(I tried to make that headline sound like The Globe or The National Enquirer, since Lucy is British. Did it work?)
Lucy Brazier is a friend of the blog and author of the very popular Secret Diaries of PorterGirl blog and book – soon to be a traditionally published book series. She recently did a guest blog post for us about videos and signed a three-book deal with her publisher. (The way I wrote that, it sounds like the guest blog post had something to do with the publisher deal, which it didn’t, but I’m happy to let the confusion stand.)
A very funny and multi-talented lady, Lucy decided to let me interview her (after much begging on my part) and shed a little light on networking, publishing, and writing, as well as creating a character she writes in the blog and books and plays onscreen in her videos. She may be the busiest person I know, yet somehow she gets it all done.
DAN: You always seem to have a lot going on. The blog, the videos, rubbing elbows with famous actors – And now I understand you are working on new books as well. Can you tell us the any titles?
LUCY: Maybe. The “working” title is Secret Diary Of PorterGirl, although it is looking more and more likely that it will be changed come publishing time. This is a brand new, re-working of the original as it is now intended to be the first in a series of (at least) three – so there will be new characters, a slightly different plot and a love interest for our heroine. Annoyingly.
It’ll be fun to read your take on it all, I’m sure. Was it a big exciting thing to get a 3-book deal? How did you celebrate?
It was fairly exciting – apart from the fact that now I’ve got to write three books. I haven’t really celebrated it yet – when the first draft is submitted to the editors, then it is party time!
I guess we can wait a bit, then. Tell me more about your publishing deal. How did it come about? Were you sending out query letters to agents and publishers?
Would you believe, I have never approached a single agent or publisher – they came to me! They followed the blog and then approached me through social media. Once we came to a deal I was happy with, I signed. Simple, huh?
That’s gonna piss a lot of people off. I mean, congratulations! And from now on, that’s all I’m gonna do, just blog. Screw query letters!
I guess we should explain, for readers who don’t know, what is a “Porter Girl”? Or is it just Porter?
Porters these days are a rare breed. Not to be confused with hotel or hospital porters, a College Porter is the keeper of the keys not the carrier of bags. They act as an internal police force, counsellors, key holders and general servants to the students and Fellowship (the ruling body) of the College.
And you work with some well-known actors like Paul Butterworth, who plays the Head Porter – people will recognize him from his many TV shows and movies like The Full Monty. How did you get them to appear with you? How did you meet them? Was there any ransom involved? (You can tell us. We can keep a secret.)
They begged and begged to appear with me, of course. But seriously. Paul was introduced to me through a mutual friend and, amazingly, he quickly became a big fan of the blog. As a member of BAFTA he was able to introduce PorterGirl to a wider audience who also seem to quite like it. Although I often bribe my collaborators with food (mainly shepherd’s pie) I haven’t had to deploy too much arm-twisting as yet. But rest assured that mindless violence is always an option.
Where did the idea come from for Secret Diary Of PorterGirl?
On a whim, I applied for the role of Deputy Head Porter at one of the most prestigious Colleges of Cambridge University.
Wait, in real life you did that, or are you answering as your character?
Nope – that was certainly my real life! I didn’t expect to get the job as the University is very much an ‘old boys’ institution and having no academic background whatsoever I was an unlikely candidate. To my utter bemusement, I was offered the position and thought it churlish to refuse. As the first female Deputy Head Porter in the College’s 600 year history, I was as much a surprise to them as the ancient and esoteric College world was to me.
A groundbreaker. Wow. Good for you.
What followed at Old College was something akin to falling down the rabbit hole and my blog was born. As it happened, I was absolutely the worst Deputy Head Porter the College had ever seen.
Oh no! That’s hilarious.
I hung up my bowler hat after a year, however this bizarre cocoon of an existence inspired further fictional adventures and the book is a natural extension of that.
The Porter job seems pretty serious. Was it? Are they strict about shined shoes and stuff?
It is in many ways a prestigious role that remains largely unchanged over the centuries, but from meeting some Porters you might be forgiven for missing that. Shiny shoes and bowler hats are an essential, but so are petty rebellions and unfathomable Lodge politics. A good Porter can make a huge difference to the lives of students and Fellows alike so they are much more important than people give them credit for.
Too bad about leaving. You look good in that hat – not everybody can pull that look off. But it definitely gives you a different air than when you are without it. I’m glad the experience at Old College inspired so many things for you, though. Some people get bogged down by difficult circumstances, others – the interesting ones – make a book out of the experience. Would you say you are an interesting person?
Absolutely not – I am completely unremarkable in every way.
Somehow, I doubt that.
