The Spiral Staircase and Other Novellas


by Clive Radford

Differing themes and voices, some classic, some contemporary, others though mysterious, planted firmly in reality. All used to depict an assortment of psychological suspense thrillers, coming of age sagas and modern satires.

When Francis Blake explores Eastgate House to find a new computer game theme, he becomes the target of a chimera in ‘The Spiral Staircase’, the supernatural encounter resulting in his breakdown. Recovering, he returns to Eastgate House where the phantom engulfs him, becoming his nemesis.

Born into the Cold War age and the rise of the Beatles, ‘Growing up with the Rolling Stones’ charts the experiences of Gavin Anderson. Enthralled by the Rolling Stones, he makes them the centrepiece of his nascent years.

When Renata Lapham becomes agitated by Radio Islington talk show host Jarred O’Gara, it leads to an unexpected confrontation and a very gory conclusion in ‘Death of a Radio Talk Show Host’.

In ‘Journeys End’, domestic and career ambition conflicts between Kory and Candice Farnham come to a head in an unforeseen Belize cataclysm.

Emile Chevalier wrestles with distilling great performances from prima ballerinas Madame Blanchard and Madame Dubois in ‘The Ballet Meister’s Calling’.

Cursed by a deceitful hussy, ‘I Dream in Technicolour’ sketches Gene Fogarty’s restless nights resulting in years of unresolved psychoanalysis with Dr. Cribb.

Authors’ Mikhail Bulgakov and Vladimir Nabokov lock horns in their drive to discover a source of inspiration to endow their works with brio in ‘Kashmir: A Visionary’s Tale’.

Alicia and her band of English writers cause the New Orleans Literary Society headaches when they present their controversial themes in ‘ME7 Writers go large in New Orleans’.


The Spiral Staircase


Computer games creator Francis Blake sat in his study contemplating, his Yale blue eyes narrowing as his mind failed to congeal ruminations into tangible ideas. Unremittingly disappointed by the lack of useable content he had jotted onto paper or coded into his computer scratchpad page, in an act of dismay he breathed out rapidly, then shifted his flop of fair hair back off his forehead in a frustrated motion. Originality still evading him, his despair increased as supplementary notions were consigned to the redundancy bin without a second thought. Wondering how to break the impasse, he stretched his tall, slim frame and yawned, his facial skin raddled taut against an angular chin and gaunt cheekbones.

Blake’s preceding business assignment had been arduous. Spending many late nights and early mornings at the computer, impelled by contractually agreed code delivery deadlines, the task had near-to exhausted him. Now the latest revenue-bearing project confronted him. The challenge seemed even more demanding, a lack of a coherence constricting serviceable output to a trickle. For days, his tried and trusted methodical technique yielded diminutive fruit, clarity of address eluding him. Left flailing like a nascent programmer fresh out of code cutting school and bereft of a single scheme, his irritation boiled over, the pencil he held snapping between tense fingers.

Out of the corner of his eye, he spied his wife Jane crossing the garden, carrying a basket of freshly cut flowers before the computer screen lured his observance again, but he drew another blank. Opening the French doors, she entered his den, her summer dress catching on the chez lounge before she delicately removed the offending threads with her usual poise and elegance.

“My god, it’s warm out there,” she informed, “but it’s doing wonders for the new bed I planted back in the spring. The camellias are still flowering.” She thrust her cache forward. “Take a gander at this lot.”

With his cerebral patterns still entrapped in solution mode, Francis hardly heard a word, let alone become seduced by the alluring array of pinkish-white and crimson hues. Whilst subconsciously flicking the mouse, he gawked at the uncooperative icons dancing about the screen. Suddenly, the kernel of an inkling popped into his mind, as if summoned by divine intervention.

Jerking his head up, the hunch morphed into the tremor of a dawning light shining through his foggy haze. “What are your estimations about the concept of a computer game centred on a Dickens adventure trail?”

Whilst arranging her flowers in a cut-glass vase, Jane furrowed her brow at the out-of-the-blue question. “Incontestably it’s been done before.” She glanced at him, her face ripe with criticism. “There must be other assets the world associates with Rochester apart from Charles Dickens.”

“Yes…you’re right,” he permitted, frowning and drumming his desk with a thumb in dissatisfaction. “I’m being lazy.”

Glistening affectionately at his erudite wife, he felt guilty about his lack of vicissitude. Usually, the creative process came easy to him. His ability to pull disparate filaments together to form electrifying computer games had won him abundant industry prizes, but of late, he had entered a barren patch. Gaping out into the garden, he reengaged his comprehension, hoping a flurry of constituent elements might coalesce into a bold contrivance, culminating in an innovative product.

Quick-witted to her husband’s consternation, Jane came over to him, laying a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry to pour cold water on your grand design, but Dickens has been done to death.” Tellingly culpable of adding to his woes, she displayed contrition before furnishing, “off the top of my head, how about Turner? He had a loose association with Rochester, didn’t he?”

“Turner,” Francis repeated, his tone imbued with brio. Rotating a new pencil between his palms, he pondered. “Joseph Mallord William Turner.”

“The very same,” Jane confirmed.

Grinning, his disaffected mood cascaded into a sunny register. “You might have hit on a mainstay. And I do like his paintings.”

