Editing: Keepers of the Past

Editing: Keepers of the Past

I am now into my final edit of the second Larkspur mystery, ‘Keepers of the Past’, so I thought it would chat about my editing process.

First Draft

I work by the maxim, Don’t get it right, get it written (then get it right). When I embark on a first draft, I start at the beginning of the story and work through to the end. On some days, I know I’m not doing my best, but I write anyway, and on others, I fly through, marvelling at how wonderfully the story is telling itself. Later, when I reread the draft, I often discover that the slower days produced the better work, and when I thought I was doing well, I wasn’t. Still, the first draft is there, the story is told no matter how badly, and I have something to work with.

Second Draft

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King says that an author should seek to cut something like 10% of the first draft when working on the second. I seek to do this but don’t always find, and I don’t take it as a rule that must be obeyed. Sometimes, I find I end up with 10% more in a second draft, and that’s fine, as long as it’s a necessary and well-written 10%.

For me, the second draft is often a read-through of the first with an eye to consistency of story. Have I said something early on that doesn’t tie up later? Does a character’s eye colour accidentally change? Particularly important to me is the timeline, and because I use dates as chapter headings, I need to ensure these remain accurate. (They are accurate to the calendar from the year in which the story is set, and I check this with publications in the online newspaper archive because not all online date calculators are accurate.) Another thing to look out for is repetition. I often put some piece of vital information early in the story, and then repeat it later, which is unnecessary. What I’m doing is reminding myself to make sure the info is in there, because after putting it in chapter one, by the time I get to chapter ten, I can’t remember if I’ve written in it the story. Therefore, draft two is often about removing repetition. A reader should only need to read something once, and if I find myself saying aloud, ‘Yes, I know this,’ I delete it.

Third (or Fourth) Draft

Here’s where things get technical. I finally know the story and characters well enough, and have the plot, timeline, developments etc. in order, so they can now take care of themselves. What needs attention next is the grammar, and I do what people call a line edit. This is where you go through every single line of the text looking for mistakes. I’m not just talking about typos, I am always on the look out for them, but grammar, sentence construction and use of words. The question in my head at this stage is, Can I write this better? Which I would change to How can this be improved, if I was editing this blog post. (I would also add a question mark to the improvement. I put it that way to highlight how you should be aware of missing punctuation as much as everything else.)

I am currently on draft three of ‘Keepers of the Past’, and at the line edit stage. As an assistant, I use a plug-in to Word called ProWritingAid (PWA). I used to use Grammarly, but it messed with Word so much, I threw it out. PWA offers the writer plenty of suggestions on all kinds of things, and it can bog you down with so many, you end up over-editing. So, use it with care. I check through its reports for basic grammar, overused words, sentence length, clichés, and one they call ‘style’, because, among other things, it picks up on adverb use.

Another habit of mine when first drafting is to bung in an adverb when I can’t be bothered to explain something in a more literary way, and then forget to go back and change it. ‘I never use them in dialogue tags,’ he said sheepishly, because he has done, but only when unavoidable. When PWA tells me there are 17 adverbs in this chapter, and I gasp, I go through and eliminate as many as possible. Often, they are not needed. Here’s an example:

Someone had spent hours twisting and tightening, or it might have been done by a machine, but their labours had ultimately been in vain.

Ultimately been in vain? Why not just, been in vain? We know it happened in the past. I do, though, leave adverbs in speech, because that’s how people talk. Stephen King’s view on adverbs is they are lazy writing. It’s a case of show, not tell. ‘I am not!’ he said, angrily. That might be what you mean, and it’s a quick way of saying it, but, ‘I am not,’ he fumed, thumping the table with such force the crockery jumped’, lets the reader imagine so much more.

It also reminds me to mention exclamation marks! I hate them! I hate them more when they are overused!! I once read an autobiography by a film director known for making epic fantasy films. A brilliant screenwriter and director, but he didn’t employ a great editor. Every other line ended in an exclamation mark. I couldn’t believe it! We had the Money! Yes, okay, so you were excited, and one might forgive the dreaded ! after such an exclamation, but when the story continues with, So, we were off to the studio. There, we attended the auditions! Calm your enthusiasm, mate, that’s just unnecessary, as exclamation marks, in my opinion, often are.

Where was I? Oh, yes…

Overused Words

I have my next chapter open for editing and have run my PWA report, asking it to identify overused words. I always get a shock at this point, and here’s why. This is, verbatim, what the report says:

Overused Words Check
was/were. You have overused this word compared to published writing. Consider removing about 7 occurrences from 122.

One hundred and twenty-two uses of was/were!? The chapter only has 3,882 words in it – and never use exclamation and question marks together, btw. Nor abbreviations such as btw, unless you can justify doing so.
Overuse of was/were and had suggests not only lazy writing, but passive verb use and too much back-flashing. The report also highlighted 80 occurrences of had, and here’s more of the example text, pre-edit. (I have highlighted the overuse.)
Joe, my deaf character, is trying to make sense of some ancient symbols, one of which is a rope. While doing so, he reminisces about his time in the workhouse oakum shed, where his job was to unpick lengths of old rope.

As he worked, Joe often wondered who had put the ropes together. Someone had spent hours twisting and tightening, or it might have been done by a machine, but their labours had ultimately been in vain, and he wondered how they felt about that. The rope had done its job, it had held sails, secured vast ships to dockyard bollards, or perhaps tied down tea chests as the ship braved the distant oceans. He wondered what the rope had seen, what it would know, and tried to imagine life aboard a ship…

I’ve not edited this chapter yet, but when I do, I might rewrite the section thus:

As he worked, Joe often wondered who first put the ropes together. Someone spent hours twisting and tightening the threads, but in the end, their labours came to nothing, and he wondered how they would feel if they knew. The rope played its part, fastened sails, secured vast ships to dockyards, or kept cargo safe as the ship braved the wild oceans. He wondered where the rope had sailed and tried to imagine life aboard a ship…

Slightly better, and it might read as odd, because, here, it is out of context. It was an example of how easy it is to overuse certain words. Others to watch for include could, feel, know and see in their various forms (felt, knew, knowing, saw, seen, etc.)

The point of this section was to point out how finickity it can be to improve a manuscript, but how much better the finished work will be because of it. The danger, however, is over-editing. Being too nit-picky, you can ruin a sentence, paragraph or entire chapter by fiddling with it too much. It’s possible to lose the sense of the writing, the feel and the style, so you must watch out for that. Using PWA along with my own decisions, it can take me two hours to get through 4,000 words. ‘Keepers of the Past’ ran to 105,000 words in the first draft, so that means the line edit will take me about 26 hours. (Perhaps I should take it up as a profession and offer my services?)

While all that is going on in my office, my husband is in the sitting room reading through the first draft. His job, which he does willingly and for free, is to make sure the story makes sense, to point out any obvious repetition, and anything he thinks is unnecessary. Only yesterday he came to me to say most of one chapter was not needed, and unlike the rest of the book, he didn’t enjoy it. I suspected that would happen, because when I wrote it, I thought, ‘I like this part, but is it necessary?’ He gave me the answer I knew I should have found for myself, and the lesson there is, when editing, always trust your instincts.

Or, as our family doctor used to say, ‘If in doubt, whip it out.’ If you have read the Clearwater series, you won’t be surprised to know our family doctor was called Dr Markland.

After Editing?

After I have done my content, structure and line editing, I send the MS to be proofread by a professional proofreader. I am lucky enough to have discovered the editor and proofreader Ann Attwood, and highly recommend her services for being reliable, honest and knowledgeable.

Once back from proofing, the MS goes through another read to check the proofs, of course, but also, by then, I’ve had some distance from it, so I can take a fresh look. From then on, the novel is on its own and out there in the big wide world, and I can cut along to the next one and start the process all over again.

Next Week’s Blog

I intended to give you the first draft of the unnecessary chapter, pre-editing, so you can see what the fuss was all about. Part of ‘Keepers of the Past’ has to do with the mystical number nine, and the cut chapter delves into numerology and the strange way in which the number nine works. I found it so fascinating, I wrote a whole chapter about it, where foul-mouthed Frank takes us through its mystery. Totally not needed (apart from containing a plot point which I can easily move), it’s now in the cuts folder, but I will share it with you next week.

Until then, keep reading, and I’ll keep writing.

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Say Hello, Wave Goodbye: Character Intros and Outros.

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye: Character Intros and Outros.

