Tag Archives: Fiction

The Case of The Porterhouse Queen

The following is a story I wrote on WEbook.com a couple of years ago. It’s a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, fan-fiction if you would. It’s not very accurate in a historic sense, so take its claims with a pinch of salt. Just read and (hopefully) enjoy. Thank you.

 

“I think we’ve been rumbled, Holmes,” I said, casting a quick glance at my companion. We’d been sitting in the Stag’s Head near the south bank of the Liffey, the river that runs through Dublin, the principal city of the Irish Free State, for nearly seven hours. Holmes was nursing a brandy and port. I was drinking a Gold Label.

“Never fear, Watson. I daresay our stipend will cover another round. Would you do the honors?” Holmes did not look at me while he talked. Instead he was carefully examining a large oil painting that hung on the wall behind the serving counter. It was, I estimated, seven feet in length across and four feet down. It had been hung dead centre and was the only decoration the proprietor had deemed suitable for his premises. The rest of the public house was bereft of any such embellishment, save for the obvious and necessary gas-lighting.

“If I must. Are you staying with the brandy? I have to admit I’m not really taken with Irish whiskey and I don’t feel too comfortable asking for scotch.”

“Nonsense, Watson. The Irish and Scottish are linked in history. They are but one people divided by a sea. I would assume our good host would stock a fine range of malted, if you would but ask. In fact, ask for two Glenfiddich. That should brighten up his day.”

I went up to the counter. The proprietor was busy polishing a tray of stemmed champagne flutes. He was making quite a fuss of it too. I caught his eye and ordered for myself and Holmes. Indeed he did stock the bottle my friend had suggested and poured two generous measures. I paid the man and was on my way back to our table when he called me back.

“Your friend,” he said. “He seems very curious about my painting. He hasn’t taken his eyes off it since the two of you came in.” The proprietor, who was a stocky man in his mid-fifties, spoke with a Dublin brogue that was very rarely heard in London. His shaven head reflected the gas-light above him. “Is he a buyer or a seller?”

“Neither, I should imagine. He knows what he likes. He has a painting almost like that back home in his flat.”

“In London?”

“Yes. My accent gives it away.”

“Not just your accent, sir. I’ve been expecting you, Dr. Watson. Your good self and the gentleman with you, the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. I must say it’s quite an honor having you both in my establishment.”

I was stunned speechless, but managed to squeeze out a muted thanks.

“What’s wrong, Watson?” Holmes asked when I returned with our drinks. “You look like someone told you the Baskerville hound was outside waiting for us.”

“Holmes, this is no time for your attempt at humor. I told you we’d been rumbled. Our host has been expecting us. Why is that? And why is it that you don’t look in the least bit concerned?”

“Sit down, Watson, there’s a good chap. We’re in no immediate danger here. We’re on a mission for His Majest’y’s Government.”

I was perplexed to say the least. Holmes had once again neglected to tell me the full nature of our visit to Dublin. I was disappointed with my close friend’s behavour. I really didn’t think he was the same man when he came back from near death at the Reichenback Falls. Moriarty had perished that fateful day while trying to murder Holmes, and a part of me believed that Holmes was actually missing his insane nemesis.

“Do you care to explain more?” I asked. “He knows who we are. He even referred to you as the ‘famous detective’.”

“My brother Mycroft believes there is something hidden somewhere in that painting. Something of national importance to both British and Irish govenments. I can’t tell you as yet.”

“Holmes, I thought you had retired from all that. I haven’t written of your adventures for over ten years now. Your loyal followers are convinced you’ve died again. Even the Baker Street Irregulars have grown up and gone into banking.”

“A reference from Sherlock Holmes is worth its weight in gold, Watson. Children have to be allowed to leave and pursue careers. I’ve been following Lestrade’s progress. He’s still a pompous ass, but he’s made considerable progress up the ladder in Scotland Yard. He’s an Assistant Chief Constable now. What are you smiling at?”

“Lestrade being a pompous ass. I wonder sometimes from whom he learned that particular trait. It most certainly wasn’t from me.”

“Careful, Watson. I may just leave you here in this den of iniquity.”

At this point a group of travelers came through the door. There were ten of them. They congregated at the serving counter. The landlord busied himself serving them porter from a barrel he kept out of sight. It was jet black with a thin head of creamy foam. All ten had the same in large tankards. I turned my attention back to Holmes.

“I won’t have you keep me in the dark. Why is that painting so damn important? It’s just a steamer.”

“Not just any old steamer, Watson. It’s ‘The Porterhouse Queen’. It was being built in Belfast around the same time as the ‘RMS Titanic’. It made only one journey, but fortunately didn’t meet with the same fate as her more illustrious elder sister. She lies idle in Southampton however. Her owners can’t find anyone to take her out again.”

