Month: October 2017

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

Hide & Seek – Chapter Twenty One

A crimson late summer sunset bled through the bay windows and the drawing room of Somersby Hall once again played host to the eclectic Bottomclutch household and their friends. Although, the occasion was somewhat more tense than the welcome home party that preceded the wicked murders of Clara Bottomclutch and the unfortunate maid, Maggie. Lady Bottomclutch was attired in a high-necked mourning gown, which swept from her chin downwards to the floor, covering every inch of her slender frame on its way to her feet. A black, wide-brimmed hat with a silk tulle veil hid her silent features, but leaked grief through its soft mesh fabric. Lord Bottomclutch wore his tweeds like a suit of armour, although they did little to protect him from the horror of events. His son Harold stood by his side, rigid, arrogance for once respectfully subdued.

By contrast, Enid had abandoned the twin set and pearls of her previous life and was resplendent in a shimmering fringed flapper dress, a golden band about her head with a large, almost obscene, feather bobbing gayly atop her chestnut mane. Of greater concern was the manner in which she perched upon the knee of Major Bernard Walker*, although the fellow showed no signs of objection, perhaps because his gaudy complexion suggested an afternoon spent at the bar. Mr Philpott, the vicar, wrinkled his nose several times, but to no avail. His son James, however, looked on with great approval and privately hoped that whatever Poirot had planned would not take too long. He had a mind to invite the Major and the revitalised Enid to continue their merriment with him in his snug.

Barton and Derbyshire were also present, but kept a professional distance from their masters and betters. Barton in particular was most put out to be summoned and even Derbyshire was a little peeved, very much hoping that the traditional theme of ‘the butler did it’ would not come in to play this evening. The only persons displaying anything of a cheerful demeanour were Captain Hastings and Chief Inspector Japp, positioned tactically by the door, should the guilty party make an attempt at escape when their identity was inevitably revealed by Hercule Poirot.

“This is my absolute favourite bit,” Hastings whispered to Japp, rocking on his heels in a bid to contain his excitement.

“Yes, it’s always something of an event when the old boy shows his hand,” replied Japp, allowing himself the smallest of smiles. “Who do you think is our killer?”

“I haven’t a bally clue!” said Hastings, shaking his head.

“A crown says it’s Barton,” Japp replied, tapping his nose. “See, I’ve got a theory about Clara’s murder. I reckon he didn’t mean to kill her at all…”

“Thank you for joining me, mesdames et messieurs!

Poirot, who was standing looking out the windows, his back to the room, finally turned to address his expectant audience.

“Captain Hastings and I came to Somersby Hall in order that we might speak with Mademoiselle Maggie, mais, it is to my great regret, that we stayed in order to investigate her murder. And, also the murder of Mademoiselle Clara – a young lady who was most fond of hide and seek, oui? A game most appropriate. For it seems to Poirot that in Somersby Hall, there is much that is hidden and Poirot, he likes nothing more than to seek. To seek the truth, to seek… the murderer.”

“And have you found either, Mister Poirot?” asked James, playing along with the spectacle.

Oui, Monsieur Philpott,” Poirot replied, a broad smile ruffling his moustache. “Hercule Poirot, he finds them both. Always.”

“Then spit it out, man!” roared Lord Bottomclutch. “Tell me who killed my daughter! I’ll wring their bloody neck!”

“They will be subject to the full force of the law, sir,” said Japp, a note of caution heavy in his voice.

“No one wanted to kill your daughter, Lord Bottomclutch,” Poirot continued. “The death of Clara it was an error, a case of mistaken identity.”

“I knew it!” exclaimed Japp. “She was wearing a maid’s uniform when she was murdered. From behind, in the poorly lit pantry, the killer thought she was Maggie!”

Très bien, Chief Inspector!” Poirot clapped his hands together and spun on his heels to offer a congratulatory grin to Japp. “So it seems that, enfin, Scotland Yard has solved the crime before Poirot, oui?

