Monday, October 30, 2023


as told to


by a young friend of his; name of Simon

As I’ve grown up, I’ve become quite used to people correcting me whenever I make a mistake: when I forget a name, for instance, or confuse one word with another. 


This is very true of a friend of mine called Wilberforce, because he’s much cleverer than what I am. 


I’ve known Wilberforce for a good many years. Until we were eleven we went to school together. Then he went off to a posh boarding school, where they teach Latin and complicated maths and stuff; and I went off to a small day school in our town, where they deal with people who have what they call “special needs”. Nowadays Wilberforce goes to a university, where he learns something I’ve forgot the name of.


Although we went to different big schools, Wilberforce and I have always kept in touch, during the school holidays and that. And now, once a week or so, we meet up in a pub. I drink a non-alcoholic lager, because I get quite confused enough as it is, and Wilberforce drinks Guinness. I usually pay.


As I say, Wilberforce spends a lot of his time correcting me. So I was quite surprised when one day recently I thought I heard him make a mistake of his own. Wilberforce has learnt to drive, of course, so he was telling me of a really good place that he’s found where he can park, whenever he goes into town.


“It’s a small patch of spare ground,” he said. “Round the back of a church. And they don’t charge a fee. They just ask for a donation, in a little box on the wall. But you can easily put ten pee in and stay there all day.”


“Oh,” I said. “And which church is this?”


“It’s on Basin Street, Simon.  Near the railway bridge. It’s called the Church of the Transvestites.”


Now. I thought about that for a minute, because it didn’t sound quite right to me. So then I said, “Don’t you mean the Church of the Configuration?” I know about that, you see, because our Cub pack used to meet in their church hall. On Fridays.


“Hm?” he said. “Oh. Oh, no, no, no, Simon, not the Church of the Transfiguration – that’s quite a different place. That’s on North Street, on the other side of town. No, the Transvestites are quite a different lot. You can tell them apart easily enough, because their preferences are no secret. They have two Vicars, you see, and if you walk past on a Sunday morning you can see the Vicars standing outside to greet you. And they both wear these long flowing gowns, called frocks, in black and white. Oh yes, very fetching, and quite unmistakeable. It’s quite the Eve San Loron on a Sunday morning, I can tell you.”


“Is it?” I said. “Gosh!” I have no idea what he meant by that, but it sounded impressive. 


“Oh yes. And one of the Vicars has clearly had his hair permed. And he wears make-up. And I did hear a whisper…” Wilberforce paused and looked around, as if to make sure that no one was listening. “In fact more than one whisper actually, but I did hear it said…” Another look round. “I did hear it said that the one with the perm is thinking of having the operation.”


Now this particular statement had me completely flummoxed. What had operations got to do with anything? My mouth may have fallen open.


Wilberforce nodded. “Oh yes!” he said vigorously, because he could see that I was puzzled. “And once he’s had the operation done, this Vicar is going to change his name to Prunella.”




Now, at this point I ought to pause and tell you a little bit about my personal friend called Prunella. A real Prunella, she is. And she’s been very helpful to me in putting me right when I’m out shopping. 


Prunella, you see, is in charge of a small shop where she sells fish. And buying fish, I’ve discovered, is a business where a customer can easily go wrong. 


I was in there one day after my Mum had asked me to go to Prunella’s and buy us two mackerel. And when I got into the shop it was very quiet, and Prunella was on her own – no other staff, and no customers. So I asked for these two mackerel very politely. 


“Hmm?” said Prunella. 


“Two mackerel please,” I said.


“Oh no,” said Prunella, very firmly. She uses a knife to cut the fish up with, you see, a long thin thing, very sharp, and she quite often waves it around. “Oh no,” she said again. “We don’t sell MACKrell here.”


“Don’t you? I thought you did.”


“Oh no, Simon.” (Because she knows my name, you see. I’ve been going to her for years, usually with my Mum.) “No, MACKrell is a very inferior fish. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Do you realise where it comes from?”


