Tag Archives: The Cartographer’s apprentice

Not so Sloe Gin


Now then I confess that my reading might not be as wide as it should be. There are whole swathes of literature where I’ve barely skimmed the surface. So when my daughter appeared, waving a glossy Sunday Supplement at me, I confess I was about to venture into deep waters. Previously I had barely paddled around the edges of this literary abyss, now I was encouraged to plunge in, or at least read the advertisements.

And there, by my daughter’s quivering finger, was an advert for sloe gin. Apparently if I was to pay the advertiser the relatively princely sum of sixty pounds, they’d send me a bottle of sloe gin and a small blackthorn bush. All this came in a crate. My first thought, looking at the crate, was that ‘pallet timber is cheap enough.’

Obviously this is a venture I could take on, sloe gin I can make, apparently successfully. Blackthorn I’m familiar enough with, we’ve got a fair length of blackthorn hedge. Pallet timber I can acquire easily and cheaply enough. My main problem is finding somebody who would hand over sixty pounds for the combination. Not only do I live among folk who seem to be almost indecently thrifty in this regard, but my friends seem to share the same pragmatic attitude to such purchases. An attempt locally to combine the fruits of the garden centre with those of the saloon bar would meet little success.

That’s probably why you have to advertise in Sunday Supplements?

But anyway I’ve already got my marketing sorted


First my recipe for Sloe Gin

Note I’ve got to make it exotic if it’s going to be worth sixty quid.


First take your gin, bon marché et chimique

Then sugar, doux et blanc

Finally the sloes, noir, gele et juteux

Finally, a bottle, d’occasion avec nouvelle étiquette


Obviously the proportions are important, but equally obviously I cannot tell you them because I don’t want every Tom, Dick or Blodwen making it.
Blackthorn plants aren’t a problem, I can get them at £60 per hundred, but again I’ll have to do something to make them even more exotic


That’s it; we’ll call them Prunus spinosa et divites adultery


So who could resist this, Sloe Gin, bon marché et chimique with your own plant of Prunus spinosa et divites adultery so that you can produce your own gin in years to come.

As an aside, the use of French and Latin is as fraudulent as the rest of the project.

As a further aside, in case you hadn’t realised, for the fine Novella, “The Cartographer’s Apprentice” I am asking a mere £1.15. Four short stories from the Land of the Three Seas casting a light on the early career of Benor Dorfinngil. The trials and tribulations of a young cartographer; this book features duels, savage halfmen, gassy beer, blood feuds and most dangerous of all, beautiful women.

Something to read with your sloe gin perhaps?


Go on; treat yourself, cheap at twice the price



As a reviewer commented “

These are four excellent short stories introducing the early days of Benor. Each tale pulses with humour as the well-drawn characters engage in various adventures. Each story features great dialogue, lots of good food, wine and ale, all taking place in a believable and well-drawn world where the streets pulse with life. The reader gets a powerful sense of being there in a real world with real people going about their real lives.

I look forward to reading the next book and wish I’d read this one far sooner.”

Moving through at speed

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Lambs always look sweet frolicking on the grass, kicking up their heels and jumping about. What people forget is that the same animal will often try the same tricks when it weights the best part of forty kilos.

Moving a group of weaned lambs can at times be an interesting experience. If they’re all sort of going in the right way together then it’s not a problem. The problem comes when one has somehow got separated. It’ll look for its friends and run toward them. If it’s standing half way up a bank eating hedgerow plants, the run might well start with a jump. Having 35kg of lamb heading for your chest at about 33km/hr because you’re between her and her friends can spoil your whole damned day.

I got a phone call from a neighbour; one of our lambs had got out and was in his yard and garden. So I nipped down on the quad to see what was going on. The lamb, 40kg of superbly toned muscle, had panicked. She didn’t know where she had left her friends so every time the neighbour approached her; he was obviously trying to cut her off from her mates. So she went everywhere at maximum speed, often at low altitude.

Now it you know what you’re doing and you’re fast, rather than trying to stop them in mid air, you can divert their flight. I’ve seen one person catch one in the air and let it spin him so that when he let go the lamb crashed back into the bunch it had just left. To be honest that falls very much into the ‘do not try this one at home’ category.

