Tuesday, 8 June 2010

In which I relay some information concerning a scheme entitled 'Booked Up'

Very well then. I have now had permission to pass on the news relayed to me by Mr Priestley a few days ago. In fact Mr Priestley called me this morning saying that he hoped I was joking when I said that I might forget to mention it. His voice rising to a harsh falsetto, he implored me to see how important it was for the book and for the Uncle Montague 'brand'. The Uncle Montague brand? How dare he! I am not a 'brand'!

But, fearing for the brittleness of his mental state, I will do as he bids.

It seems that there is a scheme called, for reasons best known to the organisers, 'Booked Up'. It is a philanthropic enterprise that provides every child who begins secondary school with a book, chosen from a set list. The list for the books being provided this coming September includes Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror.

Despite my contribution to the book being scandalously suppressed, it is hard not to take some pride in seeing my name included there. I certainly do take a great deal of pleasure in the thought that these macabre tales will disturb the sleep of yet more children.

A great deal of pleasure indeed. . .

Sunday, 6 June 2010

A photograph of old Turkey

I came across this photograph the other day. I took it myself on a visit I made to the south-east of Turkey many, many, many, many, many years ago. It shows the distinctive beehive-shaped, or bosom-roofed if you will, dwellings in the small, sun-baked town of Harran.

Some of you may recognise the name from the story called Jinn in Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror. It is an extraordinary place in an extraordinary setting. It is truly ancient, mentioned in the Old Testament.

Of course for me - and for you, if you have read the story - it will always now be associated with that ragged girl and young Francis Weybridge. Any fascination with its history will now be laced with dread. Those shadows to the left of the photograph will seem dangerously dark.

Of course I knew Francis' father, the celebrated travel writer and artist, Arthur Weybridge. I own several pieces of his work in fact, including a drawing of Harran itself. I rather think he was happy to be rid of it following the tragedy that occurred there.

But there I go again. Mr Priestley is forever warning me against what he will insist on calling 'spoilers'.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Mr Priestley 'pops in'

Franz and I had just settled down to enjoy an elderflower cordial today, when who should arrive at our gate but Mr Priestley. Our attempt to hide was sadly mistimed.

Mr Priestley had just returned from a family holiday in Wales, a remote and mountainous area attached to the western coast of Shropshire. He said that they were just passing and thought that they would 'pop in'. But when I asked why his family had not joined us in the garden, he replied that they were overtired and were keen to get home. Franz told me later that he distinctly saw Mrs Priestley lock the car doors when Mr Priestley got out. Mr Priestley's son appeared to have his eyes tightly shut.

I had the distinct impression that there must be an ulterior motive for this visit and so it transpired. After a tedious description of the delights of a place supposedly called Portmeirion, Mr Priestley let slip a piece of news concerning Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror. He was clearly very excited about it, and I would pass it on to you now were it not for the fact that he made me promise to remain silent for the next few days until it is formally announced. Then he returned to his car and left at high speed. Franz and I returned to our cordial.

I made that promise and I am a man of my word. I shall say nothing for the moment. I may even forget to mention it at all.

Friday, 28 May 2010

In which I receive a diverting postal communication

I rarely receive any post. Postmen used to be made of sterner stuff in my youth I feel. Our local postie seems increasingly reluctant to come to Pity's End and has taken to hurling any postal communications I do receive over the garden wall and then running away, whimpering like a poet.

Just such a package thudded against the door this morning and Franz scuttled off excitedly to retrieve it. Opening it with the rusty dirk I keep for such purposes, I discovered it to be from Mr Priestley's publisher, Bloomsbury.

It contained a suggested cover for Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror the proposed reissue of the three Tales of Terror book in the spring of 2011. Mr Robert's illustrations have been dropped in favour of a more sombre treatment. Though I am fond of Mr Robert's Gorey-esque illuminations, I feel that this cover perhaps more accurately represents the dark heart of the tales. It will be interesting to see what readers make of the stories without the relief supplied by his finely crafted decorations.

