Getting Those Dreaded One Star Reviews: What They May or May Not Mean.

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“I don’t deserve this!”

A writing colleague of mine was really upset by getting her first one star review. This had gone up on both Amazon and Goodreads. It seems that the purchaser had been so eager to spread the bad news about this appalling book that she had even gone to the trouble of opening an account at Goodreads to post it as her first book read.

Well, I didn’t say, as many hardened writers say, ‘Join the club; any Indie Author has to learn to shrug off destructive reviews.’  

That may be true, but it seemed a bit insensitive.

You do your best to give your readers the most gripping read that  you can, and then someone dismisses it as worthless rubbish, urging everyone not to waste their money.

Hmm. They are undeniably painful, getting those one star reviews, and unless you want to look unprofessional, there’s absolutely nothing that you can do about them. The only time I respond is when someone complains of errors, textual or historical. Then, being a bit of a prig about grammar and research, I politely ask the reviewer to point them out to me so I can rectify them if necessary.

Amazon and Goodreads readers of your book can say anything that they like – however untrue – about your writing in an effort to discourage anyone from making the same mistake that they did, and buying your book. That nothing happens for 98 per cent of it, say; or that these are the dullest, least sympathetic characters that s/he has ever had the misfortune  to encounter.  

That’s the downside of the technology that makes self publishing possible.

Generally, though, there is one comfort. Most one star reviews tend to be of the ‘couldn’t get into it don’t waste your money’ variety. I find it hard to believe that any discerning reader is gong to take those seriously.

And do most self published authors want undiscerning readers? Well, maybe we do, just a bit; the ones who are undiscerning in our favour…

My colleague’s reviewer insisted furiously that the book was ‘BORING!!!!!!! BORING!!!!!! BORING!!!!!!’

Well,  I have found large sections of many classics frankly boring, ‘Wuthering Heights’ ‘Vanity Fair’ ‘Tom Jones’ and much of Dickens to name just a few, so my writer friend is in good company in boring readers. 

Regarding this particular review, though, I pointed out to my colleague that there was a discrepancy between the indignant tone and the reader’s furious insistence that s/he found the characters dull and the action wholly uninteresting.

If I’m really bored by a book, I start to lose concentration. My mind wanders to that meeting with my older relative next Sunday, where she’ll tell me once more about her coming knee operation. In my excitement over this, I forget the name of the lead characters in the book, or what s/he was doing in the last chapter which led to what is happening now.

ZZZZZ..,What?

Oh yes:  I was reading… 

He flashed his brilliant white teeth in a menacing smile.

A young girl like you certainly shouldn’t be out alone in a place like this.’

Suddenly, Ludmilla realised that he was one of the gang of young Wolfmen who were terrorizing the city. In fact, he was none other than their leader. How could she not have realized this, the minute he began to follow her home?’

That’s just what I was about to ask myself. Self Defence Step One! ‘If someone starts following you, get ready for trouble.’ 

Still, to continue:

Do you care for a bowl of Doggie Munchies?’ Ludmilla asked kindly… Then she noticed again the slight limp, no doubt the result of that fight with the rival gang. “Maybe you would prefer a knee operation?’

Me: ‘Oh no, that was my imagination taking over. Ludmilla doesn’t make any such helpful suggestions. I just dozed off again. This book is a perfect cure for insomnia. I must read it every night. Probably most readers as bored as this would rate it with two stars, but I’ll give it two and a half stars, rounded up to three, if I can ever get to the end, that is…’

Being a writer myself, I am probably much more scrupulous about handing out low star ratings than many readers. As I have often said, I have to come across something like a story that suggests that wife beating is OK, or one that romanticizes rape to give a one star rating.

Still, I do think my nonsense above is probably more typical of how you react to a book that bores you than ranting. Far from becoming angry; you can hardly concentrate. You feel far too torpid to rush to write a review using capital letters and exclamation marks, let alone troubling to open a new account with a website to repeat what you’ve said.

I suspect that that particular reviewer and others who write that a book is BORING!!!!!!!, are in fact, more outraged than bored by it.

 Whatever it is that has disturbed them – it might be sexual content, a piece of religious heresy, or any other contentious matter – a comic fat character, perhaps – they prefer to insist that they were ‘bored’ rather than angry. After all, it sounds a lot more sophisticated – even a trifle Byronic – and it might put off more readers.  Also, that way, the reader avoids admitting that this book really had an impact on her or him.

Besides, as I pointed out to the writer, as that reader admitted she had to keep on skim reading to the end, that’s really good.  I personally regard anyone reading to the end of mine as a victory, even if they hate every word. If someone has to find out what happens, even if s/he detests the characters and the plot, then the author’s won her/him over into that fantasy world and got a grip on the imagination, and that’s just what any fiction writer wants.

