Month: October 2017

Career-Defining Breakfast

And so it was that on a Friday morning, in a restaurant in Sloane Square, I realised that my life would never be quite the same again. Over eggs Benedict and a pot of tea, I agreed to an endeavour that will find me hopelessly out of my depth, yet no doubt in exactly the place I was destined to be.

But more of that later. In the meantime, as another frenetic year slips into its final act, I find myself contemplating my place upon the stage. Most pressing, of course, is the matter of finishing the third PorterGirl novel. I have been distracted by writing a Poirot parody when I should really have been working on this, but as the second book was only published in June, I don’t feel too badly about it.

 

Then there was the horror anthology, The Box Under The Bed, which went to number one in the Amazon charts twice and features two short stories by my good self. That reminds me – I have another anthology awaiting my submissions. This time the genre is much more familiar ground – humour – so a few thousand words should only take up an afternoon, at most.

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Rather unexpectedly, my satirical murder mystery nonsense blog Who Shot Tony Blair? is up for publication in novel form next year. It will require a fair amount of work to take it from its current state to something fit for a bookshelf, but the bare bones of it are there nonetheless. There is an appetite for post-Brexit, pre-dystopian satire, it would seem – which brings me neatly back to the restaurant in Sloane Square, London.

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People will often come to me and say ‘I’ve got a great idea for a book, you should write it!’ And quite often these ideas are very good, but if I spent my time writing other people’s books I would never get around to writing my own. However, when the people saying this are impeccably connected senior advisors to the not only the British government but governments around the world, people who have spent the best part of two decades at the forefront of politics and economics, I think it prudent to pay particular attention. Particularly when such people offer to buy me breakfast.

In a few short hours I learn more about how the world works that I think I ever wanted to know – the people pulling the strings, their ideologies and the true end games in a web of power, manipulation and politics. With the rise of extreme views on both the left and right becoming commonplace, Brexit appears to be the very least of our worries. People tell them they should write a book. But they don’t know how to write a book. They would very much like me to write the book. Ideally, a light-hearted, easy-reading fiction that will make the complex and dark possibilities of the near future accessible to a wide audience.

The problem is, the concept is rather too complex for me to get a handle on, let alone write the buggering thing. Not to worry. I will be taught and trained in everything I need to know. The royalty agreement is generous. The forward will be written by a prominent public figure and unfettered access to the national and international press means that marketing will be simple and extensive. Global, in fact. Despite the nagging inclination towards the feeling that I am getting in way over my head, I simply cannot not write this book.

I agree to write the book.

Work will begin in the New Year and we aim to publish in 2019. And what a lot of very interesting work it will be. As I make my way towards the King’s Road to meet a visiting American friend to discuss his outfit for the Brit Awards, I marvel at just how different life has become, since my days portering at a Cambridge college.

 

Hide & Seek – Finale

A thin-lipped smile crept across the tense features of Lord Bottomclutch. A collective breath had been drawn in the drawing room of Somersby Hall and for a moment it seemed it would never again be exhaled.

“Roger, you cad! I knew there was something between you and that blasted maid!”

Lady Bottomclutch flung herself at her husband, but was intercepted by the nimble Captain Hastings, who had been expecting trouble of some sort. He instantly regretted his decision as the hysterical Lady Bottomclutch was only too pleased to be finally in the arms of the handsome Captain and wasn’t about to relinquish her position. As Hastings tried to wrestle her into the more demure setting of the settee, she clung to his broad shoulders, her spindly neck straining so that her withered lips might find his.

“I say, Japp, a chap could do with a hand, here!” exclaimed Hastings, handling the woman as if she were a rampant eel.

“Calm yourself, my dear,” said Lord Bottomclutch, rising to his feet. “I was not the father of Maggie’s baby.”

Non, monsieur,” said Poirot, never at ease with female histrionics. “You were not the father. And neither, as you know, was Barton.”

