I am happy to take part in this blog tour featuring stories from Jim Webster’s new novel. Firstly, here is a brief note from Jim himself regarding his new book:

It’s really just to inform you that I’ve just published a full Tallis Steelyard novel. Yes the rumours are true. Tallis Steelyard, the man who considered jotting down a couple of anecdotes to be ridiculously hard work, and considered the novella form to be the very pinnacle of literary labour, has been cozened into producing a novel.

It is… ‘Tallis Steelyard. A Fear of Heights.’

In this novel, recounted by Tallis Steelyard in his own inimitable manner, we discover what happens when the hierarchy plots to take control of the Shrine to Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm. Will the incumbent be exiled to a minor fane in the far north? Will Tallis end up having to do a proper job? Does ordination and elevation beckon for Maljie?

This story includes the Idiosyncratic Diaconate, night soil carts, Partannese bandit chieftains, a stylite, a large dog and some over-spiced food. On top of this we have not one but two Autocephalous Patriarchs and a theologically sanctioned beggar.

Available both for kindle and in Paperback.

Here is a story from the book. It is called …

The spirited moral stance of Chandar Sortackle.

I am not one to gloat, but I confess I could see it coming. At the Shrine of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm we do music reasonably well.

Now that sounds like faint praise, but it is not meant like that. By and large there is a general feeling that we like music. Some amongst our number are in point of fact, competent musicians. Some of our singers can indeed sing. Some, like our member of the Idiosyncratic Diaconate, are among the first to admit that they cannot sing. Others, such as Laxey, are possessors of fine voices. Indeed in those services where it falls upon Laxey to sing solo, we can find our congregation augmented by any number of single ladies from the Maternal Guild.

Still, as Maljie has commented, ‘We can bawl out a good chorus.’ To be fair, the tunes we normally sing are easy to pick up and if we get enough of us singing, the effect can be quite pleasing. Indeed in those seasons where singing is restricted for complex liturgical reasons, we can end up feeling quite put out. There is a lot to be said for singing as part of a religious service.

That being said, music has its purists. To an extent it can be because they are very competent musicians. They are the ones who get all the notes right, or sing pitch-perfect. I confess I have never dared to even aspire to join that select group. But Chandar Sortackle was one of them. The comptroller of a minor counting house, he had achieved a minor, but sober, prosperity. He brought to music the passion for precision and accuracy he brought to his professional life.

Now I’ve read of legendary figures who claimed that music was at its most perfect when written down on the stave. They seemed to feel that it is a mathematical exercise and is defiled when musicians bring to it their own sordid interpretations. Chandar never reached that level; to be fair to him he was very much into music being performed. But for him performance was something to be listened to in absolute silence. He was wary of singers, as

he felt some of them allowed their enjoyment of the performance to sway their recital away from what perfection required. In his eyes this was pandering to the audience rather than remaining loyal to the composer. When it came to singing, his ideal was one single perfect voice which followed the music exactly. With musical instruments he was not so binding in his strictures. Yes he preferred, for reasons of his own I never dared investigate too closely, the recorder. But still I am not so low-minded as to hold this against him. Indeed I quite approve of recorders, they don’t normally make all that much noise and when playing, the instrumentalist cannot speak or sing. Thus they can play nicely in the background and allow the poet to speak over them.

But back to Chandar’s story. The shrine, as always, needed funds. We have an almost infinite multitude of mendicants to feed, an aging building to maintain, and numerous other calls upon our limited finances. Thus the quest of funding can be unceasing. Chandar had given thought to this, and he felt that he could gather a small group of excellent musicians who could perform in the shrine, and Maljie could arrange for a silver collection to be taken.

Maljie contemplated this offer, which to be fair, was honest, honourable, and well meant. It would have made us some money if we advertised it to those who liked that sort of music. But Maljie felt that there was more that could be done. It is the duty of a temple warden to squeeze the last begrudged dreg out of those contributing. The landlord of the Sluggard’s

Purse had done her favours in the past and it occurred to her that she could both pay her debt and simultaneously make money for the shrine. The Sluggard’s Purse had a large upstairs room. Chandar and his ensemble could play there, bringing in considerable trade and we’d get ticket money and Rorris the Landlord would get the extra takings from the bar. So she decided she would visit the Sluggard’s Purse and take Chandar with her.

