria.

‘Stop him!’ called out Wells but there was no need. The lights flickered and went out. There was a flash, followed by the sound of feet as Portland stumbled his way down the wings, then, unmistakably, the sound of other feet behind him – cut short soon after by a hideous scream.

The lights flickered back on. A general gasp broke out as everyone observed the trail of wet, red, half footprints now visible on the boards of the stage, leading off into the wings in the direction Portland had taken.

‘Banquo’s ghost has found his murderer,’ murmured Brink, who proceeded to examine the camera.

There was a cautious dash down the corridor to where Portland’s body could now be seen, lying mute and frozen on the floor. Felix’s Pekinese slunk at his heels giving out small whimpers.

Felix patted at his pockets. ‘Should we not call for assistance?’

‘Most definitely.’

The doctor was called first – who pronounced a case of heart failure. No external wounds, no visible signs of attack. The footprints, as previously, had by now disappeared once again. The doctor was perfectly happy to write out a straightforward certificate, and there really seemed little point in trying to explain otherwise.

The camera plate, once developed, proved most illuminating. The moment at which Brink, with characteristic presence of mind, had taken it showed Portland in the act of running from the stage – and behind him, a figure dressed in the costume of an ancient Scottish warrior bearing a very efficient looking weapon, in hot pursuit. The relatively distinct, if horribly bloodied, features of this individual were considered, after due consultation of a few old photographs, to be unquestionably those of former dramatic actor Edward Vaughan, deceased. The dresser, on seeing it, went back into hysterics and more than half a bottle of brandy was consumed in less than half an hour. Brink and Felix both confirmed this was the figure they too had seen. The Pekinese fully recovered its former equanimity and padded about the place as if nothing remotely untoward had happened at all.

As for the object strongly reminiscent of a gramophone player – well, it was, in a sense. Rather, it was a recording device, of peculiar sensitivity. Its discs, once played on a less unorthodox machine, proved to contain not only the voice of Brink expounding on the death of Vaughan, but also that of another, fainter yet still clear, repeating at intervals : ‘Murderer – I’ll have you yet.’ It was even possible to hear in the background soft thumps, which might or might not have been footsteps.

These, along with the plate containing the spectral image of Vaughan, returned with Septimus Brink to his home, to be added to his collection of phantom memorabilia: invaluable material for his ‘Theory of Manifestation’, he said, which he would one day write up.

The red footprints, as far as anyone knows, have never since been seen at the theatre.

Return of the Green Man …

This stone carving of a Green Man from Dore Ab...

From Dore Abbey, Herefordshire, England(Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Is there a cathedral where you live? If so, chances are it will be an old one … just how old, would you say? And when you crane your head up to look at the ceiling, its arches lost in shadows, what else do you see? You might need binoculars, though – but the older the cathedral, the more likely you are to find, nestling atop of corbels and capitals, a singular face with leaves and branches climbing out of its mouth; sometimes fierce, sometimes cheerful, mostly a trifle wild … this sculpted entity has been with us far longer than the cathedrals, and long before the Normans who built them, with a name that has only regained resonance in quite recent times: The Green Man.

Theories abound concerning his origins, both etymological and geographical; he turns up in a variety of guises, from Rome(Bacchus and Dionysius) to Mesopotamia and Egypt, (green-faced Osiris); he is Jack in the Green, Cernunnos, Pan, Silvanus, he can be found in Sumerian, Hindu, Aztec cultures – he exists  everywhere, a source of life and natural force . Occasionally neglected, his image however has survived in nooks and crannies, a constant reminder of man’s reliance on his natural environment and of man’s constant struggle with the elements. Another of his many names is Robin – but is he Robin Goodfellow, the mischievous imp – or Robin Hood, woodlander and defender of the poor? Apparently both and more: a guardian, a powerful god, an impish spirit, a playful invoker of spring and sprouting seedlings; at once venerated and feared:  for crops can fail too if you cause him displeasure … the corn dollies and harvest festivals are vestiges of something more than a ritual – they entreat the return of sun after winter, of growth after hibernation, they are offerings of supplication and penitence brought by children to their volatile father.

