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Read an Extract

Here you can read sample pages from our stories along with blog posts by Rohase Piercy and Charlie Raven.
We hope you enjoy them and become encouraged to forge ahead and read more! We love reviews, reviews are gold dust so please, if you've read and enjoyed the books, leave a review on or or Goodreads! Thank you so much!

Bromance/Womance part 1

Charlie's Bloggy Bits Posted on 15 Nov, 2017 11:23:06

From Achilles and Patroclus via Holmes and Watson to Frodo and Sam and beyond – with a multitude in between – Bromance is everywhere. But what do men think about it? Why do women like to write about it? And, by the way, where is the female equivalent in literature? What does it all mean?
This three-part (rather frivolous) discussion will look at these questions.
First: Bromance.
When I started thinking about this subject, I did wonder if the modern literary theme of male/male platonic bonding was an entirely female fantasy. There are an awful lot of women writing about it (guilty as charged, m’lud: see ‘A Case of Domestic Pilfering’. And, I wondered as a starting point, what does Bromance, as a fictional genre, mean to men? Is it something they welcome? Does it amount to a kind of demeaning objectification of males, akin to the ‘Male Gaze’ of the heterosexual male artist first defined by Laura Mulvey back in 1975?
First of all, is it a real thing?
Well, of course it is.
I came across a study into ‘The Bromance: Undergraduate Male Friendships and the Expansion of Contemporary Homosocial Boundaries’. It’s a small study in a small social group, but all these straight chaps were clear: “There was a conclusive determination from the men we interviewed. On balance, they argued that bromantic relationships were more satisfying in their emotional intimacy, compared to their heterosexual romances.”
There is no space here to discuss the limitations of this study, of course, and it doesn’t answer my question about whether men feel happy that Bromance features in many a fictional setting; but it does show that it’s a recognised social phenomenon.
In order to get a view on male opinion, it’s necessary to stray from ‘Bromance: Straight, Platonic’ to ‘Bromance: Gay, Sexual’ – and here there are online comments to show that gay men do not necessarily feel over the moon about being continually squee’d over, puppified or, indeed, represented as obsessed with buggery. They’re in the middle of daily political and personal struggles and although ‘cuteness’ probably is a soft power of social change, it is easy to understand a gay man’s outrage at having his sexuality co-opted and made to serve straight female needs . This is where the Female Gaze gets demeaning.
There are jungles of Slashfic out there (‘slash’ due to the ‘slash’ between characters’ name in a ‘ship’ e.g. Kirk/Spock) and to stray into them is to be … quite surprised by what the readers are writing and the writers are reading. Not least because this research shows that up to 80% of online fan fiction is written by females in the U.S. (57%) – the only country to come near that was the U.K. (9.2%) – and they’re in their MID-TEENS. Again, there’s no room here to discuss why that is: the age range is significant, I think, indicating perhaps that it’s a safe way for straight girls to explore their sexual feelings towards men (sometimes by projecting them onto gay couples).
However annoyed gay men feel about this, these online fandoms vocalise the romance in the bromance. Important as mainstream LGBTQ fiction has been, a lot of it (written both from the male and the female perspective) has tended to be Worthy and Political and therefore sometimes rather like chewing a bran-based breakfast cereal. You know it’s good for you but it is a little cardboardy; and the off-stage sound of Axes being Ground gets distracting.
Next time, I’m going to look at Womance – the almost non-existent phenomenon of straight men writing adoringly about relationships between female characters. Where’d it go?

The Fragrance of that Friendship …

Charlie's Bloggy Bits Posted on 15 Nov, 2017 11:19:54

Writing ‘The Compact’ took me to a lot of strange places, I can tell you. Not physically, of course. Though now I come to mention it, I have been to a lot of … well, to get back to the point of this blatantly promotional blog post, I just wanted to let you in on what happened.

So, there I was, resurrecting another lost story idea. I’d lobbed the manuscript into the big bin at the end of the street a few years previously. I was in a very dark place in my life and it seemed so far away, this self who used to write. Anyway, as I tried in this Year of Grace 2017 to remember how the story had once unfolded and who the characters were, I was having a little difficulty with one of the names: I came up with ‘Charles’, ‘Herbert’ and finally ‘Jerome’.

As things proceeded, it naturally happened that the occult theme of my story and the year of its setting, 1898, brought me face to face with a young Aleister Crowley. Crowley was only 22: just getting into his studies at that time and very far from becoming ‘The Beast 666’. He was initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn in that year (and later, rising through the ranks like a comet, fought with everyone, split from them and went on to become what he became).

To my surprise, I found that in 1898, he was also deeply in love with a man called – wait for it – Herbert Charles Jerome Pollitt. See? I really felt that there was a synchronicity at work; and so, for better or worse (the reader will have to decide that), Mr Pollitt and Mr Crowley were volunteered to become characters in the book (and my original character’s name had to be changed from Jerome to George).

In real life, theirs was a short, intense romance. They met at Cambridge whilst Crowley was an undergraduate. Pollitt was 26 (though Crowley later thought – or pretended – that there was a ten year age difference). Pollitt had returned to give a performance at the Footlights Dramatic Club, of which he was president in 1896 and 1897. And Crowley met him and was smitten.

