OK, so I’m 60% of the way through the PorterGirl novel First Lady of the Keys, and I am loving every bit of it. There is humor, there is mystery – little mysteries that seem to be rolling up into one big mystery – but at 60% of the way through I can’t really say for sure – there’s romance…
This book has something for everyone! Well done.
By the way, normally I would’ve finished this book over the weekend but we kind of snuck off to Universal Studios and Harry Potter land.
I think what I like most about this book is the way I started enjoying the character right off the bat. PorterGirl showed herself to be vulnerable and readers often find that endearing. But she was portraying herself as small and unsure but determined to go forth and prove herself. And that has been a bit of a recurring theme throughout the story, as she takes greater and greater strides in asserting herself. That’s fun to read whether it’s a male or female main character.
I will say again, I assumed the relationship between her and Head Porter was a friendly and cordial and humorous one; before I started reading the books, I had seen video clips and outtakes so I knew Lucy was friends with the actor who portrayed the Head Porter in the videos. (Being friends, they are of course friendly.) In the book, the characters are not – at least not thus far.
I also want to give a suggestion to my writer friends who are from the UK or Canada or Australia – anywhere they speak English but don’t speak American English.
When you write your story, be yourself.
Tell in the words you need to tell it in.
If your story takes place in New York, then you probably want to get rid of most of The non-American English words and spellings. However, if your story takes place somewhere else, or if a character is British and happens to be in New York, then don’t.
I have often said your unique (to me) spelling and way of speaking are part of what give me the flavor of that character – and by virtue of the character, the story. So choose wisely.
America is a big market, and I have read tomes that had Scottish dialects written out to where I could not understand what was even being communicated. (Although from what I understand, that’s fairly common to people who aren’t from Scotland and are dealing with a very thick brogue. Personally, I am 99% anti-writing out dialects. Use a bit here and there. A little goes a long way.)
At any rate, it is less and less important that I give you real-time updates on the story because too often now they will just be spoilers.
The story is moving smoothly and Lucy is a great storyteller.
Others may quibble with things I considered minor, but overall I really like the way she is telling the story, and I love the characters, and to be perfectly honest I doubt I will even take a break between finishing this one and starting the next one. It’s summer, why not?
So is it a ghost story? Are all the books in the series ghost stories?
Well, Lucy, I suppose. I should probably ask.
But I’m not sure she would tell me; that might ruin the fun.
And we all know Lucy likes her fun…
Another Brit phrase: Sod’s law. Huh?
Another great line:
“When furniture becomes unreasonable, one must look out, you know.”
Unreasonable furniture. This won’t do.
But a rare clue to our mystery: PorterGirl doesn’t log a curious incident into the Incident Book. Maybe no spooky incidents do. That’s why Old College can say it isn’t haunted. But I’m starting to wonder if it is.
“A Reasonable Explanation”
Now about 1/3 of the way through the book, I feel very comfortable with all the characters and the storytelling style – and have for a while.
I mention this because I often tell new authors of the audience stats with you for 70 pages (or 80; whatever) they’ll probably stay with you to the end.
Lucy’s PorterGirl character has great charm. She’s cute and curious but not naive. She’s self deprecating but not overly insecure. She’s flawed in small ways but determined. She’s vulnerable.
So we’re pulling for her.
And the lighthearted nature of Lucy’s storytelling style indicate to me that nothing bad is going to happen to PorterGirl, so I can relax and enjoy the ride. Which I am.
Lucy’s style is fun and engaging, with a lot of humor underpinned with many small mysteries afoot, possibly a large mystery. I mean, we can’t say for sure if they’re large or small, really. They’re mysteries.
Another great line:
“Reading is very important, but it is variety of reading that’s most important.”
I like that. I’ll have to ask Lucy if she made that up or quoted somebody. And I’ll have to make a note to add more quotable lines to my own stories.
Here’s another British phrase, and I’m not letting this one at the feet of Lucy, but for all of you:
Mum, or mummy. As in, mother.