Now Chandar was somewhat surprised by the nature of the venue. I can quite

understand his point. At the Sluggard’s Purse I’d expect the audience to join in singing rollicking ballads, or to weep maudlin tears at love songs sung by a pretty girl. I could even see them pounding their feet to some of the more martial dance tunes. But I couldn’t see them sitting in silent appreciation of the sort of music Chandar would play. Still they didn’t ask me, and they never took me with them.

When they arrived, Maljie spotted her first obstacle. She’d known old Rorris for years, they went back a long time and she was sure she could win him over to her way of thinking. But Rorris has a daughter. Now Rosia was no pretty girl, but she was a handsome enough young woman, perhaps not thirty. She was also remarkably sharp and with her at his elbow, Rorris would be harder to flannel.

Anyway, Maljie and Chandar sat down, Maljie glanced at the bar and noticed that Rorris had a bottle of real Urlan plum brandy. Maljie ordered two glasses and Rosia brought them to the table. Again let us not leap to unkind conclusions here, they were medium sized glasses but

there wasn’t a lot of brandy in them (but remember it was very good brandy) and she also brought a jug of water. Maljie scorned the water and tossed hers off in one. Chandar, thinking this was the way you drank the stuff, did the same and had to follow it with a glass of water before he regained the power of speech.

At this point, Rosia noticed Chandar had his recorder in his jacket pocket.

“Oh, could you play me something?”

Now this gave Maljie an idea. She ordered another two glasses and whilst Rosia was away, gave Chandar hissed instructions that he was to play something fun and interesting. Something that would keep Rosia wanting to listen to him, thus giving Maljie time to talk to Rorris in private.

The second glass set in front of him, Chandar pulled out his recorder. Now we learn one of Chandar’s shameful little secrets. Whilst espousing only the most pure arrangements of the classical repertoire, he had secretly been experimenting in private. He wet his lips from the second glass, briefly regretted it, and then started to play. Rosia got, not music, but the trills and warbles of a singing bird. She was enchanted. Maljie faded from the scene as Chandar, fortified by the second glass, had the warbling bird song shift seamlessly into the chorus of a popular love song he’d heard one of the mendicants singing as he worked. This he faded back into birdsong, and then put his recorder down.

A third glass appeared.

“Oh please keep playing, it’s lovely.”

As I said, she was a handsome young woman and Chandar was smitten. Similarly whilst she liked the music, Rosia was not oblivious to the fact that Chandar was obviously accomplished, educated, clean about his person, and appeared to like her. She sat and listened and whenever he put down his recorder and tried to think of something to say to compliment her, she poured him more brandy.

By the time Maljie reappeared, the deal secured, Chandar was capering around the bar, playing as he did so. He was no longer playing folk tunes, he was improvising upon the themes of folk tunes, putting in wild virtuoso trills and warbles. At one point he pirouetted on one leg as he played. Somewhat surprised by this Maljie stopped, open mouthed to watch the performance. Rosia turned to her, “Maljie, we’ll have to get him playing here in front of an audience. He is wonderful.”

Somewhat absently Maljie commented, “Your father just talked me into organising a concert in your upper room for him.”

Overwhelmed by excitement, music, the atmosphere, or perhaps the glass of plum brandy she had drunk just to be sociable, Rosia stepped forward and kissed the musician. “Isn’t that good news.”

Luckily at this point Chandar had both feet on the ground and no longer had the recorder in his mouth. When he had time to breathe he agreed that it indeed was good news. On the way home, still fuelled by more good Urlan plum brandy than is wise for a musician, he continued to play. Indeed as they approached the Old Esplanade he danced along the wall top, playing as he did so, and wastrels hurled brass and copper coins at him in the hope they would knock him off the wall and into the water below. Eventually they did so, and Maljie had to fish him out.

Later she returned with some mendicants to collect the coins as the tide went out. Here they met opposition from the shore-combers, who pointed out that what was found on the sand was theirs. Maljie merely folded her arms across her bosom, stared the leader of the shore-comber delegation in the eye and said, “Our musician, our dancing monkey. Our money.”

As an aside, the concert, when it happened, went well. I had to find Chandar some different musicians to the ones he’d initially considered working with. Still I found him a couple of decent fiddle players who could just about keep up with him. Maljie considers it a successful evening because we took a lot of money. Rorris considered it a success because it more than doubled his takings on what would otherwise be a quiet night. Chandar considers it to be a success because he and Rosia are now ‘walking out.’ Indeed with her moral support it is highly likely that he will make a success of his new career as a professional musician.


If you liked the story, don’t forget to check out Jim’s book!