Pollitt was a remarkable amateur female impersonator – ‘a Rossetti woman come to life’. He could perform Loie Fuller’s Serpentine Dance ‘with all the charm and grace of a premier danceuse’, could sing and act with real ability; and commanded local renown. His notices in the newspapers regularly single him out: ‘The greatest praise must certainly be given to H.C.Pollitt who played the part of Diane de Rougy, the character having been especially written to allow of his excellent dancing. In the first scene of Act Two he gives a serpentine dance in a most finished and excellent manner.’ (The Stage, 14th June 1894).

Education at all levels was segregated in those days and so of necessity, in schools or universities, female roles were played by males. Doing so implied nothing about an actor’s sexuality. But Pollitt was a leading light not just on the stage but among the Aesthetes of Cambridge. He was a notable collector of the works of Aubrey Beardsley – being both an important patron and also a personal friend of that artist – and was even the inspiration for a novel by E.F.Benson, ‘The Babe, B.A.’

Through this relationship, Crowley came into contact with a world of glittering but dangerous decadence – the fall of Oscar Wilde, only two years before, had sent many gay British artists and writers to take refuge in the more tolerant society of France. But their stormy and passionate affair ran aground on the rocks of Crowley’s ‘white-hot’ obsession with his spiritual path. After only six months or so, they separated. The aftermath, however, is interesting.

For Crowley, this one romance – of all his many lovers and friends – seemed to become the defining passion of his life: ‘I lived with Pollitt as his wife for some six months and he made a poet out of me.’ He regretted the ending of that relationship for years and in his privately printed erotic writings often recalled their intimacy in various guises: ‘I had heaven in your kisses and I went to seek it in the cloister.’

A Perfectly Splendid Idea

Rohase's Bloggy Bits Posted on 15 Nov, 2017 11:15:16

From Rohase’s Goodreads blog:

‘I’ve just had a perfectly splendid idea’ announced Charlie a few weeks ago – ‘isn’t it thirty years next April since MDH was published?…’
Blimey, I thought, is it? I checked the publication date in my battered old scrapbook, where I keep various newspaper clippings and reviews pertaining to MDH and ‘The Coward Does It With A Kiss’ (including the famous ‘Sherlock Homo!’ article from The Sun), and there it was – ‘Published 14th April 1988’, courtesy of The Gay Men’s Press. That’s a whole generation ago …

… and how times have changed! I’ve written in earlier blogs about the reaction my modest offering received from the press, the Sherlock Holmes Society and the Conan Doyle Estate, so I won’t repeat myself here except to say that from a present-day perspective it all seems rather surreal – I wouldn’t expect to be asked on live radio in 2018 ‘why I had to drag this nasty little element of homosexuality into a perfectly normal friendship’; that ‘The Woofter of the Baskervilles’ would be suggested as a sequel in the popular press; or that I’d be accused of harbouring a ‘dangerous urge to update the past’ just because I’d written a (romantic, non-explicit) novel exploring the possibility that Watson was in love with Holmes. It’s unthinkable today … (isn’t it? I seem to recall that a mere seven years ago the Conan Doyle Estate brought pressure to bear upon Guy Ritchie & Co not to insert any ‘element of homosexuality’ into ‘A Game Of Shadows’ following the already rather camp overtones to his ‘Sherlock Holmes’).

Anyway be that as it may, a 30th Anniversary Edition is currently in production, and this means that Yours Truly is having to type up the whole thing from scratch since no file exists from those prehistoric times and all I have is the actual book. There’ll be some Extra Features – the exploratory essay about the Gothic and Decadent influences on Conan Doyle’s most famous character that I’ve already used as a basis for blogs, initially written soon after the book itself and finally published in the Baker Street Journal’s 2015 Winter edition, plus a brand new Foreword – but rest assured, the storyline remains unchanged. I wouldn’t and couldn’t interfere with a narrative that actually did seem, all those years ago, to unfold of its own accord, as though I really were discovering what John Watson, if not Arthur Conan Doyle had been wanting to write all along.

It’s an interesting experience, re-reading one’s own work from an older and wiser perspective. Not only am I unable to resist tightening up a line or two of clumsy dialogue, adding a word of explanation here or subtracting an annoying repetition there – well I guess I’m perfectly entitled to edit my own work as long as it doesn’t change the narrative – but I can also look at it with a critical eye, mindful of the comments and critiques of reviewers over the years.

‘Everyone in this book is gay!’ complained one reviewer back in the day. Well, there are heterosexual characters as well, surely?… Lord Carstairs in ‘A Discreet Investigation’ and, er … then in ‘The Final Problem’ there’s Mycroft, Moriarty, and (presumably) Mrs Hudson. That’s four straight characters. Too many? Oh, sorry, that wasn’t the problem… well, the difference between then and now is that now we have a Genre. Gay Romance, as a sub-heading of LGBTQ Fiction, if officially a Thing, and readers presumably know what to expect.