See, when I see the word mummy, I think of The Mummy. I don’t know what you guys think of. But it occurs to me that when you see the movie The Mummy are you reading it like The Mommy? Because then it’s not scary at all. Unless your mommy was scary – which she may have been.
How do you guys reconcile that? Do they change the title in Britain? I don’t think so. Tom Cruise’s film opened while we were there; I saw posters. The Mummy. I can’t imagine a whole movie with a wrapped up dead Egyptian being called The Mommy. Just doesn’t work.
Get back to me on that, would you?
OK, back to the story.
PorterGirl has mentioned that she suspects – and the suspicion is fueled by actual remarks by other people, mind you – that she was chosen for the job because she will be bad at it.
I mentioned earlier these comments served to undermine her confidence, but she has also resolutely set out to prove them wrong. However, she does mention it on occasion, which means she has at least in part bought into the idea. And at this point when she raises the question again, it is in the auspice is of looking for other employment.
Constantly bringing back up that stressful item, which is basically reminding the reader of one of the elements of tension in the story, never allows us to wander too far into the comfort zone. When we relax, she reminds us we shouldn’t. That’s good. Tension drives stories. Lucy has done a good job of balancing humor and tension in this story.
At the start of “What The Professor Said,” PorterGirl lists the mysteries that are currently working on her brain.
Not the one about professor Fox, however. But that’s for later, I’ll bet.
And at about 40% of the way through the book, that’s not a bad thing to do. Keep your reader aware of the stakes.
Occasionally we turn the reins over to a friend of the blog so they can share their experience in writing – some good, some bad – for the benefit of others.
When Dan, very kindly and unexpectedly, replied to one of the comments I’d made to the wonderful J.A Allen about guest blogging, inviting me to press on his Contact Me button to chat, I almost did a slapstick comedy double take. Surely he hadn’t meant to reply to little old me? I read through the other comments to see if he had corrected his mistake elsewhere. Nope.
So I sent him a quick, nervous email to make sure.
Yes, he was really allowing me, an unknown baby blogger, to put together a piece which he would post on his site
written on anything I fancied that would interest you, his faithful gang of readers.
A quick check on the calendar beside the fridge proved it. This was not Christmas Day. But it certainly felt like it. Thank you Dan for this surprising gift.
And this debilitating insecurity and huge lack of confidence as a writer is exactly what I want to talk to you about. It is something I have struggled with forever. But this deep-seated belief that everything I write is a load of old garbage, and that nobody in their right mind would ever read, let alone enjoy, my work, is very slowly, very gradually lifting. Bloody Nora, it’s about time!
I was born with a pen grasped between my tiny fingers.
Sorry Mum, that must have hurt. For the first few years it lay beside my cot, patiently waiting for me to do something interesting with it. When I finally picked it up, all I could do was write numbers. I never got the number three right, always turning it around, making it look like a curly, fancy-pants letter E.
Then I started on words. But just spelling numbers. Jeez, Miss Kindergarten Teacher, this was boring. My number one was spelt ‘wun’ for a very long time, but surely that’s the way it should be spelt? Then we moved onto nouns and verbs and adjectives and all sorts of interesting stuff and I was off, running along the writing track, my pen racing along the little lanes laid out for it in my notebooks.
I wrote about what I did, what I saw, what my best friend said, where my parents took us. Nothing imaginary, just all about me, me, me. I even won a prize of £1 (please convert this into your own currency yourselves, I haven’t a clue) for a log-book from a school trip. My classmates, who had spent many hours cutting and sticking and decorating their very expensive photo albums, were green with envy. Mine was scribbled in a spiral notepad taken from my Dad’s desk, written as a comical diary, with five photos hastily stuck on with sellotape, one for each day of the trip. But the teacher thought it was funny.
When she called my name to go up and collect my prize I did that daft double take thing.
Who, me? Winning a prize for writing that?
Teenagehood, however, saw my pen back on my bedside table. I was too busy trying to be cool, having weird eighties haircuts and thinking about spotty boys, to spend much time writing for pleasure. My final exams at school and university were the most I ever wrote during that period and I loved every minute of them, my pen sprinting over the pages, my fingers holding onto it tightly, producing reams of words, all fighting to be the next one onto the page.