‘It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.’ Lyrics from a song by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields for their musical, ‘Seesaw’ are the inspiration for my blog post today. It’s all about openings and closings and in particular, how you introduce a character and how you say goodbye to them. Or, put another way, how the reader first meets them and the reader’s last sight of them before closing the book.

Why is this important? Because first impressions count, and a parting impression lasts. How to write screenplays books talk about the importance of a viewer’s first sight of a character, how, for example, you may see his/her back view first, and then he/she will slowly turn to the camera and give a sultry look, or how your first sight of the macho hero might be him jumping from a helicopter while firing a gun, blah, blah. It makes an impression, and the same works in a novel, only with more subtlety.

What can a Character Intro Say?

A great deal. Considering how you introduce a character is important because it’s an opportunity to show many things in a memorable moment. You can tell/show a reader so much about your character from a few lines, and here’s an example taken from the first two chapters of ‘Deviant Desire.’

Silas Hawkins was searching for coins in an East End gutter when a man four miles distant and ten years older sealed his fate.

Those are the opening lines of the series (without the prequel). They not only tell us Silas was destitute, but that he was in the East End and willing to search gutters for money. We also, hopefully, want to know why, who the other man is, and how is Silas’ fate being sealed.

Turn to chapter two and we meet Archer (Lord Clearwater), for the first time in an entirely different way.

Logs crackled in the iron grate, sending sparks heavenwards and waves of warmth across a sea of Turkish rugs. The fire-glow washed up on the slippered feet of the newly elevated Viscount Clearwater. Archer Riddington, a man in his late twenties, was seemingly drowning in the depths of a sumptuous wingback chair. His hands were draped over the worn armrest where his fingers undulated like kelp in a current as he pondered what to say next.

Warmth, Turkish rugs, comfort, riches… A contrast to the first chapter, Archer’s intro sets up the world of above stairs and below, rich and poor, that is the background to the time of the novel, and the 1800s. It also gives us his two names, but that’s another matter.

And as for Andrej, aka Fecker, I think he has one of my favourite intros.

Silas had deliberated at this window so often that some good had come of his indecision. That good appeared beside him, bringing the smell of apples and the reflection of a tall man of similar age.
‘Privet, Banyak,’ he said in his native tongue.
‘Evening, Fecks.’ Silas acknowledged his mate’s reflection with a nod towards a marble angel.

I like it because the image I have after reading it is of Fecker as a statue with angel wings because his reflection is superimposed over the statue inside the undertaker’s shop. Fecks turns out to be strong, gentle, kind and handsome, and I wanted him to appear in a slightly mysterious way.

Intros don’t apply only to main characters. Even when minor characters appear in your story, you should still consider how they make a first impression. This doesn’t mean writing a backstory or physical description in great detail, or even giving them a name (although names help readers establish an image of a character). It’s more to do with how you place them. Example: in ‘Deviant Desire’, when we meet Molly, the woman who runs the rope house where Silas and Andrej stay, she’s sitting at a desk, smells of piss and gin, and although she’s drunk, she guards her little empire like a hound. A short meeting such as that can tell the reader enough for the character to feel real, even though Molly’s not on stage for much of the time.

Saying Goodbye in an Outro.

The word outro usually applies to music, but I use it to describe that last time we see a character, major or minor. Even if the character is coming back in the next book of a series, the way he/she leaves the reader of the current story is important.

In my mystery thriller, ‘The Saddling’ (written as James Collins), I conclude the story with Tom, Barry and Dan, because they are the mainstays of the series. Tom’s the MC, Dan the ‘impact character’, and Barry the sidekick who, later, becomes so much more. They are last seen through the eyes of Dan’s mother…

Whiteback flocks moved lazily out of their path as the boys strolled over the tufted fields. They talked freely and made plans along the reeded deek, startling yellow finches into flight. They crossed the bridge where the mother trees watched over them, new leaves reflecting in the glass-flat water. A hernshaw raised its broad wings, both greeting and applauding as a murder of crows fled before them in panicked protest. They pushed each other, laughing, debated the future, and forgot the past. With arms around each other’s shoulders, they finally talked themselves into silence.
They walked on into the distance until they were nothing more than brushstrokes on nature’s vast canvas, and the sheep returned to graze.

Three outros in one, and, I hope, vanishing into a pastoral scene of tranquillity after a frenetic action climax.

In ‘The Judas Inheritance’, a horror/thriller I wrote that was made into a film, our last sight of the main character sees him falling into the pit of hell. In ‘Lonely House’, another horror/thriller of mine, the two MCs are last scene together in a stance that suggests something more is about to happen between them, and in my gay/straight body-swap comedy, ‘Remotely’, the two MCs leave the stage together, and one of them puts out the lights.

Those examples (all by James Collins) might sound like ‘how to finish your story’ rather than how to say goodbye to your characters, but often, they are the same thing. Often, but not always. At the end of ‘Deviant Desire’, we close on the good guys at Clearwater House but then follow the bad guy through the streets as he plots his revenge, and we know we haven’t seen the last of him.

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

The point of today’s writing thought was to think about how characters first appear and last appear, and it’s one of those tricks of the trade that comes to you with practice and experience. Having said that, I’m sure most intuitive writers are subconsciously aware of how they introduce their players, but a reminder is always useful. In the heavily structured world of screenplay writing, writers often have a sheet per character which lists the usual things such as name, profession, character traits and so on, but which also has a couple of boxes to be filled, titled ‘Most likely to say’, ‘Intro’ and ‘Outro.’ I used this technique in a couple of screenplays, and I have similar notes written in whatever notebook I am using for my current project.

Setting your characters in a place that helps define the character is useful. Having them speak in a certain way is too, but so is knowing the kind of thing they’re likely to say and, even better, having them open with such a line really defines them for the first-time reader or viewer. Again, I must quote from my own work, and in this case the Clearwater prequel, ‘Banyak & Fecks’ where we again meet Silas for the first time (it depends if you read this book before ‘Deviant Desire’).

A stick of rags waited, slouched against the end of the pew where penitents were expected to sit respectfully, his arms folded as he gaped at the vaulted ceiling. On hearing the swish of the curtain rings, the lad looked down, and on seeing the priest, shook his head to rid it of an uncontrollable yawn. Unsuccessful, he could only pull a twisted smile and wave a hand as an instruction for the priest to wait, before moaning out the last of the yawn and lodging a complaint against it by saying, ‘Fecking hell.’


That’s enough ramble from me. In other news…

I am working on draft two of the next Larkspur Mystery, ‘Keepers of the Past.’ I’ve not heard back from my cover designer yet, but I hope to have some rough drafts during this week. I need to write the blurb, contact Ann about a date for proofing and, of course, make the book as good as I can. On that note, I shall make my outro and bid you a healthy week to come.

JM

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James Collins author page at Amazon
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Keepers of the Past

Keepers of the Past

The Larkspur Mysteries book two has its title, ‘Keepers of the Past.’ I am now nearing the end of the first draft and have one and a half chapters left to go. I am getting back to them as soon as I finish this brief update. We were invited to a wedding which took up a few days at the end of the week, hence this post coming on Sunday, not Saturday, but now there is little in my diary to interrupt a return to full steam ahead.

I may have said before, but one reason ‘Keepers’ feels like it’s taken me a long time to first draft is because of the research, which has included reading about standing stones, ancient history, and finding genuine accounts of missing people from the newspaper archives. Another reason is because this is the first book since ‘Deviant Desire’ that doesn’t include a familiar cast of characters.

‘Guardians of the Poor’, book one in the new series, is a handover novel. It acted as a way of joining the Clearwater cast to the new Larkspur world. With ‘Guardians’, I had Clearwater, James, Silas and others to fall back on, and as they arrived already created, they were easy to manoeuvre into the story. With ‘Keepers’, I’ve had to do a lot more work on Joe Tanner and Dalston. Fleet has more to do in this story, Clem and Frank, too, because most of the story is set at Academy House. Lord Clearwater is away, and although Thomas, Fecker and Barnett make appearances (as does Jasper, briefly), most of the characters in the story are new to us. Clearwater is about to make his appearance in the final chapter, so I should be back on familiar ground by the end of today’s writing session.

I’ve opened a dialogue with Andjela about the cover, and I have had ‘Dazzling’ my illustrator draw a couple of illustrations to insert at the front of the book. She has produced two drawings, one of which I’ll show you here. The other, you will have to wait for, but it’s not a portrait as we had in book one. The illustration is below.

