humour

The Curious Monk

Hot on the heels of the success of The Box Under The Bed horror anthology, the team are putting together a follow-up collection of unlikely tales, this time in the genre of humour. Here is a teaser of my contribution, The Curious Monk

Curiosity killed the cat, or so they say. What cat? Why a cat? Were any dogs ever seriously injured by curiosity? Could curiosity maim a fish?

This rather eclectic train of thought belonged to Barnaby, a middle-aged monk, as he hoisted his ample frame over the unforgiving stone monastery walls of the Blind Brotherhood of St Bastian, his home since he was a small boy. Barnaby had scant memory of his parents, save for that they were devoted to the Lord and fashioned themselves as 12th day Advent Hoppists. It was a curious religion, rising from the fact that their bible had a misprint. It taught of ‘faith, hop and charity; and the greatest of these is hop’. Every Sunday was spent hopping around the parlour with great vigour, singing joyful songs and trying not to stub a toe.

Their furious hopping must have paid off as the good Lord saw fit to take them in his arms soon afterwards, leaving the little Barnaby alone in the world, until one day a benevolent member of the Brotherhood came across him weeping in the woods and took him in. The Brotherhood was so named not because they were blind in the literal sense, but because they endured an elective blindness of the outside world and its nefarious ways, so that they would not be tempted from their righteous path. They were good men and kind, but life was monotonous and dry, and Barnaby had something of the spirit of adventure in his bones.

THUD.

Barnaby exhaled a small groan as he hit the ground on the opposite side of the wall. His arms had grown strong through hard labour, but his belly was large from a hearty diet and need to eschew vanity. The Brotherhood had warned that there may be nuns nearby and the strapping physique of a man might agitate their baser instincts. It would not do to agitate a nun.

Tumbling a few feet on the mossy earth, Barnaby came to rest beneath a bushel. He stopped to catch his breath and glimpse the rolling twilight above, gently chasing sunset from the sky. As the first stars of the evening began to wink at him, he cast his mind back to that rare excursion to the local market, several weeks previous. Accompanied by one of the elders, Barnaby had been tasked with procuring garlic, the Brotherhood’s crop having been ravaged by weevils. The visit was short but in that brief time he heard wonderful tales woven among the chatter and bartering of the market. Tales of far away places, strange creatures and, most pertinently, wine, women and song. Barnaby like the sound of these enormously.

And so it was that he decided to escape the monastery for one night, to learn what he could about these curious entities. He had noted a tavern on one side of the market square and supposed that this was a good place to start. Scrabbling to his feet, he set off at a pace along the winding path that led down into the village.

Bereft of the hustle and bustle of commerce, the market square was eerie by night. But across the way the tavern blazed with light and laughter, the walls almost straining to contain the merriment within, leaking tantalising zephyrs of jocularity through the door and window frames. Barnaby thought to himself that surely here all of life could be found and his curiosities would be satisfied. A jaunty sign hung above the entrance, declaring the establishment to be named The Pickled Pig. Pushing open the door, several sets of eyes observed Barnaby’s arrival, followed swiftly by swirling whispers and, finally, an uneasy hush.

Stepping over the threshold, Barnaby gasped. Taking in the scene with a sweeping gaze he saw skins of every age and hue, apparel of unimagined types and, in the case of some of the ladies, apparel that was barely there at all. The air was heavy with a kind of smokey stickiness and now the only sound was of the Bar Tender’s cloth squeaking around an already clean glass.

“Good evening, Brother,” said the Bar Tender, clearing his throat. “What can we do for you?”

Barnaby drew himself up to his full height, which was fairly considerable.

“I have come here this night out of curiosity,” he began. “Nearly all my life I have lived in the monastery and have grown wise in the ways of the Lord and many other things. But I have an inkling that there is more to life and now these things I also wish to know. More specifically, about wine, women and song.”

Some eyebrows raised, some glances exchanged. Someone at the back asked him to speak up. The Bar Tender shrugged.

“Well, you’ve come to the right place,” he replied. “But first, if we are to share with you our expert knowledge on such things, you must give us something in return.”