How has he fared with time, this father, this god of fertility and vitality? I mentioned he has gone through periods of comparative neglect, as when the Industrial Revolution stampeded across the countryside, bringing steam, iron roads and coal, blinding the people with its smoke, weakening his memory and perhaps also his strength and yet, something has struggled through, some collective memory perhaps, clinging onto the notion of one protective entity that will defend the very source of our food and means of survival. It is this protective aspect and this comparative neglect that I have focussed on in my mystery novel, Greenwood Tree. Here, the presence of the Green Man is hovering on the outer edges of dreams, occasionally manifesting himself (in more than one form) to warn and defend, his strength weakened by the frail memory of humanity. In addition he acts as the main linking figure in a multi-genre mystery, where detection meets mythology, in that foreign country called the past. In my mystery he has retreated, and his home is under threat, perhaps an indirect comment on his rather tenuous place in the cultural and social upheaval of the 1920s. I also tend to think of him as one of many Green Men, for to my mind there is something in the Ancient Greek idea that every tree contained its Dryad, every river and stream its Naiad : together unstoppable – but individually, vulnerable. In a similar way, the countryside from the time of the railway has been under constant, if gradual, threat, mirrored by England’s own very uncertain, susceptible condition in the aftermath of World War One. When Nature is attacked however, she has a way of fighting back, sometimes in unexpected ways.

The Green Man, in my treatment of him, thus becomes a metaphor for this vulnerable, while green and pleasant land. Disturb him at your peril.




 (First posted as the Green Man Cometh on Dean’s Den)

Coffin Hop Divertissement 3

As part of the 2013 Coffin Hop


This anthology is available for purchase here; all proceeds go to the charity LitWorld.org to help encourage children’s literacy throughout the world and is a first collection of stories from the annual Coffin Hop online horror extravaganza.

All the links to the Coffin Hop participants can be found here – do pop along to see what they’re up to!

2) Flash Fiction Competition run by Lost World Press:

 For those keen to flex those scribbling muscles, why not try out  the Flash Fiction competition on Lost World Press (with Amazon voucher for prizes!) : Flash Fiction Halloween 750 max, all things Halloween in Speculative manner (full details on the site) Happy Spooking ! Don’t forget to hop along to all the others taking part in the Coffin Hop (links on the site)

As we wind down towards the witching hour, (and the end of the Giveaway!) here is another bit of nonsense in celebration of the Coffin Hop


Artwork by Red Tash

The Door

A quiet tap at the door.

He had been waiting for close on half an hour, and at last it came.

Just ‘tap-tap’.

The first time he looked, he had caught sight of a movement at the end of the corridor, just tucking away round the corner.

The time after that, a whisper of air, playing about his shoulders, caused him to jump back inside and slam the door shut. Now it was locked, and remained so.

He should have left well alone.

He had been warned about opening the secret room. Still, he had persisted, deciding it would make the perfect study. The workmen had refused to work there after dark. There had been accidents and delays – nothing too serious, but . . .

Once the work was done, he had congratulated himself on his decision – the view from the window was entrancing, and the comfort within quite seductive.

His enjoyment lasted barely a week.

Now, his evenings alone were never quiet. He sought increasingly any excuse to be out of the house, but one cannot forever be trading on friends and acquaintances, and other pursuits, the theatre and suchlike, were either too far or too costly.

That morning, Cook had handed in her notice. Reason? She was not to be put upon. She was not to stay in a house where there were such goings on.

The other domestics were not live-in. So he was the only one there, come evening. Supposedly, the only one.

The sound came again. Not so much tap-tap this time, more of a soft thud, as of a large dog’s paw, pressed urgently against the door panel, in that way dogs have when they wish to be let out – or in. Unmistakable sound that, of claws. Was it a dog, then? Had he been terrifying himself witless because some stray had somehow managed to get in?  Should he open the door, show it the way out into the garden, give it some food?

Scratch, scratch, thud, thud, tap, tap. Now the door is trembling slightly in its frame.

That is no dog, he is certain. At least, not only a dog.

‘Who’s there?’ he calls out. He considers, as he speaks, that this was a mistake. Were they burglars, trying to find their way in, then he would have been better employed in not giving away his presence, but in escaping by means of the window . . . which refuses to budge. Some enthusiastic over painting, the damp, or age, whatever the reason, it is stuck fast. He is a virtual prisoner.

On the tapping and thudding continues, at times lesser, at other times greater, till it seems the door must surely burst open. On and on at intervals throughout the night . . .