There are two mysteries in ‘Keepers’, but they collide. In brief, Joe Tanner is tasked by Lord Clearwater to research the history and meaning of symbols carved into two standing stones on his estate. As Joe, who is deaf and uses sign language, sets about doing this, a relative of Joe’s new friend, David, the younger groom, is due to arrive from America but has gone missing. While working on the stones, Joe uncovers news of similar disappearances, and wonders if they might have something to do with the carvings. Thus, one mystery is connected to the other, and, being me, an action climax is guaranteed.

I shan’t say more today, because I am keen to return to chapter 28, which I have left unfinished, and then on to chapter 29, the final chapter, and then… Then I start all over again with draft two. I’ll leave you with Dazzling’s drawing of two sides of one of the standing stones. This made an appearance in ‘Guardians’ you may remember, and yes, the ’rounded arrow’ is meant to look like a…

The Larkspur Mysteries Book Two

The Larkspur Mysteries Book Two

I have to admit, this Larkspur Mysteries Two is taking me some time to draft. There are a few reasons for this.

Standing Stones

The book is taking a fair amount of research. It’s one of those stories that I want to make as accurate as possible, yet be able to bend the facts to suit. It’s set in an actual place, Bodmin Moor in England, and includes references to real places, in this case, standing stone circles and other ancient monuments. However, they’re not all in the places I want them to be, so I have ‘fiddled’ with a couple, and invented a couple of my own. Researching where they are, and how they can provide clues to the mystery, is taking time, as is the background reading about such stones and their place in history.

Writing Deaf

Another thing that is causing me to write slowly is getting to grips with the character of Joe Tanner, my deaf leading man. It’s not just a case of being careful not to write, ‘he said,’ but to use ‘he signed’ instead, and there are many other factors to consider from a technical point of view. For example: I have a scene where Joe is out on the moor, the weather is foul, and a thunderstorm is coming in. The scene is from Joe’s point of view, so I cannot describe any sounds. Therefore, we, the reader, have to feel the thunder. I have to create the atmosphere with one sense missing, sound, because Joe doesn’t know what sound is. That’s proving to be interesting to write, and his deafness has a knock-on effect on other characters.

Dalston, his lover, knows how to sign, and Joe can read lips if people speak clearly, but until now, if Joe wanted to communicate with another character, he had to have Dalston there to interpret. He uses the written word, of course, and has improved his writing under Fleet’s guidance, and he can read. Some of the other characters have been having lessons in sign with varying degrees of success, so I have found a way around that issue.

The OS map is permanently open on my desk these days

How does a man deaf since birth read? Joe doesn’t hear the words in his head. He can’t. He’s never heard them out of his head, so, instead, he uses images. He visualises what he’s reading if you like, but as he is currently reading books about ancient standing stones, and he’s never seen half of what he is reading about (long barrows, menhirs, cists etc.), Fleet has been offering him illustrations to assist.

Joe is the MC in this story, a spotlight he shares with Dalston, and I’m really enjoying the challenge. By the way, Neil and I have now both passed our course in basic British Sign Language (BSL), and intend to keep it going between us, for practice, add more words and phrases to our arsenal, and, hopefully, improve.

Complicated Plot

You know me, I like to make my mysteries challenging for the characters and thus, the reader, and yet aim for a satisfying denouement. Well, this one is not only complicated by Joe’s deafness and a shift in his relationship with Dalston, but also by the subject matter.

My very dodgy sketch of the symbols that play a big part in the story

It’s actually a simple challenge. Lord Clearwater wants to know the story of the ancient monoliths that stand within his property boundary. What were they for? Why is there one embedded in the walls of the ruined abbey? And what do the symbols mean? Carved stones are rare in Cornwall, it’s more of a Pictish thing, apparently, and yet, one of the standing stones has carvings on it. Lord Clearwater’s mystery is only one thread, however, there is another far more sinister but also historic, and that, Joe stumbles upon while researching the stone row. I won’t say too much more about that, because I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but suffice to say, there is also a deadline, there will be an ‘action climax’ when I get to it (I am nearly there), and, hopefully, everything will tie up and make sense. Right now, I am reaching the part in the story where clues are coming together and, for the sake of accuracy, I am having to go back and forth between the written chapters to ensure the clues laid down early on, tie-up with the untangling of the plot at the crisis point.

And then there are visitors.

At this time of year, we have many regular visitors returning to the island where we live. Neil works in a bar, and it’s very popular with British visitors who like to come and say hello and catch up on island news. In the winter months, I’m a ‘bed at nine’ kind of person and am often up at three or four in the morning to start work. Right now, though, we are being taken out to dinner, and we’re entertaining at home sometimes, and that means later nights, and thus, later mornings. My writing time is compressed somewhat, as is my energy. Not complaining, it’s a very sociable time of year and makes up for the seven months of winter when we hardly see anyone, but I am more tired than usual, so I am working slower.

Recent early morning view from the balcony

But I am still ploughing through draft one of Larkspur two. I am up to 85,000 words, with probably another 25,000 to go, and I am aiming to have the draft finished in the next two weeks. After that, there will be the second and third draft, the cover to commission, and so on, and of course, the title to find. That’s yet to fall into place, but it will before long. In the meantime, I have commissioned my illustrator to produce a much better version of my sketch of the standing stones, and I am expecting a miraculous drawing or two to come through within the next week or so. I’ll post it on a future blog when it does.

I’ll be back next week with more author chat, but for now, it’s back to the mystery…

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What’s in a Title?

What’s in a Title?

I am currently working on the first draft of the second Larkspur Mystery, and I’ve still not landed on a title. Titles usually come to me easily, but not this time. So, I thought, today, I would chat about some of my titles, explain where they came from and perhaps, that will give me inspiration for Larkspur Two, as it’s currently called.

Early Titles

Years ago, when I was young and everything was in black and white, I wrote a story. I was unemployed waiting for a new job to start, but the start date was delayed, and I had three months sitting around in a garret room (honestly) with very little money, so I sat and wrote all day, in longhand. It was a simple story about a young man running away from home and discovering London, falling for another young man who turned out to be a rent boy, and the friendship and eventual love affair that ensued. Towards the end, the pair went to Kent, had the best time of their lives, then came home, and a tragedy happened. I called that story ‘In From the Garden’.

Why?

No idea, really. It just felt right, but later, I realised that the two MCs had in fact come back from the garden of England, as the county of Kent is known, so maybe it came from there.

Gay erotic romanceSimilarly, the title of my first published book just came to me, and because I liked the phrase, I kept it. ‘Other People’s Dreams’ is about a rich man hiring four young, cute gay guys to crew his boat around the Greek islands. The job comes with a generous package of benefits and pay, but there are ‘certain strings attached.’

The inspiration for the story came to me when I was sitting on a beach here on Symi. I was on holiday here then, on my own, and was watching a yacht coming into the otherwise deserted bay. As it came close, I saw the crew were taking down the sails, and then I noticed they were all naked, and they were all men. ‘That’s someone’s dream,’ I thought, and suddenly, I not only had an idea for a story but also its title. That boat and the boys aboard were someone else’s dream. Simple.

The Mentor Series

Setting about a series of books that took older/younger and coming out as the key themes, I thought up another story that was mainly based around sex. This was another person’s dream, that of Camden, the MC, who is hired to mentor four younger gay men in a deserted house. His role is to help them develop their writing and personal skills, and overcome sexual inhibitions. I wanted the location of the story to be somewhere out of the way, and the title to reflect this, and that’s how I came up with The Mentor of Wildhill Farm.

Then, I thought, I’ll write a second one in the non-related series. (They are similar in theme, older/younger, coming out etc., but not with the same characters.) I knew it had to be The Mentor of… something and realised I had three words to come up with. One describes the atmosphere (wild), the second is a geographical feature (hill), and the third is the location of the story (farm). So, I made a list of suitable adjectives and locations.

  1. Remote, barren, lost, alone, distant, private…
  2. City, village, moor, wood, forest, marsh…
  3. House, estate, hall, ridge, castle, abbey…

From that brainstorming exercise, I came up with three titles for three more Mentor books, the Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge (I wanted to convey a barren landscape and rock climbing), of Lostwood Hall, and of Lonemarsh House. Each first part of the location reflects the younger man/men of the stories; wild, lost, alone, abandoned.

I was rather pleased with the subtlety, but I didn’t plan it.

Deviant Desire

What was more planned, and what took longer to arrive at, were the titles of the Clearwater novels, and of all of them, Deviant Desire took the longest to drop into place.