‘This book is just pieced together from old stories …’ well, duh, The Final Problem is supposed to be the unexpurgated version of ‘The Adventure of the Final Problem’ and its aftermath. But when it comes to ‘A Discreet Investigation’ – ‘there’s no real detective story here, it just hinges around the fact that Everyone is Gay.’ Ouch. Okay, so I’m not a crime fiction author. But I did think I’d managed to insert a bit of misdirection and an element of surprise … what with Miss D’Arcy … talking of whom, she’s aged twenty-nine, fair complexion, ‘fine light eyes’, who does that remind me of? Surely I wasn’t so vain as to try and put a self-description into my novel? Oh dear – the Arrogance of Youth. And here’s something you won’t know – I was very naughty with the name ‘Maria Kirkpatrick’. Hopefully the two people of whom she is an amalgam have never read the book. Or if they did, they’ve declined to comment, for which I am truly thankful.

If all that’s managed to whet your interest, there’s not that long to wait. April 2018. Put it in your diary, and think of me slaving away …


The Compact Posted on 15 Nov, 2017 11:10:22

· The Compact is a
Long Read (376 pages, 150,000 words approx.) It’s an LGBTQ
mystery/romance set in 1898, the London of Sherlock Holmes, with fictional
characters such as Dr Watson interacting with historical characters such as Aleister Crowley.

· The story is
a third person narrative; contains humour as well as Occult and Supernatural
themes. Other themes: obsession with beauty and youth; LGBTQ men and older
LGBTQ women in Victorian England; Goddess Inanna/ancient Sumer.

· Biographical
notes, bibliography and footnotes included.

· Non-explicit treatment of adult themes (appropriate to a crime/mystery story e.g.
murder, necromancy, dismemberment, rape).


The action at first focuses on Harriet Day and her dearest friend, Alexandra Roberts. These two
romantically-attached middle-aged women work hard to maintain respectable middle-class
independence in an era of female economic disadvantage. Things take a sinister
turn when Alexandra begins to fall under the influence of a fascinating,
manipulative and wealthy woman by the name of Minerva Atwell, provider of a range of marvellous skincare products
to the likes of Lillie Langtry and other society beauties.

Meanwhile, one of Alexandra’s
‘gentleman boarders’, the enigmatic, child-like actor, George Arden, is wrongly accused of murder. In terror, he flees for
his life. Harriet, desperate to help him, goes to the address shown on a
calling card George leaves her: a kindly doctor who once met George and took an
interest in his wellbeing. Thus a solo Dr
, whose poor health has prevented him from assisting his friend Sherlock Holmes in a mission to Russia,
becomes involved in attempting to prove George’s innocence. At the same time, a
young Aleister Crowley has quite a
different motive for wanting to secure the safety of the actor. Crowley’s flamboyant
lover, Jerome Pollitt, patron and
friend of Aubrey Beardsley and talented
amateur female impersonator, is drawn unwillingly into the plot (Crowley’s and
Pollitt’s relationship is respectfully explored in the course of the book).

Simultaneously, at her remote spa
hotel, Minerva begins to induct Alexandra into the mysteries of a certain
ancient clay tablet upon which she has long been brooding. As Alexandra falls
further under her dangerous influence, Watson and Crowley grudgingly team up to
investigate precisely why the punctilious crime reporter, Albert Burroughs, would choose to bear false witness against George
– and begin to discover a series of grisly secrets.

Available on, and Kindle from 18th November 2017. ISBN 978-1-9998901-0-0

And now let me test your memory, Oscar

The Coward Does It With A Kiss Posted on 28 Oct, 2017 19:45:04


And now let me
test your memory, Oscar. Let me see
whether I cannot conjure up your past for you better than you can
yourself. Voices in the drawing room –
Lionel Johnson’s, Robbie’s, John Gray’s, and yours; June sunlight in the
passageway outside; tinkling glasses, laughter, and the smell of Alexandrian

‘Oh! No, Oscar, this is too much.
How, after Dorian – it will be going from the sublime to the
ridiculous. Besides, you cannot base a
whole play upon the unrequited lust of an Israelite princess, not in this day
and age.’

‘Why ever not? The West End
Theatre, my dear Lionel, thrives on unrequited lust. Look at any play you care to mention, and you
will find that lust is the very pivot upon which the action turns!’

‘Yes, but a Biblical theme …’

‘Oh, lust is a very Biblical theme!
And anyway, I intend to make her Persian rather than Israelite. Poetic licence, my dear, the prerogative of
Genius. The Israelites had no
appreciation of sin.’

‘No, they quite disapproved of it, I’m told -‘

‘Whereas the Persians toasted the delights of the flesh in sugared
wine, offered in chalices of jade and silver by sloe-eyed boys with dusky skin
and rose-leaf lips …’

‘Robbie, what utter drivel.
What do you know of Persia?’

‘As much as you, I dare say, Dorian.
I was merely offering a humble tribute to the exquisite style and taste
of our host here.’

‘A very poor imitation then.
And please don’t call me Dorian.’

‘Mr Gray then, if we must be formal …’

‘Oh Oscar really, can’t you stop him?’

‘Stop him? But why? He is so charming with vine leaves in his
hair. At least he had the foresight to
arrive suitably arrayed in leafy clusters, whereas you and Lionel are both
constrained to borrow from me.’

‘At half past eleven in the morning?’

