Chester and Lottie: Partners in Grime is a 42,000-word MG comedy set in – or rather under – contemporary London. It should appeal to anyone who enjoyed the whimsical humour of Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists and the grubbiness of Fungus the Bogeyman.
Chester Morris is a germaphobic 12 year-old who dreams of being a top chef. His overbearing father wants him to follow in his mucky footsteps as a London sewer flusher. So begins one of the most disastrous ‘bring your son to work’ days ever. Lost deep underground in a gloomy world of fatbergs and rat swarms, Chester meets up with a Belgian girl called Lottie. She idolises her father, even though he’s a failed scientist who’s never invented anything that’s worked. Well, until now. The potion he gave his daughter has accidentally created a 50-foot rampaging monster from the congealed contents of the sewers. As Chester and Lottie team up to defeat the sewage beast, she shows him how he can follow his dream and still make his father proud.
That’s the heart of the book, buried under layers of filth and jokes. Should you make your parents happy or find your own dream to chase? I briefly enrolled to study medicine and become a psychiatrist, like my father. The world is a saner place because I didn’t. Instead I worked as a journalist, mostly at the BBC, then as a film critic. I’m now a full-time screenwriter having sold my first two scripts. The first won the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writers Forum and was optioned by the producer Camille Gatin (The Girl with all the Gifts). The second was developed at Qwerty Films and is currently being cast by the director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn).
Lottie and Chester was ‘highly commended’ in the Winchester Writers’ Festival – Children’s Funny Fiction Contest; third in Peerpitch 2016 and longlisted for the Bath Novel Prize.
Many thanks for taking part in this scheme.
Chester and Lottie – Chapter One
Chester edges through the sewer, the murky water lapping over the tops of his wellies and trickling down the back of his legs. Ugh – and it’s warm. He rummages in his pocket and brings out a small bottle of hand disinfectant. It slips from his grip and splashes at his knees. The bottle bobs away into the darkness along with the last of his willpower. ‘This,’ he whispers, ‘has to be the worst Bring Your Kid To Work Day… ever.’
Chester raises the lamp and wades after his father. He’s only just started high school but is already much taller than Dad – five feet eleven if he’s measuring to the top of his springy hair. He watches their shadows on the wall. It looks like a gnome is being stalked by a giant stem of broccoli. Any other day, that would make him laugh.
Chester catches up with Dad at a bend in the tunnel. ‘We’re lost. We should go back.’
But he’s not listening. As usual. He’s sticking his bald head into a rusty pipe and taking big sniffs. ‘Mmm… I reckon we’re right under Chinatown. I’m getting a strong whiff of soy sauce from this outflow pipe.’ He swings the lamp low over the water. Jabs a plump finger at the rancid stream. ‘Told you!’ A half-eaten dumpling swirls in an eddy between them. ‘The Morris nose never fails.’
Here we go again. Chester’s lost count of the times he’s been told about the ‘Morris nose.’ Dad reckons he can navigate the hundreds of miles of Victorian tunnels by smell alone. One of the many reasons why, according to him, he’s won the Golden Plunger Award for the last 20 years.
‘Come on son.’ Dad surges ahead, whistling. Chester gingerly wades after him. The sewage level is now up to his hips, and still rising. Time to think of some of his favourite things to cheer himself up. Like the mrrrruh noise his cat Chairman Meow makes when you rub behind his ears. A fresh pack of Eureeka! individual hand wipes. Or watching home-made bread rise through the glass oven door. Flipping cookies from the baking tray. Cracking an egg with one hand… they’re mostly cooking ones. Ever since he can remember, he’s wanted to be a chef. Right now, that dream has never seemed so far out of reach.
Dad stops again. Filling the entire tunnel, right up to the arched roof, is a huge, white shiny boulder. Chester brings his lamp closer. Recoils. The boulder glistens and shivers in the lamp light as if it’s alive. Stuck to it are a number of things that have been washed down the drains. A TV remote control, a headless Barbie doll and a traffic cone. An unhappy goldfish peers out from under its greasy surface.
‘What’s that?’ says Chester.
‘It’s a goldfish.’
‘No, the whole thing.’
‘It’s a fatberg. Magnificent, isn’t it?’