The Fates

Many people believe in chance and luck, and equally many people do not.  A famous golfer, I believe, once said, “the more I practise, the luckier I get”.  That is undoubtedly true but there is still an element of chance in life, a chance that a random event could occur in somebody’s life and knock them off course sending them in an entirely different direction.

Thomas Hardy, of course, wrote about this in his stories.  For example, one of his characters was walking across a field when a young woman, as a joke, threw a piece of pig offal at him.  When it struck him it drew his attention to the young woman and he found an entirely different part of his life pursuing her and eventually marrying her and all the consequences which then followed which then flowed from that.

 

I am sure that everybody would be able to point to some similar occurrence in their life.  I, myself, met my first wife because I came home from the Alps where I had been climbing with a German friend a day early, having mistaken the day of the week.  Having arrived home a day early, I was able to go to a party which I would not have been able to attend had I returned home at the intended time.  At that party, I met my first wife.

 

Chance, in my view, plays a part in all our lives, although as I get older I wonder if in fact it isn’t fate because as you look back upon your life, you start to see patterns and the form that chance takes can also resolve itself into a pattern.  As you grow older and look at your life in retrospect, you too may be able to discern patterns in the way that events occur and then unfold.

 

It can seem almost as if there is a scheme or a pattern for an individual’s life, however insignificant we may be in terms of the cosmos or the rest of humanity, and this is one of the things which makes stories, story writing and story telling so fascinating because since the beginning of time it has been exactly the same.  We look with wonder at the lives of others as told in story form, held up as a kind of mirror to our own lives.

 

In my story, The Retainer, it is the chance meeting with a professional criminal and what flows from that which determines an entirely new life for the hero.  As a consequence of that meeting and what flowed from it, instead of leading a predictable and perhaps boring life as a provincial solicitor, suddenly he is plunged into a life of crime from which he is ultimately unable to escape, or is he?  You have to read the story and reach the end and then think about it.

 

Happy reading!

The Journey

I have recently been reading Ithaka, an epic poem written by a 19th century Greek poet called Cavafy. The first verse translated reads:-

Pray that your journey be long
That there may be many summer mornings
When with what joy, what delight
You will enter harbours you have not seen before.

the journey

The poem is about the journey that we all make through life. The journey has been used as an analogy for life by other authors too.

I have tried to use the idea of life as a journey in my story about the adventures of a young man entitled “The Sons of Death, Part I”. It is Part I because it is the first of a trilogy of stories that will follow this particular young man on his journey through life.

Why call it “The Sons of Death”? This is a reference to the name given to the Norse raiders from Norway in the 9th and 10th centuries due to their fiercesome reputation. The hero of my story I see as a modern Viking, a penniless young man on a collision course with the world who sets out for pretty much the same motives of adventure and gain. He is an opportunist and a gun for hire, his youth, physical strength and quickness of mind being the only assets that he has.

What happens to him along the way is something you will have to read about as he makes his journey which is both physical and spiritual as he gradually confronts and reflects on the meaning of this life and our journey through it.

I hope you enjoy the journey.

The Outdoor Clerk

The Outdoor Clerk as the name suggests spent most of his time out of the office.  Every day at the office his partner or Assistant Solicitor would give him various tasks to do which would range from issuing writs or entering judgments at The Royal Courts of Justice in The Queen’s Bench Division, carrying out Company searches at Companies House in Shoreditch, delivering papers to Barrister’s Chambers and perhaps cheques in payment of their fees, interviewing witnesses, visiting prisons to interview clients in criminal cases, attending at The Divorce Registry to deal with the procedural aspects of a divorce case, visiting The Probate Registry to obtain copies of Grants of Probate and generally to do all of the legwork involved in a legal practice in the Central London area.

 

Most of the lads who did this work and indeed in those days most of them were male rather than female, had left school at 15 and gone to work in a Solicitor’s office, often as a tea boy and had learned their trade from the bottom up.  Most of the time the best of them became very knowledgeable and were often the sergeants of the legal profession, who trained Articled Clerks as future lawyers were known, when they were apprenticed into the legal profession.

 

At The Royal Courts of Justice for example some of the Clerks behind the desks had fearsome reputations and were to put it mildly less than helpful.  The new Articled Clerk having reached the front of a long queue would find himself confronted by a stern individual wearing metal National Health glasses who would look contemptuously at the papers handed to him and then throw them back at the hapless Clerk as being completely incorrect and told to go away and come back when they were completed.