When the housekeeper knocks on the door in the morning, she is answered with a scream and the sound of breaking glass.

They find him unconscious in the garden with the wonderful view, badly cut and bruised. Months of feverish babbling follow as he makes a slow and painful recovery.

The study has been bricked up since then, and a For Sale sign put up in the front.

Coffin Hop Divertissement 2


Giveaway plus a Flash Fiction Writing Competition (with Amazon gift vouchers for prizes!)

1) Giveaway  ! Going live at midnight (click here  to enter or on image below) : one prize of a free e-copy of the following anthology:


This anthology is available for purchase here; all proceeds go to the charity LitWorld.org to help encourage children’s literacy throughout the world and is a first collection of stories from the annual Coffin Hop online horror extravaganza.

All the links to the Coffin Hop participants can be found here – do pop along to see what they’re up to!

2) Flash Fiction Competition run by Lost World Press:

 For those keen to flex those scribbling muscles, why not try out  the Flash Fiction competition on Lost World Press (with Amazon voucher for prizes!) : Flash Fiction Halloween 750 max, all things Halloween in Speculative manner (full details on the site) Happy Spooking ! Don’t forget to hop along to all the others taking part in the Coffin Hop (links on the site)

Here instead: a little bit of nonsense in celebration of the Coffin Hop


Artwork by Red Tash

The Mist


He opened the door a crack and peered out. The snow had not quite melted away, and still streaked the muddy earth. He peered and strained and finally poked his head out. He paused to sniff the air, looked over the ground and finally relaxed. One step forward. The light was grey and uninviting, but clear enough. He might after all be able to take a turn about in the fresh air. A few more paces however, and he stopped, groaned, and rushed back indoors. Before he had moved two feet forward, he found what he had been dreading : the prints in the muddy slush.

He locked the door, and checked through the windows, one after the other. Now he saw clearly what his mind had forbidden him : a clear set of prints, trailing around the house – nothing to show where they came from, nothing to show where they disappeared to. It was the third day now, and each time, a little closer to the house.

He had tried to fight it off at first, walking down almost as far as the village, when the pattering behind him started. Whirling round, expecting – he knew not what – he had found . . . nothing. And again. And again. He pursued when perhaps he should have retreated, but the pattering had increased, grown louder, closer, close enough for him to hear panting – and each time he turned to face an empty horizon, devoid of life.

He returned to the house very quickly, and stayed within, peering out, listening, listening, then as no more was heard, and time drew a veil, he shrugged his shoulders and decided he had imagined it. Overwork, over study . . .he retired early to bed.

Sleep was however denied him. A restlessness in the early hours prompted him to wander about the room, until looking briefly out of the window, he saw, or thought he saw, a trail of white mist curling its way across the land directly in front of the house.

Intrigued, he watched, as it rolled and heaved past, gathering itself up, hurling itself forward – one could almost imagine there were legs and heads forming from those clouds.

Then the howling began. Far off at first, moving increasingly nearer. At the best of times disturbing – but the incident of the afternoon comes back to him tenfold, and he creeps back to bed there to spend a wakeful night until towards dawn, the howling fades away and he is permitted oblivion.

On waking, he has little or no recollection, it is only on realising he needs supplies form the village that he steps out – and sees the trail of prints around the house.

The pattering begins again as he walks down to the village. He will not be deterred this time . . . he will not be . . . he will not .  . .A few minutes later he finds himself back in the entrance hall to the house, trembling, shaking, pressing against the door of this virtual dungeon. Fear holds him fast and will not let him go.

The same again the third day – it is by some fierce combination of necessity, courage and outrage that he makes it as far as the bridge leading to the village.

He does not return that night to the house. The misty wraiths continue their noiseless tread around it, leaving behind yet more paw-prints, this time close up against the walls.

The villagers find him in a state of collapse in the street – muddied, for he has fallen more than once, his clothes torn (by thorns?), there are scratch marks even on his hands and neck – a puzzle, this, as it is clear enough countryside, there are no thickets for him to get caught up in.

He is at first incoherent, and it takes a few brandies to give him speech – on discovering the name of the house he has left, several of the older residents purse their lips. ‘The House of Wolves,’ mutters one of them.

Eventually, a small party of them accompany the visitor back to his ill-chosen winter abode. They find the paw-prints, this time on the inside of the door, leading through the entire house, as if hunting something out . . .