‘It is gone noon, I assure you.
Let us toast the glorious noon with some more of this golden
nectar. Lionel?’

‘Oscar, how can I refuse you?’

‘Never try. John?’

‘It is just gone half past eleven.
I looked at my watch not five minutes ago.’

‘I will not have to do with guests who consult their watches in my
presence. But if you insist, let us look
at mine – there, you see – the bawdy hand of the dial is e’en now upon the
prick of noon.’

‘Oh, really!’

‘The Immortal Bard’s words, not mine! And am I not right? You see how time flies when you are listening
to me? And now, are you going to drink
some more of my sherry?

‘Oh, very well …’

‘There’s no need to be so ungracious about it dear, just because I
was right and you were wrong. Petulance
does sometimes become you, but not today.
Today, let all be sweetness and light!
Robbie, my sweet goblin, what have you been doing this
morning? How came you thus to anticipate
us? Robert, it is too tiresome when you
giggle like that instead of replying to my questions. How can I discuss with you the delicious
wantonness of Salome when you sit there gurgling like an overflowing waste
pipe? I shall be forced to conclude that
you need the services of a plumber … oh really, what a vulgar sense of
humour. Do try and pull yourself
together dear, and let us converse about serious matters. What were we just discussing?’

‘Lust, Oscar.’

‘Oh, surely not!’

‘Persia. The West End

‘The sins of both are the same …’

Hic sunt poma Sodomorum – your words, I believe Lionel –
ah, the Cities of the Plain! Yes, it was
just such a cradle that rocked Salome …’

‘I really don’t see why.
Dorian, perhaps, but a Persian princess?’

‘There is a little of the Persian princess in most of us, don’t you

‘Oh Oscar, how perceptive of you!
I’ve been trying to keep it a secret!’

‘Not in you, Robbie. A
Persian princess would have more dignity.
She certainly would not sit huddled at one end of a divan smirking
tipsily to herself at half past – whatever it is in the morning. And you have
never answered my question. Where have
you been?’

‘Nowhere! I arose from my
downy couch and came straight here to you.
Last night, however -‘

‘Ah, no, I don’t want to hear it.
Never refer to the night before!
That should be a golden rule amongst all who take pleasure seriously.’

Laughter. The chink of
glasses as more sherry is poured. You are determined to keep centre stage, as

‘So now seriously, Oscar. You
have delighted us all with your subtlety in two wonderful stories which no-one
else would have had the audacity to write, let alone publish – I mean The
Portait of Mr W. H.
and Dorian,
or course – and now you announce that you will fling aside the mask of double
to reveal – what? A wanton
girl and a reluctant prophet? Don’t you realise how you will have disappointed
us all?

‘I have no doubt that my Salome will be a great
disappointment to the shallow-minded, to those concerned only with the
particular and not with the delicious conglomeration of the universal.’


‘Meaning the sins of the flesh, dear boy! A veritable feast! The apples of Sodom and the apples of Eden,
served at the same banquet! There is the
rest of the human race to consider, after all.’

‘As to that, I really neither know nor care. That is an opinion on which we must part
company, I think.’

‘So soon? My poor John, you
have your whole life ahead of you, and you will find the world a hard,
inhospitable place when they expel you from Eden.’

‘You think I am going to change?
Or compromise my nature? Because
I can assure you, Oscar – ‘

‘No, no, I am merely saying that an artist must take his material
from the whole of human experience.
Especially if he is to produce West End plays.’

‘Ah, there you have it. You
compromise, in order to please the vulgar masses.’

‘Certainly I wish my talents to have universal acknowledgement. Genius cannot thrive in a backwater.’

‘A backwater! You disappoint
me, Oscar.’

‘What! Because I am reluctant to leave my house, my family, my Art,
and elope with you to some seedy little lair in Bayswater?’

‘There’s no need to refer to that.
I take back any such proposal. I
am disappointed because you mean to have your cake and eat it too.’

‘I most certainly do! I would
consider it foolish and unimaginative not to!’

‘Oh! So you consider us all
to be foolish, and unimaginative?’

‘Of course he does not, John, stop trying to provoke him. You are determined to create a deliberate
misunderstanding …’

‘Am I?’

‘Yes, and don’t adopt that peevish tone with me. Life is a rich tapestry, and Oscar is the
richer for bring blessed with children, and an understanding wife.’

‘Thank you Robbie. Your vine
leaves become you. I do consider myself blessed.’

‘But is Constance understanding? Is she not just docile, and rather ignorant?’

‘Constance, docile? You would
not say that if you knew her!’

There is a edge to your laughter; and I meanwhile am trembling with
rage. Beneath that golden exterior, John
Gray is every bit as ugly as his namesake’s hidden portrait. Docile and ignorant! And he so fawning and flattering to my face!

‘Oh, so she knows, does she, where you spend the nocturnal hours?’

‘I would consider it demeaning both to my wife and to myself to
discuss such matters. We have an
excellent understanding. She pursues her
interests, and I pursue mine.’

‘Oh come on, Oscar. You mean
that she consoles herself with good works in Whitechapel, and plays at Liberal
politics with eccentric old women!’


