Killing Your Darlings

Every writer will have to face this dilemma at some stage. No, not the violent dispatch of spouses or family (I’ll cover that next week, for those that are interested) but that heart-wrenching process of getting rid of those much-loved quirks and foibles of one’s writing. It might be a delightful but gratuitous chunk of prose, a pointless character to which you have developed a personal attachment for even a subplot that serves no purpose.

People, I feel your pain. As a writer who revels in using ten words where one will do, has endless pointless characters (many of whom don’t even have names) and scatters superfluous story arcs with gay abandon, I am perhaps more guilty of harbouring ‘darlings’ than the average writer. But my publisher is tolerant of such indulgences as literary excess is rather my style, albeit with tongue firmly in cheek.

But when I received this response after submitting my latest PorterGirl novel, I sensed that the days were numbered for the biggest darling of them all…

Hi Lucy,
I have just finished reading Sinister Dexter for fun, I liked it a lot and your writing is improving all the time.

Sinister Dexter is in your voice and I don’t want to change it too much. I think the story is great and again it is character driven, you do tie your hands somewhat, writing in the first person and in the present tense…

Readers of the books and the original blog will know that I am partial to writing in First Person Present Tense which is, I know, considered to be a bit gimmicky in literary circles. When I first started writing the blog, an-almost-real-life account of my experiences as the first female Deputy Head Porter at one of the UK’s oldest and most prestigious Universities, the device worked very well. It gave an intimate and immediate account of an unusual and unique journey into the esoteric world of the academic elite and allowed me to share the inner thoughts and observations of Deputy Head Porter to great effect. For the first book, even, it still proved effective and I received positive feedback from readers who said they felt like they were with our heroine every step of the way. First Person Present Tense has become the signature style for PorterGirl and is a huge part of the quirky style and feel of the thing.

But I can’t deny, it can be a bit of a bugger at times. Firstly, most people hate FPPT. There is a danger of wandering into the realms of stream-of-consciousness type ponderings on the page. It can make character development tricky for anyone not directly engaging with the protagonist at regular intervals. It’s not that I have anything against other tenses –  Who Shot Tony Blair? and my Poirot parodies are all written in Third Person Past Tense and, I can tell you, it’s a damn sight less fiddly.

The end of Sinister Dexter is set up to introduce an additional character point of view for the book that will follow. I even have a cunning ruse to extricate myself from the shackles of FPPT and move to Past Tense, should I choose to do so. With the trilogy of novels now in place, it would seem an opportune moment to take the series forward and move on from what is perhaps the most striking and recognisable aspect of the PorterGirl style.

But… is the killing of this – perhaps the biggest of darlings – a slaughter too far?

First Lady Of The Keys – Amazon UK     Amazon US

The Vanishing Lord – Amazon UK     Amazon US

New Year. New Book

Welcome, friends – and enemies, what the heck – to the brand, spanking new year of Two Thousand and Eighteen! So far it is looking suspiciously like the last one, but a little bit wetter. No matter. It is that peculiar and mindlessly optimistic time of year when anything is possible and tantalising futures await, despite the fact that we have spent the last fortnight on the verge of alcoholism and none of our clothes fit any more. Except those fleecy penguin pyjamas with the stretchy waistband… (guess who’s been living in penguin pyjamas for a week…)

Anyway. You may be wondering why I am wearing only a bowler hat and College tie. There are two very good reasons for this. Number one – as I said, none of my clothes fit me at the moment. Number two – following an intensive period with no human contact and surviving exclusively on leftover sausage rolls and Ferrero Rocher, I have completed the latest in my Old College series, PorterGirl – Sinister Dexter. There is nothing that makes me feel quite like being in the nude than finishing a novel. Or more than three glasses of wine. But anyway.

I have been working on several things since PorterGirl – The Vanishing Lord came out in June 2017 so it was nice to get properly stuck in to the Old College world once more, the characters waiting patiently for me like old friends, as if I had never been away. Of course, we see the return of Head Porter – now leading a mysterious double life; The Dean, who is convinced that the Russian Secret Service are trying to take his job and our own, dear Deputy Head Porter, whose biggest concern is that the Lodge is down to the last three teabags and no one has seen hide nor hair of a biscuit in a week. The intrepid detectives return and we get to know a little bit more about the dashing Detective Chief Inspector Thompson, whilst The Fellowship welcome two new faces to their ranks – but just whose side are they on? There are dead bodies, a missing girl, interrupted breakfasts and sinister intentions from all sides. Welcome back to Old College!

