First lady of the keys, a real-time review – part 6

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.

Onward.
“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.
Hmm…
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.

 

First lady of the keys, a real-time review – part five

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.
Onward!

“It takes A Thief”
This chapter is short but once again ends in a perfect style: asking a 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.
Hmm.
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!

First lady of the keys, a real time review – part four

4 “Showdown At Sprocket Gate,” and more…

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 paperback 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!

First lady of the keys, a real time review  – part three

3
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.

Brilliant!

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.

First lady of the keys, a real time review – part two

I kind a lost track of the real time thing, so there will be a few of these  coming quickly.

There are some unusual (to me) words and phrases in this story, so I thought I would point a few out. (Normally I would just ask Lucy but it’s inconsequential; you pretty much figure out the meaning by the context.)
Maybe this is how Brits speak. That helps with immersing the reader in the story, too.

Here are a few:
Seemed rather twee
Applying for the job was a complete punt
(I think it was: Looked at us like) Common oils

OK, back to my real time review of the story…

The chapters don’t have numbers, so there’s no chapter 1 or chapter 2; instead they have names. Chapter one is called “The First Day” and that’s easy enough to follow, but Chapter 7 is called “Suited And Booted.” (I’m too lazy to keep counting them so I’ll just refer to them the way the author did.)
So that’s where I am now.

And another great British phrase has reared its head:
“Getting right on my wick.”

Her observation of college youthfulness is absolutely brilliant. I’m sure everybody thinks they were pretty good in college – and ten years later finds people that age quite annoying. Lucy’s character sure does.
I like the British politeness – although it might be unique to Old College. When her coworker has to interrupt her, he calls her ma’am.

Oh, she got her bowler hat!

Hard to imagine PorterGirl (or Lucy) without it.

I’ll admit, I was kind of disappointed when she didn’t wear it around Cambridge during my visit…
Ha! The chapter ends on a great note of pride. I won’t ruin it for you – I guess I kind of just did – but we will keep going.
Chapter Next: “An Interesting Concept”
As I mentioned, the chapters don’t really have numbers, they just have names; they are short, but there are a lot of them. About seventy.
Note to authors: That’s not a big deal; in fact, short chapters lend themselves to a quick reading pace. Your readers will find themselves flying through the story partly because after three pages they’ve finished a chapter.
Here’s another good note for authors, whether you’re writing a story or trying to write dialogue

When she arrives at work in her new uniform, the Porter on duty is a little nervous and has something to tell her:
” ‘You know the old deputy headquarter? The old boy who was here before you?’
“I don’t know him but it stands to reason that there was someone here before me.”

To me, that’s funny and conveys information at the same time.

Interjecting stuff like that into your prose helps establish a mood or break up tension. It’s a great device and Lucy uses it well. I try to do that myself which is probably why I enjoy it when other authors do it.
Just so you don’t think I’m going on and on about Lucy, I reference this as a device used in many blockbuster movies, too. Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park does this. Han Solo does it constantly through the Star Wars movies. You can have moments of action and adventure and romance and high drama that are all interspersed with lighthearted quips. Moviegoers – and readers – love it.
And readers love a mystery – as introduced to us on about page 35 of this book. Not the first one, mind you, and not the last, I’m sure, but another one.
Rowling did that a lot, too. Constantly dripping in new little mysteries for us to wonder about. It’s a brilliant device. I wish I had learned to do that in some of my stories. You can bet I’m going to start!
Aww, and some concern being sewn in for PorterGirl. That’s too bad. She was just starting to move from insecure and fish out of water to being secure; now that’s been undermined.

She’s deflated – and us with her – but we have our mystery. 

This is another really good chapter because it starts out with her being so full of pride at wearing her brand-new uniform, and over the short span of three pages she is completely deflated.
And of course we have to read on to find out how she deals with that. 

First Lady Of The Keys versus Harry Potter – a real time review

Why would I compare the PorterGirl novel First Lady Of The Keys to Harry Potter?



Well there’s a few things that are similar in both. More than a few, actually.
First, both are written by residents of great Britain, which means as an American I see words and spellings I’m not always used to seeing. Phrases that we don’t say and they do – which helps put the reader in the proper setting.

