News From Both Worlds

News From Both Worlds

Hello everyone, here’s what’s going on in my writing world and my real world. Let’s start with where we are right now, at my website.

The Clearwater Family

We are starting to build new pages. Have a look at the top menu, and you will see The Clearwater Family. You can click on that to find links to individual pages about the main characters in the Clearwater series. So far, we have interviews with Jasper, Thomas, Andrej and James, and more will come along in time. When they are published as a blog post, they will also be available under the family. So, if you have missed any chats with the characters, you can find them there. This is part of the ongoing project, ‘The Clearwater Companion.’

The Clearwater Inheritance

The news on Clearwater 10 is that I am almost at the end of the third draft, while Neil is almost at the end of his beta read. Proofing is booked in for May 25th, Anjela is working on the cover, and I am aiming for publication in early June.

There are no spoilers here, but already I have overheard Neil in the other room muttering things like, ‘You can’t do that!’ ‘Oh no!’ ‘Ha! I knew it!’ and other helpful/unhelpful asides. There are a few twists, a code, lots of history, an evil villain, and a certain amount of travel involved in this story, which is to be the longest of the Clearwater collection so far.

Flash Fiction

I have devoted my writing time to the Clearwater series for the last two years because it grabbed me, and I love writing it. But, during that time, I was also able to release The Students of Barrenmoor Ridge, and recently, I was invited to enter a flash fiction anthology competition. I’ve never written flash fiction before (I had to look up what it was), but I thought I’d have a go. The competition called for only 300 words which, to me, is more like a sentence – lol – rather, a couple of paragraphs, but I did my best. The very short story has a beginning, middle, end, something to do with gay/love, and is kind of in the required genre of mystery/sci-fi/fantasy. Oh, and it also had to be about ink, as if there weren’t enough constraints already. I won’t know the outcome for a while yet, but if it is not accepted into the anthology, I will post it here.

Meanwhile…

Meanwhile, here in Symi, Greece, we are at last allowed to go to the pub. Well, to the kafenion and the tavernas as we don’t have pubs.

Easter on Symi. Neil made the cake.

There are still restrictions in place, but they are easing ahead of the opening up for tourism date of May 15th. This could be an excellent thing for the economy, but not such a good thing for health; we will have to wait and see. If you want to know more about where I live and what we do on Symi, click the link for my five times per week blog from the island, Symi Dream.

Neil and I have had our first vaccination against ‘the thing’, and the second one is due next week. I had a couple of dodgy days after the first, with heavy cold/flu symptoms and a very painful arm, but you know what us writers are like, I just got on with it, and it passed.

At Rhodes Old Town with my godson

Also, a couple of weeks ago, I went to Rhodes for the first time in 13 months. In fact, it was my first time off our island since we came back from Canada last year. This trip was to start the process of proving I have the right to live in Greece now the UK has left the EU. Tedious, I know, and don’t get me started on Brexit. I am now waiting to go back to Rhodes to have a fingerprint taken as the second stage of my application to remain as a third-country national. Neil is still a European citizen because he has an Irish passport, lucky thing. We’ve been here nearly 19 years, had a business and all that, and I should have no trouble getting my new residency card. I hope!

Next

And now, I am four chapters away from the end of the latest draft of the Clearwater Inheritance, and so I must get on.

Yesterday’s sunrise seen from our roof

Neil has gone for a walk and a swim, as the temperature has been up to 30 degrees of late, but I am chained to the desk and deadline. I have been out for a few walks recently, and I need to do more to get rid of some of this lockdown lard. I’ve spent the last year at the desk, making models or watching endless TV series, with only a few strolls up and down the hills and not my usual five days per week schedule. Still, I’ve got lots written and a few models made.

Two of the horror figure models I have made during lockdown – and a photo of Neil created by Anjela in the Clearwater style

So, thanks for reading. Keep in touch and keep following the Facebook page, sharing things around and leaving reviews. I’ll be back next week with… something else to chat about.