 

No word of advice was offered as to what was wrong with the forms.  This advice would generally be given by sympathetic Outdoor Clerks waiting in the queue behind who would take the unfortunate Articled Clerk aside and after a swift look at the papers help him put them in some kind of order.  Notwithstanding that however the Articled Clerk would still have to go to the back of the queue and wait his turn.  Upon reaching the front of the queue and again presenting the papers he would hold his breath until they had been scanned by the stern individual the other side of the desk who would not have been out of place as a Concentration Camp Guard in Hitler’s Germany, before sighing with relief when the Clerk without a word stamped the papers heavily and threw them into a box at his side.  All of this without a word.

 

Outdoor Clerks very often studied law with a view to becoming a Legal Executive, that is to say a qualified Legal Clerk in a Solicitor’s office and many of them had long and successful careers.  Some of them even in due course became Solicitors themselves but many were happy to remain working as Clerks for their professional life.

 

The very idea of an Outdoor Clerk seems and indeed on reflection was highly Dickensian but then so was and is the world of law.

The High Court Dun

A High Court Dun is a strange animal perhaps not much encountered these days but in the past I recall one gentleman in particular who shall remain nameless, whose path crossed the path of an unfortunate client of mine and who pursued her mercilessly for outstanding debts that he had acquired from elsewhere.

 

A Dun would acquire the debts owed by somebody and then “dun” the individual for the money, that is to say press them for payment.  This might take the form of Court proceedings but more often than not took the form of harassing them by calling at their home and doing everything in their power to frighten them into paying up.

 

On balance it is perhaps not that different from the modern debt collector who very often resorts to not dissimilar means of extracting money from people.  Also one has to admit that if somebody does owe money then it is not unreasonable to require them to pay it and given that some of the people who incur debts and do not honour them turn it into a lifestyle, it is perhaps appropriate that there is an individual who makes his living out of preying on them.

 

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There was something very Dickensian about the idea of a High Court Dun and if you ever came across the individual, their appearance reflected the murky world in which they lived and made a living.  The one in question was short, tubby, balding and middle aged.  He wore a long greasy khaki raincoat beneath which a tie which had seen better days was visible which encircled a grimy shirt collar that was tattered and frayed.  He carried a thin old briefcase in which were a collection of what looked like glossy tissue and which might have been mistaken as lavatory paper were it not for the fact they were covered in tiny closely written words and sentences.

 

One would be tempted at first sight to disregard these pieces of paper as little more than rubbish but to do so would be fatal because the gentleman in question knew the rules of the Supreme Court inside out and indeed was reputed to read them in bed every night by the light of a guttering candle.  He would issue applications based upon those rules and woe betide the Solicitor who treated those applications as contempt.  If they missed an appointment or a deadline then the only way they would be able to recover or retrieve the position when they discovered their error would be by paying his “costs” of the application that was necessary to put matters right.

 

In this way this grimy and very unsavoury but cunning individual made his living.  He not only dunned debtors but also fleeced unwary Solicitors.  He is probably working for the devil at this very moment or at least one can hope that he is.

The Barrister’s Clerk

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Barrister’s like badgers live in sets, all of which are to be found in the inns of Court, Middle and Inner Temple on Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn situated on the edge of the City of London.

 

Each set or chambers has a Barrister who is regarded as head of Chambers.  The day to day administration of the Chambers however is run by the Clerk’s Office who deal direct with Solicitors in terms of agreeing fixtures, negotiating brief fees and fees for appearing at Court, arranging conferences and generally dealing with the day to day administration of the Barrister’s affairs.  They are a bit like theatrical agents and certainly in the past had enormous power. 

 

The most powerful Clerk of course is the Senior Clerk who was often a man of advanced years and who had perhaps been an Army Officer during the Second World War and who ruled the Chambers with a polite but extremely firm hand.

 

Given that it was they that were the first port of call for a Solicitor ringing to ask for a Barrister to represent them in a particular case, it was important that the Barristers got on well with the Clerk because of course he had the power to direct work to them or not as the case might be.

 

Not only did he weald enormous power but he was also financially very well off because his fees, at least in the past, were calculated by reference to a percentage of the fee charged by the Barrister.  It followed therefore that a Clerk in a very busy set of Chambers would earn very considerable sums of money, effectively on the back of the fees earned by the Barristers in those Chambers.

