Cogs, Crowns and Carriages (and Kickstarters)

Twitter Regicide and Prejudice quote 2Dear Reader

We are delighted beyond belief to inform you that our esteemed lead writer Mr Paul Michael Esq has had the very good fortune to be in yet another anthology. This time he will be in the most excellent Cogs, Crowns and Carriages Steampunk anthology (one of a pair along with Gears, Ghouls and Gauges).

Alas, though, the anthology may never see the light of day unless enough charitable folk contribute to a “Kickstarter” campaign. We implore you to consider this opportunity presented here bit.ly/SteampunkAnthos

In any event, we are excited about the imminent release and will be posting more anon.

 

 

 

The Paris Awakening: Prologue Part 1

“Chef has prepared an amused bush,” said the maid and placed the two small plates in front of Sir John and Marie Jennings. She looked dubiously at the small piece of cheese and sauce on the plate.

“I have taken the liberty of informing chef that in this house it is customary to have bigger portions,” Miss Henderson added, “and that you sometime have seconds even then, Sir John.”

“Thank you Miss Henderson,”  said Sir John. “I’m sure that’s very helpful.”

Amused Bush“Amused Bush”

The maid left, and Sir John looked across the elaborately laid out table to his wife who smiled back at him. Their dining room was lit by candles and the glow of the fire, crackling gently.

“It is so nice to have a taste of ‘ome at Christmas mon cher,” said Marie. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure,” he said, “I’m just glad I managed to keep it a secret.”

Marie’s head dropped. Sir John didn’t see as he was eating the food.

“Hmm, she has a point,” he said. “It’s very tasty but not terribly filling.”

Sir John looked up and saw a tear running down Marie’s face.

“I’m sure we can get some more,” he said.

“No,” she said, “it’s not that … it’s when you mentioned secrets I thought of…”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Sir John. “I didn’t mean…”

“No, I know, but we ‘ave to ‘ave a conversation,” she said, “I ‘ave to tell you about my past.”

“My dear, it’s Christmas Eve,” said Sir John. “It’s a special day, perhaps some other time.”

“No,” said Marie, “now is perfect. No-one can bother us, and we have this nice food. Please, let me tell you about my life.”

“All right,” said Sir John. “If you like.”

“I do,” she said. “Can you remind me what you know?”

“Well,” said Sir John, “you grew up in a small village where you lived with your mother. Then you moved in with an aunt and uncle in Paris when you were about nine. You lived there but lost them in the chaos of 71 … taught in schools after that … joined the Société d’Evénements Mystérieux where we met, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Marie looked thoughtful.

Just then, Miss Henderson arrived with two covered bowls. She was looking rather pleased as she put them on the table.

“I believe that chef has taken my suggestions seriously,” she said as she took lids off the bowls which were quite full of clear soup. “Chef said this a bowl of consumption.”

The maid looked at Marie’s uneaten food and took the plate.

“I didn’t like it much either, Mrs Jennings,” she whispered to Marie and left.

“Well, the facts are all true,” she said, “but that story has some gaps. Let me start at the beginning…”

Interview With A Vaper

vaper copy

The following is reprinted from the Fernando Po Literary Review, published Dec 23, 2017. It is an interview with Roberto de Guillermo, editor of that journal and Paul Michael, author. Mr de Guillermo was lucky enough to catch up with Mr Michael at the Tequila y Mota International Airport and was able to conduct the interview in the departure lounge and capture it on his minidisc recorder.

RdG: Oh I’m sorry, are you alright? Let me get your bag.

PM: No, that’s quite alright, just an accident. I can get that.

RdG: Ay! That’s heavy! What do you have in there, gold bricks?

PM: Haha! No, no … er may I take that?

RdG: Wait. Aren’t you Paul Michael, the famous author of the Jennings and Jennings series?

PM: You’ve heard of me?

RdG: Of course, you are famous on this island! Are you in a hurry? I’d love to do a an interview!

PM: Well, my flight to Panama is…

Voiceover (in background): We regret to inform you that the Aeroflot flight AFL123 to Panama City has been delayed by 6 hours.

