Piglock Homes and The Dartymuir Dog – Part the Sixth

Join Piglock Homes and his sidekick Doctor Bearson as they investigate the strange affair of the Dartymuir Dog…

When he had finished writing his message, Homes swung out of the carriage and along the swaying corridor.
“Where’s he off to?” Yore asked
“At a guess, he’s gone to ask the guard to send a telegraph.”
“Yes. But. Who to? And saying what?”
“Surely that should be to whom, old chap. And I have no idea.”
Yore huffed and puffed a bit.
“I don’t suppose it would be any manner of notice asking Homes what he is up to.”
“You don’t suppose quite rightly. He likes to keep his investigations close to his skinny little chest until such time as he can dazzle us with the brilliance of his deductions.”
“Aye. He does that.”
It was some several minutes before Homes returned, and judging by the amount of purple pencil all about his chops he had written more than one message.
Once he had climbed back into his corner he treated Yore to the smug semblance of a smile.
“I think we have done all we practically might until we reach Princesstown where we may better assess the lie of the land.”
With which announcement he promptly fell asleep.
“He’s an irritating little detective isn’t he?”
Bearson nodded. “Indeed he is.”
Yore produced a greasy pack of playing cards from somewhere about his person and propounded the theory that a hand or two of piquet would help to pass the journey.
Bearson acquiesced, and by the time the train was slowing for Dumplingshire City, he owed Yore all his worldly goods plus any wife he might later acquire and any offspring said wife produced.
Homes awoke and gave Bearson one of his looks. “That, old chap, will tech you to play at picquet with a policeman of Scotland Yard. They are card sharps to a man.”
Yore smiled, although it was a facial expression more suited to a crocodile on the banks of the Irrawaddy than an officer of the law.
Homes turned his attention to the smirking Inspector.
“If certain persons require assistance in the matter of their investigation they should perhaps rethink their attitude in the matter of card sharpery .
Yore inclined his head. “I think upon this occasion,” he announced magnanimously, “that we can call it quits.”
The train roared and hissed its way into the station and Homes hung out of the window.
“It’s a fine night,” he announced happily, “we should have a bright moon for our journey across the muir.” He turned his gimlet eye on Yore. “Do you have a conveyance awaiting us at Ashbaconton?”
“I do. And a sedate driver.”
“Very well. And now I think we need to hustle a little as we have no desire to miss our connection.”

Piglock Homes and his sidekick Doctor Bearson will continue their investigation into The Affair of the Dartymuir Dog next week

Jane Jago

The Best of the Thinking Quill – Adjectives

Is it that time again? <<sighs and assumes a pedagogical expression>>.

It is one,  Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV, freshly returned from the inspirational home of Calliope and Clio, Melpomene and Erato, where one walked in the very footsteps of those fair daughters of the gods. One is, of course, already well known to you as the author of the superlative science fantasy classic “Fatswhistle and Buchtooth” which has received plaudits from many unexpected quarters and dismissals from the usual suspects.
Being still in the post-prandial glow from many wonderful Greek meals and replete with sun, sex and ouzo, one is not, if truth be told, even remotely in the mood for imparting knowledge to the willfully ill-educated. Therefore it behaves one’s estudas to sit quietly and absorb today’s pearls of wisdom without any of the primitive rowdyism, behind-hand giggling or ink pellet flicking which seems to have become a feature of our weekly learning curves.
And do not play with that thing in my presence.  Naughty step at once.
<<places malacca cane prominently on desk>>
Now, to today’s lesson.

How to Write Right – Lesson 6. The Write Adjective

I am, quite simply, unable to believe my ears. How many of you do not know what an adjective is? A show of hands please. And those of you who do know have no excuse whatever for looking smug. At least half of you had only the vaguest knowledge of what a noun was a few weeks ago…
So to explain. An adjective describes what a noun is like.
Now nobody knows what a noun is!
A Noun Is The Word For A Thing. Thus. Dog. Book. Bedroom. Boyfriend.
Not walk, read, retire or spank.
So. In the following sentence, the noun is ‘sky’ and the adjective is ‘blue’.

Today the sky is blue.

This is a perfectly acceptable sentence but how plain and unadorned. What is there for the reader to clasp to their intellectual bosom and feed the inner hunger of their imagination?
Try again.

Today the sky is aquamarine.

See how already the word-painting is beginning to add subtle touches to the inner vision it conjures? But, if one, sole, more decorative adjective can lift the sentence a little, imagine how much more can be achieved with a second? or a third?