 

 

 

Musical Cryptography: A Mystery Device

Musical Cryptography: A Mystery Device

A good mystery needs particular elements. Strong characters, motives, opportunities, means, deceptions, red herrings… There’s a long list. In all my mysteries, I also employ what I call a device. A plan, method, or trick with a particular aim, as the online dictionary defines its meaning. Without giving too much away about my Clearwater Mystery Series in case you’ve not read every book, I wanted to tell you about some of the devices I have used in this series and in my other novels.

A Mystery Device

When I talk about a device, I am referring to the thing that needs to be understood for the mystery to be unlocked and the ‘treasure’ found. That ‘treasure’ can be a murderer on the run, a kidnapping victim, the prevention of an assassination, anything. It is the particular aim of the investigating characters.

So far in this series and other books with a mystery or treasure hunt element, I have used murder sites to form a map, a poem to reveal a location, anagrams, the first draft of Dracula and the novel itself (The Stoker Connection), an oil painting, family history (The Blake Inheritance), rare books, unusual poisoning and, on more than one occasion, musical codes.

Here’s an aside. Years ago, when I first moved to Brighton, UK, I had an idea for a madcap mystery adventure concerning drag queens and opera singers. I never finished writing this one, but I spent hours working out the plot and the devices. The story hinged on a piece of coded music. Later, when I moved to Greece in 2002, I set about writing another mystery adventure comedy (I like my mashups), and in it, the device of a musical code. The story, Jason and the Sargonauts, was based on the original Jason and the Argonauts myth but concerned a group of elderly tourists coming to Symi on holiday and their young, gay rep. It is a mix of fiction and historical fact set in the present day and the past and concerns the search for The Golden Fleece. That’s not the original Golden Fleece, but something else, and the key to its whereabouts is hidden in a piece of music. This novel was written under my real name, James Collins, and you can find it here.

A Treatise On The Art Of Deciphering, And Of Writing In Cypher: With An Harmonic Alphabet (1772) by Philip Thicknesse

Wow, that’s a title and a half, but it is actually a real book. I now have a copy of it and dipped in and out of it when writing my current novel. It was written in 1772 and plays a part in the story. Naturally, I couldn’t let the name of the author go by without at least one character making a reference to Thicknesse. It is too good a word to turn down. (Inserts a wink emoji.)

Currently, I am working on the 10th book in the Clearwater Mystery series, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, and once again, I have used the device of a musical code. Or rather, a message hidden in a piece of music. It has always fascinated me – the thought that it might be possible to write a message into music that could only be understood by someone who investigated deeply enough, but there has always been the question, How?
How can you translate musical notes into the English language, create a message, and still make the music sound like music?

I shan’t tell you exactly how because that would spoil the story for you, and actually, it’s hard to do in text without bamboozling the non-music-reading reader and without showing images of a score while playing an audio track, but…

The current state of my notebook.

One of the simplest ways to do it would be to have each note represent one letter. Say you started on the note Middle-C, and every semitone going upwards was the next letter of the alphabet. Even if you’re non-musical, you might guess that the word AWAY, for example, would have the melody bouncing from bottom to top of the range in a very untuneful manner.

Then there’s the question of where to start? Who’s to say what note is A and what is Z? There are 88 notes on a modern piano keyboard, any one of which could be A with the consecutive alphabet running up or down. And how do you handle chords and harmonies?

As you might see, it’s a lovely idea but hard to explain, and for this reason, I researched musical codes to see if it was a viable device.

It is, and I am certainly not the first to have thought of it.

Musical Cryptograms

The B A C H motif

A musical cryptogram is a cryptogrammatic sequence of musical symbols, a sequence which can be taken to refer to an extra-musical text by some ‘logical’ relationship, usually between note names and letters. The most common and best known examples result from composers using ciphered versions of their own or their friends’ names as themes or motifs in their compositions. Much rarer is the use of music notation to encode messages for reasons of espionage or personal security. [Wiki]

There are two principal techniques, the German and the French. The most common musical cryptogram is the ‘B-A-C-H’ motif. JS Bach used this, but in the German-speaking world, the note B-flat was actually B, and B-natural was H, so he had more letters available. The French version is even more compliacted. I was interested to learn that several well-known composers have used a musical cryptogram, Bach, Schumann, Brahms, Ravel, Poulenc, Shostakovich and Elgar, among many others.

