10 October 2013

Excerpt Thursday: The Patterer by Larry Brill

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Larry Brill, whose novel, THE PATTERER, is set in 18th century London. Join us on Sunday, when the author will offer a free copy of The Patterer to a lucky blog visitor. Here's the blurb:

In 1765 London, Leeds Merriweather is scratching out a living as a common street performer, a patterer, using his wit and storytelling skills to draw crowds and sell newspapers. Although he aspires to be a respected journalist and start his own publishing house, Leeds is relegated to pattering by his handsome face, strong voice and straight teeth.

Inspired by a drunken chance encounter with Benjamin Franklin, Leeds assembles a zany cast of characters to become history’s first celebrity newscaster. But at the peak of his meteoric rise to fame and fortune, Leeds risks it all for the love of a conniving wench in this Dickensian comedy.

The Patterer is the first release in a trilogy.

**An Excerpt from The Patterer**

Chapter 1

London-1765.
           
Blood and lust make the world go ‘round I say. You may argue that it is money – the pound or the pence, the farthing, the bob, the crown, gold or silver – that makes it spin. God knows money is good. I will tell you straight away, I have personally found it quite handy when bartering for a wench or wine in those rare exquisite moments of self-indulgence. But if you believe that, you’d be as wrong as tits on a bull.
            Ladies, forgive me. A crude turn of phrase, that. Men, you expect it. But I will, for the ladies sake, attempt to rein in the crude-osity of my tale. It won’t be easy what with britches dropping nearly as often as your jaw. What I offer is a tawdry tale of bullets flying and death-defying antics – but also a tale of love. Man on woman. Man on man. Camel on…well, let’s have none of that here, shall we?
            Mostly, this is a story about oral stimulation.
            Wait! Don’t run. No need to even blush. It’s not at all what you imagine. Although your imagination did just have a go with you, now didn’t it? Cheeky devils. Yes, you are my kind of crowd, and you have proven my point. Blood and lust make the world go ‘round. Repeat it with me. That, in fact, is my world. And I offer it for sale to you. Got two pence and a halfpenny? Then step up even closer, and let’s have at it. You see I am a patterer. At your service.
            That is my exceptional skill. It is also my curse, as you will surely see.
            Now the first rule of a good patterer is to begin with the most titillating, scandalous or horrific story you can find. Flesh it out whenever possible with references to bodily fluids, and never, never let facts get in the way.
            Actually, I have a saying, which I made up, entirely original, though you may steal it if you wish: “If it bleeds, it...”
            “Leeds!”
            That’s me. Leeds Merriweather. The roar of my name as it rolled like thunder through the printer’s shoppe yanked me rudely from a dreamless sleep so deep it would have awakened Shakespeare himself. And this just in: Shakespeare is still dead.
            “Leeds Merriweather, you lazy son of a twat! The ink’s dry an’a day’s a-wasting.”
            Charles McNabb owned the dusty print shoppe where this story begins. He added an exclamation point to his roar with a kick to my ribs. I squinted up at him from the corner of the pressroom where I had curled up for the night with a soft pillow and a hard floor. It seemed as if I had only just closed my eyes before being subjected to the indignity of McNabb’s boot. I know for a fact that it was nearly dawn when, like a weary tomcat, I padded in and settled down with a snout full of gin and a head full of stories I had collected from a long night patronizing the public houses along Fleet Street.
            “If’n you’re not going to sell for me today, it’d be certain I have plenty like you who will,” McNabb said. He carried a bundle of the day’s edition of his broadsheet, the London Tattler-Tribune.
            “Aw. Go easy if you please, sir,” I said. My ribs where McNabb’s boot struck ached, but, oh, how my head throbbed even more. February had just given way to March, and the light from the window danced with particles of dust creating a veil of sorts before my eyes. I sniffed. Oil and ink, parchment and stain. The aroma of the printing press, of literature freshly baked. And turpentine. I love the smell of turpentine in the morning.
            McNabb slapped the back of his hand on the broadsheets. “Cannibalism,” he cried. “Adultery and ravishing of maidens.”
 I love the ravishing of maidens. It sells newspapers.