At any rate I was pleased that Bloomsbury had taken the trouble to send it to me. I note that they did not ask my opinion of it, but I will let that pass. Franz became very agitated on my behalf, but I have tried to explain to him that Mr Priestley is credited with the authorship of these books and we must let him take the lead.

For now.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

A pathological need for fame

I met Mr Priestley for a frappuccino in the centre of Cambridge today. He wanted to show me the cover for his new book, The Dead of Winter. It is not coming out until October but he seemed childishly excited about it and I felt it best to humour him. He also wanted to show me his latest piercing but I have a surprisingly weak stomach when it comes to that sort of thing and declined his invitation quite forcefully.

As I have mentioned previously, The Dead of Winter details the extraordinary life of Michael Vyner and in particular his fateful visit to Sir Stephen Clarendon's house - Hawton Mere. Michael left his own record of these events and Mr Priestley was asked to shape them into the form of a novel. Knowing that I had myself visited Hawton Mere and had heard Michael's tale from his own lips, Mr Priestley asked if we might collaborate one more time.

My contribution to the book seems to have been overlooked by the publishers, but I am happy to remain anonymous. Mr Priestley seems to have what I can only describe as a pathological need for fame and financial gain and I have few requirements that are not met by my modest accommodation at Pity's End and the contents of a warm tea pot.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Betwixt lion and man

This is the door knocker here at Pity's End. It is rather a handsome one, I trust you will agree. I have always felt it to be the face of an old friend and it is always a welcome sight when I return to Pity's End.

But for some strange reason Edgar has got it into his head that there is something ominous or even frightening in it. But there is absolutely nothing sinister about it all, as you can see.

Edgar passed these concerns on to Mr Priestley when he was interviewing my nephew prior to writing Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror. The conceit of the book is that Edgar is reminiscing about his visits to my house to hear stories, but Edgar has little talent as a writer. Mr Priestley has fictionalised Edgar's visits and then combined them with the children's stories to make a coherent whole. That is a talent of some sort, I suppose.

When Edgar arrives at my door in the book, he describes how the knocker's face 'seemed to hover unnervingly betwixt lion and man'. Which I suppose it does.

But not in a bad way.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Mr Priestley has been insufferable

Mr Priestley has been insufferable ever since The Guardian newspaper article. He finds every feeble excuse to telephone and within moments he is once again reminding me that 'we' were on the list of 'best children's books ever'.

How the man has the audacity to say 'we' when he alone takes the credit for those stories I do not understand. He is, like all authors, utterly without any sense of shame.

In desperation, I asked Franz to scream down the line whenever Mr Priestley called, and the telephone has not rung for days.


Monday, 17 May 2010

In which I fondly recall how much old folk enjoyed being ridden like a donkey

This is sadly a sight that fewer and fewer people can remember seeing. Old people used to be used as a form of transport in East Anglia right up until the Second World War when large women were used instead (old people being needed as ballast by the Royal Navy).

After the war, the incoming Labour Government shamefully banned the practice, ending a tradition that many experts believe had continued unbroken since the days of yore. Since then there have been many attempts to revive the practice but with varied degrees of success.

Of course gainsayers will tell you that it is cruel, but frankly that is poppycock. Old people want to be ridden. It is in their nature. They enjoy it.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Among the best

I must apologise for my long absence from this this 'blog'. Often I am simply not in the mood to share my thoughts with you - or indeed with anyone. Believe me - I am doing you all a favour. Often my thoughts are of such a dark hue, that I myself can hardly bear to squint into their shadowy recesses.

But I was encouraged to return to the public eye by a rather extraordinary occurrence. I was reading The Guardian newspaper yesterday and noticed that its superfluous second section (which I normally reserve for Franz's litter tray) had a cover trumpeting a list purporting to be the 'best children's books ever'. I hardly know why I bothered to look inside, but when I did, I was amazed to find Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror therein.

