Tag Archives: Port Naain

Only Themselves to Blame – Tallis Steelyard Six Men in a Boat

Charlon Drane is the eldest son of Garrat and Taffetia Drane. This often comes as a surprise to those writers and poets who consider that his arrival in this world was due to him being summoned, like a particularly necrose demon. Indeed I have heard some speculate, in all seriousness, as to whether he was born or spawned. Various unlikely and undoubtedly blasphemous unions have also been suggested.
Yes I have it on excellent authority that as a child he had a remarkably open and sunny disposition. Indeed those who knew him then always stress how he was such a joy to be with. A happy laughing little boy, utterly devoid of cynicism or malice who, even into his late teens, seemed determined to see the best in people.
Thanks to the excellent education given to him by his mother, he loved nothing better than reading and could always be found with his nose in a book. Indeed if he ever went missing, his mother always knew where to find him. He’d be sitting in a quiet corner of Alen Gaetz Books, his nose stuck in some dusty second hand volume.
Thus when they were looking for somebody to edit the Port Naain Literary Review he wasn’t an entirely remarkable choice. Yes, at the time he was a usurer’s clerk and only in his mid twenties but still when the editorial board interviewed him they were won over by his natural charm and his obvious love of books.
To be fair he was, and is, an excellent editor. His knowledge of the field
is encyclopaedic; his own prose is crisp, clear and lucid. He sets a very
high standard for his contributors. Unfortunately, to put it bluntly, when he entered upon his new profession, he was an innocent abroad. There he was, a commissioning editor with a budget out of which to pay contributors.
Writers clustered around him like rakes around the drunken chorus girl at the society wedding! Had they merely approached him soberly, he could have coped. A nicely written proposal would have elicited from him a sober letter of acceptance, or alternatively a polite refusal. Instead he had writers of all genres and genders offering him sexual favours! He had poets standing in the street outside his bedroom window bellowing out their verses in the middle of the night.
He dined at one restaurant, (which I will not name, the proprietor is
entirely guiltless in this matter) where the waiter, instead of a menu,
proffered Charlon a selection of his verses. He tried to relax in the
Goldclaw Baths, only to discover a poet was frantically scribbling lines
from his latest poem, on the tiled wall in wax crayon. On one occasion he took a sedan chair and discovered he’d been hijacked. The bearers locked the doors from outside and he was forced to listen to a novelist read large excerpts from his three volume novel.
Then there was the issue of unsolicited submissions. Initially he made  it his rule to actually ready them. He felt that if the Port Naain Literary Review was to live up to it’s name, it ought to review things.
So, on his first day in the office, he sat down next to the pile of manuscripts, picked up the first one and commenced to read. Forty minutes later, his head swimming, he put the manuscript down. The author seemed to have written it using a system of spelling and punctuation known only to herself. He wrote a brief note, suggesting that the author find some kind friend to help her in this area and had it sent back to the return address on the envelope.
The next manuscript was easier to read, but that was perhaps a disadvantage. The writer had presented their diary for publication. In some cases this is an excellent idea. More than one lady has discovered the truth of the old saying, ‘keep a diary and one day your diary will keep you.’ Yet this presupposes that the keeper of the diary has actually done something worth hronicling. In the case of this writer, the highlight of one week was a successful bowel movement. This was sent back with a brief note saying that the editor felt that Port Naain was not ready for such dissipated excitement.
He worked steadily through the day, sending perhaps a dozen manuscripts back to their proud authors. That night he retired to bed feeling that in some small way he might have done something to improve the standard of literature in Port Naain. Whilst not rendered smug by this observation, he did at least allow himself a warm glow of self-satisfaction.
Next morning he was besieged by the writers whose work he had critiqued the previous day. Each wanted to debate his comments in detail, in some cases with a stout cudgel in hand. Charlon was forced to leave his office by window that opened out into a little used alley way.
In retrospect this may have been the last straw. Next day he instructed one of his clerks to place all unsolicited manuscripts into the coal scuttle. These he would toss onto the fire whenever the room started feeling chill. By taking this simple step he felt he’d improved the standard of literature in Port Naain immensely.
Then there were the published works to be reviewed. To be fair, some work published in Port Naain is published by a publisher who spots a book that will sell and invests their money in it. On the other hand far too much work is published by the author, or by a moneyed friend over whom the writer has too much influence. This second category can include some excellent work. My own Lambent Dreams falls into this category. On the other hand it includes an awful lot of dross. Charlon picked up his pen and reviewed them all. He held nothing back. His reviews were the work of a man who had been seen the future and who knew it was likely to be far worse than the present, unless he took a stand.
I still treasure that issue of the Port Naain Literary Review. He reviewed over two hundred books in a single issue, a feat that was never attempted before and has never been attempted since. Many reviews are but a single line. Of Bossop’s ‘Poems inspired by toothache’ he wrote, ‘Too many words, few of them good.’ Muntal Vergwil’s ‘Collected musings’ produced the comment, ‘I lost the will to live.’
Then in response to the three volumes of Madame Glorwan’s ‘A life well lived,’ he wrote, “This book was recommended to me by somebody I thought I could trust.” Mind you, these got away lightly. Lancet Foredeck submitted a monograph on the meaning of literature in the modern word. Charlon merely commented, “A village somewhere appears to have misplaced its idiot.”
My own Lambent Dreams was described as, “A gratifyingly slim volume.” I confess that in the circumstances this seemed almost like praise. From that day onwards Charlon has remained sternly acerbic. Anybody attempting to enter his office without an appointment is summarily ejected by two of the largest and most muscular clerks I’ve ever met. It has to be said, whilst he is not loved, it is generally agreed that he has done wonders to his magazine’s circulation. Whatever the quality of the books reviewed, the standard of insult remains gratifyingly high.
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 https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/
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!
Jim Webster