Today the broad, pearlescent sky is purest aquamarine.

Ah! You see? So much better that is. So when you need to describe a noun, reach for your thesaurus and lavishly adorn it with such glorious gems of the English language. 
Here are some common adjectives alongside their more expressive brethren:

Blue – aquamarine, azure, cerulean, navy, sapphire, oceanic.
Green – viridescent, grasslike, emerald, glaucus, verdurous.
Soft – silken, squashy, downy, velvety, fluffywuffy.
Hard – adamantine, stern, stiff, rigid, flinty, phallic. 
Nice – kindly, delightful,  gratifying, satisfying, friendypoose.
Nasty – beastly, foul, ghastly, mephitic, studentesque.
Old – tattered, bewrinkled, archaic, hoary, senescent, Mumsical.
Young – smooth, vigorous, fresh, spry, virile, Greek-godly.
Tasty  – delicious, mouthwatering, ambrosial, luscious, seductive, Stavrosian.
Tasteless – bland, untoothsome, pallid, frigid, the Tabloid press.

Now you must surely begin to understand the complexity of the adjective and why each must be delicately nurtured and placed with as much exquisite care as a jeweller setting gems in a tiara.
For today’s homework, I would like to see a list of ten common adjectives with more descriptive alternatives.
Class dismissed, please leave quietly. Your beloved tutor suffers the pangs of an ouzo-fuelled migraine.

A bientot.
And NEVER mix ouzo with Babycham…

Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV

You can find more of IVy’s profound thoughts in How To Start Writing A Book courtesy of E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago.

Coffee Break Read – Ghosts

When people started seeing ghosts, everyone of a rational mind imagined it to be some sign of a new form of mass hysteria. Especially as there was no way to record the sightings. They seemed immune to any electronic method of photography. My social media feed was full of images of empty spaces and video clips of people running screaming from empty air. 

I saw my first ghost when I was eating my lunch sitting on a bench in the park outside my shop. It took me a few moments to realise it was a ghost. The outline looked like a normal person, but when you actually looked at it, the whole seemed translucent – as if there was some kind of projection. Apart from the eyes. They glowed with an eldritch red that made me almost choke on my avocado and three-bean sandwich.

I got back to my shop shaking, physically.

Now I understood why people were so afraid of these ghosts.

But how to prove they existed?

My shop sold old things. Things that were not really old enough to be antiques and were not really rare enough to be collectable. I called it the retro-shop. One thing I had a number of was old-style photographic cameras – including a couple of working polaroid’s that took instant pictures.

For the next week I went to lunch with one in my bag. But there was no ghost. I can’t say I’m sorry as it was not good for the digestion.

It was on the Friday when I was walking to the station having locked up the shop, that I heard a scream. Running I saw a teenager clutching a knife and stabbing at the ghost. The blade passing through. The lad dropped the knife and ran. 

My polaroid captured the moment – and the ghost. 

It went viral.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Weekend Wind Down – Lifted