It felt rather strange to have my name listed in among the 'best children's books ever'. I had never thought these tales to be suitable for the ears of mortal children. It was also hard to feel any sense of pride. These are not works of fiction after all.

Though they are but entertainments for the readers of Mr Priestley's books, they are each of them a ragged scar upon my soul.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Utter failure

Of course, Mr Priestley's Cumbria Book Appeal was an utter failure. An utter, utter failure.

It was a good cause and I suppose some credit must go to Mr Priestley for initiating the enterprise, but I wonder whether it might have been better never to have thought of the idea than to attempt it with such a degree of incompetence.

Never trust an author.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Cumbria book appeal

My 'colleague' Mr Priestley has asked that I say something about an appeal he is organising. As you will no doubt be aware, the good people of Cumbria were subjected to a biblical deluge at the end of last year and all the misery that accompanied it.

Mr Priestley's idea was to ask his fellow authors (and illustrators) of books for the young, to sign and wrap a copy (or copies) of their book (or books) and deliver them to the children affected by the flooding.

Of course, it came as no surprise to me to discover that Mr Priestley had failed to think this idea through. The local council had far more urgent matters to attend to. Mr Priestley's partially baked scheme has been put on hold.

He has asked me to impress on my many readers, however, that the scheme is still very much alive. More than a dozen authors have chosen to look beyond Mr Priestley's organisational failings and agreed to send their signed books once the details have been finalised.

I wish them all the very best of luck.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010


Bless you!

Very funny Franz.

Snow is falling on Pity's End. It is always still and quiet here, but a covering of snow adds yet another layer of stillness to this place. Some would say it was as quiet as the grave. But then some people don't know much about graves.

Anyway, it is time to take down the crystal skulls from the tree and put them away for another year.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

I got chills

They're multiplying.

Even by the unnaturally frigid standards of Pity's End, it is bitterly cold. I can scarcely remember a time when I was quite so chilled, though it was possibly on a long distant winter visit to Hawton Mere, Sir Stephen Clarendon's moated manor house in the fen country.

The old house is gone now, of course. The circumstances of its destruction are detailed in Mr Priestley's upcoming novel, The Dead of Winter, as a matter of fact and his small but loyal readership will no doubt read all about it when it is published in October of this year.

Mr Priestley's account is a trifle sensationalised, but as he heard the story from me, I can vouch for its veracity. After all I heard the story from poor Michael Vyner himself.

But the cold deepens. It is almost as though it is gnawing at the very bones of my legs. Oh - it's you Franz. Come out from under there!

How many times must we have this conversation?

Monday, 4 January 2010

In which Mr Priestley pays me an unexpected visit.

Mr Priestley came to see me today. He seemed even more agitated than usual. He is such a nervous fellow. The least little movement from Franz or the children causes him to leap to his feet, his voice higher than Mr Simon Cowell's waistband.

I took this likeness of him using the eye-pod Franz bought me for Christmas. I ask you in all seriousness: is that the face of a sane man?

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Here we are now

Entertain us.

The children are getting bored as children will at this time of year. We all know those tell-tale signs: the whining, the moaning, the scratching at the door, the whispering in beshadowed corridors, the wan faces at the study window.

It is all attention-seeking behaviour of course and I try my best to ignore it. But the children can be devilishly persistent. Even as I write this they will insist on running about the house snickering like ring-tailed lemurs. It is most distracting.

Oh very well, then. Who wants to tell their tale? The young fellow at the front perhaps? Yes, you holding the severed arm.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Let's hope it's a good one

Without any tears

Out with the old, in with the new. Let me take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy new year. Perhaps you are looking forward to a holiday or an adventure of some sort. Perhaps you are anticipating some new achievement or reward. Perhaps you are thinking that this year will be the special one - the year in which your pair of twos becomes a Royal flush.

Or perhaps you are an accursed old man, doomed to live a half life listening to the grisly tales of spectral children.

Who can say?