But anyway when I got there the lamb had spotted a door open into a shed and had gone in there. So with a piece of rope in my pocket I went into the shed and the neighbour held the door shut. Whilst the shed was a bit cluttered, this was to our advantage as she needed open space to accelerate in. As it was when she did try to run, it was from a standing start and she never got more than a foot before she was caught. Then with her feet tied we whisked her back to her mates. Job done.

Actually there’s been a lot of that sort of thing recently. I’ve spent a lot of time fixing fences, sorting sheep, and generally trying to keep on top of the job. I’m not complaining, I’m just trying to think up excuses for why I’ve not kept up with the blog. I’ve been busy.

On top of that I’ve got back into the writing again. I have a project that is almost finished. The year before last I wrote and published ‘The Cartographer’s Apprentice.”


It was something of a change of direction. Rather than a full novel, it’s more a short collection of stories, all about the same protagonist. They’re tales from the career of Benor as a young man.

This slim volume (can you say that about an e-book?) has been well received so I decided I’d repeat the process. The cunning plan was to release three of these a year. But timetables and life being what they are, I’ve written six, the first is due to be published on the 1st August, and the other five are virtually ready, so they can reliably appear at four month intervals.

Also I’ve produced a slim volume of poetry and literary criticism. Lambent Dreams is a cooperation between various people, both real and imaginary. I’ll let you decide for yourself which is which.

There are Poems based on the work of Tallis Steelyard, friend of Benor with commentary by Benor, and an introduction from noted fictional poet Lancet Foredeck. Cover design by Esther van Raamsdonk.


As a reviewer commented, “This short book really amused me. If you’re familiar with the stories of Benor the Cartographer from the author’s Land of the Three Seas then you will have some idea of what to expect. Tallis Steelyard is a poet. He makes his living that way. Lambent Dreams is a collection of some of his works and his friend Benor comments on them to give some historical or geographical insight. Then there is the commentary from fellow poet and critic Lancet Foredeck. These remind me of the notes you get on wines from some of the ‘experts’ and I chuckled along with them. Perhaps funniest of all was the fact that, somehow, the footnotes inserted by one of the typesetters were left in by accident; a much more refreshing view is revealed!

This won’t take you long to read but I guarantee you’ll smile a lot while you do. A little gem!”

It’s not what you do that counts; it’s what you’re offended by that matters

Funny old world isn’t it. Win a Nobel Prize for, “Discovering a key aspect of cell cycle control, the protein cyclin which is a component of cyclin dependent kinases, demonstrating his ability to grasp the significance of the result outside his immediate sphere of interest” and all anybody ever remembers is that you aren’t cutting edge cool and politically correct.

full of people

I’ll tell you a story. Back in 1972 they put on a special excursion train to take people from up here to see the Tutankhamen exhibition in the British Museum. It was a huge train, and it was the old style coaches with the six seat compartments and a corridor down one side.

My mother took my sister and I. I don’t remember much of the journey down, the exhibition itself I do remember something of. It was certainly spectacular enough to leave memories which have stuck with me.

But coming home I have another memory.

In ‘our’ compartment there was my mother, my sister and myself sitting on one seat, and facing us was a father and his two children. Both adults were similar age, both born in the 1920s. There was a little polite small talk, but frankly I think everybody was tired by then. Anyway it was summer, a hot day and the compartment was hot. So the gentleman opposite would do the sensible thing and take off his jacket and tie. But before he did so, he first asked my mother’s permission.

Because back then, that’s what you did. It was a sign of good manners.

Indeed I was brought up to stand up when a ‘lady’ entered the room, and I was also brought up to believe that ‘lady’ included school dinner ladies as much as it included teachers or friends of my mother.

Now Tim Hunt is older than me. In 1972 he’s have been 28. He’d have been the generation that was taught that you asked a lady present for permission before taking your jacket off.

Since then, he’s been working for a living, he’s had a life. He’s achieved stuff that most of us can barely understand. So perhaps he’s missed out on a few pointers as to current trending social etiquette.

