Although we're not yet officially in bleak midwinter, frosty winds have certainly been making moan across our first significant fall of snow. Yes, the landscape here and in wide swathes of the country now features much frolic architecture, as Ralph Waldo Emerson characterized the effect of those frozen flakes. We have a good example right outside the front door, where our buggy sits snugly encased, the white mound on its roof topped with a wind-driven twig of spruce, putting us in mind of an enormous (if misshapen) Christmas pudding.

We're all familiar with that eerie hush snow carries in the fold of its bleached-out mantle. Today, however, will be less quiet, for a chorus of dismay will soon begin to arise hither and yon as this issue of Orphan Scrivener hits the aether and -- akin to unsuspecting pedestrians slipping on those patches of pathway certain gamins assiduously doused with water in the winters of our misspent youth -- slides in its unbalanced way willy nilly into your email box.


We're right smack in the middle of the holidays, halfway between the turkey platter descending onto the table and that big ball crashing down on Times Square, fortunately a long way from us.

Once upon a time I'd be choking down the last turkey-salad sandwich while wrapping the first Christmas presents. Yes, I was lucky I didn't die of "waste not, want not", otherwise known, in the case of three-week old chopped fowl and mayo, as ptomaine poisoning. At least it belatedly gave me things to be thankful about. Not only my survival, but the last sight of gobbler for another year.

These days Mary and I are vegetarians and say whatever else you want about them, wheat gluten and soy protein "chicken" slices don't fill up the fridge with life threatening leftovers.

Admittedly, I have a jaundiced view of the whole Christmas season. The tasteful lights my Dad used to string around the house matched my perception. Not that they were yellow. The lights were blue. But you get my drift. I only wish you could've come and got the snow drifts those blue lights illuminated.

That's right. I'm not a big fan of snow either.

Isn't there anything I like about the holidays, you might be asking, unless you've already thrown this essay across the room in disgust? (Or should I say turned off the monitor. Surely you wouldn't throw the monitor?) Of course. Lots of things. Well, some things.

For example, at a young age I was enthralled by an Advent calendar. I could hardly wait for each day's installment. There was something wonderful and mysterious about a story hidden behind doors. I admit, part of the thrill was all that stuff about shepherds watching their flocks and wise men and mangers ended up with Santa arriving.

Not that that ever worked out exactly the way I imagined. One year the grocery store was selling toys for some reason. Way up above the meats, where you couldn't examine it closely, they had a Cape Canaveral set. From my vantage point just south of the pork chops, it was a wonder -- moveable gantries and launch pads and rockets of all varieties, trucks for hauling liquid oxygen (with moveable hoses and probably the tanks actually held water), a control tower (and I'll bet it had batteries and lights and went *LIFTOFF!*), technicians and astronauts, seagulls to scatter as the rockets thundered into the sky. Well, I think there were seagulls.

My young heart's desire -- a space program in a box.

Unfortunately the Santa who serviced my house cut the NASA budget that year.

That's what I hate most about Christmas. No Santa. I don't like holidays that lie to me. It makes me angry.

And that reminds me of the fruitcakes everyone mocks. You know the jokes, how they're best used for doorstops and no one eats them and they put them away to give to someone else next year? What I hate is hearing those jokes.

Fruitcakes are one of the few things I like about Christmas!


This month the BSP Ticker is stuffed as full as the festive turkey, so please help yourself!


Six For Gold is now published and doubtless lurking on a store shelf not far from you. We are happy to say it has been kindly received. Indeed, John's latest adventure was Jeff Kingston Pierce's Pick of the Week for the week of 28 November 2005 over at January Magazine

We were thrilled to see the company John's keeping, Jeff's previous Picks having included such luminaries as Ruth Rendell and P. D. James -- not to mention Priscilla Royal, fellow PPP scrivener, whose Tyrant of The Mind received the nod for the week of l3 December 2004.

In addition, Book Sense, which represents the independent bookstores of America, has chosen Sixfer as one of its December Notable Books.

All we can say is a very grateful woohoo!


Eric's been blogging for some time, but last month Mary dipped her toes into the water for the first time with a contribution to the Back Story feature on M. J. Rose's blog. Her essay addressed how John came into being and why we intend to claim the first short story about our protagonist was forged by that old gossip Procopius. For the skinny, see:


Last month Predators and Editors notified us our website had been recognized with their November Authors' Site of Excellence Award.

Sites chosen for this award are those judged to contain entertainment value rather than just advertising literary or other wares. Naturally we are thrilled, the more so since Eric, donning his hat as Apprentice Web Master, not only set it up himself but also continues to run it unaided. So conga rats to my co-scribbler.