Finally, until next time, here’ s an image of something to do with stars that brings everything into perspective….

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The Milky Way…

Next Post: Scathing Reviews Part Two: Those Unsympathetic Characters.

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Where Worlds Meet Out on Amazon

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Sophie looks alarmed; and with good reason; Emile has just led her into his own world outside time – and he doesn’t seem quite himself…

At last, ‘Where Worlds Meet’ is out on Amazon.com

here

And on Amazon.co.uk on

here

the prequel, ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ is here free  on Amazon  and on Smashwords here

You can also get ‘Ravensdale’, which also belongs to the same series, free on Smashwords here   and if you care to point out to Amazon that they should price match, they may make that free too:

On this cover, Sophie does look alarmed, in contrast to Émile’s swaggering and savage demeanour, and she has good reason, as he has just introduced her to his own sphere outside time, and doesn’t seem quite himself…

I did love writing this.

Well, I always love most of the writing part, but I particularly enjoyed  drawing back from the dead the half undead Kenrick and Arthur and describing the grotesque absurdities of his monster men. Also, I loved  writing about Émile Dubois and his cousin Reynaud Ravensdale working together as a team, and Reynaud’s Amazonian true love, his ex-comrade-in-arms Isabella,  as a foil to the spiritual Sophie.

When writing ‘Ravensdale’, about the adventures of Reynaud and his meeting with Isabella as a highwayman (that career seems a popular one in that family)  I was tempted to bring in Émile for them to live as outlaws together, but complications to do with Émile’s needing to be over in France at that time made it impossible.

One of the things I really enjoyed about writing this latest, was that one of the main driving points of the plot is a love affair between two characters from the servant class – Kenrick’s man Arthur, and the sultry Éloise, maid to Sophie (and once her rival for Émile’s attentions). In contradistinction to the traditions of so much historical gothic, it was interesting making the actions of a servant have strong consequences for good or evil.

There is a wicked siren in this – would it be  spoof Gothic without – the late Ceridwen Kenrick’s  own cousin (cousin’s abound in this), whose humanity has been compromised by both Ceridwen and Kenrick. She has her secret reasons for joining in Kenrick’s schemes; for Kenrick has still failed to find reunion with his beloved first wife, and as before, will stop at nothing to achieve his aims.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the practical but Tarot consulting Agnes – one of my favourite characters – back at their now home at Dubois Court in Buckinghamshire for this. I didn’t want to overwhelm the reader with competing assertive characters, and for that same reason, I had to give only a walk-on role to Mr Kit in this, and to keep Mrs Kit and Émile and Sophie’s adopted waif  Katarina offstage.

I suppose I am fairly typical in being very fond of my own characters, even such specimens as Kenrick.

What made me reflect on this was reading an excellent Indie novella, ‘The Carrot Man’ by Theo A Gerken which is unusual in having as its theme a sordid, petty struggle between two wholly inadmirable characters that has no serious consequences for anyone.

That is, of course, just about the opposite for the blurb for most books.

Perhaps that was what the author had in mind.  Certainly,  it works brilliantly: here  is the link to my review:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2219824577

The author thought I was a bit too hard on the protagonist, and I could have been more charitable about him  (I expect he was fond of him in the same way that I am fond of Kenrick).

Anyway, it makes a great read. Like all of the darkest comedy, it’s somehow cathartic.

It can be very hard to carry out that excellent bit of advice by James N Frey and to ‘follow through’ and deliver that bloody end, that unhappy ending, when it comes to writing an unhappy fate of a character to whom you have become attached (in a good way,  I mean, not as in ‘Alex Sager’s Demon’).

And that brings me to another book I relished recently, Mari Biella’s ‘Pietra and Other Horrors’.  This series of dark tales, like ‘Lord of the Flies’ is an exploration of the uneasy coexistence of the savage and amoral and the civilized, both in the external environment, and in the human heart and psyche.

Besides her elegance of style and vivid writing, I have always admired the way that this author never draws back from wreaking havoc to the lives of her characters when the plot requires it.  This is never easy to do.

The author brings a new approach to a series of classical themes of terror, the vampire, the zombie, the werewolf, the sea folk, and the traditional and malevolent spectre.

Here’s my review:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2219833247

Reverting to Arthur Conan Doyle, whom I mentioned in my last post, he seemingly could do it quite happily. He admitted to being utterly callous about the supposed death of Sherlock Holmes in  1893 in that fight to the death with Professor Moriarty by the Reichenbach Falls. Still, perhaps he resented his character for taking up so much of his time and attention.  He had to be offered – for those times – great sums of money to back his creation and write more Holmes’ stories.

