Now, Writer

Charles_Dickens_3A writer, most likely awake at night

Dear Reader

We believe that some of you are also dear writers, so we’d like to introduce you to a web community that an acquaintance of ours is hoping to build. It is aimed at wordsmiths willing and able to critique each others work. The idea, if we have it correctly, is to move beyond the usual grammatical and typographical commentary into an analysis of the more ephemeral side: tone, character, voice and all those other marvellous things that keep a writer awake at night.

Here is the link to this venture – Now Writer

Kind Regards

The Jennings

 

 

 

The Fulham Fiend: Prologue

The morning was cold and the fog was barely burning off as the wan sun struggled to push through a blanket of clouds. A middle-aged man, bowler hat, inexpensive suit, was walking across a patch of wasteland. In one hand he held a piece of paper and in the other a pipe from which he took deep drags. He came to a halt just before a younger looking man, also wearing a suit.

“Another one, Symonds?” said the older man.

“Yes, Inspector Dawlish,” said the Symonds, “just like the others.”

“The same…” started Dawlish, pointing to his neck.

“Indeed, let me show you,” said Symonds and indicated ahead. They walked off together and shortly came to the body of a young girl. A single constable was standing nearby, guarding the body, although it seemed the area was abandoned. The ground was covered by rubbish and effluence and a pungent, animal odour permeated through the fog. Dawlish looked down at the body and grunted. He bent down to examine it and took a pen from his jacket. The girl was dressed modestly with an attempt at the modern style. Dawlish pulled back the collar and saw what he was expecting. Two puncture marks. He looked at the girl’s face and noted how pale she looked. He stood back up and had to steady himself as the blood rushed to his head.

“Was she… like the others also in… temperament,” said Dawlish.

“I’m making enquiries,” said Symonds. “I believe she worked as a governess. I imagine I’ll know more when I speak to the family.”

“A bloody waste,” said Dawlish, looking down, “and we’re no further to finding the swine. I presume no witnesses again?”

“That at least is different,” said Symonds. “Although I don’t think our witness will be terribly helpful. He’s over here by this building.”

“Well, it’s something,” said Dawlish and the two men walked towards where Symonds had indicated.

FFprologue“Another One.”

“Inspector Dawlish,” said Symonds, “we need help with this. We need someone with specialist skills. It’s one a week now.”

“I’m aware of that,” said Dawlish, “but our best man’s away. In Switzerland, apparently.”

“There is this,” said Symonds, producing a copy of the Times and showing Dawlish a page.

“Washing taken in, enquire Miss Scrote, Cheapside?” said Dawlish.

“No,” said Symonds, “this other one.”

Dawlish read the paper then grunted.

“We don’t know that we need that sort of thing,” he said. “This could just be some fiend of a man. There might be a rational explanation.”

The men came to a pile of rags against the wall. Dawlish looked puzzled and Symonds leant down and spoke slowly to the pile.

“Mr Fringebucket? The inspector is here now. He would like to hear what you told me.”

The rags moved and roiled and a head poked out the top. The aging man’s eyes looked around wildly and he blinked and stared at the men. He cracked something like a smile although most of his teeth were missing. His skin was riven by marks of disease or violence.

“You want to know about the girl?” said Fringebucket.

“Yes,” said Symonds, “please, just as you told me.”

“You forgot already?” asked Fringebucket, looking confused.

“No, Mr Fringebucket, I just want you to explain to the Inspector.”

Fringebucket shrugged then started his tale.

“She come from over there, see, with this other one. That one must be, oh, six foot, maybe taller. So they walks over together and I just think, maybe they’re sweethearts or something. Then I was sure, cos he leans over her. Leans like he’s kissing her. And she leans into him, see… like she likes being kissed. A bit bold in public, I thinks, but then he steps back, and she falls to the ground. Then he turns and walks away. Not runs, walks.”

“His face…” said Dawlish. “Did you see the man’s face?”

Fringebucket nodded.

“Oh, I seen his face, but he weren’t no man. He weren’t nothing living at all. He were white as milk, white as bone. No he weren’t a man. He were Death! It was Death that walked with her, Death that kissed her and Death that took her life!”