There is also a method of coding a message in music by way of patterns, where the shape of the phrase represents a letter. If you are interested, check out Atlas Obscura.
With so many possibilities to draw on, I eventually decided that to keep it simple was the best way forward, and so, I was delighted to find a quote that said, In its simplest form, the letters A through G can be used to spell out words or codes. [Ludwig Van Toronto.] I decided to limit myself to seven letters, the basic music notes as used in the English notation system. (Don’t get me started on do, re, me, fa, so, la, ti and the Solfège system of notation.) This naturally presented me with other challenges.

Limited Letters

Michael Haydn’s musical cipher of 1808

How to create a message using only seven letters? The starting place was an anagram solver and typing in A through to G to see what came up. Not a lot. So, bearing in mind that any of those seven letters can repeat as many times as necessary, I searched for anagrams made up from letters such as A and E (the only available vowels) plus DD, GG, F, CCC… and so on. Well, that took some time, but eventually threw up a list of words I could legitimately use.

After that, it was a case of putting the most useful ones in the right order and then building the answer to the riddle around them. I mean, there was no point the message reading ‘You will find it at the zoo’, because, from that sentence, I would only be able to use F D A E. But hang on… FDAE can be arranged to make FADE, and if I add another D, I can make FADED. What’s more, that doesn’t sound too bad if played as music. So, what something is made up of only the seven letters and might be faded? A faded DEAD… A faded DEAF… BED… DEED…

A DEED is a legal document, and an inheritance would be written into a legal document, a deed or, in this case, a fee tail, also called an entail, but still a DEED…

Finally

I’ll stop chatting there as I don’t want to give anything else away about what I am currently writing. All you need to know is that you’re in for a treat with the next Clearwater, and you don’t need to be a musician to understand the code. You can leave that to Jasper Blackwood…

Jasper Blackwood at work, 1890

By the way, The Clearwater Inheritance is currently going through its third draft, and I have booked it in for its final proofreading towards the end of May.

I have contacted Anjela about the cover and aim to have the novel released early in June. If you’ve not read Banyak & Fecks, you might want to slip that one in before the publication date because some of what happens in The Clearwater Inheritance relates to what happens in the prequel, Banyak & Fecks.

And now, back to 1890 and musical cryptography…

An Interview with Andrej: AKA, Fecker

Of all the characters in The Clearwater Mysteries, Andrej seems to be the readers’ favourite. I must admit, he is one of my favourite characters too, and yet he started out as someone entirely different. Today, instead of a formal interview with the character, I thought I would tell you more about him but ask him some questions along the way.

Andrej Borysko Yakiv Kolisnychenko

‘That is my name, and no-one can take that away from me.’

Andrej was born in a village called Serbka, in Ukraine, sometime between 1867 and 1869. It might have been a year earlier because he has never been told what year he was born. He knows it was at Easter, though, and when you read ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, you will learn a little more about his birth. His village is a real place, although I have never been there, and it is hard to find information about it online. There is a river called The Balai, and he grew up on its banks, the son of a farmer. His family was large, but most of his brothers and sisters were killed during ‘the troubles’, a fictional rebellion based on Russian invasions of the area and the internal and external wars that took place in the region over time.

Serbka Village, Odessa Oblast, Ukraine, 2014

One of the reasons Andrej is a favourite character is because he is something of an enigma. He has one of the deepest backstories of any character in the series (though the main seven all have detailed and complex histories), and yet, when I first envisioned him, he was nothing more than a sidekick.

Without giving too much away, here is how the character of Andrej developed.

Deviant Desire

When I set about writing what is now part one of a ten-part series (plus one prequel), it was a standalone love story between Silas Hawkins, a renter, and Viscount Clearwater (Archer). A classic, rags to riches story if you like. However, all main characters need a foil or a sidekick, and Silas’ was to be Andy, an Artful Dodger type character from the East End. As I wrote his first appearance, I realised that all I was doing was imitating Dodger, and what was the point of that? What would be more interesting? Knowing the Victorian East End was a melting pot of many nationalities, immigration and migrant workers, I thought, why not make Andy an immigrant? Perhaps a Russian… Or maybe, someone even more marginalised… A Ukrainian.