“The ‘Titanic’ sunk 25 years ago, Holmes. I’m still not seeing any connection.”

“The two ships are not why we’re here, Watson.”

“Come on Holmes. Out with it.” I was starting to lose patience with my companion.

“Do you see our fellow travelers?” he said, meaning the group that had just come in. They were enjoying a lively discussion and I noticed that one particular gentleman was paying close attention to Holmes and myself. He was quite tall, over six foot, thin but athletic. He wore a small pair of round spectacles, resting at the top of a nose that could only be described as Roman. Caesar would have been proud of it.

“Have a look at the tray with the champagne flutes, Watson. How many glasses do you see?”

I counted them from where I was sitting. “A dozen,” I said.

“There are ten of them, are there not?”

I thought for a moment. “And two of us.”

“Correct, Watson. That’s the first piece of the puzzle.”

“What’s the next?”

“The gentleman looking over at us is the next piece. His name is Eamon de Valera.”

“De Valera? Isn’t he………?”

“The President of the Irish Free State? Yes, he is. He is also the man we have come to see. The man Mycroft wants to do business with. He owns the painting. The landlord is minding it for him.”

Holmes raised his hand to de Valera. The President lifted his glass of porter in salute to Holmes and myself. He turned around to his own companions, spoke with them for a bit and then beckoned us over to join him.

Holmes was first to greet him. “Mr. de Valera, it is an honor for me to represent my King and government on this historic day.”

“Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, the pleasure is all mine. You’ve been a bit quiet of late. Have you retired?”

“For all intents and purposes, yes. Occasionally I take up smaller cases to alleviate the boredom I sometimes feel. Isn’t that correct, Watson?”

“Yes, but you never take me along on these so-called ‘smaller cases’.”

“Inconsequential matters, Watson. Today, though, is a different matter. I’m sure the President would agree.”

“Mr. Holmes,” said de Valera, ‘your brother gave me some assurances that this matter would be dealt with today. Am I correct in that assumption?”

“I would need to closely examine the painting to be sure. But if all is in order, the agreement stands.”

“What agreement, Holmes?” I was completely at a loss to explain to myself what was going on.

“All in good time, Watson. Landlord, if you could help me with the painting please.” Holmes and the landlord stood on either side of the painting and removed it carefully from its position. They laid it face down on the cobbled floor. Holmes took a swiss army knife from his coat pocket and, in small deliberate motions, removed the painting from its frame.

When that job was completed, de Valera crouched down beside Holmes. “Take away the backing board. You’ll find what you require beneath it.” This Holmes did.

Underneath were four sheets of paper, slightly yellowing in colour. There was writing on them, as well as diagrams and maps. Holmes put on a pair of black leather gloves that he had retrieved from another of his pockets. He gently lifted up one of the sheets.

“These are written in German, Watson. On them are plans for the invasion of Europe. Hitler intends to take control over Poland, the Netherlands, France and, finally, Great Britain. Can you vouch for their authenticity, Mr de Valera?”

The Irish President smiled. “I’ve had my spies in Germany since we became a state. We worked closely with your government, but had to keep it quiet. As you’d imagine, there is still a lot of hostility between our two countries. There would have been uproar in parliament if word got out. My IRA lads were thorough. The plans are real. Your brother will prove that.”

“I’ve no doubt he will. His office has been keeping a very watchful eye over Hitler and his Nazi party. He thinks, and knows, that a war is coming. Churchill believes him. Chamberlain doesn’t.”

“Chamberlain is a fool,” de Valera said with added malice. “He thinks he can shake hands with that dictator and everything will go away.”

“The Prime Minister is misguided. Churchill will take his place if and when war comes.”

“It’ll come. I can bet my country’s independence on it.”

Holmes folded the sheets of paper and tucked them safely into an inside pocket. “There’s a boat waiting for us at Dun Laoighre harbour. I trust you can provide transport?”

“Already arranged, but first……”

“Ah yes, there is something else. One last thing.”

Holmes had many pockets in his coat. From another one he produced an envelope. With surprise I noted the Royal Seal. King George had written whatever was inside. I had remained silent throughout, but now I couldn’t contain myself.

“Holmes, what in God’s name is going on here?”

It was de Valera who answered.

“My spies found plans that Hitler plans to invade Europe and launch an attack from France onto mainland Britain. My government and yours, without the knowledge of Prime Minister Chamberlain, came to an agreement. We would hand over the plans and, in return, would be allowed to remain neutral should war break out.

“We are a new state, recovering from our own civil war. We can barely afford to be involved in another, more far-reaching one. Your king agreed, in principle, providing the plans were genuine. I believe they are. This letter, which Mr. Holmes holds in his hand, is as important to this country as the Proclamation of Independence was twenty one years ago.

