It’s not often Tallis agrees to be interviewed, indeed he’s often somewhat reticent when it comes to answering questions about his past. Still on this occasion, perhaps because the wine was better than average or the company was such as to encourage loquacity, he seems to have opened up a little. Yet to be fair, even here, he manages to ensure we learn more about Virgilio and how he and the lady of his dreams eloped, than we do about Tallis himself.
The original was on that fine website, www.ritaleechapman.com
This week it is my pleasure to interview Tallis Steelyard. Would you please introduce yourself to my readers and share something about your life.
I am Tallis Steelyard, poet. I live in the remarkable metropolis of Port Naain where I make a precarious living writing works for my patrons, performing (and indeed organising their various soirees and affairs) and generally trying to keep the food on the table for Shena (my lady wife) and I.
We live in a barge tied to Fellmonger’s Wharf. This is at least convenient for Shena as she is a mud-jobber, buying from the shore combers the things they find on the mud of the estuary and selling them on.
When did you write your first book and how did it come about?
The first book to my name was Lambent Dreams, an anthology of my verse, intermixed with literary criticism and explanations of the cultural references for those not from Port Naain. One cannot be the leading poet of your generation without published work to your credit. Not only that but with Jim Webster writing so much about Port Naain and involving me I decided I had to write my own story, if only in self-defence.
Do you always write in the same genre or do you mix it up?
If pressed I would merely say that I recount stories from the city. But Jim loves to label everything and have it just so. If you ask me that is the sign of a small mind that cannot comprehend the world and so tries to control it by putting it in little boxes.
Still he says that some of my stories are ‘steampunk,’ some are light romance, some admittedly have elements of comedy whilst some he feels are a little darker. He has been known to boast that I am the only person he knows who writes fantasy comedy of manners.
When you write, do you start with an idea and sit down and let it evolve, or do you make notes and collect ideas on paper beforehand?
Genius cannot be trammelled, it must be allowed to break forth and take whatever road whim sends it along. Yes sometimes I have notes. Sometimes I even stop to check my facts, but largely I just start at one end and keep going until the tale is told.
Would you like to give us a short excerpt from one of your books?
It struck me that the tale of Virgilio and how he and the lady of his dreams eloped together is singularly appropriate. It hasn’t yet been in one of my books but it inevitably will find its way there one day.
At the time these events occurred, Virgilio earned an extremely modest living as an assistant clerk of works to the drains department here in Port Naain. Still he was a pleasant enough young man, handsome in the right light, well-spoken and good company. He was also practical and was considered by those who knew him to be generally competent. Thus it was something of a surprise when he fell head of over heels in love with Glorina Trinket. Her father was Master Nalthorn Trinket, a money lender so venal even usurers regarded him as beyond the pale. Still Glorina lacked her father’s toughness, and even more she lacked his prognathous jaw, sloping forehead and full beard. She was genuinely pretty and had a range of suitors, each more vacuous than the last. It may be she fell for Virgilio because he was so different from the others.
The doting couple soon ran into a problem, Nalthorn Trinket did not approve of Virgilio. It may well be that he accurately assessed the young man’s prospects, it may even be that he had at some point fallen foul of the drains department. But whatever the reason, he forbade the relationship and what’s more moved Glorina out to a Mill he owned north of the city. There are people who shouldn’t borrow money, and the previous owner of the mill was one of them. The business venture he had in mind when he borrowed the money somehow transmuted into a six month spending spree during which the money was invested in slow race horses, fast women and strong drink.
Glorina managed to get a letter to Virgilio by the simple expedient of giving it to her maid Emma. This young woman trudged twenty miles over roads made difficult through the winter mud, delivered the letter and trudged twenty miles back. In the letter Glorina proposed that she and Virgilio elope, and suggested he be below her bedroom window at midnight three days hence.
At the appointed hour, Virgilio, with two horses, put a ladder up to the bedroom window. There he was met by Glorina who looked askance out of the window and pointed out the difficulties. Her trousseau filled three large chests, these could not be sensibly carried by the horses they were riding. Also she pointed out that neither of the horses had a side saddle. She as a young lady could hardly ride astride in her long dress and petticoats.
At this point Emma was summoned and this young woman suggested that they take the sledge as snow was forecast the next day.
Glorina returned to bed and Emma helped Virgilio remove all traces of his visit. As he was preparing to mount his horse and ride off, she rather diffidently asked him where he was staying. Virgilio admitted he would have to ride back to the city. At this point Emma suggested a barn belonging to the mill. It stood some distance from it and was rarely visited. Gratefully Virgilio and his horses hid in the barn. That day it snowed and once darkness had fallen Virgilio led his horses back to the mill, collected the harness from the tackroom and started to prepare to leave. Emma arrived, discovered Virgilio hadn’t eaten since the previous day, and so prepared him a hasty meal which she carried out to him. Then Virgilio put the ladder up to Glorina’s window and assisted her out. Then he carried down the three heavy trunks.