So, Andy became Andrej (the Ukrainian spelling), and he arrives in chapter one of Deviant Desire with a backstory and an existing relationship with Silas.

Andrej, how did you and Silas meet?
I was turning trick in alley because I need money, and this boy, he comes in for piss, and he not see me. Oi! I shout. Fuck off, is my place. Then boy sees that trick is going to stab Andrej, and he piss on man, and Andrej is saved. Then boy he run away, but Dolya, she tell me later that I must help this boy, so I go find him. He is near dead, so Andrej take him home. We are soon friends.

Andrej is quite capable of speaking fluent English but chooses not to. English uses too many words, so why bother? He uses Russian and Ukrainian village words in his speech too. Hence ‘Dolya’ is fate, and he never says yes or no, only Da and Nyet.

Twisted Tracks

I’d fallen for Andrej by the time I realised that Deviant Desire could not be a standalone novel and decided to keep him in the series. He doesn’t play a large part in Twisted Tracks, but he proves his loyalty to his friends, and that theme is the backbone of the entire series. Andrej personifies that theme more than any other character. In Twisted Tracks, he also comes to realise that Archer is ‘Geroy’, his village word for a noble man, as opposed to a nobleman. Andrej has nicknames for everyone and uses them because they remind him of a person’s character. Silas is Banyak, which has various meanings, but mainly, it is an idiot or cooking pot that contains all manner of things. James is Tato, which means ‘daddy’, Thomas is Bolshoydick, which means ‘large penis’ (because, apparently, it is true), and Jasper is Pianino because it means ‘little piano.’

Andrej, why does Silas call you ‘Fecker’?
Is easy. Is because I am handsome fecker. He says this with his Irish accent once, and again, and in the end, the name sticks. I not mind. I am good at fecking, but I not feck lady yet. Not until I am married.

Unspeakable Acts

Andrej appears little in book three, which is mainly led by Silas and James, but he is there, getting on with things and keeping an eye on his best friend, Banyak. After book three, I decided that we needed to know more about Andrej. At that time, I wasn’t too sure about Andrej’s past, so I asked him some more questions as I wrote book four.

Serbka, Ukraine

Andrej, what happened to your family? 

Is complicated and sad. My father (I not like him much), he was farmer and militia man. Dead. My first mother, she die when she gives us my sister, Daria. Daria, she and my second mother they disappear in the troubles. I don’t know if they are alive. My other sister, Alina, she was killed by Russians, also my brother Vladyslav. He die in war when he was near thirty. This leave only Danylo, and he go to war, and I not hear about him before I leave Ukraine. Now, I have Danylo back.

Fallen Splendour

Andrej’s backstory comes out during Fallen Splendour. At least, some of it does. Archer calls on him to assist in an investigation. While on their way and sleeping rough during a blizzard, he tells Archer some of his history. Later in the story, he proves himself more than loyal and determined to fight for his life. This involves cutting off three of his fingers. That’s the kind of man he is. During this time, he quietly falls in love with a kitchen maid, Lucy Roberts, and that relationship bubbles away in the background all through the series.

Inspiration for the drawing of Andrej (below).

So, Andrej, are you straight?
What is this ‘straight?’ I am man from Ukraine. I am strong. I farm, I ride horses, I learn tricks on horses in Circus with Ivo Zoran, and I am Master of Larkspur Horse. What is ‘straight? [I explain our modern terminology, and Andrej is mildly outraged.] What? You think I am queer like Banyak and others? Nyet. I have big, Ukraine koloty, and I need money, so I use this to make money, so I eat. Men, they like Andrej’s koloty, but I no like what I must do to make money, but I do it. This not make me queer. Don’t say that. You want me to get angry?

At six-foot-four and built like the proverbial brick shithouse, no-one wants to make Andrej angry, so we move on.

Bitter Bloodline

In book five, we explore Andrej’s relationship with James as they are tasked with rescuing the son of a famous writer. Again, Andrej proves himself loyal, straightforward, strong, and an expert horseman, and, by now in the series, we are also getting used to him injecting some humour.