He was equally callous about poor Watson’s wife, the Mary Morstan whom he meets in ‘The Sign of the Four’. As he wished to have Watson share the rooms at Baker Street with Holmes again, Mary Morstan had to be killed off with a pen stroke.

It must have been convenient for him to be so oblivious to his characters happiness. While I do not, like Dickens or George Eliot, shed tears over my characters’ fates if they are sad, they do give me a pang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas reading: ‘The Crown Derby Plate’ by Marjorie Bowen – An Excellent Classic Ghost Story as Comedy

 

 

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I wanted to add a post about a ghost story at Christmas. Well, I am about to read the new selection by Mari Biella, and expect to revel in those, but for now, which of the many to choose as a seasonal ghost story?

Readers of this blog over the last year or so will have endured my diatrabes on the  debilitating nature of an addiction to escapist romances and happy never after alternative views of history.  Fear not: this isn’t another…

I am in fact recomending – again, but now as Christmas reading – a  ghost story that is about as light as could be. It is also written from a wholly conventional perspective. The only eccentricity is that the protagonist is content to be that figure of horror and ridicule for previous generations,’The Old Maid’.  Still, as that was generally associated with comparative penury and economic dependence, perhaps the fact that she is a successful business woman – an unusual thing for the early twentieth century – has something to do with her contentment.

I think for sheer spooky humour,  ‘The Crown Derby Plate’ takes a lot of beating.

Marjory Bowen seems to have been an intriguing author. I was astonished to find out on Wickipedia that she wrote under six names:

‘Her total output numbers over 150 volumes with the bulk of her work under the ‘Bowen’ pseudonym. She also wrote under the names Joseph Shearing, George R. Preedy, John Winch, Robert Paye and Margaret Campbell. After The Viper of Milan (1906), she produced a steady stream of writings until the day of her death.Bowen’s work under her own name was primarily historical novels.’

To say that she came from a ‘difficult’ background would be an understatement. Her alcoholic father deserted the family, and was later found dead of drink on a London street. Her mother was seemingly a far from fond parent, and so she (Marjorie Bowen) was obliged to support the whole family by her writing for many years.  She was married twice – her fist husband died early, and both their children died in infancy. Her two children by her second husband survived, anyway…

From this, I had to be the more struck by the light, playful tone of ‘The Crown Derby Plate’. Although this is available on project Gutenberg and on Amazon as a Christmas story, the original publication date is not stated.

220px-ImariCI would guess, from the feel to it – and the fact that the heroine for her drive to the isolated house across the marshes uses as a matter of course, a pony and trap – that it was written no later than the 1920’s, before the car became common enough to have such a disastrous effect on our landscape (couldn’t possibly be an environmentalist, could I? But no ranting from me at Christmas)

It is not written as great literature, but as an effective ghost story which, unlike some of the others, is not intended to arouse deep emotion or raise questions. It could almost be used as an example of ‘How to write an entertaining ghost story with the use of humour and economy of style’.  It is set over the Christmas period, so was presumably written for some Christmas Annual or magazine for those days. Accordingly, the vocabulary is simple, and the tone is upbeat, even on such a topic as – for the women of the early twentieth century  a nightmare possibility  for themselves – the image of the Spinster Who Must Earn Her Keep:

‘Martha managed an antique shop of the better sort and worked extremely hard. She was, however, still full of zest for work or pleasure, though sixty years old, and looked backwards and forwards to a selection of delightful days.’

She is a collector of valuable china. Staying with her cousins in Essex for Christmas, she remembers that years ago she bought a set of Crown Derby plate from an auction at a local house, which unfortunately had one plate missing.

Her cousins remark that that house has a reputation for being haunted, its former owner, old Sir James Sewell, a collector of antique china, having been buried in the garden.

Martha Pym drives over to see if she can find out if the current owner, who she met and forgot two years ago, has found that missing plate.

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The description of the wintry scene is evocative:

‘Under the wintry sky, which looked as grey and hard as metal, the marshes stretched bleakly to the horizon; the olive brown broken reeds were harsh as scars on the saffron-tinted bogs, where the sluggish waters that rose so high in winter were filmed over with the first stillness of a frost.  The air was cold but not keen; everything was damp; faintest of mists blurred the black outlines of trees that rose stark from the ridges above the stagnant dykes…’

I quote that at length because so fine a word picture seems incongruous in such a light piece of writing. Marjorie Bowen obviously had exceptional talent, but wrote for the market, which often does not give much opportunity to show it to advantage.

