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Something fishy going on in the world of children’s publishing?


Dear Lethmachen Haunted,

You will probably recognise my name from such best-selling titles as The Johnson Book of The RomansThe Johnson Celtic Sticker Book, and The Complete Johnson History of London. Yes, I am the celebrated children’s author and historian, Sara Stickleback.

Last year, on the release of The Johnson Book of the Georgians, a work the Johnson publishing house found a little daring due to its focus on one of the seemingly less popular periods of our history, I was tempted to write a work that genuinely went beyond the frankly quite tiresome accounts of Kings, battles and (ha ha) toilets. I worked on a proposal for The Johnson Book of The World Turned Upside Down. It was to cover the beliefs and practices of Ranters, Levellers and Anabaptists, amongst others, but with a focus on Winstanley to give a ‘famous men’ gloss that would make it commercially viable. The proposal was rejected, and quite rudely so, I felt: children have no interest in C17th religious dissidents, apparently.

A little unnerved, I tried again. This time The Johnson Book of Historical Pets. My initial email was met with much warmth, and I was asked to turn in a detailed treatment. I decided to focus on prince Rupert’s hound, of course, and that War Horse, but I added some less well known characters, and Vinegar Tom, and then, thinking as I often do about the hardship endured by Magellan, I imagined myself partaking of those weevil wreathed biscuits, and I thought that, of course, I would have kept one of their number at least for company. So I imagined myself there, and came up with names for all concerned, and that went in as well.  I always like to have at least one page in each of my books dedicated to ‘recovered voices and minor perspectives’, and I know my publishers heartily endorse this focus. I will indicate how women’s voices, and the voices of children, for example, have been silenced within a history penned by men.  Expansion would no doubt go down well, I thought, so I framed my history from the perspective of the animals, and, as far as I could, I stayed true to the voice I caught emanating from the gap within the record.

As my treatment was not mentioned again, I tried once more, but from a different angle. The personal touch is promoted by the Johnson company, so I began, and then fully completed, The Johnson Book of Stickleback Pets, a history of animals with whom I have had shared my life. To offer some context, and to avoid the pitfalls of a too human centred narrative, I included the history of these individuals up until the 7th ancestor, and beyond where I felt able, and open to receive the information necessary to the task. Children, I am told, also like the mysterious. So I have penned The Johnson Book of the Wis. Ah! The Wis! They watch, and always have, so I am surprised we have not turned to them before for our histories.

There is more to come. As my publishers have seemingly better things to do then engage my efforts, however, I thought this a good opportunity to contact your good selves. The Lethmachen History of the Fields and TreesThe Lethmachen Sticker Book of Damned Exchanges.  The Pop Up Lethmachen Red Book. The Complete Lethmachen History of My Wanting. I await you response…

Yours most sincerely,

Sara Stickleback   

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Patient discovers the dark things lurk behind us all…


Dear Lethmachen Haunted,

I am not the first to write this I know, but I do apologise for the personal and quite horrible nature of what follows. This all turns on the subject of digestion. I have been plagued by irregular bowel movements for some time. I dealt with this in my own way for a while, but eventually I found myself talking to a doctor and was diagnosed with Celiac disease. I was not even that convinced of this then, and now I really do have my doubts. I altered my diet, and there was a change, of course, but the whole unpleasant experience of evacuating was still something I had to do. Horrible, as I said. There is only so much one can take before alternative therapies are looked for. I went through my quota of cranks before I was directed to your neck of the woods, and to the clinic of XXXX.  You may laugh, but he isn’t that well known beyond your borders. I certainly didn’t know. It’s remarkable how one’s relationship with the internet can change: I was no longer looking for the hidden, but the exposed and present. I wanted to encounter something that offered a way out, and that was that.

The therapy was as odd as you can imagine, and probably the less I say about it the better There was lots of lights, and I lay down on a bed in a dishevelled room, and XXXX sat with me and twinkled and laughed, whilst his assistants took blood, and my temperature, and asked some irrelevant seeming questions.  I left without much hope.

That night, as I was sitting on the toilet, having as little luck as usual, I had a peculiar experience. At that time, I hadn’t got round to shaving the hair around my anus – this is something many of us end up doing – and I felt it – well – I felt it twisting, or uncurling. It is possible for it to do this, I suppose, so for a moment I made nothing of it. The feeling did not go away, however. There was a light but determined movement there, it seemed to me. Well, I stood up, got a razor, manoeuvred myself into a peculiar position, and began to shave, using the bathroom mirror as a guide. I then sat down once more. My skin was tingling, but that could not account for the feeling that followed. It was delicate and groping, and again the sensation was as if something were stretching itself. A moment after, I heard the splash of something hitting the water below.

