People often comment that I seem perfectly happy here in Port Naain. ‘Look around you’ they cry. ‘Look at the squalor and filth, breath deeply and choke on the chife that hangs, noxious, in the air. Why do you not travel?’
But I have travelled. Years ago in my youth, when single and fancy free, I decided I would be a romantic poet, a bucolic poet, a poet of undiscovered Partann.
Indeed when you travel south of Port Naain, cross the estuary and put the twin villages of Saskadil and Roskadil behind me, there is much that is pretty and picturesque.
I dallied with milk maids and wooed them with honeyed words, pouring forth my wit and overwhelming them with my sensitivity.
But still, no patron of the arts could be found, no person of wealth and culture, desperate for even an intimation of the civilising graces. So I supported myself hewing wood and drawing water, pulled my belt tighter and pressed on south in search of the true culture of the land.
And my eye alighted on Cold Dregdale. The town itself is almost entirely surrounded by streams, lakes, fishponds and bog. The inhabitants, worthy souls that they undoubtedly are, make most of their money from selling snails and frogs for the table. But on those days where there is no wind and the murk from the mire hangs heavy, the stench of the place is bad.
To survive there I did as the locals do and chewed the root of bog fescue. After three days it exudes from your pores and the scent is noxious to midges, flies and fleas. But obviously you cannot wash because the moment you do, the exudate is gone and you are devoured alive by the uncountable vermin.
To further protect themselves, the folk of the town burn their rubbish in special open bins in the streets. They mix it with mud so that it produces a thick smoke which drives off the midges.
The most civilised place in this village is the Travellers’ Inn. I performed there for a fortnight. The clientele are kind, appreciative, delighting in all the arts and not slow to part with their cash. In two weeks I never once had to pay for my drink or meat.
The inn itself takes hospitality almost to excess, they fumigate your bedding and your newly laundered clothing over dung fires to guarantee that there are no bugs in them. They even have a cunningly arranged system of water screens before all the doors and windows so that whilst both staff and guests may come and go as they pleased, nothing can fly in.
I dined in style, fed on the best the land could offer, paid for by generous, large hearted, patrons. The pate they serve on toast as a starter is composed of compressed midges, delicately spiced. The water snails in garlic are good, as are the frogs’ legs in white wine sauce. The stew which contains the rest of the frog is a little bitter for my taste, but not half as bitter as the salad they serve it with.
I composed one verse in Cold Dregdale
Come let us frolic
Amidst the scented pools
That distracts us from our colic
and the looseness of our stools.
A land of murk descending
Of ever present mist
With pestilence still pending
And all the world fly kissed
I confess I was not at my best, and fourteen days was all I could take. I continued on my journey, skirting the keeps and holds of bandit princes, making it once more to the safety of Port Naain.
But still, now a man of modest literary attainment, my works can be purchased by the discerning
Flotsam or Jetsam is at
There are even reviews
I have read several of this author’s fascinating stories featuring the poet Tallis Steelyard, his wife Shena and all of his friends. I am always delighted and amazed at the quality of the writing and the accompanying artwork.
I was offered the opportunity to read Flotsam and Jetsam, the very first Tallis story and literally jumped at the chance.
All of Jim Webster’s Tallis stories are set in a different era and way of life. This one is unusual in that it is a complex murder mystery.
I never knew that Tallis and his wife lived on a boat in the beginning, but Tallis has always been a poet of some renown. Shena has a dubious job, one that might get her killed one day, and if you want to know why you must read the novella.
These unusual stories are exceedingly well written, complex and full of description, strange names and places, and colloquialisms from another time.
Every one delightfully different and a joy to read…