An Interview with Tallis Steelyard
Facing your demons? How much of what you write could be classed as therapy?
Please, no author should be troubled by facing his or her demons. Most demons are stupid, lumpen creatures, obsessed with their own physical prowess. Any writer worth their salt can control them with sarcasm or shafts of barbed wit.
It is possible that you might come across a demon with more subtlety, but in that case treat the creature as a potential muse, pick out of the being’s ramblings any choice nuggets you can use and ignore the rest. After all, demons cannot accuse you of plagiarism, at least not at society functions.
Would you rather be a hero or a villain?
As a poet I rise above such distinctions. I act as art and conscience direct.
Is it important to include all shades of belief and sexual orientation in a book?
I write about people. People are defined far more subtly. If a lady has three beautifully behaved children and is almost inseparable from her pretty maid, how is it relevant to her opinions on the proper way to recompense her poet? Similarly does it have an impact on the way she tips sedan chairmen or the way she instructs her cook to quietly provide a breakfast for half a dozen street children on a daily basis?
It is the duty of the artist to bring to the fore the things which matter. Judge people by their actions, not by arbitrary labels applied to them for the convenience of others.
Why do you write? Money is an acceptable answer.
Money is always an acceptable answer. I have always claimed that I abandoned writing for money, instead I write because I crave eternal fame and the adulation of the masses. In all candour I haven’t seen any of this, but to be equally candid there was damn all money either. On the other hand, as a measure of success, money has the disadvantage of being uniquely quantifiable. Fame, being more nebulous, lacks this handicap.
Chocolate cake or coffee cake? And give reasons
Let us be frank here. If a hostess, (or perhaps her cook) has a gift for chocolate cake, coffee cake or even lemon drizzle, then that is the one the discerning poet reaches for as the plates are circulated. Otherwise I confess I tend to go for the one that is the moistest.
Also let us not rush our definitions here. Chocolate cake reaches perfection with a coffee cream filling. Still, I am not too proud to agree that a good chocolate cake with blackcurrent jam as the filling takes a lot of beating.
Let a hundred cooks bloom, let a hundred cakes contend.
What is worse, ignorance or stupidity?
Ignorance. Stupidity is a sad accident of fate, ignorance is a decision.
Have you ever written somebody you dislike into a book, just so you could make them suffer?
I would advise against this. I hold up the sad tale of Mesdames Callthwine and Musseltone. The two ladies, both of private means due to the fortuitous disposal of husbands, were persons of considerable wit. Unfortunately for reasons I never entirely understood they loathed each other. This abhorrence ran so deep that they were forever writing pejorative verses about the other.
Now honesty compels me to admit that the verses were rarely more than doggerel, existing purely as a vehicle for insult. Eventually the inevitable happened. Madam Callthwine challenged Madam Musseltone to a duel. Alas for Madam Callthwine she overestimated not merely her skill with the blade, but also the protection afforded by her corsets.
I have discussed this matter with the Urlan. Urlan maidens reckon that if you use steel for your corset stays, then they ought to overlap the next stay by half their width. Thus there are no gaps between stays and any blade normally has to defeat two layers of metal. With bone they tend to be dismissive. The thickness of bone necessary to offer proper protection is such that it rather negates the point of wearing a corset in the first place. They would advocate a full breast plate worn under a high necked dress. Apparently a blacksmith can give a lady the perfect bosom.
As an aside, the Urlan ladies are somewhat casual about the term ‘maiden’ and an Urlan lady will probably have had at least two children before she regretfully admits she may more reasonably regarded as an Urlan Matron.
But back to Madam Musseltone. She had planned well. She had placed her property into a trust prior to the duel. She fled the city and three weeks later with a different haircut and a hint of Partann in her accent she returned claiming to be a distant kinswoman. Unfortunately the family of Madam Callthwaine disputed this and in the legal battle that followed, the estates of both ladies were divided between the lawyers.
The last I heard of Madam Musseltone she had managed to acquire the position of Lady’s companion. An elderly widow was declining into her dotage and the family hired a companion to look after her. This Madam Musseltone managed for twenty years. By the end she was not merely bathing and dressing the old woman but was washing soiled bedding and feeding her with a spoon. To be fair, the family was grateful and when the old woman died, they let Madam Musseltone remain in the house, rent free. They also paid her the same allowance that they’d given her when she had the old lady to look after.
Have you ever written somebody you love into a book?
