Occasionally, whilst working away at the day job in the salt mine, I stumble across a kindred spirit. The indie author I’m about to introduce you to works for the same organisation but in a different salt mine. Our paths crossed on the office’s business social media site and long story cut short, I’ve invited him along this week to share some insights into his creative thought process but first, allow me to share his fabulously quirky short story with you :-
Alana of Great Lindford
by Christian W. Smith
Christie’s Auction House
“And so ladies and gentlemen we move to the highlight of today’s sale: Alana of Great Lindford’s “The Prescient Requiem”, a series of 4 paintings in oil, selling today from the Royal Collection.” As he spoke, the elderly auctioneer stood ram-rod straight, a military air hanging over his precise diction and movements. With his throat dry from several hours of talking through the course of the day’s auction, he drank appreciatively from a glass of water in front of him and continued…
“These paintings by Alana in the first few years of the 1600s came into Royal ownership when they were personally gifted to James 1st in 1609 by the Reverend Richard Napier. Napier was one of the founding fathers of mental health within the UK, a protégé to the astrologer Simon Forman, and under his care, many patients found refuge and help…
Sunlight dimpled through the foliage of ash and oak trees that surrounded the Great Lindford Rectory, adding to the peace and tranquillity of the grounds. This quiet place. A place for contemplation. A refuge.
Pathways wove through beds of many colours; bluebottles, with intense blue florets mingled with pink-stained foxgloves, hemmed by banks of glorious golden nasturtiums and bordered by enthusiastic pale red and violet phlox. This morning, though, the riot of colour went unseen as Richard Napier, clergyman and astrological physician, wandered forth in pensive contemplation.
Alana held his thoughts. As she had done for the months she had resided in the Rectory under his care. Buckinghamshire sent him the worst of their mentally incapacitated – the maniacal, the lunatics. To these sad and failed folk with unsound minds whom society had spurned through fear and misunderstanding, Richard lent his renowned skill, his love and devotion.
Alana was one such. A gentle girl by day, but borne by terrible dreams in the night. Several shaded benches dotted beneath broad spreading oaks where his wards would sometimes rest. Indeed, there now sat the very object of his reflections – Alana, waif-like and pale, her long blonde hair braided and interwoven with blossoms, sitting perched on the edge of a bench, a nervous bird ready to take wing, daisy chain held skittishly in intertwined fingers.
As Richard came near, she stood and looked down submissively, wide blue eyes full of fear. Not of him – no, there was no fear there – but of the storms that raged within her frame, that daylight and the quiet gardens kept at bay, but which, when night fell, would overtake her. Strange visions. Oddities and pictures she did not understand. They would not go away. They would not cease. Every day she lifted fervent prayers for an end to come.
“Morning, child,” the reverend spoke quietly. “Please, sit. Continue your contemplations.” He knew there would be no response from her; she had not spoken in all her time there.
“The drawings go well?” She nodded as she sat again and withdrew a scrap of paper from her dress pocket, showing it briefly to him then returning it carefully to its place of origin.
“The same picture, I see”, he reflected.
Again, a nod.
“You fare well?”
For a third time, the nod came.
“That is good, child. I will see you at supper.” With that he came to a decision. This matter must be brought with haste to Simon. He returned to the rectory and entered his study. Here, in the sparsely-furnished room with just a wooden writing desk, a bookshelf and a chair by the shuttered window for his daily prayers and reflections, order reigned. A regimented man, he was, with papers stacked tidily and quills held in a neat rack; the housekeeper’s daily clean ensuring dust-free surfaces to work on.
A small wooden cross above the desk was the only adornment and he touched it as he sat down to write. Simon Forman had mentored him and befriended the slightly reclusive and awkward clergyman. Simon would know what to do. Pondering his missive, he lifted a sheet of writing parchment from the tidy pile on his desk, and selected a quill from the stand. Unstopping the ink bottle, he dipped the nib in then began to write.
To the Venerable Simon Forman Esq.
Hie, my friend. May this letter find ye and thine lovely wife Tronco well in London, and may the Grace of our Lord shine favour upon the pair.
The scratch of nib on paper always eased his disquiet. Today was no different and at the familiar rasping, his shoulders relaxed and his unease slipped away as he continued.
Work within the Rectory fares well and I spare no rest for the poor souls who labour so mightily under the duress of a darkened mind. As ye know, my hours are spent praying and beseeching our Lord for them and in the providing of victuals and rest. Per occasion the offer of hospitality, in guise of a mattress, is extended to those in more serious need and it is one of these more profoundly afflicted of whom I scribe.
I write thee today of Alana, a lady of the local town – by day her manner is genteel and calm yet given to wild ideas and crazee dreams that fall upon her in the night. They writhe and rack her and drench her in sweat as if a bathing bucket were thrown uponst her. Yet, ev’n in this chaos she utters no word – she is entirely lacking in speech. I then dowse her head with a tincture of beetroot, honey and laurel oil for the headwarks she silently complains of. Mercifully it appears to ease her throes.
Without words she communicates with gestures and drawings. Oh Simon, what drawings she makes with charcoal and pen. Scarce does she but finish one afore she beginns one other. No longer able to supply materials to the extent of her desire to draw, I beseeched the Lord Thompson of Lindford Manor to benefact the lady, which he has done and ennuff inks and papers are henceforth forthcoming from his estate. Many pictures does she draw, but at present only one theme does her art elucidate. I say true – ag’n and ag’n she draws the same image which I shall endeavour to picture with words for thine self.