I think it started out as ‘Deviant Gaslight’ or something equally bizarre. I wanted to convey the Victorian era, shadows and deviancy, but then I wondered how the light from a gas lamp could be deviant. I sifted through all kinds of ideas as I was writing it because titles often come to me during the first draft. I must have entertained Dark Shadows, and then remembered it was a TV series, and how can shadows be light? I have my notes beside me, and in them, I see I also considered Deviant Lamplight, which was its title at the end of draft one. The word ‘deviant’ was clearly important, and as I went through the second draft, I asked myself what and who was I talking about? Silas was deviant (any gay man then was considered deviant), and he had a desire for sex, later for Clearwater, and their love would have been called a deviant desire, so that made sense. But the villain also had a desire for revenge and a desire to kill, and that, of course, is also deviant. By the end of draft two, I’d settled on ‘Deviant Desire’, and I am pleased to say, it is my best-selling novel to date.

Like the Mentor titles, the Clearwater series started out with a formula. In this case, an adjective and a noun, and I wanted all the forthcoming titles to have an adjective on the same theme as ‘deviant.’ I have a list somewhere, cribbed from a thesaurus or two, and from that list I came up with the words which best suited the story.

Twisted Tracks refers to the deviancy of both hero and villain, the laying of a tempting trail into a trap, and the climax which happens on a moving train.

Unspeakable Acts was a gift because I wanted a story set around a theatre, and chose the Royal Opera House, where not only were entertainment acts performing, but where the star couldn’t speak what he’d been ordered to speak by the villain. The villains were also involved in what Victorians called ‘unspeakable acts’, i.e. gay sex, and the Cleaver Street brothel. (Based on the Cleveland Street Scandal of 1889.)

Fallen Splendour came about because I wanted to base the mystery around a poem used as a coded message. One of my favourites is ‘The Splendour Falls’, an insert into a longer poem by Tennyson. He was alive at the time the story is set, so I dragged him into the story too. I liked the word ‘fallen’ because its reference to ‘fallen women’, as they were known then. Silas is a ‘fallen man’, you might say, and if the truth about Clearwater was known, he too would ‘fall’ from grace.

And so it went on.

Bitter Bloodline is about an ancient, bitter feud and Bram Stoker (in my world, then working on the beginnings of Dracula). Bitter also refers to the taste of a certain wine from the region of Transylvania, which plays a part in the story.

Artful Deception revolves around a piece of art and also refers to the way the characters outwit each other with theatrical devices.

From then on, the titles change. Things had happened in the series, and issues were resolved (no spoilers, but if you have read them, you might remember who has left the stories by then), and so, I was freer to play with the titles.

Home From Nowhere came to me during the writing and still gives me the same chill when I read the title as I felt when I wrote a short scene between Jasper and Andrej (Fecker). Fecks asks where Jasper is from, and Jasper tells him his background.

‘You come from everywhere,’ Mr Andrej said. ‘But you come from nowhere. Like me.’

That led to the title, and I wanted to use it at the very end of the story. However, watch out for doing this because it is such a cliché. It’s as much a cliché as characters in film repeating themselves for emphasis. ‘I know, son…(beat)…I know.’ Eek! Cringe, don’t do it. Similarly, finishing a novel with its title gives me the same creeps, so I changed it slightly for Jasper’s final speech.

‘I feel like I’ve been nowhere all my life, but now I’ve come home.’

Bless Jasper. He and Billy are each one half of a pair, and that’s how One Of A Pair came about. There is another play on words in there, and you will understand when you read the book.

At this point in these reis, I sidestepped to go backwards and explore how Silas and Fecker met. I reckoned a clever title wouldn’t be right, so I went for the simple Banyak & Fecks, their nicknames for each other. The title gave me the structure of the book. The nicknames come about during the story, but they are not the characters’ original names. Thus, the first quarter of the book is titled ‘Andrej’, the second, ‘Silas’, the third, ‘Andrej and Silas’, and it’s not until we come to the last quarter we get them fully-fledged as ‘Banyak & Fecks’. By then, they have become an inseparable pair, forever locked in a bromance, avoiding the Rippe’s knife and unknowingly about to step into Deviant Desire as two of the main characters.

In book nine of the series (not counting the prequel), I returned to the formula of the start of the series with Negative Exposure. The title refers to several aspects of the story; photography, posing naked, the risk of being found out… And in book ten, the only one without a figure on the cover, I couldn’t think of anything better than The Clearwater Inheritance. That was because it reflects not only to the main plot, the inheritance but also suggests something is coming after, and that something is the Larkspur Mysteries.

The Stoker ConnectionYou know, I’ve waffled enough for now, and still haven’t explained the Stoker Connection, The Blake Inheritance or Curious Moonlight, but I hope, by now, you’ve had an insight into how I come up with my tittles.

Except, it seems, for Larkspur Two.

Standing stones, ancient symbols, disappearances, a deaf main character, the wilds of Cornwall… There has to be something in there. I’ve just not got it yet.

Oh… By writing this, the word ‘signs’ has dropped into my head as a frontrunner, but Signs what or what Signs…? This is how my mind works, and I’ll leave you while it hopefully works some more, and I find the title. I am up to 80,000 words in the first draft, and I’ll tell you more about it soon. For now, I’m off.

Have a good week.

Jackson

You can find all my titles on the Jackson Marsh author page on Amazon.

News From Home

News From Home

For this week’s blog, I thought I’d let you know what I’ve been up to at home. Writing, of course, and the second Larkspur mystery is coming along nicely, though slowly. That’s because of the amount of research going into it, but I am about two-thirds of the way through the first draft. Other than writing, what have I been up to…?

Thanking the Inspiration

I’m not sure if I have previously mentioned the inspiration for the character Joe Tanner in ‘Guardians of the Poor’ and the Larkspur mysteries. Neil and I have been watching ‘The Amazing Race’, a reality TV show where contestants travel the world doing challenges and trying to avoid elimination. I think we’ve now seen just about all the USA ones, the Canadian and Australian versions, and we’re starting to watch them again. Well, one of the teams in three of the USA series included a profoundly deaf guy called Luke Adams.

The research desk

His resolve and determination – being on such a demanding show without hearing – inspired me to start learning British Sign Language, and also, to include a profoundly deaf character in the new Larkspur series. I wanted to thank Luke for his inspiration, so joined a Facebook TAR fan group, and there, I was able to put my thanks as a post. I also wanted to send a personal thank you to an outstanding guy, and managed, this week, to connect on Twitter and send my personal message. He’s seen it now, and that, for me, was an ambition fulfilled.

Birthdays and Anniversaries

Two bunches of red roses

We’re just coming out of what I call ‘the Anniversary Season,’ and boy, do I need a night off. Neil and I married on his birthday four years ago, so his birthday, which was last week, coincided with our wedding anniversary. It also coincided with the anniversary of the day we arrived to live on this Greek island 19 years ago, and it comes two weeks after the anniversary of our first meeting 24 years ago.

We’ve had drinks at the bar with visiting holidaymakers we know, dinners out with friends, roses, cards and gifts. Neil bought me the rose painted on a stone you can see in the picture. Tbh, it’s all been wonderfully exhausting.

Going Further Afield.

We haven’t travelled since we managed a holiday in Canada at the start of 2020 (just before C19 landed on the world), and the furthest I have been is our neighbouring island of Rhodes.

Visiting Rhodes involves a ferry crossing

I was there again recently to see a doctor about a throat issue which turned out to be to do with too much stomach acid. During the consultation, I had a look at my larynx via a tube up the nose (which isn’t as bad as it sounds, strangely), and that was fascinating. One of the good things about living in Greece is that you’re able to see a specialist almost at a moment’s notice. I emailed on a Thursday and saw him the next Monday, had the full consultation and inspection, and it only cost me €50.00. I could have done it under the national health service and paid nothing, but maybe waited longer, but that was up to me.

While I was there, I read this short novel by Anthony Burgess. It’s not about the pop group, it’s about the last days of the poet John Keats who died in Rome in 1821, at the young age of 25. It’s a fascinating book with some lovely use of the English language. Recommended.

What Else?

Not much, really. Our washing machine has started to make a horrible noise when spinning, so we’re saving for a new one. The weather has cooled from the 40 + degrees of July and August, so that’s a relief. Both of us are working hard on our sign language as we’re nearing the end of course number one, and we’re using it with each other as much as we can.

And, of course, I am working away on the next book. It currently has two working titles, ‘A Vow of Silence’ and/or ‘Standing Stones’, but I’m not sure either is 100% on point. There is a lot in there about standing stones, ancient symbols, pagan rites and so on, and it’s mainly written from Joe’s point of view. That makes it a challenge for me, because I have to research and then imagine scenes from a deaf person’s point of view, but that’s exactly the kind of challenge I like.

