THE ORPHAN SCRIVENER -- ISSUE # ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTEEN -- 15 OCTOBER 2018

We are now at that time of the year when mornings are slower to dawn and nightfall is drawing in something shocking. Samuel Taylor Coleridge described the latter indication of advancing winter wonderfully well when he observed that the dark comes at one stride. Another thing that arrives at one stride, although in its case it's via the unlit tubes of the interwebz, is this latest issue of Orphan Scrivener. Click on your lights and read on...


MARY'S BIT or AT LEAST THERE WERE TREES IN THE CEMETERY

It's about a fortnight to Halloween, when the spirits of the departed are said to pass through the veil between us and them for just that one night. Yet it's possible in some places they don't have to wait for late October to visit our side, given my brother once advised us younger siblings if we happened to be waiting at the bus stop next to the cemetery at the top of our street we should never turn round if someone tapped on our shoulder.

My contention is if such tappers of shoulders were able to make the journey during daylight they would not have to wait until I wanted to catch a bus at night, because while I was never in the cemetery during the dark hours I was quite often there of a weekend afternoon strolling about or tidying up overgrown graves, none of which had any connection with the Reeds since nobody in our family was buried there. Even so, there were neglected resting places requiring attention and I was there so why not do it?

It is sad to think of a family dying out completely or circumstances forcing them to move away, no longer able to keep weeds down or bring a bunch of flowers or talk to their departed loved ones. Then too I have no doubt there are many sad stories to be told of someone falling out with the rest of their relatives, who now cannot bring themselves to at least keep their final resting place in good repair. There's many a tale hidden in cemeteries and not all of them as complimentary as most epitaphs. In fact, when pondering that point we would do well to recall the slogan of the News of the World: all human life is there. Except in this case the lives involved are now extinct.

Newcastle's St John's Cemetery, familiarly known as Elswick Cemetery, covers about twenty acres of sloping terrain facing south, giving a panoramic view of the River Tyne and beyond. It has elaborate gothic gateways and now disused buildings -- a couple of lodges, a chapel for members of the Church of England and another for dissenters -- all in a state in sad disrepair these days.

My favourite monuments were the beautiful, if soot encrusted, angels. Since the cemetery opened in Victorian times, its tombs, gravestones, and memorials were soon blackened, inscriptions flaking away by the action of the acid atmosphere locals enjoyed before the Clean Air Act.

Speaking of angels, my favourite was across the river in Gateshead's Saltwell Park. Whenever there I visited the angel, portrayed with magnificently outspread wings and holding out a chaplet representing peace for the fallen. A memorial to Gateshead men who died in the Boer War, it's situated within sight of Saltwell Towers, an ornate red brick Victorian mansions. As a child I often wished I could live there. I particularly enjoyed strolling along its crenelated walk overlooking a maze created when the original family occupied the Towers. Many's the time I've leaned on that wall looking down into alleys of clipped yews, especially when visitors to the park were fumbling around in them trying to find their way out again. The older me has pondered more than once what a wonderful setting house and maze would be for a murder mystery. One day perhaps.

Crossing back over the river, Elswick Cemetery was one of my childhood favourite places. There were trees! Actual trees! You'd have to trek a fair way from our street to see any trees once outside the cemetery, set as it is amid an urban sea of streets of terraced housing with slate roofs and concrete back yards in a city of shipyards, factories, and foundries. During those years if I was not up in our attic reading, I was most likely to be found somewhere on that quiet twenty acres.

Given my affectionate memories of these places, it's not surprising Elswick Cemetery and the Boer Memorial both make appearances in Ruined Stones, our second Grace Baxter novel. However, it was not until we were writing it that I realised I must have passed by Dr John Hunter Rutherford's grave numerous times when wandering about Elswick Cemetery, not knowing at the time the grammar school I was to attend years later was named after him. In fact, it was not until then I learned the school motto is his clan's motto, engraved on his monument -- nec sorte nec fato, meaning neither by chance nor fate.

And speaking of fate and chance, we've had three narrow escapes from suddenly falling trees somehow missing us, the house, or the buggy. I guess our guardian angels were on the job!

Since a photograph is worth a paragraph or three, interested parties may care to view these excellent examples. Dr Rutherford's grave (scroll down the page)

https://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=982536&page=181

Saltwell Park's Boer Memorial, with a sun-lit Saltwell Towers in the background

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saltwell_Park#/media/File:Boer_War_Memorial,_Saltwell_Park_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1580717.jpg


NECESSARY EVIL or THE BSP TICKER

This time around, the ticker is trotting out a fairly fast footage so let's get right to it.

LAUNCHING SOON or AN EMPIRE FOR RAVENS ON THE RUNWAY

In just over a week's time An Empire For Ravens takes flight. While the official publication date is 23rd October, it's already available for pre-order at the usual suspects on and offline. PW gave it a starred review, describing it as outstanding and adding "The cleverness of the plot and the solution to the murder are among the series’s best." Full review here

https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-4642-1065-5

STOP PRESS or AN AUTHORIAL CRIMESPREE

We heard this very afternoon Crimespree Magazine has just published our Five Things About... interview, in which we chatted about how we came to be published by Poisoned Pen Press -- an unusual tale as we would be the first to admit -- our co-writing method, and the extensive research needed for An Empire For Ravens, given neither of us have set foot in Rome.

http://crimespreemag.com/five-things-an-empire-for-ravens-by-mary-reed-and-eric-mayer/

AN OVERLOOKED RESOURCE or ADVERTISEMENT: WRITER SEEKS IDEAS

A question often asked of writers is where they find their plot ideas. There are numerous places to stumble over them, but an unusual and somewhat overlooked resource is described in our guest essay for the Writers Who Kill blog -- with several examples even!

https://writerswhokill.blogspot.com/2018/10/advertisement-writer-seeks-ideas-by.html

Founded in 2010 by mystery authors, the Writers Who Kill blog features writers at various stages in their careers, providing a venue for them to discuss aspects of writing and books as well as offering opportunities for guest author interviews and essays.