He sat back in his chair and regarded one of the pictures that Alana had given him. It was a rough drawing, one that he had seen improved on in later sketches, but it was developed enough to attempt to describe to Simon.
Imagine standing back from on the bank of a lake – in front of ye is visible bare earth leading to the bank, and also the bank itself. Beyond, lies the lake. Imagine further the sun is falling, its dimming light turning the waters of the lake blacker. A fire is lit behind thine person and casts a flickering shadow upon the ground. Then out of the water rises a rounded silver platter, like the mysterious Excalibur rose, until the upper half of the circle be visible reflecting the light of the fire behind. That is as best I can describe it. Also too, it could be seen as a waxing moon in the night sky, yet sinking below water. But when I point at the moon, she shakes her head and makes motion that I fail to interpret beyond this – the moon looking down upon me. What means she by this? This image the poor girl will sketch in prolonged spells on paper anew. To be sure, I confess to be quite at a loss. I wayte upon what insight my beloved mentor may impart.
To end, I enclose a short sermon series on the Revelations of St. John and an essay, “Melancholy and the Lunar Elipsis”, both recently completed.
In Our Father’s name, Thine humble servant
The Reverend scrawled his signature across the bottom of the page with a flourish, then sprinkled fine sand across the page to soak up the excess ink. He pressed the seal of the Rectory into the hot ruby wax and calling his servant, requested that the letter be delivered forthwith to the village inn that a passing traveller might take it onwards to the capital. A waft of steak pie tickled his nose, his stomach rumbled and he left the study to find what magic Zillie was creating in the kitchen.
Several weeks later a reply was forthcoming. He eagerly ripped the seal apart and drank in his mentor’s responses:
May our Divine Lord and King be thine Blessing and thine Guide, and the stars be ever in alignment.
Tronco and I rest easy in Lambeth, though the bobolyns of the College of Physicians still cast their disapproving gaze upon my astrological diaries and scorn the insights contained therein. Fools, they are, whose sole gain in life is to diminish mine and resoundingly I curse them. I urge ye to pursue with all vigour both the teachings of our Lord and the heavens. I thanks ye deeply for the sermons and essay and wholeheartedly concur with the conclusions that the waxing and waning of our astral brother, La Lune, sends ripples through our minds and hearts.
I applaud thine efforts with thy charitable works. Our Lord Bless Ye and Keep Ye in his Spirit. I noted with interest thine description of poor Alana and wish ye well and kindness in thy cosseting of her. To whit, for answers, I presently have none, though might make suggestion that should Alana be familiar with watercolours, or even with oil and canvas, that upon an occasion, intermittent to the charcoal and pen friezes that form the basis of her works, she would lift a brush instead. Perchance, if colour abounded, a clearer meaning to her work may be inferred.
As ever, Peace and Grace be upon thine house.
Christie’s Auction House
The auctioneer’s gravel voice mesmerised the crowd. “What we know of Alana survives from parish records. We know that she used mainly pen and charcoal to compose her art, though no copies of these early works remains. It would appear, from these records, that when satisfied with the structure and composition of any particular image in pen or charcoal she would then continue by painting in watercolour. Finally, at the pinnacle she would turn to oil, creating just one single instance of each theme. Ladies and gentlemen, those 4 single instances are here before us today. The only known works of Alana of Lindford.”
Excited applause rippled from the gathered. They knew what was to come.
“The question everyone asks, and to which there is probably no answer – was Alana a prophetess, a seer, a diviner of the future? Or was she simply mad? Or indeed neither…
“Are these paintings her visions of the future or simply meaningless Rorschach blotches in which we see what we want to see? To guide us through the descriptions of the paintings I’m honoured to introduce Viscount Severn from the House of Wessex, who is the curator of the Royal Art collection.” A clipped turn brought the auctioneer face-to-face with a well-dressed gentleman seated to his right. “He can establish the authenticity and provenance of these works. Welcome, Viscount. The floor is yours.”
The Viscount dipped his head in acknowledgement, adjusted his scarlet cravat and continued where the auctioneer had left off.
“Thank you for having me today. It is truly an honour to be here. You may be wondering why the Royal Family is selling these paintings at this time. I should enlighten you that I am also the patron of Sound Minds. Sound Minds is a charity close to the hearts of both King William and Prince Harry, as it focuses on military personnel suffering from a mental illness. It was King William himself who suggested that if a suitable donation could be found from within the Royal Collection, then it could be sold with the proceeds donated to the charity. This series of four, Alana’s “Prescient Requiem”, seemed perfect. So let us begin. Shall we turn our attention to the first in the series – ‘Rise’.
Next to the Viscount were 4 velvet veils. He drew aside the first, shaded in a deep burgundy, to reveal a painting and a photograph side by side, both oriented in landscape and both approximately 2-foot-long by 1 and a half feet tall. He explained to the gathered audience: “‘Rise’ is the first in the series of four. Next to the painting we have placed a photograph of the view of Earth from the moon during the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969; the photographer is none other than Neil Armstrong during the first moonwalk. Rising in the background is Earth, and the foreground shows an American flag planted on the Moon’s surface.