That’s enough rambling for this week. I’ll be off now to post this, and then get back to chapter 20. If you’ve not started the Larkspur Mysteries yet, then number one is waiting for you. Guardians of the Poor – the adventures start here.

See you next week.

What Do I Call My Character?

What Do I Call My Character?

‘No One Can Take Away Your Name.’ So says a character in The Clearwater Inheritance, and it’s true. It also reminds us that when we create a character’s name, it becomes very difficult to change it, especially when writing a series. So, how do you get it correct from the start?

I saw a post in a Facebook writers’ group the other day where an author was asking for advice about naming her characters. She gave a brief outline of each one, and then asked, ‘What should I call them?’ A brief outline isn’t much to go on, so I briefly told her what I do when I need to name a character.

Below are my thoughts on the subject in greater detail, and some of the ways I go about naming characters.

It is important to ask yourself some questions.

When do your Characters Live?

I am currently writing in the 1880s and my stories are set in England. Recently, when working on ‘Guardians of the Poor’, I was inspired by a newspaper article from the time. Mentioned in it was a workhouse official named Edward Capps. I took his name and made him the master of the Hackney workhouse, partly to keep some realism, partly because I wanted a villain with a fairly ordinary, yet slightly odd name, and it is an easy one to read. His henchman in that story is called Skaggot, a far more Dickensian name, and one which reads like a cross between skag and maggot, neither of which are very nice words. Skag is slang for heroin and was in use in the 1880s, and we all know what we think of maggots.

It’s worth remembering that some names in common usage today did not exist in Victorian times, so it’s important to check what era you are writing in, and the name trends of the time. These days, we might find Christian names such as Brooklyn, Phoenix, Brighton and other places as that seem to be a trend. Similarly, names from popular TV shows crop up from time to time. For example, there was an influx of Charlenes and Scotts when Neighbours first became popular in the UK. If you look at censuses from the late 1800s you will find a wealth of Mary-Ann, Charlotte and Victoria, and James, Albert and William. Far more traditional.

What country is the character from?

In Greece, it’s traditional for a couple’s first son to take the name of his paternal grandfather. I am sure the same kind of tradition applies in other countries, and in classes of British society. Sometimes, a mother’s maiden name is used, or a grandmother’s or a more distant relative. One of my brothers is named after a great-great-uncle, my other brother has among his names one of my father’s names, Clayre, which is an unusual name, and none of us knows where it came from.

I have written characters from Ireland, so I needed Irish names, and these can be very different from English names. Some are the same or very similar, for example, I have a character named Karan, and that’s the Irish spelling of Karen, so details are important to bear in mind. Ditto characters from Scotland, Ukraine and Transylvania, and others who appear in the Clearwater Mysteries, have country-appropriate names. My Romanian count wouldn’t have been called Charlie Smith. He is Roman Movileşti from the House of Bogdanesti (or Musat) because he has a lineage dating back to 1392.

Names can also make excellent book titles

An aside. When writing ‘Deviant Desire’, the first of the Clearwater Mysteries, I introduced a character called ‘Fecker’. There’s more about that name below, but his real name is Andrej, and that’s all we know about his name to start with. Later in the story, he appears at Clearwater’s house and is introduced by the footman. I wanted to raise a slight smile among my readers, and so gave the footman the task of announcing Andrej with his full name. Therefore, the name had to be complicated, but appropriate, and I went for Andrej Borysko Yakiv Kolisnychenko. Admittedly, not easy to read, and he was soon known as Mr Andrej, but his name was important. If/when you read through the series, including ‘Banyak & Fecks’ and particularly, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance,’ you will come to see why Andrej has these names, and why they are so important to him. As his mentor says during one of the stories, ‘No one can take away your name.’

As well as considering the character’s country, you should consider his location. There are differences in Christian and surnames between someone who is East London poor and someone who is West London rich. You don’t want to use cliché though. Not every East End scallywag was called Charlie, Bert or Dodger, and not all barmaids are called Betsy, Maisy and Poll. Try and be inventive, and one way to do that is to use nicknames. More about that in a moment.

How old is your character?

As I said, names, like clothes, come and go in fashion. Remember that your character may be 60 now, but when he was born, there may have been a different trend for names. When I was popped out, Toby was hip but unusual, these days, it’s more common.

You have to think, ‘Who were the parents, and what would they have called him/her?’ This gives you character background and some backstory, and a name can say a great deal about a character’s ancestors and parents. Think of the trends at the time and what was popular. Such things can include, the TV programmes of the time, pop singers, royalty, politicians, explorers, anyone hitting the newspapers in your country at the time of your character’s birth.

Parents, after all, are the ones who do the naming.

Take my main player in The Clearwater Mysteries: Archer Camoys Riddington, 19th Viscount Clearwater, Lord Baradan of Hapsburg-Bran, Honorary Boyar Musat-Rashnov, to give him his full set of names and titles. Obviously, I don’t refer to him by all of them all the time. The official announcements happen only two or three times during 11 books, and most of the time he is known as Archer, Archie, Your Lordship or Lord Clearwater. It depends on the status between characters. Titled friends would call him Clearwater, servants, My Lord, his lover, Archie, and so on.

Archer was named by his father, a hideously military man, who was obsessed with the Battle of Agincourt. Archer’s brother is called Crispin as the battle was fought on that day, and Archer is named after the longbowmen who were responsible for the victory. He’s also got Camoys as a name because he was one of the commanding officers.

So, think ‘Who named this character’ bascule you can be sure it wasn’t you.

Fantasy names

Having said that, you do name your characters, and none of the above thoughts may apply if you’re writing fantasy. There, you can be extra-creative, but be careful. Make sure your names are easy to read. Marthigglysistbour from the planet Zyghrthithril ain’t that easy to visually digest. I am immediately put off a book if the title has in it a difficult-to-read name. The Kronghstyz Series of Sci-Fi fantasies might fill its author with pride, but for me, it would get me scrolling past.

Names to suit characters

This is one of my faves. I love checking out what names mean or thinking about why characters are called what they are. I do this a lot, sometimes just to amuse myself with obscure references and meanings, sometimes because it suits the story.

Jasper Blackwood

This morning, I wrote a newspaper article from 1882, and in it, mentioned a local policeman. ‘It seems to me the man were murdered,’ Inspector Trawlish of the Cornish Constabulary said. The name came out of my fingers rather than my head, but I wanted something vaguely Cornish-sounding and thought of fishing. Trawler would have been too obvious for a detective, but Trawl-ish sounds like he’s not very accurate in his work, so I went with that. Later, I also had a tea rooms owner and she popped out as Mrs Killraddock. I don’t know why. Probably because it also sounds Cornish (and the story is set there in 1890), but looking at it again, I imagine Mrs Killraddock being not very good at cooking kippers. ‘Don’t ask her to make breakfast, she’ll kill yer ‘addock.’

Meanwhile… In The Clearwater Mysteries, Silas Hawkins is named after the priest who delivered him and slapped him into life, Father Patrick. However, Silas’ mother wanted the Priest’s name before he was ordained, and that was Silas. To have called him Patrick O’Anything Irish-sounding would have been a cliché.

Thomas Arthur Payne

Thomas Payne is named because he is from a part of Kent I know well and there, there live a large collection of families called Payne. Simple. It also provided me with a play on words when Tom Payne and James Wright become involved in the detective agency. They were going to call it ‘The Wright-Payne Detective Agency’ until Silas pointed out another meaning.

If you want to find the best examples of names suiting characters, you only have to read Dickens. He was a master of characterisation through naming as you can see with Uriah Heap, Mr Bumble, Uncle Pumblechook, and who can forget Dick Swiveller from The Old Curiosity Shop? Come to that, what about Master Bates (Charlie), one of the boys from Oliver Twist?

We’ll say no more, and move on.

Nicknames

I like to give my characters nicknames for two reasons.
1) It’s what happens in real life, and
2) They can help define characters and relationships.

In the Clearwater Mysteries, Silas calls Andrej, ‘Fecker’ because, in Silas’ Irish accent, ‘He’s a very handsome Fecker.’ The name stuck. Similarly, Fecker, shortened to Fecks, calls Silas Banyak. In the Ukrainian village Fecker comes from, a banyak was a small cooking pot into which you’d put all kinds of stuff to produce one meal. Thus, for Fecker, Silas is a mixture of all things bubbling away and always on heat. Banyak was also the name of a faithful horse that brought him halfway across Europe, so the name also symbolises Silas’ loyalty to his friend.

