Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV Reveals How to Write a Review

My dear Readers Who Write,

You will know of me as the renowned author Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV and have no doubt heard of the wisdom and erudition I have been putting forth in this highly enlightening series ‘The Thinking Quill’.

It is one’s intention today to depart from the pathways of rectitude and face squarely the chimera that is the erudite composition of a review.

“Now what,” I hear you ask, “has led our Ivy into these shark-filled shoals?” The answer, mes petits, is a review one recently received for that epitome of literary elegance that is the science-fiction classic ‘Fatswhistle and Buchtooth’. Some ignorant pensioner posted her abusive opinion and graded my magnum opus with a solitary gold-star. Her supposed ‘review’ was a single sentence in length: “This is the worst pile of crap masquerading as sci-fi I have read in over forty years.” One realised instantly the poor deluded female must be both menopausal, thus in her dotage, and also clearly the victim of dementia, so generously forgave her on the moment.

But it awoke me to the imperative of inducting the future generations of Readers Who Write into the subtle nemeton of the reviewers craft. No student of Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV should be reduced to the single sentence, no matter how pithy when they are casting supreme judgement upon the literary ejaculations of fellow authors. So, it falls upon me to ensure you are equipped with the knowledge and skill to dissect the entrails of another’s corpus.

Now, there will be those misguided souls among you who have, until now, seen it as their deity-sent duty to encourage the writer and coddle his artistic soul with warming and conspicuously kindly rumination on the opus before them.

I rail against such foolishness. Nay, I cry. Nay, nay and thrice nay. The very existence of the reviewer demands a harsher task. Armour yourself with erudition, take up the sword of experience and the bows and arrows of superior lexicography, and sally forth to slay the mythical monsters of pusillanimous prose, insufficiently exquisite world building, flat ‘realistic’ characterisation, and unimaginative, ‘logical’ plot lines.

Take up your weapons and do battle.

Let your words and wit be as a scalpel with which you excise the necrotising flesh of mediocrity from the bones of boredom, the tendons of tedium, and the entrails of excruciating entropy.

Should any work not meet the most stringent demands of taste, texture and testicular terpsichory, one must be not afraid to consign the script to the dungeons known as ‘did not finish’ and to expostulate one’s redaction as coolly as a surgeon whose sharpened scalpel removes disease to save life.

Take as your talisman the words of that divine dame whose perfect pinkness and portentous prose shows all lesser mortals the direction in which the glorious Muse may be cajoled by an author of superlative talent and all superseding sensibility. Consider the exquisite gentility of her delicately virginal heroines and the craggy, all-embracing masculinity of her manly heroes. It matters not what the genre, take the advice of one upon whose knowledge you may safely depend and use the words of the divine dame as the yardstick by which you judge all literary pretensions.

Once you find a manuscript worthy of your attention, husband your gilded heavenly bodies with care, awarding each and every one as parsimoniously as if it were a child of your own bosom. Let not the spirit of generosity move you to sprinkle planetoids with a lavishness beyond the desserts of that which stands before you.

I present to you my own formula for asteroid assignation.

One heavenly body: some slight little thing. An example being Dying to be Roman, by those dreadful women who I allow to benefit from my enormous popularity

Two sleeping satellites: a book with sufficient eclat to hold one’s grudging respect. An example being  JRR Tolkien’s fantastical travelogue.

Three asteroidal amplifications: a volume where one is sufficiently engaged to need to peek at the ending to ensure one’s favourite characters survive. An example being ‘Game of Thrones’ – who’s bid for more shining lights was only scuppered by a little over fondness for violence within its pages.

Four twinklies: a work of superlative excellence. An example being the understated, linguistically purist, Gorean Saga

Five golden galleons: reserved for the work of the divine dame whose bejeweled pink slippers I am unworthy to kiss.

In conclusion, dear RWW, let your metaphysical pen be as feared in reviewing as it will become beloved in creation.

Lire Bon!

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.


Victor had always been a photographer, from being a snap-happy child on family vacations he spent his youth grappling with f-stops and lenses and his working life as a freelance paparazzi. 

Social media changed it all and he decided he was too old to compete. Besides, anyone could take a picture of the same quality he had struggled to achieve in the past by using their bloody phone.

But Victor in retirement was still a photographer and that shot of a frost rimed crocus breaking through the late snow meant more to him than all the celeb-shots of his youth.

