Month: December 2017

PorterGirl: Sinister Dexter – A Sneak Peek

My dear readers, the festive season is upon us and in amongst the associated shenanigans I have been working hard on the new PorterGirl novel, Sinister Dexter. I had hoped to cobble together a Christmas video for you all, as is usually my wont at this time of year, but time and circumstance have conspired against me and the best I can offer you is an excerpt from the aforementioned book itself. There are no spoilers as the main thrust of the drama is revealed very early on. Welcome back to Old College, my friends…

A Place In Society

At least Head Porter has made contact. He is no doubt lurking somewhere about the place but where? And what is he doing? I wouldn’t mind betting that he is deliberately avoiding all the to-do regarding the bottom of the garden and leaving me with the dubious honour of managing the matter. I shall have words, I tell you.

Daylight is a fleeting thing this time of year and dusk is already rampant across the skies. I can taste the beginnings of a frost in the air, but none has yet settled anywhere that I can see. Perhaps it is an illusion. I have learnt never to trust the obvious where Old College is concerned. And then I spy the one thing about Old College that I certainly can trust – it is The Dean and he appears furious. A man not given to guile or subterfuge, The Dean is a man who not quite wears his heart on his sleeve, but definitely wears his mood on his face. Whatever it is that The Dean might be feeling at any given moment, he is very keen to make sure everyone knows about it.

“Deputy Head Porter!” he calls out as he spots me. Why am I so easy to spot? “Deputy Head Porter, I am furious!”

“So I see, Sir” I reply. I would ask what the cause of his rage might be, but furious is his default setting. It could be anything from the collapse of Western civilisation to the wind blowing too loudly.

“Come on,” he says. “Let’s get a drink. You’ll need one after you’ve heard what I’ve got to tell you. Actually, you’ll need one before as well, I shouldn’t wonder. Lot’s of drinking, that’s the thing.”

“You know I shouldn’t drink on duty,” I reply. “And anyway, I’m off to the Lodge, Head Porter wants me to give him a ring.”

“Neither of those things are relevant, Deputy Head Porter,” cries The Dean, wagging a finger and displaying wonderful disregard for anything that doesn’t involve him. “We are going to the bar.”

I’ve just come from the bar and I don’t think this is a very good idea at all. There is a growing swell of collective student inebriation forming there and is certainly not the place for The Dean of College. Nor the Deputy Head Porter, come to that. Although there are no hard and fast rules on the matter, patronage of the College bar is predominately the privilege of the students. The Fellowship have their own little nooks and dens for the purpose of excessive imbibing and the College servants really shouldn’t be partaking at all.

“Sir, maybe we should go to your rooms instead.”

“Deputy Head Porter! You cheeky thing!” The Dean almost giggles. “I see your thinking but no, there is important work to be done. This is no time for a repeat of the last time.”

A brief – but remarkably intense – wave of horror crashes over me. I don’t know what he thinks I am suggesting but I can assure you, I am most certainly not being a ‘cheeky thing’. More worryingly, I realise that he is referring to that lost, drunken night during the summer, of which I remember nothing at all.  Perhaps the bar is a good idea after all.

Recent events coupled with the presence of DCI Thompson and friends has cast a grim shadow over Old College, but the bar retains a familiar air of jovial anarchy. After all, Maurinio was not well-known among his contemporaries and dead bodies tend to bring out the bravado within certain swaggering types. The free flowing of alcohol invariably loosens lips, so there may be a tactical advantage in having a quiet drink and keeping my ears open. Then again, I am here with The Dean, to whom ‘quiet’ is an unknown concept, unless it is applied to other people.

Old College is at the very peak of the upper echelons of the academic elite, a seat of learning for some of the most privileged offspring in Britain and beyond. As such, the College bar serves as something of a glimpse into the salons and lounges of exclusive establishments of the future; smatterings of an elite prospective society banter over two-for-one cocktails and pork scratchings, forging alliances that will last for decades. A microcosm of tomorrow’s captains of industry, parliament and creative influencers are currently swarming around the sticky bar, instigating increasingly outlandish dares whilst ensuring that their heads will be unbearable the following morning. I am rather fearful for the future, I can tell you.

The University population functions in a similar way to the wider society that exists beyond its physical and metaphorical walls. Clutches of kindred spirits band together, creating hierarchies both within the groups and of the groups themselves. The athletic brethren seem to fair best in these unspoken rankings, their physical prowess a conspicuous outward affirmation of their superiority. Whilst not always top of the class in their chosen subjects, their academic credentials are nonetheless assured as students of Old College. The rowing and rugby teams are the most ostentatious in displaying their supremacy, no doubt emboldened by the esteem derived from sporting excellence. The exponents of both pursuits possess most excellent thighs and a number of them are gathered around a beer-sodden table, talking boorishly of not only their own personal and sporting conquests, but also tearing into vicious character assassinations of those perceived to have caused them offence of some kind. It is impossible not to overhear their bawdy conversation, conducted as it is at decibels designed to quell the chatterings of lesser mortals.

