THE ORPHAN SCRIVENER -- ISSUE # SEVENTY-THREE -- 15 FEBRUARY 2012

THE ORPHAN SCRIVENER -- ISSUE # SEVENTY-THREE -- 15 FEBRUARY 2012

Belated new year greetings from Casa Maywrite, a frequent contributor to the plumber's retirement account since the last newsletter. Elizabeth Oakes Smith claimed when water greets the sight every heart is gladder, but we beg to differ when it's gushing all over the floor. In that case, the Scottish definition of greeting would be more appropriate, as subscribers may discover as they read on...


MARY'S BIT or BAGGING THE ROYALS

We were eating pasta the other day and I found myself wondering whether the queen ever eats spaghetti at civic functions.

Her majesty, now celebrating the 60th year of her reign, must have eaten many strange delicacies at official banquets in far flung corners of the empire, though somehow I don't see the councillors of a Lancashire town offering her fried black pudding after she has graciously declared their new fiddly widget factory open.

Even if spaghetti was on the menu at a state banquet I am sure the queen would handle it with aplomb, as she does all public occasions.

Before television, most Britons only saw members of the royal family in weekly newsreels run before the main feature at the local cinema, with lesser numbers able to say they had seen them in person.

My royal bag is fairly small. I've seen the royal couple only once and the queen mother twice. I would have been able to add Princess Margaret, who opened the new building to which the grammar school I attended moved, but my family left the area just weeks before she arrived for the formal ceremony.

I must confess that my glimpse of the queen was merely momentary because she was sitting on the far side of the car from where my class stood along the kerb, and in addition I had to peer around a stout policeman to gawk. Then too her figure was partially blocked by a smiling Prince Philip, but I did see the queen's white-gloved hand waving and caught a quick look at her profile.

It was different when the queen mother made an official visit to Newcastle. The event included the performance of a choir made up of a number of students from every school in the city. I was one of them, for in those days I did not need a bucket to carry a tune. We were stationed behind the row of chairs at the front of the stage of a theatre filled with other children and teachers.

Enter the queen mother in matching hat, coat, and frock, escorted by nervous looking councillors and the mayor, draped with his resplendent gold chain of office.

We gaped at her. What a tiny woman! Surely, I thought as she took her seat, she's only an inch or so above five feet.

Events got under way when at a certain signal involving a hanky everyone in the gallery held up a large coloured piece of cardboard that together presented the appearance of an enormous Union Jack.

The queen mother smiled in appreciation, and then the choir launched into its repertoire of Tyneside songs, including the spritely Bobby Shafto, who went to sea leaving his pregnant girlfriend who sings of his marrying her on his return, the dirge-like Waters of Tyne, in which a weeping woman laments she cannot get across the river to meet her love, and the jolly Keel Row, in which a girl boasts about her beloved, describing his blue bonnet and the dimple in his chin, and revealing he works as a keelman, one who mans a boat carrying coal to colliers down river for further distribution to London and other places.

Many years were to pass before I saw the queen mother again. It was as she toured a large agricultural exhibition in Hertfordshire, and thereby hangs a tale.

A bunch of us had got up a display devoted to science fiction and then realised we'd have to fetch an item that had been overlooked. I seem to recall it was a duplicator. Two or three of us went to get it in a friend's ancient Armstrong-Siddely, so elderly it had running boards.

As we returned to the exhibition we managed to get on the main road just before it was closed to traffic to accommodate the royal cortege.

It happened this car bore a certain resemblance to the black, low-slung vehicles in which royalty is wont to be transported and as we bowled along we were greeted with cheers and flag waving which petered as people realised they had mistaken the car as that carrying a certain high personnage.

We gave a wave or two just for fun. Well, we were young and foolish then....

Early in the afternoon a whisper reached us that the queen mother was about to arrive to inspect the various exhibits in the marquee in which we lurked, and right on the heels of the sibilant warning in she came, with the usual escort of mayor, officials, and a lady in waiting burdened with the traditional bouquets.

