Fall colour is at peak as we write, with the landscape draped in irregular drifts of yellow, ochre, gold, and lemon, occasionally rudely interrupted by a splotch or two of ruby foliage. Skeins of geese have been passing overhead after dark this week, disturbing slumbers with their eerie yelping calls, while the nightly insect chorus concert is gradually fading away. There are still bursts of bands of crickets creaking away as if they'd all just spilled out from the local pub as time was called and were standing at the door of the saloon bar discussing what to go next, but the demented sewing machine treadling sounds that form the cicada serenade are almost gone now. We've had our first frost on the pumpkins and cider, apples, gourds, and bunches of chrysanthemums are on sale again in farmers' markets, so, yes, the oracles are agreed: autumn is officially here.

Unfortunately for our readers, autumn's arrival also means the latest edition of Orphan Scrivener is about to fall on you.


After a manuscript has cybered off to the press and before editorial comments arrive, we have a giddy space in which to unwind, a stretch of time when we can let down our hair and be silly.

A favourite silly pastime is playing with anagrams, and needless to say the Web offers a fair number of sites wherein visitors may enter "well known words or phrases" -- as the announcer used to solemnly intone when introducing Twenty Questions in the days of steam radio -- and receive them back rearranged into anagrams. Given the circumstances, you will not be surprised to hear I but lately visited one such page at

With occasional re-arrangement of word order as necessary, I uncovered a few apt phrases in the yard-and-a-half long word-lists generated by words related to John's saga.

Take for example Emperor Justinian. His name and title metamphosed into JOINT RUNS A EMPIRE. Ungrammatical it may be, yet a number of historians agree that Theodora co-ruled in all but name. And speaking of John's least favourite person, the second part of the header for this burst of linguistic exuberance is a most fitting anagram for Empress Theodora. So is HADES POEM ROSTER, a suggestive phrase that immediately brings to mind Crinagoras, a whiny court poet who makes his first appearance in Fivefer.

Since we're on the subject I shall devote a few lines to Five For Silver. Set during the Justinianic plague of 542, John's investigation begins when his elderly servant Peter announces he's had a visit from an angel with a message concerning Gregory, an old army friend. It transpires Gregory has indeed been murdered, but then John discovers that Gregory was not what Peter thought he was...

In the course of his investigation John interviews people ranging from churchmen to lawyers to bear trainers and booksellers. There's also a holy fool who outrages Constantinople by such dreadful antics as dancing with the dead -- and there are many such, since thousands are dying daily in the city -- not to mention invading the imperial baths while Theodora is splashing about.

Other characters we introduce include Aristotle, dealer in dubious antiquities, and Sylvanus, keeper of oracles for a wealthy importer. However, sad to say, none of the latter's charges happened to be among those wonderful examples made by Greek smiths, whose oracular creations (according to William Butler Yeats' Sailing To Byzantium at least) sat on golden boughs and sang of events present, past, or future. Otherwise John's task would have been a lot easier!


We don't find BSP an easy task either, but gritting our teeth, here we go....


We'll now do a spot of oracular singing ourselves concerning a future event, although in this case it concerns silver rather than gold (that particular precious metal is what Six is for, and to heck with the grammar police...) Thus we will now duet (readers may wish to provide their own musical accompaniment upon paper and comb) in order to tell you:

The news you'll now hear
Is that in February next year
Fivefer will appear

Crinagoras would be proud of us!


Speaking of publication dates, this month brings A Second Helping of Murder: More Diabolically Delicious Recipes from Contemporary Mystery Writers, edited by Robert Weibezahl and Jo Grossman. Over a hundred authors are represented and since we couldn't come up with culinary instructions for Saki's mysterious Byzantine Omelette ( we instead provided the very simple how to's for a dish we dubbed Justinian's Minimalist Egg Curry. Don't fancy that? No matter! Since contributors include Susan McBride, Denise Swanson, Alexander McCall Smith, George Pelecanos, Elizabeth Peters, and Robert Barnard, not to mention Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler and (surprisingly) Edgar Allan Poe, there is doubtless something for all tastes.


A few weeks ago Rob Rosenwald set up a blog for Poisoned Pen Press authors. Writers will be posting news about what they're working on, events they'll be attending, works in print, arranging for joint appearances, sharing ideas about writing and marketing, and so on, plus Rob and Barbara will post news about PPP doings and editorial advice. You can look in at

This instant posting method of web activity struck Eric as so interesting that he decided to start a blog of his own, devoted to material that wouldn't quite fit into the PPP blog. There will be thoughts about writing, of course, but also other short, random musings, and interesting links he happens across. It's a bit of an experiment which may or may not continue, but for now readers can check it out at


Well, you can certainly refuse if you feel like it, but in any event for those who're interested, we recently began assembling a list of authors' freebies. Info thus far gathered is posted at This is an ongoing project so -- as with the (mostly free) mystery-related newsletter listing we've got hanging out at -- we'll be adding to it from time to time as information arrives. So please feel free to pop in now and then and see what's new.


