Friday, June 01, 2012

This Writing Is Criminal

Three weeks of update from my creative writing class. My excuse, such as it is, is that all three are linked, and the next one won't be. So let's get on!

Firstly we were given the task of creating a character based on three attributes that we pulled out of various envelopes; one a physical description, one a non-physical description and one an occupation, hobby or preference. Mine were Cheeky; Exotic and Wealthy Looking; and Passionate About Shoes. It was suggested that we try and keep them serious.

This is not based on anyone I know.

Heinrich von Schneemann

Heinrich von Schneemann arrived unheralded in London society one evening. Presumably he had an invitation to Lady Glenshire’s soiree – it was inconceivable that he could have got in without one – and he certainly livened it up. One moment it was the usual people with the usual gossip and the next he was there, resplendent in a white dinner jacket, his dark lustrous hair swept back to reveal a noble brow, pale eyes and a dagger of a nose. His cologne smelt of autumn, a dangerous scar marred his cheek and his voice was rich, dark and bitter as coffee.

“Shoes!” he said to Miss Fortesque-Gordon. “I must talk to you about your shoes.”

Within moments the usually serious and reserved girl was laughing merrily at his stories. An admiring circle formed around him that did not break up until carriages were announced. The evening was declared a great success, marred only by some confusion in the cloakroom.

Schneemann was to be found wherever the right people gathered. Young men were thrilled by his tales of adventure that hinted at exploits that might be frowned on by their parents. Young women were romanced by the mere sound of his voice and lost themselves in his pale eyes. Rumours abounded; he had fought slavers in the Sudan; he had discovered a silver mine in the Yukon; he was the natural son of the Kaiser.

It was inevitable that he would be asked his opinion of the curious theft of Lady Smith-Smythe’s wardrobe. “A most unusual crime, and a most unusual thief,” he said. “The hats, the dresses, the shawls and coats – all tailored to fit her ladyship’s... unique figure and useless to anyone else. But the footwear – boots of Moroccan leather, patent leather court shoes, and – oh! - the jewelled sandals – these could be sold, gifted or perhaps simply admired by a connoisseur.”

Schneemann himself was always perfectly shod. It was only later, after the events at Ascot, that his mysterious past, his passion for shoes and his easy way with ladies combined to make clear the full extent of his malice.
As can be seen I made him a villain. The class thought he was some kind of cheap conman, but I had in mind someone working towards their revenge. Time to beef up his threat!

Of course for the next week we had to take our serious character and write some comedy about them, preferably from their point of view.

The Greatest Thief In London

From the corner of his eye he sees her past the unclosed door. Her blond hair drawn on top of her head is decorated with roses, bringing out the colour of her faintly pink cheeks. In the electric light the strawberry and cream dress matches her complexion. He can hear her laugh, like a tiny silver bell ringing in an unexpected draft.

Heinrich von Schneemann drags his attention down to where Miss Bedford removes the most exquisite pair of boots he has ever seen in order to change into dancing shoes. His plans for the evening - the invitations to gather, the secrets to confirm, the miscreants to threaten - slip from his mind. "They gleam like dark jewels,” he thinks. “I must have them even if it costs me my revenge."

He watches as the boots are put into a pretty fabric covered box. It is labelled, and put away in the cupboard behind the cloakroom. He forms a plan.

Moments later he had gathered some supplies and approaches a footman with a package in hand. "Excuse me. I had brought this for Colonel Campbell, but it appears he has been detained. Could you keep it somewhere safe for me?" As expected his package is put into an identical box, labelled and added to the shelves in the cupboard.

After a brief furtive visit to one of the backrooms he joins the party, making his presence obvious. As the time approaches ten o'clock he manoeuvres his way towards the entrance. The clocks chime and the lights flicker and die.

They are quickly restored, but the mood of the party is broken. Schneemann is the first to arrive at the cloakroom. The footman hands him his hat, coat, gloves and the package.

Safely in his cab, Schneemann can hardly contain himself. A daring theft, under the noses of London society, conceived and executed in a mere thirty minutes. He opens the package.