One company – perhaps the only one – who fail to cow to the braggadocio of the athletes, are the engineers. Consummate all-rounders, not only do they have the brains and expertise to match mathematicians and physicist alike, they possess an ingenious creativity akin to any of the artistes, coupled with an innate practicality that is glaringly absent from almost all of the academic persuasion. The engineers consider themselves to be the alpha pack – but a hesitation to defend the claim against their brawny rivals prevents them from noting this too loudly. As The Dean and I head towards quieter corners, we pass a gathering of them, making jokes I don’t understand and constructing impossible things from beer mats.

A nest of mathematicians are drinking quietly yet with great purpose, whilst philosophy students confuse the English literature scholars and those with political leanings argue among themselves. The mid-table groups of University society battle it out between themselves as to which has greater standing than the next. The only thing upon which they all agree is who sits at the bottom of the pile. In The University, this is the history of art students. Unlucky enough to have selected a subject that is neither intellectually demanding nor requiring talent of any kind, these unfortunates often find themselves adrift from the cut and thrust of College life. Occasionally a musician might take pity on them, or they may find themselves under the wing of a stray gaggle of misfits, but largely they are scholastic pariahs and not taken seriously as either intellectuals or artistes.

Of course, it is possible to cling to the coattails of elitism, even if you are a history of art student. There are numerous student bodies and organisations that need figureheads or patsies to fawn over them. Social standing can be acquired through romantic connections to those higher up the pecking order, although this is a last resort in an environment where personal achievement is everything. Still, it is not to be frowned upon too firmly, as this would undoubtedly be my most likely option of social climbing had I ever, by some miracle, found myself as an Old College student. The other sure-fire way to becoming a collegiate legend is to join one of the ancient and notorious drinking societies that have both blighted and enriched academic life for centuries. Each college has their own drinking society and there are also exceptionally exclusive University-wide institutions that invite only the finest scholastic imbibers to attempt initiation.

And the initiations are quite something. The University does love its nonsensical and elaborate rituals and the drinking societies are no different. Old College’s own drinking society, the Lesser Dragons (named after the Order of the Lesser Dragon, itself a secret society that founded the College in 1448) has one of the less horrendous rites. In order to be admitted to the Lesser Dragons, prospective members must place a flaming sock on their genitals and down a bottle of Châteauneuf du Pape before said item can be removed. The Sybarites, Bacchus-loving brethren of our near neighbours and sworn enemies, Hawkins College, have an initiation that involves drinking a bottle of Bombay Sapphire through a prophylactic. A typically pitiful and cowardly ritual, if you ask me, but I have come to expect such things from those buggers next door.

The Beefeaters Club is a highly exclusive, inter-college society that on the face of things is fairly decorous. Their meetings are held in high-end establishments, evening dress de rigueur, and involve a lavish seven-course meal. The appearance of respectability falls apart somewhat when you learn that each course is accompanied by one full bottle of wine for each diner and that the host establishment serves the meal in a room covered entirely in tarpaulin, to minimise the risk of damage.

There are even annual fights between rival drinking societies, organised with the same care and deliberation one might apply to a garden party, and scores have been meticulously recorded through the centuries as if they were The Ashes. Membership to one of these illustrious yet nefarious clubs would elevate even the most socially inept of students to a respectable rank, therefore improving their communal and romantic prospects considerably. But this is of little concern to The Dean. He has important things to discuss.

The perfect Christmas gift!

First Lady Of The Keys – Amazon UK  Amazon US

The Vanishing Lord – Amazon UK  Amazon US

Christmas Tales with Lucy Brazier & Paul Butterworth

Christmas Eve At Old College

The Tale Of The Cursed Hat

 

A Warm Welcome To The Otter Chronicles!

I am very excited to introduce you to a superb and highly entertaining new blog, The Otter Chronicles, the beautifully written and occasional surreal tale of brave otters battling to save the future of otterkind (and, as an after-thought, humankind too) from the mysterious Otters of the Apocalypse. Only by deciphering the strange and poetic Otter Chronicles – compiled by the wisest otters from days gone by – can our furry heroes hope to understand the secrets of time travel and the true fate of all otters (and hamsters).