The similarities between the photo and the painting are startling – the shape and colours in the painting are obviously Earthen and could that smudge of red and blue in the foreground be a representation of the US flag planted by the astronauts during their lunar visit? Or is the smudge, just, well, meaningless? A nonsense?…”
Richard’s pointed beard, normally a neat and kempt visual indicator of his calm and soothing personality, was today a ruffled mess, his greying hair splaying in every direction. So agitated was he, that he wasn’t even aware of its disarray, his distracted hands continuing to run through the tangles. How to help that girl? What succour can I give? Simon, Simon – I need your insight and wisdom.
Walking at haste to the parsonage study he sought pen, ink and paper and in agitation, began his next letter to his friend.
To the Venerable Simon Forman Esq.
Hie once anew. Near 2 months have passed since our last communications with much to report on from the interim. I thank thee for the suggestion of the use of colour – truly an inspired suggestion. Realising thy sage advice, I hastened to the Manor to seek an audience with Lord Thompson and requested his aid in the supply of canvas and paints. Thankfully he thinks well of my feeble works and was most forthcoming for both watercolours and oils. Alana took to the watercolours with great fervour, though avoiding the oils at first. Several canvases has she painted in the watercolour medium. Simply practising I suspect since once satisfied enough with the outcome she has turned to the oils and has painted one exquisite masterpiece. I have seen the decorated walls at Hampton Court Palace and this canvas matched any there, though envisioning it en couleur has not cleared the question of its meaning and I am scarecilly any more illuminated as to its significance.
Coming to the crux of his letter, Richard wiped his brow, beads of sweat and drops of ink unknowingly smearing blue streaks across his face. A deep breath, a violent exhale and he returned to his story.
But herewith lies my vexation: no more does Alana paint the picture of the fire on the silver platter. A night, but 7 days past, was more wretched than any in her time at the Rectory. In dawning hours didst Alana throw herself about her room incurring many wounds and making unnerving sounds that did wake the household. Til now, Simon, in truth I thought her dumb, her mouth unable for utterance. But now I know the real truth. She is silent by choice. I begged her tell me of what she saw in the dark and tortured night, but silence swooped once more upon her tongue and she bade me depart, glaring madly at me and gesticulating angrily though I had but tended her wounds and bound her bluddied head not half a candle earlier. Now she sketches anew, the oils discarded. Charcoal and pen once more are the favoured mediums. The headwarks grow fiercer and I now administer an infusion of mint, willow leaves, lupins, fennel and lichen boiled together. This she consumes from a silver altar bell to aid ingestion.
Richard shivered a little, not from the cold, as he penned the next paragraph.
But, Simon, I fear she is demonised. I know nothing of exorcism which might be the only treatment for her ails. Verily doth my soul quail at that, and I am somewhat loathe to share space with her. But I must persist – her absolution surely rides in, only upon a horse of my provision.
I fear I’ve not helped matters and that by giving aid to create these images I have extended her suffering. Would she now be drawing pictures of towers with rounded tops sitting atop a bed of fire had I not supplied the paints for her progression? Would the anguish of the night a week past have occurred if she had not birthed such a beautiful creation? By placing paintbrush in her trembling hand, have I lowered the curse to be a shackle around her neck and a prison from which there is no escape for her? I am afraid for her.
Please do send news of any domestic affairs as I hope a breath of a life more usual will blow some clarity into our predicament.
Thine servant, in darkening times
His signature, sprinkled sand and stamped seal concluded the narrative and a ruddy-faced servant was summoned for onward carriage of the letter to the local inn, once more to find a traveller to London.
Christie’s Auction House
The Viscount drew down on another gilded cord – this time a tawny mustard coloured curtain parted and the next pair of pictures was revealed. “After ‘Rise’, which we’ve seen could possibly be a vision of the Moon Landings, comes ‘Stand’.
“In Alana’s painting, there’s what looks like a stone tower on the left, and three round white-washed towers situated around another brown tower, all of which are sitting on a bed of fire. Look now to the photograph of a Space Shuttle taking off from Cape Canaveral. This particular photo is of the first ever shuttle flight, Columbia’s, on April 12th 1981. Flame and smoke billows out as the shuttle lifts. There are two thin white solid rocket boosters either side of the orange-coloured external tank and the body of the space shuttle sitting in the foreground. To the left of the departing vehicle is the scaffolding of the Fixed Service Structure, with a lightning mast, crane and the White Room through which the astronauts access the shuttle – this could be what looks like the stone tower in her painting. Whilst not identical, as Alana’s towers are all very similar in width whilst the rocket boosters and the external tank are not, once again the similarities between the two images are pretty striking, wouldn’t you agree?”
Nods around the room in response to the rhetorical question, accompanied the Viscount’s movement to the third curtained exhibit. Behind emerald drapes hung Alana’s third image, ‘Soul Glass’.
“‘Soul Glass’ looks like two groups of eight stained glass windows, 4 across and 2 down, set in a frame and bolted to the side of a small house. Confusingly, this picture looks as if it is set in a forest and has raised the greatest question mark over whether these images are really prophetic. You’ll all recognise the International Space Station in the photo to the right, also with two groups of solar panels in a 4×2 configuration with the body of the Space Station joining them together. No forest though!”
Light chuckles dusted the room.
“Still, the shape and layout are very consistent despite the disparity of the backgrounds.