‘It is all right, Robbie dear.
It takes more than a little
petulance to upset me. I am not
Basil Hallward, and he is not Dorian, as he so rightly says. Now let us forget these petty quarrels and
speak of Salome. I can promise
you, you will not be disappointed, whatever you may think of the subject
matter. It is to be written in French …’

‘In French! Ah, so this is
the outcome of your sojourn in Paris!’

‘But of course! No artist can visit that delightful city without
bathing in the spring of inspiration that bubbles up from its very foundations
… ah, it is the cradle of Decadence.
Salome was conceived in Paris, and I shall return thither to attend her

‘I thought you said she was rocked on the Cities of the Plain!’

‘And so she shall be, Lionel my dear. One generally rocks the baby after it
is born .. at least, that is my experience.
But as for the Cities of the Plain, surely Paris is one of them? Yes, I shall go back in the autumn.’

This is news to
me. I had hoped your long absences were
over for this year. The whole of
February and March, and most of May – and you did not write very often.

And yes, I already harbour suspicions as to where you spend the
‘nocturnal hours’. They are not the
suspicions I once harboured, and I have allowed myself to feel grateful for
that; to feel fortunate, even, in comparison with other neglected wives … Docile, and ignorant! Only Robbie has any true respect for me … why
can you not find another friend like him?

I have not been to Paris since our honeymoon.

I tread carefully on the stairs, past the half-open door, on my way to
the sanctuary of my room. The sunlight
has moved; a shadow steals across the upper landing. Just before I retreat from earshot, Lionel
Johnson is saying –

‘Oh by the way Oscar, there is a young cousin of mine who would very
much like to meet you. He’s just up at
Oxford from Winchester, and he claims to have read Dorian nine
times running! He’ll be in London for
part of the Summer vacation …’

Conversations with Old Ferdinand

What Brave Bulls Do Posted on 27 Oct, 2017 11:56:09

Extract from ‘What Brave Bulls Do’ by Rohase Piercy.

The little bulls spent their days grazing and playing, fighting and resting, just as the mood took them; and if they got bored, they would wander up to the top of their field to see if Old Ferdinand was in the mood for conversation. Old Ferdinand was a hero, famous throughout the ranch: many years ago, he had fought so fiercely in the corrida that the humans had given him the indulto. This meant that instead of going to the Pastures of Heaven, he had been brought back to the ranch and given a pasture of his own to graze. When the young bulls discovered that their new home adjoined Old Ferdinand’s field, they were very excited and spent a lot of time hanging around the border fence in the hope of attracting his attention; but they soon discovered that the old bull was not easy to approach.

There was the way he looked, for one thing: a great lump was missing from one of his ears, his back and shoulders were criss-crossed all over with scars, and one of his eyes was milky and blind. And then, for another, there was his grumpiness. If he was not in the mood for talking, he would turn his milky eye towards you and pretend that you were not there; and when he did decide to answer a question, he would often talk in riddles. For example, if you asked what the Ring was like, he would say, ‘You don’t want to know!’ – even though it must be obvious that you did want to know, very much – and if you said something complimentary, like, ‘You must have been magnificent in the corrida, Old Ferdinand, to get the indulto; I hope I shall be as brave as you!’, he would just snort and say, ‘Be careful what you wish for!’

In short, conversations with Old Ferdinand were usually disappointing, and the little bulls gradually stopped hanging around his fence, though they kept an eye on his slow, grumpy progress around the field and would sometimes saunter over hopefully if he came within talking range.

One day, Ario and his best friend Sancho had a fight by the border fence whilst Old Ferdinand was watching. It was a good, hard, satisfying fight which left both bulls snorting hot breath from their nostrils, hearts pounding and flanks heaving; and Ario was the winner! He glanced shyly across at Old Ferdinand, hoping to be congratulated on his performance.

The old bull looked him over with his one good eye. ‘Not bad,’ he said grudgingly; ‘I suppose you are feeling pleased with yourself.’

Glowing with pride, Ario tilted his head in acknowledgement. ‘Do you think Sancho and I will get to fight one another in the corrida, Old Ferdinand?’ he asked eagerly.

Old Ferdinand snorted derisively. ‘The corrida! You won’t be fighting other bulls in the corrida! It’s a different kind of fight altogether! You’ll be fighting humans called matadors and picadors. First they dance around waving pieces of cloth in your face, then they come at you on horseback with sharp sticks. When you charge, they dodge out of the way, and they gore you with their sticks. That’s the kind of fighting that goes on in the corrida.’

Ario was so astonished, he hardly knew what to say. Surely a human, even on horseback, was no match for a fully grown fighting bull? And as for a man armed with nothing but a cloth – well, he’d be tossed from one end of the Ring to the other! Any bull could do it! Where was the bravery in that?

‘But that’s not even a fair fight!’ he protested.

Old Ferdinand tilted his head reflectively. ‘You are right, young Ario. It is not a fair fight,’ he said. then he turned himself round so that his blind eye faced the fence, and carried on with his grazing.

By now, several other young bulls had come trotting over, and the news was flying quickly through the herd: Old Ferdinand had spoken about the corrida at last! But his description about what went on in the Ring was so different from what they had been expecting that they would not have believed it from anyone else: fighting humans!

