Sunday, January 11, 2015

Gretina, and 'How's your book going, Rhis?'

How is my book going? 

This is an extract from 'The Skivvy's Tale', 
which has run to the apex of the first big story arc, 
all excitement and drama and betrayal and sex, 
and then hit a brick cliche. 

Which is a pity, as I was enjoying writing about Gretina 
and her new-found life as a scullery maid. 

Here's a teaser from the opening chapter.

Let me set the scene...

(Takes a deep breath)

Gretina has just walked many miles, through the
rain and mud, to arrive at the Three Coneys Inn,
where she starts work as a scullery maid.

The Cook takes an immediate dislike to her
(which is ok. The Cook doesn't seem to like anyone 
or anything. Not even cooking)
and to the muddy mess Gretina trails in 
on her bare feet. 

Our heroine is ordered to get a mop and bucket  
from the scullery, and clean the floor.

A Man's Shirt

Gretina grabbed a lantern from a wall hook and pushed open a stout door.
Beyond was a tall, narrow room. High above her hung hams and sausages wrapped in muslin. Reaching up towards the distant ceiling were rows and rows of shelves. Preserves and pickles, salt and peppers all ranked with military precision. Some boxes had locks. Others were elaborately carved and clasped in brass. Garlic, in ropes. Cheeses, in jars of clear brine. Glossy, hot peppers and scrolls of cinnamon bark. The scent was overpowering, honey, sage, and bacon. Between sniffs, she wiped at her mouth, her hunger now a ravening wolf in her gut.

Before her was a deep shelf of grey slate. There was a channel around it running with clean, cold water. The whole shelf appeared to be an altar to the art of the pastry cook. It was a pageant of Pies. Wonderful Pies! Stuffed with pork and ham, or oozing plum juice onto golden crust which gleamed with sugar crystals.
Her hand moved of its own accord, towards a hand-raised pie that flaunted its deep filling at her. Veal and ham, crisp pastry, and a boiled egg like a friendly eye, studded in each slice, tempting her cruelly. She could near taste it…

Gretina never even saw Cook, just felt the jarring clunk of the ladle as it smashed down on her cold red knuckles. Then the scrawny hand lashed out fast as a lizard’s tongue and grabbed her wrist, crushing the bones. Cook’s voice screeched like a fork scraping porcelain.
‘You’re in the Pantry, Skivvy! No one is allowed in the Pantry but me! This is my Pantry and it’s not for snot-nosed, dirty, ugly little wenches like you, do you understand?’
Gretina shrieked back and tried to release her imprisoned wrist-bones. This seemed to touch on some deep reserve of malevolence in the gaunt woman and she laboured about her with the iron ladle, ringing it on Gretina’s head and shoulders to mark each word.
‘Do. You. Understand. Skivvy? Not. The. Pantry! Never. Ever. The. Pantry!’
   And with that, Gretina was dragged back into the heat and light of the kitchen. Cook gave her one final shake and a slap. The jabbing finger returned and pointed at a crumbling arch with some faded face carved into the keystone.
‘Scullery, Skivvy! Now get out of my sight!’
Gretina dodged around the table and through the arch. She was trembling with rage, rubbing her bruised wrist.

In the dim light, the scullery proved to be a windowless vault. Heaps of earth added to the gloom, with the stringy tails of some roots buried deep and cool. The whole chamber was cold and smelled of soil and mildew. There was a vast copper cistern. There was a solid table laden with turnips and carrots, and a tiny bed on wheels tucked underneath. And there was a rank of mops and brooms with pails to match, all to attention on one wall.
Gretina threw her sack on the floor. She drew off the useless cloak and slapped that wetly on top, along with the shapeless bonnet. Barely formed words spat out at each gesture. She filled a pail with water and, armed a mop, she went out to clean the kitchen floor.