There was a sudden crack of thunder and rain started to fall. The two policemen looked at the newspaper that was rapidly getting sodden. Dawlish looked up at Symonds and nodded.

“Jennings and Jennings it is then.”

One Thousand Apologies

Dear Reader

We can only apologise from the bottom of what passes for our hearts for our failure to post something last Friday. All we can give in the paltry way of excuses is that we are in the middle of an international house move. We offer this picture of a gargoyle from the Notre Dame in Paris, which will be featuring in a story in the near future, as recompense.

gargoyle_edited-1

 

We are also excited to announce that a new Jennings and Jennings story will be starting next Tuesday. You will gasp in horror, recoil in terror and be otherwise discombobulated by… the Fulham Fiend.

The Mancunian Mesmerist: Epilogue

The four seater train compartment was filled with boxes and a man and a woman. The man was frowning and obsessively hanging on to the boxes as the train made its bone-shaking journey. At each jolt and rattle he seemed to be trying to hang on to all the boxes at once. The woman gazed out the window at the rainy landscape with a half smile on her face.

“Well, it’s good to be going home,” said Sir John, “even if it is in this terrible train again.”

“Yes,” said Marie. “I’m looking forward to getting back. Did you find out about Clackprattle and Pook? Did the constabulary find them.”

“No,” said Sir John. “ By the time I had explained and then convinced everyone what had happened Pook and Clackprattle had long gone. They had been renting some rather fine rooms in the Britannia Hotel. They were empty when we got there.”

“I hope they’re caught,” said Marie.

“Well, Clackprattle’s a devious swine for certain, but I don’t think we need to worry about an oily little character like Pook,” said Sir John. “I imagine he’s perfectly harmless without his master in tow.”

They fell silent for a bit, then Sir John said, “How did it go with the Copperwaites?”

“Oh,” said Marie, “I nearly forgot. When I got back of course she had awakened and there was a lot of activity in the house. I tried to speak to the father, but he ignored me saying our services were no longer required as his daughter was better.”

“Oh dear,” said Sir John. “So they didn’t realise we were responsible for that?”

“Well, I spoke to the maid, you know the one we…” started Marie.

“Yes, I know,” said Sir John.

“Well, she let me speak to the daughter, Lillian for a few minutes. I explained what had happened, how she had been mesmerised by Pook … and, er, Clackprattle. I explained what they had been trying to do. She seemed to understand.”

“That’s good, I suppose,” said Sir John, looking a little glum. “Still, I was rather hoping to get paid this time.”

“Well, as I was packing up our room the maid came and gave me this envelope. That is what I forgot.”

Marie took a letter out from her handbag and passed it to Sir John.

“Dear Sir John and Mrs Jennings,” he read, “Thank you so much for rescuing me from the clutches of that evil monster, Clackprattle and his vile servant, Pook. I am grateful beyond measure and want to demonstrate that gratitude to you. I feel that what you have done for me is so great, that no amount of money could ever match it. So instead I have chosen to give you something priceless. I enclose a precious piece of art that I have made to recognise what you have done.”

“Oh dear,” said Marie.

“Well, perhaps this art will be valuable?” said Sir John.

In with the letter was another piece of paper. The Jennings both looked at it.

“Hmm,” said Sir John. “Probably not.”

MM Epilogue“Probably Not”

About Town Again

About Town Too

Well, dear Reader, as ever I am as good as my word. Yes, yes I know my words can be a little wicked. Nevertheless, I attended the Peitho Institute’s attempt to rise phoenix-like from its recent moribund state, and I can honestly say it was as bizarre an evening as that strange little gallery could produce. First, we were treated to a mind-numbing and somewhat bombastic introduction to the proceedings, which left me literally bored stiff. Then there was some frantic to-ing and fro-ing, some truly appalling sounds that I gather were intended to be music, and finally a large bang and a lot of smoke. I presume the marvellous new musical instrument exploded, which was a huge relief for all. Not for the first time, myself and the other guests left more than a little bemused. Luckily, there is a decent hostelry in walking distance where one’s nerves can be restored.