Pleased his anxiety had evaporated, she smiled back. “Duncan could help you out. He’s the art buff.”

Francis Blake had honed his computer programming skills whilst employed at Hewlett Packard. Bitten by the burgeoning gaming bug, just before the millennium, he decided to leave HP and launch his own business. Promptly flourishing into a raging success, the enterprise gained premier-class status, his concoctions adopted by sundry well-known gaming vendors, the licensing deals he bartered with them providing the means for a very comfortable and opulent modus vivendi. Gorging in the London fleshpots, buying Beeches, a huge house on Rochester’s Esplanade opposite the River Medway and a brand-new Morgan Plus 8, all illustrated his success. Further extending his reach, he holidayed in the south of France and Tuscany, spent long weekends with his mates sightseeing in out-of-the-way destinations, joined the Savile Club mixing with fellow scientific and engineering inventors, as well as aesthetic types, and in general, indulged in rampant materialism.

Despite the revelry, a huge gap remained in his private life. Hunting for a spouse he could spend the rest of his life with surged into a burdensome and finicky chore. Many candidates came and went without the necessary connection being made, signalling a lifelong relationship. Then, like a beacon of ravishing enchantment, Jane Selby surfaced on the horizon.

Jane, Gorgeous-Jane to her confidants, not just because of her loveliness, but also for her tantalising people skills, had majored in drama at the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. After just six months of concentrated effort in the press to be a starlet, she accepted acting not to be her congenital constituency. However, she excelled in stage direction, finding the role a bountiful medium for artistic expression, and more importantly, a fertile vocation. Capping in a career with a national broadcasting conglomerate, she then joined independent filmmaker Spellbound Studios, headquartered at Penenden Heath, as head of production, whilst still retaining director functions of her choosing. 

Francis and Jane originally met at a wine and cheese party held by their collective friends, Duncan and Natasha Bayliss. With his elegant demeanour, sharp wit, and Ted Hughes-like facsimile, Jane increasingly fell for Francis as the event went on into the early hours of the ensuing day. Contrarily, he reckoned Jane to be out of his league, her well-groomed presentation, stunning beauty and dynamic flair beyond his ken. Authentically, a woman every man craved, but few could charm. But the chance meeting proved his assumption wrong. In no way superficial, Jane became swayed more by his personality than his physical potency. Speedily fusing, they fell in love, and married less than six months later, fellow Savilian Bayliss providing best man duties.

Francis cogitated at length on Jane’s Turner suggestion, formulating the uniqueness of the theme to be worthy of in-depth investigation. Thereafter, he called Bayliss, told him about the Turner-centric computer game proposal, and polled if he had any ideas vis-à-vis the artist’s association with Rochester. Stimulated by the proposition, Bayliss arranged to come over to discuss it in more detail.

Arriving in the early evening, after Jane had gone off to Penenden Heath for a screenplay assessment meeting, Rochester High Street gallery owner and art retailer Bayliss already had a plethora of valuations about Turner’s Rochester associations.

“Well,” he began, “the revered man explicitly visited Rochester and many outlying villages, rummaging for landscapes and seascapes to background his tableaus.” Charged up, his review segued into specifics. “You might recall he captured Upnor Castle under his meticulous brushstrokes, and assuredly used the view of the Thames from the Isle of Grain for The Fighting Temeraire.”

“Hhmm,” Blake enthusiastically responded. “Maybe we could take a peek at some of Turner’s sites neighbouring Rochester. It could contribute stimuli for the computer game.”

“We could, but—” Bayliss issued his oppo a cautionary visage. “If you want my involvement, Francis, I’m not available until next weekend. Natasha and I will be in Bruges this weekend, participating in a Magritte symposium. His surrealism period is very much back in vogue, and we are meeting a Belgium compiler, with a view to him awarding me a commission to trace some of Magritte’s renderings going missing when the Germans occupied Belgium in World War Two.”

“How is the wonderful Natasha?”

“Radiant. I swear by everything holy, she gets a little lovelier every day.”

Whereas Jane held the gorgeous accolade, Natasha Bayliss moved like a ballet dancer and had become a fashion model in her youth, her attributes different to those of bosom pal Jane’s, but equally attractive. Possessing a plumbless appreciation of the romantic, often Duncan eulogised about his wife ad infinitum, not letting the listener escape until persuaded they had an accurate vision of Natasha. Even though Francis had known Natasha long before Jane entered his life, Duncan often cornered him, conferring every detail of a new characteristic he had come to observe about his wife, the games creator unable to flee until the rich extent of the revelation had been conscientiously described.

“Oh, you do surprise me,” Blake gibed. “And there’s me rationalising she had kissed goodbye to her golden phase.”

What! Never,” Bayliss retorted, brushing off the light sarcasm. Changing his deportment from defensive to focused, he declared, “By the way, returning to the main topic, there is a tenuous connection between Turner and Dickens.”

“Oh no,” Blake gabbled. “At Jane’s insistence, I’m trying to dodge Dickens.”

“Ah, it’s nothing too esoteric,” Bayliss guaranteed. “I’ll tell you more when we meet.”

"The Spiral Staircase and Other Novellas"


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