And finally we move onto the last picture, the ‘Marionette’. Everyone will be familiar with Anchor One, the Space Elevator terminus situated in the mid-Atlantic that has revolutionised how we access space. Here is the latest photograph – you’ll immediately notice that there are only 3 pairs of tethers currently in place. Yet in Alana’s painting there are 7. Does that mean she was wrong? To find out, I can tell you that I have personally been in touch with the CEO of SkyWay, the company behind Anchor One, Richard Lyne and showed him this painting. He was well aware of it already and reciprocated by showing me an artist’s impression of Anchor One as it will be in the next 10 years or so. Did you know there are 7 tethers planned in total?”
Clearly everyone did. This was an educated auction crowd.
“Ah, you do. Excellent!”
“Indeed… 7 tether pairs tied to 7 individual platforms and arranged virtually identically to Alana’s painting. Incredible.” After pausing for a moment, the Viscount needled them, “So incredible actually, I might just put these back in the Royal Collection!”
Horrified looks stared back at him.
Around the rustic wooden table sat three people: Richard, Alana and recently arrived from London, his dear friend Simon Forman.
“It is so good of you to visit, Simon. We are glad of your company and your insights.” Extending a plate to his guest he said, “Try this partridge. Zillie is a fine cook and this is her specialty.”
A hungry Simon gratefully filled his plate with several of the stuffed birds, then ladled carrots, chicory and spinach on top of several potatoes. Alana’s eyebrows raised at the sight and Simon chuckled, rubbing his expanding girth.
“I love food, Alana. Always have. Tronco despairs of me.” Turning to his host, “Thank you for having me Richard – it is fine to see you after such a long time, though our correspondence does keep you close to both of us. I am here but for just a night and must return to Lambeth on the morrow.”
“A shame and a pleasure at the same time.” came the reply.
With his long-time friend in attendance, the reserve Richard normally held in deep check, loosened and he shared anecdote after anecdote of some of the trickling tide of humanity that passed through the Rectory doors. “Fine Joe wouldst throw off his clothes at the supper table and cavort around this room afore running off down the lane. Ev’ry day without fail. Henry, poor man, he be the groundsman labourer, would saddle his horse and of necessity, retrieve the naked Fine Joe, sometimes from inside local houses, twice from the river – one of those in a beastly winter. The lad nearly died from chill.”
Guffaws arose from both men at the memory and even Alana chuckled silently to herself.
Likewise, Simon, despite a loving wife with whom he could speak of most things, held inside a cache of unspoken utterances of some of the starker sights his eyes had seen through his medical practice. Harkening back to the awful plagues of London, “In 1593 the plague were terrible fierce in London. The sores and carbuncles of Mars were fierie hote and red and did rise up. I lancet them oftentimes. Thousands died, but I was spared. A terrible time indeed.”
The meal passed quickly – the men’s camaraderie evident to the quiet onlooker. Soon Alana’s thoughts turned to the night ahead and she pushed her plate away with a hiss. The two men regarded her with concern.
“Fear not, child” soothed Richard. “We shall stand by at the ready.”
“Child…” started Simon. “I have an ointment here. A potion called oleum dulce vitrioli, brewed from oil of vitriol. I learned the makings of it a brace of years past and it has aided many in matters of the head. Take a short drink, then we will see you abed for the night.”
Alana’s blue eyes looked cold and scared, but a flicker of hope flashed in them as she eyed the stoppered bottle their guest had placed upon the table. Pulling the cork she drank, ceasing at a motion from Simon indicating when enough had passed her lips. Then she nodded her head at the two men and made her way up the stairs to the straw mattress in the loft that was her bed. Under the blankets she laid, hands clasping and unclasping in great anxiety. Then she closed her eyes and waited for the dreams to come.
The tweet and call of bird song, cheery and bright, woke Alana in the cool early morning as daylight spilled through the open shutters. She could not believe it! No dreams. Nothing! She could not remember the last time that had happened. She lay in semi-shock. Perhaps the potion really did have the power to stop the dreams? Grabbing her coat from its peg beside her door, she threw it on and skipped downstairs to have a sturdy breakfast of cold meat pie and manchet bread with the Reverend and his guest.
Later that morning Richard and Simon watched as Alana painted in watercolour.
Richard leaned over and whispered in his mentor’s ear. “Something is different about this one. Sketches go faster than I’ve ever seen her, as though the sands of time are running against her. 7 plates on sticks in water held up by ropes, in shape of a hexagon. Where do these images come from? Watercolour precedes oil and soon, perchance in a few days, she will tackle the oil.”
Then the two friends left her to her painting and wiled the morning away, debating with great fervour the relative merits of a variety of treatments, acutely aware the sands of their brief time together were dribbling away.
After an early lunch of Simon called his coach, hugged his friend goodbye and began the lengthy journey back to London. As Richard stood outside the Rectory waving goodbye, the sun dipped behind a bank of clouds. Yet the drop in temperature wasn’t what made him shiver. A sense of foreboding loomed.
Christie’s Auction House
The Viscount looked like he was seriously pondering his threat. “But, don’t worry, I won’t! King William would kill me.”
A collective sigh of relief ran through the crowd.