Our suave and intrepid protagonist is Lutra Longwhiskers and he has kindly agreed to allow his recent press interview to be published here, in the hope that you will join the otters in their fight to save the future…

An interview with Lutra Longwhiskers

Hello everyone, I am Lucy Littlepaws lead reporter with the Otterbank Times, I can’t tell you how excited I am to be writing today for the lovely readers of PorterGirl. I am extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to interview Lutra Longwhiskers, High Commander of the UK Otter Raft. Lutra is a well-spoken, aristocratic otter with a distinguished look, he habitually sports a top hat and monocle and today was no exception. He arrived promptly for his interview and was keen to get on with the interview without delay as he said he had some pressing hamster doubling concerns…so without further ado I posed the first question.

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Lucy Littlepaws

Cmmdr Longwhiskers, as you are aware we have a readership today that doesn’t only consist of otters. For the non-otter contingent can you explain what the UK Otter Raft is?

Ahh yes, very good question, let me see, the UK Otter Raft is the governing community for the otters in the UK. It is made up from governmental ministers but also research and development departments, security and policing sections and otter education colleges. It has a paw in all swims of otter life. It is housed in The Holt, an underground stronghold of considerable size.

What is it like to be the High Commander of such a prestigious and far reaching Raft? 

First I must say that it was a great honour to be chosen to lead the fine otters of the UK. Otters are democratic and fair minded creatures and to get a position of power you must be nominated by your peers and voted for by the general otter community!

As for what it is like…well it involves lots of reading. All the research otters and ministerial otters are producing reports left right and centre all of which need my attention. Aside from that it is mainly listening to my team of advisors and deciding what to do. Looking good in a top hat helps. It is the official hat of office you know!

A hat of office you say? This is a fine thing, do any of the other posts have on official hat of office?

Well Lucy you yourself are sporting a very fetching bowler, which although unofficial, is excellent. But as for posts with official hats, I believe the otter Police service have lovely hats, and the kittens of the school for gifted otters have little caps. The other otters of the raft are free to choose their own hats, they seem very fond of headwear of all sorts. Bows and hats and such all over the place.

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Lutra Longwhiskers

Can you tell me about any of the research projects going on in the Holt?

My word yes, I certainly can! There are some splendid things going on at the moment. We have a very fine temporal research and experimentation team, young Debbie Swifttail and Brian Russetcoat. They are very close to a break through and some live otter time travel trials I am told. Fantastic stuff going on down there, big wheels and water tanks and suchlike! Very exciting I can tell you! Then of course there are the Otterman Prophecies, the translation team has every known verse translated now and are working furiously on trying to make sense of it all. It is very intriguing, I had a go at making sense of it myself you know. All about the demise of Tuesday it seems and some sort of apocalypse.

Is the UK raft working on these things alone or are other otters of the world involved?

Alone? Yes definitely, and also no. We do have some international projects here at the raft, we are in communication with the Pacific Otter Raft at the moment with the possibility of an exchange programme with some Canadian Sea Otters. Each Raft has its own speciality you know. It makes sense to share skills for the good of Otterkind.

So what does the UK raft specialise in?

We have some of the world’s foremost linguists here in Simon Swifttail and Seska Fleetfoot. Our Temporal team is second to none of course and of course our hats are unrivalled

Now Cmmdr Longwhiskers I’d like to ask you a couple of questions to let our readers get to know the otter under the hat:
What is your favourite fish for a late night supper?

My goodness, that’s a poser! I’d have to say perch, very tasty the perch. I am also quite partial to a minnow sandwich.

What is your favourite thing to do in your spare time?

I am afraid I don’t get as much spare time as I would like, however, I have quite a reputation for rambling. The fresh air is good for your health you know. It is marvellous to get out and about!.

Lastly, does the High Commander of the UK Otter Raft have to participate in decoy otter duty?

Absolutely I do! It is a strict rota system and every otter takes a turn. Great fun it is too, a nice change of pace!

Thank you Cmmdr Longwhiskers this has been extremely enlightening!

Lucy Littlepaws (Journalist)

JOIN THE OTTERS!

CLICK HERE TO FOLLOW THEM ON FACEBOOK

CLICK HERE FOR THEIR BLOG!

CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE CREATOR OF THE OTTER CHRONICLES, SAM CATCHPOLE

Things That Happen When You Are Supposed To Be Writing A Book

Anyone who has ever put pen to paper will know that completing any kind of literary tome takes patience, dedication and an awful lot of time. Even the most committed of writers is in danger of losing focus when forced to break from their work for such mundane activities such as food, family and the call of nature.

Or snow.

It will not have escaped the attention of anyone in the UK that we had a generous helping of snow recently and, as a nation, we get uncharacteristically excited about it. Even a nominal amount of the white stuff causes unknown chaos as the British lose all sense of how to drive sensibly, walk properly or even shop normally and the whole country falls briefly into disarray the second more than a couple of inches settles anywhere reasonably civilised. The hardier Brits in the North and Scotland simply put on a big coat and get on with things, but further south there is unprecedented panic, confusion and anarchy.