Mike Ashley's latest anthology, The Mammoth Book of Roman Whodunnits: Mystery and Murder in Ancient Rome, has just been published in the US by Carrol & Graf. The Finger of Aphrodite relates how John solves a murder committed in a locked room at a hostelry situated in Rome while the city is under siege by the Goths, a bunch last seen (or at least some of them) in Four For A Boy. Other tales include those penned by John Maddox Roberts, Marilyn Todd, Steven Saylor, Peter Tremayne, Rosemary Rowe, Gillian Bradshaw, and a fair number of the usual suspects -- plus one or two unexpected ones.


A couple weeks ago Mary and I received our favorite email from Barbara Peters, our editor at Poisoned Pen Press. It said, in effect, the revisions we sent were suitable, we're done. and Five for Silver is ready to go! Barbara always spots ways to improve books far out of proportion to the actual word count of any changes and additions. So the process that begins to feel like an interminable grind toward the end, to me at least, is over this time around. There's nothing between us and a shiny new book next February but one last hurdle: checking the ARC.

During the years Mary and I have been working together, I've learned that writing professionally, for an audience, is hard. In order words, it is just like anything else one might do professionally. This wouldn't be much of a revelation, except that so many people appear to be convinced that the best writing is easy to do, being simply the result of sheer inspiration or perhaps the innate superiority of the author's sensibilities. I've never subscribed to the "author as a special person" school of thought. Writers don't feel more deeply than anyone else. They don't have any particularly unique view of the world. Every person has a unique view, after all. How could it be otherwise?

Perhaps this is one reason I am leery of book signings and such. I am not an interesting person. Whatever I have to offer is contained in the books and short stories on which Mary and I have collaborated. I'm not that fabulous beast known as "the author," but merely someone who writes and hopes to continue to improve at the job.

Writing can feel like magic at times, such as when we toss around plot ideas and twists and turns start to appear as if from nowhere, or when characters we have cobbled together suddenly come to life and surprise us by their words or actions. However, we aren't performing authorial legerdemain. We are just allowing our thoughts free rein, something most of us aren't allowed to do much in our every day jobs. After all, what would my legal editors say were I to playfully make up a lot of amusing new laws for my next jurisprudence article?

Making up stories is one thing, but contriving for readers to also be able to join in and enjoy these fictions is something else. That's where the labor comes in. It's necessary to ferret out overused phrases, passive voice (I'm forever falling into the passive voice), and duplicated words, not to mention plugging an occasional hole in the plot. No matter how much I write, I still find myself occasionally employing empty adjectives. Yes, really, I actually do! Even after editorial comment and revision, the finished manuscript is never perfect, or anywhere near, but it is much better. At times I vow I will never again embark on such a project, but somehow I always do.


Canada has just celebrated its equivalent of Thanksgiving, reminding Mary of the British harvest festival.

It wasn't just celebrated in rural areas because even though she lived in the city they took a tin of peas or peaches to church for the harvest festival service. These offerings were lined up on the stone window bays interspersed with an occasional loaf of bred or even on one unforgettable occasion a small sheaf of corn. After the service, the edibles were distributed to the less well-off, a charitable effort that naturally led to jokes about most of the local congregation getting their donated tins back.

There was not much tree colour to be seen there in October, since apart from a park several blocks away and a flattened, grassed-over tip about the same distance in the other direction, the only greenery close by was in the cemetery at the top of the street or on various bomb sites left for years after the war. The latter became unofficial rubbish dumps, which in summer displayed vivid yellow and red patches of coltsfoot, dandelion, and rosebay willow herb, but by October rusty bed frames, wheel-less prams, old sinks, discarded paint tins, and the like would again emerge from the undergrowth as these plants died away and winter began its journey down Scotswood Road.

The imminent advent of winter was also heralded when folk started to routinely get up to intricate, feathery patterns of frosty branches covering the insides of windows. These beautiful creations of Jack Frost also reminded the forgetful that it was time to get coal stocks replenished for the winter months. Thus you might say winter was heralded in black and white, and appropriately more black and white will come your way on December l5 when the next edition of Orphan Scrivener trundles into view.

Best wishes,
Mary and Eric
who invite you to visit their home page, which hangs out on the virtual washing line that is the aether at

| Home | Eric's Stuff | Mary's Page | Our Fiction | BSP Page (News) | Links |