In writing about midsummer, William Cullen Bryant uncannily described our current conditions, speaking as he does of, among other things, maize fainting under torrid sunshine, panting cows, and dead fish in hot streams.

As it must be for most of our subscribers, our local weather continues to sizzle, although due to several recent torrential outbursts when rain came down like the proverbial stair-rods, vegetation, leaves and lawns have all turned emerald green, an eerie sight bearing in mind that normally at this time of year they'd be coated in dust from the gritty clouds that follow anything moving at more than a snail's pace.

Ignoring the thermometer, we measure how hot is it chez maywrite by the number of pots of coffee drunk each day. This has halved during the past week or so, regrettable though that news may be to growers of coffee beans. Doubtless it's much the same at your house, so perhaps now's the time to put down the blinds, grab a cool drink, and dive right into this edition of Orphan Scrivener.


Around here summer has become our prime writing season.

Our current deadline is toward summer's end, so Mary and I have spent a large portion of these past three months lurking about in ancient Constantinople. I'm not sure that the unseasonable cold and snow John suffered through in Four For A Boy might not have been related to the endless series of 90 degree plus days we experienced while writing it last summer, but we've been making a heroic effort in Five For Silver to keep the weather at bay. It's shaping up as the only novel thus far in which it doesn't rain at all, let alone most of the time.

Rain cooperatively stayed away a while ago when I took a break from hiking Byzantine byways seeking elusive murderers to hiking the woods in a three-strong team in search of orienteering control flags during my traditional annual R.O.G.A.I.N.E. The acronym is said by some to stand for Rugged Outdoor Group Activity Involving Navigation and Endurance. (Others claim it's the initials of the Aussies who invented the sport.) Basically, we trekked around for six hours, trying to locate features circled on a detailed topographical map -- stream junctions, boulders, hilltops, ponds -- which are marked on the actual spot by an orange and white flag, from which hangs a coded punch you use on your score card to prove you've been there.

I was a little surprised to arrive at the meet site at all. Attempted attendance of earlier orienteering activities began in mid-March with a journey of approximately twenty feet into a snowbank, continued on through several weeks of lack of transportation due to the demise of my eighteen year-old car, were followed by a couple of severe thunderstorms which mitigated against 7 hour round trips, and ended in an attempt cut short when my new (to me) pickup truck overheated fifteen miles from the house.

If this run of events was Fortuna's way of telling me to give up orienteering, she had apparently changed her mind because we found our way unerringly to all our targeted locations, until very near the end. The area we traversed was mountainous, with woods and farms. Hilltop fields offered spectacular vistas. Deeper in the woods we were treated to views of narrow, stream filled ravines.

We followed our usual strategy -- go slow, don't get lost, get back on time. It worked brilliantly. We strolled to the finish with fifteen minutes to spare, while the only other team in our division visited twice as many controls as we did, but came racing in twenty minutes late. They therefore lost most of their points, making us the WINNERS!

When I resumed writing Five For Silver, I found myself mapping out plausible routes for John to take around Constantinople. To get to the Church of the Holy Apostles from the northeast he might cut down past the Aqueduct of Valens, then walk up the Mese. Being cognizant that the eastern capital, like Rome, was a city built on seven hills when John spends a day searching for people he wants to interview, I made sure he took a route which sent him along the ridge overlooking the Golden Horn, conserving energy, rather than climbing up and down the steep streets.

Which brings me to wonder, and not for the first time, how much of what we think we're creating really arises from what's going on around us while we're writing.



Earlier this month, Four For A Boy was chosen for preview by the Wicked Company Book Club. The WCBC emails extracts from a particular book every day for a week, along with commentary and snippets from interviews with the writers. For further information or to consult their archive of book extracts, point your clicker at Our thanks to the WCBC for including John in its wicked circle.


Not to give too much away, but there's a fair bit about oracles in Five For Silver, so we're not sure what it means that as we started writing the last paragraph (of the first draft at least) most of the northeast power grid went down.

