Turning the Table by John Dodds


“How about, ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’?”

Merlin sighed. “Already taken, my lord.”

Arthur, King of Camelot, son of Uther Pendragon, had been working on a speech for next week’s pre-joust banquet and thinking aloud as the others debated the issue of the symbolic structure. As king he was certainly entitled to have all the best sayings licensed to him, so he wasn’t best pleased by his wizard’s reply. “By whom?” he growled. “I’ve only just thought of it.”

“Hmm,” said Merlin, “That’s a hard one — as the actress said to the Bishop — but I can tell you it will be used at some time in the distant future by a ruler you don’t know in reference to a battle that hasn’t happened yet.”

“Merlin, I’m becoming displeased by your perpetual riddles. And your bad jokes.” Arthur then gulped down half a tankard of ale in one go.

The wizard opened his hands out and shrugged in a “sorry, not my problem” gesture.

The King, too, wanted to make a gesture, in the form of something that would memorialise him, and Camelot. A painting, a sculpture, whatever. One that would be memorably unusual.

At the far end of the table, Sir Damien, who preferred the paintbrush to the sword, and aspired to be an artist of sorts, said, “I’ve got this fab idea that would get you some media attention. We capture a dragon, see. Then we slice it in half and put it inside a glass case, with its guts on view to the public.”

A neighbouring knight scoffed, “Call that bloody art? My serf could do better art than that. And he’s only got one eye!”

“The trouble with this particular table,” the Brothers Saatchi interrupted in unison, “is that it’s just like every other table in the kingdom.” They were referring to the gigantic table at which they were all presently seated. The carpenters had only just this morning brought it into the grand hall, piece by piece, and assembled it in situ. Unfortunately, Arthur had failed to consult with the Saatchis about the acquisition. Naturally so, since the King considered them to be poseurs who tended to dismiss anything they regarded as “mere craftwork” in favour of Art – with a capital A.

The trouble was that the table wasn’t all the King had hoped it would be. It was in reality deeply flawed, and didn’t give the message he’d hoped for. Hence the current debate about the relative merits of tables, works of art in the form of split dragons, and so on.

“Yes,” said Charles DeLeon, “It is ordinary, my Lord. We quite agree with you. Not very…symbolic, if you take my meaning.”

DeLeon’s brother, James, clarified, “It’s your common or garden rectangular style of table, your majesty. The usual number of legs — inlaid with gold, certainly, but otherwise unexceptional.”

The king was scowling again. “I paid a lot of money for this table. A king’s ransom, in fact.”

“You were done,” said Merlin in a stage whisper.

Arthur threw him a silencing glare.

“Lancelot’s a ladies man, we all know that,” Gawain sneered. “I’d lay odds he flirted with your lady, Guinevere, so that she would persuade you to commission the carpenters. Who, incidentally are good friends of Lancelot’s.”

“Truly,” Sir Geraint added. “They don’t call him lance a lot for nothing.”

A ripple of laughter went around the table.

Arthur’s face blackened with incipient rage. “Are you suggesting that Lancelot not only seduced my wife, but that he’s also taking a backhander from the bloody carpenters?”

Said Lancelot, interestingly enough, was not currently present to defend himself. He was in fact, at this very moment, giving Guinevere what the queen herself called, “a jolly good seeing to”.

“Sire, forgive me, I beg.” Sir Gawain held up a placatory palm. “I was by no means suggesting seduction —” and here he gave Sir Geraint and accusatory glare for his off colour bawdiness. “— certainly not…big Lance could no more seduce your Lady than an ant could seduce an elephant.”

A gasp of horror around the table. A mixed metaphor of the worst sort.

Gawain blushed and blustered, “Again, forgive me, my Lord…my facility with words is…”

“Non existent,” the Brother’s Saatchi pealed in unison.

More laughter.

King Arthur slammed his fist down on the table. The table shook, bouncing the knights’ tankards an inch or two into the air and slopping some of the ale in them onto the recently-polished surface.

The King’s eyes widened in horror. “But…but…this can’t possibly be oak! It’s so…flimsy!” He rapped the surface with his knuckles. The tabletop gave a hollow sound like a dampened drumskin.

Arthur’s face was completely black now. “What – in God’s name — have I bought here?”

The Saatchi brothers exchanged a look of profound satisfaction. One of them (no one seemed to know their Christian names and generally they were referred to in the plural), said, “My liege, while it is true that your table is not entirely a work of art, the makers at least are trying to display a contemporary sensibility.”