‘It doesn’t sound much fun, does it?’ said Sancho doubtfully as he shook himself down; Sancho was brown and shaggy and cheerful, and never minded losing a good fight.

‘Forget about fun!’ cried Ario, seething with indignation. ‘What about being brave, and fierce, and magnificent? What’s so magnificent about fighting humans?’

Benito, a pale-coloured bull with faraway eyes who spent most of his time day-dreaming under the sycamores, shook his head sadly and declared that he couldn’t see the point of it at all. ‘I don’t think I shall bother, if that’s the way it is,’ he said. ‘Humans should stick to fighting one another, like we do. When my turn comes, I shall just dodge their sticks and get out of the Ring as quickly as I can.’

‘But you can’t do that, Benito!’ Ario protested, shocked; ‘You can’t not fight at all! We are fighting bulls! It’s what we’re for!’

Benito fixed Ario with his pale eye. ‘Ah, but is it, Ario? Is it really? Just because we like a fight when the mood takes us, it doesn’t mean that’s what we’re for. We like other things as well, don’t we? The taste of sweet grass, and the sun on our backs, and fresh water to drink when we’re thirsty; and I’m sure we’ll find other things to enjoy as life goes on. Enjoying life is what we’re for! Maybe humans enjoy their lives differently, but I can’t see how goring us with sticks is meant to be part of it. Look what they’ve done to Old Ferdinand,’ he continued, lowering his voice in case Old Ferdinand might be listening; ‘He may have been magnificent in the corrida, but he’s not magnificent now, is he? He’s sad and angry and hurting inside. It’s almost as if he wishes he’d never been given the indulto. Fighting humans has spoilt all the rest of his life. I’m not going to let that happen to me!’

There was a thoughtful silence when Benito finished speaking; but then Sancho butted him playfully on the shoulder, saying, ‘The trouble with you, Benito, is you think too much! You’re always trying to work out how things are meant to be, instead of just accepting the way they are! How is that enjoying life? Cheer up! I’m sure you won’t have to fight in the corrida if you don’t want to!’

There was general agreement at this, and the little herd dispersed and went about their business, and left Benito to his complicated thoughts.

‘Do you really think he’ll refuse to fight?’ whispered Ario to Sancho later that afternoon, as they wandered past the sycamore tree where Benito stood swishing his tail dreamily to and fro in the dappled shade.

‘We’ll just have to wait and see, I suppose,’ replied Sancho cheerfully. ‘It’s no good thinking too much about it; we’ll find out when the time comes.’

And Sancho was to be proved quite right, rather sooner than either of them expected.

‘Fro ‘er in the pond!

The Compact Posted on 26 Oct, 2017 13:44:47

Extract from Chapter One of THE COMPACT by Charlie Raven

Dusk was falling and the lamps in the park were already being lit. She walked briskly past the park gate, not intending to walk through, now that it was beginning to get dark. As she glanced over towards the pond, she was surprised to see that young man again, the one ho had fed the birds. She recognised his face instantly, lit by the lamplight as he sat on the iron bench near the water. To Harriet’s eyes, he seemed to perching there, like the robin. And in a little half-circle facing him was a group of boys. They seemed to be singing.

She stopped, trying to hear their voices. As she listened, it struck her
that what they were singing sounded like a sinister little chant. Then to her
surprise and horror, she saw the group begin pelting the poor fellow with lumps
of ice. He protested, protecting his head with crossed arms. Harriet walked
straight into the park through the gate, which creaked loudly, determined without
quite knowing how, to put a stop to this at once. There were eight or nine boys
and they were quite sturdy enough to appear menacing. Harriet had heard about –
and witnessed – gangs of beggar-children intimidating the weak and scared,
stealing purses and handbags, running wildly through street markets. On her own
behalf, she would not have felt so brave, but on this occasion she did not
think twice. She swept towards them.

‘Stop that at once!’ she roared, surprising herself. ‘How dare you!’

The children turned to see what the noise was: just a doughy,
motherly-looking woman stomping towards them. Without hesitation and with one
accord, they turned their fire upon her. Several lumps of ice shattered on the
ground around her. She felt one heavy piece thump against her shoulder.

In her bag, Harriet knew she had a hairbrush, a pair of nail scissors,
needle and thread, sal volatile, a handkerchief and a police whistle. In
her hand she held a stout umbrella with a strong wooden handle. Brandishing the
umbrella, she charged the gang and yelled something to do with ‘police’ and ‘police
whistle’. She wasn’t entirely sure what she yelled, but it was satisfyingly
loud, coming from a place deep within her chest.

The original object of the attack now attempted to put himself between the
volleys of ice and his rescuer, but was reluctant to use physical force upon
the children. Harriet noticed that his build was so very slight that he could
never have beaten off a determined attack. On realising this, she decided that
physical force was exactly what was needed here and she herself would not be
afraid to use it: any other kind of persuasion would simply be ridiculed. To a
chorus of jeers, she flung herself into the fray and walloped the tallest boy
with her umbrella.

‘Ow! Missus, you bloody well ‘urt me!’ yelped the boy, rubbing his elbow.

His gang closed in on her, shouting threats and insults.

