Crouching writer, hidden author.

I have considered becoming a reclusive author but decided against it. There are successful reclusive authors – Iain Banks comes to mind – but it’s a difficult route.

You can’t sell books if nobody ever hears of you. Being a recluse is all very fine and pleasant and saves all that socialising nonsense. It means you can be unshaven for days and go around looking like something the cat would, given the chance, drag back out. You can mutter to yourself and giggle for no obvious reason. You can write from dusk ’til dawn but if nobody knows who you are, they aren’t going to buy your books.

The reclusive author idea must therefore be shelved until there are a few books in circulation. Then I can hide away and snarl at the approach of visitors.

Until then, I have to at least give the appearance of being a sociable creature. I hereby promise not to attempt to eat anyone who approaches me at a book signing, not even nibble at their fingers. Which reminds me, I must arrange posters for the purpose. The print version of Jessica’s Trap should be available in late April, so it’s time to start on the posters.

If I can get half as far as the accolades just handed out to The Horror Zine, I will be delighted.

The Night of Burns.

Tonight was Burns Night, a sombre and serious festivity in Scotland. Oddly enough, it doesn’t involve burning anything at all, which I pointed out several times to Senga before she cooked our evening meal. I just wanted to be sure she understood.

The night is a profitable one for Angus McFlatulent, the local haggis-hunter. He makes almost all his annual income in the days leading up to this night, which is just as well since haggis-hunting season lasts from January 1st to January 25th, after which only carnivorous haggis can be shot and then only if they get into the hen house or eat a child.

The haggis is an essential part of the meal, as is the mashed Swede (we didn’t have any Swedes but I still had a Norwegian in the freezer. Close enough) and pulverised potato. Here, you can have whatever you want for Christmas dinner and nobody minds, but to not have haggis on Burns Night can get you, well, burned.

It’s a strange creature, the haggis. Immediately upon death, all its hair and limbs drop off and its insides turn into a homogenous mush. This makes it very easy to prepare because you don’t have to shave off that tartan fur and rid it of parasitic bagpipe-mites. Those drop off with the hair and that’s a good thing. A kitchen infestation of bagpipe-mites is messy and noisy.

Angus sold us a particularly excellent specimen, enough to satisfy even Caligula’s appetite.

Another aspect of the meal is the whisky. That, too, is essential because nobody can read Burns’ poetry sober.

I think it’s because he didn’t write it sober.

Click’s language development.

Click brought in a tray of tea, set it on the table in front of me and said “Howdy, pardner.” Then he performed a bizarre bow-legged walk and sat opposite.

I sat in silence for a while, trying to comprehend what I had just witnessed. Finally I said “What?”

“Howdy,” Click nodded at the glass in my hand. “Is that two fingers o’ redeye in that there glass? Why, had I known, I’d’a just brought tea for your good lady wife an’ me and left you to your whisky.”

Senga giggled. Click said “Yee-ha!”. I closed my eyes and took long, slow breaths. When I could stand no more giggles and Yee-ha’s I opened my eyes and held up my hand for silence.

I wanted to enquire as to the backround behind this bizarre change in Click and to determine how best to tackle it, but all that came out was a strangled “What?”

“Isn’t he great?” Senga hugged herself. I’m always glad to see her do that, it saves me the trouble. “I’ve been teaching him to speak. He picks it up really fast.”

“Teaching him. How?”

“With them thar flickering’ pictures from the magic lantern.” Click looked pleased with himself. I looked disgusted with him until he shut up.

Senga spoke up. “I gave him some DVDs to watch. He’s been right through the Westerns.”

“No, really? I would never have guessed.” I glowered at them both in turn. “Fix it. Get some more up to date films and get rid of that ridiculous accent. I’m off to the dungeons for a sulk.” I took my glass and stomped down to spend some time with Father.

Some time later, Click joined us. He must have run because he was breathing heavily but at least he had abandoned the bow-legged walk. I waited for him to get his breath back, but his heavy breathing continued. Finally he spoke, between breaths.

“Dume,” he wheezed. “Come over to the dark side of the Force.” Then he waved a flashlight at me.

I marched him back upstairs, stapled him to a chair and put on some more suitable films. The entire collection of Sherlock Holmes should clear out this nonsense once and for all.

I hope.

A bad day.

There was quite a commotion in the dungeons this evening. It turned out that when Senga took the coins to buy her Christmas baubles, she failed to enter it in the dusty tomes kept for the purpose. Father’s weekly audit of the gold he still considers his, showed a discrepancy.

He was livid. So livid he could barely manifest. He’s been transparent often but this time he went all blurry at the edges too. By the time I released all the locks, disconnected the sprung spears and hauled open the last of the doors, he looked as if he was made of jelly rather than ectoplasm.

“We’ve been robbed!” He flitted from the coins to the books and back again. “Robbed, I tell you!”

“I hardly think that’s likely.” I picked my way over the trip wires and around the part of the floor that’s just painted paper hiding an oubliette, and took a look at the books.

“What’s the problem?” There was no way I was going to count all those coins myself. I never have. Father checks them weekly anyway so I never bother. Besides, I already had an inkling of what the problem might be. It was just a matter of finding the right way to tell him.