The visitor packs his bags and returns to town, vowing never to visit the countryside again. He still sleeps but fitfully, and cannot abide two things : the sound of dogs and the sight of mist.

Coffin Hop Divertissement


Giveaway plus a Flash Fiction Writing Competition (with Amazon gift vouchers for prizes!)

1) Giveaway  ! Going live at midnight (click here  to enter or on image below) : one prize of a free e-copy of the following anthology:


This anthology is available for purchase here; all proceeds go to the charity LitWorld.org to help encourage children’s literacy throughout the world and is a first collection of stories from the annual Coffin Hop online horror extravaganza.

All the links to the Coffin Hop participants can be found here – do pop along to see what they’re up to!

2) Flash Fiction Competition run by Lost World Press:

 For those keen to flex those scribbling muscles, why not try out  the Flash Fiction competition on Lost World Press (with Amazon voucher for prizes!) : Flash Fiction Halloween 750 max, all things Halloween in Speculative manner (full details on the site) Happy Spooking ! Don’t forget to hop along to all the others taking part in the Coffin Hop (links on the site)

Here instead: a little bit of nonsense in celebration of the Coffin Hop


Artwork by Red Tash

‘Evenin’, Gladys.’

‘Evenin’, Penny.’ (Purl one, cast two)

‘Coming along nicely, ain’t it. (Purl two, cast one)

‘I see young Tommasina’s nearly finished three already.’

‘Never one to hang about is our Tommy.’ (Cast one, purl three)

‘Our Mabel’s sorted out the business with the daddy-long-legs, by the way.’

‘Mmhmm. ‘ (Cast two, purl two)

‘Oh, look who’s arrived….’

‘Ah. Him. On His own, is He?’

‘Hang on – just peeking – no, got a couple of lady guests with Him.’

‘Ah.’ (Cast two, purl one)

‘Oh, – there’s more of them.’

‘A party.’ *Sigh* (Cast two, purl one)’Can’t remember the last time he had one of those ….’

‘Nor me, neither.’

‘It’ll be an all-nighter by the looks of things.’

‘What’s he doing now?’

‘Offering wine. Food. The usual.’(Cast one, purl three)

‘Maybe that’s why the manservant was in earlier, polishing up the goblets, setting the cutlery straight.’

‘Don’t miss a thing, do you.’

’I don’t.’

‘Proper little gossip, you are.’

‘That’s me.’ (Purl  two, cast one)

‘They’re getting sleepy already.’

‘That manservant – he’s never around in the evening, is he?’

‘No, never.Oh look , one of them’s dropped off.  (And purl three, cast two)

‘And that one in blue, as well.’

‘Works fast, doesn’t it.’

‘Indeed.’ (Cast two, purl  one)

‘Are they all asleep now ?’

‘They are.’

‘Has he drunk yet?’

‘He’s just about to, I think.’

(Cast one, purl three, cast two, purl one, cast one, purl three…)

‘Where’s he gone now?’

‘To feed the Children.’

‘Oh yes, of course. Got so used to the howling, I’d forgotten why.’

‘T’is gone midnight.’

‘Yes, yes, nearly done.’

‘You know He likes it all finished before dawn.’

‘Yes, yes, don’t fuss.’ (Cast one, purl three) ‘There – finished.’

One by one the spiders swung down to spread out and admire their handiwork, while outside the Children of the Night continued their demand for nourishment.

The candles burned low.

Come dawn  the late guests were barely visible beneath the thick coating of cobwebs. Deep in the bowels of the Castle, a faint squeal could be heard, as a lid was lowered.

‘That manservant – still hasn’t oiled the hinges on the thing.’

‘Getting rather lax, ain’t he.’

‘I wonder the Count keeps him.’

‘I’ve heard, good servants are hard to come by these days …’

Unseen Company

This was too long for the Readwave writing challenge (I still haven’t finished the one about The World Time Forgot ….) but I posted it on my own profile and thought I might as well post it here too before ether dust completely covers this sorry little blog …. the theme was Dreams. I got a bit carried away …

Unseen Company

(London, 1920)

Was it a dream?  Wallace is not so sure; Mrs Draycott is quite convinced it was, while Gerome has decided that this is the sort of thing one will get at séances, which is why they are best avoided.