E.M. Swift-Hook

The Oracle – Temporary Vacancy

Somewhere high in some mountains near you lives the Oracle…

“Okay laddie. Where’d you want to start?”
“At the beginning.”
The grimy old woman’s eyes rolled back in her head and she spoke in the singsong tones of the prophetess.
“Beginning is a construct of a corrupt society…”
She opened her eyes and laughed sarcastically, before winking at the pale young man who was being paid to put her wisdom on a pay-per-view channel.
“Specifics,” She snapped.
He mumbled
“How’d I get to be the resident Oracle?”
He nodded
“Okay. I was about two steps ahead of the bailiffs when I saw a card in a phone box.”
He mumbled again.
“What do you mean, what’s a phone box? It’s where you used to have to go to make a call before mobiles.”
He opened his mouth to ask more, but hushed abruptly when the Oracle threw a handful of dirt in his face.
“As I was sayin’, I saw a card in a phone box. It said: Need to escape? Temporary vacancy for person who has no objection to looking unsavoury. Board and lodging, plus all the weed you can smoke. Needless to say I about snapped their hands off.”
She noticed the appalled expression on his face and laughed long and heartily.
“What was you expecting? A call from on high? The pull of the earth? A need to be prophetic?”
He nodded, aware of his own gullibility and also deeply aware that he was going to have to drastically reword the Oracle’s memories if he wanted to eat this month.
The old woman looked into his face and nodded just once.
“You need this job, don’t you?”
“I do.”
“Okay then. I get that. You pretty up what I tell you and I promise not to rock the boat.”
He grabbed that straw and with a ray of hope for the future he wrote movingly about how the mountain oracle was called to the high holy places.
When she read the first instalment of ‘her’ life story she laughed so hard she could barely breathe and her amanuensis worried that his meal ticket was about to shuffle off this mortal coil…

The Oracle foresees she will return next week…

Jane Jago

Coffee Addict

Gimme coffee, coffee, coffee
Gimme coffee, coffee, coffee
Gimme coffee, coffee, coffee
Just give a cup to me!

I need coffee, lovely coffee
I need coffee, tasty coffee
I need coffee, sweet, sweet coffee
Don’t palm me off with tea!

Want more coffee much, more coffee
Want more coffee, please, more coffee
Want more coffee NOW, more coffee
I need it can’t you see?

What d’you mean you’re out of coffee?
You just can’t be out of coffee!
I so need a bloody coffee
Oh screw it, I’ll have tea!

E.M. Swift-Hook

Weekend Wind Down – Deep Britannia

Dai watched the familiar countryside roll by and tried to forget, rather than obsess about, the fact that he was lying to his bride of less than a month – and on two issues. Well, lying by omission. He had promised himself he was not going to keep anything from her about his working life. She had lived it herself and her security clearance had been higher than his until his sudden promotion.

Even his friend, and newly appointed Senior Investigator, Bryn Cartivel had warned him. Slapping him on the back the day before Dai’s wedding as they were taking a final drink in the Londinium taberna that had seen so much of their custom over the previous eight years.

“Two bits of advice from a long-married man to one about to take the plunge. One is never forget she is always right, even when you think you are and two – never – and I mean never – keep secrets from her.” Bryn burped loudly and adopted a fatherly look. “You see, if you get to the day you think you’re always right and she’s wrong or start finding there are things you can’t tell her – well, that’s the day your marriage hits the rocks.”

“You can’t tell your wife everything,” Dai protested. “I mean half the stuff from work is -”

“Everything she wants to know,” Bryn cut over his protest, then dropped a heavy wink. “But then my Gwen she’d know if I was keeping things from her. She’s descended from a long line of Druids on her mother’s side.”

The trouble was Bryn was right and these were things Julia would want to know – things Dai wanted to tell her. But it was not in his hands. These were secrets he had been ordered to keep from her.


The first had arisen in a conversation with the Tribune in charge of the praetorians in Britannia – Decimus Lucius Didero, foster-brother to Julia. He had summoned Dai on the pretext of a meeting about some legality around the marriage and had not been at all repentant about his duplicity.

“This is serious, Llewellyn and is a big part of how I swung this post your way. Our intelligence people are saying that a lot of dangerous contraband is getting in through the coast there and Viriconium is the hub of it. We need someone who is accepted by the British community and who we can trust. You fit the bill.”

“And here I was thinking I got the job on my merits as an Investigator alone.” Dai made no attempt to keep the cynicism from his tone. He had been wondering why this had come his way and was not too surprised to find it had been for reasons other than those put out for public consumption.

Decimus grinned at him.