I sympathise with him. Keep your mouth shut and those desperate to be offended will have to get their kicks out of attacking somebody else.

I suppose there’s always a chance they might be offended by this. If so then I suppose I ought to include a link to one of my books, that way they can show their offence by buying a copy and burning it publically.

Even better I could leave a link to one of the ebooks, so anyone offended can download a copy more cheaply, print if off at work so it costs them nothing in paper and ink, and then burn it. You cannot say I don’t try to be accommodating.

But one real consolation is that in forty years time, when fashions have changed at least twice, those doing the pillorying now are going to be so embarrassed by how out of touch they were back in the second decade of the twenty-first century.


Send for Lauderdale!

There are certain names that inspire confidence.

Imagine the scene. Into the midst of the well padded armchairs the news seeps like sewage into a reservoir.

Rumour, on winged feet, flits from chair to chair, and the room gradually becomes still.

Men who have kedged gunboats off the sandbanks in rivers we will not name, in total darkness and under the barrels of the enemy guns; sit weeping silently. Others who have stared down dust devils dancing over the killing fields of Afghanistan sit blank eyed, staring unseeing at the wall, suddenly broken.

Men who have drunk in squalid bars in Sihanoukville, or the Terminal Bar in New York, or even the Sandgate now drain their glasses, make their excuses and decamp to the gents.

And into the silence somebody drops a name, “Lauderdale.”

Immediately the cry goes up, “Send for Lauderdale. And suddenly there is laugher and shouting for waiters and a clinking of glasses and men rejoice and are glad again.

And Lauderdale appears, suddenly, as if by magic. Where has he been? Nobody knows. How did he enter? Nobody saw him arrive. He is here, it is enough.

In silence somebody hands him the letter. He reads it, his face indecipherable. Then with the letter in hand he leaves the room. He makes no preparations; he ignores the offer of ‘a bracer’ or ‘a stiff one’. He just goes as he is, that is our Lauderdale.

But when he leaves, silence falls, and with it doubt once more returns. “Can he do it?” So whispers one who can tell the Sarbani from the Ghurghakhti by the way they tape the magazines of their Kalashnikovs.

And the well padded armchairs are marinated in sotto voce conversation.

And Lauderdale, what of him?

He knocks on the door, waits briefly for the muffled response, and he enters. Swiftly, silently, gracefully; like a leopard he advances on the desk. The figure behind looks up at him.

“Ah Lauderdale, you wanted something?”

Like a regicide about to strike, Lauderdale raises the letter. “You are to be congratulated Minister. A bold decision if I may say so. None of your predecessors had the courage necessary to take on such deeply entrenched vested interests.”

The Minister’s voice quavers. “Bold, you say?”

“Undoubtedly Minister.”

“Perhaps a committee Lauderdale, just to round off any rough edges?”

“I shall arrange it at once sir.”

And now you too can play your part. You to can step forward into the breach and help sustain all we hold dear. But all civilisation asks of you, gentle reader, is that you buy the book.


After the deluge


So, we’ve three-hundred and ninety something lambed, and five left to lamb. They could spin it out over the next three or four weeks so there isn’t the sense of driving urgency.

But what about the rest? What happens to those who have lambed. Let us assume that we take the standard ‘set’ of one ewe with her twin lambs. They don’t go out until we’re happy that mum recognised her lambs (and lambs recognise mum) and she’s feeding them properly. Once we’re happy with that they go out into a field with other sheep.

At this point we have to be a bit particular. We try to put them out with ewes who have lambs of the same age, so they settle down well together. We also try to put them out into a field with not many other ewes and lambs into it. So they go out in batches of about twenty five. To anthropomorphise wildly, think about taking your toddler to school for the first time. You’ll be happier to let them join a class of twenty to thirty, all of the same age, than a class of five hundred which includes everything up to and including eighteen year olds.

And it’s at this point that things start getting complicated. Lambs have nothing to do with their time other than eat and explore. They squeeze through gaps and wander off, with mum bleating pathetically behind them. You can end up with the lamb in one field, wandering round the strange ewes, all with their own lambs, trying to work out which is mum, whilst mum is in the other field wondering where little one has gone to.