I found myself in a snug little stone cottage in a remote Derbyshire village when the first flakes fell and was rather pleased about it. The prospect of getting snowed in would do wonders for my productivity and provide the perfect excuse for being as anti-social as possible. And, indeed, I did make excellent progress. Until The Chap had other ideas.

The Chap likes the snow very much. He thinks it is romantic. It isn’t romantic, it’s cold, wet and slippery. But, nonetheless, exercise and fresh air are very good for the writing mind, so I found myself exploring the surrounding hills and dales and, predictably, being overcome by childlike glee. I met some very stern sheep and a less stern butcher with absolutely enormous sausages. Sausages are excellent writing fuel, so in the end, this was time well spent.

As apocalyptic travel reports screamed from the newspapers, we were somewhat nervous about our return trip to London, having read about cars stuck for days on end on the M1 and such. As is usual with unexpected weather, after a day or so everything was back to normal and media accounts of something approaching the end of the world proved to be premature. Which was good, as we had tickets to see the Penguin Cafe Orchestra in Islington followed by a much-anticipated evening of drinking with friends in Soho.

Obviously, when one is watching the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and drinking in Soho until 3am, one cannot also be writing a book. But I was thinking about the book. A little bit. Particularly when I bought a round in the Groucho Club. I thought – ‘I need to sell an awful lot of books if I want to carry on drinking here.’

Attempts at writing the following day were marred by a sticky head, an overwhelming craving for bacon and the knowledge that we were to be competing in the Westminster Christmas pub quiz later that evening. I twiddled with a few bits I’d already written and made some notes here and there. But mostly I drank tea and ate things until it was time to head out again.

I felt a certain degree of trepidation about the quiz. I am by no means stupid, but I don’t know an awful lot about anything useful. And I was expecting the other participants to be highbrow politico-types with Oxbridge educations and a keen interest in sensible things. This turned out to be largely correct and not only that, there were some prominent persons among the throng. The Chap reassured me that I would be fine – technically, I went to Cambridge (albeit as a porter rather than an academic) and I was wearing my best waistcoat, so what could possibly go wrong?

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We arrived at a smart public house in Westminster and were pleased to see a couple of friendly faces and also free drinks tokens. The buffet was already looking ravaged, but my initial fears were allayed by the troop of smiley staff continually replenishing stocks. The place was already packed, with the rowdy patrons already well refreshed, despite there being an hour to go before the start of the quiz. Most people seemed to already have formed teams, so we looked around frantically for waifs and strays who might accept our own special brand of intellectual prowess into their fold.

We were in luck. I spotted a sparsely-populated table near the window, encumbered by an elderly gentleman and an even more elderly gentleman. The less elderly fellow – Jim – welcomed us with open arms. The other chap didn’t pay us much attention, but I’m not sure he knew where he was or why he was there, so that was fair enough. We were soon joined by Tim from the London Assembly and a cheerful but simple fellow sporting a very fine pink tie. I later learned that he was a senior member of UKIP and recently came within a hair’s breadth of the leadership, which somehow was not as surprising as it might be.

It was a very right wing crowd, with everyone except the very elderly gentleman being a rampant Brexiteer. Avoiding discussing politics would be tricky, but I thought it best to keep conversation limited to telling rude jokes and the weather. This worked pretty well and once the quiz began, we pulled together remarkably well. We were disappointed that official quiz master Jacob Rees-Mogg had been waylaid by Parliamentary business, but he had sent along his sister Annunziata (no, I don’t know how to pronounce it either) in his place. She was outrageously posh, but very witty, down to earth and surprisingly preoccupied with scheduling smoking breaks into the course of the evening.

Unfortunately, halfway through the first round, the very elderly gentleman buggered off somewhere, never to return. We were a man down but undeterred. The Chap and Tim were spot on with questions on Shakespeare and Strictly Come Dancing respectively, UKIP chap made some extraordinarily lucky guesses and Jim and I chipped in here and there, doing particularly well in the politics and pot luck rounds. I actually learned quite a lot from the evening – not least that the leader of the Scottish Labour Party is definitely not called ‘Lefty McLefty’. UKIP chap named our team The Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation, which I thought was a bit much, but won us the Best Team Name title and some beer. In the end, we claimed a very respectable third place out of eleven and managed to eat most of the buffet between us. A success all round, I feel.

And in amongst all this, amazingly I managed to make great progress with new PorterGirl novel Sinister Dexter – a brand, spanking new chapter of which I will share with you all on Wednesday. For now, though, I had better get back to it. Before some other interesting thing happens…

The perfect Christmas gift for loved ones! Or sworn enemies!

First Lady Of The Keys – Amazon UK   Amazon US

The Vanishing Lord – Amazon UK   Amazon US