The shop owner of a marvellous bookshop on the ancient walls of Chester is a writer too. I loved Michael Summers’ story, The Is Shop, in which a store only sells what the previous customer ordered. It’s based on the concept of fractal so there are cusps and bifurcations of intrigue in the story. Perhaps City Walls Books could be subtitled as The Alternative ‘IS Shop’? When you go or email the shop as for a copy. The shop is up on the walls off Northgate. Ask Mr Summers there for a hardback copy of his latest fiction:
The Cutlers of the Howling Hills by Michael Summers
Hardback edition published 2014
Reviewed by Geoff Nelder
Michael Summers is to conventional fiction as a banana is to a wheelbarrow. These 97 pages are two riveting works of literary gold, if odd. The first is a kind of road trip by Bulkington, a monk on a quest yet it has geographical and plot links to the Epic poem that makes up the final fifth of the tome – The Lay of The Last Wastrel.
The setting of a monastery, especially one as austere as St. Collywobbles, obliges the reader to imagine medieval and in this they are both right, and wrong. There is a feel of the ancient mainly because the monastery is 200 miles from the nearest town and people met are wonderfully weird. Bulkington is sent by the Abbott on a mission to secure replacement spoons. He finds an itinerant cutlery vendor, who is a former monk and together they set off on A Quest To Find Magic In The Abstract. You might think odd things happen in the wilderness. They do, but odder things happened at the monastery where toads catalyse the means by which the monks read.
There is much in this work that rings of cultural reflection and truism and of contemporary wit. For example The Hollow Hills are so called because their hollowness is the result of Elven Fracking. Along the trail the goodly monk Bulkington and his new BFF soothsayer Indole meet Noctus Satum, an experimental meteorologist who is puzzled why his lightning detector isn’t working. I laughed at this because I too constructed such a device decades ago when I taught about the vagaries of weather science. I often kept my classes inquisitive by displaying odd devices on my desk and offered prizes for the first to correctly determine their purpose. Like Noctus, my device used a screen – an oscilloscope used as a graphical ammeter, come to think of it rather like the ECG displays for my stay in hospital a few weeks ago only with more interesting spikes and T curves. In Cutlers it’s not too much a spoiler to say that the storm detector hits a problem of too many false positives detection. Funnily enough this happened to the Met Office in Huddersfield. I undertook climate research in that Colne Valley region in the 1970s and at the request of a friend in the Met Office I visited an amateur observer in Huddersfield because he consistently recorded a record annual thunderstorm frequency of over 40 when most of the Pennine region had half that. In the man’s garden I inspected his station and it was ideally situated with a well-maintained Stevenson Screen housing PSI-certified instruments. Then we heard a bang. He immediately fetched a ledger and recorded a thunderstorm.
“Just a minute,” I said, “that was Standard Fireworks across the valley, testing bangers!”
“No, it was a thunderstorm,” he said.
Shortly after that the Met Office statistics for that region were adjusted.
The writing style in Cutlers is marvellously lyrical, and not just in setting description. Listen to this excerpt from Chapter 11. ‘Round and round it tore, until the howling of the hills rang through the bog. The water sprayed and frothed, and droplets flew up into the night air. A vortex of tearing force touched down, hit the brackish mire and suddenly all was a column of turbulent water, beaten white by the tornado. With a great ribbetting whirl, hundreds of Collywobbler Toads disappeared into the night.’
In some ways the ‘ashtray-smelling town of Avaciggy’ is a joke too many because in general the wry, dry humour runs through the narrative so well in its surreal way. As in ‘Everything … is built without a slide rule, so the rules slide–no right angles…’ Speaking of which there is a running joke on angular momentum, and by the way, the correct units of angular momentum is kilogram metres squared per second (kgm 2/sec). Unless you are referring to Quantum angular momentum in which case you’re on your own. Hence, I’ve given away the answer to an in-text riddle for you.
The reader becomes embroiled in the wilderness road trip with the two travellers right to the end, upon which an epic poem assaults you. And delightful, devious and glorious it is. Such ancient verse components and knowledge is built in with apparent ease for such a young writer. Seemingly disparate topics such polo, a shepherdess lamenting and harassing the town on the nomenclature of her unnamed mountain in the Howling Hills, provide us with linked quests within quests. A quest that kind of ends at its beginning. A quote from the verse that delighted me:
‘Where witchery trees turned sunlight to paper.
Many a thriller was cast to the wind;
A religious plemic announce ‘We have sinned.’
Yesterday’s news was blown on the breeze
A hundred best-sellers took flight from the trees.’
This novella and poem reflect each other and together deserves to be a best-seller.
Nelder stuff //
books by Nelder can be found on Amazon author pages
UK Amazon author page http://www.amazon.co.uk/Geoff-Nelder/e/B002BMB2XY
And for US readers http://www.amazon.com/Geoff-Nelder/e/B002BMB2XY