First Lady Of The Keys – Amazon UK     Amazon US

The Vanishing Lord – Amazon UK     Amazon US


Further updates on the new book to follow, but in the meantime why not enjoy this rather marvellous portrait of my good self, by exceptionally talented artist Ted Giffin? Be sure to investigate his musical endeavours, too, the man is simply brilliant.

Toodle pip!

Books You Should Read But Have Probably Never Heard Of

Listen, don’t tell anyone, but I’m not particularly well-read, especially not for a writer. I read a lot when I was small, but it’s something I’ve let slide as I have progressed into adulthood. Perhaps it is because of my own unwritten rule that I don’t read when I am working on my own writing – I have been doing quite a bit of that in the last few years. But when I do read, you can guarantee I find the very best of the weird and the wonderful, the very highest of brow, to tickle my literary taste buds. Here are some of my favourites.


Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun – Neil Rushton

This is certainly not a book for the faint-hearted, nor the easily offended. It is the story of one man’s descent into madness – or possibly his return to sanity, depending on your point of view – through the controlled use of hallucinogenic and dissociative drugs. It is rather Joycean in its lack of linear narrative, but is surprisingly easy to follow, although the fruity language might be a bit off-putting for some. As might the occasional foray into very dark subject matter, although it is written with such explicit beauty and care that even some of the most unthinkable elements become pure poetry. It is weird, it is challenging and I have never read anything quite like it – and never enjoyed a book in quite the same way, either.



The Mullet – Hairstyle Of The Gods – Mark Larson & Barney Hoskyns

Once upon a time, I would only go out with chaps who had mullets. No, really. It was a dark time in my dating history, but it did at least introduce me to this fine tome, which really does contain everything you need to know about the most controversial and enduring haircuts of all time.

We learn the history of the mullet (it goes back to prehistoric times!) and its evolution, the various types of mullet and where they can be found – there’s even a handy guide to mullet wining and dining. If you have ever been curious about the ‘shorty-longback’, this book will tell you everything you never wanted to know.


Filthy Lucre – Simon Rose

A book about corporate corruption and insider dealing sounds neither interesting nor funny, but this unlikely book manages to be both. It was published in 1990, so bits of it come across as rather dated, but this only adds to the charm. It was, apparently, serialised as a cartoon in the Mail On Sunday at the time, which is fairly unusual. I would say this is a classic British farce, with plenty of good-humoured smut mixed with astute satire that could probably benefit from being modernised, but is hugely enjoyable as it is. There are quite a lot of rude bits in it, too.



Yes Minister – The Diaries Of A Cabinet Minister – Jonathan Lynn & Antony Jay

I saw this on a friend’s bookshelf and swiped it immediately to read on the train. This is volume two, so one assumes there is a volume one also, perhaps even a volume three. Anyway. This is presented as the collected diaries of the fictional Minister for Administrative Affairs James Hacker and is basically a direct adaptation of the utterly brilliant TV programme from the 80s. It stays true to the television series and is a brilliant light read for fans of the original. While Filthy Lucre demonstrates how business and technology have moved forward in leaps and bounds, Yes Minister shows us that Whitehall hasn’t changed at all. The debates around surveillance and personal privacy are as pertinent now as they were then, not to mention their views on what was the EEC (now, of course, the much-discussed EU). I could go as far as to peg Humphrey as a Remainer and Hacker as a Brexiteer. I shall certainly be doing my best to get my hands on volume one. Hopefully, my friend has it and I can steal that too.


Crap Taxidermy – Kat Su

Quite frankly, this is the best thing ever published. I mean, ever. It does exactly what it says on the tin and provides page after page of some the worst, the funniest and the most downright bizarre examples from the eclectic world of taxidermy.

This is the perfect book to bring out at dinner parties and hand around between courses – who couldn’t fail to love this earnest-looking bear or the dieting fox?


This is my personal favourite. He (it’s definitely a ‘he’, isn’t it) looks so pleased with himself, doesn’t he? There is even a section at the back of the book that talks you through your own home taxidermy projects, step by step. I haven’t tried this, however, so cannot say how helpful it really is. But the main point of this delightful publication is to enjoy the efforts of other (assumed) amateur taxidermists and enjoy them you will, let me tell you.

So there we have it. I hope I have introduced you to some hitherto little-known literary gems that would otherwise have passed you by. No need to thank me, it has been my pleasure.