It was only a few hours before I found myself upon the toilet once more, and it was with growing concern that once more I felt the peculiar sensation in that most intimate area. I focused upon it. Yes, I could feel the soft, cobweb touch, but also a kind of miniature wiry strength somewhere behind it. I knew there was something in my rectum as well, and it was moving. I am aware of the lack of agency that accompanies certain bowel movements, good or bad, but this was something different: it was as if whatever was there was being dragged along, and most determinately not by me. And now, as I concentrated, I found I could identify not a single touch upon my outer body, but four or five points of pressure, and with that a hard lump of something seemed to pull away from me. I turned around and looked: nothing amiss, but I knew something was not right, so I put down some toilet paper and squatted by the side of toilet. At once, it was as if a number of tiny arms, like thick, articulated hairs, were reaching out of me, prizing me apart, and then heaving out a body of matter. I felt this drop, but instead of a thud, there was the slightest tap below me, and – with no more sound than a cheque being written – I caught, for a second, the sight of something, perhaps two inches long, scurrying away. I reached out for it, and, surprised at my own speed, I pulled the door to before it had a chance to escape. What lay before me was nothing but hard, compacted bodily waste. The legs, I realised, had been drawn in. The thing was not unlike a stick insect in that respect, although in its movement and generally physiology, I was reminded far more of the spider.

I am not unaware of the way this will be reported. I decline to add my name for this reason. And I do know that, in the broadest possible terms, I am probably mad. Certainly that is how I will be seen. For this reason I cannot see my doctor. I know what is prescribed on these occasions, and it will advisedly effect my condition. I think it unlikely that XXXX’s cure was biological in the strictest sense. Indeed, the most likely explanation seems to me that I have in some way been hypnotised. If anyone has any genuine knowledge of this area, please get in touch with this website. It might be thought that all is reasonably well with me. I no longer strain, and I do not retain fecal matter, yet the creatures are more terrible than I could ever explain. They have dethroned me – that is the best way I can explain it. They are a foreign force, an alien more profound than fecal matter or food could ever be. My relationship with my partner is coming under severe strain, and more than anything I do not want to lose her. We cannot share a bed, lest the beasts make themselves known. Please help – I am in hell,

Yours X

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Do local parents have more to worry about than the latest Ofsted results?


After the ignoble defeat of his Party of the Fields and Trees in this year’s election, which saw labour and Liberal candidates urge their supporters to back Katherine Knot, their Tory rival, Lord Carrier all but disappeared from public view.

He has recently returned as a philanthropist, or so his press office would have it, bank-rolling a school to serve the Lethmachen area, despite there being no dearth of other providers, nor any existing demand for alternative services. “The Carrier Free School” sees its mission as “widening participation” with a focus on the “total pedagogical transformation” of the under-privileged.

It is not for us to cast aspersions on such a no doubt well intentioned endeavour, and thus it is with regret that we learn that the project has already encountered difficulties. An early Ofsted inspection has been postponed due to a lack of students. The school points out that it had not officially opened its doors when it received notice of the immanent visit, and takes this as an opportunity to launch into an attack on government bureaucracy. This has caused no little confusion, as witnesses claim to have seen a number of children about the premises. Young relations of the newly appointed staff, the school maintains, and has gone so far as to publish admissions data and financial plans in the local paper. The school is set to open in autumn 2016.

Adding to the school’s woes is the recent bizarre footage of various teachers and governors caught off-guard, and behaving in a less than professional manner. There is nothing untoward about the images. In one, Douglas Codswell, on record as a geography teacher, is filmed standing alone and holding a flask. He is biting its lid and talking to himself. As he does, his eyes are fixed and open, and his head bobs from one side to another, punctuating the little sing-song sentences, the precise words of which are impossible to catch.

In another video, Martin Ryder, Deputy Head, and local businessman Marty Reynolds are filmed together. Martin, the taller man, is facing Marty, his arms round him. Marty’s arms are hanging by his sides. The two are circling round, Marty quietly gurgling with laughter, and Martin muttering, again in a sing-song voice.

This peculiar, child-like behaviour has, thus far, been regarded only as proof of the silly and odd nature of Lord Carrier and his various enterprises. To us, however, it carries a peculiar, uncanny charge.

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