They had gone to humour Adele, who went  to great lengths to arrange the thing : ’She (the medium)comes much recommended, I didn’t think much of it myself to begin with until I went – quite took my breath away!  The things she knew!  So if you could be punctual, there will also be the dear old Colonel, Mr and Mrs Fanshaw, oh, and Lorca.’  ‘Lorca, eh? Well, it will be worth going if only to see what he makes of it,’ said Wallace. Gerome raised an eyebrow. ‘That must have taken a bit of doing – not his sort of thing, I’d have thought; but yes, good fun, I wouldn’t miss that.’

Mrs Draycott, bored, nearly divorced and ready for anything, was adamant they would all go for Adele’s sake : ‘She always makes such an effort, the dear,’ she said, replacing yet another cigarette  in her ivory holder. ‘I’ve ordered a car for six thirty – don’t want to miss out if there is any booze going, eh? ‘

‘I should bally well think not!’ agreed her two companions. And so it was arranged.

Adele lived a little off Berkeley Square, in a quiet area more used to polite evenings around the pianoforte than séances, but then,  the medium was not your little old lady in feathers and pearls.

Lorca, resplendent in peacock green with purple cravat was just finishing one of his parodies as the little group entered – turning with cocktail in hand, he waved briefly and turned the final sentence in their direction, much to the amusement of his audience.

‘Come, old man, you’ll have to explain all that now,’ remarked Gerome as he pulled off his scarf.

‘A trifle, a mere trifle; your entrance was so deliciously timed – I was using the Arrival of the Mikado to illustrate my own entrance at the Savoy on opening night – ‘… the paraphrase to fit the line, I shall in course of time ….’ He hummed the refrain and allowed himself a self-congratulatory chuckle.

‘Ellipses and apostrophes, is that what we are to you?’ exclaimed Gerome with mock severity.

‘Dear boy, you could never be anything less than an exclamation mark,’ purred Lorca, ‘but come, there are some simply splendid young things dying to meet you…’

‘Bless me if you don’t crack me up every time;  thank goodness they invited you –  but, ‘ and here Gerome lowered his voice, ‘what do you make of the special guest tonight?’

‘Ah, la belle voyeuse – too soon to say, but I fancy the Daimler she rolled up in has seen better days, what?’

‘That Daimler, I happen to know, was Adele’s cousin who kindly offered to bring the lady in question here tonight, you frightful old snob.’

‘Then her credentials are impeccable and I say no more… ‘

‘Which one is she ? Oh, I say!’ Gerome now caught sight of the medium and drew in his breath.

Dressed in the height of fashion, she more resembled a Vionnet mannequin or a Parisienne (perhaps with shades of grisette), and her speech was calm, collected, almost disinterested. One could imagine she did not believe in the whole business at all. Her name, or soubriquet under these circumstances, was Astoral and she, like Mrs Draycott, smoked from a long ivory holder; it was hard to imagine her as being anything other than an exquisite design on a Vogue magazine cover.

Talk over drinks covered the usual topics one might find in any other drawing room of an evening in Bloomsbury  or Battersea in 1920 : Ascot, the theatre, Cole Porter, and why oh why A Night Out was so popular.

Suddenly Adele stepped forward, eyes bright with excitement and announced: ‘It is time – the table is set!’ and led the way to the dining room.

There was some subtle change in the air once she had spoken.

Astoral snaked (there was no other word for it) across Adele’s polished parquet as if on the way to a dance, her heavily shadowed eyes cloudy, unfocussed, distant.

The room was candle-lit. The lights had been lowered, the guests were in their places in that combination of shy embarrassment and expectation one finds at such gatherings.Gradually a hush fell.

‘I hope she doesn’t have all that ectoplasm coming out of her mouth…’ murmured Wallace.

‘Oh, I shouldn’t think so, dear boy – that is only in the lower circles, surely. It will be infinitely more refined here,’ Lorca replied in conspiratorial tones.

‘Hush, hush!’

The medium was now seated, her eyes continuing in that vacuous, dreamy state. She placed her cigarette holder on the ashtray provided for her; a thin thread of smoke continued to wind up from it.

Silence.  ‘…which did last an infernally long time,’ commented Gerome afterwards.

Someone, a late-comer presumably, walked across the floor. The candle light flickered and wavered causing the shadows to lurch uncertainly, confusing the eye.

‘You may be seated,’ said the medium.