Questions Happily Unanswered – Tallis Steelyard

It is my extreme pleasure, to welcome that rascal among men, Tallis Steelyard, to my blog. Please, give him your undivided attention.  Cheers!

Questions happily unanswered

My sojourn in those parts of Port Naain’s hinterland less frequently visited served two purposes. Firstly, any ferment in Port Naain that might have adversely affected me had time to die down. Secondly it never hurts a poet to gaze upon new sights and see new things.

My route took me close to the mountains. I hugged their foothills, drinking in their majesty, intending to follow them until they met the sea. At that point I would travel south again, following the coast to Port Naiin and home. I’d left Woodpin and its inhabitants far behind me. I saw few people, although admittedly I stuck to minor trails and headed north rather than following the more heavily used roads running east-west.  After travelling for some days, I came to the Bottomless Lake. There is a village on its shore which is known, somewhat prosaically, as the Village by the Bottomless Lake.  The village itself was little more than a large hamlet, but it did boast a hostelry. This rejoiced, almost inevitably, in the name of ‘The Bottomless Lake Inn.’

As I entered the inn I noticed two young fellows I knew from the University. So, I greeted them and they waved me across to sit at their table.

Aluin and Oliander both lecture at the University of Port Naain, but frankly they spend as little time as they can in the city. They use the place as somewhere to rest after one expedition, and as somewhere to raise funds for the next. So, I asked them what they were here for.

Aluin poured wine into my glass. “The Port Naain Physiographical Society’ has funded us to explore the Bottomless Lake.”

Even as I listened to him I realised that there were sources of patronage in the city that I had barely tapped. Surely societies like this one should realise that having a poet commenting upon such an expedition, even from the comfort of home, can add much to the final report.

Oliander broke across my musings. “I just wondered Tallis. We were given a small sum in our budget to hire locals to help, but if you were to assist us, we could put the money towards your bills here.”