They lifted him off the streets in broad daylight, scooped him out from under the noses of his watchers. It gave him some grim satisfaction, as he found himself pinned with a hand rammed up his back and past his shoulder blade by one man and his hooded face buried in another man’s groin, to think of the heavyweight bollocking they would get for losing him. He could have fought harder, much harder, but he got curious why Shame Cullen of all people wanted to talk. So he let them take him in.
Although the best known of the crime bosses on Thuringen for the last quarter of a century or more, no one knew what Shame Cullen looked like, or if he was even a ‘he’ – or a single person, come to that. One theory held he might be a shadowy council of local politicians. Another, that the original Cullen died long since, his name being kept alive by his successors. It made no real odds, though. All those who ever had dealings with Shame Cullen knew that Cullen was a strong backer, a good paymaster, but not someone to ever, ever cross.
The last time Jaz met Shame Cullen, she had been the owner of one of the more classy cabarets. The time before that, a corrupt lawyer in a high-rise office at the heart of the ‘City. This time he looked to be a well-dressed businessman, deep into middle age, large in all dimensions and wearing a patronising smile.
“You’re going soft on us Jaz,” the man called Shame Cullen said, in a mild tone. “Or is it old age getting to you already? A few years ago no one could have lifted you that easy; I’d have counted on losing at least one of my people just to get the chance to have a quiet chat with you like this.”
Without doubt, this Cullen occupied one of the most luxurious houses Jaz ever got to see inside. Even this room, furnished in some extreme, minimalist style, looked designed to the highest standards of quality and taste, down to the polished stone floor – or a good synthetic equivalent. Cullen’s plush chair sat beside what looked like an antique table, great works of art eased on and off the walls as the ambience sequenced them and the music was subtle, tasteful and unobtrusive. Through the wall-sized security screened window, Jaz could see a wide view of tranquil grounds with stunning biodiversity and even fountains.
It looked elegant, sophisticated and fashionable. But Jaz would have appreciated it so much more reclining in a chair like Shame Cullen, instead of having to stand. And if he did not have his elbows and wrists crudely restrained behind his back by over tight magnocuffs, restricting the blood supply in his hands enough to cause him pain. He tried to ease his arms in an obvious gesture.
“Seems you don’t think me that soft, Shame.”
Cullen grinned at him. All teeth, like a shark. “Course not, son. I think you have your reasons for being co-operative – which just makes me wonder about you more than I was before.”
“I don’t mind talking to you. But you could just have sent an invite.”
“And have you bringing your rent boys and tarts along to the party?” Cullen tutted and shook his head. “No chance. I don’t like that kind of garbage littering my garden.”
“If they don’t know by now, they will figure it out soon enough and then you’ll find them putting footprints through your flowerbeds and pissing in your water features anyway.”
Cullen made an odd grunting bark which seemed to be what passed in him for laughter.
“I heard you always were good for a joke, Jaz.”
They were not alone in the room, two of Cullen’s people were supporting the wall either side of the door out, looking very bored – and another sat, feet up, in a chair by the huge crystal-plex window, seeming to be engrossed in a sports VRcast up on a remote screen. Less obvious – and more dangerous – was the stick thin woman who sat at the back of the room, she appeared to be lost in her own screens, but Jaz could see she was missing nothing. He watched her because he knew she was very good. She led the group sent to lift him.
“I like to spread a little happiness around,” he said.
Cullen nodded and reached for some snacks from the tray on the antique table beside him. The table was beautiful, all carved into leaf and flower shapes, and it looked like real wood.
“So now, son, why don’t you tell your Uncle Shame about your little problem?” Jaz saw no reason not to.
“You know as much as me. They picked me up soon as I got back here and have been with me ever since.”
“They don’t seem to take very good care of you.”
He must have heard about the hospital.
“I don’t think they care what happens to me.”
“Then why do they bother themselves with you at all?”
Jaz would have shrugged, but to do so would have meant taking the risk of dislocating both his shoulders simultaneously.
“You can make the guess for me.”
Shame sat back, his look assessing. “You wouldn’t be holding out on me now, would you Jaz?”
He saw the woman give the slightest nod and the two wall props by the door eased themselves vertical, one flexing a deltoid as if making some kind of threat. The sports fan swung his feet to the floor and wiped the screen from view. Jaz became aware of the movement, part of his perception tracked it with the habit of years and his heartbeat kicked up with adrenaline, but his main attention stayed focused on Cullen.
“I can’t see any reason you might think that,” he said.
“You’ve been gone a long time Jaz, and word is you’ve come back – changed. You’ve turned down sensible offers of making good money and taken to whoring yourself cheap to outsiders. Then you get a bad dose of the parasites – and I hear even your woman wants nothing more to do with you.” Cullen eased himself back a little in the comfortable chair and rested his hands along the arms. “You can see all put together, it makes you look bad, son.”

From Trust A Few, the first book in Fortune’s Fools Haruspex Trilogy by E.M. Swift-Hook.

Granny Knows Best – Scented Toilet Roll

Coming from the kind of family that was not arsed about what to wipe it’s collective arses on, I was blissfully unaware this even existed.  Until I was invited to a “soirée” – and don’t get me started on people who use posh words for everyday things – by a cousin who’s no better than she should be and really should know better.

To be honest, I only knew it was supposed to be scented bog roll because it said so on the packet.

When I needed the loo, the holder was empty except for wispy scraps of tissue clinging to the cardboard tube. No other rolls were in evidence and I had to search around until I found it hiding in plain sight beneath a cloth cover with a tassel.

The packet declared it was floral scented so I gave it a whiff and at close quarters it did pong a tiny bit of cheap rose perfume with overtones of soap and talc.

But the thing is, why? Who’s going to sniff it? Your bum won’t care and you’re hardly likely to have a sniff at it during or after use. And unless you know it’s supposed to be scented you won’t stick your nose near it before either…

So what is the point?

You can now have a collection of Granny’s inimitable insights of your very own in Granny Knows Best.