Cool moonlight spilled ghostly shades across the loft as Alana awoke drenched in sweat once again, despite the frigid January air. Blankets lay strewn across the floor where she had thrown them whilst the tumult of the dream was upon her. For pity’s sake she sobbed quietly, will this never end? Just that very morning, she had finished the oil painting of the vision of ropes stretching into the sky and tied to odd structures with fat legs and weird egg-like carriages that shot up and down the ropes. And why were these odd buildings in the middle of the sea? It made no sense. Each time one picture finished another took its place, though this time she had hoped the ending of the fourth vision would not become the beginning of the fifth. Already though, a brand new dream had shoved itself upon her mind. This time it was a bleak landscape, red earth, red rocks. She knew no place like this. Where are the trees? The rivers? The sun is still there in the sky, but is it a little smaller? And there were people in the dream – she had glimpsed them walking and talking and dressing in white suits. Living in little round houses with connecting tunnels that had no obvious windows or doors to the outside. Taking rides in carriages with no horses. Nonsense images. Nonsensical visions.
Alana’s heart sank. There would be no ceasing of the dreams. There would be no end. Finish one and yet another would take its place. Without end. Amen. She understood now that the curse would not be lifted and this insight gave impetus to her movements, an air of finality hanging over them.
Up from the tangled bed clothes she rises and lays the four oil paintings in her place there. Destroy everything! Crazily she shreds the papers that bear the multitude of her nightmares. Slops paints until the containers are empty. Snaps paintbrushes, tossing them aside with a glare. When all the tools are destroyed she stops in front of the canvases laid across the straw mattress. As her manic air subsides a note of pride replaces it as the beauty of the work penetrates her fevered gaze. Deciding then that, actually, she cannot bring herself to destroy these final pictures, she strides across the freezing boards to the wooden dresser. Shivering now, but moving carefully so as to not wake the reverend with any errant screech of wood she opens the top drawer. Takes out two shifts and tears them into strips. Then, as she has done a thousand times with her hair, she braids the strips into rope. Long enough to loop securely around her neck with one end… Where could the other end be tied? That heavy metal spike holding my cloak beside the door, perhaps… Was it strong enough? It wasn’t high enough, really, only as high as her chest. Still, it would have to do. She ties the other end around the base of the spike then slides down the wall as if settling into a chair, legs stretched out in front of her. The loose rope goes taut with her weight when her bottom still remains about a foot off the ground. It will have to do. Trusting the spike and halter to hold, she relaxes her body and lets the rope throttle her.
Soundlessly she jerks into stillness.
He squirmed at the oaken study desk as he pondered how to explain the latest events to his mentor. Sighing, he simply began – there was no way else.
I trust this letter finds ye well, though it departs from a household in mourning. There is no easy way to share this. I bring grave news. Soon after thy leaving, the girl has hung herself. Vexed and entrauma’d she has denied her claim on the afterlife and Simon, I am beset by guilt. Mea culpa. Mea culpa. I broke fast in usual time, at dawn, two days past. Of normal course, Alana would arise and join me for food and Matins. When mid-morning had arrived without sign of her, a dreadful fear did fall upon me. Swift did I hasten to her chamber and there did find the pitiful wretch sitting next to the door, a rope of torn shifts around her neck, tethered to a rusty nail in the wall. She had been dead some time when I found her. I am distraught, and Zillie the housekeep is quite unable to work.
Thought it must be said, dearest Simon, that truth be, also I have ne’er seen her more at peace. A quiet calm did rest upon her visage and a smile did grace her lips. Her hands were crossed in her lap, though the death could not have been easy. These dreams have been the death of her, and I could do nothing for her. I have failed her though I have also buried her and said the words of Christ over her.
Her penultimate act was destroying all paper copies of her work, though I am grateful to say not the four oils. These she had laid reverently upon her mattress, perhaps cognisant that too great a cost had been paid for their creation.
I cannot burn them, but the burning question is what to do with them as I wish not to keep them.
I apologise for not enquiring of thy welfare – I am most heartsore – though pray God ye and yours are well.
I hold no malice at the lack of thine enquiries – there is no cause for apology. Not to my house, and not to Alana’s. Ye have not failed her. Thine provision of board and lodgings, and availing a willing ear, of sourcing the elements of her art, have made ye her friend.
The melancholy of the mind that troubled her was not of thine making – therefore her death is neither. I trust our Lord will look with compassion upon her actions, and that the hellish fires below do not consume her. I will pray for her soul.
Do not destroy the oils, Richard. May our Divine Majesty provide a way that they would be released from thy custody. Let not the angst of her passing be a shadow upon ye and still I urge ye continue all fine travails for those with unsound minds.
Be blessed in Christ, and His Light
For the first time in nearly 5 years, Richard’s clumsy gait held a spring in its step. He even whistled as he made his way up the path and into the rectory study. He hummed a tune as he busied himself with paper, quill and ink, smiled and settled himself to compose a letter to his friend.
Remember ye Alana? Near 5 years have passed since she took her own life and my heart has rested not once in all this time at the holding of her paintings in this house. But I have trusted thy sage advice and held them, despite my unrest. Now, Praise God, His plan for them is revealed. Sir James Thompson, son of the former mayor, is firm friends with the King. Recently the King and his royal retinue have visited at Lindford with Sir Thompson holding a week of sport and games in his honour. A great banquet was held and I was surprised to see a footman at my door with an invitation to attend. A clear thought struck me. I should give the paintings to the King. He is a fine man with a solid grasp of troubled minds and he will know well what to do with them. Thus did I attend bearing the paintings and with the help of Sir James didst enter an audience with the King afore the celebrations began. A momentary panic did descend when one of his party threatened to throw the paintings on the fire to warm the room. Seeing my woe at this outcome the King cuffed the offender a blow across the cheek that reeled him across the floor then thanked me for my gift and promised to steward it carefully. Indeed a fine man is the King. I am at long last relieved of the burden – relieved indeed.