“Well my sister falling for your baby-blue eyes helped as well,” he admitted, then he switched back to the clipped tones of before. “As if the smuggling isn’t enough we are talking a major anti-Roman group somewhere in the area and they have their fingers deep in our pies. We need to know who they are and how they are being financed and supplied before they start out on a major terrorist campaign. I’m sending you out with twenty of my lads under their own decanus, a good man Brutus Gaius Gallus. You may need them. We have no idea how high or deep this thing goes – even the Magistratus is not in the clear. So trust no one there and I mean no one.”

Dai took a moment to digest the implications. He had known it was going to be hard enough taking on a post he had been over-promoted to fill. But he had been looking forward to learning his way in and doing so with Julia’s sharp insight and wisdom to help. But Decimus had just taken that fond daydream of a bucolic honeymoon easing into things and blown it away. He realised now why, when he had asked for permission to relocate with some of his old team he had not met with more resistance.

“Julia will need…”

“Julia will not be told anything about it, Llewellyn.” Decimus sounded almost ferocious. Then he drew a breath and sighed. “She has been through too much, I am not having her dragged into this. She needs a chance to have some simple happiness with no more to worry about than what colour she wants to paint the guest bedroom.”

Which, Dai reflected rather grimly, probably showed more of wishful thinking on Decimus’ part than any true understanding of what Julia would want or need.

“I think she might notice Brutus Gaius Gallus and his men hanging around,” Dai said pointedly. “My wife is many things, but she is neither unintelligent nor unobservant.” And you of all people should know that, he added in the privacy of his own mind.

“Relax, Llewellyn. They have an official reason for being there and wandering around wherever. Amongst his other talents, Gallus once served as a bandmaster and all the men with him can play instruments. They are going to be there to learn some traditional British music as part of a ‘Hearts and Minds’ Arts initiative – a real one, believe it or not, from those effete, money-wasting idiots in Rome. But it gives them the cover we need for this, so some good comes out of it.”

It was sounding more and more complex and Dai’s heart plummeted.

“So you are pitching me in against smugglers, terrorists, corrupt Roman administrators, and whoever is behind them?”

Decimus pulled a face.

“You about have the size of it. But you are not exactly going in alone. You’ll have my praetorians and your own people and as soon as you have anything solid we can act on I’ll bring half a legion in to clean up if need be. But we can’t pounce until we have a target.”

“Don’t you have undercover people doing that kind of stuff? I don’t see how I’m going to succeed where they have failed.”

“This is deep Britannia, Llewellyn,” the Tribune reminded him. “The arse end of the Empire, hanging over the edge half the time. Hell man, you should know you grew up there. These are people who only trust someone they have known from birth and who has a British pedigree you could unroll from there to Londinium. We don’t have that many such people just lying around – in fact we have one. You.”

From Dying for a Poppy by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook

Much Dithering in Little Botheringham – One

An everyday tale of village life and vampires…

Ginny sat back and read over the list one more time.

The Menopause

hot flushes
weight gain
dry skin
dry hair
hair loss in the places that should have hair
hair gain in the places that shouldn’t
vaginal dryness
men don’t notice you in the same way anymore
you can’t have children

no more periods (!!)
no more PMS (!!!)
warm in winter
hair less greasy
skin less greasy
fuller figure
female bonding
men don’t notice you in the same way anymore
you can’t have children
becoming a vampire

She smiled and deleted the last line. Yes, it was an advantage, if not the advantage but she couldn’t put that in this piece. 
The title was buoyantly cheerful:

Virginia Creeper is Back! 