Piglock Homes and The Dartymuir Dog – Part the Fifth

Join Piglock Homes and his sidekick Doctor Bearson as they investigate the strange affair of the Dartymuir Dog…

Bearson reached into his capacious pocket and pulled out a packet of hunny sandwiches. He unwrapped the greaseproof paper and handed them around, frowning a warning at Homes who seemed about to question Yore.

“Leave the man be, Homes. He needs to eat before he talks.”

Homes glowered, but buried his sharp little teeth in a doorstop of brown bread liberally spread with butter and hunny.

After he had eaten his sandwich, Yore looked a little better and he turned his long mournful features to where Homes sat licking hunny off his trotters.

Once Yore was satisfied he had the pig’s attention he put a hand in his inside pocket and withdrew a newspaper which he passed across. The headline across the front page was smudged but readable.

‘Fearful Haunting. The Dartymuir Dog strikes again.’

“What has happened, man?”

“Yesterday the old Lord Sleepytown went for his morning walk on the muir. When he didn’t return, his heir went looking for him. The old man was found fallen in a bog, he had suffered some sort of a seizure. The young one carried him home on his own broad back. The doctors say the old one is close to death. He has only spoke three words since they laid him on his bed…”

“And what were them three words.”

“Orange bounding dog.”

“That was very much what I feared.”

Homes hunched in his corner of the carriage, looking, Bearson thought, like a wizened old crab apple hanging from a tree.

For a very long time he said nothing. But when he did speak, his words were utterly unexpected.

“Bearson, old chap. Do you recall the name of that rogue whose circus was accused of harbouring known criminals?”

“The man whose name you so cleverly cleared?”

Homes puffed out his skinny chest. “Yes. Him.”

Bearson closed his eyes to better think, calling to his mind’s eye the hulking brute who swore to be Homes’ servant for life. For a moment his brain paused among the tattoos that liberally decorated a torso rippling with muscles. And then the name came to him. 

“Crispermeadow. The man’s name is Arnold Crispermeadow.”

“Well done old man.”

Homes scrabbled about in his many pockets, coming up with a pad of telegraph forms and a purple indelible pencil….

Piglock Homes and his sidekick Doctor Bearson will continue their investigation into The Affair of the Dartymuir Dog next week Jane Jago

The Best of the Thinking Quill – Splitting Infinitives

Good morrow my little scholars.

It is your beloved pedagogue.  Yes, one is here, Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV, creator of that seminal work of epic science fantasy ‘Fatswhistle and Buchtooth’ and all-round genius. One lifts one’s head from contemplation of the sheer beauty that is one’s own sun-bronzed torso merely in order to assist one’s spiritual children in their search for narratorial clarity and shine. Lazing as one does today with one’s head in the shade and one’s body soaking up Helios’ health-giving rays always makes one consider the immutable rules of grammar. And with a muted ‘pfft’ of disgust one seeks to debunk one such piece of iconic mythology…

But why then, one hears a voice from the back of the class speak up, are you troubling to teach us about these grammar rules at all? Detention on the naughty step for backchat. If one is to write with the flow and perfection of the greats, one needs to know the expected rules – and learn which one must observe and which may be discarded at will, oh foolish neophyte!

Now, read and learn.

How to Write Right – Lesson 4. The Write Infinite Splits

Grammar has about as many rules as there are stars in the gleaming firmament. And most of those rules were put there by grumpy old men in long dresses with unkempt beards. Men whose sole function was, it often appears, the rendering of language impenetrable and the making of writing the blandest and least appetising porridge imaginable.

Let us consider an example. The split infinitive.
You don’t know what an infinitive is?
Very well.
 Permits oneself a small sigh of utter weariness.
Those who are unaware of what constitutes an infinitive can just remove themselves to the naughty step immediately, taking with them their copy of ‘Practical English Usage’ and studying same until they can at least reliably identify the parts of speech.
The rest of you can jolly well stop flicking ink pellets at Metheringham Minor and pay attention or one will be amongst you armed with malacca. Better…

Hands up those of you who are ‘Trekites’, as we cognoscenti in the science-fiction world call fans of ‘Star Trek’. No. Do not disagree with your master, as his patience for such things is thin. However, you are all of you familiar with an iconic infinitive split: ‘to boldly go’
Wonders idly if there is such a thing as a grammarian Trekkian or if that might be a truly alien race.
Turns attention back to bewildered class.
The infinitive of the verb is – to go. The word boldly inserted between to and go splits the infinitive.
Not allowed.
In order to achieve strict grammatical correctitude, Captain Kirk and his chums should have been adjured to go boldly, which, in one’s exquisitely tasteful estimation has not nearly the same impact. And perhaps even feels as if the meaning is not quite the same.

