BritLit

The Curious Monk

Hot on the heels of the success of The Box Under The Bed horror anthology, the team are putting together a follow-up collection of unlikely tales, this time in the genre of humour. Here is a teaser of my contribution, The Curious Monk

Curiosity killed the cat, or so they say. What cat? Why a cat? Were any dogs ever seriously injured by curiosity? Could curiosity maim a fish?

This rather eclectic train of thought belonged to Barnaby, a middle-aged monk, as he hoisted his ample frame over the unforgiving stone monastery walls of the Blind Brotherhood of St Bastian, his home since he was a small boy. Barnaby had scant memory of his parents, save for that they were devoted to the Lord and fashioned themselves as 12th day Advent Hoppists. It was a curious religion, rising from the fact that their bible had a misprint. It taught of ‘faith, hop and charity; and the greatest of these is hop’. Every Sunday was spent hopping around the parlour with great vigour, singing joyful songs and trying not to stub a toe.

Their furious hopping must have paid off as the good Lord saw fit to take them in his arms soon afterwards, leaving the little Barnaby alone in the world, until one day a benevolent member of the Brotherhood came across him weeping in the woods and took him in. The Brotherhood was so named not because they were blind in the literal sense, but because they endured an elective blindness of the outside world and its nefarious ways, so that they would not be tempted from their righteous path. They were good men and kind, but life was monotonous and dry, and Barnaby had something of the spirit of adventure in his bones.

THUD.

Barnaby exhaled a small groan as he hit the ground on the opposite side of the wall. His arms had grown strong through hard labour, but his belly was large from a hearty diet and need to eschew vanity. The Brotherhood had warned that there may be nuns nearby and the strapping physique of a man might agitate their baser instincts. It would not do to agitate a nun.

Tumbling a few feet on the mossy earth, Barnaby came to rest beneath a bushel. He stopped to catch his breath and glimpse the rolling twilight above, gently chasing sunset from the sky. As the first stars of the evening began to wink at him, he cast his mind back to that rare excursion to the local market, several weeks previous. Accompanied by one of the elders, Barnaby had been tasked with procuring garlic, the Brotherhood’s crop having been ravaged by weevils. The visit was short but in that brief time he heard wonderful tales woven among the chatter and bartering of the market. Tales of far away places, strange creatures and, most pertinently, wine, women and song. Barnaby like the sound of these enormously.

And so it was that he decided to escape the monastery for one night, to learn what he could about these curious entities. He had noted a tavern on one side of the market square and supposed that this was a good place to start. Scrabbling to his feet, he set off at a pace along the winding path that led down into the village.

Bereft of the hustle and bustle of commerce, the market square was eerie by night. But across the way the tavern blazed with light and laughter, the walls almost straining to contain the merriment within, leaking tantalising zephyrs of jocularity through the door and window frames. Barnaby thought to himself that surely here all of life could be found and his curiosities would be satisfied. A jaunty sign hung above the entrance, declaring the establishment to be named The Pickled Pig. Pushing open the door, several sets of eyes observed Barnaby’s arrival, followed swiftly by swirling whispers and, finally, an uneasy hush.

Stepping over the threshold, Barnaby gasped. Taking in the scene with a sweeping gaze he saw skins of every age and hue, apparel of unimagined types and, in the case of some of the ladies, apparel that was barely there at all. The air was heavy with a kind of smokey stickiness and now the only sound was of the Bar Tender’s cloth squeaking around an already clean glass.

“Good evening, Brother,” said the Bar Tender, clearing his throat. “What can we do for you?”

Barnaby drew himself up to his full height, which was fairly considerable.

“I have come here this night out of curiosity,” he began. “Nearly all my life I have lived in the monastery and have grown wise in the ways of the Lord and many other things. But I have an inkling that there is more to life and now these things I also wish to know. More specifically, about wine, women and song.”

Some eyebrows raised, some glances exchanged. Someone at the back asked him to speak up. The Bar Tender shrugged.

“Well, you’ve come to the right place,” he replied. “But first, if we are to share with you our expert knowledge on such things, you must give us something in return.”

“I am a humble monk with nothing in the way of material goods,” said Barnaby, his ragged robes tied at what was once his waist with mangey rope a testament to this.

“Alright. Then you must tell us all the secret of how to get into Heaven.”

Barnaby thought hard for a moment before making his reply.

“The Good Book teaches how to get to heaven and every Sunday your priest will tell the same.”

“We’re not big on readin’,” snapped a crow-faced old man from his barstool, grizzled features twisted into a grin. “An’ church ‘appens very early in the mornin’. Give us the abridged version and we’ll teach you the ways o’ the world.”

Barnaby thought again.

“Well, I suppose there is one notable element that is often overlooked in traditional teachings that is imperative to getting into Heaven,” he replied, slowly. “If you teach me the things I want to know, I will tell it to you.”