Then suddenly I stopped.
During my twenties I put a thick, dark blanket over the word-cage in my head, sending them all to sleep.
And I just got on with my life. I started work, became a girlfriend, fiancée, wife, mother. I moved from Scotland to France. I taught English, I breastfed, I hosted boring dinner parties for Hubby’s gruesomely dreary colleagues.
But I never wrote.
Sometimes, when the words woke up and started squawking, I would write a funny letter to my family or a silly story for my niece and nephew. But then I would rock them back to sleep again, singing the same lullabies I sang to my two real, beautiful babies.
Until one day in 1999, when a screeching riot broke out up there, and they all demanded to be set free.
I had deliberately lost a lot of weight after baby number two, and the words were all starving, desperate to be fed, to be loved and most importantly to be used again. So to keep them all happy I fished out my trusty pen and starting writing by hand (yes, can you imagine!) the tale of my weight loss success story. I wanted it to be funny, fresh, provocative and different.
The words woke me up at night, pecking my cheeks then flapping around my face to get my attention.
They followed me into the shower.
They made me stare glassy-eyed out of the window for long periods at a time.
They even had me chuckling aloud in the supermarket aisles, always a dangerous thing to be seen doing.
When it was all written down, I typed it all up on an old computer borrowed from Hubby’s office. I loved the result, thought it was the funniest thing since Bridget Jones’s Diary, and honestly imagined that it was going to become a world-wide best-seller overnight. So I bought the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2000 to find myself the publisher who would help me make that happen.
Hohohum! Easier said than done. I must have sent out at least fifteen copies of the first three chapters, and waited weeks and weeks before anyone even replied.
The thick brown envelopes which dropped back into our letter box were always the sign that it hadn’t been accepted.
That was tough, but hey, I wasn’t a real writer so this was normal, wasn’t it? Unfortunately each rejection hurt more than the last, and I almost binned the whole idea immediately to stop the pain.
But after moving to Miami for a while for Hubby’s job, I realised that I could self-publish it there and give at least one copy to my sister as a surprise present, since essentially I had written it for her.
So that’s what I did.
my sister and I are pretty much the only ones in the world, I think, to have a copy of my cringingly awful worst-seller.
How come? Because it had an ugly cover. Because it was badly formatted, making it look cheap and nasty. Because I just didn’t know what to do with it, how to market it, how to promote it, or myself. Because I was, and still am, absolutely hopeless at telling people that something I have written might in fact be quite good.I did write a couple of follow-up articles for a slimming magazine but they didn’t produce any real results.
I started to lose faith in the book and in myself.
I became embarrassed by it and evenstarted to loathe the words I had once found so fresh and funny.
They now just sounded childish and ridiculous and terribly rude. I was far too shy and insecure to show it to many friends. One of them didn’t say a word, either good or bad, as she handed it back to me after reading it. Never a particularly encouraging reaction, that one.
And that total lack of reaction was in fact the final whack of the axe upon my neck.
That was the moment when I threw the project into a wicker basket, drove it out to the countryside and left it in an open field to die a slow death.
On returning home, the thick dark blanket came back out and was once more thrown, with great frustration, over those stupid words flying around inside my brain.
Fifteen long years went by. Years with ups and downs, and house moves, and problems, and many moments spent thinking I should write again but never actually getting round to it. And more than that, telling myself that it would be an absolute waste of time even if I did.
I never talked about my book again,
never even thought about it, too mortified to have brought it into this world only to abandon it unashamedly like an unwanted, unloved child.
So what finally happened to make me start writing again? I’m almost there. I hope you are still here too, gang.
A week before my fiftieth birthday last year I received a cat-covered writing journal and a stripy pen from my three closest friends. Forty-five minutes before the big day, I started writing in that journal. And the next day too and then more and more regularly.
Each page I wrote was a revelation.
I felt like I was coming home to my first love.
I wrote about happy events and tragic moments. The pen became my friend, my voice. That voice I had hushed for so long started croakily speaking again. And boy, does it have a lot to say.
