Writing Greenwood Tree – and more

Posts tagged “1920s

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 

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 ?

The Green Man Cometh

The Green Man Cometh.

via The Green Man Cometh.

I am a guest this week – what a novel experience that was!  Many thanks to Dean Lombardo for inviting me  – here is the opening :

“The next time you visit a cathedral, crane your head up to look at the ceiling, where the building’s arches lurk in shadow. What else do you see? You might need binoculars—but the older the cathedral, the more likely you are to find, nestling atop corbels and capitals, a singular face with leaves and branches climbing out of its mouth. Sometimes fierce, sometimes cheerful, mostly a trifle wild … this often-sculpted entity has been with us far longer than the cathedrals, and long before the Normans who built them, with a name that has regained resonance only recently: the Green Man…”

Post continues  here …

Gin, Julia and Mary Pickford

The clock in the corridor outside chimed seven. Drinks. And then dinner.  Julia snatched a dress out of the wardrobe.

‘. . . so Dawton’s bought it up, lock stock and barrel . . .’

‘. . . make it a going concern. . . .’

‘. . . I thought it in particularly bad taste, and then she said . . .’

‘ . . . last of the Gorgons, that woman, don’t you think, Isobel ?’

‘. . . I have never actually had a conversation with

her myself. . .’

‘. . . pass the potatoes will you, old bean ?. . .’

‘ . . . more gravy, sir ? . . .’

‘Now then Julia, stop hiding behind your glass, old girl, and tell me about the plot. How many murders are in it this time?’ Cousin Richard was sitting next to her, so she could not very well evade his cheeriness with social deafness; not that she wasn’t fond of him, but any talk about a book of hers, especially one she had not yet written, was apt to be a little wearing. Perhaps other writers suffered the same. She had never asked. Talking to other writers was even more wearing than talking about one’s own unwritten novel.  ‘I don’t know yet.’ She turned impish. ‘Do you feel like being murdered ? I’m sure I could find a nice spot for you in there somewhere.’

‘Oh, why not. Who does me in, then – the butler ?’

‘Shuush, you’ll upset him. He’s trying to serve the duck.’

‘Nonsense, Haughton’s always ready to oblige, aren’t you Haughton ?’

‘Sir ?’

‘I mean, for the purposes of Miss Julia’s next best-selling novel -’

‘Don’t talk nonsense, Richard  . . .’

‘  . . . would you be prepared to do me in, and thus supply her with the plot ?’

‘As you wish, sir.’

‘There you are.’ Richard turned to Julia. ‘Now you can get started.’

‘I fear Miss Julia might find your suggestion less acceptable, however, sir.’

‘Yes, I certainly would.’

‘Oh ? How so ?’

‘Lack of motive, sir. Gravy, miss ?’

‘Hah! That’s you dealt with.’ Julia hit Richard with her napkin.

‘Ouch. I hope, little cousin, you will not come to regret this, in years to come, when people come up and say “Have you read ‘What the Butler Did’ by Richard Crewe? Stunning stuff, isn’t it ?” and you are obliged to reply “Yes. I wish I’d thought of it first. But you see, he offered me the plot, and I turned it down – silly, wa-” ’ He interrupted himself with a squeak as Julia gave him a hard pinch. ‘Now I really wish I was sitting next to Anne,’ she commented.

‘The writer’s secret. Always sit next to your fan to keep your spirits up.’


‘Well, at least I don’t deluge you with flattery and requests for autographs. You’d really detest that.’

‘That reminds me – somebody on the train -ۥ

‘Don’t tell me – he asked you for a signature, and was most put out when you turned out not to be Mary Pickford.’

From Greenwood Tree, chapter 10

Mary Pickford as photographed by Alfred Cheney Johnston in 1920

After re-blogging the previous post from the Gin Club, it occurred to me that a post on cocktails and flappers might be apposite . . .