Wallace thought it a bit much that the medium should take on the role of hostess in such a way, but perhaps this was now her realm. Certainly, the changed light, the oddness of the situation, the very atmosphere itself made it seem another world.

Whoever it was drew up a chair – at least, they all heard it scraping across the floor.

‘Adele will have a fit,’ whispered Mrs Draycott, her  voice tickling Wallace’s ear. Gerome, seated on the other side of him, stifled a chuckle. Wallace twitched irritably.

‘Tell us why you have come,’ continued the medium.


Well, what is he likely to answer?  thought Wallace, almost petulantly. Why are we all here? Curiosity, idleness, ennui …

More footsteps. Somebody, bored or in need of replenishment was pacing about, as if looking for something. Not the drinks cabinet after all, by the sound of it.

‘I say, is it usual for people to get up and move about?’

‘Anything can happen,’ replied the medium, unruffled.

‘Didn’t really answer my question, though,’ muttered Wallace. ‘If that’s the case, think I might stretch my legs as well.’

And he stood up.

Several things happened at once:  amid a general gasp and admonishments to ‘not break the circle’ there was a groan followed by  a crash as somebody’s (possibly Wallace’s) chair fell over, and then, a rush of air, causing the door to slam shut, and the running of feet.

‘Well, bless me, if a chap can’t take a stroll if he feels like it – I’ve had enough!’ Wallace strode across and tried the door, but it resolutely declined to budge.

‘Speak!’ said the medium, a little louder this time.

Wallace turned in time to see her lean forward, apparently addressing him, although her eyes had rolled back, showing only the whites.

‘Speak? What on earth am I to say?’ he spluttered.

‘She doesn’t mean you, you dolt!’ hissed Gerome. ‘Come and sit down, there’s a good fellow.’

The door chose that moment to open, or he had simply managed the trick of it, and he was out, back in the drawing room, only here too all was now shadow and shade, strange patterns leaping across the walls, a flickering, slumberous glow from the fireplace (a fire in summer? had it really been so chilly?) –  he tried to cross the room to reach the other door to the hallway, stumbling into furniture; someone, perhaps  the latecomer, had the same idea, only they kept moving things about and his path was being impeded.

‘I say,’  Wallace bleated, anxious only to get out, ‘you might stop chucking the furniture about.’

Instant silence.

It had grown dark indeed. Whatever fire had been in the hearth was now extinct. Yet still he could see, by the little light allowed through the windows, shadows, moving. Moving across the wall, and most definitely not cast by any log or candle.

‘Not by humans, either, ‘  he said afterwards. ‘Some of them, if I’d seen them by a stronger light, might have turned me quite silly: beastly outlines, more man mixed with animal – perfectly monstrous.’

‘It was probably some of those statues Adele has dotted about the place,’ soothed Mrrs Draycott. ‘You mistook them for … something else.’

Wallace thinks not.

At first he thought it some foolish prank, and called out to them to stop being such silly asses and let him out. Instead, without reply,  they all turned and advanced slowly, very slowly, towards him.

Whatever they were, he said , they made to come at him, and shout as he might for help, no word came out of his mouth. Some part of his fear also bound his hands and legs, for move he could not. Paralysed in speech and deed, he could only stand, looking around him at the closing circle.

‘On and on they came,’ he stuttered, ‘whispering, whispering : “You let them in, you let them in, “ – although who, and how, I cannot tell,’ he broke off, burying his head in his hands. He continued, in muffled tones: ‘I couldn’t breathe – I thought I was being strangled – there seemed a whole army of them; I must have passed out then … and none of you heard them, pounding and stamping about the place?’ He raised his head and stared at his companions incredulously.

‘We thought you were just asleep in the armchair, Wallace darling,’ said Mrs Draycott. ‘And you were quite, quite alone. There certainly wasn’t anyone pounding or prancing about. We found you there, quite peaceful, after we’d finished.  I do think it a pity you didn’t join us though – then you might not have had such an awful, silly dream.’

Wallace stared at her again, wide-eyed and dishevelled.

‘I did join you , though.’   There was some gentle laughter at this.

‘My dear, you decided you wouldn’t, after all. You’d picked up a book of myths and legends, just as we were leaving the room and said : “Herne the Hunter, there’s the chap. I’ll sit here and read him. You lot go ahead.” And so we left you.’

