This blog today is part of the Six Men in a Boat blog tour, which features Jim Webster’s new book :
Instead of his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with a gripping adventure. Why is Tallis ‘run out of town’ by hired ruffians? Why does a very sensible young woman want his company when plunging into unknown danger? Who or what was buried in the catacombs? And why has there been so much interest in making sure they stay dead? Also featuring flower arranging, life on the river, and a mule of notable erudition.
Here’s an excerpt from the book:
A Constant Struggle for Funding.
Of all the various Drane offspring, I feel that Quinnia was perhaps the most
adventurous. The second daughter of the family, she had an advantage over
her older sister in that her path had not been mapped out for her when
young. So she entered the world unburdened by parental guidance.
Admittedly, had she ever bothered to ask them for advice they’d probably
have stressed security, followed perhaps by matrimony. I suppose that by
becoming apprenticed to a herbalist and druggist she achieved security, if
not any great social standing. But as she learned her trade she drifted more
towards the art of the apothecary. By the time she was out of her teens she
was reading the writings of the great alchemists and thanks to her practical
background, seemed to be making great strides in her studies.
Now the problem with alchemy as a career is that, in theory, it should be
lucrative. After all, if your creditors come knocking, merely turn a little
more base metal into gold and pay them off.
Alas it has been bitterly observed that alchemists are the poets of the
scientific world, promising much and yet delivering little that is of
So if Quinnia was to make progress in her studies she would have to find
some way of funding them. But how? Working as a druggist might put a roof
over her head and feed her, but unfortunately for the budding alchemist it
wouldn’t keep replacing the roof.
Now Quinnia wasn’t conventionally pretty but she was attractive and
fascinating. Intelligent, witty, and with a robust sense of humour she
became the toast of society. At this point I might usefully explain a little
about society. I would not expect Quinnia to attend one of the soirees my
patrons expect me to arrange for them. Quinnia moved in an entirely
different part of society.
The vast majority of my patrons are ladies, although there are gentlemen who
will summon me to do work for them. Also my patrons tend to be at least
nominally respectable. At their affairs one does not expect to see guests
drinking intemperately, indulging in libidinous excess, nor fighting with
knives in the drawing room. To be fair, all these things have happened, but
they’re not expected.
There are other areas of society where patrons have different agendas.
Admittedly I have been called upon to help out, but they demand different
skills from a poet, and whilst I can churn out humorous and bawdy verse as
quickly as the next poetaster, I confess to having no liking for either the
incontinently dissipated or the pruriently concupiscent. Still Quinnia made
her way carefully into this society.
At some point she made what was for her a most advantageous discovery. If
she became a gentleman’s mistress he would support her and even provide her
with the occasional gift. On the downside she learned that a gentleman
tended to be a little put out to enter the house he was providing for her to
discover that she was distilling urine in the kitchen or was storing her
alembics on a shelf in the bedroom where she could keep an eye on them.
On the other hand, if she was ‘almost’ a gentleman’s mistress he would be
far more generous with his presents and less demanding with his presence.
Not only that but a lady can be ‘almost’ the mistress of a number of
gentlemen, all of who can be relied upon to give her expensive presents.
Indeed the larger the number of gentlemen (within reason) the more expensive
the presents as they competed for her favours.
With her new mode of fundraising she discovered she had more time than ever
for her research. She would take a leisurely breakfast, catching up on her
reading. Then she’d have three or four hours in her workroom before a late
lunch. After that she’d bathe, dress carefully and make herself ready for
the evening’s entertainment.
It has to be said that her way of life didn’t meet with universal approval.
Whilst her family remained supportive, there were a number of older ladies
who were most vocal in their disapproval. The torchbearer of this movement
was Dillys Warbutton. I never really knew the lady, but her contemporaries
maintain that she had been a chorus girl in her youth and had married an
elderly and wealthy gentleman who soon died leaving her to enjoy a long and
affluent widowhood. By the time she had taken a dislike to Quinnia she had
been a widow for the best part of forty years. Given that at the time she
claimed to be not a day over fifty most people doubted her ability to do
arithmetic as well as her sense of proportion. Still if Madam Warbutton
harangued and pontificated, she did so from the sidelines. Quinnia might be
immensely irritated by the other woman, but they were rarely invited to the
Obviously there were times when Quinnia’s social life did occasionally break
in on her working time. On one celebrated occasion she managed to flirt with
several of her gentlemen at once by doing nothing more exciting than
allowing one of them to push her on a swing whilst the others, suitably
concealed, watched on.
One problem Quinnia faced was a certain difficulty in keeping staff. It wasn’t
the inherent immorality implicit in her lifestyle that put them off. It was
the higher than normal chance of explosions. When you live in a house with
thick walls and a light roof, servants refuse to live in. Still even that
was turned, inadvertently, to her advantage. She had been working with
spirit of niter and oil of vitriol. Normally she did this in her workroom
but on this occasion she was merely toying with an idea and was working in
her kitchen. The work done she realised she’d spilt both liquids on her
kitchen table. So rather guiltily she hastily mopped them up with an apron,
then washed the apron in the sink and hung it over the fireguard to dry. But
as soon as the apron was dry, it flashed into nothingness with a small
Fascinated she experimented further but never managed to produce an
explosive compound that you might call commercially viable. Eventually she
took up new lines of research, concentrating on transmutation and the
hermetic side of the craft. Still in the interests of completeness it should
be mentioned in passing that there was something of a spontaneous eruption
at the house of Madam Warbutton. Nobody was injured, but it seems that the
airing cupboard spontaneously exploded, taking out two external walls and
most of the roof.
And now the hard sell!
OK so perhaps the not so hard sell. It’s just that this is part of a blog
tour which is peering into the lives of Garrat Drane, and his lady wife
Taffetia Drane. Now we are meeting their various offspring, delightful
people and pillars of the community. Or perhaps not.
But still now is your chance to meet them and inadvertently you may discover
their importance to our hero, Tallis Steelyard. Tallis has his own blog at
But actually the purpose of this blog is to draw your attention to the fact
that a new book has been published. ‘Tallis Steelyard: Six men in a boat.’
Rather than a collection of his anecdotes, this is indeed an ‘adventure’ as
Tallis ventures forth from the city of Port Naain. Questions are asked that
may even be answered, why is Tallis ‘run out of town’ by hired ruffians? Why
does a very sensible young woman want his company when plunging into unknown
danger? Who or what was buried in the catacombs? And why has there been so
much interest in making sure they stay dead? Also featuring flower
arranging, life on the river, and a mule of notable erudition.
Treat yourself; you know you’re worth it!