(Pause)

PM: Apparently I have time.

RdG: So we are all looking forward to the release of The Paris Awakening, your forthcoming novel. We’ve been hearing news of that a lot this year. It must be due for release soon?

PM: Yes, yes it’s due soon.

RdG: How soon exactly? I think I heard it would be out by now.

PM: Well, you know, publishers and so on, and, and marketing schedules, etc, etc. Bit tricky to say right now.

RdG: Of course, of course, but it’s finished now at least?

PM: Well, there is a little editing to do, maybe a bit more writing.

RdG: A few words, I’m sure.

PM: Well, maybe a few at the end. And maybe some in the middle. And possibly one or two at the start.

RdG: One or two words at the start?

PM: One or two thousand at the start.

RdG: Oh.

PM: You see, it’s probably more accurate to say it’s not really completed. And even more accurate to say it’s not even written. It’s the literary equivalent of vapourware. It’s a vapelit romance.

RdG: So this is why you are fleeing to Panama with a sack full of gold bullion?

PM (dejectedly): Yes.

RdG: Mr Michael! Don’t lose heart so quickly! Why you are the mighty author that has written six most exciting serials. Why not treat this the same!

PM: What, you mean serialise the novel?

RdG: Charles Dickens! Arthur Conan Doyle! Alexandre Dumas! What do they teach you about writing?

PM: That I should change my surname to start with D?

RdG: No sir, that the serialised novel can be a classic of literature! Return to your home sir, serialise your novel! Tell your story to the world.

PM: My God, man you’re right! I shall, I shall! (Voice fades)

RdG: Mr Michael, you forgot your bag!

(Sound of zip opening, then exhalation and a clinking sound.)

RdG: Oh well, finders keepers…

 

 

How To Talk to Imaginary People

Great Marley Ghost MonoIn order to converse with fictional characters, consume more gravy.

Dear Readers

Firstly I would like to apologise for the protracted absence of posts on this august organ. Why it seems that it has been fully two weeks now since we last made communication. I can reassure you that all is well, that Mr Michael is hard at work on the forthcoming Paris Awakening novel and that the persistent rumours concerning a euphonium, a junior minister, a Welsh male voice choir and Lord Hollingbury are unfortunately true.

Anyway, we recently had the pleasure of discussing the matter of writing with a non-writing acquaintance. The conversation went along these lines:

“Dear chap, I don’t know how you do it! How do you work out, from all possible paths, what will happen in the story?”

“Why thats simplicity itself,” I countered. “I simply let the characters decide what they will do.”

“Good grief man!” he exclaimed, knocking over  a perfectly good brandy. “How can that be achieved?”

“My dear friend, I let them talk amongst themselves,” I said. At this he waved his arms and his voluminous mustache wobbled.

“You see, sir, you are a genius, I couldn’t conceive of doing such a thing.”

“I disagree,” I said, “I’ll wager you can, and let me explain how….”

This, in a nutshell, is the advice I gave my friend. It is a series of exercises which can be carried out in ones own mind, but I find that such exercises are better written out. Somehow writing brings extra depth and magic.

  1. Imagine two friends that you know well and who know each other. Imagine they are having a conversation.
  2. Next, imagine two friends that you know well, but are not mutually acquainted. Imagine them meeting and the conversation they may have.
  3. This time, imagine a friend you know meeting a fictional character, either one of your own devising or from a popular novel. As before, imagine how the conversation would occur.
  4. And finally, substitute the real world friend for another fictional character, and imagine how they would converse.

And voila! You know have two fully fledge imaginary people talking in your head. If you’ve enjoyed this parlour trick, be sure to tell your friends. And have a most pleasant Sunday.

 

Half Plan, Half Pants It

The_sleep_of_reason_produces_monsters_LACMA_63.11.43A Planner attempts Pantsing (or vice versa)

Dear Readers (and especially those of you who are Writers)

I am sure you are all aware of that great debate that has raged, seemingly for centuries now, and which divides father from son, mother from daughter and znarks from kithniks (in the planetary system of Ryzold Veta). This is not some theological disagreement such the Great Schism of 1054, nor political rift such as communism against capitalism. No, I refer to the twin camps of plotters and pantsers.