‘The house sprang up suddenly on a knoll ringed with rotting trees, encompassed by an old brick wall…It was a square built, substantial house with “Nothing wrong with it but the situation,”  Miss Pym decided…She noticed at the far end of the garden, in the corner of the wall, a headstone showing above the colourless grass’.

The person who answers the door presents a startling appearance: ‘Her gross, flaccid figure was completely shapeless and she wore a badly cut, full dress of no colour at all, but stained with earth and damp from where Miss Pym supposed that she had been doing some futile gardening…another ridiculous touch about the poor old lady was her short hair.  (In that era, women were not expected to cut their hair at all).

An absurd conversation follows between Martha Pym and the owner:

‘“…I generally sit in the garden.”

“In the garden? But surely not in this weather?”

“You get used to the weather. You have no idea how used one gets to the weather.”

“I suppose so,” conceded Miss Pym doubtfully…’

Later on, the person whom Martha Pym assumes to be the last owner Miss Lefain informs her visitor that she frightens people away from the house:

‘”Frighten them away!” replied Martha Pym. “However do you do that?”

“It doesn’t seem difficult; people are so easily frightened, aren’t they?”

‘Miss Pym suddenly remembered that Hartleys had the reputation of being haunted – perhaps the queer old thing played on that. “I suppose you’ve never seen a ghost?” she asked pleasantly.  “I’d rather like to see one, you know –”.’

The reader doesn’t have a great talent for solving mysteries to begin to have suspicions about the house’s owner.

This is as excellent an example of the ghost story as light entertainment, as distinct from the ghost story which makes a profound impression and is written as literature, as in ‘The Wendigo’.  There is no particular moral to ‘The Crown Derby Plate’ – unless it is the very obvious one that if you are too attached to material objects, then your spirit will be unable to move on.

I am astonished by the output of some of these late nineteenth and early twentieth century authors. Even given that they wrote for a living, however did they manage to get so much writing done – particularly when this was in an era when most of it was done in longhand?

 

 

 

 

Conspiratorial Conversation Between That Scoundrel Émile Dubois and His Right Hand Man Georges

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I would like to apologise for this post appearing late. It was fine on the preview, and now I find that there was nothing there for three days! IT does NOT like me.

Émile Dubois: [lounging in his rich dressing robe] Georges, I have news of the most tiresome. And by-the- by, mon ami, we are not alone. We are surveyed – even as we speak, so be discreet.

Georges: [clenching his fists] Merde! Do you mean, them Bow Street Runners has finally guessed who Monsieur Gilles and his Gentlemen of the Road really was and is spying on us? The sneaking –!

Émile Dubois:  No, I do not think we need fear the forces of justice closing in upon us.

Georges: Never say that mad vampire inventor is back yet again! [Expresses himself even more coarsely.]

Émile Dubois:   I have yet to hear that happy news.  No, by news of the most tiresome, I mean that our biographer has delayed in recounting our further adventures, in favour of some story about some fellow in 1821.  No, when I say we are surveyed, we are followed in the form of what is known as a ‘web log post’. That is why we’re speaking English, with some French expressions thrown in.  That being so, limit your maledictions.

Georges: Merde! What’s maledictions?

Émile Dubois:  The low manner in which you and I normally converse, when we are alone, mon vieil ami.

Georges [bristling]  What does this fellow have, that we don’t?

And 1821? Le diable, by then we may well have gone to our final account. [uneasily] I hope Madame Sophie still prays for us every day?

Émile Dubois:  She prays for us every day, and twice on Sundays. It don’t seem to be doing a whole lot of good, though we try, après tout, and we ain’t ridden out to rob anybody since we met les femmes.  I am advised that highway robbery is out of fashion by 1821. You know how difficult it was become for us, with those toll gates and patrols.

Georges:  [reminiscently]  Monsieur Gilles, you said we must leave Southern England until the hue and cry had settled after that latest brush with the patrols, and we went to visit your cousin Lord Rhuddlan high on that mountain most isolated in the North of the Wales, I did not expect such adventure, or that we would meet such wilful women, eh? Vampires and time snags, and mad inventors.

Émile Dubois:  Vraiment, Georges.  Neither did I expect to meet in my aunt’s companion one Sophie de Courcy, the lost Anglaise I had encountered when I was living in Paris under the guise of Monsieur Gilles, robber chief.  Least of all did I expect her to have no memory of our meeting, because it was yet to happen for her through a journey back in time.