“Um, no, not really. The sea, isn’t it?”


“Yes, but only after a fashion. They come from the English Channel. And you do know what’s in the sea there, don’t you?”


No. I didn’t. 


“Lots and lots of poo,” said Prunella. 




“Yes. Stuff what comes out of your bum, and then gets pumped into the sea.”


“Goodness me,” I said.


“Oh yes. Gallons of it. All day. Poo pumped into the sea. Completely untreated. The water companies find it much cheaper to do that, you see, than to purify the poo first.”


“Do they?” I was astonished.


“Oh yes. Well you can tell that, easy enough, Simon. Use your eyes…. Have you been down to the sea recently?”


“Oh yes.”


“Well then, you can see for yourself. Seen people sunbathing, have you, sitting in deckchairs and that?”




“Blokes with their shirts off? After they've been swimming?”




“Well then. What colour is their chest?”


 “Um… Well… Brown, I suppose.”


“Exactly… I will say no more,” said Prunella. And she tapped the side of her nose with a finger. “Just keep that to yourself, Simon, because that could get me into trouble, if you let on that I’ve told you. The water companies are trying to keep it a secret, you see. And they might send a couple of heavies round if they knew I was wise to them.”


“Gosh!” I said.


“Yes. So that’s why I don’t sell MACKrell, you see, Simon. What I sell is an entirely superior kind of fish.”


“Is it?” 


“Oh yes. Similar but quite different. What I sell is not MACKrell, you see – it’s mackerELL.”


“MackerELL?” I repeated. 


“That’s right, Simon. Well remembered. You catch on real quick, lad, whatever people may say about you. And do you know why they’re called mackerELL?”




“Because they come from the Irish Sea. They’re Irish, like me.”




Prunella paused, and waved her long thin knife at me, just to make sure that I was going to remember. She often does that. And I stepped backwards three paces, which is what I usually do when the knife is out. 


“So next time you come in here, wanting a real treat for your dear old Mum, Simon, you remember to ask for some of my special mackerELL. And I’ll see you get the right thing.”


“Gosh, Prunella,” I said. “Thank you very much.”


And that’s why I really like Prunella you see. She puts me right when I go wrong. Just like Wilberforce does too.



Back to my discussion with Wilberforce, about the two clergymen, one of whom likes to be known as a different Prunella.


“Well,” I said to Wilberforce, “if this bloke really wants to be known as a woman, I’m not surprised he’s chosen the name Prunella. There is only one other Prunella in this town, and I know her quite well. I buy my fish from her.”


“So do I!” said Wilberforce. “Well remembered, Simon. She’s the one with that big sharp knife. I wouldn’t like to fall out with her on a dark and windy night. And come to think of it I shall have to remember to tell this clergyman fellow to have a word with her himself. Because if he asked her nicely I dare say she would do his operation for him without a waiting list, and at a nice cheap price as well. A couple of quick flicks with that knife of hers and Bob’s your auntie. Don’t you reckon?”


“Umm,” I said. Because once again I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. 




Such then, are a few of my recent chats with people. And as I thought about these chats, over the next few days and weeks, I began to feel a bit worried as to whether my memory was dis-improving – which is a word what the real Prunella taught me. Perhaps, I thought, perhaps I was forgetting things too often, or mishearing people, or dis-remembering things. So I had a look at my diary, and I realised that fortunately I was due to have one of my regular meetings with our doctor. In just three days’ time.


After I left school, you see, the doctor told my Mum that he’d like to keep an eye on my progress, so he arranged to see me every six months, whether I was feeling well or not. He’s a foreign bloke, and I’d like to tell you his name, but I never can quite remember it. Neither can Wilberforce, funnily enough, but Wilberforce calls him Dr Dumkopf, and I’m pretty sure that isn’t right. Anyway, when the time came I trotted along to see the doctor, quite happily, and explained a few of my worries.