And on the topic of restoration: rumours reach me, as they so often do, on the apparent resurrection of the Peitho Institute’s founder, funder and muse. The lady in question, who had seemingly disappeared from life, or at least the social life of our Manchester, was seen out and about with friends. Naturally intrigued I made a few discreet enquiries that confirm that the Peitho Institute once again has curator and benefactor at the helm. As to the interim year of absence, lips are still kept tight. As alas, I cannot provide the requisite information, I will leave it to the readers to imagine what a young lady might do when she disappears for a year.


All this talk of mysterious ladies reminds me of that curious evening again. I spied an intriguing couple there, an English chap and a French lady. I recognised neither the fellow nor the madame, which naturally piqued my interest. I had assumed they were simply newcomers to our fair city that had evaded my company, but then they seemed somehow tied up with the events of that night. Dear readers, if anyone can help solve the mystery of this couple seen “about town” I would be eternally grateful. Answers, please! Discretion, naturally, assured.

Percival Gribblewax, Manchester Guardian

The Mancunian Mesmerist: Chapter 15

The room was full of machinery and there was a low electrical hum. By a doorway on the left was a large device like an organ and in front of that sat a musician. He was completely immobile, his hands hovering over the keys. To the right was Arthur Clackprattle, standing next to a microphone.

“Pook, start the mass dialing,” he said into the microphone. “Make sure the Queen is on the list.”

Suddenly Sir John burst into the room wearing his hat and Marie’s earmuffs. He held a weapon of some kind which he pointed at Clackprattle.

“Give up, Clackprattle, it’s over,” said Sir John. “Surrender at once.”

“Surrender?” said Clackprattle laughing. “Why would I do that, you deluded fool.”

“I can’t hear you speak,” said Sir John. “I’m wearing ear muffs. Are you surrendering?”

“No, I’m not bloody surrendering!” roared Clackprattle.

“I’m not getting a single word, you’ll have to gesture,” said Sir John.

“Take off the ear muffs!” said Clackprattle, pointing to his ears.

“What?” said Sir John.

“Take. Off. The. Ear. Muffs,” said Clackprattle, miming removal of the earmuffs.

“Are you insane?” said Sir John. “Why would I do that? Look, if you want to surrender, hold up your arms.”

“Oh, this is useless,” said Clackprattle. “Pook, man, will you start the dialing.”

At that point, the organist sprang back to life and starting playing the Four Seasons by Vivaldi. A thin reedy sound came from the instrument.

“Are you surrendering?” said Sir John. “I can’t tell. Surrender or I’ll use this weapon.”

“Never!” roared Clackprattle.

Sir John press on the weapon and an arc of electricity spat out, ending a foot or so in front of him, several feet away from Clackprattle. Clackprattle laughed at the sight of it, but the arc bounced back up towards him. It shot up between his legs before climbing up his body to the Sphere. The Sphere shattered into into dust and Clackprattle fell to the floor, groaning and holding onto his crotch.

MM finale sketch“You Idiot!”

“Good god man, are you all right,” said Sir John, taking off the ear muffs. “I was aiming for your pineal gland.”

“That’s in my head, you idiot!” Clackprattle cried out.

The organist stopped playing Vivaldi and played Beethoven’s Ninth instead. Marie came into the room.

Mon cher, are you well?” she said to Sir John.

“It’s fine Marie, it’s over,” said Sir John. “The sphere has been destroyed, and Clackprattle can no longer influence us with mesmerism.”

Clackprattle gasped.

“Don’t you call it that!” he said. “Mesmer was a fraud and an amateur! But for an accident of fate the world would be talking about Clackprattlism.”

“Whatever you would call it, it’s done,” said Sir John who turned to look at Marie. “Are you alright my dear you look a bit…”

Suddenly there was a bang and the room filled with smoke.

“You made a mistake turning your back on me,” said Clackprattle, through the smoke. “No one, but no-one, makes a fool out of Arthur Clackprattle!”