Consider the following
To walk quietly
To quietly walk

In theory, these mean the same. But do they conjure in the inner theatre of your mind’s eye the same result? Most certainly not! Knowing the mode in which the action is taken helps prepare the mind to add that action upon the screen of that inner theatre more perfectly than if the action is known before how it is being performed. Simple.

Think on this as you write: ‘To split, or not to split. That is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged grammar Stasi…’

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to cleverly write, to eagerly learn, and to humbly accept.


Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV

You can find more of IVy’s profound thoughts in How To Start Writing A Book courtesy of E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago.

Coffee Break Read – Star Dust: 1100

Built upon an asteroid, these mighty habitation towers are the final stronghold of humanity in a star system ravaged by a long-ago war. Now, centuries after the apocalyptic conflict, the city thrives — a utopia for the rich who live at the top, built on the labours of the poor stuck below. Starway Pathfinders is a science fiction show that entertains the better off and brings hope to the poor…

It was the following day Joah found the new paper bird pinned to the board in her booth, just like in the old days. With careful fingers she released it and cupped it in her hands as if it were a living thing. Then she reached out to re-pin it gently, flying with the rest. She was almost smiling as she sat down and started work. Trust and hope carried her through that day, and the next, and the next; she even weathered the suspicion, and the second police interview, without cracking, but it was hard to be alone with the mounting pressure of doubt and fear. Surprisingly, it was Heila’s unobtrusive support that pulled her through. The actress knew precisely when to be silent and when to put in an acidic comment that stiffened Joah’s spine.

She was working in the sound booth, adding some Zarshay words synthed by her modulator to go with the virtual Science Officer Xexe Chay. She didn’t hear any footsteps, but she knew without hearing. Maybe it was the slight trace of a scent or maybe it was something deeper and inexplicable. But she was already turning her chair and getting to her feet when Zarshay came into the booth.
For a moment her intense anger and anxiety reared up between them and Joah felt frozen to the spot. Then Zarshay closed all the distance that created the division and Joah’s arms opened by an instinct so much deeper than those emotions that they no longer mattered. Nothing did, except that they were there, together. They clung to each other for what seemed forever.
“I’m sorry,” Zarshay whispered “I had to wait for it to be safe. If I had even tried to contact you—”
With an effort of will Joah released her and stood back. She knuckled a wayward tear and wondered what had changed, what to say, but was saved as the studio door burst open.
“Did you get to hear the news?” Dog called out sounding excited.
Joah gripped Zarshay’s hand and the two turned to face him. “Hear what? I’ve been setting up here so not checked my feed in a while.”
“Oh hello Zarshay, glad you’re back. It’s all over the media that the last big business backer pulled out and the President’s office has said the project is being ‘postponed indefinitely’.”
Zarshay was grinning. “That’s political speak for ‘cancelled’, Dog.”
Heila’s sharp tapping footwear could be heard on the studio floor approaching the booth, just ahead of her voice.
“It’s the most dreadful news isn’t it, darlings?” she said as she joined them. “That stupid curse thing — and all those idiots believing it too. And of course, no one will back the project; who wants to have their brand linked with something everyone is calling unlucky?” Her expression was serene and smiling in direct contrast to the fretful sound of her voice. “But the good news is our ratings are rocketing with the free publicity. Starways Pathfinders is even getting viewers from the mainstream demographics now, and I have been asked to do a round of chat shows to talk about it.”
Dog made a sound suspiciously like a growl.
“Bastards just want to watch to see one of us have something bad happen.”
“Don’t be silly,” Heila said, taking his arm almost possessively. “We are not a live show.”
“You try telling them that.”
“Not our problem, darling. Besides, now Zarshay is back I think the curse may have just run its course,” Heila said, drawing him away towards the studio door. “She is our lucky charm. But what is our problem is all this publicity. You need to come with me so I can talk you through what you and I will be doing for the next few weeks. We have chat show couches to decorate, darling.”
She paused on the threshold to glance back and drop a conspiratorial wink at Joah and Zarshay, before herding Dog through the door and letting it close behind her, leaving them alone together.

Star Dust by E.M. Swift-Hook, originally appeared in The Last City, a shared-universe anthology. This version is the ‘Author’s Cut’ and differs, very slightly, from that original.

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