It seems it takes me four drafts to get a bloody text just right. The first sixty pages have now been revised that many times and here, once again, is an excerpt from the novel’s opening. A careful reader (and surely there’s one of you out there) will notice that the rooming house has a quaint name now and its structure is adequately described. The other revisions are largely infinitesimal, but in the end it’s the little things that count.—NC
I shan’t forget the summer I spent at Wiffledown Way. It was truly unforgettable, as it was only a few short weeks ago. Actually just one, to be precise, although I caution you not to expect any further precision as we proceed. I had just come down from Oxford, having completed my studies, and was sorely in need of détournement dévergondée. I use the word “studies” loosely, for the knowledge I’d acquired could fit inside a thimble with room to spare. And speaking of spare rooms, I’d taken one at the Stumble Inn, a cozy seaside Victorian on Lillywait Lane. This historic two-storey features a widow’s walk at each end and is situated between a pair of stately, homoerotic elms. From a distance, the structure resembles a coat of arms.
It was a tad early in the season, so the only other occupant of this shady abode was one Priscilla Pemburton. Yes, that Priscilla Pemburton – Sir Henny Pemburton’s niece. A lovely girl, pale as sand, with amber windblown hair, bright periwinkle eyes, and a figure able to stop traffic in Trafalgar during a dirty bomb attack.
Alas, Priscilla was recovering from an ill-fated affair with that venomous rake Reggie Ventwhistle. He had broken the engagement on the eve of their wedding. Good timing, what? The sheer gall of the lout was enough to make me see red – no small achievement since I’m legally colour blind. But that’s neither here nor there, most likely somewhere in between. I met this sad-eyed damsel under rather unfortunate circumstances. However, let us step back a few paces here while I present the facts in their natural order, although the word “natural” is quite inappropriate.
The morning had started off admirably for, upon awakening, I experienced a glowing sense of well-being which did not diminish with the passage of breakfast. Indeed, it seemed to increase as the minutes crawled on. So full of effervescing energy was I that, departing from my customary late-morning nap, I picked up my hat, stuck it at a rakish angle on the old bean, and sallied forth on a healthy tramp to the village green.
It was while returning, flushed and rosy, that I observed a sight which is rare in England: the spectacle of a bishop, armed with an AK-47, shooting into a crowd of well-wishers. It is not often in a place like Wiffledown that one sees a bishop at all, let alone one committing mass murder. What struck me at the time as particularly odd were his high-pitched cries of “Allahu Akbar!! Allahu Akbar!!” as he blasted away into the screaming throng. I knew not what those strange words meant, but a subsequent visit to the little library on Sea Froth informed me the expression was Arabic for “God is great” or – to be precise – “God is greater.”
I daresay I made it back to the rooming house in a jiffy—as if I’d been shot out of a canon—and who should I stumbled upon seated on the veranda but the jilted Miss Pemburton in the flesh! Shoulders slumped, head in hands, she was, in short, a train wreck.
Well they don’t call me Booster Wister for nothing. I fairly sprang into action.
“I say,” I said, “what seems to be the trouble? Such a ducky day. Right ho! – Aren’t you Priscilla Pemburton, Sir Henny’s niece?”
She looked up and smiled faintly. “Why yes… yes I am.”
“Pleased to meet you, I’m Artie Wister – Booster to my chums.” I took her pale hand in mine and gave it a gentle rattle. “Why so glum on such a sunlit day?”
“You haven’t heard the news then?” she said, suddenly wide-eyed. “An ISIS-sympathizer murdered thirteen people in cold blood!”
“Go on! Thirteen? Why that’s a baker’s dozen. Bloody awful!” I removed my hat and scratched the old nut. “Funnily enough, on my way back here from my morning walk, I spotted a bishop shooting into a crowd, but surely it’s unrelated. I mean, a bishop, after all.”
“No-no,” she cried, “that’s him! That’s the terrorist! Bishop McFarley from Brighton. They say he pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi on Facebook this morning.” She shuddered. “It’s so frightfully dreadful.”
I couldn’t deny it; Facebook had devolved into an uncivilized network of barbarians – most of whom are devoid of social graces, prone to the most egregious typos, and who never even bothered to “like” my clever postings. Thus, last year, I deactivated my dashed account, and bid good riddance to that den of narcissistic nitwits and their selfies!
I flashed Priscilla my winning “everything’s-going-to-be-hunky-dory” smile and piped: “How about a stroll along the beach? The brisk salt air will work wonders on the glooms.”
She looked at me askance for an instant with those sublime periwinkle eyes. Then came a discreet little nod. “I suppose you’re right, Mr Blist—er—”
“—Wister,” smiled I. “Booster Wister.”
“Oh, sorry.” She let out a laugh, but quickly regained her composure and nodded. “I think you’re quite right, Mr Wister. No sense sitting around here moping.”
“Precisely! Come along then. And please, call me Booster…”
—Draft 4, April 19, 2016—