Dipping the mop into the pail, crushing out the water in the basket and swirling it through the mud, she thought deep angry thoughts. Dip. Squeeze. Slop. Swirl. She’d clean this, as she had made the mess, but she wasn’t staying. Oh no. Not here. She wasn’t staying to be yelled at and slapped or hit and shoved.  When morning came, she was going. Out the door and off. She didn’t care where. Not-here sounded like a good place to be. And her aunt and Cook and Frog-boy could just choke on it.
And Gretina was deep in her angry thoughts when a movement caught her eye. Wary of the snake-fast hands of Cook, she jerked up her head and stared.
There was an open doorway, where she couldn’t remember seeing a door, and beyond it rose a flight of stairs. And through that doorway had floated a woman. Not a lady, most definitely not, but clearly a woman. She had skin of soft gold. It gleamed, as if rubbed down with satin gloves anointed with powdered honey. The harsh kitchen lamps turned lustrous on the fine bones of her shoulders, the long line of her thighs and the flare of her smooth, peach-shaped buttocks. Over those glowing shoulders, and down to those round hips, coiled heavy, wayward hair. It was as dark and shiny as blackberry wine, but not as dark as the woman’s velvet eyes. To show off such exotic beauty she wore a fine cambric apron. It was starched and bleached exquisitely. The translucent fabric gathered into ruffles and finishing with an ornate white bow in the small of her back, like fae wings.
     It was all she wore.
Gretina felt herself flush deep crimson in the face of such uncaring immodesty. But then the woman smiled tenderly, so sweet and giving a smile, that Gretina made a small sound and moved two steps towards her.
‘Why…Good evening, child. Have you seen Cook?’ The woman’s perfect brow creased into a furrow of concern. ‘Bless me, but you’re soaked to the shift!’
Gretina opened her mouth.
She closed it again.
‘A moment, dear soul. Stay there just one moment. I have something for you.’
And with that, she turned and disappeared through the door, closing it behind her. Once closed the doorway vanished into the panels of the walls. A brief scent, like falling honeysuckle petals, was all that remained.
Gretina stared at the wall, willing the doorway to reappear but nothing happened. Even the sweet scent withered in the heat of the kitchen. She sneezed and shivered. She must be running a fever. A bad fever with delirium in which naked women appeared and disappeared through the wall.
There was a screech in her ear.
‘Have you finished yet, Skivvy?’
‘No. Cook.’
‘Well hurry it up, girl! The serving dishes will be back directly. You need to finish this, before you start on them. And see they’re done right!’
Mutely, rebellion rising again, Gretina went back to mopping the dirt she had trailed over the floor. Dip. Squeeze. Slop. Swirl. Repeat. She wiped her nose on her sleeve as she worked, scowling between sniffs.
She did not see the hidden door open but she smelled cool summer flowers and the woman was there once more.  A long robe of some soft and heavy cloth was negligently belted around her waist.  Gretina could not help but see her breasts and her belly but again, the woman showed no embarrassment or bashfulness.
‘Here, child. Take off those soaked clothes. Please, put this on instead.’
Into Gretina’s hands she placed a man’s linen undershirt. It was clean and well-made, but it was still clearly for a man.
‘Oh, no, Miss. Mistress. I can’t take that. That wouldn’t be proper. That’s for a lad, that is.’
The woman offered a smile that seemed to contain amusement, disappointment and understanding all at the same time.
‘Are you quite sure? It’s laundered and aired. Much better than wearing all those wet clothes, yes?‘
Mop in hand, nose running, Gretina stared up at the dark eyes. She wanted very much to say ’yes’ and brighten those eyes with agreement. But the mere idea of wearing a man’s undershirt was so wrong all she could do was shake her head again.
The woman’s dark mouth plumped in a compassionate pout and she nodded.
‘Very well. I understand. I’ll leave it here in case you have a change of heart.’
She found herself nodding in return, just to see the beautiful face smooth out in that smile.
‘I’m Topaz. Call me Topaz, please. Everyone does. ‘And the woman drifted away, her robe flowing around her, and vanished though the magic door.
Gretina glanced around her, still unsure that she was not delirious. The range bubbled under a vast iron cauldron, the lamps hissed and the only evidence that Topaz existed was the folded undershirt.

Thank you so much for reading!


Friday, September 5, 2014

Oliver's Army

Oliver's back!

B R Marsten released his new novel
continuing the darkly funny adventures
of hit man Oliver Tunstall in
A Confession from Oliver.

To celebrate the release of
A Confession from Oliver,
B R Marsten is offering the first
Oliver tale, for free.

Today is the last day!

For more information,
check out his blog

For live links to all his books
in your country,

You don't need a Kindle to read Kindle books
Read books on your whatever.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Song For No Reason

This is here because I like this song.
 I don't need a better reason, right?

Oh, why do I like this song?

Because it seems to be set at 
the midpoint of a narrative.

Make the River be anything you need it to be.
And here you are, trying to cross it.

And the song,
it tells you the only way it can be done.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Magpie Tales: Tea for Two, Dinner for One.

I'd like to say thank you
to  Magpie Tales
where this week's image is a 
delightful Edward Hopper.

It made me think of cream teas,
charming tea rooms,
cake-stands full of pastel pretty pastries.