It felt good to see that.
Her maiden name was Cropper but from almost as soon as her pithy articles on good living had become popular in the mid-1990s, ‘Virginia Creeper’ was how she had been known. 
Her phone broke the peace of the morning with a tinny rendition of ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ and she picked it up with reluctance from the white desk and sat back in her chair with a sigh as she answered it. Beyond the rectangle of her laptop’s screen, she could see through the window of her small cottage into the garden where two brownish birds were perched on the bird table, pecking at the wild bird seed she’d put out for them.
“Hello Lucinda, how are you?”
“Wonderful, wonderful. More to the point how are you? Burying yourself away in darkest rural England. It can’t be good for you.”
Ginny watched as a larger, black coloured, bird descended on the bird table and the other two flew off. She wondered idly what sort of birds they all were. Sparrows? Starlings? What colour were sparrows supposed to be anyway?
“I think it’s the best thing I’ve done in the last five years,” she answered honestly. 
“Are you sure it’s not just another phase of your menopausal depression? I worry about you all alone in the middle of nowhere with all that mud and muck and only yokels and bumpkins for company. You could still come back to London, you know. Keep that place as a holiday let or whatever.”
Ginny groaned.
“I’m not coming back, Lucinda. I love it here.”
“Just think what you’re missing, though.”
Ginny thought.
She had worked her way up the greasy pole from local reporter to tabloid features writer. Then when the internet became truly a ‘thing’ she had been one of the first to migrate online and her blog became essential reading for those looking for lifestyle advice – if the lifestyle was one that was both fashionable and organic.
Then it had all fallen apart.
Small things.
Complaining about the heat when others were cuddling up in warm coats.
Losing her temper once too often. Getting over-merry at a social event where there were too many who mattered. Her boyfriend and partner of the last fifteen years walking out after a pointless row.
Then her appearance started to change.
Her hair started thinning, leaving a noticeable bald patch. Her skin became dry and flakey, so each time she undressed a small snowstorm ensued. She found herself staring at her face in the mirror and thinking a stranger was staring back. It had taken waking each morning with a nameless feeling of dread to make her run to her GP, terrified she was in the grip of some awful illness. 
Her GP had been patronising and sanctimonious. It was all perfectly natural, he explained, nothing for her to worry about. She was, the GP revealed, going through the menopause. The GP talked about HRT and Ginny shook her head. There were too many scare stories, she’d even written some of them herself, and in the vulnerable place she was in, taking it seemed too big a step to take.
So she had suffered in silence.
Quite literally.
Everything in her life had ground to a standstill.
Even her cat had moved out and taken up with the man next door.
It had been worse than going through puberty backwards.
She had fled London to avoid everyone she knew. Using almost all her savings to purchase this little cottage and living on the little that remained. One of the reasons she was once more setting finger to keyboard was that steady evaporation of her funds.
“You still there, Ginny? Not done one of you silent withdrawal things again?”
“No. Not even slightly. I was just thinking what I was missing, as you suggested. The endless round of artificial smiles, the false promises, the free samples delivered with cloying fake goodwill and the backstabs and even death threats when I didn’t endorse them. And that’s not to mention the noise, the polluted air, the crushes on the tube and the dreadful traffic. Oh yes, I miss it all so much.”
“Don’t be overdramatic. You know it’s not all like that. There’s the culture, theatre, concerts, first-nights, hobnobbing with all those celebrities – you can’t tell me you don’t miss that?”
“I don’t miss it, Lucinda, not at all. But, FYI, I have decided to revive Virginia Creeper and I have a lot of interest from the broadsheets about me doing a regular feature.”
Was that a spike of acid, Ginny heard in the single syllable? If anyone had benefited from Ginny’s premature departure it had been Lucinda. Her lacklustre lifestyle pieces had become more popular in the void left when Ginny herself vanished from the scene.
“I thought you’d be pleased,” Ginny said, able to do false sincerity with the best of them.
“What is your returning piece going to focus on?”
“Oh this and that. I thought I might tell the story of how I got involved with the local Ladies’ Association.”
“Really? That would be so utterly charming.”
The relief in Lucinda’s tone was almost tangible. Ginny had to smile. That was another thing she didn’t miss about her old life, these cold false friendships required by what they all called ‘networking’.
“Oh yes, I think it will be and maybe a piece on the menopause and how it affected me.”
“I’m sure that will go down well with the Millenials,” Lucinda’s voice had taken on a slightly bored lull. Ginny knew what that meant and started counting down from twenty silently in her head.
“I am so pleased to hear you’re getting back into writing though, it will be good to see your name again in the bylines.”
“And of course if ever you do decide to return to civilization you must come and stay with me and Malcolm…”
“And of course keep in touch. I dread to think it, but  if I didn’t make these efforts to call you you’d have gone native in that place.”
“Little Botheringham,” Ginny provided helpfully.
“Oh yes. That was it.”
“Well it’s been nice chatting but I have to go. Some of us have busy lives still. Bye for now.”
The line went dead before Ginny could add her own farewell and she put the phone down on her desk. It wasn’t a bad idea actually, telling the story of how she had come to join the Little Botheringham Ladies’ Association…

Part 2 of Much Dithering in Little Botheringham by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook, will be here next week.

Happy Hour

Happy hour in a tatty bar at the edge of Small Gods, which is the poorest area of Olympus. Seven very minor gods sit at a smeared table drowning their sorrows in the local hooch, which somewhat resembles whisky, somewhat battery acid.