I shall not go over the debate in detail as a mere handful of seconds with a reliable “search engine” will reveal the crux of the matter. No, instead I will offer my tuppence worth based on my own writing experience. The “excessively loquacious and hence did not peruse” version is – why not do both?

Let me explain my position to those of you not too shocked to continue. You see, I truly believe the best bit of writing advice I ever heard was from Chuck Wendig who said something akin to “there is no such thing as plot, there is just characters doing things”. I have to say I most heartily agree, and for my characters to do things, I have to know who they are and what they are thinking. Thus begins the first phase of my writing, which will look rather like pantsing (the writing technique, not the “hilarious” pranking technique).

You see, I find something magical happens when I write a scene. Not, I must hastily add, that I am possessed with magnificent talent, but characters that are in my mind come to life of their own accord. Rather then put words into their mouths, I put them in a situation and listen. Remarkable things happen then; Miss Henderson quite literally fought her way from being a minor to major character. It was, in her words, a coop of tat. Rather than bonding joyfully with Marie (in a purely platonic way), The Nouveaumancer mercilessly bated Sir John, who then rather wonderfully bit back.

As so many of my stories are mysteries of one sort or another, I’ve learnt the best place for me to start is to present the evidence to my characters, let them have a conversation and if I’m lucky, they may start to try to solve the conundrum. That sets the mood, the tone, and turns the shadowy characters in my mind into functioning “people”.

And then, we get to a point. The characters are off investigating, but most likely, other things are happening in the story of which they are blissfully unaware. The whole world they are in is a vast complex machine with many moving parts and at the center of that machine is a cold, impersonal creature that will throw obstacles in their way, hurt them, and even dispose of them. Yes, dear readers, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, for it is I. And since I know what is happening to all the dramatis personae, I feel I have to sketch out what will happen to bring the story to its cataclysmic end. This is usually just a line or so per 500 words. No great detail, no computer software (well notepad maybe), but enough so I know what’s happening in my world. I wouldn’t call it detailed planning, but I’m far from winging it. And as always, it’s not the notes, but the thinking that counts.

The story then follows “more-or-less” the path I ascribe to it, albeit with some amendments along the way. Maybe a scene I thought would take 1000 words is wrapped up in 10. Mayhap my characters linger somewhere longer than I expected. I can, after all, only follow their whims and demands. But in the end, we arrive where I knew, about a third of the way through, where we would be.

And that’s it, dear Readers, Writers, and Arithmeticians. That is my part-pantsing, part-planning approach. I hope I haven’t broken too many hearts or shattered too many illusions. All I can say is that it works for me.

And if you can take one more shock this evening, I am also perfectly ambivalent to this product as well.

marmite

That’s the kind of monster I am…

Intermission

intermissionDo not adjust your television, reality is faulty today

Dear Readers

We trust your are having a most pleasant weekend and are enjoying whatever weather you are currently experiencing. You will have no doubt noticed that we have finished our recent most entertaining story and that Lord Hollingbury has gone back to Brighton. We may hear more from him this summer, incidentally, but that is a story for another day.

It is with a heavy heart that we have to inform you that we shall not be running another serialised story for a little while. This is all the fault of Mr Michael who has faithfully promised us a novel set in Paris and has so far failed to deliver. He has pleaded ignorance, poverty and exhaustion, which have all fallen on deaf ears. However, we have come to the conclusion that unless we lock him in a room and force him to do nothing else (metaphorically speaking, we have already tried this literally) then the novel will not appear. So Dear Reader, for our greater collective pleasure we have released the wretch of the need to write the serials such that he may concentrate on the novel.

But not to fear, as there are many more entertaining tidbits we shall bring to the blog. From original artwork from Ms Pichette, to opinion pieces on a plethora of trivial matters, to our ongoing unearthing of obscure Victoriana, we shall continue to keep you entertained and enlightened.