“I have always had the good fortune to find myself in interesting and unusual circumstances, often surrounded by persons of an unlikely nature which makes for excellent writing”
But I have always had the good fortune to find myself in interesting and unusual circumstances, often surrounded by persons of an unlikely nature which makes for excellent writing and, on occasion, conversation.
That’s half the battle, seeing the unusual or interesting aspects of what’s around us. Orson Scott Card said “Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” I agree it can make for interesting stories!
You come off as a playful type in your posts, but maybe a bit shy. Is that how your friends would describe you (shy), or do you have us readers fooled?
I think my friends would describe me as somewhat wild and unhinged. And that’s the ones that really like me. I can be very guarded and introverted outside of my ‘inner circle’, so maybe that is what is coming across. But shy? Never.
Just how playful are you? Your Facebook page is much more revealing about sides of you that people won’t know from the posts. Is there a double life thing going on? Should I not be talking about this?
Don’t believe everything you see on Facebook! Although, it is probably a better reflection of who I am away from the blog. But you must remember that the blog isn’t ‘me’ – it’s a work of fiction that draws on a brief period of my life. To answer your question – I am as playful as a box of kittens.
I guess you don’t know about the No Cats policy here on the blog. But kittens can have a pass this one time, since my last Flash Fiction Challenge had a bunch of pictures of cats in it.
What’s something most readers would never guess about you?
I have to really concentrate to tell the difference between “left” and “right.” Oh, and going naked is kind of a hobby of mine.
Um, I’m sorry, I lost my train of thought just then. It, uh… what were we discussing? I think that’s fairly common, although people don’t admit it – I mean about the left and right. Not about going naked!
There’s nothing bad about being naked, right? It’s just nature
I’ve, uh… always been a nature fan. It’s all so, you know, um… natural.
Did… you have more questions?
What? Yes! Sure. Somewhere. Is it warm in here? Okay, what about Laundry? Can you wash light and dark colors together? Or have you ever turned a bunch of stuff pink in the washer?
Actually, if you wash at a low temperature it is possible to wash lights and darks together. I use a non-bio detergent at 30 degrees and just bung the lot in together. Even stuff that says “dry clean only.” Life is too short to fret about laundry.
I think we just lost our American readers. 30 degrees is below freezing here, so that’s obviously in Celsius, which would be, um…. warmer in Fahrenheit. Moving on…
Is tea a big deal over there like they make it seem in Downton Abbey? (My wife watches, not me.)
I must be the only person alive who has never seen Downton. I can confirm that tea is incredibly important – we love tea as much as you guys love guns. Probably.
Back to books, then. What “person” do you write in and why?
PorterGirl is written in first person present tense, an approach I have been told repeatedly is unsuitable for mystery/drama writing. I intend to prove those people wrong.
“PorterGirl is written in first person present tense, an approach I have been told repeatedly is unsuitable for mystery/drama writing. I intend to prove those people wrong.”
I think you already did, with a three-book publishing deal.
Outside of PorterGirl, it’s mainly third person past tense but I am keen to develop a future progressive tense style, just for the heck of it.
Hmm. Doing some Flash Fiction Challenges could help you develop that. Just sayin’.
What do you do for cover art?
The cover art for the book was designed by my friend and fellow adventure enthusiast Tony Coleby (http://tonycoleby.com/) He is an incredible photographer and digital artist and also the person who first suggested that I start a blog, so without him there would be no PorterGirl at all. We have much to thank him for. Also, his wife Nicole is fabulous and teaches me to swear in German.
I could have used that growing up. My mom’s side of the family is German and our hometown has a huge German population. I can ask “Do you have a laundromat?” in German, but that’s about all. That phrase comes in handy more often than you’d think, though.
Okay, now to the nitty gritty: Plotter or Pantser?
I am a bit of both.
Cheater. You’re supposed to pick one, you coward. But okay, explain your position. Cos I think more people are hybrids than admit it.
I take great care in crafting the story arc and always plan the ending and turning points in detail. After that, however, things take more of a creative turn and characters and events just sort of write themselves.
That’s probably true of most plotters. They have ideas or an outline of varying detail, and then add things want freely, wherever the story wants it. That’s what I do. I have an ending in mind before I start but it’s subject to change if I come up with something better.
I don’t think too much about it, as long as I get the story to where it needs to be at more or less the right points it’s all good.
As I mentioned, you always seem to have a lot on your plate. You write, you blog, you work a regular (very demanding) job, you do videos, you network with real actors and con them into being in your videos. And you seem to still have an active social life!
I can assure you, my social life is very few and far between!
What’s a good writing secret or time management secret?