“I am a humble monk with nothing in the way of material goods,” said Barnaby, his ragged robes tied at what was once his waist with mangey rope a testament to this.

“Alright. Then you must tell us all the secret of how to get into Heaven.”

Barnaby thought hard for a moment before making his reply.

“The Good Book teaches how to get to heaven and every Sunday your priest will tell the same.”

“We’re not big on readin’,” snapped a crow-faced old man from his barstool, grizzled features twisted into a grin. “An’ church ‘appens very early in the mornin’. Give us the abridged version and we’ll teach you the ways o’ the world.”

Barnaby thought again.

“Well, I suppose there is one notable element that is often overlooked in traditional teachings that is imperative to getting into Heaven,” he replied, slowly. “If you teach me the things I want to know, I will tell it to you.”

Bargain struck, Barnaby took his place at the bar and the patrons gathered round, eyes shining and limbs fidgeting.

“Let us begin with wine,” suggested Barnaby.

To find out what Barnaby learns about wine, women and song you will have to buy the book! I don’t know when it’s out – or even what it’s called – but rest assured I will be plugging it shamelessly once I do!

 

In the meantime, why not enjoy a trip to Old College?

AMAZON UK

AMAZON US

I’ll Be The Judge Of That!

Quite literally, I will. I have the honour of being a judge in the humour section of the Flash Fiction Rodeo Competition over at Carrot Ranch Literary Community. There are cash prizes, apparently. Follow the link for the details, I have to admit to being a bit sketchy on the finer points. Some far better fellows than I have done all the organising, my contribution amounts to ‘send me some stuff and I will tell you what I like best.’

If you have never tried writing humour before, now could be the time to give it a go. The phrase ‘Many a true word is spoken in jest’ is absolutely spot on. Humour is a marvellous device for imparting uncomfortable truths and tackling tricky subjects with a light, easier touch than straight drama. Whilst there is a fine line between this and being trivial, laughter is a strong emotional reaction and invoking reaction in readers is the aim of any writer. The process for provoking either laughter or tears is pretty much the same; getting to the very root of what it is to be human and holding up a mirror for the audience to see it in themselves. Tragedy and comedy are interchangeable, depending on your point of view.

Perhaps the easiest form of comedy to write is parody – providing you know your subject matter well enough. In real life, humour arises naturally from everyday situations and parody is the perfect vehicle for this. It does require a wry sense of observation and knack for characterisation, but other than that, it just sort of writes itself.

Venturing into the world of the absurd can provide fertile ground for humour. Ordinary things in extraordinary circumstances is a common theme, although I like it the other way around far better. Who doesn’t a witty character sharing their observations of the world around them, or a perfectly dull protagonist trying to make sense of the bizarre? Use the characters, their scenarios and dialogue to full advantage. Be careful not to confuse humour with nonsense. Nonsense has a well-earned place in literature, but it isn’t always funny.

Talking of things that aren’t funny, I would avoid too much slap-stick and physical humour when writing prose, if I were you. It often just doesn’t come across well on the page. Humour, like anything, is subjective, so keep that in mind. I like a good fart joke as much as the next man, but a torrent (maybe not the best word) of bodily functions is going to get cringe-worthy quite quickly. Biting satirical wit is most welcome, unnecessary nastiness is not. Like sarcasm, this shows a woeful lack of depth and creative intelligence.  If you find yourself resorting to clichés, you are on the wrong track.

Most of all, don’t force it. There is nothing quite so un-funny as someone trying to be funny.

No Sex Please, We’re British

The world of PorterGirl is famous for its stiff upper lip but there is a distinct lack of stiffness of a more salubrious nature and one would be forgiven for thinking that everyone at Old College is dead from the waist down. That’s not to say that there aren’t amorous stirrings among the academic elite and their contemporaries, so let us take a moment to learn a little more about the Lotharios of The City’s most notorious seat of learning…

Head Porter

An unlikely romantic lead, certainly, but our own dear Head Porter occasionally finds himself the object of the affections of tourists and visitors to Old College. In First Lady of the Keys we learn that he has an estranged daughter from a previous failed marriage, the details of which remain a mystery. In the forthcoming adventure, Sinister Dexter, Head Porter explores the potential of his improbable appeal to the opposite sex, landing him in perilous circumstances with some very unsavoury characters.