“Fifteen coins! Fifteen! Fifteen!” He held up his hands, fingers splayed, and manifested an extra one for the occasion. “Fifteen of my gold coins, including two of the really shiny ones. Someone has stolen them.”

“Fifteen?” I checked the book. The three I had given to Senga were accounted for. Above it, where there should have been an entry by Senga to show how much she had taken, was only my previous withdrawal, just over a year ago. Dizziness overcame me. Surely she had not spent fifteen gold coins on all that rubbish?

Father paced the floor. He’s lucky, he can walk right over the paper part without falling through.

“I’ll have to call Beryl,” he said. “I can’t watch this all the time. I still have to keep out of Death’s way when he visits. Beryl can look after the place whenever I have to hide.”

“Oh, I don’t think we need Beryl’s services.” I was in such a haste to calm him that I almost stepped into the oubliette myself. You have to keep your concentration in this room.

Beryl is the banshee I mentioned a while ago. When she last visited I tried to get Death to collect her soul but sadly, that’s impossible. She has already been collected and now works for what Death refers to as ‘the downstairs office’.

“Why not?” Father stopped pacing and glowered at me. “You know something, don’t you? Have you forgotten to log in a withdrawal?”

“Not me. You know me better than that. No, it was Senga. She bought a tree.” I gritted my teeth. It was bad enough that she had forgotten to log the amount, and that she had taken two of the shiniest coins. He didn’t need to know what she had spent it on.

Father’s face turned inside out six times before he brought it under control. When he spoke, it was with a voice so filled with menace it could have cleared the area of Ferals forever.

“She bought a tree? Doesn’t she look outside? The place is surrounded by trees and has been since your great-great-grandfather annoyed the local dryads. There is no tree shortage here and won’t be until one of us finds out what he did with the dryad’s amulet and gives it back. Tell me she didn’t spend fifteen gold coins on another damn tree?”

“I think she wanted one that doesn’t bite.” I braced myself for a difficult conversation. “It’s in the living room. It’s not that bad, she also bought shiny things to–“

“Shiny thngs?” Father resumed pacing. “She has been in the McStench’s shop, hasn’t she? There is absolutely nothing in that shop worth buying.”

“I suspect she has, yes. I don’t know how much she spent, there might be some left. Leave it with me. I’ll tell her not to take anything without recording it in future.”

“You tell her if she comes near my gold again I’ll squirt ectoplasm right up her nose.”

Technically, it became my gold when the old duffer died but this wasn’t the time to bring up that argument again. Besides, if he left, I’d have to count it myself. It seemed best to leave him to cool off for a while.

“Okay,” I said, “don’t get yourself all worked up. Think of your heart.” It’s in a jar of formalin, sealed behind the wall of the kitchen. Thinking about it relaxes him.

“Well…” He sulked hard enough to make his jowls meet at the bottom. “You get that wife of yours under control. I don’t want my books messed up.”

“I’ll deal with it. Don’t you worry.” I picked my way back to the door, over the trip wires. “I’ll find out what she’s done with the rest of the coins and explain the rules to her. You try to relax.” I narrowed my eyes and pointed my finger at him. “And forget about Beryl. I had tinnitis for weeks after the last time. If you bring her here again I swear I’ll tell Death where you hide.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“Don’t risk it.” I closed and locked the door, reset the sprung spears and made my way back through the traps and doors until I arrived in the main house.

Senga was in the living room, wearing a new dress. I drew a deep breath. This was a not the time to talk money.

“What do you think?” She twirled, then had to sit down for a minute.

It was exactly the same as the old dress but without the stains and the stench of old offal. Still, in time, it would settle in. This one was a little baggier so it disguised some of the more unsightly lumps.

“I like it.” I headed for the drinks cabinet. Usually the whisky in there is only for the Professor’s visits but today I decided to have a glass or two myself. If I had any cigars I’d have taken up smoking too.

As if on cue, Caligula started howling.

It couldn’t get any worse.

But it did.

I’ll tell you of that later. For the moment, I’m going to try the Professor’s favourite malts. The ones I can’t pronounce sober. Names like Caol Ila, Bunnahabhain, Bruaichladdich, sound like they come from the pages of fantasy books and as I understand it, if you drink enough of them they transport you into those books.

It’s worth a try.

Sleepy in the Swamp.

I am beset by a bout of winter indolence. There are many things to do but I can’t find the energy. The Dume genome is part reptile so sluggishness in the cold is not unusual and it gets worse as we get older. Something must be done. Caligula will, in a few years, still be a young Dume able to cope with the cold and I will be ever more torpid every winter. That is a dangerous situation.

One thing that gave me a warm feeling was a note from the editor who is reading ‘Jessica’s Trap’. A most complimentary note – it seems I don’t have to look forward to a huge rewrite. So far. That might be because of my inbuilt pedantry. The second book ‘Samuel’s Girl’, is almost ready to send out too apart from one problem.

I changed word processors part way through that one. The old files had inverted commas that looked like two little straight lines. The new program produced inverted commas that were curly, the more traditional filled-in 6 and 9 shapes. That was easily fixed with search-and-replace so they now all look the same. The program finished by telling me how many replacements it had made. It was an odd number.

Somewhere in that book is a missing quotation mark. I can’t send the book anywhere until I find it.

All part of the joys of pedantry.