Artful Deception

In book six, Andrej is again a background character, although a pillar; without him, the deception would not be possible. He does as he is asked, risks his life and suffers for it, but he is there, propping up the others in his quiet, steadfast way. This strength of character must come from somewhere, and I asked him where.

I don’t know. From the Balai, from the way Vlad he teach me the sword, and the way my father he teach me the horse and plough. I know what is right and what is wrong from early years, and when I see my village dying, and Blumkin and the others, they want to run and give themselves to Russians, I say, Nyet. This is not Andrej. I am thirteen years, I think. Maybe fourteen, I don’t know, but I do know I not stay and be killed by Russian. So, I walk.

I go to England which is richest country in world, and there, I make money to come home and look for sister and Danylo. Is long walk. Many troubles, but I meet kind mad with no eyes, and he gives me Banyak the horse, and she teach me loyalnist. [Loyalty.] Then, I fuck men for money and I find ship, and Makarov, and Captain, they help me and they teach me there are good people in world, and I should be one. All that, I think, all that make me how I am.

Home From Nowhere & One Of A Pair

Andrej is in books seven and eight, though they step away from what we are used to in the Clearwater world, and so, Andrej is in the backseat, rather than driving. Other characters get the leads, and we are introduced to two more main players, Jasper and Billy, the nephews of what is fast becoming the Clearwater family.

Andrej is featured on the cover of Fallen Splendour riding a charger.

Andrej, do you think of Clearwater and your friends as a family?
Da. We are friends, for sure, but because of how Geroy likes his house to be, we are more like family now. Geroy [Clearwater], he is like father because he is money and important man, and Thomas, he is like mother because he is bossy and always knows what is right. This makes Banyak [Silas] like the mistress, but that make me laugh, and Banyak is like brother with me now. Jimmy, he is also brother who looks after the boys, that’s Pianino and Vasily [Jasper and Billy], who are like nephews because they are young and naughty. Billy, he get in trouble with Thomas because he say words like ‘Bugger it, Me Lord’ and ‘Pig in shit’, and that make me laugh. Pianino is special, and needs Andrej to watch him, or he cry easily. This is because he is clever with music and did not have nice childhood. So, Andrej watches them all, and we are family.

By now in the series, I decided it was time we knew more about Andrej and Silas. They, after all, started us off in chapter one of Deviant Desire, and yet, their combined backstory had never been explained. How did they become such close friends?

Banyak & Fecks

I might have overindulged myself with this one, and popping a prequel into a series after eight books might seem a bit odd, but I wanted a break from the hardcore action of the first six books and the cosey mysteries of seven and eight. So, turned to the past.

Young Banyak (right) and Fecks taken in 1887

Banyak & Fecks is in four parts.
Part one gives us Andrej’s story from the moment he escapes the Russians. The first part of the book takes him from there to London and up to the point he meets Silas. The second part then flashes back to introduce us to Silas in the Westerpool (Wirral) slums, and we meet a very cheeky, confident young trickster who, when he comes to London, soon falls on hard times. Part three starts the moment Andrej and Silas meet, and their relationship evolves from there to part four. This is when Silas has got over his crush on Andrej. Andrej has ‘fallen in love’ with Silas though only platonically, and the two live together as a couple of besties. It is a classic bromance, only set in the Victorian slums of the East End. The book finishes a couple of days before Deviant Desire starts, during the reign of The East End Ripper (based on Jack the Ripper).

Negative Exposure

‘The White Ship’, home to Banyak & Fecks in 1887

Andrej plays a significant role in book nine. Things that happened in Banyak & Fecks come back to haunt Silas and potentially ruin everything Archer has built over the previous installments. You should read Banyak & Fecks before Negative Exposure to get the best from it, but it’s not 100% necessary. This story returns us to the previous action-adventure, platonic love, bromance themes of the earlier stories. As I wrote it, I was aware that book ten was on its way, and Negative Exposure runs directly into ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’

Andrej is in every story, there as a main player or in the background, and he is certainly in book ten. Or he will be when I finish it. He plays a major part in ‘the Clearwater Inheritance’, as you will see, and as this might be the last in the series as we know it, you may be in for some shocks.