“I am wondering, you see,” I said, “whether I’m going a bit like my Uncle Bert. He’s getting quite old now, and he’s got what he calls a case of the demons. Forgets things easily and all that.”


“Oh yes, I know all about your Uncle Bert,” said Dr Dumkopf. “And you’re quite right, he has got a form of dementia. But you’re far too young to worry about that. However, I can give you a quick test to prove it, if you’re at all worried. It’ll stop you getting into a twist about it.”


“Oh yes,” I said. “Please do test me.”


“OK. Now, you know the days of the week, don’t you?”


“Oh yes. Mostly.” The truth is I do get a bit confused about Thursdays and Fridays. I used to turn up on the wrong night for Cubs sometimes. But I didn’t let on to the doctor. 


“Right then. Now, recite the days of the week backwards for me, beginning with Sunday.”


“Um, right.” So I did it, and I got it right too, because I was slow and careful.


“Very good. Now then. Do you know the Lord’s Prayer?”


“Um, well, yes – bit of it. ‘Our Father, which art in heaven’, and all that?”


“That’s the one. Now, recite that one backwards for me.”


Wow. I tried, but of course that one had me totally stumped. I got as far as ‘Amen’, and that was it. But that didn’t bother Dr Dumkopf at all.


“Jolly, good, Simon!” he said. He seemed really pleased. “That’s really good!”


“Is it?”


“Oh yes. You see, these days most people don’t even know the opening words of the Lord’s Prayer. But you do. So that means your memory is even better than normal. Most people think the Lord’s Prayer is something you recite before a game of cricket. So the fact that you can’t recite it backwards means that you’re absolutely normal. Just like everyone else. One hundred percent. Congratulations.”


“Oh!” said. Cos I was a bit surprised. “So you don’t need to give me a prescription or anything?”


“No, definitely not. But I tell you what though. If you’re really worried about hearing what people say correctly, the next time you’re passing the chemist’s, go into the shop and buy a couple of packets of Lockets. They’re cough sweets really, but if you start sucking one of those every time you go out shopping, you’ll find that they really help to clear the tubes from your mouth to your ears, and to your brain too, for that matter. So you’ll hear everything much better than before, and you’ve got much less chance of misunderstanding anyone.”


“Gosh!” I said. “Thank you very much.” I was really delighted.


My Mum is right about our doctor, you see. He really is helpful.



And finally I went to see my Uncle Bert. He’s my Mum’s uncle really. He’s the one that truly has got a case of demons and really does forget things, and so he’s definitely got something to worry about. And I had a long chat with him.


“Hm,” said Uncle Bert at the end. “Well, you’ve had an interesting time recently, Simon, no doubt about it. And I’m glad you get on all right with our doctor. One word of warning, however. Our doc is a cheerful sort of fellow, and he has his own sense of humour. So if I were you I would take everything he says with a pinch of salt.”


“Oh, really?” I said. “Would you?”


“Oh yes. Definitely.”


“Oh, well, thanks for the tip, Uncle. You’ve taken a great weight off my mind, and I’ll definitely do what you say.”


And I have followed my Uncle’s advice. Faithfully, because he’s always had a soft spot for me, and keeps an eye on my progress. And now I keep a regular supply of Lockets on my desk at home. Every afternoon, before I go out shopping, I unwrap one of them. And then I go downstairs and dip both ends of it in the salt cellar. It makes them taste a bit funny at first, but you soon get used to it, and they really do open up your tubes as the doctor said. I can hear what people say much better now, and that makes me much happier. Because I know that I’m much less likely to de-mean what they say, and make a bit of a twit of myself. So I’m far less likely to be referred to as Simple Simon, even though people do mean it kindly, and only call me that name when I’m not listening to them.


All in all, I think I’ve learnt a lot this last few weeks. And the most important thing I’ve learnt is that I know some very helpful people.  


