PorterGirl – First Lady Of The Keys is now available on pre-order, which I am sure I have mentioned several times, but according to my publicist, not enough. It turns out that bashing out 90,000 words was the easy part and now I am expected to actually promote the bloody thing.
I sent a tweet saying ‘Buy my book, you bastards’ but this was considered insufficient. Apparently, we need to focus more on the ‘ sweet, smart but vulnerable girl next door side of PorterGirl…’
So, just for you, here is an excerpt from the book, with our very own Deputy Head Porter feeling a bit vulnerable. I suppose I had better have a trawl through and find some examples of sweet and smart also.
Wouldn’t it just be easier if someone leaked some nude pictures to the press or something?
Late September, just before the start of Michaelmas Term… It is still dark as I make my way towards the huge, iron gates of Old College to begin my very first day as the new Deputy Head Porter. The last remaining stars of twilight sparkle with ever decreasing light to herald my arrival, and a gentle breeze, still chilled with the nighttime, tugs stray strands of hair across my eyes. Pulling them back, I take in the full wonder of the place that is to be my fresh start. The great, medieval leviathan of stone and mortar looms before me seemingly returning my gaze, regarding me with some suspicion. The centuries held in its walls spring forth, rooting me to the spot for a moment. The only reminders of my previous existence in the fuzz are my trusty Maglite and a very nice pen presented to me by my former colleagues. I can feel it there, like a tiny security blanket, close to my heart. Its very presence giving the impression that my old team is only a radio transmission away. But they are not. There is no back-up. I am all alone in a whole new world and I have no idea what I am doing. I have never even been to college, let alone set foot inside one of the very finest universities in the world. I left school at sixteen with little to show for it before eventually finding my calling as the target of abuse from drunks and drug addicts on a council estate many miles away. But now I am the Deputy Head Porter of Old College, an institution steeped in the traditions of learning and academia. I probably won’t need back-up. But I wish to God it was there anyway.
PorterGirl – First Lady Of The Keys is available NOW!
In a fetid communal stairwell of anonymous council flats, I find myself wearing the other hat. The air is laced with urine and recent violence and my chest heavy as up, up, up I go. On the third floor there is a door ajar; it wasn’t the reason we came here but it is the reason we are here now.
Harper is at my backand I have never felt so safe. You could feel safe anywhere if you knew Harper had your back. The open door seems an inevitable destination and through it we go, announcing our presence in the familiar way.
The flat is pitifully bare. Dust and filth fight for purchase on the meagre possessions. Yet the place is oppressively full with a rancid stench that is worse than that of death. It is the smell of the very worst of life. And then all at once they are there – the room is full of them from floor to ceiling. There is something of life within them as they seem to squirm and writhe where they sit. The feculent haze reaches oily fingers down my throat, all the way to my stomach…
I wake with a start and find myself sliding gracelessly from Head Porter’s chair and face first onto the floor. A snooze in Head Porter’s office seemed like the most sensible course of action following the drama of the Choir Competition. No doubt he wouldn’t have been over the moon to find me here, but at least I could immediately interrogate him about his tete a tete with The Master.
“Ma’am! Are you, um, busy?”
I look up to see Porter standing over me, showing not a great deal of concern, I must say.
“Oh no! What time is it?”
“It’s half past six, ma’am,” Porter taps his watch.
“The Choir Competition!” I splutter. “Who won the Choir Competition?”
Porter narrows his eyes a little, as if I might be unbalanced.
“The whole thing had to be abandoned, ma’am. There was an outbreak of mass hysteria and The Great Chapel had to be evacuated before things turned nasty. Well, nastier, at any rate.”
“Oh my.” I put a hand to my head to steady myself. “Well, Hawkins College didn’t beat us, at least. Honour is satisfied!”
“Aye, well,” Porter sucks on his teeth like a mechanic sizing up a job. “That’s what happens when you get so many University-types together in one place. Look, there’s someone for you at the front desk, are you going to see them or what?”