When I set out to write a blog post or chapter, I always think of the first line and the closing line. In my head I work out what, in general, I want to get across between the two and then the middle bit just sort of fills itself in. For time management, discipline is the key. Treat it like a job.
I’d say that’s what most writers don’t do. They try to squeeze the writing time in someplace instead of scheduling it.
Put aside time to write and stick to it. You wouldn’t show up at work two hours late saying you got distracted by menial household tasks, so why do that with your writing? Writing time is important. Treat it with respect.
That may be one of the most important things ever said here on the blog. Maybe somebody will make it into a meme with your picture on it.
Ah, but will I be wearing a hat in the meme? That’s important.
“There is a story in everything if you just know how to look at it properly.”
But seriously, that’s hugely inspiring and not emphasized nearly enough. And speaking of inspiring, what inspires you?
Life, people, the unusual, the mundane and everything in between. There is a story in everything if you just know how to look at it properly.
I totally agree. Like the Jack London quote about going after inspiration with a club. That’s a kick in the pants on days when I’m not feeling it.
That’s right. Don’t sit around waiting for inspiration, go out and hunt it down like a wild dog.
There was another one about, if you wait for inspiration, you’re a waiter not a writer. I never want that said about me, so it really spurs the horse.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was quite young – about nine or ten – I was something of a disruptive child at school…
Guilty! I was sent home with so many notes that said, “Daniel distracts others in class.” But I interrupted you.
My teachers were desperate to distract me…
Distract? Or keep you occupied?
– anything to shut me up, probably! In a bid to keep me quiet they tasked me with writing stories for the younger children, which I also illustrated and took great delight in reading to them. It was then that I realised that writing was the best thing ever and that it was what I wanted to do.
What an amazing turn of events! That’s awesome. Did you keep any of them? (The books, not the small children.)
Actually, yes – just recently my mother found a pile of them in her attic and brought them to me. What is amazing is that the stories still sound like ‘me’. I found my voice very young, it seems.
Ah, moms. Always hanging onto stuff. So you were inspiring young minds as a youngster yourself; what authors inspire you? Like, what are your three favorite books by other authors?
Tricky one this, but I have narrowed it down. Firstly, I have to say Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett. There are several Pratchett books that could easily be mentioned here but this one I found particularly special. His anthropomorphism of Death is done so uniquely and having him speak in capital letters is a work of genius. It is in many ways a beautiful book and tackles mortality without ever being preachy or moribund.
Next, I choose A Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I love Wilde’s style of writing – he is a master of eloquence and purple prose.
I had to look that up. It means flowery or unnecessarily wordy. Now when people tell me my story is too wordy I’m gonna refer them to Wilde.
Wilde rocks purple prose – he has such a complete command of language that he can take liberties us mere mortals simply cannot.
He somehow manages to voice a lofty social commentary whilst at the same time remaining very much the common man. The story of Dorian has been reimagined many times since and I think this is testament to its brilliance.
“those last few sentences was such a powerful revelation for me that I immediately turned back to the first page and read the whole thing again”
Finally there is The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien. I have to confess that the first time I read it, I didn’t really have too much of an idea what was happening until the very last page and the sudden realisation of those last few sentences was such a powerful revelation for me that I immediately turned back to the first page and read the whole thing again with a completely new perspective.
No other book has ever done that for me and I suspect none ever will.
I’d think a lot of readers would put a book like that down after a while, if they weren’t getting it.
The humour is as black as coffee (and at times, just as bitter) and it reads a bit like a coherent version of James Joyce.
Great suggestions for our readers – and I’m sure you’d recommend your book as well. So tell us about yourself. Who is the REAL Lucy Brazier?
There is no real Lucy Brazier. I’m all surface, no feeling, baby.
Ha, well, somebody was wearing that dress on New Year’s Eve! It totally surprised me, too, because I see your picture all the time as the cheery, innocent Porter Girl, with the hat and all, then BOOM, across my Facebook feed comes this beautiful woman in that dress. I was like, holy cow, you look different!
Stop presses – woman wears dress! She was an imposter, I say. You really are fond of that dress, aren’t you?
Well, it was SUCH a difference from the PorterGirl outfit! But, hey, if you got it, rock it.
Haha! It’s fine, I am very flattered.
And keep rocking the literary world, Lucy! The PorterGirl 3-book SERIES, complete with new love interest, will be worth waiting for. Congratulations on your success! Be sure to keep us posted about the release date for the new works!
Here are Lucy’s book and links:
Link to the book on Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/Secret-Diary-PorterGirl-Everyday-Adventures/dp/1504944437
Twitter – @portergirl100
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works