Her majesty carried -- you will never guess -- a tennis ball. Why was she carrying it? We can only speculate. Obviously it had been given to her during her walkabout. We noticed she was gently squeezing it as she walked.

We had a much closer view this time since she passed by just a couple of feet away and we were favoured with the royal smile.

Even the ardent anti-royalists among my companions fell to her charm.

Temporarily at least.


NECESSARY EVIL or THE BSP TICKER

Like teeth in cold weather, the ticker is chattering away today. Here's the skinny....

FIRST PRINT REVIEW or NINE(FER) PIN BOWLING

What's the connection, you ask? Well, when we saw the first print review of Nine For The Devil you could have bowled us over with a nine pin. Publishers Weekly gave Ninefer a starred review http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-59058-994-6 declaring that the novel's "puzzle is challenging enough to keep readers searching for clues, but the triumph of the authors lies in their spot-on recreation of the political and bureaucratic climate of the times."

A SNEAK PEEK or HOW IT BEGINS

Ninefer appears next month, and with impeccable timing Chris Redding will be running an extract from it in her Excerpt Tuesday spot on March 14th. This feature offers a chance for authors -- most of whom write suspense, mystery, or romantic suspense -- to showcase a piece of their writing on her blog. See http://chrisredddingauthor.blogspot.com on that date to sample the start of John's latest adventure.

ANCIENT TITTLE TATTLE or MYTHS ABOUT MITHRAISM

Suzanne Adair is the author of a series of novels set in the southern theatre of the Revolutionary War. One feature on her blog is "Relevant History", guest essays on the relevance of historical events to modern times. Mary's contribution on February 7th http://suzanneadair.typepad.com/blog/2012/02/mythraic-myths.html concerned ancient writings critical of Mithraism, John's religion. And speaking of Suzanne, subscribers will be interested to hear her third book, CAMP FOLLOWER, will be free for today only in Kindle ebook form. Download it from http://www.amazon.com/Camp-Follower-ebook/dp/B00318DBKE

BACHELORS BEWARE or WOULDN'T IT BE GLOVERLY?

Mary will be Ivy Truitt's guest on the Manic Readers guest blog, writing about the old custom whereby women were permitted to propose marriage on Leap Year Day. Her essay will appear on the appropriate date, February 29th. Since it's a fortnight hence her post is not yet live, but readers may like check in at http://bit.ly/X6jXO on that date, where no doubt all will be revealed.

THE SCRIBBLERS SPEAK or RHYMES AND REJECTIONS

Anne K. Albert, author of FRANK, INCENSE AND MURIEL, book one of the Muriel Reeves Mysteries series, will host an interview with us on March 15th. Among topics discussed will be our variant of an old fortune-telling rhyme, various lines of which provide our titles, rejection slips, and thoughts on favourite characters. While the interview is not yet live, point your clickers to http://muriel-reeves-mysteries.blogspot.com on March 15th and all will be revealed.

NEWS FROM PPP or THE FIRST ANNUAL DISCOVER MYSTERY AWARD

The press has announced its first annual Discover Mystery Award, a first book contest for unpublished writers trying to break into the mystery genre. Enter your mystery manuscript of 60,000-90,000 words in an effort to win a $1000 prize, the Discover Mystery title, and a publishing contract from Poisoned Pen Press. The deadline is April 30th 2012 and full details can be viewed at http://www.poisonedpenpress.com/contest

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! or A TEMPTING OFFER INCREASED

PPP has expanded its 99 cent novel download offer to 23 titles in several sub-genres and eras. Authors involved are Deborah Turrell Atkinson, Judy Clemens, Mark de Castrique, Stevn Havill, J. M. Hayes, Michael Norman, Ann Parker, Twist Phelan, Justin Scott, Jane Tesh, Les Standiford, Michael Bowen, Jane Finnis, Donis Casey, Vicki Delany, Mary Anna Evans, Beverle Graves Myers, Sandra Parshall, Frederick Ramsay, Priscilla Royal, Jon Talton, Betty Webb, and the residents of Casa Maywrite. Point your clickers to http://www.poisonedpenpress.com/discover-mystery/ to see what's available.