‘You fat ugly old bag!’

‘Get ‘er!’

‘Bloody old cow!’

‘Get ’er ’andbag!’

‘Fro ’er in the pond!’

‘Fro ’em bofe in the pond!’

The young man now appeared behind the gang as they pressed forward, and
began pulling individuals backwards out of the mob by grabbing their clothing.
They turned on him now and with small experienced fists and boots went for the
attack. It became a seething mass of dark bodies and shouting, and Harriet
predicted that they would all end up in the freezing water; and that the ink
would run on her recently acquired cheque and she would have to go back and get
another one; and somehow was aware, in a distanced part of herself, of just how
unseemly the whole incident must look. The other floating thought that bothered
her was how heavy her skirts would become if they soaked up water and then

As all that passed through one part of her mind, she was madly searching in
her bag for the police whistle and keeping up a loud string of threats: ‘I’ll
call a policeman on you! What will your mother say! Stop that! Don’t you dare kick

Just then, penetrating the juvenile voices, she heard a loud voice barking
across from the park gate. She caught a glimpse of a bulky man in a long dark
overcoat and bowler hat creaking the gate open and walking briskly towards
them. ‘Hoi! What the devil is going on?’ he shouted. He spread both his arms
out and suddenly began running full pelt towards the group, roaring like a
lion, and the children seeing him, decided to give up the attack. Light-footed,
they scattered into the darkness, shouting insults as they ran.

Cousins in Hertfordshire, Mr Collins?

Before Elizabeth/R.Piercy Posted on 25 Oct, 2017 13:59:22

Whilst fretting and fuming over the Darcy family’s behaviour, Mama gave vent to her dissatisfaction by interfering further in Mr Collins’ affairs. The Parsonage, she declared, was in need of a great many improvements, which only a feminine hand could properly attend to; the kitchen garden was shamefully neglected. Mr Collins was a diligent shepherd to his flock, but his domestic life was in a sorry state; indeed how could it be otherwise, since he lacked a wife? And how was he ever to secure one, since he did nothing to recommend himself to any of the ladies to whom he had been introduced since his arrival at Hunsford? (I can vouch for the truth of this: Mama had invited several respectable spinsters of the parish to take tea with us when Mr Collins was present, and without exception they were appalled at the company they had to endure, and could not escape the experience quickly enough!)

“He does nothing to help himself by conversing with such tortuous pomposity,” was Mama’s despairing comment. “I am quite at a loss, Anne. Where shall we find a wife for Mr Collins?”

“Could we not just leave him to find his own wife?” I suggested; but she threw up her hands in horror.

“Good heavens, child, that will never do! Goodness knows what kind of a person he is likely to attract if left to his own devices! For he must have a gentlewoman, you know – I could never countenance anyone other than a gentlewoman at the Parsonage – but she must also be an active, useful sort of person, able to live happily on Mr Collins’ income. I have told him all this often enough! But he will never manage it for himself.”

Mr Collins, however, was to surprise us all, for he did manage it for himself, and in the following manner.

“I wonder, your Ladyship – I have been intending to ask – might I have leave to visit my cousins in Hertfordshire next month? Of course I would not wish to put your Ladyship to the slightest inconvenience, but I feel -”

“Cousins in Hertfordshire, Mr Collins? What relatives are these, pray?”

“A cousin of my late father, Lady Catherine – a Mr Bennet. A very respectable gentleman by all accounts, though an unfortunate disagreement between him and my father has prevented our becoming acquainted. I am persuaded, however, that enough time has now elapsed for me to offer the olive branch with equanimity; indeed, as a clergyman, I feel honour bound to do so. Mr Bennet has five unmarried daughters, and -”

“Five!” (I silently echoed my mother’s exclamation, and sat forward in my chair. This could be interesting.)

“Five daughters! What was the man thinking of? And all unmarried, you say – pray, what are their ages? And what is Mr Bennet’s estate?”

“He is the principal resident of Longbourn, Lady Catherine, a village near the town of Meryton in Hertfordshire. He keeps a very respectable house, I am assured. The youngest Miss Bennet is fifteen, I believe, and the eldest – I am not sure – no older than three and twenty. The estate of Longbourn is – entailed upon myself, in default of any male heir.”

Mama was rendered speechless for a moment, and I could not suppress a smile. There was more to our Mr Collins, it seemed, than either of us had supposed.

“Entailed! Upon you! You have never told me, Mr Collins, that you are to inherit an estate! Why, pray, have you never spoken of it before?”

“Well, I – your Ladyship -” stuttered the unfortunate man, “I did not feel it my place – until, that is, I have made my peace with Mr Bennet – I thought it unseemly to presume -”

“Oh, I understand, I understand. No use putting all your eggs in one basket. But this is news indeed! Longbourn, you say, in Hertfordshire; and five daughters of marriageable age! Well, depend upon it, one of them will easily be prevailed upon to accept you, especially as you are to inherit their father’s estate. Indeed, they can hardly do otherwise! A very pretty scheme, upon my word! You shall certainly have leave to go, Mr Collins, and I go so far as to charge you expressly not to return until you are an engaged man!”