Georges:  And then, you were piqued, shall we say, at her attitude, and that sent you straight into the arms of that vampire siren, who changed you.  I know when to be discreet; I will not speak of the assignation in which she changed you/ You returned from that encounter most feverish, and (resentfully) spewed upon the most magnificent pair of boots I ever owned. I cut such a dash in them boots that respectable matrons approached me in the road.

Émile:  Tais toi, Georges! You have complained at my treatment those boots ever since. I weary of hearing about them.

Georges:  And then, my Agnes having decided against me, I sought diversion elsewhere also, so that it ended by that local girl biting me. Such sport as we had in our bloodlust!  I remember most vivid jumping out at Agnes from a cupboard, while you would chase your Sophie about the room. Au bon vieux temps, or as they would say in English, ‘the good old days’.

220px-Renoir23Émile: That is one way of putting it, Georges.  

Georges: It were a fine adventure [struts over to the mirror, and regards himself complacently as he rearranges his neckcloth]. I  don’t think our biographer emphasized  how fine looking a man I am. And then, there is the title of that romance: ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’.

Émile Dubois:  Are you outraged on behalf of two such morally upright characters as myself and yourself, Georges? It seems an accurate character depiction to me. You recollect those are the very words Lord Dale said, when he recognised me by my eyes when we held up his fine carriage. Perhaps our biographer laid little emphasis on your handsome looks for fear it might pain me.

Georges: Bien sûr, we did right to rob Monsigneur of his gains most ill gotten. He was a scoundrel himself, who stole from the poor to give to the rich. No, it ain’t that I mean. But why wasn’t it called, ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois And Handsome Georges Durrrand His Friend of the Most Gallant Renown ?’

Émile: Alors, you rascal, do you desire that more was recounted of your part in that adventure?

Georges:  No. I am a modest man, and I do not desire to seem boastful.

Medieval-Castles

Scene: The Dastardly Duke and the Spirited Heroine (in the role of governess) now take dinner together, in the great hall of his castle somewhere on the Yorkshire Moors. The great hall is, of course, full of sinister shadows cast by the flickering candles.  The Spirited Heroine does not, of course, occupy the chair at the foot of the table, which is drawn back invitingly.

DD:             Damn me!  This sinister flickering gets on my nerves of an evening. I  know I’m meant to be sinister and brooding, with surroundings to match, but I sometimes  wish electricity was invented (A warning jolt from the censor) – Ouch!  Apart from the censor giving me shocks for anachronisms, that is.

SH:             [The glow of her reddish hair, and the pearly tinge to her skin lit up by the candlelight]  Well, they use it for those grotesque experiments with galvanism, of course, where they bring a newly hanged criminal back to life.

DD:             What? If only I’d known – when – when…[Grimaces and hastily refills his glass of wine]. No matter.  Do I live, or do I grind out an existence of dust and ashes.  No smile of mine has illuminated this gloomy castle these ten years, because no smile of hers… No matter. What were we speaking of? [Savagely] And I don’t care if that’s ungrammatical.

SH:             [Kindly changing the subject, though burning with curiosity]      Your Grace, I am honoured that you stoop to eat with a hireling. Why, in my last post, I had to take my dinner from a tray served in the schoolroom. Still, at least I could read and eat. At least I could put my elbows on the table, and read.

DD:             [Savagely addressing the footman] The main course, you damned low born cur!

Footman:    [Aside] This is so demeaning, in front of one of my former  heroines. I was a fool to risk demotion in putting off  recalling her to my arms in our last, even if she was tiresome! The number of times  I’ve beaten this wretch with the flat of my sword when he was the villain!  Still, from the way he’s carrying on this time, he’ll soon be demoted again. [bows and clumps out].

SH:             [Aside]  Such savagery! I must get to the bottom of this    Intriguing Mystery surrounding the isolation of this wickedly handsome and embittered man. [aside]   Thank goodness I’ve got that line out with a straight face. Now it will be a plain sailing through the Gothic bits.

DD:             You may wonder at it, my good young lady. But I sometimes weary of my own company, and I saw you  were a female of spirit. I am surprised, almost sorry, to think of your charms wilting in a schoolroom, under   the care of tiresome brats.51Iw-60CWnL._SX218_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_

SH:             Really, Sir, surely you do not see your own daughters  in such a light?  I haven’t met my sweet pupils yet.

DD:             You won’t find them so. And why shouldn’t I see ‘em as brats? I care for nobody and nothing since the  death of my first wife. I didn’t give a hang for the     second.

SH:             You have been unlucky, Sir, twice widowed, and   yet still in your prime.

[Enter footman, lugging a heavy silver tray]

Footman:   I wish there was a service lift in this place – I know,      anachronism, Ouch!  [Sets down the dish on the table].  Do you wish me to carve, Your Grace?

