Looking Back & Moving Forward

I am currently ensconced in the noble endeavour of proofing the final copy for the forthcoming trilogy of PorterGirl novels, Old College Diaries. I’m not going to lie, it is not a task I relished and it is certainly sending my eyes peculiar, but it is not quite so much the onerous mission I thought it might be. For one thing, it’s a good opportunity to pick up on the many irritating typos missed by my hopeless editor the first time around, but what I wasn’t expecting was that I’m actually quite enjoying it. I realised that I hadn’t read First Lady of the Keys since it was released; I’ve dipped in and out to check references from the later novels but I haven’t cast a reader’s eye over it for quite some time. And reading through all three books one after the other is certainly an interest. 


As many of you know, large sections of the early parts of First Lady were written for this blog when I was still a Deputy Head Porter. When I first typed those initial, seemingly innocuous words – Late September, just before the start of Michaelmas Term… I could never have imagined the tumultuous  and unexpected paths along which they would eventually lead. Reading now the charming naivety of both Deputy Head Porter the character and my own writing stirs something of a nostalgic wonder in my now slightly more cynical soul. Large parts of the book – and, indeed, my experiences at the real Old College – had slipped from my memory and from a personal point of view, it has been quite the joy to revisit them.

Following our heroine through The Vanishing Lord and, most recently, Sinister Dexter, I can really see how she has developed and grown into her role and made it very much her own. The writing, too, has evolved with her and the differences between the first and third books are quite stark, to my eyes. In many ways, First Lady was the easiest to write. It was my first novel and I had no real idea about what writing a proper book entailed. I tapped away merrily at the keyboard until I was satisfied that my story was told and that was pretty much that. It certainly isn’t my strongest work, but that beautiful, unfettered freedom of writing when you have no idea what you are doing is evident throughout the book. It has a definite charm of unhindered ignorance. Much like DHP herself.


I won’t bore you with the processes that followed for the next two books, suffice to say I tackled the steep learning curve as ferociously as possible and, I think, improved with practice. I’m proud of my work and to see it all brought together in one volume is obviously pleasing, but also strangely prophetic. Old College Diaries sees the story of Old College told through the eyes of Deputy Head Porter, a literary device that will be abandoned for the forthcoming instalments. Fear not, though, PorterGirl purists – I am writing the fourth novel as we speak and I can assure you that none of DHP’s whimsical musings are lost at all. We now have the added benefit of other characters’ whimsical musings as well. But anyway. In this way at least, it is the end of an era for PorterGirl, but one that heralds a bold new approach and will, I hope, raise the bar for the books that follow.

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And this is prophetic because I myself am facing significant changes in both my personal and professional life which somehow mirror the purpose of Old College Diaries. A chance to move on, to raise the bar, to begin again with the benefit of experience, new-found enthusiasm and a few lessons under my belt. Final details are not entirely decided but final decisions most certainly are. All I need to do is make it happen. And making things happen is something at which I have become rather adept over recent years, so I am certain there will be updates of interest before very long.

There is a rather odd, Joycean, sense of things that everything has come full circle, only to begin again. Change is rarely predictable, but my optimism for the future is encouraged by an overwhelming feeling that this is very much a beginning, rather than ‘The End’.

I’ll keep you posted.

Lucy x

What Do You Think?

You know I love you chaps (and chapesses). I love you lots. You are like family to me. And I value your opinions above all others. When it comes to PorterGirl-related matters, certainly. So I turn to you now with open mind and ears to ask your honest advice.

The PorterGirl books have been collected together (along with some bonus new material) into one big old trilogy and will be available just in time for Christmas. Needless to say, it would make the perfect literary gift for your friends, family and enemies and could also serve as a very classy doorstop. Your choice. Anyway, I have been sent the first mock-up of the front cover from my publisher and I’m just not sure.

Portergirl Trilogy Draft ONE.jpg

The image is great and I like the black and white. I think my name in the hat is rather clever, although I’m not sure if such a lovely hat should not remain untouched. But the title – Trilog-Tea’ is the biggest sticking point. It is clever word play, but it sounds awkward to me, somehow. And it looks strange. But it is more imaginative than ‘trilogy’ or ‘collected works’ and such. I have looked and pondered and looked again until the words and image have no meaning and I still can’t decide if I love it or hate it.

So… what do you think?

Don’t Tell Me I’m Lucky

“Oh, aren’t you lucky to be doing the thing you love!”

A well-meaning yet slightly irritating woman pronounced this to me the other day and I bristled at her words. Of course, being unfailingly British in my inability to express the more robust of emotions (unless I’ve had a couple of gins, obviously) I simply smiled politely in response. But, actually, inside I was quietly incensed. Luck has played the most minor of roles in the continuing chronicles of my becoming a writer.

Without wishing to delve too far into the more personal aspects of my life, I can assure you that the sacrifices I have made in order to chase my dream have been substantial. In fact, to even give the dream a glimmer of hope of survival, I gave up pretty much everything I had – personally, professionally and materially. For reasons best left in the past, I had to start my life again from scratch if I was to have any chance of achieving my goal. And then I had to work at it. I mean really work at it. There are no short cuts to getting better at writing. Not only are there no short cuts, the long way around often leads you right back to where you started. I worked through the failures, through the dark nights of self-doubt (those never quite go away, but one gets better at ignoring them) and through the feelings of utter futility. This is what I want to do. And I’m going to give it a bloody good go.

For a long time, other than my immediate family there was only one person who seriously believed in what I was doing – the man who would later become Head Porter, Paul Butterworth. There was more than one occasion where his stern words and enthusiasm prevented me from giving up completely. I am forever in his debt for that.


Paul Butterworth. Legend.

Aside from the emotional wrangling – which subsides considerably after a bit and only makes occasional reappearances – there is the sheer number of hours which must be devoted to the cause. Writing is bloody time consuming, which often seems to surprise people, for some reason. Social occasions come and go unnoticed. Romances are abandoned and lovers sacrificed upon the alter of literary pursuit. I don’t actually sacrifice my lovers, of course. Especially not the ones who are any good. (There really are not many lovers. At all. Despite what popular opinion may tell you.)

And it’s not just the actual writing – there is the research, the revision and the rewriting, too. That’s before you even start to think about luring in an audience with blogs, social media and absolutely anything else one can think of to get those precious eyes on your work. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve resorted to a degree of nudity to achieve this in the past. Hey, whatever works.


A couple of times I have resorted to a degree of nudity

(Artwork by Ted Giffin)

But there is little point in attracting people to your wares if the wares themselves are found wanting. So, I have invested enormous amounts of time and effort into producing high quality, regular content not only to keep people coming back for more, but also to prove to myself that I can do it.

So no, I haven’t been especially lucky, at least no more than anyone else. Of course, we all benefit from the seldom smile of the fates from time to time – but fortune favours the brave, so if you want a bit of luck I suggest you put on your fighting pants and get out there and wrestle the bugger to the floor yourself.