Novel writing is something of a departure for the entrepreneur David Coubrough, who made a name for himself in the hospitality business. Here he tells us something of how his novel, HALF A POUND OF TUPPENNY RICE came about.
As a lover of crime fiction, hotels and country houses have a place in my heart – from Evil Under the Sun to Cluedo they have always inspired my imagination as a reader.
They also inspired my writing, because before I started writing novels, I worked in the hotel industry. And as we’ve seen from The Night Manager, people who work in hotels see – well, everything.
As a young Assistant Manager (aged 23) at the 5 star Goring Hotel I had to cope with all situations that could arise when I was the sole or ‘duty’ manager in charge; this occurred on alternate weekends from Friday afternoon to Monday mornings. I had worked at the hotel previously as a trainee three years earlier so I had some idea of the likely scenarios I would face; largely hoteliers cope with problems in a very down to earth, ‘get the job done’ type attitude. A certain amount of ‘gallows’ humour helps people get through some days …
People check into hotels for a variety of reasons, mostly to do with enjoying hospitality or needing a staging post to rest for the night. Occasionally the reasons can be more tragic, such as a destination, away from their usual connections they have chosen to end their life. I experienced the trauma of this. But other ‘deceased outcomes’, as they are called, are usually put down to natural causes, possibly brought on by excessive alcoholic and food consumption. And so it happened a few months into my stint at the Goring. I was the Duty Manager. One night a group of Doctors had gathered for a one-off Dinner, which continued into the early hours with extensive imbibing and loud ribaldry emanating from their function room.
The next morning all but one checked out, looking much the worse for wear and tear. By midday housekeeping were concerned at the lack of response from room 108. No amount of knocking would awaken the guest, who had displayed the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the outside of the door. Upon using the master key, housekeeping discovered the sad sight of a corpse in the bed.
It was about 2pm when the undertakers arrived and lunchtime clientele were about to depart. The body did not fit in the service lift; three times the undertakers tried to convince me to use the main lift as it was a blisteringly hot summer’s day and they were keen to get on with their work. With the lobby full of guests and the pavement outside teeming with people there was no way could I agree, so we took the outside fire escape stairs down four flights to basement level. I had to ask the porters to prevent anymore from leaving the hotel for five minutes whilst the undertakers, who had been cursing the heat throughout, shuffled the corpse back up a flight of stairs to a waiting coffin and hearse. I’d acted as discretely as possible but we were still spotted. I heard one wag shout “it was the fish”!
This experience stayed with me for years and when writing Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice I started recalling in my mind the event; no one in the Hotel ever knew how the doctor had actually died. Whilst it was, almost certainly, natural causes I found myself wondering what if someone had wanted him dead; this lead me to my own creation and my imagination did the rest. In the novel, a hotel porter is found poisoned in a country lane, while later that week the body of a guest is washed ashore. Five holiday makers – all having possible motive and opportunity - are questioned. Suffice it to say I have considerable sympathy for James Simpkins the hotel manager in my novel, when his hotel is invaded by police at lunchtime on the Sunday, 20th August 1972!
Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice
published by Peter Owen Publishers
21 April 2016