“What the hell are you talking about, Saatchi?” The King quaffed more ale and fiercely backhanded the froth from his top lip.

“In the use of materials,” said Saatchi Two. “Very modern, if you will. Science as opposed to art.”

Saatchi One, in response to the King’s puzzled expression, explained. “MDF, my Lord. It’s all the rage in furniture making these days.”


Next day, under pain of execution, the humbled and terrified carpenters, Eoin and Walliam, offered to make the King a new table. A table so extraordinary, so unique, that it would insert itself into the popular imagination for centuries to come. Not only that, but it would be big. Really, really big!

“Big is good,” King Arthur said, “Size matters. It suggests that the King’s got a really massive…”

Merlin, standing beside Arthur’s throne while the King sat there in all his Kingosity, coughed politely into his fist to divert him from completing his sentence.

Arthur whispered out of the corner of his mouth, “Oh, righto, Mer…gotcha.”

Eoin said, “What about a hexagonal one, sire?”

Arthur slowly, mentally, counted his fingers. “”That’s…that’s….five sides, isn’t it?”

The carpenter nodded.

“And how many knights do we have?”

“Er…one hundred and fifty, my lord?” The carpenter was growing paler by the minute.

“So,” said Arthur, leaning back theatrically in his throne. “How would that work, then, if we had guests, for example?”

The carpenter seemed to want the floor to open up beneath him. “Well, they could…perhaps…be ten to a side, and the guests could…um…share a corner each.”

“The sides would need to be extremely long,” Merlin sneered. “And some knights, visiting or otherwise, might think it beneath them to share a corner.”

The carpenter lowered his head, then lifted it again, and now he was smiling like an eager-to-please puppy. “I could add more sides. Of course, that’s it! Ten sides, five knights each, with room left over for visitors. Now that would be an opti–, a penta–, a septa–, um…a ten-sided table.”

Brilliant,” groaned the king. “Absolutely bloody brilliant. And where, pray, would I sit?”

The carpenter’s smile faded. “Oh, you meant a hundred and fifty knights…plus you.”

“Odd number, see,” said Merlin. “Lucky. Very fortuitous, that.”

“But not for carpenters,” said Arthur, adding, “Obviously.”

The poor carpenter had by now been emotionally sawn, sanded, planed, splintered and rendered down for wood pulp.

“Back to the drawing board with you, carpenter,” said the King. “Your choices now are as follows: really cool table. Or Death.”
* * *
And so it transpired that the carpenters, after much consideration, fuelled by fear of execution, devised a table for the King’s hall that would go down in history. Not only was it big — really big — but it was made of proper oak (none of that MDF malarkey). Plus it was, may God preserve us, not square or hexagonal, nor even decahedron for that matter (we looked that one up in Wikipedia). Put simply, it was, in fact, circular.

“Except,” King Arthur complained, “Knights of the Circular Table doesn’t have a proper ring to it.”

Carpenter Walliam said, “Except it is a ring, my Lord. It’s got a hole in the centre for starters. Which makes it….a ring…sort of…”

“That’s not what he meant, boy,” put in Merlin. The wizard did that strokey beardy thing of his — an affectation displaying to the world that he was thinking profound thoughts — and said, “How about….Knights of the Round Table, my liege?”

The 150 knights sitting around the remarkable tabled with its inlaid marquetry of different exotic woods and gold leaf, made mutterings of approval.

Arthur raised his eyes heavenward for a moment — his own affectation, signalling profound Kingly thoughts — then made his pronouncement on the issue.

“Cool! Really cool, wizard. Now then, that’s that. So, Knights of the Round table, what’s the order of business today?”

First order was the Expedition. A young knight had come up with the idea, of which the others were in broad support. Some wondered at Sir Percival’s courage and folly in going out in search of the Holy Grail. And others of his fellow knights, who knew him for his naivety and impulsiveness scorned him for risking his life for a bit of crockery.

“What is a grail, anyhow?” Sir Bors, a quarrelsome braggart, commented.

“The cup in which a centurion caught some of the spilled blood of Christ,” said the Welsh knight, Yvaine, adding, “Cretin! Everyone knows that.”
Sir Bors refused to take the bait and laughed, “Well I only hopes his gives it a good wash before offering it to our king. It must be totally rancid by now.”


