KG: What or who inspired you to be a writer?
LB: When I was about 9 or 10 – I was a little disruptive at school and me teachers tasked me with writing stories for the younger children, to keep me occupied. It was then that I realised that writing was the best thing ever.
KG: What gave you the idea of your latest book?
LB: My experiences working as the first female Deputy Head Porter in the 600 year history of a prestigious Cambridge College. It was like stepping into another world and it inspired me to hit the keyboard once more.
KG: Who is your favourite writer?
LB: Either Flann O’Brien or Oscar Wilde.
KG: What's your favourite book?
LB: ‘The Third Policeman’ by Flann O’Brien.
KG: Do you read a lot? If so what are you reading right now?
LB: I don’t really read books and couldn’t tell you the last book I read. I think it was an Anthony Horowitz.
KG: What writing projects are you working on at the moment?
LB: I'm currently re-writing my first novel, Secret Diary Of PorterGirl. Although it might have a different title by the time it hits the shelves.
KG: Where do you see yourself and your writing in five years time?
That’s a tricky one. I hope to be continuing the PorterGirl series, but also hope to have finally got the hang of screenwriting by then.
KG: What do you like most about writing?
LB: Being able to empty my head of thoughts in a way that doesn’t make me look mental.
KG: What one writing tip would you share?
LB: Get a good rhythm going, writing should flow nicely with its own patter.
KG: What would you say to inspire young writers?
LB: Experience as much of life as you possibly can and drink in every sight, sound and smell. Take notice and listen to the things and people no one else does. Write your own truth and find your own style.
PORTERGIRL: FIRST LADY OF THE KEYS - Is the story of the very first female Deputy Head Porter at Old College.
It follows her adventures in this male dominated, antiquated world and the bureaucracy she has to endure.
Head Porter, makes it clear right from the start when he says: 'Porters are not the carriers of bags, they are the keepers of keys.'
First Lady Of The Keys is a touching, at times laugh out loud funny glimpse into a world that is so unique and special people will fall in love and be enthralled in it.
Her days are packed with action and adventure, if it's not chasing after naked students, drinking extraordinary amounts of tea, it's getting embroiled in a murder.
‘Like most writers, the written word has been a passion of mine from a very young age. Once I had learnt how to read, I knew that there was nothing else I wanted more than to write stories of my own. I began by crafting childish tales to read to my teddies, who were perhaps my most captive audience yet. When my mother bought me a typewriter one Christmas, I became unstoppable - tapping away fervently every spare moment I had. She used to joke that at least she always knew where I was, the incessant clattering from my bedroom echoing throughout the house in the days long before laptops and computers were common in the home. I soon progressed to writing for my friends, often including them in the absurd adventures I created, influenced by my childhood reading of Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl.
I didn’t really think seriously about becoming a writer until I started my first blog - Secret Diary Of PorterGirl - inspired by my unlikely appointment as the first female Deputy Head Porter at one of the oldest and finest colleges of Cambridge University. Writing anonymously, and making every effort to disguise the identity of both the college and its eclectic occupants, relaying the eccentric and often baffling enterprises of this esoteric society reignited the fervour of my youth. I suppose it was only a matter of time before the blog was discovered (I was betrayed by a fellow Porter in whom I was naive enough to place my trust), although the results of this were not quite as catastrophic as one might expect. The Head Porter was utterly furious and demanded my immediate dismissal, however the higher echelons of college were somewhat entertained by my musings and allowed me to escape with little more than a ticking off and strong advice to cease and desist.
As intriguing as my new role was - the most delightful elements being the bowler hat and free food - I found that the compulsion to continue with my online college adventures was overpowering. Now distinctly unpopular in the Porters’ Lodge anyhow, I made the decision to hang up my bowler and have a stab at becoming a writer. A proper writer. If in twelve months I hadn’t made any noticeable progress, I would rethink and return to another, more sensible, career.
As luck would have it, the relaunched blog and brand new adventures of the only slightly fictional Old College went down rather well and spawned two books (and counting) - the self-published Secret Diary Of PorterGirl and later the traditionally published PorterGirl: First Lady Of The Keys. The next in the series, The Vanishing Lord, will be published later this year and the series is expected to run to seven books.