In fact, it made me very hungry,
which lead me to those wonderful
fairy tales where someone's hunger
can be a very scary thing, indeed.

 Tea for Two, Dinner for One.

Two at table four, Margaret, please.” said the Maître d'. 

 Greta nodded, straightened her apron. She carried the heavy tray with the tea things and placed it, with demure ceremony, on the table. A smile, for the customers. 

The woman smiled back, her thickly painted lips as red as a glazed strawberry, then shrugged off a heavy coat to reveal a rather smart gingerbread coloured jacket. The man, however, just gave a hitch of his mouth and turned his attention back to the blank tablecloth.

“We have sachertorte and congress tarts.” Greta handed out the stiff, engraved menus, with their sinful miscellany of pastries. “There's the éclairs, of course, and the macaroons and tarte au citron and...”

The woman rapped her tea cup with her spoon. The ringing tone jarred Greta out of her rambling and she swallowed silent the description of patisserie.

The woman leaned forward, as if about to share a secret.”I think we'll start with the hot buttered crumpets and then we'd like to try everything that you recommend.” She gave a nod of her head, neatly wrapped in a cherry-red cloche.”Hans here is rather hungry, poor soul, so I'd like to make sure he gets to eat his fill.” She then stared across the table at Hans, who hunched his shoulders a little and nodded.

“Yes, Mrs, Cotter.” he mumbled.

Do call me Ginger, silly boy!”  Mrs Cotter suddenly tapped Greta's wrist with her fingers, flashing nails as white and smooth as blanched almonds. “Don't you think Hans is a silly boy?”

Greta wasn't sure what she thought. Hans wasn't a boy at all. He looked to be in his twenties, a good five years older than she was. Younger than the woman, though, so she wondered exactly what their relationship was. Mrs Cotter was older but not so old as to be his mother. A pampering aunt and a sulky nephew? Maybe. Maybe they were lovers, as Mrs Cotter's glances were full of greedy proprietorship as she smirked at Hans. He looked rather nice, clean and neat. He also looked utterly miserable. There were dark daubs under his eyes, as if he hadn't slept, and his face was all pulled tight. Maybe he'd been ill, she wondered? She gave him another smile.

No response.

Mrs Cotter lightly clapped her hands together, the movement releasing a fragrance of cloves and vanilla. 'Well, that's decided, then! Hans, pour the tea would you? There's a dear. No sugar for me.” She winked, rather coarsely, at Greta. “I'm sweet enough.”

Greta hurried away to place the order. She looked out the wide windows of the Woodland Tea Room, where outside the Bentleys and Talbots and Rovers splashed through the rain. The sky hung down grey, like wet mould. But inside, everything was bright and clean; the silver tea pots, the gleaming cake stands, the delicate, brittle bone china. All the conversation was muted, and broken by the happy silence of someone biting into a billow of light pastry. Genteel. Civilised. She smiled again, fluttering between the tables in her uniform, with the huge bow at the back making her a butterfly. A cake-bearing butterfly.

Returning with the imposing tower of delights on the cake-stand, she noted a strange scent. Mrs Cotter was smoking. That wasn't in itself unusual. Lots of ladies smoked in public. It was the 1920's, not the Dark Ages! But the smoke wasn't the usual acrid reek of tobacco. It smelled spicy. Greta stood the silver cake-stand on the table, for inspection. Mrs Cotter smiled and nodded, and blew a pale wreath of cinnamon-fragrant smoke over it.

“Thank you, dear girl. You really were very quick. Wasn't she, Hans?”

Hans gave the first sign of some kind of life. His head jerked up and he gazed around, like a sleeper woken by a sudden sound. Then he stared down at the plate, apparently transfixed by its design of hand painted ivy leaves.

“I'm not hungry.” he said to the plate.

“See?” Mrs Cotter gave her another vulgar wink. “I told you he was a silly boy. Eat up, dear heart! You're positively wasting away!” As Greta placed a plate and fork and napkin in front of the woman, she wafted it away, in a stream of smoke. “ No, no! Nothing for me! Nothing before dinner tonight.”

And with that, she rubbed a hand, pale as chantilly cream, over her little bun-shaped belly, smirking. Greta didn't know where to look and felt her face heat up in a blush. Mrs Cotter's simper changed to a plump pout of annoyance, as Hans continued to stare morosely at his plate.

“Come along now, darling. You need some meat on those bones.”

