Sinister Dexter – The Dean Discovers A Thing

An excerpt from the forthcoming PorterGirl novel, Sinister Dexter, where The Dean is delighted to share with Deputy Head Porter the results of his haphazard investigations…

The rooms of The Dean are in their usual of state of familiar chaos; the elderly red leather settee groaning under an avalanche of books and folders, shelves stacked high with miscellaneous items with no discernible arrangement or order and, of course, the well-worn rug in the middle of the floor, its threadbare centre testament to The Dean’s favoured pastime of pacing. The Dean paces when he is thinking, when he is furious, when he is in good humour (a rare one, this) and at any other time he isn’t physically nailed down somewhere. Except when he is drinking, another preferred pastime that has the apparent importance of being secondary only the breathing. It is most odd that, although I have seen The Dean drinking on endless occasions, I have never once seen him drunk. There was an occasion, during the summer, when I foolishly accepted an invitation to drink with The Dean and I awoke the next morning on his red leather settee with a pounding head and absolutely no recollection of the previous evening. It soon became clear that I had revealed something of note to him, but he has never repeated it and I am too embarrassed to ask. It has given our relationship an unexpected quirk that I could probably live without.

There is something remarkably different about The Dean’s rooms today, however. His beloved tropical fish tank has acquired a jaunty miniature castle and the colourful little finned fellows within seem rather pleased with it. I also spot several very tasteful paintings on the walls and his high-backed leather ‘drinking’ chair has a purple crushed velvet throw draped over it. It isn’t like The Dean to trouble himself with interior design so I wonder who could have been responsible? There doesn’t seem to be a sensible way of broaching the subject without appearing nosy, so I plump for an insensible one. Hauling the purple throw around my shoulders like a cape, I strike a superhero pose.

“I like this, Sir,” I announce. “Very swish.”

“You like it? Take it. Have it. Get it out of here. I hate it.” The Dean waves his arms dramatically, as is his wont. “My sister has been interfering. It’s her way of trying to thank me but it’s just buggering about and interfering. Mind you, the fish like their new castle very much, as I’m sure you can see.”

“Indeed I can, Sir,” I nod approvingly. “I’m sure your sister had the best of intentions, Sir.”

It would be rude to ask why she felt the need to thank him, but luckily The Dean tells me all about it anyway.

“My young nephew got himself into a bit of a pickle at school,” The Dean explains, with some vigour. “Not his fault, you understand, the school are clearly idiots. His teacher said that he was too clever for his own good, which I fail to see how such a thing can even be possible, given that there is no such thing as being too clever. If everyone were as clever as me, Deputy Head Porter, the world would be a very different place, I tell you.”

It would be a very frightening place indeed, I imagine. The Dean’s particular brand of intellect is not for the faint hearted. But anyway. He seems to be enjoying himself and is pacing with gusto, now. The Dean continues.

“Preparations for the school nativity play are underway and all the children were to be assigned a role. My nephew, being a forward sort of a fellow, suggested that he might be all three of the wise men, due to his inarguably superior intellect. Far too bright to be just one wise man, that would be a veritable insult. Three wise men is more like it. Very reasonable, you might think! The blasted school, however, took a very different view.”

“Shocking, Sir.” I’m beginning to sense a familiar family trait, here.

“Shocking, yes! The buggers. They thought they could make amends by offering him the role of Joseph. The bloody cheek!”

“What a cheek, Sir.”

“As my nephew quite rightly pointed out, there might be some chaps about the place who would be quite happy to be the husband of a woman carrying a baby that wasn’t even his, but that chap certainly isn’t him! My nephew flat out refused to play a cuckold, even if the man cuckolding him is The Almighty.”

Obviously refusing to play second fiddle to God runs in the family.

“And so his teacher – ridiculous woman – starting crying or some such nonsense, my nephew was suspended with immediate effect, stern letters were sent home and my sister was at a loss. What could I do but pop along there and show them the error of their ways? I told them straight – the amount I’m paying in school fees surely gives my nephew the right to point out these things and shouldn’t they be delighted that they have such a moral and upstanding young man among their ranks? They soon saw things my way, I tell you.”

I’m sure they did. When dealing with The Dean there is usually little option but to see things any other way. Whilst I pity the poor school for having him on their hands, I find it remarkably touching that he takes such a keen interest in his nephew’s education. I never really thought about The Dean having a family, I suppose the thought that there might be more like him was too disturbing to entertain. Mind you, I only discovered that he has an actual name just recently, although I am disappointed about that as it is surprisingly pedestrian. But anyway. The Dean has finished his story and no doubt I am expected to make some comment or remark. It’s difficult to know what to say.

“What role did he get in the end?” I ask.

“Oh! He’s the director. Quite right, too, I say. But listen, Deputy Head Porter, I do wish you wouldn’t ramble on. We have important things afoot!”

To find out the thing discovered by The Dean, you will have to wait for the book, I’m afraid. Well, no one likes a spoiler, do they?

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.


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?



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.