We trust this news does not dampen your spirits too greatly. Normal service will, as they say, resume as soon as possible

The Benthic Times

Why I Stopped Reading Books

Oscar ReadingA Victorian Gentlemen Concerned About Catching Crabs

So we must immediately apologise for the misleading and attention grabbing title. We believe it is called “clickbait” in the modern parlance, which sounds to us like something one uses for catching crabs. We refer not to a refusal to read books of any kind. No, rather, to the the reasons why we may abandon any given book. You see, we have on our “electronic reader” a collection of books named Stopped. This little collection is like a dark corner of our literary world where we place books that we feel we cannot continue with right now on the assumption we may one day return. Of course, once placed in that virtual pile, they fester away, never touched again, with their electronic bookmarks wagging like the fingers of a chiding aunt.

As we are currently in the middle of writing a novel (stop laughing at the back) we thought it might be useful to visit this little literary backwater in the hope it might deliver us some insight on why these particular books have suffered such an ignominious fate. The aim, of course, is to prevent our own novel suffering the same misfortune. We present here the aforementioned knowledge. We shall mention no books in particular and offer the immense caveat that these ideas and judgements are most certainly subjective. One’s man’s meat is another man’s murder.

This Charming Man

After reviewing the list of books, one common aspect immediately made itself known to us. Namely, we don’t care about the the characters. We don’t mean they are unlikeable, although that may be a factor. Or even that they are uninteresting, although that too may influence such a judgement. We mean simply this: we don’t care two hoots whether the characters achieve their ambitions and dreams or end up in Cheapside taking in laundry for a living. We’re sure the reasons for this are as myriad as they are arbitrary, but once settled on such an opinion, it is hard for us to shift it. And conversely, the book is easy to shift into the Stopped section. Lesson number one, then, is make the characters likely to be of interest to the people who you hope will read the book.

That Joke’s Not Funny Anymore

At the Benthic Times we’re rather fond of comedy. We tend to prefer deadpan and surreal to, say, a piece of slapstick, but we’re not above making jokes about pineal glands. Our reading too reflects that, we heartily enjoy tales that a have a comedic element to the fore. However, there can be too much of a good thing. And, we have found, that books that are all gags and no substance tend to lose our interest. We call this the “pearl theory” of comedy. It’s pleasant to have something smooth, shiny and translucent to look at, but if there isn’t at least a little bit of grit at it’s heart, it’s going to seem rather fake and cheap.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

On a similar note, we like genre fiction. A lot. And whilst we like nothing more than a book that merrily (and hopefully, humorously) subverts genre tropes, we’ll groan and yawn when confronted with one that seems determined to tick all the cliche boxes without an ounce of irony. Not every genre book should be constantly genre busting, of course, otherwise there would be no such thing as genre. And yet, some fresh angle or approach is very welcome.

Well, that concludes our little reel around the fountain and through the cemetery gates of our electronic reader. We hope it was entertaining and enlightening. Next week we shall looking at more crab catching with a post entitled “Why I Stopped Watching Television”.

Paul Michael

The Spectral Spectrum (1965-68)

ColorOutofSight!

The Spectral Spectrum’s career was brief but eventful. Hailing from the small seaside town of Sunnyport, they drew on their coastal influence to create a heady blend of surf and psychedelia. This had the unfortunate effect of making them seem simultaneously ahead of their time and out of date, although they maintained a solid base of fans in their lifetime.

The first single The Call of You Hoo failed to make much of an impression on the charts despite a catchy singalong chorus, but the second Love is a Many Tentacled Thing became a summertime hit in 1965. The band were immediately signed by the Mokshatonic record label and released their biggest hit, a ballad called The Mountains of Sadness. They recorded and released their debut long-player Colour Out Of Sight! in 1966 whereupon they carried out a tour of the UK.

The tour was plagued with bad luck, with equipment failure and strange events at almost every stop, which rather blunted the impact for the audience and led to terrible reviews. Nevertheless, the band returned to headline the famous Sunnyport Free Festival in 1967 to great acclaim, the nadir of their success.