She gestured to Greta, who began to place frothy little confections onto Hans' china,  all the while feeling a prickle of disquiet. When his plate was a mound of mille feuille, choux, savoy sponge, meringue, macaroons and galette, Mrs Cotter struck the side of her tea cup with the spoon again, like a dinner gong.

Hans suddenly picked up his fork and began to put away the cakes as if he was stoker loading coal. A wedge of éclair. A whole tartlet, studded with raspberries. A cream horn stuffed with whipped chocolate ganache. As his plate began to empty, Mrs Cotter cleared her throat with some annoyance and gestured to the cake-stand.

“Dish him up some more, would you, and then bring us a fresh pot of tea and some more of these delightful pastries. Do you have any Linzer torte? Palmiers? I'm sure you know what to bring.” And with that, the woman leaned back, brushing some stray crumbs from her gingerbread coat, with its butterscotch glass buttons.

Greta was glad to get away. After returning with more tea and another tray glutted with confectionery, she was happy to wait other tables, with more conventional customers. Twice she was summoned back to Hans and Mrs Cotter, for more tea and even more cakes.

At five o'clock, Hans' resolute, mechanical shovelling had slowed. His face was pink now, and his sad, shadowy eyes were dazed and blinking. Greta saw Mrs Cotter lean over the table, producing a handkerchief, white as sugar, to dab chocolate sauce from his lips as if he was a child. He didn't move. He didn't move when she reached out with those almond-white fingernails and pinched his cheek. She left red marks on his skin.

“Oh, I think you're done, dear boy.” she breathed, then waved an imperious hand at Greta.

When Greta returned with the bill on its little silver salver, Mrs Cotter shook her head and pulled out another cinnamon bark cigarette.”I can't see all that tiny writing without my glasses.” she said, between tugs of scented smoke,” Give it to Hans. He might as well do something useful before dinner.”

Hans took the piece of paper with sweaty fingers. Then, with a chagrined expression, he showed Greta his hands were covered in chocolate ganache. He took up his linen napkin and began to wipe his fingers clean, one by one,  with great deliberation. Once they were cleaned to his  satisfaction, he opened his wallet and unfolded a crisp white five pound note, laying it gently on the salver under Mrs Cotter's amused gaze.

“Come along, dear boy! You don't have all night!” And with that, Mrs Cotter got to her feet. She stubbed out the cigarette in a rosette of whipped cream. Then Hans helped her into her coat, his face stiff with resignation.

When Greta hurried back with the change and receipt, Mrs Cotter just waved her away, impatiently.

But Hans leaned forward, gave Greta a polite tip of his hat. “Please, keep the change.” he muttered, and gathered all the coins into his dirty napkin, making a little package. He pressed the napkin into Greta's hands. “Please.”

“Come along!"

And with that, Mrs Cotter herded him out of the tea room.

Greta watched them go. She looked at the wreckage of the table, covered in cream and crumbs. Then she opened Hans' napkin, and the coins all tumbled out in a metallic cascade. Written on the cloth, in thick smeary chocolate  ganache letters, were the words


Afternoon Tea Party . Jean Etienne Liotard . 18th C

(Thank you so much for reading! 
If you would indulge me, I'd like to  point you 
in the direction of a giveaway, 
presently running on the The Narrator's Study.
There's all kinds of good things
being given away.
For free!
No cakes though, unfortunately)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Conversation with Oliver free eBook

is free to download from Amazon
18th to 22nd May.


If you don't have a Kindle,
no worries.
to your Mac, your PC or your very fancy phone.

If you go over to 
you'll find a giveaway in full swing,
celebrating the release
of this title.

And if you want more
(and who doesn't, right?)
where a doll
action figure
of the eponymous hero
is up for grabs!  

Oliver visits his tailor.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Magpie Tales: It's All Made Up

Here is another venture into 
with its weekly challenge of 
an intriguing image
and the freedom to do 
whatever you want with it.

Chair with the Wings of a Vulture. Dali. 1960
“It's all just made up!”

Sybil pushed the keyboard away in disgust. In disappointment, bitter as her tears. She'd sat up late into the night, tapping away fruitlessly, chasing a dream and now it was dawn. Another wretched day, full of noises and whispers that blistered the inside of her skull. Jealousy is a vicious beast.

All night she'd picked apart Google to find what she needed to know. She'd tried Voodoo. And then, Hoodoo. Witches. Wicca. Pagans. Heathens. Even Warlocks. She’d looked for spells and incantations and magic circles and secret curses and there'd been nothing. Just stupid hints and whispers of something better and bigger, just out of reach. Something hidden, like the little man behind the curtain.