Even through seated, I bowed deeply. “I would be delighted to join your enterprise.”


The three of us went out onto the lake next day in the small boat they had hired. The lake boasts more than one mystery. The first thing you notice is the phenomena the locals refer to as ‘the veiled reflections.’ If you catch the lake on a still day, the reflection of the cliff in the water appears to show cave mouths or windows that cannot be seen on the cliff itself. The first day we spent examining the cliff face. Firstly, we examined the cliffs from the boat. Then we landed on the far bank, climbed up round the shoulder of the cliffs and lowered Oliander, who is the lightest, down the cliff face on a rope. He searched diligently but found nothing which matched the reflection in the water.

Next day was hot. After a cool start the sun came out and it was one of those glorious days you can get in early autumn. This time we rowed across the lake and Aluin went into the water. A fine swimmer he swam along the cliffs and dived repeatedly under water to check that what we assumed to be the reflection wasn’t actually the reality. As the afternoon got warmer, first Oliander and then I joined him. I can vouch for the fact that the rock face below the water is smooth and featureless.

That night as we ate in the Inn we had to admit that we had no answer to the mystery of the reflection. Still, next day we planned to find the depth of the lake, and this we all felt was a comparatively simple task.

Next morning, we loaded a hundred fathoms of rope into the boat. One end we tied to a thwart in the boat so we couldn’t lose the rope. The other end was tied round a heavy stone with a narrow waist. Thus equipped, we rowed out to the foot of the cliffs again and started lowering the rope into the water.

As we lowered away I asked, “How deep is it supposed to be.”

Aluin, who was paying out the rope hand over hand answered. “Galnwash and Wetherspeal claimed to have measured the depth; in their book, ‘Exploring the north on a budget’ they maintained it was ‘more than 50 fathoms’ deep.

I took over the unwinding of the coil as Oliander held the boat steady and Aluin paid the rope out. We’d got to the fifty fathoms knot when Aluin stopped.

“The rope’s gone slack; the stone must have fallen off.”

Oliander sighed, “I’ll tie it next time.”

Aluin hauled in the sodden rope and I coiled it carefully out of the way. Finally, he held up the end. “It’s been cut.”

Oliander and I studied the end of the rope. The end was sliced clean, and showed no sign of whipping and tying off.

Aluin took the rope end back. “I wonder if it’s somehow rubbed on a sharp edge. We’ve ten fathoms of light chain with our kit on the bank. I’ll tie that to it and see if it makes any difference.”
So an hour later, we were back in the same spot, this time lowering the weighted chain over the side. When Aluin said the chain was light, he meant that the metal that made up the links was not the thickness of a pencil. We still had to wrap it round a large stone because without the weight it’s possible a current would have caused the chain and rope to drift somewhat.

All the chain soon went in, and then the rope. As we got close to the forty fathoms knot we lowered more slowly, as if we were trying to feel our way down. I felt a quiver through the rope and Aluin cursed. “The blasted stone has come off again.”

Again, we hauled the rope back up, but when we got to the end of the chain, something had cut it. The chain was two fathoms shorter than it had been. The three of us stared at the end of the chain. I pointed to the bottom link. “Something tried to cut this one but gave up and tried lower down.”

On the chain, you could see where two cutting surfaces had been forced together, as if shears had been used.

Aluin studied the chain. “This stuff was almost too thick for it. So if we use something thicker…..”

At the bottom of the boat was the anchor chain. It was a good deal heavier than the other stuff. He knotted the lighter chain through the anchor chain. “Right, let’s try this.”

This time, perhaps because we had an anchor weighting everything down, or perhaps we were more practiced, everything went smoothly. We had reached the forty-fathom knot on the rope when suddenly Aluin fell out of the boat and into the water. The rope kept disappearing over the side without our help so I stretched out a hand to help Aluin back in the boat.