Quickly I swapped the pen for fingers on my new iPad. It’s much easier, quicker and more comfortable.
And at the beginning of October last year my daughter helped me to exchange the pretty cat journal for my brand new blog:omgimfiftyblog.wordpress.com
Sending my words out there was horribly scary at first.
My parents, sister and two daughters were the only ones to read the mish-mash of musings back then.
Over time I have begun to enjoy pushing the publish button rather than dread it. I post my thoughts regularly now without worrying too much about who may be reading or what they may be thinking. I just hope that the few readers who follow me enjoy what I write and how I write it.
And I have also started participating in challenges such as the SundayScribbleChallenge hosted by one of my favourite mentors, J.A. Allen, on her sitejaallenauthor.com She has played a big role in making me feel more confident about my writing. And her weekly prompts have brought out lots of surprises from the word-cage. Words I didn’t even know were up there at all. She led me to Dan, and this first-ever guest blog post on his wonderful site is also a big confidence booster.
So would I call myself a writer today?
Yes, but I will still say it in a very quiet voice for the moment. I feel that I am simply sharpening my skills by writing so regularly these days. Hopefully, soon, those skills will be keen enough to cut through the thick ropes which have tied me down for far too long. And once they’re gone I might try to resuscitate my dead bundle of a book, then start working on another one. And who knows? Perhaps I’ll write a real best-seller next time around…
Do you too lack confidence in yourself as a writer? Please let me know…
Originally from Glasgow, Scotland, Juliet is now living in a beautiful old city in the west of France.
“I turned fifty last year. Surprise mixed with joy at the realisation that although the outside has certainly changed over the years, inside I am essentially the young, joyful girl that I like to imagine I always will be.”
I agree, Juliet. Thanks for an insightful blog post.
6″The Committee for the Prevention of Drunken Behavior”
I already like this chapter just from its title.
Lucy is way funnier than I thought. Is that insulting? It’s not meant to be.
I knew she was funny; I didn’t know she was this funny.
This is a funny chapter, as you may have surmised from my constant use of the word funny.
Oh, and it’s a real committee. Hilarious.
Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says love thy enemy. Brilliant, even if she does say Frank Sinatra said it first.
And as she has been describing how Old College goes about its business, one thing I wondered about was things like email and cell phones. She deals with that question pretty directly here:
“You’d think an email would be the more obvious approach; Old College prefers the personal touch.”
To me, this again underscores somebody who will relatively quickly become disillusioned with this job and leave. Whether that happens or not, I do not know. But that is on my mind, that Portergirl will decide she is not happy at Old College.
There are many laugh out loud moments in this book, and I didn’t mention it until now because I didn’t want you to be expecting to laugh out loud in chapter 1 and then be disappointed if you didn’t; but you will by the end of this chapter!
At least I did. If you didn’t, you’d better check for a pulse. From the recovery position.
The next chapter mentions a meal being interrupted, “the full English.” I assume that’s an English breakfast which includes stuff like beans and sausage and fried tomatoes, but I’m going to suggest a British to American /American to British translation guide in the back of any upcoming revised editions. I’ll help. I’m somewhat of an expert on British – American interplay at this point.
Lucy met me. Maybe she can attest to that.
And here’s another Harry Potter similarity: PorterGirl is still on campus on Christmas Eve, like Ron and Harry were.
An elaborate snug? What’s that?
And at last, another – possibly THE – mystery!
I’m loving this book.
“Resolutions and Revelations”
Uh oh, professor Fox is mentioned – and the mere utterance of his vane gives our PorterGirl an inner warmth.
And another notice that Head Porter is not to be trusted.
And another Hmm moment is this:
“The thing with ghosts, I find, is that it doesn’t matter if you believe in them or not, they go about their business all the same.”
What a great line!
And like PorterGirl, I end the chapter with more questions than I began it with.
5 Private Eye and more
Although we’ve settled into the story, and PorterGirl has settled into Old College, she is still learning new things so are we, too.