 

There were many characters all of whom were well known in the very small and closed world that was the Inns of Court and as an outdoor Clerk, that is to say a Clerk working in a Solicitors Office who did the running around London delivering briefs to Barristers Chambers, attending conferences, sitting behind them during Court cases and generally spending the day out of the office on legal business, it was not long before he became very familiar with these often larger than life personalities.

 

There was Percy the share pusher for example, so called because of his fascination for and endless conversation about the Stock Market and there were many others whose foibles idiosyncrasies were well known and sometimes mirrored in their nicknames.

 

The Clerks were influential and well known and very much in the know.  A word in the ear of one of them, for example if a friend of yours might be looking for a job as a Junior Clerk, would result within a very short space of time of a name and telephone number of Chambers that were looking for a junior.  These jobs were not advertised and required no qualification beyond being presentable and acceptable to the Senior Clerk.

 

The Clerks worked long hours and would often not leave Chambers much before 9pm in the evening.  The daily Cause Lists were not issued by The Royal Courts of Justice until late afternoon for cases that were listed the following day and so a Clerk’s work would often begin at that point in time checking to see whether or not his Barrister’s cases were listed for hearing and then checking to see whether the Barrister’s were available and so on.  The evening could be a very busy time indeed.

 

In short a life in the world of law, life as a Barrister’s Clerk was ultimately just that.  It was your life.

 

There might be some relaxation in the number of hours you worked if in the Autumn of your life one of your “governors” as the Senior Barristers were called was appointed to the bench to sit as Judge. There was a convention that the Senior Clerk would be invited to, in effect retire from Chambers and join the new Judge as the Judge’s Clerk which meant more regular hours, less work and holidays.  Some Senior Clerks took this course but most soldiered on eventually retiring or dropping dead in post.

 

These days things are organised differently.  Most Chambers have got their Senior Clerks onto a salary rather than a percentage but the Senior Clerk and his team are still just as important as they ever have been in the intimate inside world of the law.

 

Is it fate or is it Dick Turpin?

dick-turpinIt is a curious thing, fate. Most people comply with the proverb of Master Shakespeare:

“Some are born great; some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them”

But then occasionally you get a person who lives a squalid, mean little life, and yet who is celebrated and idolised as a hero while nothing could be further from the truth. An example of the latter person was Dick Turpin. 

About Dick

Dick Turpin born 1705 was an English highwayman whose crimes and exploits were romanticised after he was hanged in York for horse theft in 1739. 

His early activities revolved around poaching and burglary with a gang known as the Essex gang who committed some very unpleasant crimes including breaking into people’s houses and on occasion torturing them to reveal the whereabouts of their money and valuables.

On one occasion they made a 70 year old man sit on a fire to try and get him to tell them where his money was but he steadfastly refused to do so.  

There are other such instances before the gang was broken up and its members captured, after which time Turpin took to highway robbery which is what he is famous for.

Largely because after he died a Victorian novelist, William Harrison Ainsworth, writing almost 100 years after Turpin was hanged created a romanticised account of his life for public consumption including an overnight ride from London to York on his horse, the famous Black Bess. 

As that part of the fictionalised and romanticised account of Turpin’s life was concerned, this is far more likely to be related to an earlier highwayman known as Swift Nick whom I will come onto later. 

Turpin’s career as a highwayman was not long lived. 

Rewards were offered for his capture and he moved around the Country a good deal including a spell up in York where he lived under an assumed name.  One would have expected him perhaps to maintain a low profile as we say these days but he still engaged in some of his old activities, including horse theft which in the 18th century was a capital offence.

He was arrested in connection with the horse thefts and whilst he was in detention he wrote a letter to his brother-in-law, the letter was kept at the local post office because the brother-in-law refused to pay the delivery charge when he saw that the letter had come from York and so it was transferred to another post office at Saffron Walden where the postmaster happened to be one James Smith who had taught Turpin how to write whilst Turpin had been at school.

James Smith recognised the handwriting and brought the matter to the attention of the authorities and so Turpin’s cover was blown.

Smith received the reward of £200 which is well over £20,000 in today’s money and Turpin was hanged at York, going to the gallows in a new coat and shoes defiant to the last bowing to spectators as he passed them.