            The publisher was a short Scot with a gunpowder temperament, and that morning something put a spark to his britches. “’Tis death on the high seas. By God, I am good.”
            I asked, “Good for what?”
            He aimed his next kick at my privates; I raised a knee just in time. “Don’t you be insolent, y’ragged lump of gutter waste. If this story d’nnot draw a decent income today then we have no business doing business in this business.”
            I used the brick wall behind me as a brace for my back as I inched up – slowly, very, very slowly – to a standing position. War drums were beating in my noggin, and the battle for a clear head was most definitely in doubt. Too much gin last night, for certain. I took the broadsheet McNabb forced upon me and glanced over the all-important lead story beneath the Tattler-Tribune banner.
            Spank me senseless! “Lord Howell’s shipwreck? What the bloody hell is this?” I demanded.
            “A fine bit of writing, if I say so myself.”
            “A fine bit thievery, I say.” That weasel McNabb had attached his name to the story – my story!  I was the one who mined the details of the shipwreck over a bottle of rum from a Portuguese captain whose ship happened upon an uncharted island. The crew was taking on fresh water when they discovered what was left of a tourist yacht in the lagoon and the remains of the rich nobleman, his wife, and the others who perished with him.
            “What is this dung you’ve printed here? What happened to what I wrote?” I wanted to rip that newspaper and wave the tatters in McNabb’s ferret face. I had only turned the details over to McNabb on the promise that I could print and sell the story under my name. All I had to do was raise a couple of quid to cover the cost of printing. All the right elements of a great story were there, not the least of which was potential for profit. McNabb understood that. He held out his palm, and the way he rubbed two fingers against this thumb said it all: Show me the money.
            I shook my head. “Soon.”
            “And what of yesterday’s sales? D’ya drink it all away as usual last night?”
            “’Course not,” I lied. Yes, I was penniless again. Even McNabb could read that much in my bloodshot eyes.
            “It’s a fine story, lad, and I couldn’t let it waste away a-waiting for you.” That bugger, McNabb, knew a golden story when he saw one.
            All they found were the bones of the good Lord Thurston and those six who were shipwrecked with him. The evidence of the extreme hedonistic life they lived and left behind created a tale so repulsive and so enchanting in one, that it was sure to shock and awe and produce profits. More important, this was a story to be told and re-told and remembered for generations. And it was mine to tell first.
            “Lad, ‘tis a sin to give stock to such profound pride. Be prudent,” McNabb said. “You’re a better man for surrendering it to me, and the story is better for it; that is my duty as editor. Now run. Run and patter. Patter and run, whichever it is that you do.” He waved me off, dismissing me as one might shoo a cat from the supper table.
            “Leave the wordsmithing to McNabb,” he said. “You have every chance to patter your version on the street. You have a handsome face, a strong voice and straight teeth. You were made to patter, not to publish. That is your proper lot in life. Accept it.”
            I looked down at McNabb. He was barely as tall as my shoulder. My left hand clenched, balling up a corner of the Tattler-Tribune I held. I snapped at him. “This was mine. You said it was a story beneath you.”
            “She rose to the occasion,” he said with a smirk. McNabb handed the broadsheets to me. “Do you want them or shall I find another patterer today?”
            I moved to the window and bent at the waist enough to peek at the sky above the roofs of Fleet Street. The clouds were grey but not dismal. More distressing was the odor of the fish market carried on the wind. Whitefish today, and not a fresh catch apparently. Strong enough to blow down from Billingsgate, the wind would invariably carry my voice away from the crowds I hoped to capture. Bloody hell it was, this would be a difficult day.

Larry Brill spent 25 years as a TV news anchor and reporter, picking up numerous awards along the way.  After leaving the business in 2000 to set up a video and marketing consulting business, Larry penned his first novel, Live At Five, a gentle lampooning of the TV news business. His second novel The Patterer, carries the same theme back in time to explore how today’s news clichés might play to an 18th century London theater audience.

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