Murder for Dinner as told by Reggie Steepleton

I was first introduced to the celebrated detective Hungerford Bales at a dinner party being hosted by Lady Prudence Billingford, a good friend of my aunt. The other guests were, Colonel William Graves, the right honourable Tarquin Herring and Lucy Peeves, daughter of the local vicar. Dinner had barely begun when the table’s attention turned to the celebrated detective.

“So, Mister Bales, what do you love most about your profession?” asked Lady Billingham.

“Nothing. Everyone I touch dies. I can’t go anywhere without there being a murder. I go to a dinner party? Bang! The host is lying face down in the soup. I go to a wedding? Bam! The best man collapses in the middle of his speech. I was even there for a murder on a train, for god’s sake. A bloody train!”

“But surely it’s very exciting?”

“That’s the worst thing, it’s got so predictable now! Why, if someone were to die right this very night, it wouldn’t take me a day to work out who did it.”

“A bold claim,” the Colonel snorted.

“Well, I doubt anyone will be murdered tonight, Mister Bales,” added Lucy Peeves. Bales sighed.

That night I slept like a baby, intermittently waking up screaming for food and soiling myself. It was just at the crack of dawn when I heard something which was unmistakably, assuming I wasn’t mistaken, a gunshot coming from Lady Billingham’s room.

I raced down the corridor and you can imagine my horror when I flung the door open and found her dead! If you can’t imagine it, it was a bit like this “Oh, I wonder what that noise was..doot doot doo…OH MY GOOD GOD LADY BILLINGHAM HAS BEEN MURDERED! THIS IS NOT WHAT I EXPECTED!”

My shock was interrupted by the arrival of Bales. The renowned detective took one look at the scene and said “Oh, bloody hell, not another one.”

“Who do you suppose did it, Hungerford?” I asked, my eyes wide with anticipation.

Bales fixed me with one of the penetrating looks that in our short acquaintance I’d learnt to know so well.

“You really are a complete moron, aren’t you, Steepleton? Look, why don’t you piss off for a minute and call the police while I sort this out.”

Less than an hour later, the whole household, minus the servantry who were, for some reason, all above suspicion, assembled in the dining room. Bales, unshaven and clothed in nothing but a tattered dressing gown, addressed us.

“Right, let’s get this over with. Oh whoever could be responsible for this heinous crime? Was it you, Colonel what’s his name? You had an affair with the deceased and probably wanted her jewellery or something. Or could it be you, the other guy. I mean, you haven’t done much, and you seem fairly superfluous, but I’m willing to bet you keep your insane wife in a closet or something equally weird. But no! Careful investigation and, blah blah blah, it’s the girl.”

Bales waved the piece of toast he was eating to indicate Lucy Peeves, who in this short time I had fallen passionately in love with. Lucy leapt to her own defence.

“Who, me? You can’t possibly prove it!”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake. You were standing in the room with the gun in your hand when we got there! Now please just confess so we can all move on.”

Of course! It all came flooding back to me. Standing outside the bedroom, looking at the body of Lady Bellingford, barely noticing the woman sheepishly holding the smoking gun in her hand. Confronted with the truth of what she’d done, Lucy’s manner changed and she defiantly drew herself to her full height.

“Could you blame me? After what she did? Why she-”

“Yes, yes, terribly sad, I’m sure.” Bales yawned.

In a matter of minutes, a young constable had taken Miss Peeves by the shoulders and gently pushed her out of the room. When her outraged shouts had faded, Bales turned to me.

“Well, now that’s sorted, perhaps I can go back to having a nice holiday.”

“Of course, Huggy. But there’s one last thing I don’t understand.”

“Really Steepleton? You don’t surprise me. You have the mental capacity of a goldfish in a bowl of cheap vodka. What’s this one last thing then?”

“Well, if Miss Peeves killed Lady Billingham, then who just killed Tarquin Herring?”

Behind me, the still warm body of Tarquin was slumped over the dinner table, a ceremonial Turkish dagger sticking out of his back.

“Oh, for fucks sake,” said the famous detective.

My Walrus Faux Pas

by Jeff Chi

I was working on door at the Waldorf at the time. I had graduated the previous year with a first in Art History and a PhD in Classical Architecture, so slid with ease into my new career working in hotels. What struck me first was its size. I’d never seen a walrus outside nature documentaries before, and didn’t think its tusks would be quite so convex.

It was my job to smile, say ‘welcome to the Waldorf, let me help you with those bags’ and show the guests to their rooms. The walrus belly-slid past me on its scaly flubber and dropped a £50 into my palm. I didn’t want to embarrass him by drawing attention to this generous tip, so nodded and lead him to the lift, bound for the top floor.

“First time at the Waldorf, sir?” I asked. Since the icecaps had melted, I struggled to keep track on which Arctic creatures had acclimatised to UK temperatures and integrated into society. The woolly mammoths had been the most successful entrepreneurs, spindling their furs into expensive coats for sale in boutique emporia in London, Milan and Paris.

“Yes, this is my first appearance,” the walrus said. His voice was husky, rather Nick Nolte-ish.

“You should like it here, sir. Our staff are among the most courteous in the capital.”

“Yes, I am aware of your reputation.”

His demeanour was a little snooty, but no more so than the usual clientele, whose private educations made them socially uncomfortable around the working classes. Plus, his tip was so generous, I would’ve tolerated even the most exquisite rudeness. The maids had set up his room, with a mini ice floe in place of the bed and a bucket of benthic bivalve molluscs in place of pillow mints. His bags were among the heaviest I had ever carried, so he tipped an additional £20 for the effort.