Again, don’t ever do this. I point to the sad example of Wain Gallump. He, in a fit of madness, made the heroine of his story the young lady he was courting. Unfortunately when the book was published, five other ladies recognised themselves in the (admittedly flattering) description. If this wasn’t enough, three vengeful husbands and two aggrieved fathers pursued him with cruel intent. He was forced to flee the city. Needless to say, the object of his affections did not recognise herself and was hurt that he didn’t include her in the book.
If you wish to court a lady through verse, name her!
The book I want featured?
Well here I intend to be charitable. A good friend of mine, Jim Webster, has fallen upon hard times. When we meet, I have to buy the wine. Obviously this is unsupportable.
What do you need to know about him, he is a married man with three daughters. He must be old, his hair greys at his temples and he tells anecdotes of the time before I was first conceived. Of sturdy peasant stock he still lives and toils on the small farm which his ancestors farmed before him. In his desperation he has turned to writing books, compilations of tales from his past. One such is:
There’s a lamb climbing out of the oven
I suppose a lamb climbing out of the oven isn’t major problem for most households, and indeed it isn’t a problem for us either to be honest. I’d even see it as a sign of success.
Our Rayburn, like others of its kind, has a hot chamber below the oven. This is a useful facility, but especially at lambing time. The relative sizes of the oven and the lamb are such that a lamb placed on a flattened 750gm Kellogg’s Cornflake packet will just nicely slide into the hot chamber.
At this point you may be asking why? The answer is relatively simple. At lambing time, nature pretty well takes its course. A ewe will have one, ideally two, occasionally three, or far more rarely, four lambs. With singles, she’s normally on top of her game and they tend to be a biggish lamb anyway so there aren’t too many problems. Once you get to twins and triplets you can find that one or more of the lambs might be neglected or a bit slow.
So as soon as possible after they’re born, the lambs are checked out. Put a bit of iodine on the navel to stop infection creeping in and make sure they’ve got a feed of colostrum inside them.
Some lambs can just be a bit wet and cold; when you’re that size and born outside, exposure is an indisputable risk. For them there is a plastic tub with some straw bedding, placed under a lamp. This will warm them up nicely, and some might spend a day or more in there before they’re strong enough to unite with a hopefully doting mother.
For some, more drastic measures are called for. We’ve put lambs in warm water before now, (not too warm, about 105F is supposed to be the top temperature) just to warm them up in a hurry.
Finally for others, there’s the Rayburn. It tends to be first thing in the morning when the Rayburn isn’t ‘turned up’. So it is very pleasantly warm rather than getting ready to cook something.
Occasionally you have to take special measures. I remember one measure my father used when I was about eight or nine. When my parents were married back in the 1950s, amongst their wedding presents was a bottle of whisky, a bottle of rum and a bottle of gin. Well the gin went to make sloe gin. In Cumbria rum isn’t merely a drink, it is a major culinary ingredient. The rum bottle would disappear into rum butter and rum sauce in the first couple of years of their married life. But the whisky just sat there, unopened and unheeded.
Until after breakfast one morning, the lamb in the oven wasn’t responding. So my father opened the whisky bottle, put a tiny drop of whisky onto an apostle spoon and used that to pour the whisky into the lamb’s mouth in a last desperate attempt to save the little mite.
It shivered a bit, coughed and died.
A couple of years later, an aunt of mine trapped her hand in a car door, and my mother hurried her into our kitchen, sat her down, and sent me to get the bottle of whisky (unused since the lamb incident.)
I brought it and my mum poured her sister some in a glass with some water. As my aunt drank it, I watched, with the callous intent of an eight year old, to see if she coughed and died as well.
So back to our lamb, lying on its cornflake packet; if it sits up, that’s good. If it manages to somehow wiggle out and end up on the kitchen floor, that is also good (no matter what Jess, our elderly and three-legged Border Collie thinks). But the best sign of all is when, once on the floor, it stands up and totters off under its own steam to find somewhere more interesting.
Note. Before welcoming these ovine perambulations it’s as well to remember that the lamb is not in anyway toilet trained and one should not encourage it to venture into areas that might be carpeted.
The book is Sometimes I sits and thinks. There are three others And sometimes I just sits. Fancy meeting you here. Lambing almost live. All are available for Kindle or in paperback. You can find them and all the books of Tallis Steelyard on Jim Webster‘s page. There are two blogs, obviously, one for Tallis Steelyard and Jim Webster’s blog.