He climbed in and pointed at the rope which was still disappearing over the side at some speed. “I felt something tugging at the rope so I gripped it more tightly. Suddenly it just tugged me out of the boat.”

With one hand, I grabbed the rope. It stopped briefly but then something tugged. I let go hastily.

We watched the rest of the rope uncoil and go over the side. Finally, all that was left was the length tied to the thwart. Now the boat started to tilt.

Oliander asked thoughtfully, “Is something perhaps trying to climb up the rope, or is it trying to pull us down into the water?”

I didn’t hesitate; I drew my knife and sawed rapidly through the rope. It whipped over the side of the boat and disappeared.

Aluin looked at me, “Now we’ll never know what is doing it.”

Oliander unshipped the oars and started rowing for the shore. As he rowed he said, “I’m with Tallis on this one. I don’t want to share a rowing boat something that can snip through steel chain.”

I took up the other set of oars and started rowing as well. Aluin peered into the water and then took his seat and the third set of oars.

As we pulled for the shore he said, “Now we’ll never know how deep it is.”

I asked, “How deep did Galnwash and Wetherspeal say it was?”

Oliander answered me, “More than fifty fathoms.”

“Guess the height of whatever was cutting the chain, assume it was standing on the lake bed, and add fifty fathoms to the total.”

“How do you feel about fifty-two fathoms then?” Aluin asked.

I kept on rowing, but commented, “It’s not really my place to argue, but frankly if anybody isn’t happy with your figure, they can come and measure it themselves.”

At this point it seems pertinent to mention that the story of Tallis’s escapades continues on other blogs. They will be reblogged in what may one day be accepted by biographers as the chronologically correct order on his own blog. Thus, and so you can easily follow his gripping adventures.


Also, as an aside, the reason for this whole performance, (aside for being ‘Art’ with a capital ‘A’) is that another volume of his anecdotes has been published. Containing some work that has never appeared on the blog, this is ;-


Tallis Steelyard. The Monster of Bell-Wether Gardens and other stories.





Tallis Steelyard A Harsh Winter and Other Stories Blog tour

Annette here, I am honored to hold the space for the debonair Tallis Steelyard, to share his new book!  Of course, that means Jim Webster is along for this tour too!  There is contact information for both gentlemen further down in this post. Without any further ado, I shall turn this over to my favorite poet from days of yore….  Tallis Steelyard.