And so it was that I became a ‘proper writer’. And PorterGirl is incredibly ‘proper’; its innate politeness and unflinching British tone being a big part of its appeal. But all this good behaviour goes very much against my own nature and so the need for something a little bit edgier - perhaps even a little bit rude - soon arose. Following the dramas and intrigue of the fallout from the United Kingdom’s EU referendum in the summer of 2016, the irreverent satire Who Shot Tony Blair? was born. Unusual in that it combines both political drama and traditional murder mystery, what started out as a vision of a post-Brexit, pre-dystopian Britain set a decade in the future has descended into something approaching a cross between Yes, Minister and Carry On Camping. Although unlikely that Who Shot Tony Blair? will follow in the footsteps of PorterGirl into paperback, there is certainly a second series in the pipeline and it has been an invaluable exercise in crafting the notoriously tricky plots and twists so required by a Golden Age-style murder mystery.
Following in a similar vein, I am currently working on a Hercule Poirot parody - Never A Cross Word - in which I attempt to emulate Agatha Christie’s distinctive style, and reunite the world’s greatest detective with his much-loved sidekick, Captain Arthur Hastings. As well as my fiction series and short stories, I took it upon myself to complete the dubious task of explaining James Joyce’s flagrantly obtuse work, Finnegans Wake, chapter by chapter to an unsuspecting public. As I hadn’t read the book myself and am far from being the type of intellectual giant who would have any chance of making anything of this great work, it was quite an experience for not only myself but also my loyal readers who bravely followed along with me, only occasionally laughing and more often than not offering their sympathies.
It seems unlikely that there will be any let up in my literary output just yet, there are just too many stories left to tell. Having dabbled with forays onto the small screen with both PorterGirl and Who Shot Tony Blair?, I hope to continue to develop something approaching a skill in scriptwriting and one day finally master the art of nailing a truly Agatha Christie-worthy murder mystery. Aside from all that, I shall be expanding my hat collection with gusto, eating meals of ever-increasing size and maintaining that famed air of reserved British politeness. For some of the time, at least.
First Lady Of The Keys (UK) http://amzn.to/2aX4W7L
First Lady Of The Keys (US) http://amzn.to/2aAZzMb
Finnegans Wake - a guide by an idiot https://portergirl.com/2016/05/12/and-now-for-something-completely-different/
Never A Cross Word - A Poirot Parody for Captain Hastings fans everywhere https://portergirl.com/2017/01/16/never-a-cross-word-a-poirot-parody-for-captain-hastings-fans-everywhere/
KG: You have a large and at times very committed fan base, some even made a Lego PorterGirl in your honour, what was that all about?
LB: Some of the fan base should be committed, that’s for sure! But that’s what I like most about them. The love and enthusiasm of my readers never fails to surprise and humble me. There are indeed Lego models of all the PorterGirl characters and even a Lego Porters’ Lodge! I’m staggered that there are people who enjoy it as much as I do, quite frankly.
KG: You are young. In fact I’ve got socks older than you! What advice would you give to up and coming younger writers, like teenagers?
LB: If 37 is young, then hurrah! And - you really ought to clear out your sock drawer…
The best advice I can give to any writer is simply to write. I know that doesn’t seem very helpful, but I really don’t know of a better way of becoming a good writer. Living an interesting life helps, too. The wider your experiences of life, people, places and shenanigans, the better for your imagination. Notice things. Notice people. Observation is important. Never stop learning about new things. Knowing your audience is key. Take the time to interact with them, get to know them. They will give you interesting points of view and suggestions. They will help get the word out about your work and may be able to offer practical assistance, too. Some of them might even become your friends!
KG: And what advice would you give to Old Fart writers like myself? If they want to grow a big following like your good self?
LB: Don’t keep socks for 37 years! Other than that, no matter how many miles you’ve got on the clock, never stop looking for new adventures, new experiences - even if they have to take place from the comfort of an armchair. As for growing a following, reaching out to your readers is the most important thing. Read and comment on their blogs, chip in on their social media threads, admire their hats (this is very effective, honestly). Be interested in them and interesting to them. Social media isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I get that, but it is the quickest and easiest way to engage with your current and potential audience. Sometimes it is even quite good fun.
KG: One last question - how exactly do you make the perfect cup of tea?
LB: Ah - such a question has been debated furiously for centuries! It would have started more wars than religion, had tea drinkers not been such a polite bunch. All I can tell you is how to make my perfect cup of tea. A tea pot is preferable but by no means essential. The water should be not quite boiling - imagine you are bathing the little tea leaves with love and respect - not boiling them like a common cabbage. Let the leaves (or bag, if you really must) languish for several minutes. I like my tea strong - the languishing period must be adjusted according to taste. Never squeeze the bag - caress it gently with a spoon if you wish. And I am always a milk-last girl. That way you ensure it is the perfect strength for your preference. Sugar should be avoided, but I sometimes slip in half a tea spoon if I am under the weather or am particularly distressed. Actually - if you are under the weather or particularly distressed, maybe skip the tea and have a whisky.