“We will help out if we can, but we won’t be forced into doing so. That goes for both sides. Hitler’s Germany won’t be welcomed here either.”

Holmes passed the letter over to de Valera. The Irishman broke the seal and read its contents. When he was finished he nodded. “This calls for champagne. Harry, I really hope you remembered to chill the Dom Perignon.”

“It would be more than my life’s worth if I didn’t, Eamon.”

De Valera smiled. “Harry and I go back a long time. If anyone else were to call me Eamon, I’d do them an injury. Come gentlemen, join my friends and I for a toast to our sucess.”

We were handed our glasses. We raised them in salute to God, King, Ireland, Great Britain and, above all, peace in our time.

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Write Here, Write Now: The Importance of Imagination.

It’s not enough to say you’re a writer; you must have something to show for it, some kind of proof. Whether they’re lines from a poem you wrote when you were four, or outlines for the next Great Irish/American/British Novel, a writer, fledgling or otherwise, will have something written down. Somewhere.

I was tidying out my bedroom the other week when I came across a hand-written manuscript dating back at least ten years. Three things surprised me. First, my handwriting is terrible. I can read the parts where I wrote when I was sober. I can’t read the parts where there was drink taken. You see, I wrote most of it in my local pub. I sat at the counter and drank while writing the book that would make my fortune. I was the source of much amusement to other customers, as well as the owner of the establishment.

The second thing that surprised me is the way the story made sense, in a surreal nonsensical kind of way. Each paragraph, each chapter contained scenes and dialogue that to this day fills me with a certain amount of pride. It had Beatles lyrics sprinkled about the place; it had spectral observers; it had angst and unrequited love – all in 27 drunken pages. Stephen King had nothing on me.

The third thing that surprised me is that I wanted to know where the writer was going with his story. Namely, where did I want to go with it? Was there an endgame? Would the story be worth pursuing? Was it important enough to me to continue?

And that, for me, is the crux of matter. When I was young, I read comic books – as I’m sure most of us did to some degree – but I would copy the story into a notebook, using the pictures and speech bubbles as prompts. I “wrote” Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog stories from 2000AD. I used Captain Kirk and Mr Spock as templates for new adventures set in other universes. In other words, I used my imagination. It was important for me then, and I guess it’s important for me now.

I don’t drink any more, but I now work in the pub where I started my then magnum opus. I may go back to it one day…when I have the nerve to do so.

 

 

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 4. On Unread Books

I have a substantial library of books, covering most genres with the possible exception of cookery. There are romances, sci-fi and fantasy, crime and mystery thrillers, young adult, autobiography, classics and philosophy tomes.

When anyone sees it, the question most if not all of them ask is, “How many of these have you read?” For me, that’s the wrong question, and I’ll tell you why. Once you’ve read a book you’ve already tapped into its knowledge it. You know it. But think about what you don’t know, the untapped knowledge that awaits you in those unread books.

It’s exciting, isn’t it?

NaNoWriMo 2010: Preparation Update

There are seven more days to go before the madness known as National Novel Writing Month begins. That means there is exactly one week to get that outline fine-tuned, those characters fleshed out and your plot in working order.

So, no pressure there.

As I mentioned previously, I didn’t fully commit to last year’s competition because of lack of preparation. I felt I could write on the fly and see what happened. Well, not getting further than 12,000 words is what happened. This year I have promised myself (and others) not to fail. I cannot allow this to happen. Barring natural disasters or circumstances completely beyond my control, I will write a minimum of 1,700 words a day, every day for the month of November.

This time I’m prepared. My story has been in my head for nearly a month and now my outline suggests I’m good to go. I have – unlike last year – a beginning, a middle and an end. I have my characters named and their motivations worked out.

The Main Players

Tim “Bucktooth” Fanning: 22, five nine, 160 pounds, round face with close-cut blonde hair. He likes wearing hooded tops and denim jeans, sports an earring in his left lobe, and has tattoos on each shoulder; one supporting Manchester United, the other Celtic FC. He has blue eyes, is state educated and is angry – a lot. His parents are Robert and Marie and he lives in an inner city Dublin housing estate. Single and unemployed, he likes soccer, GAA kick-boxing and WWF. His best friend in the world is Lester Drumm and together they go to rock concerts; though Bucktooth’s secret passion is the music of Leonard Cohen.

At the beginning of the story he’s looking for some work to pay for anger management therapy, and that’s where the plot kicks off. If I say anymore I’ll be in danger of spoiling how he progresses through the novel. Needless to say he changes – but not too much that it becomes ridiculous.

Valerie D’estang is a 20-year-old Parisienne and becomes Tim’s kind of love interest. She meets him while having her photograph taken at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. This will be my novel’s first major set-piece. It will involve her father, Nikolas, a journalist with AFP, who’s also in league with the major villains of Bucktooth, the clandestine organisation known as FILTH, controlled by the mysterious Mr. Sandross.