DD:             No, get out of it.  I’ll serve us both. [Carves the joint     savagely. A sudden flash of lightning illuminates the chair  at the foot of the table, and in its light, a ghostly figure is visible there.]

SH:             [Continues to eat a moment, as if reluctant to leave  her dinner. Then drops her knife and fork]. My goodness,  I thought I saw –

DD:             [With set, ghastly look] Then you saw it too? Can I credit my eyes after all?

Footman:    [Coming back in]  And here’s the rest of the courses.

DD:             Curse you, fellow, I haven’t rang –  [He breaks off at another                    flash of lightning. Now the ghostly figure is clearly visible in the chair]  It is She!

SH:             Oh dear, there is never an uninterrupted meal in these Gothics.

Footman:      [To spectre, gabbling hysterically] Some nice beef, Your Grace?

Spectre:         Why not? [smiles round generally], then vanishes.

DD:                   She smiled so, on all…[quotes brokenly]    ‘Then smiles stopped altogether…’  Ouch! What was  that for, you cursed censor?

Footman:      Anachronism! Robert Browning’s poem ‘My Last Duchess’   was not written until 1840. This is 1812, and you’re not the  sixteenth century  Duke of Ferrara, who in the poem had his wife killed for arousing his insane jealousy,  you’re the Duke of Somewhere Made Up  in the Yokrshire Moors, and it is only rumoured that your beloved late wife died at your hands, though your mad possessiveness was legendery throughout the moors.

DD:                 Leave me,  you literary minded low born cur!

Footman:      Only too happy, you Miserable Murderer!

DD:                  You lie, you damned insolent dog! [Leaps up and chases him from the  dining hall. The sounds of a violent dispute and blows exchanged drift back through the open doors]120px-John-Pettie_Two-Strings-To-Her-Bow_1882

SH:             I’m glad he’s fighting back. He’s quite sweet, really. I much prefer him to this current hero.

[The spectre of the Duchess re-appears, smiling again]

SH:               Your Grace, you seem very friendly. Shall we have some  girl talk? [wearily] Yes, I know, anachronism…

Authors Note; The full text of Robert Browning’s fascinating and brilliant dramatic poem can be found on:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Last_Duchess

 

A Spoof Gothic Historical Romance Episode

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Now for some comic relief. Who’s for a Gothic historical romance, full of anachronisms (which the re-cycled characters know too well).

Scene: A castle in the wilds of Yorkshire, UK, on the moors.  Date – Regency

[ A darkly handsome and brooding man appears  at the bolt studded door holding a modern electric torch. Although it is October and there is a force eight gale blowing, he wears breeches but no shirt.]

Dastardly Duke:    Damn me! Where is the chit? She’s late.

[A footman appears. He, too, is dark and handsome. On seeing him, the Duke starts.]

Dastardly Duke:   Devil take me, not you!

Footman:     It ain’t my fault.  I’ve been demoted from being hero, see, for                  refusing to chase after the heroine after I packed her off,  so  there  wasn’t a Happy Ever After. The punishment was to be a wretched servant. So you’ve been promoted from Dashing Villain to hero? Well, in this story, there ain’t much difference. It’s not fair. I’m better looking than you, too.

Dastardly Duke: I can soon remedy that, you whoreson. I always hated your damned smug face and uneering aim with your flintlocks when you were the Earl of Darlington.  [Makes to seize him, but a sudden flash and jolt makes him drop the torch; the bulb goes out. He lets out a terrible oath] Ouch!

Footman:  [Addressing the sky) Is that the best he can do for foul
language? That’s the punishment for an anachronism in Historical Romances, Your Grace. New rules.

Dastardly Duke:   Go down to the wine cellar and fetch me some strong
liquor, curse you for a miserable, low born rogue.85px-Man's_coat_and_vest_with_metal-thread_embroidery_c._1800

Footman:  We’re out of tallow candles.

Dastardly Duke:  Then you’ll have to go down in the dark, and if you happen to slip in the dark and break your low born neck, what care I!

Footman:   Come to think of it, I don’t care either. The sooner I get to the end of this one, the better. Maybe by the next story, I’ll be allowed to be the Heroine’s Hopeless Admirer or her rakish brother instead of a mere commoner…[Goes off]

Dastardly Duke:  Do I hear horses hooves? Yes, it’s the Heroine
arriving at last. Hmm. I wonder who they’ve sent me? To tell the truth, ha, ha!
I’d like a voluptuous doormat by way of a change from these sharp tongued hoydenish redheads who’re the fashion these days. I haven’t had a Doormat Heroine in years, and that sort was such fun for a sadist like me. [Looks about almost nervously] Well, the term hasn’t been invented when this story’s set, even if old de Sade had been at it,  but I’m talking off camera, or microphone, as it were…And yes, I know they hadn’t been invented either.