“Oh!” I scramble to my feet and dust off my knees. “Who is it?”
Following Porter through to the front desk, I see the mischievous face of Headmistress smiling back at me. I try to shake off the fug of sleep and also the unnerving thought that Head Porter isn’t back yet. On closer inspection, Headmistress’ smile is not quite the beaming expression of joy it first seems. Her eyes search mine but what for, I couldn’t tell you. She clears her throat.
“Is he here?”
Something tells me that these are the very last three words I would want to hear.
“No…” I say slowly, hoping the right words will come. “But I’ve been asleep. Professor Duke and I left him with The Master, we were just leaving the Choir Competition…”
“Oh yes, the Competition, how did it go?”
Porter makes to speak but I wave him into silence with a casual flap of my hand.
“Our chaps did very nicely, actually. And we didn’t get beaten by Hawkins College, so all in all a success.” I take a breath. “You haven’t heard from Head Porter, then?”
“No and we were supposed to be going out tonight,” Headmistress sounds more concerned than annoyed. “It’s not like him not to text, at least.” Some terrible thought seems to come upon her. “That dreadful Master’s Wife wasn’t there, was she?”
She must really like him.
I carefully explain the events of the Choir Competition, such as they are. I try to downplay our part in the academic anarchy as much as possible but it is very hard to find a positive spin. It is fortunate that Headmistress is an extremely broadminded creature and is anyway more concerned about the proximity of The Master’s Wife to Head Porter.
It is a beautiful thing to witness, two people falling in love. Like a garden in springtime, becoming slowly more wondrous with every passing day. And no one deserves it more than my friend Head Porter. Last year it was Porter who found eternal happiness with the delightful Detective Sergeant Kirby, this year could see another wedding, perhaps. Next year..? Head Porter is a different man to the cold, dead-eyed pompous menace I first encountered. I can only think that unlikely adventuring does him the world of good.
Just as well, really.
A terrible crack of wood on wood rips throughout the Lodge as the front door is thrown violently against its frame, The Dean and Professor Duke thundering through. I nearly jump clean out of my skin, but at least I am properly awake now. The Dean is looking particularly grim, even for him, while the Professor isn’t even wearing his hat.
“Aha and a few! Headmistress, it’s many lucks you are here,” says the Professor, the joviality in his voice wavering only slightly. “You wouldn’t happen to have Mr. Head Porter about you, would you?”
“You haven’t seen him either?”
Professor Duke ignores my question and turns to The Dean.
“Our worst fears are, the sudden, realised.”
“Bugger it!” yells The Dean, stamping a foot. Beginning to pace, he addresses me. “You know that devious little oik I employed to investigate those sinister letters I received?”
I glance at the Professor who nods reassuringly. It appears that The Dean is still unaware that his private investigator is, in fact, his arch nemesis Hershel. Even more damningly, it was Hershel who sent the letters in the first place, of course.
“I do, Sir.”
“Well, welly, he’s turned up something… well… fascinating,” splutters the Professor. “Now, now, Mr Dean, maybe this is something we can have more delicate speaks about?”
“Now listen!” bellows The Dean, somehow managing to stamp both feet at the same time. “All of you, quiet. Deputy Head Porter. There is something you should know about the Music Professor…”
‘Redemption Road’ Fuller&Bear
In loving memory of Graham Fuller : Writer, Musician, Teacher
The rabble that increases steadily behind me from The Great Chapel at once becomes distant and dim when in close proximity to The Master. We are stopped dead in our tracks, faced as we are with his formidable countenance. His steady frame is not bowed by his many accumulated years and the striking elegance of his youth still clings with grim determination to a finely chiselled skull. Exuding a stately air of aristocratic menace, The Master offers us the thinest of smiles.
“My, my, my…” His voice is like molten glass. “Wherever there is a commotion there can be found my dear, darling Porters. Why do you suppose that is so?”
Head Porter glances across wildly but I can offer only a shrug. As the seconds pass it becomes painfully evident that he isn’t going to say anything at all, so it falls to me to tackle the response.