Black Rigg by Mary Easson

Linlithgow Writers Circle

People come to creative writing in different ways and at different times in their lives. In my case, I remember being quite creative in primary school but how that was drummed out of me in high school. Then many years later, I began researching a particular family story and became fascinated by the social history of the Scottish mining communities. In this second decade of the 21stcentury when people often take the NHS for granted and think that a mobile phone is a dire necessity, I knew I had a story worth telling. But how to tell it? Local and family histories have limited appeal whereas novels reach a wider audience. So that’s what I did – I set about writing a novel which unfolded day after day to my constant amazement. I am presently half way through a third novel but have also turned to shorter pieces…

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The Witch’s Promise

Witch's PromiseMy latest work, a 12,300-word novelette, out now on Amazon, . If you are minded to review it, I’d be happy to send you a free copy – just drop me a line with your contact details.

Book description
Caitlin is woman ostracised by her village because they believe her to be a witch. When her blind son disappears one day, she believes he has been abducted and goes on a perilous journey, crossing the boundaries between this world and the land of faerie, encountering dangers and both real and supernatural. Aided by her former familiar, the malevolent wood sprite, Straif, and an old lover, she comes to learn a shocking truth that she could never have imagined.

The Cloth of the Mother Goddess

HR -7

This week I had the pleasure of attending a talk at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery by Tara Books, a remarkable collective of writers, artists and designers from India who publish illustrated books for children and adults. They produce limited editions, hand-printed and bound, of works, ranging from religious and mythical subjects to stories of their everyday lives. The books are created through a complex process starting with the artists’ originals, through to screenprinting and then binding the pages into books. While there are some editions printed with the more conventional lithographic process, most are all hand-made, numbered limited editions.

Their visual books span a range of genres: children’s literature, social and art pedagogy, popular culture, photography and art. They are committed to returning the senses back to the physical book in an age busy writing its obituary. They value experimentation: in content, design and production.

Tara Books say, “We also like to enhance the quirky pleasures of reading, for both children and adults—from picture books for all ages to experimental graphic narratives, we have developed new genres of expression.

“The hallmark of our publishing is our engagement with the rich diversity of Indian folk and tribal art. We have brought many of these traditions into the book for the first time, by combining them with contemporary design and fine production, and in the process, have changed the perspective from which stories are usually told. Our books are universally accessible, and for us universality is not global sameness, but a genuine connection with difference.”

Tara are well-known for books made entirely by hand and they have created a range of what may be called ‘crossover’ picture books. Children are drawn to the tactility and graphic richness of the art in these books, while adults value the fine printing, unusual paper and brilliant design.

 While such artists’ books exist in small editions, Tara are able to create them in large numbers, making them affordable and available to the average book buyer. They create this exquisite form of the book—where each page is an individual print—to showcase beautiful artwork. They work with skilled book artisans from India, including handmade paper manufacturers, silkscreen printers and hand binders. The artisans have developed their skills to come up with standards of perfection unimaginable in the trade, winning several international awards.

Recently, Tara have gone on to explore the fascinating field of crossover titles in other forms—for example, the textile book.

This exquisite hand block-printed textile book that takes its inspiration from an ancient tradition of textile art called Mata-Ni-Pachedi. This painstaking work of art and labour is a unique offering that doubles as a book and art object.

Tara’s ongoing dialogue with the incredibly rich and varied forms of indigenous tribal and folk art in India began 15 years ago.

Tara Books adds, “We are privileged that in India, unlike in many parts of the world, these artists are our active contemporaries, ready to engage with us. Many of the artists that we work with come from remote and marginalised communities, but as is evident from the books themselves, their talent, intelligence and imagination are inspiring.

“Whatever direction a particular project takes, there is one basic premise on which our collaboration is based. We would like each artist to be an ‘author’, the active creator of a book. So when we work with an artist from a particular tradition, the book is not ‘about’ this tradition—it is not a documentary. The book is a gallery space which is offered to the artist to tell a story. We work intensively with them, developing the possibilities, pushing the boundaries both for the artist and for the book form. As publishers we play a curator’s role: linking art, story, design and printing and finally the book with its readers.”

At the Fruitmarket talk, Tara Books showed extracts from short films about their process, which you can see at Vimeo. They also highlighted, among other works, a new project, a fold-out book called The Cloth of the Mother Goddess. The images here don’t do it justice, however – the book is a beautiful object, tells a story, has a wonderful tactile quality and is abundant with rich and beautiful imagery.

The books are available from Amazon and elsewhere, but I recommend you seek out gallery bookshops that stock the Tara range, since these are books to be experienced as well as read.

Postings and podcasts elsewhere

borrowedmanI’ve been remiss with the blog lately, but busy(ish) elsewhere. So I thought I might share some of the stuff I’ve been doing with, and for, other people.