Professor Horatio Fox

The dashing American is the twinkly-eyed charmer who catches the eye of Deputy Head Porter the moment he sets foot in Old College. His wit is almost as sharp as his suit and his fedora and irrepressible sense of adventure make him irresistible to our bowler-hatted heroine. Although no physical manifestation of desire is ever realised, it’s clear he is quite taken with her also and Deputy Head Porter finally reveals the extent of her devotion by asking him to call her by her actual name. Such a flagrant diversion from convention says more than the removal of clothing ever can.

The Dean

When one thinks of The Dean, flirtations are not the first thing that springs to mind. However, in The Vanishing Lord, he declares himself the undisputed Best Looking Chap In College – a fact that remains undisputed, but perhaps because dispute with The Dean is generally believed to be bad for the health of all concerned. He embarked upon a fake affair with Deputy Head Porter and there is also a question mark over one night spent drinking in his rooms with her. She was too drunk to remember the details and he is too much of a gentleman to elaborate, but there is suggestion that perhaps an ill-advised liaison took place. The chances are, we will never know for sure – and perhaps that is for the best.

Hugh from The Unlikely Law Association

Hugh is the mild-mannered rake in The Vanishing Lord, what he lacks in brains he more than makes up for in charm. Although Deputy Head Porter has no untoward intentions towards him, she is very admiring of several of his physical attributes – including a very sturdy set of thighs that are occasionally revealed by small blue running shorts, and a fine pair of forearms that particularly catch her eye. His golden good looks do not go unnoticed by other members of College, with both Head Porter and The Dean expressing thinly-veiled jealousy of the dim-witted Adonis.

Porter

You would think that a greying, grumpy old man with an obstreperous moustache would be the last person to embark upon passionate endeavours, but to the great surprise of everyone he is the most successful of the Old College Romeos. A blossoming romance with Detective Sergeant Kirby emerged during the case of the missing painting in The Vanishing Lord and shows no signs of abating. No doubt The Dean disapproves of this fraternisation, but Head Porter and Deputy Head Porter are quietly pleased for their curmudgeony colleague.

Humphrey Babthorp

The original Old College Porter, whose handwritten diary is discovered by Deputy Head Porter in The Vanishing Lord. It seems that in 1448, Old College was a veritable hotbed of romantic interludes and Humphrey describes in some detail the illicit romps he enjoyed in the kitchens with a very obliging maid. Deputy Head Porter will never look at bacon in quite the same way again.

And there’s more…

Third PorterGirl novel Sinister Dexter brings further opportunities for repressed hanky-panky and with it some new academic playboys…

Hershel

The wayward student from First Lady of the Keys returns for the new term with a heart swollen with desire for his fellow student, the prim and proper Penelope. He finds an eager confidante in Deputy Head Porter, who does her best to smooth the path of true love. The mood is somewhat dampened by a spate of unusual deaths, but I doubt that will stand in the way of a red-blooded young man with one thing on his mind.

Professor Palmer

A new academic year brings a new arrival – the internationally renowned economist and notorious ladies’ man Professor Palmer. Tall, suave and self-assured, the Professor has his eye set firmly on The Dean’s job… and anything vaguely female with a pulse. Even the unassailable Head of Housekeeping finds herself weakening at the knees, but will he add Deputy Head Porter to his ever-growing list of conquests?

Detective Chief Inspector Thompson

Not a Lothario, exactly, rather an unimpressed observer. With even members of his own staff under the influence of Cupid’s arrow, he is horrified that the mounting body count at both Old College and fierce rivals Hawkins is secondary to the complex personal scenarios of the academic elite. Which, as a University man himself, really shouldn’t come as so much of a surprise.

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UK Edition                                                                UK Edition

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