Trying to do anything about this is tricky. Evolution decided that lambs needed speed with a side order of curiosity and a dash of ‘cuteness’. Intellect wasn’t regarded as a survival characteristic. So when you try to catch the lamb to put it back it can pull moves that would make a Parkour champion applaud. Although to be fair you get the feeling that the lamb concentrates on the jump, gets the leap right, and only worries about landing as it travels through the air. They don’t tend to plan their moves out far in advance.

This lack of sparkling intellect is also shared by mum. She might have two lambs but isn’t good on advanced maths and if she decides to travel, so long as at least one of them is tagging along behind her, she feels reasonably happy.

You find that those who lose their mum, either by misplacing her or because she’s ill, tend to pinch milk of other mums when they get a chance. By the time they’re about six weeks old, they’re old enough to cope with solid food alone and they tend to wander more, coming back for a free feed and to get their washing done.

Illness is a difficult one. Sheep aren’t domesticated in the way that even cats are. They are far less domesticated than cattle. So they don’t just come and watch you, or stand and let you watch them in the same way that you can with cattle. Also there is an issue with herd animals. Evolution has designed them not to show weakness. The weak one is the one the predator picks, so both cattle and sheep can carry illnesses and even injuries and look remarkably healthy. It takes a lot of skill to spot illness in its early stages. So at the moment life consists of a lot of careful sheep watching, trying to spot trouble before it gets too far out of hand.

There are times when you ponder whether life should be so sheep centred.



As a reviewer commented, “This book charts a year in the life of a Cumbrian sheep farmer. It’s sprinkled with anecdotes and memories of other years. Some parts (especially when featuring Sal, the Border Collie) were so funny as to cause me to have to read them out loud to my husband. It’s very interesting to read these things from the pen of the man who is actually out there doing it – usually in the rain! A very good read.”


To get it from anybody but Amazon go to


A Great Leap Sideways

Apparently it was Al Boliska who said, “Do you realize if it weren’t for Edison we’d be watching TV by candlelight?”

Well as you know I’ve got this interesting relationship with technology. Not so much ‘love-hate’ as ‘apathetic’

The fact that mobile phones have largely passed me by is well known. I carry a cheap old nokia mainly because the authorities get upset if they realise you’ve got a loaded Verey pistol on your person. But I use the phone as a Verey pistol. It’s almost as good but you don’t get the pretty lights.

Same with e-books; I write them but I’ve not got anything to read them on other than a desktop PC.

So I thought I’d do something about this.

Now I suppose the easy thing to do would be to get a kindle or something similar. But actually, after discussion with publishers etc I’ve decided to do it differently.

You see, when Safhket published Justice 4.1 the decision was taken to produce a paperback as well as an ebook. The paperback reached a lot of people who otherwise would never have seen the book.

When the next book in the series comes out in March, it’s going to get launched twice. In March it’ll come out as an ebook, but then later in the year, it’ll be launched as a paperback. This is because that launch will coincide, hopefully, with a range of miniatures to go with the books.

And then I’ve had a look at the fantasy.  They’re all ebooks, and weighing things in the balance, looking at sales, and the reception the books have had; we’ve come to the decision that they ought to be published in paperback as well, so the process is now underway. No dates yet, just vaguely ‘Summer/Autumn’ before they’re all out there.

And to coincide with them coming out in paperback I have bowed to pressure to write more about Benor Dorfinngil and his adventures. There are now six Benor short stories written and they’re with the editor. Together their common title is ‘The Port Naain Intelligencer’. Each is a ‘stand alone’ detective story/investigation. Each is about 16,000 to 20,000 words and the idea is they’ll appear as ebooks, priced at £0.99.  They’ll come out, on a regular basis, one a quarter, and at the end of the year, if they’re well received, the year’s stories will be published together in a paperback, probably with a few bits and bobs of other stuff.

If you’ve not come across Benor, then The Cartographer’s Apprentice is as good a place to start as any.


All this is ready to roll, but dates and suchlike are inevitably tentative because there’s a lot of work for a lot of people and they’re all busy people.