[The Ducal carriage appears, accompanied by a roll of distant thunder. The Duke moves, with lithe, almost feline grace down the steps to hand down the heroine when the footman opens the door.]

Spirited Heroine:  Hello, there! Sorry, anachronism. Good morrow, Your Grace. I fear you must have interrupted your toilette, to be gracious enough to greet me, for you wear no shirt.Unless you’ve lost it from your back through desperate gambling.

Dastardly Duke: [ Sourly] No. I’m never gracious. That was just for the cover. Do you think I enjoy standing about half naked in this cursed climate? [Lets out another terrible oath as he takes a closer look at her.] Don’t say it is that awful six foot redhead with the smart repartee? Hell and damnation, it is.

Spirited Heroine:  Well, I can’t say I’m exactly ecstatic to see you, either. No matter; we’ll be falling in love before we are halfway through the book [here they are interrupted by one of the horses speaking before they are taken on to the stables].

Horse:  Can’t I have a foaming jug of ale?

Spirited Heroine  Lud!

Dastardly Duke;  &*^&&^(!!!!!!

Coachman:   He’s been doing that all the way from the coaching
house, Your Grace. It seems he was one of those
abusive heroes with the –ahem – I don’t like to say
in front of the young lady – ‘bruising kisses’ and
worse, back in the 1970’s, and so he’s been paying
his debt to the Romance Society ever since they went
out of fashion.120px-Ds_of_M

Spirited Heroine:  Is that so? [Rushes forward} The swine! Give me that whip!

Dastardly Duke:  [Catches her arm]  No, Miss Er, I can’t allow you to flog a dumb animal.

Horse:  We Alphas must stick together. Anyway, who’s a dumb animal? [Neighs piteously at a sudden flash and jolt] Ow! That hurt! That’s so unkind. Abusers need love, too…[The coachman cracks his whip and sets them off towards the stables].

Dastardly Duke:  Well, shall we get on with it? So, you are the new governess. I hope you won’t find it too lonely in this isolated spot, with only a grim widower for company, and a few retainers.

Spirited Heroine:   [Helping him on with his shirt] Not at all, Your Grace. I like the country. Besides, the handsome renumeration you offer, merely for the coaching of two small daughters …

[More distant thunder]

More Next Week…

Review of ‘Birdwoman; The Memoirs of A Lovesick Siren’ by Anne Carlisle

Armitage Siren.JPG

This is an outstandingly original story, which draws the reader in at once into the fascinating world of the siren. It’s exciting, well paced, funny, sad, outrageous and startlingly believable all at once. The writing is vivid, evocative, bawdy, witty and sometimes poetic.

I took at once to the heroine, Destiny, who is born, along with a twin brother of considerably less power – though with an equally strong will – to a mother who comes from a long heritage of sirens.

While Destiny is a siren, her brother is a demon. She loves him, though she knows too well that while she is motivated by a genuine desire for good – along with a fairly healthy ego, that is, and a strong sex drive, that is – Dustin is motivated by a will to destroy.

This evil in Dustin is made worse by the fact that he feels unloved –his mother is disappointed in him, for as a boy he shows no particular talents and an unappealing streak of malevolence – while she is justly proud of her daughter. Not only that, but the siren family has a secret enemy in a disinherited part demon who covertly strives to undermine them through his influence on the boy; and the bitter, rebellious Dustin, an under- achieving male in a dynasty of clever strong females, makes for an apt pupil.

Destined, as her name indicates, to be one of the strongest of the sirens of her family, the heroine is as strong and independent as befits a girl growing up in the early twentieth-first century; she is also both kind and family oriented. She is quite simply great hearted.

This is a heroine who, besides her occult powers, is lovely, an outstanding scholar, aided by her eidetic memory, a gifted musician, witty, sensual, cultured and morally aware – but never for one second does she come across as a ‘Mary Sue’. She faces all the feelings of angst, and loneliness and is as tormented by the family conflict by which she is surrounded as any human girl. Her older relatives scold her and take her for granted.

Worse, Destiny seems unable to find true love. She can have any man she likes – that is one of the powers of the siren – but there is a caveat: ‘as long as she likes him dead’.

Destiny dreads this generational curse; she knows that even her devout Grandmother, rebel against her sirenhood –has caused deaths; love, sex and reproduction for the siren must not be mixed: reproduction itself is hazardous, for a male siren is never strong and admirable.

