Category Archives: Literary puzzle

Imagination – Another strange meeting

“Then they looked out of the wood – and saw dinosaurs!”

The novelist put the papers down. “A good way of ending the episode?”

The palaeontologist nodded, “Wonderful, what an imagination you have.”

“You too must have imagination, to create lost worlds out of fragments of bone.”

“But not like you.”

As he left he thought of the bones in his workshop. His imagination had created something very special, the Missing Link, but no one would realise it wasn’t real for many years, if ever.

His friend was just a great writer, however he was the greatest scientific hoaxer ever.

The Glade of the Iguanodons, the scene described by Doyle.


In several of my blogs I have imagined several possible meetings between, possibly unlikely, characters from history, here and here. This meeting is, however, completely true. When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was writing The Lost World, he sought out advice on prehistoric life from the Natural History Museum. They passed the request to a local expert palaeontologist, Charles Dawson ‘discoverer’ of the Piltdown Man and undoubtedly ‘the greatest scientific hoaxer ever.’


This is in response to Charlie Mills flash fiction challenge, in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes  an act of “peering from the woods.” Go where the prompt leads.



Filed under Historical Reconstructions, Historical tales, Literary puzzle

The Wizard of the North

Written in response to Charli Mills May 18, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a wise story. It can be about wisdom, expressing wisdom or advice for turning 50! It can be a wise-cracking story, too. Go where wisdom leads you. So I am writing about a real wizard, though this is not one of my imagined historical events, as most of the words are not my own.


The Wizard of the North

“Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones.”

“But Jane, nobody knows who wrote it. How can you be so sure?”

“Because it is just like him, but it’s not fair. He has Fame and Profit enough as a Poet, and shouldn’t be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths.”

Cassandra smiled as her sister picked up the book again.

 “I do not like him.” Jane continued, “And do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it – but fear I must.” Silently she thought, “I wonder if he will like Emma?”

He did.


Emma title


Sir Walter Scott, who was known as The Wizard of the North, was a very well-known and successful poet, so he published his first novel Waverley anonymously and for years no one knew for certain who had written it. Jane Austen, however identified the author almost immediately. All her words in the above passage are taken directly from her letters.  Emma was published shortly after Waverley, Sir Walter Scott was delighted with the novel and gave it what we would call a rave review in The Quarterly, the top literary magazine of the day.


Purists may notice that, in order to meet the word count, I have edited Jane Austen’s words slightly, turning is not into isn’t and should not into shouldn’t.


Filed under Georgian, Historical tales, Jane Austen, Literary puzzle, Regency

A Flight of Fancy – Another Chance Meeting

A little while ago, I wrote an imaginary tale based on a possible meeting between two historical characters, some people found it amusing, so here is another one.

“It’s impossible!” Bursts of laughter echoed round one end of the table. At the other end the young poet looked up, curious to know what was happening. Everybody was looking at a middle aged gentleman with a round, tanned face, he looked like a prosperous farmer. But the poet was not so sure, he had seen this ‘farmer’ make a rapid, very rapid, calculation, he was a serious mathematician. Who was this farmer? And what were they laughing about?

“I am perfectly serious, I feel perfectly confident that the art of aerial navigation will soon be brought home to man’s convenience, and that we shall be able to transport ourselves and our families, and our goods and chattels, more securely by air than by water, and with a velocity of from twenty to one hundred miles per hour.”
“But Sir George, you mean flying, and that is impossible.”
“You have seen balloons, I am just saying that other means will be available, as soon as engines of suitable power can be developed.”
The poet listed for some time as Sir George made fantastic suggestions, trade would be carried through the air, that warfare would be fought there, that there would even be harbour masters and controls over ‘aerial navigation’.”
The rest of the diners listened in amusement. One said with a laugh.
“But for all that you need machines that can fly, and that is an impossibility.”
“So you think it is impossible to build a machine that can fly?”
“Of course,” the man looked around in amusement, “I could as just as easily walk on the ceiling like a fly.”