"Gott in Himmel!" he cries. "I didn't go to all that trouble to steal these. What use do I have for Lady Fanshawe's priceless diamonds?"
First criticism is that I mention the word "package" too often. Also, what with some other members of the class using smut, innuendo and double entendres for comedy, the perfectly innocent phrase "...a footman with a package in hand" slipped out as something that bright 14 year olds might snigger at. The punchline was much admired.

No one spotted that the crime, as described, couldn't have ended as it did. Either Schneemann has a bumbling assistant[1] which would lead us down one path, or, and I favour this, in this upper-class Edwardian world people gossip about your country weekend if no daring jewel theft, murder, scandal or elopement takes place. So Schneemann's boot theft has accidentally got caught up in someone else's jewel theft.

I assume that Schneemann's package contains racy French novels, probably inscribed as the property of Duke of Mirkshire.

Lastly we began with some detection in class, in my case investigating a building then added a crime.

True Crime

“Come along, dear.”

Katie Bedford danced across a water filled wheel rut. “I don’t want to ruin my boots. I’ve been through three pairs this month already.”

The abandoned building loomed up from the muddy grass, the dark stone barely distinguishable from the mist. High above bare rafters showed where the roof had fallen in. Although it had finally stopped raining the air was full of moisture.

“Lady Jane, what’s so interesting about the ruins anyway? The house is called Stanworth Abbey. This must be the old abbey.”

Lady Jane turned around, one hand holding onto her hat, her elegant grey coat swirling about her. “An abbey? What about the windows?”

“What windows? Oh! There aren’t any. So this wasn’t an abbey. A fortress? A prison?”

“More likely a warehouse. Now come along. I promised your mother I’d look after you.”

Katie pouted. “I don’t need a chaperone for a country weekend with the McTavishes. I’m nineteen!”

“That’s exactly why you need someone to keep an eye on you my dear.”

The doorway was partially blocked. Peculiarly the wheel ruts they had followed lead straight there, then stopped. Lady Jane tapped her umbrella thoughtfully against her boot.

“There’s a gap. I can climb in,” said Katie, hitching up her skirt and preparing to do so. She paused a moment, then pushed and pulled at the bricks. The pile swung smoothly open.

“A secret door!” said Katie, wide eyed in excitement.

Lady Jane peered into the gloomy interior. Inside the door was a hurricane lamp on a table, which she lit with matches from her handbag. The two women could see several dozen wooden boxes and a small desk with a cardboard folder on it, all protected by a tarpaulin roof.

Katie found the lids were nailed down. Taking a crowbar from the ground she struggled to open a box for several minutes before discovering the trick of it. Inside were several bottles.

“Grand Vin de Chateau Latour, Premier Grand Cru Classé, 1899. It’s wine Lady Jane!”

“Hmm?” said Lady Jane, deeply absorbed in the contents of the folder. “Well of course. The stuff McTavish served last night was barely drinkable.”

“Someone has been stealing General McTavish’s wine, and selling it. No one can interfere with the wine cellar without the butler knowing about it. I thought he looked shifty. We should have the police lock him up.”

“What?” Lady Jane looked up in alarm at the mention of the police. “No, no. Firstly that would be a great scandal and your mother would never let me hear the end of it. Secondly, the replacing of McTavish’s claret could never have happened without his noticing. He served in the Scots Guards after all. Thirdly he has always lived beyond his means, so a little surreptitious wine dealing for undeclared profits is no surprise. The documents make it all clear.”

Katie was disappointed. “So he’s selling his own wine? That’s the mystery? I don’t even think it’s illegal.”

Lady Jane stared at the naive girl with pity. “Really my dear. Serving an inferior vintage is always a crime.”
I've rewritten the line that the class didn't like, because it annoys me now and is sloppy. Katie Bedford is, of course, the Miss Bedford whose boots Schneemann attempted to steal above in The Greatest Thief in London. Lady Jane is also Lady Glenshire who previously appeared as Carstair's client in The Case of the Purloined Pornography (Part 2 here. Both parts are Safe for Work, assuming that your work allows you to read rather silly detective stories).

[1] One other, risky option would be to bribe, blackmail and/or threaten a servant.
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