“Well, who was the father, then?” asked Major Walker. “Aha! It must have been the Philpott boy after all! A double bluff!”

James Philpott gasped in horror, flourishing a delicate handkerchief from his crushed velvet waistcoat and fanning himself furiously.

“I can assure you, Major, it certainly was not!”

“Ah, but you didn’t want to marry her, did you?” Walker continued. “Bumping her off would get you out of the wedding rather nicely!”

“Major Walker, Monsieur Philpott did not kill Maggie. Nor did he bludgeon to death poor Clara,” replied Poirot, his voice calm if not a little irritated. “C’est impossible. Mais, he may not be entirely innocent in all matters, c’est vrai, Monsieur Philpott?”

“I do hope you have suitably firm evidence with which to back up your claim, Mister Poirot!” blustered the vicar. “My son is of very good stock! From a long ecclesiastical line!”

Oui, he is a very fine and particular young man,” replied Poirot, nodding. “A young man who does not like to, as they say, dirty his hands. I noticed on several occasions how he would clean his fingernails with his beautiful little pocket knife. The type of knife, exactly like that described by the mechanic who replaced the tyres on the car.”

James spluttered and a crimson flush burst across his cheeks.

“I… I panicked!” he stuttered. “When I saw Clara dead on the floor… I didn’t know what to do! You see, Clara and I were both outsiders in Tunkle-on-Wyme. Both different from the norm… freaks, if you will. I feared that whoever killed Clara would be after me next. You see how the people are here, Mister Poirot – any one of these narrow-minded toffs could have done it! Your good self and Captain Hastings were the only people I could trust to catch the killer. I wanted to make sure you didn’t leave.”

“I say, this is an outrage!” boomed Hastings. “Japp, arrest that man at once! For crimes against motor vehicles!”

Poirot simply smiled and, ignoring Captain Hastings, continued to address James Philpott.

Mais, we know now that Mademoiselle Clara was not the intended victim of the muderer, non? In fact, was it not your father who said to Poirot, ‘Uniforms make everyone look so alike’ when Mademoiselle Clara was playing maid at the party? I knew already, from the letter Mademoiselle Maggie sent to her friend at Cambridge, that she had recently been given a new uniform. Was it not true that the staff shared with Mademoiselle Clara their old uniforms, for the purpose of her games of make believe? And, Monsieur Barton, did you not say that they ‘were both gangly things’? The uniform, if would fit her perfectly, non?

“But Maggie was heavily pregnant,” Enid cut in. “How could anyone mistake Clara for her?”
“In the dark of the poorly-lit pantry, and from behind, it would be an easy mistake to make, Mademoiselle Enid.”

“So the murderer used the game of hide and seek to facilitate their crime!” exclaimed Major Walker. “But it was Clara that suggested the game. How can that be?”

“It was simple coincidence, Monsieur,” replied Poirot. “The killer, he did not know of this game. He simply knew that there would be a party. He expected only to find Mademoiselle Maggie in the pantry, with everyone else distracted by the business of making merry. When he discovered that he had murdered the wrong girl, the murderer, he devised a new plan. The next morning, he took a rope from the gamekeeper’s hut in the copse, returned to the house, where he strangled Mademoiselle Maggie with his bare hands, before tying the rope around her neck and hoisting her up on the beam to make it look like suicide.”

“I saw Barton on the edge of the copse with a rope, when I was in your room before breakfast,” said Hastings. “You thought he was carrying a gun.”

“That is almost correct, my dear Hastings,” Poirot continued. “Indeed, I did see Monsieur Barton with a gun. The man you saw was the killer – dressed as Barton and carrying the rope. Monsieur Barton kept in his hut his old jacket and cap for Mademoiselle Clara, non?

“But who was it, Poirot?” asked Japp, a creeping hunger making him impatient. “Who was the father of Maggie’s baby?”

