summer

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

School’s Out For Summer

I sit quietly melting at my desk in the Porters’ Lodge. There is a little salty dampness above my top lip and I can feel a trickle of hot sweat sliding slowly down my back. I cannot remember how many times I have heard people complain that it is just too hot today.

I realise I am rather perpetuating the English stereotype of complaining about the weather, but if you have ever lived with English weather you will no doubt understand. Having just experienced a weekend that alternated at random intervals between bright sunshine and violent downpours, we are now in a thick and muggy heat wave. You can never, ever plan anything around the English weather. English weather will do just as it pleases.

Contrary to proclamations to the opposite, it seems that there are a lot of people out enjoying the climate. With no further educational endeavours until October, Old College has been taken over by The General Public. I am well versed in the dealings of The General Public and if experience has taught me anything it is that the public are rarely general. In fact, so intricately varied are their individual needs that whoever first coined the phrase should be had up for misrepresentation.

The grounds are crawling with enthralled tourists, all sporting the expressions of wonder and amazement I once proudly wore myself, not so very long ago. It is making me feel a little uneasy, to be honest. I am not happy at all about having all these strange people wandering around my College. Alright, the usual occupants can be fairly strange themselves but that’s an entirely different kind of strange.

As well as being a tourist attraction, Old College appears to have become something of a destination for global conferences. There are several organisations holding extravagant events over the coming months and Head Of Catering is on the verge of a nervous breakdown already. However, I am reliably informed that the Catering Department really excels itself during this period and I can be looking forward to some reliably sumptuous leftovers for the foreseeable future.

Along with tourists and professionals, Maintenance has welcomed a jovial team of painters and decorators to their merry band. Somehow renovations and holding events do not seem to go hand in hand. Maybe it’s just me. Head Of Maintenance has been strutting his stuff around College, obviously in his element. It seems to me that once the academics are out of the way, the real work gets done.

Speaking of academics, Old College has been notably depleted in that department. There has been some fervent activity from the depths of The Fellowship in the search for a new Bursar. It would appear that several candidates have been assembled and will undergo a harsh interviewing process (conducted, naturally, by The Master and The Dean) in the very near future. It is certainly a pivotal role within The Fellowship but quite frankly I shall be satisfied completely as long as they don’t kill anyone. It’s not a lot to ask.

I have discovered that Head Porter has recently been seeing quite a bit of his daughter. He does not seem any the more cheerful for it and has been in an absolutely foul mood these last few days. It is quite clear that this particular part of Head Porter’s life is none of my business but I wouldn’t mind having a few words with the young lady to see quite what the problem is. I hate seeing him like this.

As yet another bus-load of tourists pour in through the main gates, like great camera-wielding ants, I glance up at the elderly wooden clock on the wall. Lunchtime, and the respite it shall bring, is a mere ten minutes away. I shall sweat it out.

The door to The Lodge flies open and through it explodes Porter, his moustache in disarray.

“Ma’am,” he wheezes “You’d better come quickly…”

Out In The Midday Sun

I am a big fan of parties, it has to be said. Any kind of party, really. House parties, garden parties, dinner parties, parties to celebrate, to commiserate, to integrate – even parties for absolutely no reason at all. In one way or another, I have attended practically every type of party you could possibly imagine. Even some you can’t imagine. So, on the face of it, being selected to arrange Junior Bursar’s retirement do is not such a surprise. Although, quite how Junior Bursar knows about my extensive experience in this field I cannot say. In fact, I’d rather not know.

I have been summoned to The Dean’s rooms by way of a very brief email, simply saying I should make my way there as soon as is convenient. It isn’t especially convenient, what with Head Porter out of The Lodge and my myriad of tasks to attend to, but I fancy a change of scenery.

The sun is hot today and the possibility of summer is feeling ever more likely. This being England, though, I know not to become too optimistic about these things. As welcome as this shiny warmth may very well be, my Porter’s uniform does not lend itself well to sunnier climes. My bowler hat does a fine job of shading my eyes from the bright rays, but it is also cooking the top of my head as it does so. I have every conviction that I could fry an egg up there, if I could convince it to balance.

As I traverse the bridge I gaze longingly into the waters below. Despite the knowledge that they are full of filth from The City and are home to creatures unknown, I have an urge to leap into their invitingly cool embrace, just for a second. An inadvisable course of action, for a whole host of reasons.

I pause on the bridge, as I often do, to watch the boats punting along and to listen to the whoops of delight and dismay from punters of varying degrees of proficiency. From the corner of my eye, I see Junior Bursar approach from the opposite cloister. I straighten up quickly and prepare my best smile.

“Good afternoon, Junior Bursar!”

He responds with a convincing-looking smile of his own, although he may just be squinting in the sun.

“And how are my party arrangements coming along, Deputy Head Porter?” he asks. I explain that they are progressing nicely. I have been successful in securing a celebrated local magician for the event, as well as ordering the balloons. This seems to delight the dear old chap. Talk then turns to the May Ball, an event I am anticipating with some trepidation and excitement. All the Colleges hold their own balls, but Old College’s balls are rumoured to be among the finest. I shall not be attending as a guest as I shall be working, but I am ebullient to be a part of it all anyway.

“Can you tell me, Junior Bursar, why the May Balls are always held in June?” I ask him. It is something that has puzzled me and sometimes the only thing to do with a question is ask it.

“I certainly can, Deputy Head Porter” he replies. “May Balls are a relatively new addition to College life, having only been in existence since the 1830’s. They were originally intended as celebrations following the May Bumps, so the name refers to that, rather than the month in which they are held.”

Ah, yes. The May Bumps. A complicated series of inter-College boat races that amount to little more than messing about on the river, in my view.

“Thank you, Sir, that is very interesting” I reply.

Junior Bursar appears to be in the mood to stay and chat awhile, but I have to make my excuses to continue on my way to see The Dean. Junior Bursar gives me a thin little grin.

“Is the nature of your visit business or pleasure?” he asks. It takes me a moment to comprehend what he means, but I recover myself quickly. Our pretend affair.

“Purely business, this time round” I explain. Junior Bursar seems almost disappointed.

“I am sure you will have an enjoyable afternoon, nonetheless” he says, before clasping his hands behind his back and making his way jauntily towards The Porters’ Lodge.

As I watch him go, it occurs to me that I think I shall miss the old bugger when he goes. Goodness knows, he has made my life difficult enough on occasions, but an affection of sorts has grown within me. I catch myself before I become misty eyed yet again and decide to head straight to see The Dean.

The heat must be getting to me.