Tracking Tim’s every move, unwilling to help when he runs into trouble, is the equally shadowy MeerLin Corporation, a philanthropic organisation with headquarters in Dublin. Are they a force for good or evil, or are they somewhere in between?

Supporting Cast

Charles Formly: CEO, MeerLin Corporation.

Frank Lord: Chief of Ops, MeerLin Corporation.

Deandra Rimes, Security Chief, MeerLin Corporation.

Dicky Boyes, Press Officer, Meerlin Corporation.

Mr. Sandross, CEO, FILTH.

Dieter Hassberger, Security Chief, FILTH.

Frau Kessler, Mr. Sandross’ Personal Assistant.

Georges Matelot, UN Representative, Geneva.

Various goons, minions and henchmen.

The Locations

Dublin – Berlin – Athens – Geneva – Paris – London – Dublin (again)

The Plot

It involves a powerful historical artifact, a group of Neo-Nazis, some Chinese assassins, a little bit of sight-seeing, fights in airport lounges and a man who may or may not know who killed Pope John Paul I in 1978.

I have this and much more besides, ready to go for this day week.

How is your own preparation going?

Steampunk’d

The Affinity Bridge, by George Mann

I’ve just finished reading my first Steampunk novel. It’s called The Affinity Bridge, and it’s written by an English writer called George Mann. It’s the first in a series of books featuring Sir Maurice Newbury and Veronica Hobbes, and it’s a thumping good read.

The setting is Victorian London, at the turn on the 20th century – but it’s not the London historians would be familiar with. It’s the age of Steampunk: a sub-genre of science, speculative and fantasy fiction that combines alternate realities with modern-day technology. Whereas “proper” Victorian London was all gas-light and horse-drawn carriages, Steampunk London adds automatons, airships, a daring sense of fashion and a hint of the Dark Arts to the mix.

The forerunner of Steampunk is believed to be Jules Verne with his 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. The term itself was coined, it seems, by writer K.W. Jeter, who was looking for a way to describe his own writing. Steampunk became mainstream with the release of the graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, created by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill. You may remember the disappointing movie adaptation rather than the novel, but the elements are the same: technology at a time that historically wasn’t ready for it. (The less said about the Will Smith movie, The Wild Wild West, the better.)

image c/o brassgoggles.co.uk

It’s a unique genre; well, unique to me, at any rate. So much so that when I was reading Mann’s book, I couldn’t help but envisage Dublin from a similar angle. I began asking myself questions. What would Steampunk Dublin look like? What would its citizens wear? And what kind of adventures would they have? By the look and sound of what Mann and other Steampunk writers have done, absolutely anything could happen.

Imagine the relationship between Ireland and England in a Steampunk setting. I already have an idea about what I might do. I already have a working title for it, too.

It’s going to be called Minus Ten. You read it here first.

Song of Susannah

The Dark Tower Vol. VI: Song of Susannah

It was late last night (or early this morning, actually) when I put down Wolves of the Calla, the fifth volume of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I have to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from this book. On first glance it appeared to be “filler” material, a sub-plot taken to its extreme, a ploy to get another book squeezed in there somewhere. My initial impression was that this was a needless side-step from the quest: The Magnificent Seven meets Little House on the Prairie. As usual, I was wrong.

Not only is this volume necessary to the ongoing plot of the series, when you take into account character arcs and development, it’s also a rip-roaring adventure story. The Gunslingers ride into town and save the local townsfolk from marauders. Cue Elmer Bernstein’s theme tune. But it is so much more than that.

As a friend recently pointed out, Wolves is stuffed to the gills with pop-culture references. Vampires are all the rage at the moment, but we tend to forget where they came from. Stephen King’s second novel, Salem’s Lot, was among the first to put a modern spin on them. He made them terrifying again. One of his characters from that novel, Father Donald Callahan, is a major character in Wolves, and to be honest with you, I wasn’t really sure if that was going to work. Too much postmodernist play-acting. A writer losing control of his focus. Those thoughts were prevalent in my initial reading of Wolves.

Doctor Doom on horseback.

But it all makes wonderful sense. Of course it does – it’s Stephen King, after all. This is his universe; these are his creations. If the author can’t play around with his own characters, who can?

Once again, I’m not going to spoil what happens for those of you who haven’t read the series. You have to experience it for yourself. The one thing I will say is, I got this book. I took every idea, every concept that King created and went with it. It’s a journey I’m very much enjoying. So much so that when I finished Wolves, I immediately headed straight to Song of Susannah. If any of you out there have all seven books, ready and waiting, that’s how I suggest you do it: read one after the other.

How in the hell did his readers wait all that time to finish the series? I know I couldn’t have coped.