Whether it was the ill-fated tour, the pressures of fame and success or just the natural temperament of the band, the recording sessions for the next release were highly acrimonious. The original plan was to record a concept double LP tentatively called The Dreams in Which House? In the end, barely five tracks could be culled from the sessions and these were released with the rather sarcastic title Done With Honour. An abortive second tour ended early when the band’s entire stage set was destroyed by flooding in Worthing.

Lead singer Harry Blayne went on to be an experimental sound poet, releasing his first book “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Sunnyport” in 1969. Guitarist Ed Hutchinson joined Rocking Rodney and his Rockettes, a jazz quartet whilst bass player Phillip Ward opened a musical instrument shop in Sunnyport. Drummer Henry Pott moved to London to join the New Originals.

In three short years, these young men cut a swathe across the UK with their visionary music. These days, beyond a few musicians “in the know” their music is largely forgotton. It is our hope this little article may remedy that fact.

My Word!

Modesty permits us from crowing too loudly about this, but I can declare we were tickled pink to read this today. We shall just leave it here whilst we go and fetch the tea…

https://smithandskarry.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/morning-cuppa-jennings-and-jennings-paranormal-investigators/

 

 

 

The Sunnyport Shadow: Chapter 2

“Insufferable, pompous, arrogant, debauched idiot,” muttered Sir John as he sat in the breakfast room of the Shalimar.

“Are you still going on about Lord Hollingbury?” said Marie.

“Well of all the nerve,” said Sir John.

“Can I get you tea or orange juice,” said Mrs Pimplenick, landlady of the bed and breakfast.

“Do you ‘ave any coffee?” asked Marie. Mrs Pimplenick looked aghast.

“We have tea,” she said.

“Can I get tea and orange juice,” asked Sir John.

“It’s one or the other,” said Mrs Pimplenick in exasperation, pointing at a small menu on the table.

“Two teas then,” said Sir John. “For a change.”

Chapter Two“Two teas.”

A man came into the breakfast room wearing overalls. He carried a large box which had the warm odour of smoked mackerel.

“Here you go Mrs P,” said the man. “This month’s delivery.”

Mrs Pimplenick looked put out.

“This should really be delivered via the tradesmens entrance,” she said, suddenly acquiring the diction of a minor royal.

“Its bloomin’ heavy though,” said the man as Mrs Pimplenick rolled her eyes.

“There’s been another one you know,” he said.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” said Mrs Pimplenick, trying to indicate Sir John and Marie by a tilting of her head. The gesture seemed to go unnoticed as the man continued.

“Another disappearance Mrs P,” he said, “another fisherman who didn’t come home. That’s the third this month. Mr Wombly this time.”

The landlady made a snorting noise and her accent descended several social strata.

“We’ll they’ll be mourning that loss in the Cock and Bull,” she said. “He never seemed to be out of there. I’m surprised he lasted this long.”

“That’s not true anymore,” said the delivery man. “He is, well he was, a reformed character. Went to that new church that Rev Phillips runs. He got right off the booze and on the straight and narrow. Tragedy is what it is.”

“Excuse,” said Sir John. “What disappearances are these?”

The delivery man turned round and saw the Jennings for the first time. He face dropped in shock.

“Oh, oh, its nothing,” the delivery man said. “Just some local gossip.”

Mrs Pimplenick walked off shaking her head and carrying the large box of mackerel easily in her large arms.  When she reached the kitchen the man leaned over the Jennings.

“But the gossip is there’s something not right about the water. Ever since they made that promenade, people have been disappearing. Fisherfolk and the like. All locals, never the tourists. Which is just as well as people here don’t want it getting out. Bad for business see. Don’t tell anyone I told you.”

At this the man left, looking about himself as he did.

“That must be what that lunatic was talking about yesterday,” said Sir John. “Something wrong with the water eh, maybe…”

Mon cher,” said Marie, “we are supposed to be ‘aving a holiday.”

Just then Mrs Pimplenick returned with two cups and a teapot.

“I’m afraid I’m out of milk,” she said, “so you’ll have to have it black. Also the sugar doesn’t come until Tuesday.”

The Sunnyport Shadow: Chapter 3