Today I have the opportunity to feature the new book from Jim Webster. The latest adventure from Tallis Steelyard in Port Naain.
‘A Fear Of Heights’.
And now a brief note from Jim Webster. 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.
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
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 the story that accompanies this blog tour.
Quiet and restrained.
Had I not been there I might not have believed it, but I was there so I do.
Maljie, sounding entirely sensible, commented that now some of the better
grocers and provisions merchants were delivering into her part of the city,
it no longer made sense to go into the market to do one’s own shopping. It
must be mentioned, if only in passing, that she never in point of fact
intimated that it was because she was growing old or any nonsense like that.
It was just so much more sensible and convenient. Especially when we were at
that time of year when there is often so much illness about.
So every week she or Margarita would send a mendicant with their order, and
every week the cart would pull up outside their house and deliver. It was
all most civilised and the system is becoming more popular generally,
especially amongst those of a certain age.
Obviously I have many patrons who will do something similar. They will have
their maid do the shopping. Cook will give the maid the order and the young
woman will go out and purchase the appropriate items. If the order is large,
they may send a footman or gardener with her. If it is very large, the
assumption is that the emporium will deliver. Other household items are
dealt with in much the same manner. The housekeeper will send a maid out to
purchase black lead, spare collars, soap, buttons and a couple more dickeys
for the lady’s husband. Indeed the only thing Madam will purchase in person
are her own clothes.
The advantage of the system my patrons use is that the maids who do this job
are both experienced and motivated. Those who do the deliveries for various
emporia often lack both qualities.
A friend of mine called Cragan has in the past been employed to do the job
delivering. In all honesty he didn’t enjoy it. Firstly there are the lists
provided by the customer. The shopkeeper will give the list to the most
junior member of staff. This person will go round the shop and the warehouse
at the back to put the order together. If the list is clearly written, and
the junior employee confident in their literacy, this system can work well.
Even ignoring misspellings and hand writing, (caster sugar and castor oil
should not be easily confused) there are the times when one runs headlong
into the sink of ignorance which is the natural state of being of some of
the juniors Cragan was forced to work with. It was he who was forced to
explain to a customer why the individual who had packed the boxes had
substituted female sanitary products for the crème brûlée she had ordered.
But even if the junior employee is assiduous, efficient, and well-motivated,
(an apparently rare combination) the best you can hope for is that they will
send you what you have put on the list.
One of the best juniors Cragan has ever worked with pulled him to one side
and commented that the customer had wanted one sack of porridge oats. The
sacks they sold were so heavy that Cragan could just about lift them, with
care. On the other hand the shop did have smaller bags such as you could
hold in one hand. Did Cragan have any idea which his customer might prefer?
Cragan remembered that she was a widow woman, living alone. He took the
small bag, only to be sent away with a flea in her ear as she had been
buying the porridge oats for her son, who was responsible for providing
breakfast for a score of workmen engaged in clearing away the fire damaged
ruins of a house nearby.
But perhaps the biggest disadvantage of this system is that you never spot
the real bargains. For example, Maggin’s will regularly get in some Colbig
wheels. Made in Colbig, a town far to the east across the mountains, deep in
barbaricum. These are cheeses a yard across and a two hand spans deep, but
they are initially made in thinner plates. With the ‘Traditional,’ the
bottom plate will be smeared with honey berries, then the middle plate
placed in top, again smeared with honey berries, and then the top plate put
on, the whole garnished with roasted and salted nuts, bound tightly in linen
and left to mature for a year or so. You can also purchase the “Black Seal”,
which is made in exactly the same manner but is matured for three years. The
‘White Seal’ is made without rind and is matured under nut oil for a full
Finally there is the “Demon’s Breath”, made with Devil’s Pomatum in place of
honey berries and fire nuts in place of the usual selection, then matured
for six months. Apparently attempts to get it mature for longer have
resulted in cases of spontaneous combustion.
I confess I rarely shop in Maggin’s. This is not because of any doubts as to
the quality. Maggins purchase only the best. Produce can travel considerable
distances to get there. But there is the matter of cost. To buy a Colbig
Wheel would cost me perhaps two or three month’s earnings. Yet I was walking
past as they were unloading a dray. Two young fools, racing their
Commendable Monocycles, went too close to the horses, spooking them. The
horses set off, showering cheeses the length of the street. I helped sort
out the mess and sweep up. Indeed I recognised the two injudicious
monocyclists as a pair who had caused chaos as they plunged through the
dancers of the Shrine of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of
Chastity as the girls processed along Ropewalk in a terpsichorean fashion.
It took my cousin Thela nearly an hour to sort the girls out, disentangle
costumes, and generally restore hair and make-up. Thus I had no inhibitions
about mentioning their names to the manager. On the strength of that old
Maggin himself gave me a full Black Seal. A fair number of the other wheels
were put on sale at a substantial discount because the layers had split
apart due to the impact. There was a queue of buyers all that day.
But back to the point. One has to consider the carters who do the
deliveries. Cragan commented to me that in his father’s day it was a most
genteel trade. One would take out a cart load and would take all day
delivering. During this time you could find yourself drinking tea, putting
up shelves, or helping the maid move furniture into the spare room. Now, the
service has become fashionable and you are always rushing. You set off with
a full cart and have barely an hour to make the deliveries before they want
you back at the emporium for the next cart load. He commented that if ever
they organise chariot racing at the race course, the first generation of
charioteers will all have learned their trade driving the grocery delivery
Still, Maljie stuck with her sensible decision. In winter I could see how
the disadvantages were outweighed by the advantages. Indeed she behaved with
absolute decorum for several months, venturing out rarely and even then
acted in a sober and reserved manner as befits a lady of her maturity.
It was only recently that I chanced to meet Maljie and a number of her
friends in the street. I was alerted to the fact that something was
happening by the music I could hear. As I waited there was a procession of
fiddlers, bladder pipe players, and dancers. Leading the dancing was a
kimono clad Maljie. She and her collaborators had tankards filled with raw
spirit flavoured with juniper berries. As they danced down the street
towards me, Maljie waved her tankard in my direction. “Hello Tallis, it’s
You can find out more about Tallis and his world by visiting the main blog.