No, we haven't been testing the proverbial no room to swing a cat by flinging one around, although hoy is a portmanteau word meaning "Hey, I want your attention!" as well as "throw" in the Geordie dialect spoken in Mary's home city of Newcastle-on-Tyne. However, resident kitty Sabrina and her departed buddy Rachel have not been left out of the general excitement at Casa Maywrite. Both appear in The Mystery Writers' Mews by Elaine Viets,, author of the Dead-End Job series. Her article has just appeared in Mystery Scene Magazine Holiday Issue # 92 2005.

Our thanks on behalf of both felines for their first appearance in national print under their own names!


As Eric notes above, fruitcake is much mocked. Not by me, however, for whenever I see one it reminds me of my first Christmas in this country.

At the time I was living in Florida. The state's beaches may be golden, but there wasn't much silver in the bank when the festive season rolled around. Of course it was hot, making tinsel and carols and Get Your Photo Taken With Santa seem out of place in malls largely patronised by shoppers wearing shorts and sandals and no doubt as likely to be looking for more sunscreen or postcards of orange groves to send north than sweaters embroidered with monograms or boxed selections of cheese and sausage.

As mentioned, the piggy bank was somewhat lean, so when it came time to deck the hall improvisation was the mother of invention. By snipping cardboard (having first coloured it with green marker) into two zigzag-edged tree shapes and then contriving a slot running from the apex to the halfway point on one cut-out and a matching slit running up from the base to the midway mark on the other, inserting Part A into Part B, the result was a jolly 3D faux Christmas tree. Even if it was somewhat unsteady and had a tendency to fall over every time someone walked past it or the door was opened.

The little tree was festively dressed in what interior designers describe as minimalist fashion, which is to say hung with thin strips of aluminum foil and paper stars cut from seasonally printed napkins, plus several shells picked up from the beach across the road and strung on embroidery thread.

This handiwork was interrupted by a knock on the door. The unexpected visitor turned out to be the son of a friend, and he arrived bearing gifts -- several branches cut from their over-tall Christmas tree (it was apparently a case of pruning it or removing the ceiling) and a large, homemade fruitcake! Which was put into the fridge after the cardboard tree was picked up and re-erected.

Tying the fragrant branches into a bundle and settling it into an old tin filled with pebbles, the new greenery was adorned in similar fashion to its smaller companion, and the flat filled with the fresh scent of pine, so closely linked with Yuletide celebrations.

Admiration of the general effect was interrupted by another tap on the door. This time it was a neighbour with a tiny portable TV to loan for the holiday. Unasked, I may add. Having righted the cardboard tree yet again, I looked over the set. While it would have been difficult to watch a tennis match on it, for the screen was exceeding small, it provided excellent entertainment over the holiday, including not only multiple screenings of It's A Wonderful Life on every channel it pulled in but also the chance to see again, Help, an unusual choice for Yuletide programming. Of course, its transmission did begin at two in the morning. Naturally I stayed up to see it, and just hearing those broad Scouse accents was a real tonic, for I had not heard a British voice in a long time.

However, as it turned out, this was to change. For on the afternoon of the 25th, sitting on the sofa eating a slice of fruitcake and staring at a sea twinkling like white fairy lights underneath long strings of pelicans flying past on invisible roller coasters, pennies were counted and there were enough after all to be able to make brief calls to family in the UK. Those who are or have been separated from theirs by long distances will know how much that meant.

The shell ornaments are still in my possession and, years later and far from that sunny state, they are a constant reminder that simple kindness is the best gift for any season or any reason.

As for the fruitcake, it was delicious.


It's long been traditional to tell ghost stories at Christmas. One of our favourite spinners of supernatural tales is M.R. James, who among other things was Provost of King's College, Cambridge. The college has another long standing connection with the season because from the late l920s the BBC have broadcast their Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols worldwide, live from the college chapel. It goes out on Christmas Eve and for many unofficially marks the beginning of the holiday. While we can't carry a tune in a bucket, we've boldly taken a stab at a Jamesian story and it's newly online for your perusal at:

It's our first attempt at this type of yarn, so in the spirit of the festivities, be kind!

We're fast approaching the gate of the year and when we lift its sneb to pass through into 2006, the creaking of wicket hinges will be masked by a cacophony of ships' hooters, car horns, numerous renditions of the chorus of Auld Lang Syne, peals of bells, firecrackers, and all manner of noisemakers announcing and welcoming the arrival of the new year.

May the coming twelve months bring many good things for our subscribers. We can't really claim the next issue of Orphan Scrivener will be one of them, but either way it'll be emailed on l5th February. See you then!

Best wishes
Mary R and Eric

who invite you to visit their home page, hanging out on the virtual washing line at There you'll discover the usual suspects, including more personal essays, a list of author freebies, Doom Cat (an interactive game written by Eric), and a jigsaw featuring the handsome cover of Five For Silver. There's also an Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned! Intrepid subscribers may also wish to pop over to visit Eric's blog at

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