Here, the effect was merely to dim the lights and temporarily turn off the computer and coffee pot, but during the blackout of 1977 Eric was living in Brooklyn, New York. The east-facing windows in the fifth floor walk-up looked out over the entire expanse of Brooklyn. In the far distance could be seen the red lights on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, twinkling like Christmas decorations. The evening when the squirrel gnawed its way into infamy at the substation, Eric recalls he happened to be looking out the window and so saw when the countless thousands of lights, stretching as far as the eye could see, flickered on and off, as if they were on a single circuit, and then went out. Even the lights on the bridge disappeared. When you see every light in Brooklyn go out at once, you know you have a problem.

This time, though, the computer was rebooted, the coffee reperked and the final paragraph retyped as it had been previously written.

We just hope we hadn't been handed a critical judgment from Fortuna.


Constantinople knows our protagonist as John the Eunuch, reminding us that the custom of nicknaming rulers and those holding high office is one of those fascinating practices interwoven for centuries into the unfolding tapestry of history.

Thus British schoolchildren are soon familiar with such royal luminaries as Alfred the Great, stout-hearted defeater of Danish invaders and alleged burner of a goodwife's cakes while contemplating battle plans, not to mention Richard the Lionheart, who spent more time abroad than he did in England -- and even when he was home had to deal with his revolting brother John Lackland (see below). Then there were the murdered Edward the Martyr, regarded as a saint, and pious Edward the Confessor, who among other things supervised the reconstruction of Westminster Abbey.

William the Conqueror we'll just ignore.

Yet lest we be accused of remembering only the good, consider also those rulers known by less complimentary nicknames, such as Ethelred the Unready, much harried by those troublesome, forever invading Danes, and the aforementioned John Lackland, also known as Bad King John. This latter dishonour is perhaps not entirely undeserved given his actions, which notably included conspiring to seize the crown from his brother Richard the Lionheart while the latter was away on a crusade. Excommunicated by Pope Innocent III at one point, there's also the matter of John's loss of the crown jewels while crossing the marshy land of a North Sea bay, thus proving that not everything comes out of The Wash.

For all that, in general John seems to have been one of those names often connected with valiant deeds. Thus at various times we hear of Johns who are Victorious (he enlarged his duchy by force of arms, although ironically he was to die from a wound sustained in a tournament) and Fearless (a Burgundian duke who, having fought the Turks, been captured and ransomed, returned home where he waged war against his fellow countryman and was finally assassinated by the Dauphin's bodyguard)

Then there was the Portugese king John the Fortunate, although one might argue the nickname is appropriate since despite its war with Spain, his country did not achieve independence until about a decade after his death. On the other hand, John the Perfect, another Portugese ruler, was certainly misnamed in that he personally murdered a duke accused of conspiracy.

As far as our protagonist John's time is concerned, history remembers his ruler as Justinian the Great, although unfortunately another John, the historian John of Ephesus, records that the empress was commonly called Theodora from the brothel.

But presumably not to her face.


Another thing to be faced cannot be completely unexpected, in that our subscribers will already have come to the horrible realization that the next issue of Orphan Scrivener will trundle into their email in-boxes on l5th October. We can only trust by then the current unforgiving red and burning eye in the sky will be emulating those meek and brief suns about which William Cullen Bryant wrote in another poem, this time welcoming that very month.

If not, though, we may well adopt a rather clever people-cooler Mary and her younger sister devised when they were children living in the inner city. Tying a broom to the top of the outside staircase, they suspended a colander from this broom, ran a hosepipe from the cold water tap in the kitchen (it was in fact the only tap, there being no hot water plumbed in) to the colander, turned on the water, and then took turns standing in their scratchy wool one-piece bathing suits under their makeshift shower.

Having described this easily constructed heat-beater perhaps we should now hastily depart to purchase stock in manufacturers producing brooms, colanders and hosepipes before everyone beats us to it, In any event, we'll see you again in October, a month when seasonal illustrations depict broom-riding witches, a group who are also allegedly fond of going to sea in sieves, those second cousins to colanders.

Best wishes, Mary and Eric
who invite you to visit their home page, hanging out on the virtual washing line that is the aether at

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