The trunks were loaded into the sledge, the harnessed horses backed up to it, when Virgilio discovered that the bracket on the sledge, to which one attached the swingletree, was almost rusted through. He would have to get a new bracket. They put off the elopement until the following night. Virgilio carried the three trunks back up the ladder into Glorina’s room, assisted by Emma who went up the ladder first and helped manoeuvre them through the window.
Next day Virgilio went to a blacksmith’s recommended to him by Emma and had a new bracket made up. Then as darkness fell, with Emma holding the candle, Virgilio fitted the bracket to the sledge. The job done, Emma took him into the kitchen, she’d saved him something to eat when cooking dinner for the rest of the household.
Unfortunately, later that night, as Virgilio assisted Glorina down the ladder and then carried down the three chests, it started to rain. Now it was obvious that escaping on a sledge was impossible. Glorina pointed out that even if the sledge would travel through the thaw, she would be showered with mud thrown up by the horses’ hooves.
Virgilio pondered this and suggested that he return the following evening with a coach and four. This would not only have room for the trunks, but four horses would pull the coach no matter how muddy the road. Glorina pondered briefly and thought it an excellent idea. She admitted that the sledge idea had not been one of the best, there were only so many outfits a young lady has which ‘work’ when on a sledge. The coach would allow her far more opportunities for stylish experimentation. The plans made, Glorina retired to bed and Virgilio and Emma got the trunks back into her room.
The following night, Glorina slept undisturbed and woke much refreshed. It was at breakfast that she saw the note from Emma. This was a letter of resignation, in which the maid explained that she was eloping on horseback with Virgilio and so felt she had to hand in her notice.
Who is your favourite character and why?
Of the people I include in my tales? Given that my lady wife, Shena, is looking over my shoulder as I write I feel that the answer has to be obvious.
Which of your books gave you the most pleasure to write?
Here I am tempted to comment that my finest work is yet to come! This is not something one should casually say in the presence of other writers lest they merely comment that I have set a low bar and thus made my task easier. Ingrates!
What is the best marketing tip you have received?
The value of ‘word of mouth.’ If somebody really likes your work and enthuses about it to a friend, that friend is more likely to purchase a copy than if they saw a notice pasted to the wall as they walked past.
How would you describe yourself?
The finest poet of my generation
What do you do when you are not writing or reading?
I assist my patrons and generally do my best to earn a living, frugal though it may be.
If you could holiday anywhere in the world, where would you choose and why?
Why would anybody ever wish to leave Port Naain? Indeed a number of my readers have commented that reading my tales of the city allow them to take a holiday here without leaving the comfort of their favourite chair.
If you have owned pets, do you have a funny story you would like to share with us?
Alas I have never had a pet. On the other hand, if you check with Jim Webster, he has livestock all over the place and has produced many interesting and amusing articles about their antics. Try ‘The secret of perfect hair.’
What is the biggest factor for you when selecting a book to read?
There are some writers whose work I love.So when they produce a new book, I will inevitably buy it. Then there are other people who know me and my tastes and will recommend books to me. Because they have proven themselves over the years, I will often act upon their recommendations
Do you have your own website?
Apparently so, I am assured that if you go to https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/ you will be able to read my blog.
Also my work is there upon Jim Webster’s Amazon page.
Those with ‘Tallis Steelyard’ written on the front cover are mine. There are nine short story collections and two novellas.
Then anything with ‘The Port Naain Intelligencer’ on the front cover will also probably mention me. Jim Webster writes them and describes the antics of friends of mine
Then there is a bunch of novels and stuff, but you’d have to ask Jim about those.
Are you working on a new book at the moment?
Yes, bowing to the wishes of friends, I am working on the first Tallis Steelyard Novel!
Do you have any events or book promotions coming up that you would like to tell us about?
Coincidentally I’ve just finished a blog tour. Fourteen blogs, which means fourteen now and original stories.
The first is on the blog of the Story Reading Ape at
You’ll note that he’s cunningly added a list of all the other blogs taking part so you can find them from there.
The two short story collections are
‘Tallis Steelyard, A guide for writers, and other stories.’
As a reviewer commented, “Sometimes I think there are more characters in Port Naain than there are citizens and Jim Webster is a Master of character description, without actually describing them.
If you’re puzzled by what I’ve just written, I recommend you purchase this (and all his other books) and read them, as I have done – then you’ll understand me.”
Then there is ‘Tallis Steelyard. Gentlemen behaving badly, and other stories.’
As a reviewer commented, “I never have to think about whether or not I should buy one of Jim Webster’s books, I buy them without hesitation, knowing I’m going to enjoy reading them and have all of them so far.
The characters, scenes, Port Naain, etc, are all believable, engrossing and the storylines cleverly constructed, even in the shortest of his tales”