Wallace still insists this was not the case. Yet the Book of Myths and Legends, by one M. Larrimer (All Saints College, 1st ed.1872) with Herne, Oberon and Titania and all the rest of the Unseen Company, was definitely lying open on the table at his side. And he had collapsed in an armchair. The one they had found him in. The book was heavily illustrated, containing engravings that were … grotesque. He looked at a few, then shuddered and closed the book.  And then shrugged.

The medium was quite unconcerned by it all, and murmured something about sensitives, possession, and the like.

‘She was really excellent tonight – chilling, in fact,’ commented Mrs Draycott, once they were on their way home. ‘I could see even Lorca was impressed. She knew all about Uncle Horace – and she did mention there were quite a few ‘Unknowns’ wandering about. I wasn’t too certain what she meant by that. Perhaps they were the ones bothering Wallace while he was asleep?  I almost believe in it after all.’

‘Darling Davinia,’chuckled Gerome, ‘ you are too, too droll. As well as divine. There, all words beginning with D. Like your initials.’

‘How perfectly charming, perhaps I shall have them embroidered on something.’

Their levity had little effect. Wallace knows what he saw. Safe to say, he has not been to a séance since. And still sleeps badly.

Greenwood Tree Giveaway

I may have mentioned this before (like, nearly every day for the past few weeks or so) – Greenwood Tree is on Tour – a Mystery Tour, no less. Guess whodunnit, win a prize or two (full description here).

As part of the Tour, we have craftily devised a new giveaway, which is on its way (the 20th), via Grey Cells Press : you can enter by visiting the Tour, liking a couple of pages, following some grog-swilling, Remington-bashing characters on Twitter …. easy.  That is, if you’re looking for a chance to win some free mystery cozy reading (i.e. Greenwood Tree).

GWT book cover

If you’re not looking  for anything of the kind, then forget I spoke. I’ll just sit in the corner, drawing bears and minding my own business.  Kind of dusty in here – who took my crayons?  Hello ?

Favourite Quote

Thank you Lynn!



Here’s one of my favourite quotes from B.Lloyd’s Greenwood Tree:

‘It may well be that being unused to country living my temper has in some way been affected; I almost hesitate to describe the feelings of horror I have experienced since my arrival in this place, which have grown upon me increasingly over the last few days – this feeling was hardly alleviated by our visit to the clearing, and might explain the distinct impression I had of being observed by some person or persons unseen. This impression grew so strong that I was almost convinced I saw the figure of a man in green slipping away between the trees on the opposite side of the glade …’


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Rosalie Duthé, Original Dumb Blonde

Interesting – am particularly taken with the pose in the portrait by Danloux; an unsual, active painting – almost a narrative – what is the painitng she is hanging up (or taking down)? Such a very casual , yet intent painting ; is she meant to represent a Muse…? (However unjustified …)

Making History Tart & Titillating

Rosalie Duthe by Drouais 1768Rosalie Duthé by Francois-Hubert Drouais, (1768)

When I was a towheaded girl, having to humor more than my fair share of dumb blonde jokes, I would have liked to know the name of Rosalie Duthé.  The scandalous lady who inspired gibes that would endure well past her 250th anniversary, marking their favor in bottle blondes like Marilyn Monroe and Pamela Anderson, has been an unknown pain in my ass since I can remember.  As an experiment in my teenage years, I dyed my hair auburn and guess what happened?  Science.  Men generally acted politer and the endless spate of jokes withered in people’s heads.  Ultimately, maintaining a brownish hue when nature has bestowed you with fair hair is a futile and expensive endeavor.  I gave it up within six months and have since rejoined the ranks of women, dyed or otherwise, who (allegedly) have more fun.  In the eye…

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A Day Out…

Here’s a nice little curio I came across Retronaut the other day: a ticket issued by the British Museum in 1790 to one (*squints *) Mr Masefield (?), who was allowed entrance as one of five or six visitors  for a genteel amble around Montagu House, one ‘fair’ day in March (according the Meterological Table in Gentleman’s Magazine, with temperatures of 56° Fahrenheit at noon).And after admiring Sir Sloane’s admirable collection of books, prints and natural specimens,did Mr Masefield then wander out for a stroll in the neatly laid out gardens ? It is quite a view, with a fountain at the end of the walk, and close on 600 species of plants growing there.