“You may depend upon it, Anne,” reflected Mama when the grateful suppliant had been dismissed and we were able to discuss his prospects in private, “If the Bennet daughters do not have the good sense themselves to look favourably upon Mr Collins, their mother will see to it; she will be a very short-sighted woman if she does not! She has her husband’s estate to think of, and her comfort in old age, as well as the possibility that one of so many daughters may end an old maid, and dependent. She will persuade one or other of them to have him, mark my words!”

But when Mr Collins, who always did what Mama required of him, returned from Hertfordshire an engaged man, it was not one of the Miss Bennets who was the chosen partner of his felicity. We were surprised to learn that he had instead secured the eldest daughter of one Sir William Lucas, a neighbour and friend of the Bennet family. This gentleman, though formerly in trade, had been distinguished during his mayoralty of the town of Meryton by a knighthood; and his daughter Charlotte was declared by her enraptured lover to be the most amiable, most accomplished and most virtuous young woman of the neighbourhood. Whether she could possibly be of sound mind was a matter of speculation between myself and Mrs Jenkinson; but this was exactly the kind of wife Mama would have chosen for Mr Collins herself, and once she had got over her astonishment at his not having got one of his cousins, she was all affability and approval, and declared that the wedding must take place as soon as possible.

“Miss Lucas is the eldest daughter of her family, you say? Pray what is her age, Mr Collins?”

“She is seven and twenty, your Ladyship.”

“Well! She will not be wanting a long engagement, at seven and twenty! Pray return to Hertfordshire as soon as you like, and arrange the date! And her father is Sir William Lucas, is he? Well, you may tell him from me that he will be most welcome to visit his married daughter whenever he likes, and I will receive him here at Rosings!”

Mr Collins saw nothing untoward in my mother’s giving Sir William Lucas permission to visit his own daughter; he was all effusive gratitude, as usual. I was not paying attention to all that he said, for I was wondering whether all five Miss Bennets had refused him in turn, or whether he had become disheartened after one or two rebuttals and decided to look elsewhere. His description of his cousins was uncharacteristically reticent – ‘they were most pleasant girls; the eldest was likely to be married quite soon; their father and mother had been most hospitable.’ It was not like our Mr Collins to be so economical with words. Something, I suspected, had gone awry in that quarter.

I was aroused from my reverie by the exclamation: “Oh! My dear Lady Catherine, I have omitted to mention a most particular circumstance. Whilst in Hertfordshire I had the pleasure of meeting your nephew – Mr Darcy, of Pemberley!”

I bent my head to avoid the significant glance cast in my direction, while Mama inquired somewhat suspiciously into the circumstances of this meeting.

It transpired that a ball had been given by Mr Bingley at his Hertfordshire residence, to which the Bennets and their guest had been invited. It was there that Mr Collins had encountered William, and taken the liberty of introducing himself – ‘taking advantage’, as he put it, ‘of that privilege which we members of the clergy may claim, in being permitted to lay aside the established forms of ceremony’ – and of assuring him that his esteemed aunt and amiable cousin were both in good health. I was mortified, imagining William’s haughty surprise at being thus approached, and was relieved to hear that Mr Collins believed himself to have been received with ‘most affable condescension.’

Whilst Mama, her displeasure towards the Darcys temporarily suspended, waxed eloquent upon the impeccable manners of her nephew, I experienced an unpleasant succession of emotions as I pictured a flurry of Miss Bennets, Miss Lucases and other importunate female residents of Meryton all vying for William’s attention. The man who had once claimed to find balls so tedious had obviously not been averse to attending this one! And supposing he had already formed an attachment? Mr Bingley’s unmarried sister, for instance – how could I have overlooked that possibility? How long would it take Mama to get around to it? I stole an anxious glance in her direction, and was grateful to see that Mr Collins had the whole of her attention, and that my burning cheeks were safe from scrutiny. I surreptitiously placed a hand upon my heart, in a vain attempt to still its unruly clamour. Accept it, Anne, I told myself; accept the inevitable. Miss Bingley, or someone similar, will soon be mistress of Pemberley.

Mr Collins was married in Hertfordshire early in the New Year, and returned with his bride very promptly to Hunsford to be visited by a great many people, all curious to see how the new Mrs Collins conducted herself. Mama and I were of course among the first to pay our respects, and I was on the whole very favourably impressed. Mrs Collins was plain, neat, and well mannered. She smiled a little too readily, but this could of course be due to nervousness. Her conversation, when her husband’s verbosity allowed her to speak, was sensible, desirous to please but not disposed to flatter. Mama seemed likewise well satisfied with her, and invited the happy couple to dine with us the next day.

The Collinses soon became fairly regular guests at our dinner table, being much more welcome as a couple than Mr Collins had been in the single state. Although they were neither lively nor witty company, the husband was often unintentionally amusing and the wife always pleasant and friendly. I began to admire Mrs Collins for the diplomatic way in which she handled her husband, and for the equanimity with which she bore my mother’s interference into every aspect of her domestic affairs. Her age and situation, I decided, were sufficient explanation for her having accepted Mr Collins’ proposal; and if she did not show much obvious affection for him, neither did she betray any repugnance or regret. She seemed cheerfully determined to make the best of her situation, and I could only wish her well.

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