First, a couple of things for Adventures in Scifi Publishing. Most recently I reviewed Gene Wolfe’s latest novel, A Borrowed Man. I had mixed feelings about it, but I was also intrigued by the novel and it has seriously made me consider a re-read at some stage, which is not something I do much of as a ruifthen-144dpile. I suppose that tells you something about the book.

Second, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Matthew de Abaitua following my review of his amazing novel, If Then. It was my first time as a solo podcaster for AISFP, and Matthew was an absolutely fascinating guest. I hope you will consider taking time to check out the interview and/or read my review of his novel…and indeed, rushing out to buy If Then.

Finally, my review of the best anthology I’ve read in ages, The Monstrous, edited by Ellen Datlow. If you’re not scared already…you will be.


Cole Porter is alive and well…and she’s called Rachel

Rachel CollisEvery so often a musician comes along and takes you completely by surprise. In a music industry dominated by clones (this singer sounds a bit like that singer, that band is a new version of that other band that was famous last year), it’s always a pleasure to know that there are still originals out there. With Australian singer-songwriter Rachel Collis, comparisons have rightly been drawn with Kate Bush, but I’d throw into the mix, of all people, Cole Porter. Except that there is no one else quite like Rachel Collis – and she isn’t really like anyone else, either.

Nightlight albumRachel is not only a wonderful singer and pianist but she has a terrific facility for witty, moving, funny, clever lyrics and melody which can take you through a range of different emotions even in the course of a single song.

I recently had the opportunity to interview her, and urge you all to check out her excellent albums, which I can’t recommend highly enough.

John: How did you first get into music, and what were your early inspirations?

Rachel: I started learning piano at age 5. I did well in my exams and even won some competitions, but it was really in the context of singing church music that I first became truly inspired by music. I went to a religious school, and every week we had these incredibly dynamic chapel services where the whole school would sing in four parts. We sang everything from old hymns, to negro spirituals, to contemporary Christian songs.

When I was 11 I was given my first pop cassette tape – Amy Grant, Heart in Motion. That was when I began listening to the radio. I listened to practically every style of music and loved it all, but over time it was the singer/songwriters who stuck with me – Amy Grant, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan. I was also greatly inspired by those before my time – Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Simon and Garfunkel.

John: Apart from the school experiences, have you performed in other contexts prior to becoming a solo artist? 

Rachel: Music’s been a big part of my life from an early age, so I was always performing in some context or another.As a younger adult I played for musicals, and accompanied many singers for their performances. Immediately prior to pursuing a solo career I was playing in a Salsa Band, a jazz big band, and some smaller combos, and performing gigs around Sydney. For the past ten years I’ve also sung in a semi-professional chamber choir that performs traditional music.

John: What brought you around to writing your own songs? And can you remember the first one you ever wrote?

Rachel: I wrote prolifically as a teenager. (In fact, I remember writing an absolutely terrible song at school in music class which the music teacher then took and arranged in 4 parts for the whole school to perform!) Unfortunately I didn’t really have anyone to mentor or encourage me, nor did I have anywhere to perform my songs, so I gave up for many years, despite my dream being to be a professional songwriter.

Many years later in 2011 I back to university to do post-graduate study. I started out in piano performance, but the people around me just seemed to ask the write questions, and soon I reconnected with my dream of being a songwriter, transferred to the composition course, and began writing songs again.

John: What’s your process? Lyrics first, then music or visa versa? And do you compose to the piano or some other way, like in your head, and writing down the notation?

Rachel: In general I tend to start with a lyrical idea. Sometimes I will flesh out the entire lyric first, sometimes I’ll start working on musical motifs while I’m still fleshing out the lyric. I find it easier to write music to fit lyrics, rather than the other way around, although I do sometimes force myself to work the other way around just for variety. I used to always write music at the piano, but it’s so easy to fall into the same old patterns. Now I try writing melody without referencing any instrument at all. I find that frees me up quite a bit.

John: One thing that strikes me about some of your songs is their tremendous wit, and sensibility of real life as it’s lived. I can be laughing one minute and be shedding a tear the next. In one of your albums, Ever After, for example, you have a suite of what I’d call realistic love songs, with unlikely people getting together, and reflections on people who are made for each other (in spite of the farting in bed – I love the song For Steve with that line in it – it made me laugh and shed a tear). How did the material evolve for you, and do you see each album as a concept or grouped around a theme?