Beware the Obvious

To finish with, here are a few things I suggest you look out for when inventing names.

  • Make sure they don’t all start with the same letter. Archer, Andrew, Andrej, Allan, Alice and Amy all appearing on one page, even in one novel, is confusing.
  • Ensure the name are time and place appropriate
  • Remember who named them. Two of my characters are named after places. Jasper Blackwood got his surname from the workhouse where he was placed as a baby. Dalston Blaze got his name because he was an unknown child rescued from a fire in a place called Dalston. He was entered into the workout register as ‘The boy from the Dalston Blaze’ and the name stuck.
  • Ensure that you proofread and keep the names consistent (says he!). It’s easy to miss a letter or not see a typo. I often write Adnrey instead of Andrej and never see it.
  • Tip: When I am reading through a full MS and come across a typo, I immediately do a search/find for that misspelt word. That way, I can pick up any other instances and correct them before I miss them again.
  • Don’t make names too complicated, even if it reads perfectly well to you.
  • Try and say something about your character in their name (see Dickens)
    Keep a list of names used so you don’t repeat yourself. This can be tricky in places and times when something like 50% of males were all called by the same name, but you’ll find a way around it.
  • Consider nicknames, but make sure you explain, subtly, that Silas is also called Banyak, and Andrej is also called Fecker, or Fecks, etc.
  • Keep nicknames consistent with the character using them. For example, only Andrej calls Lord Clearwater ‘Geroy’. It means noble in his Ukrainian, so it would be inappropriate for others to use it. Only Andrej’s closest finds are allowed to call him Fecker, so nicknames can also show relationships between characters.

Resources

And finally, another tip.

There are hundreds of baby naming websites out there, simply search for ‘popular boy/girl names,’ and you will be set for life. If writing in the modern-day.

If writing in the past, census lists, passenger lists, ‘popular Victorian names’ searches, and so on will all be invaluable.

If writing about Irish characters, or wherever, do the same thing. ‘Popular Irish names…’ or search for names of Celtic saints, if you want something mystical and old. Countries, place names… Be inventive, find them on Google Maps.

Save a bookmark file named ‘character names’ or something, and put in there the links to websites you find that are of use.

There, those were my random thoughts on naming characters. I’m off now to work on chapter 17 of the next Larkspur Mystery (still untitled), where I will be inventing more names because I’ve got something like eight murder victims to think up.

It’s all part of the fun.

Thanks for reading and I’ll be back next Saturday.

An interview with Mrs Norwood

Mrs Frances Sarah Norwood first appears in The Clearwater Mysteries in chapter four of book four, Fallen Splendour. She and her husband, Isaac, are Clearwater’s retainers and have come to take care of the house while Archer and his men go to Larkspur for Christmas.

The second stranger swept into the room, and for a reason he couldn’t place, James was relieved. Mrs Norwood, only slightly younger than her husband, bustled in the manner of Mrs Baker, and, like her husband, exuded confidence, not only with how she greeted James but how she took to her surroundings.

‘We have met before,’ she announced with a smile, studying his face as she gave a curtsy.

James’ confusion deepened, but he half-bowed to her before saying, ‘We have?’

‘I thought it must be you when His Lordship said you were South Riverside,’ she continued, passing by and heading towards the kitchen. ‘I’ll pop on a pan and warm a pot.’

Later in the series, Mrs Norwood divorces her husband because he has been unfaithful, and she gains the position of permanent housekeeper at Clearwater House. She is one of the few major female characters in the series and is still with us when we reach the first of The Larkspur Mysteries in 1890. By then, things have changed at both houses. James and Silas are working as private investigators based in London, while Thomas and Archer spend more time at Larkspur. Mrs Norwood lives at the London house with ‘her boys’, as she calls them and their new assistant, Duncan Fairbairn.

Dalston Blaze’s portrait of Mrs Norwood

Dalston Blaze, the talented young artist we meet in Guardians of the Poor drew Mrs Norwood as a gift for looking after him.


Today, sitting in the servants’ hall at Clearwater House with a pot of tea, I am asking the housekeeper a few questions.

Mrs Norwood, thank you for taking the time to talk with me. May I start by asking what exactly is expected of a housekeeper?

You may, and the answer is quite simple. I keep house. This involves looking after the day-to-day work of the female servants, balancing the household account books, meeting with the mistress to discuss meals, and ordering all supplies.

And is that what you do at Clearwater House?

No, not entirely. For a start, there is no mistress, so I deal directly with His Lordship when he is in town, otherwise, I run the house for the boys. I do the ordering and the cooking, except on Sunday mornings when they fend for themselves. When Lord Clearwater is here, he usually brings Mrs Roberts, his cook, and Mr Blackwood, my assistant. Together, Jasper and I clean the house and keep it tidy, while either Mr Nancarrow or Mr Holt act as the butler. It depends on who His Lordship has with him. He has a large and diverse staff, and we are all happy to do whatever is needed. But, most of the time these days, it is just me and the boys, and the house runs very much as a normal house would, except it is bigger.

How did you come to be Lord Clearwater’s housekeeper?

It came about thanks to Mr Payne, who was then His Lordship’s young butler. My ex-husband and I had been retainers under the previous viscount, and I have known His current Lordship since he was quite young. When the family was away, we would live downstairs at the house, partly to guard it, mainly to ensure it was kept running and clean. At this time, we lived in rented rooms not far away in South Riverside. My husband worked in publishing as an editor. I had a part-time position as a schoolmistress, and I also helped with Sunday school, which I still do.

After the business with Mr Norwood, when the divorce proceedings had begun, Mr Payne suggested it wouldn’t be proper for me to return to our lodgings, and thus, let me stay on at Clearwater House until things settled down. A little while later, he offered me the position of housekeeper, and His Lordship agreed because Mrs Baker was required at Larkspur, leaving the London House unkept. I have been running it ever since.

You and James Wright had met before you came to the house, is that correct?

Ah yes, little Jimmy Wright, the brightest boy in his class. I taught him when he was young, and he was a good student. A little dreamy at times, often suffered from bullying, I discovered later, poor thing, but good at his reading and writing. He used to be a chubby boy, a cherub with golden hair and near-invisible eyelashes. (She smiles fondly.) And now look at him. Gallivanting about the countryside, chasing down assassins and poisoners, rescuing young men from all manner of trouble… And now he wears a moustache. How they grow up.

A more traditional Victorian housekeeper

You assist with the detective agency, I understand?

I look after ‘those boys,’ certainly. If I didn’t run around after them, I hate to think what a mess they would be in. I know Jimmy… Mr Wright is now nearing thirty years, and Mr Hawkins is over twenty-one, but honestly… Newspapers left lying around, the dishes poorly washed, towels on the bathroom floor… I even found Mr Wright’s revolver left casually on the servants’ hall table one morning and was forced to tell him off. But, I love the work, of course, as I have grown to love them, for all their faults. As for the detecting work, I have been known to solve a clue or a riddle now and then. Sometimes, you see, only a women’s brain will do.

Yes, you have something of a reputation for being a New Woman, as the newspapers would have it. May I remind you of the time Silas first saw you driving His Lordship’s trap?

‘Mrs Norwood?’ He greeted her, unsure whether to shake her hand or hand over his luggage. ‘What are you doing driving the trap?’

‘Hello, Mr Hawkins,’ the retainer replied, reaching for his portmanteau. ‘We got your telegram late yesterday evening, but Mr Norwood has to be at the publishing house today, so I thought I would come to collect you.’

‘But, you’re a…’

She had taken his bag and swung it into the back of the trap before he finished stating the obvious.

‘Yes, I know,’ she said. ‘And a woman who sees no reason why a lady can’t drive. Why, if I wasn’t teaching most other days, I might even take up being a cabbie. It’s quite thrilling.

Ah yes, the driving. Well, I am not the first woman to drive, and I shan’t be the last. Thanks to changes in archaic laws, women can be more emancipated these days, and so they should be. Last year, I taught myself to type on a new typewriting machine, and I am currently studying Pitman’s shorthand. It’s not such a far leap from there to Morse code, and I am nearly fluent in that too. These are small things. I intend to see what I can do about getting women the vote, but I do have to be careful not to upset His Lordship. Having said that, he, too, is in favour of women being given the vote, and I mean all women, not just a chosen few.

The servants’ hall

Does that mean you find the housework less of a challenge, or perhaps, dare I ask it, too much like ‘women’s work’?