It’s a wonderful thing to have friends – don’t you agree? 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Mr Fenman rides again

This is the first time that I have written a piece for this blog in several years. The reason is simple: I am too old to have the time and energy to do any serious work: 82 last May.  In particular, I have been diagnosed as having Alzheimer's disease, which is a form of dementia. The chief effect that this disease has on an Alzheimer's patient is that he, or she, loses his memory. What happens, I'm told, is that the brain actually shrinks, and you can see the effect on a brain scan. There are some drugs which reportedly slow down the shrinkage, and I'm on one, but they do not reverse it. Despite this diagnosis, I remain fairly cheerful -- probably because I do not understand the full implications of the situation.

However, be that as it may, there is one side effect of Alzheimer's which is particularly interesting to a writer, and that is that I can look at a shelf full of various editions of my own books, stretching back nearly sixty years, and realise that I have only the broadest idea of what they are about. For instance, I once wrote a novel entitled Spence in Petal Park (1977). Without even opening it, I know that this is a police procedural of sorts, an old-fashioned English whodunit featuring a certain Superintendent Spence. But that's about all I know. I can't really remember where it's set, who the characters are, who actually dunit, et cetera.

Not that this failure of memory matters very much, but it does have a curious effect: it means that I can read one of my own books pretty much as if I had never even read it before, much less written it. Which is odd.

Bear in mind this background when I tell you that I recently read a "book" of mine entitled Mr Fenman's Farewell to His Readers. I put the word book in inverted commas because it's about 80 pages long in the printed edition, so it's more of a pamphlet really: a long short story perhaps. In any event it's no longer available in print (so far as I can discover) but it is available as a Kindle ebook.

Mr Fenman was written in 2007, and self-published that year. It is fiction, for the most part, though in it I claim at the outset that I bought Mr Fenman's first-person tale in manuscript form from a book dealer. The bulk of the story purports to be told by Mr Fenman himself, and he was, he declares, a writer of over 100 novels, during a long working life. He was born in 1761 and died in 1837. And in this autobiographical sketch he tells how, in 1786, he visited Venice for the first time. There he met a mysterious lady, Madame de Mentou, who taught him how to write fiction. She also had other pupils, in other arts: such as a tenor, and a young lady violinist. In 1836, near the end of his life, Mr Fenman goes back to Venice and meets Madame de Mentou again. Or does he? Or is he, perhaps, confusing her with someone else?

I think that's quite enough to give you a taste of what my little story is about. But at the end of my tale, Mr Fenman himself seems unsure whether the story of his life is true, or a tissue of lies. Perhaps, he admits, he is a liar. For all fiction writers are liars. 

But then, he adds, there is another possibility. "There is the spectre of madness..." Is this story of his true, or is it another of his fictions? Or is he just confused? "What could be more horrible," he asks the reader, "than to be alone in a foreign city, and to lose control of one's senses, to have one's memories fragment and grow faint? These may be the last semi-coherent jottings of a now deranged scribbler who soon will not even know his own face in the glass." 

And so, it seems, in 2007, and through the persona of Mr Fenman, I was anticipating what may, in due course, be the final shape of my own writing life.

You might, perhaps, be tempted to read about Mr Fenman yourself. If so, the story is still available on Kindle -- it might even be free if you understand how to use the various versions of Kindle (I don't). I used to have a Kindle book reader myself, but I haven't used it for some years. For a link, try entering "Mr Fenman's Farewell to His Readers" in Google, and follow the link to your local Amazon. But beware: if you follow the link to, you will find that the book is credited to a quite different sort of person -- a professor of Theology no less! No, I don't understand it either, and I am long past sorting it out. 

