In this special guest blog post, Porter Girl – who, when she isn’t blogging about her adventures at Old College, is sharing her experience reading difficult James Joyce novels – tells us about her journey from blogger to published author
Interesting Literature has long been one of my favourite sites, proving to be the most informative and entertaining of literary resources across the whole of the world wide web. Being asked to contribute a small missive for its illustrious readership is indeed a great honour and, handily, coincides nicely with the release of my latest tome, Old College Diaries, the collected works of my PorterGirl series thus far.
I began dabbling with writing as a young girl when, as a spirited primary schooler, my teachers searched desperately for ways to distract me from being disruptive in the classroom. My first great work was a self-illustrated novel aimed at the youngest pupils, designed to help them learn the alphabet. As I remember, the plot revolved around a birthday party to which one of the characters was not invited, so he took revenge by burning down a house. The day was saved by an elephant using his trunk as a hose and the would-be arsonist found himself thrown in jail. Even as a small child, my flair for the dramatic and innate sense of justice was plainly evident.
From there, I wrote stories for my friends, often with ourselves as the main characters and our childhood escapades forming the basis for storylines. Writing from my own life experiences is something that has continued into adulthood, none more so than with PorterGirl. When I accidentally found myself as the first female Deputy Head Porter at a prestigious Cambridge college, the unique and often bizarre phenomena of Oxbridge life inspired me to begin an anonymous blog – . Barely educated myself, the rich variety of characters and traditions, coupled with a well-meaning but shockingly old fashioned misogyny, proved a fertile breeding ground for my imagination and I was soon writing weekly episodes of dramatised accounts of my day to day working life. Eventually, the blog was discovered – I was betrayed by a trusted source – and for a time my new hobby was forced into oblivion. Popular local myth has it that I was sacked, but this simply isn’t true. However, I did decide that I much preferred writing about the life of a Deputy Head Porter than actually living it, so left after the close of the academic year to pursue a fledgling writing career.
The first novel, First Lady of the Keys, introduces our heroine Deputy Head Porter to the esoteric world of Old College, one of the University’s most ancient institutions. It is here that we learn that ‘Porters are not the carriers of bags, but the keepers of keys’ and as Deputy Head Porter tries to make sense of this strange new world – not the mention the eccentric and unpredictable characters within – she uncovers secrets, lies and some of the most polite murders in British history.
Next came The Vanishing Lord, a whimsical romp that proves beyond doubt that there is nothing quite so annoying having the police arrive when you are trying to cover up a crime that may or may not have happened. It is here that we meet two of the City’s finest detectives, who are anything but welcome within the cosseted confines of Old College walls. A priceless piece of artwork has gone missing and things are complicated further by the untimely death of Lord Bernard from arch-rivals Hawkins College and a mysterious stranger who appears to be stalking Deputy Head Porter.
Completing this very British threesome is Sinister Dexter, where we learn that sometimes the opposite of right isn’t wrong; it’s left. Tragedy strikes once more at Old College when the Porters’ Lodge finds itself down to the last three teabags and no one has seen a biscuit in over a week. Almost as troubling are the two dead bodies at the bottom of the gardens and the disappearance of a young woman. Spies, poisonings and witchcraft abound – none of which would be any problem at all, if only someone would put the kettle on.
Old College Diaries brings all three novels together, along with deleted chapters and blog posts, a never-before-seen extract from the diary of The Dean and a hint at the fourth novel in the series. Whilst my primary work lies in compiling the almost-true chronicles of Old College, I have also written the very silly and slightly offensive – where a post-Brexit pre-dystopian Britain forms the backdrop for a dubious golden-age-style murder mystery. Described by some as Yes, Prime Minister meets The Young Ones, it is certainly not for the faint hearted.
I also enjoy the odd literary challenge and the other summer I was goaded into writing an idiots’ guide to James Joyce’s notorious Finnegans Wake. I had never read the book, which turned out to be something of a bonus as I made my way through, chapter by chapter, jotting down my thoughts as I went along. The results of my endeavours can be found , although please do not expect any startling revelations. Most of the entries begin ‘I haven’t got a bloody clue what’s going on here’, but there are intermittent flashes of inspiration and even understanding, at times. A little bit like real life, in fact.
You can find the PorterGirl books onand