Good Lord, no! Running the house, cooking and cleaning for the boys is a joy. As you know, Mr Norwood awarded me no children, so I can’t but help see the young gentlemen as, well, nephews at least. Lord Clearwater insists on a family-like atmosphere at his properties, even among the staff, and I suppose someone has to be the mother to the man now his own has passed away. I mean, he sees Jimmy Wright like a brother, Mr Andrej too, and we know how he is with Mr Hawkins, so it’s only right that I care for the gentlemen, but that doesn’t prevent me from bettering myself with what you might call more unusual pursuits. Morse code, Pitman, driving, and so on.

You alluded there to Mr Hawkins and His Lordship, and I think you will know what I mean when I ask how you feel about their relationship.

And what exactly do you ask about it?

Oh, well, how you feel knowing… knowing what it is.

Sir, of course, I know what it is, how it is, and why it is. A housekeeper should know everything that happens in her house, and I do. However, I am discreet, and His Lordship’s personal business is none of yours. Would you like more tea?

[Mrs Norwood is very protective about all of her ‘boys’, Lord Clearwater included.]

Joseph Tanner of the Larkspur Academy

One last thing, Mrs Norwood. What do you think about Lord Clearwater’s new endeavour, the Larkspur Academy?

I am thrilled, of course. His Lordship is a philanthropist, and this latest venture is a wonderful idea. I don’t have much to do with it, being in London for most of the time, but some of the young men the academy seeks to help have visited here. In fact, most of them, including Professor Fleet, came from London and have spent a night or two here before travelling to Cornwall. Recently, Mr Blaze was a guest after being rescued, and it is he who made this wonderful portrait which now hangs on the wall there. His deaf friend, Mr Tanner, also stayed for a couple of nights. So, I do at least get to meet some of the talented and unusual men before they move down to Larkspur to better their lives and chances.

Understanding that he cannot help everyone, Lord Clearwater strives to better the lives of the underprivileged and those who have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own. To offer them—even if only a few—the chance to discover themselves, develop their hidden talents and make a life for themselves is a wonderful thing to do, and I look forward to visiting Larkspur and seeing the house for myself. I have been to the Hall, of course, I was there last Christmas, but I would like to see the academy in full swing. I have heard it is quite a unique place, a little like Clearwater House, and I look forward to the day it takes young women under its roof as well as young men.

Thank you for taking the time, Mrs Norwood. Would you have a quote for our readers? Something that sums up how you feel about the world under Queen Victoria and your part in it?

I do, actually, although it is by no great author or person of learning, but my own thought.

If a woman follows the crowd, she will see only what the crowd sees. A woman who walks alone, however, will find places no one has seen before.

How Do I Publish So Often?

How Do I Publish So Often?

A couple of weeks ago, my Saturday post was about Self-Publishing and how I do it. After that, I wrote a post about how I improve my manuscript. I wrote these in response to questions I’d received by email and on my Facebook page. Sitting outside our local kafeneion the other afternoon, I fell into conversation with someone who asked, ‘How do you write so many stories?’ or words to that effect. The answer was simple, ‘It’s my job.’

There is a simple answer: discipline and organisation.

This week, I thought I would give you an insight into my writing process.

It’s My Job

My typing station this morning.

I see writing and self-publishing as a job and one that I enjoy doing. That means I suffer most of what everyone suffers when they are work-conscious. If I don’t write, it’s like not turning up for work. If I am writing and I am interrupted, it’s like being disturbed at any workplace; someone else is paying for me not to be working. If I take a break, I am still thinking about work for when I get back. I have a mental in-tray and a to-do list. I deal with admin before I start writing. I put away the phone and its distractions until I have a break.

You see? Just like working in an office, except without being paid. I mean, if someone paid me even €1.00 per hour for my writing, I would be ‘As rich as Croesus by teatime‘ as Barbary Fleet says in The Guardians of the Poor.

My Daily Routine

And when I say daily, I mean seven days per week.

I’m an early riser, so I am usually up around four in the summer, a little later in the winter. Sometimes I’m up at 3.30, sometimes not until five, in which case I feel like I am late for work. I read the news, though I don’t know why, and I have a cup of tea, before commuting to work. This involves crossing the porch from the house to the ‘workhouse’, as I call our extra bit or property that houses our offices and laundry.

My other desk is where I research and make notes in books. Currently, there’s a rough map of part of the Larkspur estate, plus my ‘Clearwater Bible’.

PC switched on, tea by my side… First, I check my emails in MailWasher. Download and reply, or set aside for later.
Then, I turn on Firefox, check my overnight sales, have a quick look on Facebook in case there are any messages.
If I have any writing work for other people, I do that first. This can range from ten minutes to a couple of hours, and it varies.
5.45 in the morning, I go for a three-mile walk. Well, okay, so not every day, and it depends on when the sun comes up, but in Greece, in August, you need to be out early if you’re walking. Most days, I just have another cup of tea and try not to feel guilty.

However, when I do manage a walk, I am still working. I plan the day’s chapter in my head, telling myself the story like a first draft, and then, when I get back to write it down, it’s like an improved second draft.

So, admin done, walk done, real paid work done, I can then set about my story.
I try to write a chapter each day. Or, 3,000 to 4,000 words.
The best days are when I have no paid work because then, I have more time. Best for my creativity, but not for my bank, of course. Then, I start writing as early as four or five and blast through until I can do no more.

I stop for lunch at 11.00, although we don’t eat until 12.00. Bear in mind, I’ve usually done five or six hours by now, and that’s why I don’t go back to work until around 14.00. A three-hour lunch break? Of course, I have to get in an episode of Survivor and currently two of The Amazing Race.

Notes made during ‘Inheritance’, keeping track of the Riddington family tree.

Afternoons vary, but often I’m at the desk for another two hours or so, reading through the morning’s work, or sometimes adding more words.

At 15.30 (ish) in the summer, I go for a siesta, after which I’ll probably join the husband at his bar and relax. Sometimes, mainly in the winter, I’ll work through the afternoon until five, giving me a 12 hour day, but with a couple of hours off in the middle; so a 10-hour day is not uncommon.
Now and then, I take a day off, but even when I have to be away from the writing for a day, I get the admin done first.

That’s how I write between 3,000 and 4,000 words per day. More on a good day.

What do I do With all Those Words

Above is what I do when banging out a first draft. When working on a second, third, fourth etc., the route remains the same, but instead of writing, I am rewriting or editing. Later, I am checking, then double-checking, so no hours are wasted.

I keep notes as I go. I used to do this in a book, and sometimes, I still do, but recently, I’ve started putting my thoughts in another Word document. This is because there’s no room on my PC desk to put a notepad beside me. I have to put it in my lap, write the note, and then put it back each time, and that’s cumbersome.
So, I type, telling myself the story from head to fingers. I pause now and then to make a note. For example, the current WIP, the second Larkspur Mystery, is currently raising many questions which need to be answered. So, I have incorporated a table into my flow-sheet, my plot outline, or as I have labelled it, ‘Vow storyline’ because ‘Vow’ was going to be part of the title. This table is simply a list of questions to answer later or get rid of later if I don’t need them. An excerpt reads:

How does Dalston translate the symbols?With Fleet’s help
What do the symbols mean?

If the nine lines were a count, what did the other symbols mean?

They tell the story of the…

That won’t mean anything to anyone but me, and I’ve doctored it so there are no spoilers, but it’s an example of how I keep notes as I go.

Another thing I do is change the text to red when I have used the idea. Example:

Joe examines what he can of the 2nd stone within the ruin walls – at the altar end of the church, so very important.
Dalston translates the standing stone’s symbols according to Joe’s theory.

The red is an idea I have used, the black is yet to be done. I do this just to keep myself in check.

Be Organised.

From the Clearwater ‘bible’, a chart of main characters’ ages through the years.

Discipline is one thing, organisation is another.
I am lucky as I am semi-retired, but even if you only have one hour a day for writing, that one hour is for writing, and you need to be firm about that. Even if you’re only sitting and thinking, you are working. Even if you write rubbish, you are writing. Some days, I write a chapter, and the next, I put it in the ‘cuts’ folder because I thought it was no good. Later, I may take an idea from it or just a sentence. Never trash, always keep, because you never know…
I have a folder for each book, and within it, other folders for research, images, and drafts. The main folder soon fills up with individual chapters, and these, I name in detail.
Current WIP chapters are labelled:
01 Newspaper September 11th 1890
02 Joe and standing stones September 12th
03 Breakfast 12th

Chapter numbers keep the order, the text reminds me of what’s in each one, and the dates are there to remind me of the timeline.
When draft one is done, I put them all together, read through and make any find/replace changes. For example, if I decide to change a name. (Dalston started out as Clayton, but I changed his name halfway through writing ‘Guardians’, and it’s much easier to wait until the full draft is finished, and then use Find/Replace in Word to make the changes.)
That done, I put draft one in its own folder, and take the full draft apart, putting each chapter separately in the draft two folder. Then, I work through each chapter with ProWritingAid as I edit, improve, rewrite, etc.
Put draft two together. Read it over a couple of days for continuity, make any changes, pick up some typos, etc.,

And repeat… Until I am happy I have a final draft.