An account in a magazine written in April 1739 recorded:

       “Turpin behaved in an undaunted manner as he mounted the ladder, feeling his right leg tremble he spoke a few words to the top man then threw himself off and expired in five minutes”.

In effect using the short drop method of hanging customary in those days, people who were executed were killed by slow strangulation.  His body is buried in St George’s Church, Fishergate in York.

Would the real Dick Turpin please stand up

Now to ‘Swift Nick’ as he was known. Also known as one John Nevison who lived in the 17th century and was one of England’s most notorious highwaymen.  He was nicknamed Swift Nick by King Charles II after a famous 200 mile gallop from Kent to York to establish an alibi for a robbery that he had committed earlier that day.

It was this feat that earned him the epithet of Swift Nick.

This occurred when in 1676 after Nevison had robbed a traveller near Rochester in Kent he took a ferry across the Thames and galloped via Chelmsford, Cambridge and Huntingdon to York some 200 miles away from where the crime had been committed.  He arrived at sunset and made a point of bumping into the City’s Lord Mayor by challenging him to a wager on a bowls match.

When he was later arrested and tried for the robbery in Kent he was able to produce the Lord Mayor as a witness to support his alibi that he could not possibly have been in Kent and he was duly found not guilty.

Like most men of his kind however he continued with his offending and in due course he again found himself before the Court, this time tried for the murder of a constable who tried to arrest him.  He was convicted and taken to York where he was hanged in March of that year.

Over the years these tales have been told and re-told, becoming more and more embellished in the re-telling, and slowly two charmless, cruel and murderous young men, one whom killed his own partner were turned into ‘dandy highwayman, folk hero of his day’.

But whoever said that life was fair?

10 Ways That Twitter Can Help Writers

TwitterWhen I first heard about Twitter, I dismissed it as just another social networking site. I didn’t really take it seriously but as a self-confessed online beginner, I gave it a go, even though I was already overloaded with keeping up with the social networks I had already signed up for.

Why on earth would I want to read about what someone eats for breakfast or what they’re doing every minute of the day?

I admit now that I was completely wrong. I’m now @marlin_writes on Twitter, and here are some of the reasons I’m glad I joined.

1. Twitter forces you to exercise your writing and editing skills. With only 140 characters to work with, you have to choose your words carefully and be concise.

2. Stay informed about the publishing industry. With so many publishing house Tweeters, you can learn a bushel about what’s happening in the industry.

3. Make contacts in the publishing industry. One of the reasons I decided to take Twitter seriously was because I kept hearing about various editors and publishers who were Tweeting. And they weren’t just posting promo items; they were also reading posts by other Tweeters and sometimes replying to them! (Imagine that……one can only dream)

4. Meet and share ideas with other writers. Yes, you can do this through other social networks as well. I’m finding, though, that Twitter’s platform provides a unique experience not yet duplicated by other social networks .There is a HUGE network of writers on Twitter and chances are good that you’ll find other writers who are going through the same types of experiences in their careers as you. Said writers will almost certainly posts tips and blogs articles of mutual interest.

5. Promote and market your writing. As writers are expected to take on more and more of the responsibility of marketing their own work, it makes sense to use every possible venue to do so. You may already be promoting your book on Facebook, for example, but Twitter gives you access to more potential readers.

6. If you can’t get to the next ‘big’ writing event, the next best thing in my view if not better is by following the relevant event #. You will then see posts from anyone attending and keep up to date with all the latest news!

7. Increasing your blog readership. Post a summary or blurb about the great content on your blog on Twitter, with a link back to your blog post for those who want to read the full content. Increased blog traffic means increased exposure to your work, which could lead to other writing-related benefits.

8. Writing motivation. In addition to finding inspirational tips and information via Twitter, you can also exchange mutual encouragement and advice with others via mentions and hashtags. The #amwriting hashtag is a popular hashtag for those posting updates on what they’re working on, for example, and has expanded into its own Amwriting website.

9. Get ideas for your writing projects. Get inspired by following current hot “trending topics” as well as thought-provoking posts.

10. Find useful resources, articles and tips to help you in the craft and business of writing. Most of the people I follow with @marlin_writes are writers, editors, publishers or book publicists, and many of them post links to useful info for writers on a daily basis. I try to do the same.

I could go on, but I have to get back to writing now. Follow me on Twitter! I’m @marlin_writes.