The air cleared and the Jennings could see the smoke bomb that had been set off by Clackprattle. He, however, was nowhere to be seen. The organist stopped playing.

“Oh well,” said Sir John, “at least we put a stop to his evil scheme. And I imagine we’ll never, ever see Mr Clackprattle again.”

“Excuse me,” said the organist, “did you want me to play anything else?”

The Mancunian Mesmerist: Epilogue

Faerie-Folk of England

Chapter 23 The Pookah

(Extract from “Faerie-Folk of England” by Rev Wilson Lillywhite, 1917)

If ever you find some small but important object has gone missing from where you were sure you left it, or if a mechanical device that worked only the other day has ceased to work, you may be playing host to a Pookah. This type of faerie delight in causing confusion and chaos in the house and are sure to move things, hide things or otherwise make merry mayhem. They are quite reclusive, preferring to work in secret, not at all like those Northern faeries that seem to crave the photographic camera. They are naturally shape-shifters so may appear as almost anything to suit their environment. A horse, a goat, a rabbit, or even a person.

The name itself may come from the Norse pook which refers to a nature spirit. In Irish mythology it is a Puca and a Pwca in Welsh. There are as many different spellings as there are forms this playful creature may take. One name of course is Puck, as William Shakespeare called him.

pookah sepia

Pookah’s are famous for being both helpful and unhelpful. They may find things or steal things and may lead travelers astray into the woods. My personal theory is that even when they are being helpful they are probably planning some misdemeanour or other. A story of mine illustrates this point.

Several years ago I was visiting a house where a pookah had taken residence. This mischievous little creature was driving the family to distraction with its petty meddlings. When I arrived, I was given an overwhelming list of stories by them that I was eager to write down. I looked in vain for my pen, which I could not find. I exclaimed aloud how much I wished I had my pen and then felt a sharp tap on the top of my head. I took off the hat, and there was the pen. The family and I all had a little chuckle at the impudent creature. Whenever a Pookah is about, this sort of roguish prank is sure to happen!

The Mancunian Mesmerist: Chapter 14

The room was full of machinery and there was a low electrical hum. In the centre of the room was a table with a map on it and standing over it Earnest Pook. He was humming cheerily to himself. Marie walked into the room.

“I was wondering,” said Pook, not looking up, “whether I should have Victoria give me India or Africa. What do you think?”

“I think it’s not a very good disguise to use what you are as a name, pookah,” said Marie.

“And I don’t think it’s a very good idea to walk into a pookah’s house with a stone bug in your hand,” said Pook, still looking at the map. “Although in truth I knew you were special even back in the church.”

“Does Clackprattle even know what you are?” asked Marie, walking closer to the table. Pook chuckled.

“Oh, poor, deluded Arthur, ‘master mesmerist’,” he said, mimicking Clackprattle. “Naturally, he has no idea. There’s no such ability of course, it’s all just magic. My magic. With a little glamour to hide it from prying eyes.”

“And the girl?” said Marie, edging quietly closer.

“She was so useful for a while, so wonderfully gullible,” said Pook, not moving. “I didn’t even need to enchant her. She bought us some wonderful toys. Then she got into her head that the Telharmonium was a bad idea. So, nighty, night … she went to sleep.”

“But then her father stopped the money,” said Marie. “So you made her wake at night to write letters and cheques, to keep the institute going.”

“Yes, clever aren’t I,” said Pook. “I imagine next you’ll ask me which lever to pull to turn this all off. And I’ll tell you of course just to show you how clever I am.”

“Does the Sphere of Lethe even do anything?” asked Marie, close to the table now.

“Oh, now you’re being the clever one!” said Pook. “Mesmer wasn’t an idiot. He knew well enough, like me, to have something gaudy, large and dazzling for the paying customers to focus on. No, I’m afraid the real power lies elsewhere.”

Pook suddenly turned from the table, just as Marie was right behind him.

“But you’d know all about that, wouldn’t you?” he sneered. “About using something else to disguise your powers.”