And the setting is probably one of the things I find common in both stories.

Harry goes to a big castle which is a school and is centuries old and fraught with its traditions.
PorterGirl goes to a big castle-like school that is very old and fraught with centuries old traditions.
Both characters are a fish out of water at first. In both stories the reader gets introduced to the unusual worlds as the main character is introduced to them.
I mentioned in my online review of HP The Sorcerer’s Stone that in the first paragraph or two there was some humor slipped in.

PorterGirl is filled with humorous observations and sly asides.

 

00 lucy 5
author Lucy Brazier

She makes glib remarks constantly – and that’s something I do in real life (ask Jenny or Allison what it’s like to sit next to me during a writing seminar) and in my blog posts (you’ve all seen that) and in a lot of my stories (hmm… more of you need to see that – buy some books, would you), so I can totally identify as well as appreciate and laugh along with that.
Lucy wastes very little time letting us know that she’s nervous about her new position, and the reader is right there with her – so it creates sympathy for the MC (main character). 
Rowling created sympathy for Harry Potter because he was an orphan and was tortured growing up by the Dursleys.

Having sympathy for the main character and getting it within the first few pages, that’s huge – not to mention it’s a great writing device.

Lucy seems to come by it naturally, which means it’s the result of a lot of hard work. 

Both main characters Lucy and Harry are constantly impressed and astounded by the new world they find themselves in, and this carries in Harry Potter through most of the first book. So far being 30 pages into PorterGirl, it seems like it’s going to as well.
And since the blurb says there’s a murder coming up, I assume Lucy is in for a mystery, as was Harry. I mentioned in my online review that I considered the mystery element a big part of the success of that franchise.
Reading on, I will impart my thoughts as they come to me; anyone worried about spoilers should probably look away when you see those coming, but I’m pretty good about not giving away spoilers and I usually put up a big in the post that says SPOILER ALERT!
I don’t think these are spoilers… just questions, really. Those of you who read the story will know the answers so don’t give it away in your comments, but feel free to opine about my progress as I update you.
PorterGirl mentions one character twice in a way different from how she notices all the other characters.

 

Is Professor Fox a future love interest?

Hmm…

00 lucy 2It’s funny how Lucy and the other characters refer to each other by their title as opposed to their names. So somebody is not Mr. Smith but Night Porter or Junior Bursar or whatever. Again, that strikes me as odd, but that might be totally normal for folks across the pond; I doubt it, though.
Instead, I think it is part of the quaint traditions of Cambridge and Old College.
I will say I found the prologue not obviously necessary, but I’m only 30 pages in; maybe it is. It’s not as enjoyable as the rest of the book so far, but that’s because Lucy’s not there yet and so her wit and humor aren’t present, either. The story, I think, would work with it or without it; I have voiced my opinion about prologues and prefaces before but I have been accused of using them myself, so…


I will say this, though, in case anyone was wondering.

Lucy is my friend and we have been interacting online for years as well as having met in person just recently when I went to the UK.
img_5944Rest assured, I’m going to critique this work the same way as whether she wrote it or I wrote it or somebody I never met wrote it. That is to say, I’m a straight shooter no matter what. If somebody writes a really bad book, I will let them know privately because I’m not into embarrassing people when they are learning, but this book doesn’t need that kind of protection.
Once you give yourself over to a story – and I think I probably started doing that on about the second or third paragraph of chapter 1, then you can sit back and enjoy wherever it goes.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this book and will probably consume most of it in the next 48 hours. That’s my style when a story is good.

The fact that I feel confident enough to let you know now how good it is indicates Lucy doesn’t have anything to worry about. In fact, I might buy a few blog followers copies of this thing because I think it needs more exposure here in the US. I’m thinking five or 10. So if you are reading along and you’re interested, use the “contact me” button and send me a message saying you would like to read Lucy’s book. I will send it to you on one condition: love it or hate it you must post a review on Amazon. If you don’t, you’re likely to be forever barred from being a beta reader or anything else.