“Pah! From what I hear, Maggie had been with half the village,” snorted Walker. “Could have been anyone!”

“Whatever you may have heard, Major Walker, it is very wrong,” snapped Poirot. “This tale of her freedom of affection is a convenient invention of Lord Bottomclutch – a tale that delighted the village gossips, to distract from the truth. Oui, Lord Bottomclutch? C’est vrai, non? Because to discover the truth, we must travel back to Cambridge, the very college where your good friend John Archibald Venn is President and where your own son Harold was a student. Madame Toppocket, Venn’s maid, spoke of unruly students causing problems. And Harold, he was sent down, non? Even your friendship with President Venn could not prevent this. And soon after, Mademoiselle Maggie, she came to work for you here at Somersby Hall. You yourself said to me, Lord Bottomclutch, that you felt responsible for her. Pourquoi? Because Harold was the father of Maggie’s baby and Harold is the killer most foul of Maggie and his own sister Clara!”

Shocked faces turned towards Harold Bottomclutch, who blustered with outraged indignation.

“Bloody cheek of it!” he thundered. “Why, I wasn’t even here at the time of my sister’s murder! What poppycock!”

“That’s right, Poirot,” sniffed Lady Bottomclutch. “Harold didn’t arrive until the next morning.”

“Ah, oui, Harold he said to Poirot that he arrived on the first train from London, non? Mais, I knew that this was a lie. Chief Inspector Japp, he also arrived on the first train from London and, if you recall Lady Bottomclutch, he arrived several hours after Harold. Non. Harold, he arrived the night before, the night of the party. It was Harold who the mechanic saw in the telephone box that night, making the call to say he had been delayed. He stole into the pantry through the courtyard steps and, seeing the figure of a tall, gangly girl in a maid’s uniform who he believed to be carrying his illegitimate child, the girl who ruined his academic career by having the temerity to become pregnant, he carried out his plan to rid himself of this embarrassing problem, before retreating to the copse where he abandoned the murder weapon. He hid there overnight, returning to the house the next morning. His muddy boots which Lady Bottomclutch insisted he remove proved that he could not have come from the station – the cobbled streets and dry weather would have left his military footwear with their customary shine, non? Mais, when he realised the mistake he had made, he had to think quickly. Pretending to be overcome with grief, he returned to the gamekeeper’s hut in the copse, disguised himself with the old jacket and cap used by Clara and took a length of rope before returning to strangle Maggie and set the scene of a suicide.”

“But Harold, why?!” cried Lord Bottomclutch, turning to his son who was now making no moves of rebuttal. “It was all arranged! No one would ever have found out!”

“You know how people are, father,” replied Harold, his face ashen and voice grim. “People would always have asked why I left my studies so abruptly. And no one would ever believe that James Philpott could have fathered a child. I just wanted to protect the family line and the great Bottomclutch name!”

“And instead you have ruined us all!” sobbed Lady Bottomclutch, flinging herself to the floor and weeping bitterly.

Japp thought this to be an overreaction. With arch-gossip Ethel now dead, news of the murder could be kept to a run-of-the-mill scandal, soon forgotten in the chattering classes of Tunkle-on-Wyme, no doubt. Even as he led the stone-faced Harold away, Japp couldn’t help thinking that such a bright young mind had been wasted – all because of misbehaviour and, ultimately murder.

There was little thanks for Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings. Lord and Lady Bottomclutch would perhaps have preferred that, all things considered, the murders had remained unsolved. Enid had invented them to join her, the Major and James for drinks, but Poirot had thought it better to make a swift and dignified exit. After all, they still had the damaged car to explain to Venn and London suddenly seemed so very far away.

Hastings drove back along the winding North Norfolk roads towards Cambridge with much greater care than he had taken on the previous journey. The masterful resolution of the murder was hampered somewhat by the dented bumper of the magnificent Delage D6-11, although the vehicle was now the proud owner of four brand new tyres.