The gardens had had a chequered history, the house having been abandoned in the 1740s; however, when it was purchased as the first home of the Museum, they were restored by the Trustees’ hired gardener Mr Bramley, and became a popular visitors’ spot in their own right.

Sadly, they disappeared completely in the 1820s under the new designs for the present British Museum by Sir Robert Smirke…

Montagu House, North Prospect, 1715, both house and gardens in fashionable French Style

I wonder if the Warrens might have popped in on an occasional visit down to London. I should think Robert did when he was not at Temple Bar or ‘Varsity. That and the Pump Rooms at Bath were on the Social Calendar for those wishing to be thought well of as Eucated Gentlefolk.

Much has changed. One thing has not: admission is still free, after three hundred years. Something laudable in that, especially at a time when libraries are being closed down and prices generally are going up …

Rather a different view now of course:

The British Museum, Great Court

The British Museum, Great Court (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(For those with a mind to hop through time, Retronaut is a rather fun place where various oddities from the past are put on display: http://www.retronaut.com/ – worth a toddle or two)

The Lady in the Punchbowl

Making History Tart & Titillating

Lady Diana was an heiress worth £30,000 and a renowned Elizabethan beauty. She married firstly Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford, who died within a year of their nuptials following a fever after a battle.  She later joined with with the 1st Earl of Elgin, ancestor of Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl Elgin, and acquirer of the eponymous Elgin marbles.

Below is Lady Diana painted in typical William Larkin fashion.  Ever present Larkin curtains notwithstanding, I like the portrait, especially the gathered/Elizabethan-version-of-lasered details on the front on her gown.  I haven’t a clue what the technique is actually called, but it looks like she got in a creative sword-fight  on her way to the portrait being painted.  Maybe that offers at least one possibility for her expression. Frankly, it’s better than this  (very nice embroidery, btw) or this (they say).

lady diana, countess of Elgin by William LarkinLady Diana Cecil by William Larkin, (1614-18) (Ranger’s House, Suffolk Collection)

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Save-a-word-Saturday 10

save  a word Saturday image

(Full rules here : The Feather & the Rose)
1. Create a lovely blog post that links back to this one.

2. Pick an old word you want to save from extinction to feature in your blog post. Luciferous Logolepsy is a great database of lovely old words.

3. Provide a definition of your word. Use your word in a sentence (or even a short paragraph) vaguely related to the theme chosen for the week.

4. Add your post to the linky list below (it’s down there somewhere). Then hop to as many other blogs as you can in search of as many wonderful words as possible!

5. Use as many of the words as you can on the people in your life.

Cripes, nearly missed this week’s again ! Got in by the skin of me teeth ….
                                                                                                                                                Theme: Scarf-a-Scone Saturday
                                                                                                                                       Chosen words: madefy (verb) : to wet
                                                                                                                                                                           magirology(noun):  art of cookery
The bear stomped into the kitchen,  sniffing out honey pots and teabags.‘Tea,’ he growled, as the wind outside blew its cracked cheeks, ‘tea and scones….’The oven required a certain amount of work with the bellows, and the flour was rather furry – however, he was not to be done out of his required sustenance, and half an hour later, a steaming bear sat before the fire,  stretching his madefied toes towards a healthy, roaring fire,  slurping his tea and stuffing his face with magirological delights.Who can beat  a scone, eh….
(Now off to hunt for some …)
hmmm… jammy ones… he’ll like those ….

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Queen Henrietta Maria & Lord Minimus

Making History Tart & Titillating

In case you’re in need of a refresher or an introduction, the queen’s abbreviated bio is this:

Unpopular consort of King Charles I, youngest daughter of King Henri IV of France, catholic, subject of several Anthony Van Dyck’s paintings, and woman with “a strong penchant for private theatricals.” Also, keeper of Lord Minimus.

Who was Lord Minimus, you ask? Scroll to the Van Dyck with Henrietta Maria and the male figure who I, upon first glance, believed was a child. As far as records go, he was consistently described as a miraculously well-proportioned dwarf, which accounts for my momentary blunder.

But first a few lavish pictures of Henrietta Maria with her tight curls and early to mid 17th century get-ups.


by Van Dyck (1632)


Miniature by John Hoskins (1632)


by Van Dyck (1638)


With Sir Geoffrey Hudson (1633).

Comically known as Lord Minimus, Sir Hudson was the queen’s official court…

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