The man hadn’t seen what Sir George was doing with his hands, he had taken something from his pocket and was wrapping a cord around it. He leaned forward, pulled the cord, and the little machine buzzed and soared up into air. It sailed across the table and dropped down in a corner of the room. There was silence, Sir George smiled and pointed at the ceiling.

Caley Glider 3

A reconstruction of Sir George’s glider of 1804 – in flight

That evening the poet sat and thought, aerial navigation, now that was a wonder. He sharpened his pen and began to write;

For I dipt into the future, Far as human eye could see,
Saw the vision of the world, And all the wonder that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, Argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, Dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, And there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies Grappling in the central blue;
Far along the world-wide whisper Of the south-wind rushing warm,
With the standards of the peoples Plunging thro’ the thunder storm;
Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, And the battle-flags were furl’d
In Parliament of man, The Federation of the world.
There the common sense of most Shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, Lapt in universal law.

Sir George Cayley(1773 – 1857), the ‘father of aviation’, was an incredible man. A Yorkshire landowner, as a teenager he worked out the physics of heavier that air flight and built and developed the first gliders, models then man carrying aircraft. His notebooks make it clear that, if he had had a powerful enough engine, he would have been able to build a man carrying aeroplane.

He always referred to ‘aerial navigation’ as people laughed when he talked about flying machines, and he carried a model flying machine in his pocket which he would launch at dinner when people talked of the impossibility of flight, Sir George’s words are his own.

Alfred Tennyson lived about a hundred miles south of Sir George Cayley, and wrote Locksley Hall, from which his description of flight comes from, in 1835. I don’t think they ever met, but perhaps?


Filed under Georgian, Historical Reconstructions, Historical tales, Literary puzzle, Regency, Victorian

An Unconventional Heroine – The Magnificent Miss Fluart

A few days ago I was in a second hand bookshop, and chanced upon the Folio Society edition of Hermsprong, vaguely remembering the title I opened it, saw it had been originally published in 1796, and glanced through it, reading the odd pages. Then I saw one of the illustrations which surprised me, I therefore bought the book and so discovered the magnificent Miss Fluart.

Hermsprong is a philosophical novel, which means that the hero, the eponymous Hermsprong, is constantly philosophising. The characters can be divided into four groups, the good who are generally irritating, the bad who are universally wicked, the unfortunate who exist for the bad to oppress and the good to aid, and Miss Fluart.

The basic story is as follows, Hermsprong appears in the village owned and ruled by the wicked Lord Grondale, who has one daughter (beautiful and oppressed) who naturally falls in love with Hermsprong. Miss Maria Fluart, beautiful, independent and rich (£20,000) is the daughters close friend and, in order to keep a close watch on the girl to make sure she isn’t persuaded into an unsuitable marriage, allows Lord Grondale to court her. On a walk in the gardens of Lord Grondale’s house she discovers this might not be as safe as she thought.

Lord Grondale, soon after his accession to the estate, had built a sort of pleasure-house, an octagon, on an artificial mount. It had obtained the name of the Pavilion. In his earlier years, his lordship made of it a sort of temple of Fame, and adorned it with the portraits of his own best hunters and racers. This taste declining, these portraits had given place to paintings of another species,-capital, no doubt, his lordship having been considered as a connoisseur.

A few yards from the pavilion, turning a walk, Miss Fluart almost ran against Lord Grondale. The good peer said, with a tone of good nature, ‘Have I the pleasure to see Miss Fluart here, and alone?’

‘Caroline is indolent,’ Miss Fluart answered; ‘she chose the zephyrs of her own apartment, rather than the zephyrs of your lordship’s groves. Oh dear!’-she continued-‘now I think of it, I have long had a desire to take a peep into your lordship’s pavilion, where you have never yet invited me.’

‘I invite you now, then,’ said Lord Grondale, hobbling up the steps, and unlocking the door.