Richard’s quill pen scritched and scribbled as the rest of the message of relief spilled from him. When at last he had fully imparted all his news, he stood, stretched and walked into the garden. At the bench where Alana had sat so many times, so long ago, yet what felt so recent also, he too now sat.
“It is done, dear child.” he soothed. “May you forever rest in peace.” Then he closed his eyes and let the warmth of the spring morning settle on him.
Christie’s Auction House
“Please remember all proceeds, including Christie’s fee which they have generously donated, will all be going to the charity, Sound Minds. So please think of Alana, think of our servicemen and women who have given so much in the service of our great nation and dig deep.
“I was not at the Moon landings, nor have I seen a Space Shuttle launch, except on TV, and undoubtedly I will never visit the ISS. But I was there on Anchor One when it was opened. I was a member of the official UK delegation. I watch the first capsules climb into the sky and accelerate away up the graphene tether. I have been back to Anchor One when the second tether was opened and I stand here today in absolutely no doubt that Alana saw the future. Thank you.” The Viscount swept his gaze once more around the attendees then sat down.
Immediately the auctioneer stood and led a round of applause that swelled around the room as the gathered aficionados appreciated the rarity of the event. The swelling turned to a standing ovation which continued for several minutes. At last, as the applause slowly died, the auctioneer raised his hands and motioned to the crowd to sit. When all were seated and the room was quiet, he surveyed them, holding their attention with his hawk-like eyes, then announced, “We’ll start the bidding at £15million.”
Reverend Richard Napier (1559-1634) and Simon Forman (1552-1611) are both real historical figures.
Napier studied theology at Oxford University, which he left in 1590 to become the Rector of Great Linford, in Buckinghamshire. There he studied theology, alchemy and astrological medicine until his death. The combination of astrology and medicine enabled Napier to build up a substantial medical practice, both of physical and mental illness. Although the mentally ill comprised less than 5% of those he tended, it is clear from his notes that he had great empathy for them and dispensed a multitude of eclectic treatments that they found highly palatable. Though magic was a capital crime in this period, Napier steered clear of such accusations by maintaining a moderate and conforming Anglicanism in his diocese. He is therefore viewed both as the last of the Renaissance magi and as a crusader for orthodox Anglicanism – a curious combination.
Forman studied astrology as well as Napier and this gave them common ground when they studied together in the mid-1590s. Forman mentored Napier and this formed a bond between them that remained for the rest of their lives. He also studied the occult and was a herbalist, having been apprenticed to a local merchant who traded in herbal remedies. He worked initially as a teacher, branching out as a physician in 1583. He survived two outbreaks of the plague (1583 and 1594), which enhanced his physician’s reputation. His arguments with the College of Physicians were also well documented as he branched out once again to become a surgeon. This drew their ire as physician and surgeon were seen as two different professions and they withdrew his licence to practice. Undeterred he continued, but a patient’s death led to him serving time in prison, damaging his reputation. His reputation suffered further when after his death he was accused of conspiring to murder the poet, Thomas Overbury. Nonetheless, he produced a wealth of manuscripts, diaries and an autobiography, many of which are still held today within the famous Bodleian library in Oxford.
Anchor One is not real. Yet. It is the fictional space elevator complex set on the equator, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, midway between South America and West Africa. Space elevators, for those not familiar with the concept, are essentially strings hung down from space, on which cable cars run up and down. Stick with me and you’ll learn more about it in time.
Alana, too, was not real.
Letters are written both in old English and modern English. You can read them
To the respected Simon Forman Esq.
Hello, my friend. I hope this letter finds you and your lovely wife Tronco well in London, and may the Grace of our Lord shine upon you both.
Work at the Rectory goes well and all of my time is spent looking after the poor people with mental afflictions. I spend all my time praying for them and asking our Lord to look after them and providing food and rest. Occasionally I offer a bed to those in more serious need, and I’m writing to you about one of those people today.
Her name is Alana – she’s a local lady. Calm and considered during the day but at night, she is has wild ideas and crazy dreams. They cause her to writhe and twist and drench her in night sweats as if she were having a bath. Yet even as this goes on, she makes no sound as she cannot talk. When it is over, I pour a mixture of beetroot, honey and laurel oil on her head for the headaches she indicates she has. Thankfully it appears to help a little.
Since she doesn’t talk she communicates with gestures and drawings. Oh, Simon, what drawings she does with charcoal and pen. She’s constantly drawing and no sooner does she finish one before she starts another. I didn’t have enough paper, ink or charcoal to keep up with her so have requested help from Lord Thompson at Lindford Manor to take a more active role in looking after her. He’s now done this and his estate sends over enough to keep up with her. For all the different pictures she draws, she only draws one theme. I mean it – just one theme. Again and again she draws the same image which I’ll try to describe with words for you.
Honoured Richard, may our Divine Lord and King be your Blessing and your Guide, and the stars be ever in alignment.
Tronco and I are well in Lambeth, though the idiots at the College of Physicians are disapproving of my astrological diaries and scornful of the insights within them. They are fools who are only happy when I am unhappy and I curse them for that. Follow the teachings of our Lord and learn from the heavens with all your energy. Thank you for the sermons and essay; I would agree that the waxing and waning of the moon has an effect on our hearts and minds.