When Destiny does find true love – after many hilarious sexual adventures – this problem becomes truly urgent for her.

Meanwhile, the story moves through the battle between the twins over the fate of the family’s property empire – is it to be used for good or evil? The tensions mount as the story moves to its inexorable climax of violence and sorrow.

Here are a few of my favourite quotes: –

‘ “Death has no impact on character. I’m still insanely jealous, although I’m no longer vain…”Well, at least the afterlife produced some degree of self-awareness.”’

‘Both evil and its antidote reside in the human heart. The best part is, the antidote can be presented as a gift’

‘I wish there was a book I could refer him to, with a title like ‘Emotional Intellgience for Paranormals’.

‘Grammie used to punish Mama with the silent treatment, and once an entire year had gone by without their speaking to each other…’

There are many more excellent quotes. I recommend this book to all fantasy lovers who want a strong heroine and love a laugh. I’m looking forward to the sequel.

https://www.amazon.com/Birdwoman-Memoirs-Lovesick-Siren-Diaries-ebook/dp/B01DB1CH2I/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1463078879&sr=1-1&keywords=birdwoman

Spoof Sequel to Wuthering Heights; Heathcliff, Huntingdon, and Gambling for Grassdale Manor

wuthering heightsSetting: Wuthering Heights, the dining room . The table is laid for three. Joseph clumps about in his heavy boots, slopping unappetising looking porridge into bowls.

Arthur: Silence, fellow! Last night’s excess has overwrought my steely nerves. I can no more take that appalling din, than I endure to eat any of this filthy slop. Make me some coffee and be quick about it. Milk indeed; are we infants?

Joseph: [only daring to speak to himself under his breath] Are things come to this, that I, fifty years in this house, mun take orders from such a nought? [Aloud] Maister Heathcliff, am I to endure this?

Heathcliff: [even more darkly brooding than usual  this morning] Quiet, or I’ll  kick you out. Make some coffee and I’ll have some too. Be quick about it, or i’ll use your good books to stoke the fire.

Jospeh: Ah, wicked furren ways. Hareton, lad, sup thy milk in blessed innocence.

Hareton: I’ll have some too. [Jospeh goes out, lamenting ]

[Some minutes pass in grim silence]

Hareton,[to Heathcliff Did I hear knocking last night?

Heathcliff: Tha’ did, lad. A lass knocked on the door, and I sent her away into the wind and the rain. You know what I always say: ‘Let the worms writhe, I have no mercy’.

Arthur: [to himself] Just the sort of quip to set the table on a roar; this fellow’s a social lion.

Hareton: Nay, it weren’t right, if it were a lassie.

Arthur: You’re right, young sir. I should have spoken up for the wench, plain-looking though she was, but I was a trifle elevated. Here’s that old Pharisee with the coffee at last

[Enter Joseph] They drank all the wine and brandy I keep for t’good of my health and my old bones last night, and now they’re at my coffee. Sinful. Someone knocks. Mayhap, the devil himself.

Heathcliff; Just so long as its no more trespassers from other novels.

thHareton: If it’s that poor lass Jane Eyre, let her in this time.

Huntingdon: Damn me, I can’t stand this biblical cant over breakfast, when I’ve got to surmount last night’s excesses. My wife was bad enough for that, but at least she had didn’t have a face like that. I’ve seen happier looking ghouls. Young sir, what’s the best way to Wildfell Hall?

Hareton: I’ll put you on your way, Mr Huntingdon.

[Joseph returns] Maister Heathcliff, there’s two boxes of books out there, wi’ fair shocking covers, wi’ wenches a-flaunting their bosoms in indecent low gowns, wi’ their cheeks and lips looking fair painted, and t’wind a blowin’ their skirts above their ankles, and you with your shirt off, and a snarlin’ like our house dogs, and all called ‘Wuthering Heights. T’shame of it! That folks should credit such things go on here!

Hareton [hurries out] I must see this!

Huntingdon: A shame I’ve seen no such fine wenches here. Why anyone would choose to write about this damned sorry place, is beyond me. Now I’ll take my leave. I thank you for your hospitality. I believe I lost tuppence over the cards last night? As a debt of honour, I must pay that. [throws down coin]63daa92b710561d87498049b891eb71b

Heathclif: [hurls his marked cards down on the table in a rage] And I was dreaming of getting my hands on that Grassdale Manor of yours!

Huntingdon: Never mind, at least you have some reading matter more agreeable than ‘Torments in the Pitt (Extended Edition,  with Lurid Illustrations by Hironymous Bosche)’ and ‘One Thousand Reflections for a Sinner’. [Exit]

Hieronymus Bosch - Hell 2