‘I hear,’ says she, ascending, ‘it is a little palace of paintings.’

The first object which struck her view, was herself, her beauteous self, many times multiplied. This was fascinating, no doubt; but she got rid of it as soon as she could, and threw her eye on a lovely piece representing Jachimo taking notes of the mole cinque-spotted on the beauteous bosom of Imogen. The next was Atalanta straining to recover the ground she had lost by the golden apples; her bosom bare, her zone unloosed, her garments streaming with the wind. From the four following pieces, the pavilion might not improperly have been denominated the temple of Venus. The first gave the goddess rising from the sea. The second, asleep ;-a copy of Titian. The third, accompanied with Juno and Minerva, appealing to Paris. The fourth, in Vulcan’s net with Mars.

However capital these might be, they were such as ladies are not accustomed to admire in the presence of gentlemen. There was, however, a superb sofa, on which a lady might sit down with all possible propriety. Miss Fluart did sit down; but the prospect from thence rather increased than diminished a little matter of confusion which she felt on the view of the company she seemed to have got into.

She was rising to leave the pavilion, when his lordship, in the most gallant manner possible, claimed a fine, due, he said, by the custom of the manor, from every lady who honoured that sofa by sitting upon it. I know not why, the lady seemed to feel an alarm; and was intent only upon running away, whilst his lordship was intent only upon seizing his forfeit. A fine muslin apron was ill treated upon this occasion; a handkerchief was ruffled, and some beautiful hair had strayed from its confinement, and wantoned upon its owner’s polished neck. She got away, however, from this palace of painting, and its dangerous sofa.

‘Upon my word, my dear Miss Fluart,’ said his lordship, getting down after her as fast as he was able, ‘you are quite a prude today: I thought you superior to the nonsense of your sex,-the making such a rout about a kiss.’

‘A kiss! Lord bless me,’ said Miss Fluart, ‘I thought, from the company your lordship had brought me into, and the mode of your attack, you had wanted to undress me.’

Hermsprong a

Even after escaping from his clutches in his pornographic pavilion, Miss Fluart continues to stay at Lord Grondale’s, in order to protect Caroline (the daughter), though perhaps she takes additional precautions.

Everything comes to a head when Lord Grondale finally decides to force his daughter to marry the disgusting (but rich) Sir Philip Chestrum. Miss Fluart deliberately quarrels with Lord Grondale and is ordered from the house. Weeping, she leaves the house, her face buried in a handkerchief. The wedding proceeds, as the bride removes her veil she is discovered to be Miss Fluart! Caroline had escaped pretending to be Miss Fluart.

Lord Grondale is understandably furious;

‘Out of this house you shall not stir, till I deliver you up to due course of law.’

‘And pray, my lord, by what authority do you pretend to confine me? Watson{Caroline’s servant}, you are my servant now: I order you to follow me. We are under the necessity of leaving this hospitable house by force.-Stand off, my lord.’

His lordship now began to bawl out for his servants. The butler ran, the cook, and two footmen.

‘Stop this woman,’ said his lordship; ‘stop her, I charge you!’

‘Let me see who dare,’ said Miss Fluart, producing a pistol, and almost overturning his lordship as she passed. ‘Seize them, I command you,’ said the enraged Lord Grondale.

No one obeyed; and the intrepid Miss Fluart walked on to the hall-door, which she opened herself unimpeded even by the porter.

Hermsprong b

It was the illustration of Miss Fluart fully armed that so surprised me.

But Maria Fluart was to remain unconventional to the end (of the novel). Lord Grondale dies when Hermsprong is proved to be the rightful heir of his estate. Hermsprong marries his daughter and everybody else is duly married off …. And Miss Fluart.

She settles down with a girlfriend!

So raise a glass to the wonderful Miss Maria Fluart, the most unconventional heroine of any Georgian novel.