Well done for all your charitable work. Our Lord bless you and keep you in his Spirit. Your description of Alana was interesting and I wish you well in looking after her. I don’t have answers to your questions, but if she is capable of painting in oil or watercolours, then maybe occasionally she should paint, rather than drawing in charcoal and pen. Perhaps by seeing colour in the images it might make it easier to interpret their meaning.
As ever, Peace and Grace be upon your house.
Respected Simon Forman,
Hello again. Nearly 2 months have passed since we last communicated and there is much to report on from that time. Thanks for the suggestion of using colour – it was inspired. Realising your good advice I went to talk to Lord Thompson at the Manor to ask for his help in supplying canvas and paints. He thinks highly of my feeble work and was very generous with both watercolours and oils. Alana is very pleased with the watercolours, though has avoided the oils initially, painting several canvases in watercolour. I suspect she was just is practicing and now satisfied has started with the oils painting one exquisite masterpiece. I have seen the decorated walls at Hampton Court Palace and this canvas matched any I saw there, though seeing the same painting only now in colour has not made its meaning any clearer. I am none the wiser as to its significance.
But here’s my frustration – Alana no longer paints the picture of the fire on the silver chalice. 7 nights ago she had the worst night of her time at the Rectory. As dawn approached, she threw herself around the room, wounding herself many times and making unnerving noises that woke the whole household. Up until now, Simon, truly I thought she couldn’t speak. But now I know the real truth – she is silent by choice. I begged her to tell what she saw when the night was dark and tortured but she stayed silent then threw me out, glaring crazily at me and gesticulating angrily though I had just tended her wounds and bandaged her bloodied head just moments earlier. Today she’s sketching again, and for now has discarded the oils in favour of charcoal and pen. Her headaches grow fiercer and I give her a tea of mint, willow leaves, lupins, fennel and lichen boiled together. She drinks this out of a silver altar bell for better ingestion.
But Simon, I fear she is demonised, and her only treatment might be exorcism, of which I know nothing. I quail at doing that and am not inclined to be in the same room as her. But I must carry on – surely I am the only one who can help her.
I’m scared I’ve not helped matters and that by giving her the tools to create these images I have extended her suffering. Would she be drawing pictures of towers with rounded tops sitting on a bed of fire, if I hadn’t given her the paints as a help? Would that terrible night a week ago have happened if she hadn’t produced such a lovely oil painting and only had the charcoal and pen? By putting a paintbrush in her trembling hand, have I permanently bound her in the curse, shackling her in a prison from which there is no escape? I am afraid for her.
Please do send news of what is happening in your home as I am hoping that hearing about normal life somewhere else will give some clarity to our own.
The situation grows darker.
I hope you are well, though I send this letter to you from a house in mourning. There isn’t an easy way to tell you some bad news. Shortly after your visit, the girl hung herself. She was frustrated and traumatised and has now denied herself entry to Heaven. Simon, I am feeling so guilty. It’s my fault – my fault. Two days ago I had breakfast at the usual time, just at dawn. Alana would normally join me for some food and an early morning service. When she hadn’t appeared by mid-morning, I suddenly grew afraid and quickly ran to her room. She was sitting next to the door, a rope of torn shifts around her neck which was tied to a hook by the door. I am so upset and Zillie, the housekeeper, is unable to work.
It must be said though, that to be honest, I’d never seen her look so peaceful. Her face was calm, with a little smile and her hands were crossed in her lap, though her death could not have been easy. These dreams have killed her and I couldn’t help. I failed her, but have buried her anyway and prayed for her.
The last thing she did was to destroy all the paper copies of her work, though thankfully not the 4 oils. These she had laid so carefully on the mattress; possibly she was aware at how much they had cost of her to create.
I can’t burn them, but I don’t know what to do with them except that I don’t want them. I’m sorry for not asking after you – right now it’s too painful – but I hope that all of you are well.
I’m not upset by you not asking how we are – please don’t apologise. Not to me, and not for Alana. You did not fail her. You gave her board and lodgings, you listened to her, you found the tools for her to paint. These things have made you her friend.
Her troubled mind was not of your making, therefore neither is her death. I trust our Lord to look with compassion upon her and save her from the fires of hell. I too will pray for her soul.
Don’t destroy the oils! I pray God will provide a way to relieve you of them and of the pain of her passing. Please carry on your great work for all the others who suffer from mental illness.
Be blessed in Christ and in His Light.
Do you remember Alana? It’s been nearly 5 years since she killed herself and I have not had peace whilst her paintings remained in this house. But I have listened to your wise council and held on to them regardless. Now, Praise God, His plan has been made clear. Sir James Thompson, son of the former mayor, is firm friends with the King. Recently the King came to visit Sir Thompson at Lindford where a week of sports and games was held in his honour. A feast was held and I was surprised to see an invite appear at my door. At that moment a clear thought struck me: I should give the paintings to the King. He knows about mental illness and would know what to do with the paintings. So I took the paintings to the feast and with Sir James’ help had an audience with the King before the party began. I had a moment’s panic which the King saw when one of his retinue threatened to throw the paintings in the fire. He punched the offender so hard in the face that he flew across the floor, then thanked me for the gift and promised to look after it carefully. The King is a fine man and at long last I’m relieved of the burden. Very relieved indeed.
Hope you enjoyed that as much as I did when I read it.
Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to fellow indie author Christian W Smith aka Mark Grint.
Mark, tell me a little bit about yourself and how you became a writer?