I’ll finish by asking Andrej one more question.

A Ukrainian farmhouse, 19th century. Fecker’s home before it was destroyed.

Andrej, do you think you will ever return to Ukraine?
How I know this? I don’t know what Dolya has for me. I don’t know if my sister and second mother live, so how I know if I go back to look? I have Danylo and now… Now I have other news about Serbka and me when a boy. Now I have big decision to make because in Vienna I meet a man… Nyet. You not know this yet, so Andrej stay quiet. But I say this: my family is Clearwater now. Banyak, Jimmy, Pianino and Miss Lucy. I will marry Miss Lucy one day. She not know this yet, but I will tell her. So, maybe we go to Ukraine and I show her the Balai, but we not live there. Maybe I show her Vienna and… Maybe we stay at Larkspur where I am master of horse, and soon, we have little Feckers in the house. What happen next to Andrej? Only Dolya knows this.

[Actually, I know what happens next to the Clearwater crew, but you will have to wait for ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ to find out what that is. Currently, I am aiming for publication in June, maybe at the end of May.]

Character Interview with Georgios Manolas

On the blog today, an interview with Georgios Manolas, the central character in ‘The Last of the Moussakas’ by Fearne Hill. I’m particularly excited by this interview and the book because, as you know, I moved to live in Greece 19 years ago and live on a small island. Not Aegina, the island of the story, but one where traditional family values and the views of the church are obstacles to gay people and therefore love. So, I’m interested in seeing how Georgios’ story unfolds and reading the delicious details of life on his Greek island.

Here is the interview. Enjoy!

Georgios Manolas is a character created by author Fearne Hill.

Fearne Hill, lives deep in the southern British countryside with varying numbers of hens, a few tortoises and a beautiful cocker spaniel.

When she is not overseeing her small menagerie, she enjoys writing MM contemporary romantic fiction. And when she is not doing either of those things, she is working as an anaesthesiologist.

 

First a short introduction – where do we first meet Georgios?

Georgios’s story begins on the Greek island of Aegina. We first meet him clearing the tables at the end of a busy evening working in his uncle’s restaurant, where he is a chef and general dogsbody. His lifelong best friend, Max, is drunkenly slumped at one of the tables. As always, even in his inebriated state, Georgios knows Max is the most beautiful man he has ever seen.

What is your full name?

My name is Georgios Manolas. I’m named after my grandfather. My brother and cousin forget my name sometimes and call me faggot or homo. My best friend, Max, calls me Georgie boy. I kind of like it.

Where and when were you born?

I was born and raised in the same ramshackle house where I live now, hidden amongst the backstreets of Aegina town. A dwelling ideally suited to a family of four but accommodating an extended family of ten. Privacy and solitude are rare commodities. My family have lived here for generations. The furthest abroad I have ever travelled is on the ferry to mainland Greece.

Aegina back street

Tell us a little more about your home

Our stone house is built on three floors, bits of each floor added in a higgledy-piggledy fashion at varying intervals over the last two hundred years to accommodate the growing family. My older brother Dion and I share the tiny attic space. The current permanent residents, in order of apparent importance are: my great grandmother Noni, my uncle Papa Marcos and his browbeaten wife Cynta, my taciturn grandmother (who slavishly cares for Noni), and my own, downtrodden gentle mother Simone. Then there is my spiteful cousin Nico (although he sometimes lives with a girlfriend and their child until she periodically gets fed up with his laziness and throws him out), my permanently depressed teenaged cousin Agatha, my brother Dion, me and my younger sister Ava, who is still in nappies. Which in itself warrants a mention, given that my father died of a heart attack eight years ago and my mum has never remarried. And I don’t actually recall my slender mother ever looking pregnant or giving birth and I’d like to think it’s something I’d notice. Sixteen-year-old Agatha, however, did look fairly tubby a couple of years ago, then took a trip to see some other relatives (we literally seem to have hundreds of them) in the Peloponnese and she lost the weight spectacularly quickly. But we don’t talk about that.

What is your occupation?