“We were offering our support to the College Choir, Sir,” I reply, dry-lipped. “It seems that your Wife has completed a Herculean task with the jolly chaps and they could be in with a good chance of winning.”
A rictus grin spreads across The Master’s face and he seems to enjoy the moment.
“I rather fear that Wastell may have bested us, however.”
“Haha, that’s dadblamery, don’t you know!” exclaims Professor Duke, somewhat unexpectedly. “I think we won, just because. After all, I can’t see us losing, and if I can’t see us losing, I don’t think we can lose. It’s that sort of thing which makes the world turn, see.”
The Master turns to the Professor and addresses him as if he had only just spotted him.
“Professor Duke! What a surprise. I must say, it delights my cold, dead heart to see a member of The Fellowship so keenly supporting College pursuits.”
Wait – what was that about his heart?
“Cold, dead heart? That’s cool, I have one, too,” the Professor is charm personified and he might just get us out of this unscathed. “But, yes, this is a truth: The Professor loves to support the College in every way possible. Why wouldn’t I, of course? After all, I do work here a bit, bits, and little bits. I’ll even be down on the river soon, cheering on the rowing beasts. Yo.”
“Aha yes – The Dean did mention that you were rather proficient on the River.”
There is an ominous silence that is more uncomfortable than the itchy robes of Hawkins College Choir.
“Anyway!” says Head Porter, suddenly. His voice is a good octave higher than usual. “We’ve seen them do their bit so we must get back to the Lodge and get on with… everything.”
“Actually, Head Porter, I was hoping we might converse briefly. Or… at length.” The Master barely noticeably flexes a fist. “Whichever suits the need.”
Head Porter casts me a look that says please don’t leave me. But he soon regroups his senses and nods in deference, touching the brim of his hat respectfully.
“As you say, Sir.”
The Professor whispers to me –
“We should definitely not abandon our post, double-see.”
“I think you two would be wise to return to your daily activities, whatever they may be.” He must have the hearing of a bat. “No doubt I shall be seeing you both again before so very long.”
I deem it prudent to take the path of least resistance and the Professor seems to agree with me. I give Head Porter what I hope is a sympathetic look before we turn on our heels and head back to Old College.
The excitement of the Choir Competition briefly gave me something of a second wind, but now the effects of all-night shenanigans are taking hold quite firmly. But it is a pleasant afternoon and Professor Duke is in a conversational humour so I try to remain as perky as possible.
“Awesome river skills, huh? That’s a thing. I think I should be proud about that, you know. But what did he mean?”
“I’m not sure, Professor,” I reply, stifling a little yawn. “Maybe he meant that time we saw him and The Dean on the riverbank when we were punting. But why would The Dean talk to him about that, of all things?”
“Well, he was probably so impressed with my punting skills…he couldn’t keep quiet. That’s the thing,” the Professor declares.
“Maybe… hey, it was me that was punting!”
“Was it? I’ve forgotten all about that.”
My sleep-deprived brain struggles to convince me one way or the other as I grope through the murky fug for the memory.
“Now, here’s a thing that scares me,” the Professor’s mind flits enthusiastically to his next thought. “This whole dadblamery between Head Porter and The Master’s Wife. What is it all about? And what a wonder she decided to show many interests in Mr. Head Porter at the exact same time Headmistress arrived on the scene! Dadblamery, I tell you.”
“Head Porter is a fine fellow but he does seem an odd choice for a lady such as The Master’s Wife,” I reply.
“It’s sorta funny he couldn’t find a lady, at first. Now, he’s getting overrun. That’s how it always seems to happen. I think they may crush him like a toad hopping on weak pea gravel.”
“A beautiful analogy, Professor.”
“Why, many thanks. It’s just unfair. But then, females are always unfair. It’s just the way things are. That’s why they’re called the unfairer sex. Oh dadblameit.”
There’s something wrong with that statement somewhere, but I am too exhausted to care. All I can think about right now is finding somewhere quiet to grab forty winks.