Mid-2017 was the first time I wrote seriously. Disenchanted with perpetually failing projects in several large Finance organisations, I wanted to create something that worked, even if only in fiction. I’d been investigating space elevators to a considerable degree and chose that environment as the grit around which pearls (?) of stories would form. As it turns out, so far, my stories have had only a passing, yet critical, link to space elevators – the first, a novella called ‘Victor’, was about a young African boy whose genius was discovered by a holiday-making lecturer to his country. The lecturer arranges for Victor to come to the UK to study engineering and he becomes one of the team that discovers how to produce a material strong enough to make the space elevator. Hint – we haven’t actually discovered how to do this in real life yet. But the story isn’t really about space elevators – it’s about a boy. And relationships. And as I went about crafting the story, I realised that I actually quite liked writing.
What was the inspiration behind Alana of Great Lindford?
Space elevators were first written about in 1895, by a Russian called Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. I wanted to write a story that dwelt to some degree on a significant gap in time. I thought his existence would form a good base for one end of the time continuum. But it turns out I know very little about Russia in the 1890’s! So didn’t feel I could do justice to the task of bringing a time gap to life if he was the origin. So I had to find another way to link two time frames. So I went Nostradamus/Leonardo-da-Vinci-ish and made up Alana, a lady who saw visions (?) way back at the turn of the 17th century. It was likely she would be viewed as mentally ill and that’s how I found my scene setting in Richard Napier’s house. In my online research I discovered Napier and found he was a real person, who was kind and generous to the mentally ill and he had a real-life mentor with whom I could make him fictionally correspond. Since Alana was unlikely to be literate I thought a better medium for her visions would be a painting. After all a picture is worth… One painting led to four. The auction scene gave me the opportunity to bring elements of her artwork to life and explore their significance to the story.
Do you have any other short stories or novels published?
Yes ‘Victor’ is the lead story in a space elevator short story anthology with other authors such as David Brin, John Helfers, Todd McCaffrey and Theresa Paterson, published through Amazon in December 2017. The book is called Towering Yarns Volume 1.
What does an average evening/week’s writing look like?
It doesn’t. Or rather, up until now it hasn’t. It’s way more miss than hit. Finding time and being disciplined about writing has proved a real struggle for me. Indeed, not just for writing, but through much of my life and so it was with profound hope that I have recently discovered I have ADHD (inattentive type), and that I’m not mad, lazy or stupid. But I have a lifetime of poor organisational habits due to the ADHD that means despite the diagnosis and treatment I’m having to work hard at building good habits. Even replying to Coral’s questions has taken longer than it should have!! But I’m getting there, and so ask me this question in a year’s time and you’ll probably get a different answer.
Are you a planner or a “pantser”?
I’m a planner to the degree that a story needs a structure. It has to make sense. I keep planning to no more than broad strokes but they’re critical to the story’s success. But the actual writing is organic. Organic like mouldy bread. As mould starts as a spot or two, then swells to a larger spots and eventually grows to cover the plate, so too does my writing, I’ll write a part of the story, then a completely different part, and a different part again. I’ll probably return back to the first text and rewrite it and think it’s much better then do the same somewhere else. Eventually, finally, the narrative grows until the whole story is covered. And then I’ll tweak the whole thing. Actually, I’ll probably end up rewriting parts half a dozen times. So the actual writing is repetitious pantsing, but the primary story line is well planned and generally well researched as well.
Do you find it a challenge to balance life, the day job and writing time?
Ah man, don’t we all! It’s virtually impossible. I have two kids, a doctor-wife who works shifts, and way more going on than is healthy. As a result, it’s probably more accurate to call me a part-timer.
What are you currently working on?
“An A-Z of Murder” – I’m (mostly) taking a break from space elevators for the moment to write my own anthology of murderous short stories. It’s an A-Z because the characters will be created alphabetically. So far I have 4 story lines covering an eBay deal that turns out to be a scam, sibling rivalry (actually between twins) set in 1965, a neighbourhood stalker, a murder on a ship like “The World” whose inhabitants are not resident in any country and therefore under no country’s judicial jurisdiction.
What advice would you give to any other budding authors reading this?
I’m probably not the best person to ask for about advice, as I don’t have the greatest output, but here’s what I would say: perspective is everything, and moving perspective keeps the reader interested.
Let me elaborate with examples:
The rickety cart bumped its way along the muddy tracks.
Bumping along the muddy tracks, the rickety cart threw around its cursing driver.
Bert cursed the bumping cart that tossed him from side to side, the muddy track making progress difficult.
The man on the hill pulled his cloak tighter around him against the wild wind and watched the rickety cart and cursing driver make its way along the muddy tracks.
The keening wind whistled. Down the side of a rugged hill it tumbled. A muddy path waited at the bottom and the wind turned and danced along this. A bumping cart came down the path. The wind swirled, whipping through its wheels then climbed up to tango around the cursing cart driver.
And if perspective is everything, then use of tense is the other everything and great vocab and descriptions are the last everything.
Share two interesting facts about yourself.
I was charged by a buffalo when on a 5 day canoe safari in the middle of deep bush in Zimbabwe. It stopped 5 metres away. My heart had stopped long before then.
I have two beautiful kids who are amazing and I adore them. I also have two terrible kids who drive me crazy, but I love them. I only have two kids.
If you want to check out Towering Yarns vol 1 here’s the links:
Alana of Great Lindford published with full permission
Copyright belongs to Mark Grint