I have been the chef at Papa Marco’s restaurant since I left school at fifteen. Along with everyone else, I am paid a pittance. One day, I’d like a restaurant of my own.

Turning to your physical characteristics, what colour are your eyes?

Dark brown

What does your voice sound like?

I am Greek, quietly spoken. My English accent is embarrassingly bad.

What three words would others probably use to describe you?

My brother would describe me as a faggot. My mother would say I was kind. Max would tell me I was beautiful.

Do you have any physical traits that stand out?

I am slight of build with typical Mediterranean olive-skinned looks. I probably look younger than I am.

Let’s talk about your past, how would you describe your childhood?

I can’t recall a time when Max and I weren’t best friends. He has been a constant my whole life. We are actually second cousins, although that doesn’t mean much on this island, as it seems that everyone is related to everyone else at some point along the family tree. He spent every single holiday on the island and all my memories are filled with weeks and weeks of glorious sunshine and Max. Swimming and snorkeling in the sea, day and night, cycling all over the island, camping on the beach under the stars, or hiking up in the mountains. Endless strawberry gelatos and gyros, sleepovers, and sun cream.
My father died when I was fourteen. My mother and I loved him very much. When he died my childhood ended.

When did you have your first kiss, and who with?

My first kiss was with Max. We were only fourteen years old, and a minute later he’d passed out cold on cheap Tsantali wine that we’d nicked from Papa Marcos’s restaurant when no-one was looking. Every time I kissed a girl, I wished it was Max. Max is openly gay and every time he kissed a boy, he says he wished it had been me.

What is your biggest secret?

My biggest secret is that I am homosexual, and Max and I are in love. I think we always have been. My dad used to say, ‘Georgios, if you grow up and finds yourself a wife you love as much as you love Maxi, then you’ll do very well for yourself.’ But I’ll never find a woman like that.

Something a little more personal, do you believe in the existence of soul mates and/or true love?

I have only ever had one true love, which sounds terribly soppy. Max is the soppy one, not me. He tries to be cool and suave but pampers me rotten.

Who is the most important person in your life, why?

Without my Max, I’d go insane on this bloody island.

Your Likes and Dislikes … what is your favourite colour?

The brilliant blue of the Aegean of course; it matches Max’s eyes.

What is your most treasured possession?

I have an ancient Vespa scooter that belonged to Nico and Dion before it was passed down to me. I have very few possessions to call my own.

Do you like to read? If so, what do you like to read?

I read cookery books. I fantasise about reproducing the recipes for my dream restaurant.

What makes you laugh?

My Maxi, when he sings very badly.

What is the quality you most like in a man?

Kindness and understanding. Is that too much to ask for? And patience, because for Max and me to have our happy ending, he’s got to unpick some family feuds going back to the second world war. The Nazis occupied our little island and the rift between Max’s German ancestors and mine is deep. Sometimes, I think it is insurmountable.

Do you like yourself?

Yes, although sometimes I wish I had the fortitude to stand up to Papa Marcos, Nico and Dion. To be gay and proud and hang the consequences. But I have so much to lose if I do.

Looking to the future, where do you see yourself in five years from now?

A dream view

With my own beachfront restaurant in Aegina, packed with tourists and locals alike, because I serve the best food on the island. And after a hard night at work in the kitchen, Max will be waiting for me, in our home up in the hills overlooking the Aegean.
A boy can dream, can’t he?

 

 

If you could choose, how would you want to die?

With Max at my side, when we are both very, very old.

And finally, some questions just for fun, what do you have in your pocket?

The keys to my scooter, my wallet and a paring knife.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Saffron. Specially imported from the Middle East. I use it sparingly.

Who would you like to invite to your fantasy dinner party?

A British chef, now dead, named Keith Floyd. He was a flamboyant rule breaker, a drinker and a raconteur. And while I am none of those things, he could teach me so much. Max would come along too, to keep the conversation rolling while I stare at my culinary idol. Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever confessed that before! Not even Max knows.

——————————————————————————-

 

Fearne Hill’s latest novel is available now, you can find her on Goodreads.