KG: Thank you for your time and it’s a very good book. I’m sure it will do well. Now, time for tea and meet the wife?
LB: Sounds lovely! Although, I haven’t got a wife…
We were very happy to catch up[ with author Lucy Brazier, after the publiciation of the third book in her fantastic Portergirl series.
KG: There’s now three books in the PorterGirl series.
LB: Can you tell us what the latest book Sinister Dexter is all about? Without too many spoilers?
I certainly can. We join our heroes from Old College at the beginning of a new academic year, ready to welcome new members of The Fellowship as well as reuniting them with some familiar faces. The sinister new Bursar immediately puts the cat among the pigeonholes by cutting the tea and biscuit budget for the Porters’ Lodge, causing panic and uproar. During this traumatic time, the minor matter of two dead bodies appear at the bottom of the College gardens and The Dean becomes convinced that the Russian Secret Service are after his job. New economics lecturer Professor Palmer is certainly after his job - as well as the affections of any and every female in Old College, it would seem. Deputy Head Porter is tasked by The Dean with solving the matter of the bodies before arch-rival DCI Thompson, but her main priority is to restore the supply of tea to the Porters.
KG: Lots of horror directors inspired me in the early days of my film making. Who has inspired you in your writing and in what way?
LB: Terry Pratchett has been a big influence on my writing. I love the way he created a whole universe of colourful characters and places. His wry humour is often an insightful observation of the ways of our own world. The way he combines light-hearted storytelling with heart-felt pathos is masterful. I can only hope to reach such heights (and depths).
KG: I always think of the story as key. For some writers, the characters are key. Which do you prefer how do you go about your writing?
LB: For me, it’s the characters that make the story. A run-of-the-mill story can be electrified by unique, well-written characters. Bland and wooden characters will completely kill even the most ingenious of storylines.
KG: Alfred Hitchcock used a Mcguffin, a plot device to introduce the main story but often connected to the main story. You sometimes use that device, did Hitchcock inspire you? And have you ever thought of writing a film script or directing?
LB: I’m not much of a film buff so am embarrassingly unfamiliar with Hitchcock’s work. I’ve seen Psycho, obviously. Mcguffin is a great word but I don’t know enough about it to claim any influence. Quite frankly, I’m inclined to believe he nicked the idea from me, actually. I don’t see myself as a screen writer and my lack of interest in films would probably be a huge stumbling block to pursuing this particular endeavour.
KG: I love a good mystery. Do you like to use red hearings and what’s your favourite one? And do you plan to put plenty more in the next books?
LB: I love a good red herring. Even a bad one is great. I think my favourite was Hugh from The Vanishing Lord, who announced himself to be a red herring at the end of the book. Expect plenty more red herrings, good and bad.
KG: I had a very scary time when I was at college the Debs was the devil incarnate. How was your school and college days and are there any teachers etc that made it into your books?
LB: I never went to college and my school days were mostly spent sitting outside the Head Teacher’s office so there are no personal experiences of such things in my books.
KG: I was bullied as a child just because I was different. What do you think about bullying in school and colleges these days?
LB: I abhor bullying anywhere and call it out whenever I see it. I was bullied at school too, but it made me tough and taught me to stand up for myself and others. Other people are not so inclined, and I will always stand up for those more vulnerable. In some respect, bullying is seen as part of growing up and a rite of passage, even. This attitude needs to change. Social media has exacerbated the problem - in my day I could escape the bullies outside of school hours but these days bullies have access to their victims constantly through their phones and screens. I’m not normally one to cast perpetrators as victims, but very few kids are just simply nasty pieces of work. I found out that the ring leader of my group of tormentors had a miserable and dysfunctional home life and her behaviour was a symptom of this. Adult bullies may be similarly disturbed and are no doubt very unhappy individuals. Happy people do not feel the need to inflict misery. However, I am more inclined to taking these people down a peg or two and won’t stand for it.
KG: I’ve suffered off and on from depression all my life. Have you suffered and if so how has it affected your writing?