This next observation didn’t just appear at this point in the story; it’s been going on for a while, and it is this: I’m not sure if the “class” system is dead in the UK or not, but it certainly appears to be alive and well at Old College. PorterGirl constantly refers to herself as a servant, as do some people in other occupations. The conversations had with them and people in other, supposedly higher, positions are structured so that it’s obvious one group of people is constantly talking down to the other ones.
Can’t say I care for it.
That doesn’t mean it’s bad writing, it means it’s good writing. I don’t think you are supposed to care for it.
Ha. And her little tea charade in the “Private Eye” chapter ends in a nice surprise.
“It takes A Thief”
This chapter is short but once again ends in a perfect style. Asking the question that we must read on to answer.
This appears effortless, so I will have to ask Lucy at some point whether it was, but it’s very well done.
Then next chapter ends in a bit of disappointment. But PorterGirl was disappointed, too.
Red herring? Or setting up something else for later?
We will have to read on to find out!
And that’s a good thing because we are only 25% of the way through!
I don’t want to name every single chapter but I do kind of need to let you know where I am on occasion.
Porter girl is now headed back to the crypt, I believe.
Well, and this is the first long chapter. I read the first thirty pages on my phone via e-book; but my good friend had sent me the paper back so I am now reading it that way. The font is slightly on the small side, so the chapters appear maybe a little shorter than they would otherwise, but this one is six pages long – easily the longest one yet.
And that makes me wonder what is waiting for us in the crypt!
But I can’t ruin the surprise, can I?
So I won’t. I’ll just let you know whether I enjoyed the ride or not.
One quick note – her humor is rampant throughout the story. Barely a few paragraphs go by, if that, without some sort of witty rejoinder.
To that end, she mentions a trap door opening with unexpected ease: “All the films you see about people heaving open ancient secret doors in a cloud of dust and accompanied by dramatic creaking and groaning have somewhat let me down.” So… when that happens in The Water Castle, do I rewrite it now? Or do I leave it as what is apparently a cliche?
As PorterGirl would say, bugger!
At the end of this chapter, some questions are answered but more are asked.
The mystery continues. Onward!
I like porterGirl’s wonderment at traditions that appear no longer of any value.
After an induction ceremony, she says, “I didn’t really do anything at all. But, the few actions I did perform are of such vital importance to Old College that they have been repeated, unchanged, for centuries.”
This underscores her fish out of water existence but also begins to tip towards a possible realization that the school is out of touch or just plain foolish.
Realizing that there are worse ways to make a living, she moves on – but I have experienced that unsatisfactory feeling myself in a job on occasion, and it usually got to the point where I was completely unsatisfied in the job and decided to move on. I wonder if that’s in store for PorterGirl?
The overt sexism here and there in the story is unfortunate; this took place not too many years ago, as opposed to the 1950s. However, being the first anything at a place steeped in tradition is of course going to be unconventional and nontraditional and therefore unusual – for that place. But she has raised the point several times, and I feel bad for the character for having to deal with it at all.
Knowing her relationship with the actor who plays the head porter in her videos, and knowing that she and Paul Butterworth get along fabulously, it’s hard to read her initial take on the head porter in the book. He has been portrayed as someone to be suspicious of, possibly somebody who put his hands on her hips inappropriately – she was raising the flag and needed help to not be blown off the windy roof of the tower – but still, I don’t want to prejudge.
In either case, in “The Night Watch” chapter, she is musing about him as well.
The Dean of the school, in my head, is John Cleese. I wonder who Lucy would pick to play him in the movie?
And another mystery! Lucy is good at this!
The build up to her looking for the hidden crypt is really good. Nice tension.
Oh, and she ends with a cliffhanger! A tease, really, but still a good ending that forces you to turn the page and read on to find out the answers to the questions she keeps raising.
By the way, brilliant in British is three or four syllables; in America you might know it’s supposed to be three syllables but you probably say it in about 2 1/2. They don’t.
Brill-yunt versus brilly-ant. Like that. They really go for that middle E sound in it, and if you leave it out, it gets noticed.