Draw a bow at a venture

Asilrigg Wellhopper was a much admired young man, charming, tactful, and
frankly too handsome for his own good. He was, as they say, an adventurer.
Now I know that in modern parlance the word can be a synonym for ‘rogue’ or
‘bounder’ but in Asilrigg’s case that usage would have been unkind.
Within strict limits Asilrigg was almost entirely honourable. If a maiden
carrying a purse full of gold and leading a small child needed escorting,
the Asilrigg was the one you could safely entrust them to. The small child
would arrive somewhat more widely educated, the gold would be intact, and
the maiden possibly still a maiden. As I said, almost entirely honourable.
His presence in Port Naain was just ‘one of those things.’ I never found out
why he arrived here. Perhaps a temporary shortage of monsters to slay, or
tyrants to overthrow; perhaps he’d accepted a commission to deliver
something of immense value safely to the city? Frankly I never asked him and
those who did received various responses which translated as ‘I’m afraid I
cannot tell you.’
Still, he arrived in Port Naain with enough money to live rather well for
several months. During this happy period, he seems to have found his way
into polite society and polite society, always keen on novelty, welcomed
Now it must be admitted that free-spending young heroes of obvious gallantry
and irresistible charm never seem to lack for admirers. Asilrigg could well
have been swamped by them had it not been for his less than secret weapon,
his valet, Gort.
Gort was a weather-beaten, wry-faced, dark-visaged man. He scowled
perpetually, acted as Asilrigg’s valet in refined places and guarded his
back, axe in hand, when they ventured away from the comforting illumination
of civilisation. He it was who would interpose himself between Asilrigg and
an admirer. He had many weapons in his armoury, he could leer most
impressively, had a fine grasp of crude innuendo, and it is rumoured that he
could even break wind at will.
So those who wished to ‘set their cap’ at Asilrigg had to first separate him
from his valet. Effectively this meant when Asilrigg was invited to some
soiree and Gort wasn’t present. Unfortunately for the lady with Asilrigg in
her sights, she then had to somehow overcome the competition from sundry
other ladies who had the same idea. For Asilrigg there was indeed safety in
Lesser ladies would bow out at this point, but not Miss Melinia Verbit.  A
young lady of wide accomplishments she was no shy and retiring wallflower.
If she had been forced to list her accomplishments, they would include not
merely dance and witty conversation, but hunting, fishing, and the use of
assorted improvised melee weapons. (The latter accomplishments almost
inevitable for a mettlesome girl brought up with six brothers.)
She laid siege to Asilrigg with the cunning that one of the great
condottiere captains of our glorious past would have admired. She separated
him from Gort by inviting Asilrigg in person to her home, and then separated
him from everybody else by suggesting they spent the afternoon riding out in
pleasant countryside to the north of the city.
Thus the battle was on, Melinia fighting with all her cunning against Gort
for possession of Asilrigg.
Melinia had considerable advantages; she was charming, witty, beautiful,
wealthy and not afraid of an active life. Gort was as ugly as sin, but
cunning and of course had known Asilrigg longer. Thus he knew just which
strings to pull which tugged most painfully at the young man’s heart.
Hence after a few months, with money running low, the Port Naain season
beginning to pall, and in spite of Melinia’s best efforts, Asilrigg
announced that he must return to the south.
Melinia redoubled her assault; she may even have tried weeping. Certainly it
is almost certain that the pair of them enjoyed considerable intimacy over
this period. But all to no avail. Asilrigg, with Gort riding behind him,
rode south.
Melinia was not a lady to take this sort of thing lying down, (Whatever the
level of intimacy.) A betrayal such as this must be avenged!
In grim earnest Melinia rode south, remaining elegantly attired in spite of
the conditions she had to live in and overtook the dastard who had betrayed
her. Now as I’ve said, I am not one of her intimates, and have only various
second-hand tales of what came about. There are stories that circulate, of
her cunning, her skill, her ability to sleep fully dressed in a cave and
emerge next morning looking as elegantly coiffured as if she had been
accompanied by three maids.
On the other hand I was present when she arrived back in Port Naain and rode
directly to the house of Mistress Hanchkillian. The old matriarch was held
in high regard by the younger ladies, and her wisdom and approval were
widely sought.
Melinia walked into the grand salon and gave a slight curtsey. Mistress
smiled at her and asked how her trip had gone. Will an eloquent gesture
Melinia emptied a sack onto the floor. A human head rolled out. I stopped it
with my foot and found myself staring down into the twisted features of
Mistress looked at Melinia and raised an expressive eyebrow.
Melinia gave a complicated little shrug and said, “Well killing the other
one would be a waste.”
Mistress Hanchkillian smiled slightly. “Quite right my dear.”

It may be that you might not realise that Tallis Steelyard has just produced
his second book of stories and anecdotes. This is book, ‘Tallis Steelyard, a
harsh winter, and other stories,’ is available from the first of June.

The book is available to all discerning readers at £0.99 from

or $1.28 from

Were Tallis less busy he’d doubtless remember to thank me, Jim Webster, for
the efforts I make on his behalf. But you know what it is with someone like
Tallis who is constantly in demand. So I just get on with writing his stuff
down for him and from time to time making collections of his wit, wisdom and
jumbled musings available for a grateful public.

Tallis does have a blog, it is apparently de rigueur now for all writers. It
is available at


Riding in on his coattails I’ll merely mention that my own books can be seen
at Jim Webster’s Amazon page