Eventually, I get to a stage where I am in danger of fiddling with the MS too much, and that’s when I send it to be proofed. By then, my designer will be working on the cover, and I would have finalised the blurb.
While the MS is off for proofing, I might start on the next book… And so it goes on.

Finally

Of course, the view fom the window helps.

So, when I am asked how I publish so many books, I can only say it is because I am disciplined and organised. Each time I write a chapter, I aim to improve my style. Each time I publish a book, I aim to make the next one better. After a while, you find you write better first drafts, and thus, have more time to spend on second and third drafts. You learn to pick up on your common errors and repetitions, and simply don’t write them.

I guess the bottom line is that you keep at it, and the more you write, the better you (should) be at it.
As for where the ideas come from, well, that’s a post for another day.

If you’ve not yet started the Larkspur series, book one, ‘Guardians of the Poor’ is now available on Kindle, and will be in paperback as soon as I get the full cover, which I hope to have this weekend.

Keep reading!

Jackson

Guardians of the Poor: Release and Cover Reveal

Guardians of the Poor: Release and Cover Reveal

Hello everyone!

I have exciting news for you this week and a unique treat. ‘Guardians of the Poor’ will be available in a couple of days, and as soon as it is, I will put the links on my Facebook Page. I also have the cover to show you. This is the first time anyone has seen it, and we will get to that in a minute.

Guardians of the Poor

Guardians of the Poor is the first in a new series, ‘The Larkspur Mysteries.’ This series follows on from ‘The Clearwater Mysteries’ and concerns some of the original characters but introduces new ones as we enter the world of Clearwater’s new academy. The Larkspur Academy is not a school, college or any other kind of institution in the usual sense, it’s a place where young men with a specific talent can come and be safe. Clearwater identifies these men, all of whom have something in common, and invites them to start a new life under the tutorship of Professor Fleet, or, as he prefers to be called, just Fleet.

This is actually my husband, Neil, but the image inspired me to write Fleet.

Fleet is something of an eccentric but is also a genius, and he brings some humour to the story while mentoring his young men, edging them towards self-improvement and allowing them to come out of their various shells (and to come out). Fleet, however, is not the main character in this first story; that role falls to a young man called Dalston Blaze. Where Archer (Clearwater) is the protagonist, Dalston is the main character and his friend Joe Tanner is the second MC if you like, or as some would say the impact character. Dalston finds himself with a sidekick, the foul-mouthed but totally loyal Greek-Londoner, Frank, and comes up against the flirtatious Scotsman, Duncan Fairbairn, who we first met in ‘Negative Exposure’, book nine of the Clearwater series.

The Mystery

The mystery in ‘Guardians’ isn’t so much a mystery but a problem to be solved, although there is a mystery quest, ‘Where is Joe, and how can we find him?’ That falls to the detectives, James Wright and Silas Hawkins to discover, along with Duncan, now their researcher. James and Silas are based in London, where they are watched over by the motherly Mrs Norwood, who has a crucial role to play later in the story. Meanwhile, Archer is at Larkspur, working with Dalston to uncover the story of the villains, a workhouse master and his schoolteacher, two very nasty pieces of work.

The story moves from London to Cornwall and the academy on the Larkspur estate, back to London, and finally, back to Cornwall, and the ending leads into book two, which I have started writing.

Workhouses and Deafness

As you know, I like to include actual events, places and sometimes people with my fiction, and ‘Guardians’ was inspired by a newspaper report about two men accused of and tried for ‘unnatural offences’ (i.e., gay sex). The book opens with a version of that newspaper report, which I first put in word for word. Then, after reading it back, I realised how convoluted and confusing the report was, so I tidied it up to make it more readable. It concerned the Chelsea workhouse in 1890, but I moved my action to the Hackney workhouse, because I knew the area better, and was more easily able to research the actual workhouse. Much of what you will read in the book is based on an authentic account of a man living in such an institution, as well as other writings I have found from those who experienced workhouse life first-hand.

Larkspur in BSL fingerspelling (gif)

My second principal character, Joe Tanner, is deaf. I thought it high time we addressed some social issues in my mysteries, and I have long wanted to write a deaf character, and I mean one who has been deaf from birth. Joe is deaf and dumb (I am sure there’s a more PC expression, but we are dealing with 1890 here), and that presented me with all manner of interesting challenges when writing him. Even more so now I have started on book two, where Joe is the main character.
I have been researching what it is like to be deaf to the point of studying sign language (BSL) and am trying to get to the bottom of how to write from a deaf person’s point of view. As you may know, I tend to write my novels from the characters’ POV, rather than an all-seeing narrator, and part of that is writing the action using words and thoughts suitable for the narrating character. Archer, for example, has a slightly more educated narrator’s voice than James or Silas. But how to do it for Joe? Because he is deaf from birth, he doesn’t know what words sound like, so when he reads, he doesn’t have a voice in his head, but instead (as I understand it), visualises signs and images. There are only a few instances when we hear Joe’s point of view in ‘Guardians’ but there will be much more in book two. That’s currently untitled, but it will involve a mystery of standing stones and murder.

But I am getting ahead of myself…

Guardians of the Poor, cover reveal

As I said, I will let you know when the book is ready, and I’ll announce that on Facebook, and here, later. Knowing how these things work, you may get a notification from Amazon before I do. That often happens because of the time differences around the world. I am aiming to upload the files this weekend. I am just waiting for the full cover from Andjela, so the print version may be a couple of days later than the Kindle. As usual, the book will be available for Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and in Paperback and only from Amazon.

And now, I can reveal the cover. Beneath this image, I have put the blurb for Guardians and the new series, but before that… Click the image, the Kindle cover will open, and you will be the first to see it.

Guardians of the Poor
Jackson Marsh

The greatest gift one man may give another is his trust.”
Barbary Fleet, 1890.

Standing stones, messages written in symbols, and the language of the deaf. It falls to Lord Clearwater to unlock the mystery of Dalston Blaze and his deaf friend, Joe Tanner, two young men arrested for committing ‘unnatural offences’ at the Hackney workhouse.

Dalston hopes for a prison sentence. It’s the only way to save his life. Instead, he is bailed to the Larkspur Academy on Lord Clearwater’s Cornish estate, where there is only one rule: honesty above all else. For Dalston, this means confronting his past, learning to trust, and admitting his secrets. Joe is the key, but Joe is missing, and his location is locked deep inside a memory seen in sign language, and clouded by eighteen years of workhouse life.

If Dalston remains silent, the immoral workhouse master and his sadistic schoolteacher will continue to inflict pain and suffering on all inmates of the Hackney workhouse. If he tells the truth, he and Joe will die.

The Guardians of the Poor is a combination of mystery, adventure and male romance, set in 1890. It draws on first-hand accounts of workhouse life at the time, and is the first of a new series of mysteries set in the Clearwater world.

The Larkspur Mysteries series

Beginning in 1890, The Larkspur Mysteries follow on from The Clearwater Mysteries series of 11 novels. It’s not necessary to have read the Clearwater books before you embark on the Larkspur series. However, if you enjoy mystery, romance, adventure and a mix of historical fact and fiction, then begin the journey with ‘Deviant Desire.’ (Or the non-mystery prequel, ‘Banyak & Fecks.’)

Lord Clearwater has created a unique academy for disadvantaged young men. The Larkspur Academy is, ‘A non-academic institution with the aim to provide deserving men the opportunity to expand talent, horizons and knowledge for the betterment of the underprivileged and general society.’ It’s not a school. There are no lessons, no teachers, no schoolboys and no rules. The series exists in the established Clearwater world of the late 1800’s where homosexuality is a crime everywhere but on Clearwater’s country estate in Cornwall.

The series is ongoing. Each story involves male bonding, bromance, friendship and love. Mystery, adventure and a little comedy play their parts, and every story is inspired by true events from the past.