The tooth fairy narrows her eyes at the God of Unconsidered Trifles. 

“I dunno what you’re moaning about. You get more followers every day.”

“Yeah. But. Geeks.”

“Fair enough.” 

Lycra Cycling Shorts nods wisely before slipping off his chair facedown in spilt beer and crushed scratchings.

Muse shows a petulant face.

“Whaddabout me? Only wankers believe in me.”

©️Jane Jago 

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Anson Heinlein reviewed by Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV

It is not often one is granted insight into the mind of one’s parent through the medium of literature. But so it was that I came to understand Mumsie’s tendencies to overindulge in aspects of culture most regard as less desirable – sex and booze.

It was last summer and I had gone into her ‘retiring room’ to see if she had, yet again, absconded with my iPad as I had a hankering to take it and compose bucolic pastoral poetry whilst sitting in the garden. I needed something to provide the quintessential inspirational imagery so lacking in our squalid backyard, whilst I committed the consequential flow of rhyming commentary, contemporaneously to paper with pen.

Instead, I wound up reclining in the garden reading with interest a volume I had found poking out from under her favourite chair. It even reminded me of Mummy in appearance being much handled, rather fat and dog-eared. Surprisingly it had a Biblical quotation for its title, not something I would normally associate with my mater. There were also many self-revelatory notes in my mother’s long-lost youthful hand, highlighting passages or underlining phrases.

I later learned it is also a science-fiction classic.

My Review of Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Anson Heinlein

There is much written nowadays about supernatural beings like vampires and angels and this book falls neatly in that category.

In this book, the angel called Michael Smith comes to earth from Mars. He is fabulously wealthy and naturally has magical powers. He lives in a commune where everyone runs around naked and has sex with everyone else and they eat dead people. He is eventually killed and comes back as a ghost to explain that he is going to take over the world with a new super-race, by evolving his followers. In the end, it turns out he was really an archangel.

I found the story by turns cloying, disgusting, strangely sensual, often all three together and always puzzling.

Three stars for the intriguing footnotes and marginal commentary from my maternal parent.

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.


It’s been cold in the house since Karina left. There’s an emptiness. A Karina-shaped hole through my heart, just as the cushions on her favourite chair still show the marks of where she sat.

I never stop regretting the argument. What did it matter she’d bought herself a new shawl? 

If I could take it back…

I still light the lantern each night, I’d not want to think she might pass this way and miss the house.

Footsteps outside.

A knock.

I rush with hope to open the door.

No one’s there.

Just a basket – and a smiling infant within.

E.M. Swift-Hook

The Chronicles of Nanny Bee – Who Needs a Love Potion?

They called her Nanny Bee, although as far as anyone knew she had never been a wife or a mother, let alone a grandmother. But she was popularly believed to be a witch – so Nanny it was. She lived in a pink-walled thatched cottage that crouched between the village green and the vicarage. The Reverend Alphonso Scoggins (a person of peculiarly mixed heritage and a fondness for large dinners) joked that between him and Nanny they could see the villagers from birth to burial.
Nanny’s garden was the most verdant and productive little patch you could ever imagine, and she could be found pottering in its walled prettiness from dawn to dusk almost every day. People came to visit and were given advice, or medicine, or other potions in tiny bottles or scraps of paper – but they always had the sneaking suspicion they were getting in the way of the gardening.
But there again, digging is second nature to gnomes.

When the sensible wife of a well-to-do sheep farmer appeared at the back door with a request for a love philtre Nanny was surprised.
But she invited the woman in and sat her by the kitchen fire with a mug of camomile tea.
“It’s Amos. He don’t want me no more. Set his eyes on a chit of seventeen summers. With a big belly she swears is his.”
“Wouldn’t be Widow Wossname’s girl would it?”
“It would.”
Nanny sighed.
“You go on home and leave this to me.”
Once the woman was safely away, Nanny swore a bit and went out to talk to the bees.
An hour later a certain widow was banging frantically on the front door with a swarm of bees buzzing about her head.
“Help me, please.”
Nanny looked at her sternly.
“You and your daughter have got to stop trying to foist her brat on every farmer in the valley.”
“Well somebody has to take responsibility.”
“The actual father?”
“She don’t know who it is.”
“There has to be one that isn’t married…”
The widow spread her hands in a gesture of defeat.
“I’ll have her wed by Thursday.”
The bees flew away.


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