I’ve even got a couple of 8000 word Benor short stories, set in Port Naain, that will appear, free, at some point. I know, wash my mouth out with soap and water, but it’s both a way of saying thank-you to those who have been so loyal buying the books, and also it’s the ‘crack-dealers gambit’ to hook new readers who haven’t somehow ever got round to trying the Benor Dorfinngil experience.

So you have been warned, Port Naain awaits.


Coffee, sheep, tractors, fine literature and bad rock’n’roll

Coffee, sheep, tractors, fine literature and bad rock’n’roll

My lady wife and I were following a tractor and hedge-cutter down a lane. She commented that it didn’t look like a desperately exciting job. My reply was along the lines that tractor driving wasn’t at all exciting. Obviously when things go wrong it can get far too exciting but when done properly it can be a case of chugging along, working long hours and surviving on coffee and with bad rock’n’roll coming out of the radio.

But this morning I discovered that the task had been so soporific that the driver using the hedge-cutter had casually chopped through an old gate that we had used to block a gap. This reopened the gap and over a hundred ewes had wandered through to see what the wider world had to offer.

So I blocked the gap and when to bring the ladies back. This involved me chasing them through the gate and out of one field, onto the lane, and then taking them down the lane through another gate and back into their original field. Both gates opened to block the lane so it was a job I could do on my own.

This was lucky, because these ladies are heavily pregnant. Thus they are pampered. The dog isn’t allowed anywhere near them in case she is a little bit too firm or things get too excitable. Everything is done nicely and quietly and gently.

So I go into the field to drive them out, I’m riding the quad bike. Instantly half of them follow me because I might have food (I told you they were being pampered) and the other half stand and watch because they don’t think I’ve got food so aren’t going to waste time following me. But be damned if they’re going to miss out if suddenly food appears.

So I’m trying to follow the ewes who’re following me and at the same time not upset anybody and also get them to move as a group out through the gate.

So eventually they all turn round and move out of the gate. They have to go the correct way down the lane, because of the gate. But across the lane is a fence. Someone had to take a digger through the hedge and there’s a fence of hurdles across the gap. It’s fine, it’s kept sheep in place for months. No problems.

Except this morning these heavily pregnant ewes who’re not supposed to get too excited hit this fence of hurdles like the tide and just poured over it, flattening it. Shouting the distinctive vernacular phrase “Ya bluidy auld witch” I’m left in the other field watching the chaos develop. So I had to shut the gate behind me, re-arrange the hurdles and get the sheep out of this field and back onto the lane.

Of course at this point some of them started following me again. I suppose you could see their point. Perhaps it was this field that I was going to feed them in. From the sheep point of view this adequately explained why I hadn’t fed them in the previous field. The fact it was them who’d smashed down the fence so they were in this field passed them by entirely. Cattle know when they’re ‘escaped’ or are in the wrong place, and can get all excited or guilty about it. Sheep have no concept of having escaped. They’re just where they are.

So I finally got them moving again, back into the original field that they’d first escaped from. At this point they discovered the food that was waiting for them. A feeder full of silage and a bucket of molasses (when we pamper, we pamper) and they immediately piled round these and started eating. Occasionally stopping to look at me with the sort of expression which said, “About time as well.”

The fact that they’d abandoned both silage and molasses to go ratching about in strange fields was apparently my fault.

But anyway I spent the rest of the morning before the rain hit fixing things they’d damaged in transit. This meant that it wasn’t until dinnertime that I had a chance once more to turn to creating deathless prose.

Admittedly today fine literature and tackling the eternal verities will probably be something on rural fuel poverty but we cannot have everything.

But if you fancy a bit of quality writing and have the princely sum of £0.99 to spend, ‘The Cartographer’s Apprentice’ is still available.


Creeping calmly towards Christmas.


You know it’s a bad sign when normally sensible young women go shopping wearing Santa Hats. If they’ve got some poor bloke in tow as well then things are doubtless about to get stressful.

I walked into town today, not really to buy anything but just to shunt money about and make sure various other jobs had been done. So I didn’t really call in any shops or spend any money, but it was interesting just to watch everybody else. A lot of people were cheerful, some looked a bit stressed. I did call in to one shop to pick up some pickled onions. (Living the dream here, we know how to do Christmas, and you need something to go with the cold meat.)