LB: I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression about ten years ago, after struggling for quite some time. Luckily my depression wasn’t too severe and just being aware of my condition enabled me to tackle it, with support from my doctor and a counsellor. I still suffer with anxiety, though, and it can be very debilitating at times. Unchecked, it can result in crippling self-doubt and bouts of paranoia, but this is rare for me. Social anxiety is the biggest thing for me, though, and there are times I find any kind of social interaction almost impossible. I don’t know that it shows in my writing. Writing is often the best way through it, in my personal experience. But everyone is different.
KG: Do you think people should talk more freely about mental health and if so what advice would you give friends or family?
LB: We should be able to talk about mental health as openly as having a cold or a broken leg. Talking definitely helps. I have a good friend who also battles anxiety and we always get in touch whenever either of us is having a bad time. We tackle it as an internal enemy, rather than it being ourselves. We will say ‘My brain is telling me I’m useless and everyone thinks I’m a loser’ or whatever and we will curse our silly brains and vow not to listen to them. We wield our mental flame throwers to chase away the darkness. We can’t always stop the anxiety completely, but we can recognise it for what it is and separate it from our reality, allowing us to function. Being able to speak about it frankly - even with humour - brings an element of control. I think people would be surprised how many people struggle to varying degrees with mental health and bringing it out in the open enables more people to give and receive help.
KG: I think all the PorterGirl books would make good movies or even a tv series. Who, if anyone famous, would you like to see in the lead roles?
LB: TV is definitely the next step! Paul Butterworth has to be Head Porter. Head Porter isn’t Head Porter unless he is Paul. Paul is a brilliant character actor and has had supporting roles in endless films, TV series and adverts over the years - but this is the role he was born to play, I reckon. Sheridan Smith would be a brilliant Deputy Head Porter. She has that cheeky quirkiness essential to the part. I so rarely watch films or TV that I’m struggling to think of any more actors!
KG: Now you have a trilogy of books how do you feel the stories have developed and main characters grown?
LB: I would hope that the stories have got a bit better as I’ve gone along. The first book focused more on building the characters and the world and the story very much took a back seat. The Vanishing Lord was much tighter structurally and the friendship between Deputy Head Porter and Head Porter became more complex and nuanced. We also learned more about their personal lives. Sinister Dexter shows much more attention to plotting and storytelling and there is real flesh on the bones of not only the main characters, but the supporting cast too. Sinister Dexter tackles slightly darker issues - such as acceptance and sexual predators - alongside the usual knock-about nonsense we have come to know and love.
KG: What books can we expect from you in the future?
LB: There'll be four more PorterGirl books, as well as tongue-in-cheek political murder mystery, Who Shot Tony Blair? Once the PorterGirl series is written, I have an urge to write a series of golden age-style detective novels - my own version of Poirot, if you like. These are the types of book I grew up with and I am itching to write some.
"Sometimes the opposite of right isn’t wrong. It’s left."
Tragedy strikes once more at Old College… The Porters’ Lodge is down to its last tea bag and no one has seen a biscuit for over a week. Almost as troubling are the two dead bodies at the bottom of the College gardens and a woman has gone missing. The Dean is convinced that occult machinations are to blame, Deputy Head Porter suspects something closer to home.
The formidable DCI Thompson refuses to be sidelined and a rather unpleasant Professor gets his comeuppance.
As the body count rises, Head Porter tries to live a secret double life and The Dean believes his job is under threat from the Russian Secret Service.
Deputy Head Porter finds herself with her hands full keeping Old College running smoothly as well as defending herself against the sinister intentions of the new Bursar.
Spies, poisoning, murder - and none of this would be any problem at all, if only someone would get the biscuits out and put the kettle on…
This is the third instalment of the world-renowned PorterGirl series set in the ancient and esoteric Old College. Author Lucy Brazier opens the lid on a world which has sinister overtones in this cozy, BritLit mystery.
There’s nothing quite so annoying as having the police arrive when you are trying to cover up a crime that may or may not have happened.
Lord Bernard has died unexpectedly. Is Deputy Head Porter being framed? Head Porter just wants to be kept out of the picture.
In this fast-paced whimsical British romp, a priceless work of art - the portrait of Old College founding father Lord Arthur Layton - has gone missing and with the death of Lord Bernard, the Master of arch rivals Hawkins College, there is nothing for it but for our heroine to don her trusty bowler hat and embark upon another eccentric investigation.
In this sequel to the debut PorterGirl novel, First Lady of The Keys, Old College’s first and only female Porter must find the portrait or it will be her that is flat on the canvas and framed like a kipper.
Tenacious detectives, ill-advised disguises, saucy medieval literature and Russian spies conspire to confuse matters further in this entertaining escapade.