Bargain struck, Barnaby took his place at the bar and the patrons gathered round, eyes shining and limbs fidgeting.

“Let us begin with wine,” suggested Barnaby.

To find out what Barnaby learns about wine, women and song you will have to buy the book! I don’t know when it’s out – or even what it’s called – but rest assured I will be plugging it shamelessly once I do!

 

In the meantime, why not enjoy a trip to Old College?

AMAZON UK

AMAZON US

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 – Part Eighteen

Captain Hastings stood in the sweeping driveway of Somersby Hall, squinting in the bright afternoon sun and concentrating very hard indeed. He found that if he furrowed his brow and directed all of his attention towards Barton the gamekeeper and Tooky, the mechanic from the village, he could just about follow the conversation between the two. Barton had been perfectly coherent when speaking to Poirot previously, but in the company of a fellow local he had slipped into the jaunty but baffling Norfolk dialect. Hastings was fairly certain that Tooky believed the tyres of the stricken Delage D6-11 had been attacked deliberately, using a pocket knife. Finding replacement tyres at short notice had apparently necessitated calling in a favour from a most alarming-sounding gentleman and vast quantities of unspecified beverages had been proffered in recompense. There also followed some discussion about the physical attributes of ‘Daisy’, although it was impossible to tell if this was a lady, or farm animal of some description.

“I don’t suppose either of you fellows would know of any types round about that might be in the business of slashing car tyres?” asked Hastings, keen to keep the conversation in the realms of the investigation.

“Thar useter be a mob ah young-uns allus putting on parts, but they dussent get raw with people’s property and such,” replied Tooky, leaving Hastings none the wiser.

“About a year or so back there were a few problems with some boys from the next village,” explained Barton. “But that was more like stealin’ milk and playin’ knock-down-ginger and the like, nothing vicious like this. Perhaps it was Tooky’s friend with the tyres, drummin’ up a bit of business!”

“Har har – yew’re onta summit thar, hold yew hard!” Tooky laughed and slapped his thigh with a huge, greasy palm.

Barton joined the mechanic in a booming belly-laugh and Hastings felt obliged to follow suit, although he wasn’t sure if this was a joking matter or something which required a degree of concern. Once he had regained his self-control, Tooky picked up his tool bag and set to work replacing the tyres of the car, leaving Hastings and Barton in a polite but awkward silence. Hastings saw an opportunity.

“So then, old bean, from one man-of-the-world to another, is it true what they say about you and Maggie?”

Barton grumbled to himself.

“Well now, that all depends on what’s bein’ said and who’s doin’ the sayin’, don’t it.”

“Harold Bottomclutch mentioned it,” replied Hastings. “There’s some truth in it, then?”

Barton sighed.

“Aye, there’s some truth to it, that there is.” Barton seemed to consider his next words very carefully. “I thought that maybe she were a bit keen on me, like I was ‘er.”

“She wasn’t?”

“Oh, that she was. Trouble was, she were a bit keen on ‘alf the village, too.”

Hastings licked his lips, very aware that a certain degree of tact was required.

“Maggie’s baby… was it..?”

“I ‘oped it were mine,” Barton said, quickly. “But ‘appen as there won’t be no way of tellin’ now, will there?” Barton fixed Hastings with a hard stare, although the Captain could have sworn there was a dampness in the corners of his eyes. “Will that be all, sir? I’ve a great deal to be gettin’ along with.”

Hastings nodded and watched as the gamekeeper trudged away, hands in pockets and head bowed. He felt a great deal of sympathy for the chap, it had to be said. As Barton disappeared beyond the buttery walls, Hastings was joined by a perturbed Hercule Poirot.

“Ah! Hastings! But there goes Barton and I had a great many things to ask of him,” scolded the great detective. “Mais, perhaps it does not matter. The fixing of the car is going well, I hope?”

“Oh! Yes, it is,” replied Hastings. “The mechanic says the tyres were deliberately attacked, probably with a small knife.”

Zut alors! But who would do such a thing?”

“He couldn’t say. It seems there is no-one of vandal leanings in the village…” Hastings paused as he remembered something from his first conversation with the mechanic. “Mind you, he did mention seeing a stranger in the high street the other night.”

“A stranger?” Poirot’s moustache twitched and an immaculate eyebrow reached for his forehead. “You asked him about this stranger, oui?

“Indeed, but it was late in the evening and the blasted fellow was too drunk to take much notice,” sighed Hastings. “Besides, he was in the telephone box so he didn’t get a good look at him.”

“In the telephone box? On the night of the murder?” Poirot’s tone indicated that this was a matter of great importance, although Captain Hastings could not fathom why. “Ah, my dear Hastings, this changes everything. Poirot, he is finally seeing things more clearly. The little grey cells, at last they speak to him. And when Poirot has spoken to Lord Bottomclutch, things will be clearer still, non?