Talking to one of the lads stacking shelves and he commented that people had already started ‘panic buying’. Given that the shops will be open this weekend, open the 24th, and open again on the 27th, it’s not as if we were laying in provisions for a re-run of the siege of Troy.

What gets me about Christmas is the stress some people seem to inflict upon themselves. I’m afraid I’m past that now.

On two consecutive Christmas Days we had power cuts (but fortunately we cook using an oil fuelled Rayburn.) On the next Christmas the Rayburn ran out of oil on Christmas day at about 10am, but fortunately we had electricity that year.

The most ‘exciting’ Christmas for me was where we had a power cut on Christmas Day, we had a dairy cow who needed a caesarean on Boxing Day, and the day after that, as I was putting silage into the troughs for the milk cows, the tractor put a front wheel through the slats on the top of the slurry bit, breaking a concrete sleeper and toppled over slowly, stopping at an angle of 45 degrees, stuck. I had to phone someone with a telescopic handler who dropped round and lifted the front end up so I could back out. By this stage I’d had enough of the entire Christmas experience, especially as I was doing two men’s work, but was paying someone to sit at home because I couldn’t afford to pay double time for them to come in and help.

It was at that stage that we started redesigning the business to eliminate the need for paid staff.

I think Christmas needs to be put in its place. My mother was a teacher, she had Christmas ‘up to here’ at school in December, so Christmas started at home on the day after she broke up. So decorations went up on December 23rd and came down promptly on 12th night.

Christmas is a different festival to New Year. There are five working days between them. We always worked on the principle that if we couldn’t contact a supplier between Christmas and New Year, we didn’t need them during the rest of the year either.

And Christmas Day? A decent start, get stock fed,  if things go well might even make 9:30am service. Then after dinner, read and/or snooze, Queen’s Speech, back outside to feed round again and check everything is OK before finishing in time for tea. Finish up with a relaxing evening with family.

So relax. Sit down; pour yourself a glass of something restorative. Dip into a nice ebook to take you out of it all.


Numerous reviewers recommend


“This is the first book by Jim Webster that I’ve read, but it will certainly not be the last!

The world that is opened up around the main character, Benor Dorfinngil, is an interesting combination of historical fiction, legend and non-magical fantasy (although some of the creatures described are certainly, in some cases thankfully, not existing in our world).

Gripping tales, interesting situations and characters, clever plots and thoroughly entertaining.”


The Cartographer’s Apprentice

Roll up roll up roll up. We proudly present the Cartographer’s apprentice, the finest work of fiction every to see the light of day in these benighted times. Do I ask ten pounds? Do I ask five pounds? Do I ask one pound? No, to you lady, the one with the bright light of intelligence in her eyes; and to you sir, yes you Sir, the distinguished looking gent with the illustrious countenance; I ask only Ninety-Nine pence.
I know, I’m cutting my own throat at that, but lord love us, you’ve got a lucky face. So there you have it. Four short stories from the Land of the Three Seas casting a light on the early career of Benor Dorfinngil. The trials and tribulations of a young cartographer; this book features duels, savage halfmen, gassy beer, blood feuds and most dangerous of all, beautiful women.

And all this for 99p; why that’s over four hundred words for a penny. And not just any old words may I tell you. These are bespoke, handcrafted words. Words chosen carefully by some of our finest young lexicographers, arranged in order, the punctuation supplied by renown exponents of their art, hammered in the forge of Hephaestus and tempered by immersion, still red hot from the anvil, into blushful Hippocrene.
And the electrons, look at the book, browse the text, and revel in the excellence of the electrons. Look at the quality of their intrinsic angular momentum, marvel at their invariant mass. All electrons are supplied with a written guarantee that they have no known substructure.
Cannot do better than that squire; just wander along to http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Cartographers-Apprentice-ebook/dp/B00ECZIM4A/

Also available as pdf, and a score of other interesting formats, a quick google search will provide them all.


The Cartographers Apprentice