“Really, you are too generous.”

“Don’t mention it,” he said, raising a tusk. I wasn’t sure what this gesture meant, and without thinking I grabbed onto his ivory tooth and shook it heartily. His whiskers flared up and his eyes narrowed. There was a silence. I so embarrassed my saliva was boiling. I backed out the room and simpered.

“Would you like your money back?” I asked.

“No. You keep it. You’ll know for next time.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t sweat it.”

That was one kindly walrus.


Theory Games

by James Robertson

Since the start of the new academic year I’ve been sitting in on some of the Theory and Innovation module classes on the Creative Writing MA. This is an element of the course which all students, whether full-time or part-time, are obliged to take. It’s a challenging module, and so it should be. One of its effects is to make you question, in a way that conventional creative writing ‘workshops’ can’t do, why, what and how you’re writing. It introduces both the ideas and the linguistic structures underpinning literary craft; it explores how thoughts and perceptions are transmitted through words onto paper, and it encourages experimentalism. In other words, it deconstructs, attacks or undermines the assumptions many of us bring to the act of writing. Making writers grapple with these difficult concepts and ideas is no bad thing. It can be frustrating and infuriating, but it makes you think.

This is certainly the case for me, a practising author whose knowledge of literary theory you could have summarised on the back of a postcard before I attended lectures on Lyotard, Saussure, Barthes and Bakhtin. ‘I get it! No, it’s gone. I get it! Damn, it’s away again. Yes!!! No, lost it.’ The foregoing is only a slightly exaggerated account of how I absorb – or don’t – such ideas. Actually the postcard would still just about serve its purpose, which reflects badly on me rather than on the contents of the module. Is it the human condition, always to be just on the verge of total understanding? Quite possibly.

What I find fascinating about this whole Theory and Innovation malarkey is that, as a plooky teenager growing up in central Scotland in the early 1970s with a typewriter and an infatuation with Surrealism, I was independently and naively confronting many of the same concepts and issues – I just didn’t have the terminology, the tools or the textbooks. It was quite exciting then and it’s quite exciting again now. Nevertheless, I do feel a certain sympathy with the student who, after hearing all about the Oulipo group of French experimentalist writers and their various games and constraints, posed the perfectly reasonable question, ‘Do these guys have nothing better to do with their time?’ Perhaps not. But digging into the world of Oulipo has been very entertaining, and I suspect there’s a lot more fun to be had.

Recognise this, for example?

O, my luck’s like a red, red rotor,
That’s newly sprung in June.
O, my luck’s like the memo,
That’s sweetly played in turd.
As fake art thou, my bonnie lather,
So defendant in luck am I,
And I will luck thee still, my debauch,
Till a’ the seals gap dry.
Yes, that’s an extract from Burns’s ‘My Luve is Like a Red, Red Rose’ subjected to the N+7 process, whereby all the nouns in a given text are replaced by nouns seven places further on in the dictionary.

By N+15 it’s got seriously weird:

O, my lunatic’s like a red, red round,
That’s newly sprung in June.
O, my lunatic’s like the menagerie,
That’s sweetly played in turnip.

Eat your heart out, André Breton! This is Surrealist imagery created without recourse to ‘automatic writing’ – the dictionary does the work. But which dictionary? I’m already keen to experiment further with Scots texts and a Scots dictionary.

Another Oulipo discipline is the ‘prisoner’s constraint’. The idea here is that the said prisoner only has a very narrow strip of paper to write on, so any message he slips past his jailers will have no room for letters with ascenders or descenders. The text must be constructed, in other words, without using b, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, p, q, t, and y. This forces you to reconstruct everything. So, the opening sentence of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, it is a truth universally acknowledged,

that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife

might be re-rendered as:

no one can no-no sure maxim, croesus man on own wanna woman

which has a kind of reggae feel to it, but is somewhat deficient in elegance.

You could also rewrite Pride and Prejudice Georges Perec-style, eliminating the letter ‘e’ throughout. Thus the opening sentence of Vanity and Bigotry might be:

it is a truth all folk admit, that a man on his own with a lot of dosh, must want a woman to blow it

Of course playing around with already existing texts is one thing, creating new work quite another. The possibilities are endless. I’m away to invent some Oulipo Scots language games.

New Hattism: Delicious Knuckles

By Dave X

I was recently invited by Marie Du Bonnet to watch the execution of a few rebels in the Hat Quarters. The resistance group, ‘Sisters of Dead Hatists’, were being disposed of before a 12,000-strong crowd.

Jolene Fagan, Jemima Whiteside, Dotty Marsland and Mindy Nicholls were executed separately, each performance accompanied by a rousing song from Cyndi Lauper. Such joyful pop music is thought to have offended the delicate ears of the soon to-be-executed. Du Bonnet believes the music to have been worse than the actual death awaiting them.

Afterwards we ate a delicious supper of toasted knuckles and quivering snail paste. Guest speaker Darth Bishop spoke of the wonderful new graphic novel movement: stories written about the executed and serialised in the Daily Boater (newspaper for members).

Sogoth Kelly, head of the Department For Innovation, spoke on the successful abolishment of theoretical concepts in literature, the death of philosophy, and the rise of an autocratic state ruled entirely by the whims of Du Bonnet. It was impressive, but at this point, I was being dragged from the table to a prison cell, where I currently write this piece.

If I don’t survive, please pass this on to the relevant people and tell my story. Don’t forget me.

Love, Dave.