“Well, Poirot, you mustn’t feel too bad about it,” replied Japp, drawing himself up to his full height, a hint of smugness in his eyes. “We are the professionals, after all.”

Japp winked at Hastings and mouthed ‘You owe me a crown.’

“Then, please, Chief Inspector, do not keep us waiting,” Poirot twinkled from the top of his smooth head to the tips of his shiny-shoed toes. “Share with us all your conclusions.”

Japp tucked his hands into his waistcoat pockets and took to the centre of the floor, unable to suppress a triumphant swagger. He cleared his throat and cast a confident gaze around the room.

“There is only one motive behind the murder of Maggie,” he began. “And that was her illegitimate pregnancy. Therefore, there can be only one person with the motive to kill her – the father of her unborn child.”

Japp paused. As the suspects looked from one to the other, there was nothing in their faces to give any one of them away. He noticed, however, that eventually all eyes fell to Lord Bottomclutch and Barton. Now was the time to strike.

“With that in mind, I place you, Mister Barton, under arrest for the murders of Miss Clara Bottomclutch and the maid, Maggie.”

As gasps of disbelief swelled around the room, Poirot held up his hand, shaking his head furiously.

“Ah, Chief Inspector, it seems that perhaps Poirot, he was mistaken.”

“But the baby was the only reason to do away with her!” cried Japp. “And the bloody mallet that killed Clara was found in the copse!”

Oui, c’est vrai, the father of Maggie’s baby is without doubt the murderer! Mais, Barton, he is not the father. Is that not right, Lord Bottomclutch?”

Next week – the case is solved!

 

*I admit, I completely forgot about this character.

I’ll Be The Judge Of That!

Quite literally, I will. I have the honour of being a judge in the humour section of the Flash Fiction Rodeo Competition over at Carrot Ranch Literary Community. There are cash prizes, apparently. Follow the link for the details, I have to admit to being a bit sketchy on the finer points. Some far better fellows than I have done all the organising, my contribution amounts to ‘send me some stuff and I will tell you what I like best.’

If you have never tried writing humour before, now could be the time to give it a go. The phrase ‘Many a true word is spoken in jest’ is absolutely spot on. Humour is a marvellous device for imparting uncomfortable truths and tackling tricky subjects with a light, easier touch than straight drama. Whilst there is a fine line between this and being trivial, laughter is a strong emotional reaction and invoking reaction in readers is the aim of any writer. The process for provoking either laughter or tears is pretty much the same; getting to the very root of what it is to be human and holding up a mirror for the audience to see it in themselves. Tragedy and comedy are interchangeable, depending on your point of view.

Perhaps the easiest form of comedy to write is parody – providing you know your subject matter well enough. In real life, humour arises naturally from everyday situations and parody is the perfect vehicle for this. It does require a wry sense of observation and knack for characterisation, but other than that, it just sort of writes itself.

Venturing into the world of the absurd can provide fertile ground for humour. Ordinary things in extraordinary circumstances is a common theme, although I like it the other way around far better. Who doesn’t a witty character sharing their observations of the world around them, or a perfectly dull protagonist trying to make sense of the bizarre? Use the characters, their scenarios and dialogue to full advantage. Be careful not to confuse humour with nonsense. Nonsense has a well-earned place in literature, but it isn’t always funny.

Talking of things that aren’t funny, I would avoid too much slap-stick and physical humour when writing prose, if I were you. It often just doesn’t come across well on the page. Humour, like anything, is subjective, so keep that in mind. I like a good fart joke as much as the next man, but a torrent (maybe not the best word) of bodily functions is going to get cringe-worthy quite quickly. Biting satirical wit is most welcome, unnecessary nastiness is not. Like sarcasm, this shows a woeful lack of depth and creative intelligence.  If you find yourself resorting to clichés, you are on the wrong track.

Most of all, don’t force it. There is nothing quite so un-funny as someone trying to be funny.