As I continue to work towards telling the story of Hindle Walbarrow I find I must also bring a somewhat lesser figure to mind. I must allow the light of history to illuminate, briefly, the unworthy face of Trastin Leer.
It must be confessed that somebody who lacks any pretensions to wit or original thought labours under a handicap if they hope to make a living through their literary endeavours. Obviously it is not a problem I have personally experienced but I have seen others striving to overcome it.
Trastin Leer springs most immediately to mind. He had set his heart on becoming ‘a writer.’ In and of itself, this isn’t too difficult to achieve. One merely has to write. Trastin was adequately literate so in theory might achieve this. Unfortunately he wanted to be a successful writer, defining success as ‘making enough money to live on.’ This is, in all candour, a far higher hurdle to clear. Still he was set on his goal.
Personally I always felt that Trastin’s drive came from his feeling that writing was an indoor job with no heavy lifting. Certainly he showed no interest in ‘honest toil,’ especially where it involved having to stir himself and in point of fact do something.
To be fair this merely increased the difficulties he laboured under. His aversion to work, combined with his lack of original thought, meant he produced little, and none of it of value.
It was when his grandmother died that he had a stroke of good fortune. The old lady had been one of those people who listens much but says little. Not only that but she made a habit of listening to people who were worth listening to. By this I don’t merely mean she listened to gossips and those who claim to know what is going on. She listened also to the witty, the busy and the wise. More importantly, she noted down the comments that they made which she felt were worth remembering.
Other than that, she had a small house, a little furniture (but most of it nice enough) and a small amount of cash. When the family gathered around the estate like vultures around a corpse, Trastin had rather hoped for the cash, but would not have turned his nose up at an elaborate drop-front working desk the deceased had inherited from her grandfather. Instead he was left with the notebooks filled with her jottings.
It was when he read these that he had what is perhaps his first original idea. He would write them out in a fair hand and have them published as ‘Trastin Leer’s collected Literary Aphorisms.’
Admittedly some of them weren’t especially literary, and some were more short and uplifting tales, but still, it was a good idea. Also, and more importantly, it was a successful one. When you think about it, why shouldn’t it be? The advantage of collections of aphorisms is that they can live in the smallest room and no matter how long or short your visit, you can finish reading the aphorism you started. Not only that but the world is full of people who would like to be considered wits, but somehow don’t have the requisite intelligence to pass it off. Merely memorise a few aphorisms, build them into the conversation, and you have a reputation ready-made.
The collection sold well. Indeed it sold so well the publisher approached him for a second volume. Trastin was indeed a successful writer. Unfortunately, he now had a problem. He couldn’t in fact write.
Well yes, he could physically copy something down in a passably neat hand, but he couldn’t sit with a blank sheet of paper and fill it with deathless prose. (Or prose of any sort.)
This is not merely an insult, he tried it, and I have seen the results.
So what to do? He visited Alen Gaetz Books, Port Naain’s leading second hand bookshop for inspiration. Personally I suspect he merely hoped to find an ancient volume of long forgotten maxims. Instead he found, in a distressed condition, a thesaurus. This provoked in him into conceiving perhaps his second original idea. He would take the thesaurus and with it at hand he would work his way through his first volume of aphorisms and would rewrite them to produce a second volume. Thus, “Melancholy: a hunger no wretchedness satiates,” would become, “Sadness: an appetite no woe gratifies.”
In reality it shouldn’t have worked, but it did. One reviewer did comment on the fact that some of the maxims were similar to those in the previous book, but put it down to the fact that few great ideas are unique and he proposed that this showed how ideas can evolve in many different places simultaneously. He might be correct in his surmise but ‘Trastin Leer’s second volume of collected Literary Aphorisms,’ was not necessarily the supporting evidence his thesis needed.
The second volume was actually a greater success than the first. I suspect those who purchased and enjoyed the first volume, purchased the second. Also some who had missed out on the first also purchased the second. The publisher demanded a third.
Trastin was now at his wits end.
Then he had another idea. It wasn’t entirely original and to be fair, it wasn’t necessarily a good one. He would resort once more to his trusty thesaurus. But this time he would arrange his by now somewhat clichéd sayings by subject. He hoped that this change would divert attention from the contents. It might have worked but he was too casual with his use of the thesaurus. Several of the sayings he inadvertently changed back. Once the reviewers and critics spotted this, they started to truly read his book and take notes. The book did badly. So badly that they stopped the press half way through the first printing. I confess I felt it was rather sad. Personally I think the third volume was the best of the three and far easier to reference. I was lucky to pick up a copy for the price of taking it away.
What to do now? Trastin was in despair. He made his way once more to Alen Gaetz Books. Once more he browsed the shelves with increasing desperation. Then he struck lucky. He found, at the back of a stack of books that hadn’t see the light of day for a generation or two, a collection of Partannese sayings and moral tales. He paid silver for it but then fled back to his rooms where he immediately set to work. Now here I want to give credit where credit is due. He didn’t merely write them out. He tidied them up as well. His familiarity with the thesaurus was not wasted. He also brought them ‘up-to-date’ and tweaked them so that they fitted Port Naain better than rural Partann. In all candour it was not a bad effort. His publisher seemed to think so. It was decided to publish this as ‘Trastin Leer’s fourth volume of collected Literary Aphorisms,’ I believe at the time the publisher commented that if this volume was the success it deserved to be, they would contemplate a set of all four volumes in the same binding. Again, I have a copy of the fourth volume. It was hurled at me and I caught it and fled.
I am one of the few. The reading public seems to have decided that Trastin Leer had hoodwinked them once too often. There again, you would have thought that in at least one of his books there would be an aphorism that told him of the risk he was running?
Trastin is still writing. He’s a tally clerk down on the wharves. As they say, water finds its own level eventually.
Should you wish to know more of the life and times of Tallis Steelyard
The wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard.
As a reviewer commented, “More charming stories and poems from the world of Tallis Steelyard. Port Naain is similar enough to “reality” (pre-industrial) to be familiar, but different enough to be interesting. Colourful characters and sticky situations abound. And there’s squid wrestling. This is only one of many collections of stories from Port Naain, so readers keen for more will not be disappointed.”