Filed under Georgian, Literary puzzle

Just the Ticket – A Literary Delight

I love finding things in books. I don’t mean curious facts, interesting anecdotes or even well-turned phrases (though I do like all of those of course). What I like are physical objects, press cuttings or pressed flowers, sometimes placed there as they have some sort of connection with the book, or used as bookmarks. They can tell you something about previous owners of the book, or at least enable me to imagine something about them.

Today, we visited Lytes Cary, a National Trust house not far away. Like many NT houses it has a room with second-hand books for sale, now I can never pass a group of old books for sale without looking. Here, on a shelf of poetry, I pulled out a slim volume to look at it, as the spine had more or less fallen away. It was by Louis Mac Neice, a poet I don’t really like, but looking in it automatically I found an ancient bus ticket. This intrigued me so I dropped 50p in the honesty box and took it away.

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The volume was published in 1950, and I suspect the threepenny London bus ticket dated from around the same time. So how did it get there? Here is my idea;

One afternoon in 1950, an educated young woman, got onto the number 30 bus, she pulled her new book of poems from her bag, and was so engrossed that she nearly missed her stop at South Kensington Station. Slipping the ticket she was holding in her gloved hand, into the book to mark her place, she hurried to get her train.

By the time she arrived home the ticket had begun its new life as a bookmark, and remained in the volume as it was passed to a another literary friend, was given to an English student, and so on until it ended up in a group of second hand books in an English county house.

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The book and ticket

And now in my library, between Betjeman, Eliot and Auden, the volume lies – complete with bus ticket.


Filed under Literary puzzle

A Story in want of an Author

As anybody who has read any of my blogs to date will have guessed I read a lot. I also read fast (a lexicographical Usain Bolt my brother once called me), and can remember much of what I have read. So it is hardly surprising that I occasionally come across curious items that I know could be developed into stories. This is one of them.

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Ingoldisthorpe – taken by camera

It was complete chance that I spotted the paragraph, I was in the large drawing room at Ingoldisthorpe Hall in Norfolk, the temporary home of some friends of ours. The house was quiet, the other guests were off in pursuit of pleasure, my wife was either sewing in the little drawing room or in the housekeeper’s room. I knew she wanted to finish the spencer she was making, but I had last seen her sitting at Mrs Bonner’s table. I was going to call her when I heard her utter the mystic words ‘rhubarb’ and ‘apples’ and knew that the conversation was not for the likes of a husband.

I picked up an old copy of the Morning Chronicle and glanced idly at the front page, I skipped over the advertisements for gentleman’s hats, and genteel estates, was surprised that the proprietors of Waterloo Bridge were announcing a loss, then stopped as I noticed a curious paragraph.

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WHEREAS a large quantity of WHEAT and HOPS was lately warehoused in the Borough, or some pIace in its immediate vicinity, by Mr. Charles Day, of Sussex-place, Kent-road, and also of Linton, in the county of Kent, who, from the circumstance of his having been accidentally killed, in the month  of May last, left his surviving friends unacquainted with the precise spot where such Wheat and Hops are deposited. The personal Representatives of the said Mr. Charles Day would therefore feel themselves particularly obliged to, and, if required will handsomely remunerate, any person who shall give such information to the solicitors as shall lead to the discovery and reclamation of the property above referred to.

WHITE and BOSTOCK, Solicitors,


‘Now that is strange,’ I said to myself, glancing at the date at the top of the paper, August 3 1818, ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if there was more to that story than meets the eye?”

Now what do you think of that? How did a load of wheat and hops disappear? Was Mr. Day just very bad at keeping notes, or was there something else going on. He was dealing in hops, a principle ingredient of beer, and both beer and hops were heavily taxed. Was there a tax fraud underway? Mr Day’s death, the paragraph calls it accidental, was it? So here it is, an idea for a story, if anybody would like to use it, please feel free.

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Oh, and how I found it, that story is completely accurate as my wife and I are regular and enthusiastic time travellers.


Filed under Literary puzzle, Regency