“This is stupid. It's all pretend!” And she pressed her cold face into her hot, sticky hands and sobbed, howling like a kicked dog. It didn't matter how much noise she made. There was no one around to hear her.

Wiping her nose on her bathrobe, she peered again at the mosaic of windows she had open on the screen, pulling a mulish face at each one, with its scattering of symbols and hints of power and demands for credit card numbers.

“You all just make this crap up.” she sneered. “There's nothing there.”

Leaning back in the seat, Sybil stared out into the garden. The sky had desaturated to pastel grey, a new day was coming. Well, that was supposed to be all powerful, right? Stupid sunlight, bringing light and heat, driving away the evil things back to their lair..

Daylight also meant he'd be getting into his car, coming home, smelling of some sugary young perfume and eyes baggy with deceit and exhaustion. It wasn't just his infidelity, though that made her miserable enough. It was the lies, as if he thought she was stupid. As if he thought she somehow colluded in the act by nodding and saying, “Yes, dear. Of course, dear. Another late night at work.”

And she'd thought that there was some magical, powerful whatever out there she could use to fix this. Maybe she was stupid?

“It's just crap! It's not real!' she yelled, and threw the cup and its scummy cold coffee against the wall. It splashed in a sunburst on the white paint and ran like sweat.

Sybil got to her feet. She stared at the wall for a very long time as the blisters in her mind popped and oozed.
Just because it's all made up, doesn't mean it doesn't work...

She picked up the laundry basket and began shoving random things into it, in a panic of activity. The printer clicked and purred and matches hissed and bloomed flame as she worked. Muttering and giggling, she stacked the objects against the splattered wall.

An unfinished dream catcher.
The doll's chair made of spoons.
A pair of bird wings, from some forgotten flea market.
 The Woman.

Sybil cut out the photograph with sharp, savage slashes of the scissors. 

She'd gotten the image from his Facebook. She’d seen the pokes, the smileys, the stupid little hearts. She'd seen the messages, ending in a dot, dot, dot. All those ellipses, with their hidden meanings. And now she had the photograph of the Woman and made her a centerpiece of the rough altar. Sybil stepped back and gave it a critical glance, as if it was a flower arrangement.

It would do.

Magic was all made up. There were no great secrets, no hidden, occult recipe books. Which meant she could make it all up, just how she wanted, and imbue these tawdry items with the power they'd need.

The cross at the top was given a nod and a bowed head. She muttered words which sounded suspiciously like the grace they used to say at school.

“For what I am about to do, may the Lord grant...” she faltered, and thought hard. “wisdom, power and vengeance.” Another pause. “Amen.”

But how did she start? In that moment of uncertainty, the sun peered into the room. If she was going to do it, she probably needed to do it right now. Sybil threw aside her bathrobe and stood naked. She flung her arms wide, so that her belly lifted and her breasts rose and pink light bathed her flanks. She spoke to the altar.

“I don't know how to do this, but I know what I want to do. So you, whoever you are, can help me and heal me.”

She pointed at the candles.
“The light is behind her, so that when she walks, she walks in the dark. Bad things will happen to her in the dark. That is my wish.”

A gesture to the fraying dream catcher.
“Her sleep will bring no peace and her bed will be full of nightmares and they'll trap her. That is my wish.”

Sybil swept her arms up and down, like bird.
'When she speaks, a crow will thrust its head in her mouth and tear open her tongue, making her mute. That is my wish!”

A finger jabbed at the doll chair.
“....and when she sits, every chair will have a spoon and she will eat, and eat, and eat and eat and eat and eat, until she is swollen. That...' she sucked in a happy breath.' that is very much my wish!”

Sybil wiped her eyes on her hand. She stared at the runnels of brine, and flung them onto the altar, for sacrifice and yelled,
“ Grant my fucking wish!”

In the sudden silence, the sun bloomed bright, turning from pink to gold; dimming the candles. And Sybil felt soft wash of tranquility. She felt better. She felt calmer.

If this didn't work, it didn't matter. It worked for her.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Introducing Mr Tunstall


 They've come a long way from ancient Persia
and they permeate modern culture
as a personification of Death.

Death. Personified.

And in such a role,
we expect our assassins to be 
superstars. Clean, calm
thorough, remorseless.

Want help with that tie? 

Who wants to be butchered clumsily
by a bloke with bad teeth,
and poor dress sense?

Apparently four people do, according to Freddie.

the Narrator would like to
introduce you to
Mr Oliver Tunstall.

Here. you'll find more
about Oliver.