westminster

Things That Happen When You Are Supposed To Be Writing A Book

Anyone who has ever put pen to paper will know that completing any kind of literary tome takes patience, dedication and an awful lot of time. Even the most committed of writers is in danger of losing focus when forced to break from their work for such mundane activities such as food, family and the call of nature.

Or snow.

It will not have escaped the attention of anyone in the UK that we had a generous helping of snow recently and, as a nation, we get uncharacteristically excited about it. Even a nominal amount of the white stuff causes unknown chaos as the British lose all sense of how to drive sensibly, walk properly or even shop normally and the whole country falls briefly into disarray the second more than a couple of inches settles anywhere reasonably civilised. The hardier Brits in the North and Scotland simply put on a big coat and get on with things, but further south there is unprecedented panic, confusion and anarchy.

I found myself in a snug little stone cottage in a remote Derbyshire village when the first flakes fell and was rather pleased about it. The prospect of getting snowed in would do wonders for my productivity and provide the perfect excuse for being as anti-social as possible. And, indeed, I did make excellent progress. Until The Chap had other ideas.

The Chap likes the snow very much. He thinks it is romantic. It isn’t romantic, it’s cold, wet and slippery. But, nonetheless, exercise and fresh air are very good for the writing mind, so I found myself exploring the surrounding hills and dales and, predictably, being overcome by childlike glee. I met some very stern sheep and a less stern butcher with absolutely enormous sausages. Sausages are excellent writing fuel, so in the end, this was time well spent.

As apocalyptic travel reports screamed from the newspapers, we were somewhat nervous about our return trip to London, having read about cars stuck for days on end on the M1 and such. As is usual with unexpected weather, after a day or so everything was back to normal and media accounts of something approaching the end of the world proved to be premature. Which was good, as we had tickets to see the Penguin Cafe Orchestra in Islington followed by a much-anticipated evening of drinking with friends in Soho.

Obviously, when one is watching the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and drinking in Soho until 3am, one cannot also be writing a book. But I was thinking about the book. A little bit. Particularly when I bought a round in the Groucho Club. I thought – ‘I need to sell an awful lot of books if I want to carry on drinking here.’

Attempts at writing the following day were marred by a sticky head, an overwhelming craving for bacon and the knowledge that we were to be competing in the Westminster Christmas pub quiz later that evening. I twiddled with a few bits I’d already written and made some notes here and there. But mostly I drank tea and ate things until it was time to head out again.

I felt a certain degree of trepidation about the quiz. I am by no means stupid, but I don’t know an awful lot about anything useful. And I was expecting the other participants to be highbrow politico-types with Oxbridge educations and a keen interest in sensible things. This turned out to be largely correct and not only that, there were some prominent persons among the throng. The Chap reassured me that I would be fine – technically, I went to Cambridge (albeit as a porter rather than an academic) and I was wearing my best waistcoat, so what could possibly go wrong?

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We arrived at a smart public house in Westminster and were pleased to see a couple of friendly faces and also free drinks tokens. The buffet was already looking ravaged, but my initial fears were allayed by the troop of smiley staff continually replenishing stocks. The place was already packed, with the rowdy patrons already well refreshed, despite there being an hour to go before the start of the quiz. Most people seemed to already have formed teams, so we looked around frantically for waifs and strays who might accept our own special brand of intellectual prowess into their fold.

We were in luck. I spotted a sparsely-populated table near the window, encumbered by an elderly gentleman and an even more elderly gentleman. The less elderly fellow – Jim – welcomed us with open arms. The other chap didn’t pay us much attention, but I’m not sure he knew where he was or why he was there, so that was fair enough. We were soon joined by Tim from the London Assembly and a cheerful but simple fellow sporting a very fine pink tie. I later learned that he was a senior member of UKIP and recently came within a hair’s breadth of the leadership, which somehow was not as surprising as it might be.

It was a very right wing crowd, with everyone except the very elderly gentleman being a rampant Brexiteer. Avoiding discussing politics would be tricky, but I thought it best to keep conversation limited to telling rude jokes and the weather. This worked pretty well and once the quiz began, we pulled together remarkably well. We were disappointed that official quiz master Jacob Rees-Mogg had been waylaid by Parliamentary business, but he had sent along his sister Annunziata (no, I don’t know how to pronounce it either) in his place. She was outrageously posh, but very witty, down to earth and surprisingly preoccupied with scheduling smoking breaks into the course of the evening.

Unfortunately, halfway through the first round, the very elderly gentleman buggered off somewhere, never to return. We were a man down but undeterred. The Chap and Tim were spot on with questions on Shakespeare and Strictly Come Dancing respectively, UKIP chap made some extraordinarily lucky guesses and Jim and I chipped in here and there, doing particularly well in the politics and pot luck rounds. I actually learned quite a lot from the evening – not least that the leader of the Scottish Labour Party is definitely not called ‘Lefty McLefty’. UKIP chap named our team The Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation, which I thought was a bit much, but won us the Best Team Name title and some beer. In the end, we claimed a very respectable third place out of eleven and managed to eat most of the buffet between us. A success all round, I feel.

And in amongst all this, amazingly I managed to make great progress with new PorterGirl novel Sinister Dexter – a brand, spanking new chapter of which I will share with you all on Wednesday. For now, though, I had better get back to it. Before some other interesting thing happens…

The perfect Christmas gift for loved ones! Or sworn enemies!

First Lady Of The Keys – Amazon UK   Amazon US

The Vanishing Lord – Amazon UK   Amazon US

Normal Service Will Resume Shortly

Hello there, chaps and chapesses. Just a brief missive to let you know that I will be noticeably absent from proceedings next week but, fear not, my desertion will be brief. Even as we speak, I am wending my merry way to deepest, darkest Derbyshire to retreat to a small stone cottage in the hills.

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Whilst the main purpose of this is to focus my uninterrupted attentions on the new PorterGirl novel, Sinister Dexter, I also intend to use the time to get in some eating practice, ready for Christmas.

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Not only that, but there is swotting up to be done in preparation for the Westminster Pub Quiz, where I will be pitting my wits against quiz master extraordinaire, ultra-posh Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg.

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The only slight hiccup with this, is that I have also agreed to attend a lunch on the South Bank that afternoon, followed by an ill-advised pub crawl around London. By the time I get to Westminster I’ll be lucky if I can even write my own name, let alone lock intellectual horns with an old Etoninan. No matter. If I manage to end the evening without having removed my clothes or been charged with a public order offence, I shall consider the thing a success.

In the week leading up to Christmas I hope to share with you some of the new book and, if I can avoid police custody, snippets of my adventures in the capital. In the meantime, try to behave yourselves while I’m gone…

Lucy x

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