“So… so you have something magical,” said Marie, flinching. “Pookah’s aren’t as powerful as you normally.”

“No, indeed,” said Pook. “Time was that when a humble old pookah tussled with a witch, that the pookah would lose hands down. But as we saw, when you tried to make that boy talk, it seems we’re evenly matched.”

Marie looked down.

“In fact, one could say we were very similar indeed,” said Pook. “Same powers, same method of disguise. Are you sure you want to stop me? Perhaps you’d rather join me? Just think, Clackprattle and Jennings, what a great puppet show. We could tour the the world.”

“I’m not like you, and he’s not like Clackprattle,” said Marie, still looking down.

“How can you stand it?” said Pook, coming close to her, and resting a hand on her cheek. “How can you stand to be in the shadow of that pompous moron?”

Suddenly Marie grabbed for the jewelled pin on Pook’s cravat and shouted, “ALLER!” Pook flew across the room and crashed into the wall. His face looked shocked as he started to rise. “RESTER!” shouted Marie and he sat still.

Marie stared at the creature, one hand on her hip and breathing hard.

“I know, little creature, that you are made of trickery and chaos. So I forgive you. But don’t you dare compare yourself to me. I do not play games with people’s lives,” she said.

She dropped the cravat pin on the floor.

“And I know exactly how to ‘turn this all off’,” she said and stamped on the pin, smashing it. Pook cried out in horror. Marie said “dormir” and he slumped unconscious. She stood there for a moment, staring at the sleeping creature before turning to walk out the door.

“I am a witch,” she said. “We are always in the shadow.”

As she walked out the door, she clicked her fingers and the door slammed shut behind her.

marie door 3

The Mancunian Mesmerist: Chapter 15

Your Call is Important to Us

Extract from “Your Call is Important to Us: Towards a Socio-political Praxis of On-Hold Music by Dr Jeff Grunt.

It has been well documented in this treatise how poor cultural framing of “on-hold music” can induce cognitive dissonance in the intended audience. British users of Southern Rail’s helpline demonstrated this cross-wiring of outcome and intention quite clearly when 56% reported they were “quite distressed” or “very distressed” when hearing The Four Seasons by Vivaldi, apparently as it reminded them that British weather was more homogenous, located as it is in a generic “single season” paradigm of rain and wind.

What has been less well researched has been the kinetic-auditory impact of, for example, timbre and “note envelope” parameters. Anecdotally, a lower-quality under-developed timbre may induce a certain displeasure, but there has yet to be a wide-scale analysis of, for example, whether Beethoven’s Ninth is less likely to provoke negative-biased responses when played by a full orchestra rather than on a stylophone.

Teleharmonium1897_edited-1

Nevertheless, an early attempt at producing telephonic music may prove instructive, especially as to its demise. The “Telharmonium” (pictured above) was an early electronic instrument developed in the later Victorian era by a Thaddeus Cahil. Three versions were produced, the last weighing around 200 tons. The instrument itself would take up an entire room.  Thus, proving unwieldy to travel, the instrument was used primarily for telephone users to listen to music. However, despite the relative unavailability of recorded music at that time, the telharmonium was not a success. Notwithstanding the tremendous power consumption required, the fatal flaw seemed two-fold.

The first problem noted was that the basic sound, a sine wave, was “pure and clear”. Although there were options to modify this source, I contend that this purity, this perfection, may well have contrived to create displeasure. The sounds may have been unearthly or ethereal to the listener used to the more visceral sounds of a street urchin playing a violin. Secondly, there are also reports of cross-talk incidents, where conversations were interrupted by ghostly music. In all, by the early part of the 20th century, the instrument had lost favour and fell into disuse.

We can, I think, conclude clearly that here we have less a sociological issue than a timbral one. I shall be exploring this more thoroughly in the next chapter “Windpipes and their Role in Helpdesk Worker Abuse.”

(Dr Grunt is Lecture of Muzack at UMIST and is also author of “Elevation: The Use of Religious Music in Lifts” and “Liminal Exotica: Bossa Nova Rhythms and Hotel Lobbies”)