Nellie Melba and Pavlova  inspired desserts, Garibaldi a biscuit, Wellington a sturdy piece of beef in pastry and . . . Mary Pickford, – a cocktail : rum, pinapple juice, grenadine and maraschino liqueur. Which noxious combination may well have done the rounds in the London night clubs of the time, but I fear would have left Julia unmoved. Her tastes are I believe of a simpler nature, and where others might be rushing to the bar for novelty to refresh their jaded appetites, Julia is more likely to be seen sitting  behind a palm sipping occasionally at a plain, simple G&T. If she is feeling particularly adventurous, she might allow some Angostura Bitters to be added . . and I could add she might well be interested in perusing the Gin Club’s Newsletter now and then . . .

“Where there’s smoke there’s fire” by American artist Russell Patterson 1920s

And yes, she does have a dress or two in her wardrobe  like the one above – although she might wear a more toned-down version for a country house. But the one pictured above would do for cocktails and the odd formal dinner. The Flappers meanwhile appear soon after in GreenWood Tree. Loud, cheerful, rumbustious, probably rather noisome. Certainly Aunt Iz felt the strain after a little while and sent them off on long walks across the countryside . .  well, after watching the following, what would you do with them ?

A few links of possible interest to the curious :



(includes several cocktail recipes associated with Miss Pickford . . .)

http://www.angostura.com/Brands/AngosturaBitters (the main page asks date of birth to establish that you are of drinking age – both impertinent and pointless; anybody could type in anything . . .;))

And this looks rather fun if you have a Singer machine to hand and are of a couturier-like turn : http://www.1920-30.com/publications/fashion/?hop=pagecat

A touch of the old WHR…mad inventivity from the 20s…

Not quite W.H.Robinson, although one or two of the transport ones could qualify… in fact I think I recognise one of them.

I could almost envisage Charlie driving Julia home from the station in the very first ‘machine’ shown in the film below; it is the sort of insane contraption that she would, I believe, relish getting to grips with.

They went through the station to the other side. A sleek primrose vehicle sat purring and spluttering almost in the middle of the road, apparently devoid of family chauffeur.  ‘Where’s Brenton ?’ inquired Julia apprehensively.  ‘Brenton ? Don’t need him I can drive he taught me says I’m getting on fairly more comfy in the front in you go there you are – all right ?’

Julia’s worst fears were realised as Charlie slithered into the front seat and looked about briefly for the gears. Julia’s hand moved discreetly to the strap and held on to it in a vice-like grip. Charlie’s foot came firmly down on the pedal.

Charlie’s method of driving, like her ability to communicate, put Julia in mind once more of nursery days and trolleys, to which only two rules had ever seemed to apply; one, never to go round an obstacle if you could go through it or over it, and two, never to control the speed at which you hurtled across the ground. As a result, by the time they arrived at Frobisher Hall, Julia’s right foot had lifted off the car floor in a state akin to rigor mortis, causing her shin to ache, while her left was stuck down onto the boards as if with insoluble glue. Her jaw relaxed in relief as the engine coughed to a halt and she saw Uncle Rex the Colonel on the steps with Haughton. ‘Well well,’ said the Colonel, as Haughton heaved the cases out. ‘Well, well. Comfortable journey, then ? Good, good. I think Miss Isobel wants tea or something in the conservatory, Haughton. Ask Cork to deal with the er, the er, those.’ “

(GreenWood Tree, chapter 9)

1927 in colour : the Ashes, roasted Peanuts, Rotten Row . . .

I can’t resist it : this is a rare 1927 film of London in colour : the year before Julia goes home to Lichfield in Greenwood Tree and ends up unravelling mystery upon mystery.


“Now came a rustling, a pattering, and finally a bird’s squawking that softly exploded into the distant sound of a car horn. The pattering turned back into the clopping of a well-worn charabanc, wending its cautious way through increasingly motorized traffic, while the rustling had surely been caused by the maid pulling the curtains back.  Julia’s head slumped back into the pillow. The world outside with its traffic, its noise and bustle, its deadlines and publishers could wait while she sought a few minutes more of her comforting dream of forestland and empty skies.”

Greenwood Tree, Chapter One

Excerpt on blogspot

On Authonomy