ERIC'S BIT or THEY DRIVE YOU UP THE WALL

There's nothing worse than being awakened in the middle of the night by rodents rampaging in the walls or the ceiling.

Well, okay, being awakened by smoke and flames as the house burned would be somewhat worse. And, yeah, it would be much worse if zombies were breaking down the doors or a meteor slammed through the roof. Although in the latter case there would probably not be time for vexation prior to vaporization.

But nevertheless, you don't want to have vermin crashing around a couple inches from your head when you're trying to sleep, and Mary and I get that now and then out here in the country. Mostly it's mice, or voles, or squirrels (or perhaps small fairies with lead boots). It's remarkable how much noise tiny creatures can generate.

The racket squirrels make is one of the great mysteries of nature. For a few months, between marriages, I was living on my own, with just my cat, and several hundred Percheron-sized squirrels. Or so it seemed. The noises they made in the walls all night long were unbelievable. If they weren't galloping, they were dropping bowling balls from the second floor to the first and on the way down the bowling balls were ricocheting from stud to stud. Or maybe it wasn't bowling balls. Where would Percheron-sized squirrels find bowling balls? Maybe they'd removed their horseshoes and were tossing for ringers. The cat would race around, staring bug-eyed at the walls. I would sit in bed, bug-eyed from lack of sleep. It was enough to drive you squirrely.

How did they make such a commotion? A squirrel weighs almost nothing -- unlike a bowling ball or a horseshoe. Nor are squirrels particularly hard. If I were to take hold of a squirrel...wait, the squirrel would need to be drugged because they have sharp teeth...if I were to take hold of a drugged squirrel, and then flung it against the wall with all my might -- which would really have been satisfying by 4 am -- I don't think it would sound like a bowling ball or horseshoe crashing into the wall. (This is only a mental experiment, more's the pity....) I imagine there would be a sort of soft, squishy thud and then blessed, blessed silence.

At this house the nocturnal critters don't generally bowl and play horseshoes. They chatter, or scratch, or stampede, or roll marbles around from one end of the place to the other. From the sound of it. What is that? We do have oak trees nearby but have you ever tried rolling an acorn for six hours in a row? And acorns are not heavy enough to account for the noise. Or are they heavy in the vicinity of rodents? Are rodents surrounded by small gravity wells that makes them and everything around them heavier? Or do they control gravity? I know I wouldn't jump from the top of one tree to another or scamper along power lines unless I could control gravity. The fact I've never seen a squirrel dead from a fall suggests that they must be able to turn on the anti-gravity when they miss their footing.

But at any rate, if they are rolling acorns I want to ask, why? What are you doing, playing marbles? You're vermin for cripes sake. Stop playing with your food and eat it!

Then there is the most mysterious noise of all. A sound that's weird enough to make your blood run cold, even apart from the fact that you know its going to continue incessantly until dawn. A ratcheting, clicking, whirring, like the scary noise made by one of those thimble and string rattlers kids used to hold against window panes on Halloween. What is it? Are the beasties gnawing on the joists, or window sills, or acorns (having finished their game of marbles) or the electric or phone lines? Are they scratching themselves? Verminous vermin that they are. Or are they merely shaking with laughter at keeping the humans awake?


AND FINALLY

Honore de Balzac reckoned the worst misfortunes we imagine never happen and most of our miseries lie in anticipation of disaster. Speaking of which, Samuel Johnson's advice after a calamity is to ponder how much worse it could have been, particularly useful counsel as we remind subscribers the next issue of Orphan Scrivener will arrive on April 15th. After all, we might be issuing them monthly!

See you then!
Mary R and Eric

who invite you to visit their home page, 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, the Doom Cat interactive game written by Eric, 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! Intrepid subscribers may also wish to pop over to Eric's blog at http://www.journalscape.com/ericmayer/ and/or visit the Poisoned Pen Press blog at http://www.poisonedpenpress.com/category/blog/


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