WORLD RULER MARRIES WORKING GIRL or AN UNLIKELY STORY?

Sounds like a tired trope: world ruler marries working girl, and together they help the downtrodden, living happily ever after. But how many of those couples are later considered saints by the Eastern Orthodox Church? Suzanne Adair's Relevant History blog features guests showing just how non-boring history is, and never mind what you thought about it in high school! Our contribution deals with an unusual and important aspect of the unlikely story of Justinian and Theodora.

http://bit.ly/2OKRaaU

JOHN GRILLED or HIS GREATEST FEAR, AMONG OTHER TOPICS

John was grilled like a kipper by Lois Winston for her Killer Crafts and Crafty Killer blog. Revelations therein include one of the strangest things his biographers had him experience, what he dislikes about himself, and his greatest fear.

https://anastasiapollack.blogspot.com/2018/10/book-club-friday-interview-with-mary.html


ERIC'S BIT or A NIGHTMARE AT THE MALL

Sometimes I wonder why we aren't afraid to doze off every night. You never know what you're going to run into in your sleep. In my case it usually isn't good.

The other night I came to consciousness abruptly with Mary shaking my shoulder, the final reverberations of a hideous scream still echoing in my ears.

"Are you awake? You were yelling. What was it?"

"A nightmare."

"I gathered that. About what?"

Generally my dreams leak back into my subconscious like a retreating fog before I can recall them, but this time I grabbed hold of a wispy tendril and yanked the nasty thing back into the light.

"We were visiting the mall."

Dawn must have been near because the bedroom windows showed as grey rectangles. Strange how the worst of night's terrors stalk the borders of day. There wasn't enough light yet to see the perplexity on Mary's face but I could hear it in her voice. "I know you don't like shopping but--"

"Well, you see, we went with my parents. My dad had just brought a lion home. The lion went with us too."

"A lion? What did your father want with a lion?"

"I have no idea. If he had an urge for a lion...." I shrugged even though Mary couldn't see me, the same way I gesticulate when I'm on the phone. "Anyhow, on the way to the mall there really wasn't enough room in the back of the car for the two of us and a fully grown lion. Besides, I was a little concerned about whether it was entirely tame."

"Then you started yelling?"

"Nothing happened in the car. Then we were sitting on one of those low, blocky seats they always have in the middle of mall corridors. Like a square, hard ottoman. Is there a name for them?"

"I'll Google it when we get up. I'm surprised everyone fit on the seat."

"Probably it was just the lion perched there. "

"Salivating over the passing shoppers?"

"Actually the place was deserted. Everything was dim, like when they start to turn the lights out at closing time. But I realized that half the money in our bank account had vanished."

Mary agreed that would be enough to make anyone scream and asked how I had found out. I tried to recall but had to admit I couldn't. My dreams invariably give the impression of having stretched far back beyond the final scenes I can remember. "At any rate, I wanted to go to the bank's branch office to see what was going on."

"Perhaps your father bought the lion on your debit card?"

Somewhere in the gray light beyond the window a bird sang out, no doubt causing the hearts of several earthworms to palpitate in terror as my heart still did, provided the aortic arches that serve earthworms as hearts can palpitate. "I needed to find the bank. I walked along the nearest corridor, then turned down another. The whole place was in a weird half-light. Most of the storefronts were boarded up. There seemed to be construction going on. Black plastic tarps hung from the ceiling in places, hiding whatever was behind them."

"Suddenly an eldritch horror burst out from behind one of the tarps?"

"No. Nothing like that. It was a lot worse. I noticed a woman coming along the corridor towards me."

"A hazy indistinct shape?" suggested Mary, a hazy, indistinct shape in the faint light from the gradually brightening windows.

"No, she was just like anyone you'd see at the mall. I wish I could tell you she was a foggy wraith, a noctilucent phantom."

Mary asked me why.

"Because I really like the word noctilucent, don't you? Now, picture it. I'm in this gloomy, empty corridor of boarded-up stores, the mouldering ruins of ancient Merry Go Rounds and Father and Son Shoes. And this woman is coming towards me, the only living thing I've seen here."

"Except for the rest of the family and the lion?"

"They're all out of the story at this point. Dreams are funny that way. So then she walks past me and as she does, she says 'The mall is closed'! Which is when I started screaming."

"'The mall is closed'?"

"Please, don't repeat it. Makes me shiver just remembering it."

"You were screaming because the mall was closed?"

"I guess you had to be there."


AND FINALLY

We don't know about what's now happening there but since subscribers have arrived here, we'll close with a reminder the next issue of Orphan Scrivener will roar into their in-boxes on 15th December.

See you then!
Mary R and Eric

who invite you to visit their home page, to be found hanging out on the virtual washing line that is the Web at http://home.earthlink.net/~maywrite/ There you'll discover the usual suspects, including more personal essays, a bibliography, and our growing libraries of links to free e-texts of classic and Golden Age mysteries, ghost stories, and tales of the supernatural. There's also the Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned! Our joint blog is at http://ericreedmysteries.blogspot.com/ Intrepid subscribers may also wish to know our noms des Twitter are @marymaywrite and @groggytales Drop in some time!