“I say, Poirot, these last few days have been a rum sort of fun and games, wouldn’t you say?”

“I most certainly would, my dear Hastings,” replied Poirot. “Mais, we learn once again that when people play the game of murder, there can be only one winner – none other than Hercule Poirot!”

If you would like the complete versions of either Hide & Seek or Never A Cross Word, please email me at lucy@verticalrecordings.com and I will be happy to send you a PDF for your enjoyment,

My Summer With Poirot

My Poirot parody for Captain Hastings’ fans everywhere – Hide & Seek – approaches the climax of the traditional ‘big reveal’ and before writing the final post I thought it might be a good idea to read through all the chapters first. Having made great efforts to place clues and red herrings all the way through, I didn’t want to miss out any when the great Belgian detective announces his verdict. As it happens, this turned out to be a very good idea. Not only had I forgotten some rather crucial elements of the story, I had also completely omitted all trace of one of the characters who was lined up as a possible suspect early on.

The big risk you take with blogging a story – especially something complex like a murder mystery – is you don’t get the opportunity to go back and amend mistakes, fill in plot holes or (in my case) revive neglected characters. What you are essentially presenting to the world is the first draft of something that might, one day, be a fully-fledged work of literature. Obviously, this is not going to happen with this series as the Agatha Christie Estate might get the pip about it. In fact, they would almost certainly get the pip. Which is a great shame as I enjoy writing Poirot adventures immensely. Had it not been for the fact I am supposed to be writing my own book, I might very well take Hide & Seek (and Never A Cross Word, for that matter) and polish it up into novel-worthy shape. I cannot deny that Poirot has rather hampered progress on the next PorterGirl novel, but it has not been an entirely unproductive summer. In fact, Poirot and his little grey cells have been of great service.

PorterGirl – The Vanishing Lord was published in June and I began the next novel, Sinister Dexter, within hours of its release. Whilst it was great to get a sketchy draft down while things were still fresh, it doesn’t hurt to have a break between books to ‘rest’ the characters for a little while. I would be in danger of writing something that had become a parody of itself otherwise.

Writing Poirot makes me a better writer. It is quite the responsibility to take charge of such acclaimed characters and anything less that my absolute best would be an insult. I wrote Never A Cross Word in between books and it definitely improved my writing. This time around, I wrote against type of my usual characters. There were several genuinely unpleasant characters and the nicest ones were killed off. I learned that everyone loves a villain (especially ones that get their comeuppance) and that it’s alright to break readers’ hearts once in a while.

Never mind characters having a rest, got a bit of a rest. Doing one 1,000(ish) word post a week of fiction is a huge drop in output for me and, with my life getting increasingly busier and spread between Cambridge and London, it has been good to take off the pressure. Since June 2015, when the self-published Secret Diary Of PorterGirl was released, things have been quite brisk. By the end of 2015 I had been picked up by a publisher and First Lady Of The Keys came out in September 2016. Between then and now I have written two Poirot parodies, launched Who Shot Tony Blair? and published The Vanishing Lord, as well as appearing in horror anthology The Box Under The Bed. That is a rather respectable offering. But it is rather tiring as I do actually have a real life as well.

So I find myself well rested, well trained and at the pique of writing prowess to get on and finish Sinister Dexter. It was hoped that it would be out by the end of this year, but that seems unlikely to me. Early next year is much more realistic. I’ve got this to swot up for, after all…

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2018 was planned to be a quieter year but I already have three projects aside from PorterGirl lined up, so that also seems unlikely. Then again, there is little I like more than the unlikely, so perhaps this could be a marvellous thing after all.

If you would like to enjoy either of the Poirot parodies in their complete forms, please email me at lucy@verticalrecordings.com and I will be happy to send you a PDF version (after next week’s finale, of course!)

First Lady Of The Keys     UK Edition     US Edition

The Vanishing Lord     UK Edition     US Edition

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The Box Under The Bed