I used to have a Kindle ebook reader, but I haven't used it for some time. I have no doubt stored it in a safe place in my office; but, as with so much else, I have forgotten where it is.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Robert Eggleton: Rarity from the Hollow

Back in July 2006, as you doubtless remember, I mentioned a well reviewed book by Robert Eggleton: Rarity from the Hollow. Well, it's still in print, from a different publisher, and in Kindle, and still getting good reviews. As witness:

The most enjoyable science fiction novel I have read in several years

Rarity from the Hollow by Robert Eggleton is the most enjoyable science fiction novel I have read in several years. Who could think of an intergalactic handbook for entrepreneurs? Who could turn a tree-hugger into a paranormal event of death-defying significance? Who could create characters so believable, so funny, so astonishingly human (and not)?
Robert Eggleton, that’s who.
I put this book on my IPhone, and it followed me everywhere for several days. Strangers smiled politely at my unexpected laughter in the men’s room toilet stall. They looked away as I emerged, waving the IPhone at them as if it might explain something significant.
Oddly, the novel explains a great deal that has become significant in our society. Rarity from the Hollow is satire at its best and highest level. It is a psychological thriller, true to traits of mankind (and other species). It is an animal rights dissertation (you will laugh when you understand why I write that). It celebrates the vilest insect on earth (make that Universe).
The characters created by Robert Eggleton will bug your brain long after you smoke, uh, read the final page. Thanks for the laughs, the serious thoughts, the absolute wonder of your mind, Mr. Eggleton. A truly magnificent job.

Temple Emmet Williams, Author, former Reader’s Digest editor 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The real Virginia Woolf?

Loren Kantor has completed another woodcut of a famous author: this time Virginia Woolf. (For Loren's portrait of Hemingway, click here.)

To my eye, this woodcut makes the troubled lady look more peaceful and beautiful than most photographic images of her. Nice work.

Loren's woodcuts are available for sale via his web site.

I was never a great enthusiast for Mrs Woolf's novels, but Orlando made a wonderful film.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

More Guides for Writers

You will be thrilled, indifferent, or mildly interested to know that I have now completed all seven volumes in my guides for writers series.

The previous post described number 5. Number 6 in the series is on Literary Agents:

And number 7 is on Career Planning.

More to the point, perhaps, there is now an Omnibus Edition, containing all seven of the guides, this time arranged in a more logical order (I hope) than the one in which they were written. By buying the Omnibus Edition you will save yourself half the cost of buying all seven separately.

All are available from whichever branch of Amazon you favour, and only from there, in Kindle format.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Writer's Guide to Traditional Publishing

Just a brief note to let you know that the fifth in my series of Writer's Guides is now available. Title: A Writer's Guide to Traditional Publishing.

Here's the blurb:

This is a book which will tell you all you need to know about traditional publishing.

Publishing is a business which goes back over 500 years, and if you’re going to succeed as a writer you need to know how the business has developed and changed over that time. Otherwise you can make serious mistakes, with long-lasting effects.

The aims of this book are therefore as follows:

(i) To provide you with a short history of publishing, from the beginning of the trade in the late fifteenth century to the present day;
(ii) To enable you to understand how likely – or unlikely – it is that you will be able to interest a traditional publisher in your work;
(iii) To enable you make informed and realistic decisions on what sort of books to write, and how much time and effort you might sensibly devote to that work;
(iv) And, finally, to show you that there are now more ways than one to make your work available to the reading public.

A Writer’s Guide to Traditional Publishing is the fifth in Michael Allen’s series of practical, down-to-earth guides for writers; the previous ones deal with emotion, viewpoint, style, and success. This one will be most relevant to those who write fiction, whether short stories or novels – but non-fiction writers will also find it useful.

Michael Allen’s first novel was published over fifty years ago (1963). He is the author of numerous other novels and short stories (some written under pen-names) which have variously been published in hardback, paperback, and ebook editions, in the UK, USA, France and Denmark. He has also run two small publishing companies.

Just for the record, all the Writer's Guides have now been reduced in price to 99 cents, which is about 77 pence in the UK.