Rachel: The first album, Ever After, followed close on the heals on a one-woman show called The Art of Letting Go. The show had a lot of humour in it and was somewhat of a deconstruction of many of the fairytale notions surrounding love and marriage. Those themes tend to weave the songs on the album together.

When I started writing for Nightlight I had no particular them in mind. I was simply writing songs. However, in mid 2013 I found working on a song called Winter in Munich and knew somehow that this song would define the entire flavour of the album to come. So I took my photographer out to a town in the Blue Mountains called Mt. Wilson where the trees shed their leaves in winter and we took the cover shot for the album. From then on my writing for the album took on quite a melancholy flavour.

John: I hear in your music bits of jazz, Tin Pan Alley and classical ballads and so on. I have compared you to Cole Porter, justifiably. Where would you place yourself on the musical spectrum and what influences you now?

Rachel: To be honest, I don’t think I sound too much like my influences. I love listening to songwriters, particularly those form the country genre – Kasey Chambers, Sheryl Crow, Vince Gill, Darius Rucker. I love the honest storytelling of the country genre. But because of my classical training, and my experience playing jazz and theatre music, I think those styles have crept in. Also, I’m very much a city girl – Sydney born and raised, so I don’t think I could pull off country!

John:  Some people compare you to Kate Bush, which I can see in terms of your uniqueness and the general vibe of your music. For UK audiences I would also cite someone like Kate Nash, another unique writer and performer. What are your feelings about originality in the music industry at this point, at a time when “more of the same” seems to be the norm?

Rachel: I used to view my uniqueness as a curse. Many people tell me I don’t sound like anyone else. And as a young woman I never really got the opportunity to sing because of that. My voice just didn’t fit neatly into any genre, and when I first started performing I was repeatedly rejected by music venues. In fact, I was even told sometimes that I wasn’t a real “songwriter” because songwriters wore flanelette shirts and jeans and strummed guitars. But I persisted because I knew that so many of the people I admired were not flanelette-wearing strummers, and they did not have the kind of voice that would win on X-Factor of The Voice. I’m thinking of the truly unique – Kate Bush, Regina Spektor, Tori Amos. I found myself craving the original, the subtle, the unique, and realised that if that’s what I wanted to listen to, maybe there were people out there who would appreciate my music for the same reasons. And slowly the situation turned around as I found myself my own niche audience.

John:  Aside from changing your name by deed poll to Kate, what are your aspirations at this point? And what’s next for you?

Rachel: I’m hoping to record again in 2016. I’ve been slowly working on songs. In fact, I’ve even had the offical photo shoot for the album already! I’m also focussing at the moment on direct-to-fan digital marketing and having some success with that as it allows me to put my music directly in front of people who don’t want “more of the same”. I hope to continue expanding that next year and to market my music in Europe.


If you would like to sign up for 2 of my latest songs for FREE, go to www.rachelcollismusic.com

I’m also offering a special Christmas deal at the moment. I will send your loved one a digital copy of my album Nightlight, plus my exclusive EP The B Side, plus a personalised video message where I wish them happy Christmas. I will send it to their email address on Christmas morning, so when they wake up there is a special email there waiting for them! All for just US$9.95 All you have to do is buy here, then email me at rachel@rachelcollismusic.com with the name and email address of the person you would like me to send the album to, and any message you would like me to read to them in the video. Simple! But orders need to be in by this Friday, December 18.



Kendrick Chronicles, Book 2

I mentioned I would be doing a staged release of The Kendrick Chronicles for Kindle. Well, Book 2: Kali’s Kiss, is out now. I hope you will consider picking up a copy or telling your friends and social networks about it. Expect Book 3 soon. I also plan to release the three books as a collection at some stage, too.



The Kendrick Chronicles, Book 1

I am doing a staged release of the e-book versions of The Kendrick Chronicles trilogy: Bone Machines, Kali’s Kiss and Babylon Slide. They were all published as audiobook originals by Blackstone Audio, Inc., but this is their first release on Amazon Kindle.

Out now, $1.99 (or equivalent in other currencies) from Amazon worldwide.

Bone Machines cover

Creative Writing Classes

I’m launching my first season of creative writing classes this winter.

I aim to start the classes around third week November, depending on numbers. The other way you can contact me to find out more is through my website contact form:

I will be covering: story creation, creating characters, dialogue, short and long forms of story, and more, plus elements of style for different genres – those who attend can choose their preferences. First season, 10 weeks. The objective is that everyone will complete at least one short story (2,500 to 5,000 words) and peer discussion on the work. I also aim to put the stories into an ebook anthology.