Last of the Moussakas

Max Bergmann is Europe’s hottest drum and bass DJ. From the outside, his life is a whirl of glamorous vodka-fuelled parties and casual hook-ups, whilst inside he craves the one thing he can’t have – his Greek childhood friend, Georgios Manolas.

Following a disastrous PR stunt and one drunken hook-up too many, Max realises the time has come to reassess his life choices. Returning to his childhood home on the Greek island of Aegina, if he wants any chance of having Georgios permanently in his life, he has to delve into the mystery of the longstanding hatred of the Bergmann’s by Georgios’s family.

Georgios is a chef and has spent his whole life on the tiny Greek island of Aegina. He has held the family restaurant together since he left school, with very little reward, and dreams of one day running a restaurant of his own on the island. Yet if he acknowledges his feelings for Max, he runs the risk of losing not just his traditional Greek family but also his livelihood.

As Max slowly uncovers the secrets of the past, he is left wondering whether a little Greek girl’s heart-breaking wartime diary could not only hold the key to his family’s history, but could it also unlock his and Georgios’s future together?

The Last of the Moussakas is a warm romance about two men’s quest for the truth about the past and unlocking a path to a future together

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Tips For Creating Characters: The Way I Do It.

Tips For Creating Characters: The Way I Do It.

Earlier this week, I came across a blog, ‘Writers Helping Writers.‘ In it, I found many useful articles, a couple of which sparked an idea for today’s blog. One article asked where characters’ strengths came from, and another talked about ’emotional shielding.’ These are universal to the human experience and come in a number of forms that can be applied to your character after a traumatic experience. [Read the full article here.]

This made me think about how I create my characters, and I thought I would offer my own tips for writers struggling to create theirs. This, as always with my advice, is based on what I do, which is loosely based on books I have read and courses I have taken, but mainly on my own experience.

Character Vs Characteristics

One definition I found for this distinction reads: Character is a “group of features”, traits and characteristics that form the individual nature of some person or thing. Characteristic is a “distinguishing feature”. A feature that helps to identify, tell apart, or describe recognisably; a distinguishing mark or trait.

This is often a concept new writers struggle with, so I’ll put it simply in my own words.

A character is defined by what they choose to do and what they choose not to do. It is behaviour and nature, how they treat people, and the decisions they make.

Characteristics are, as that quote says, distinguishing features. That doesn’t just mean height, weight, hair colour and so on, although those are handy tools for helping a reader differentiate between characters.

Andre

Let’s take Andrej as an example. Andrej is one of the characters in The Clearwater Mysteries, and he stands out from the others because he is tall, strong, Ukrainian, has blue eyes, long blond hair, is straight, speaks broken English and doesn’t stand for nonsense. Those are some of his characteristics.

However, his character is shown by what he chooses to do/not do and how he reacts. He is straight. Yes, he is, yet he worked for several years as a rent boy because he had to. He made a conscious decision to earn money by whatever means he could, and that was the easiest way. He speaks broken English, but he can speak English well. He chooses not to because, in his opinion, the English use too many words. He is gentle with those he cares about but is happy to kill their enemies.

Here are a couple of lines from my current work in progress (W.I.P.), the 10th book in the Clearwater series.

‘I am sure Andrej is fine. If anyone can navigate their way through Eastern Europe, it is your brother.’

‘My brother doesn’t navigate, Sir. He stampedes.’

That is an example of one way you can implant a character into a reader’s mind; have someone else talk about them.

Making characters different

The Clearwater novels started off with four main characters. Silas Hawkins and his best friend Andrej (aka ‘Fecker’), Lord Clearwater and his best friend and footman, Thomas Payne. There was also the villain, of course. The current W.I.P. has a cast of thousands. Well, several is more accurate. As the series developed, I introduced more principal players to such as extent that to include all of them in every novel would be unwieldy. That’s why, in book eight, ‘One of a Pair’, and book nine, ‘Negative Exposure,’ most of the cast are off stage. In part ten, I am doing all I can to give everyone’s favourite character a role, or at least an appearance. The problem with a large cast is, how do you make them all different?

Names are useful, obviously, but without a character, a name is just a name. Titles help, and in the Clearwater world, we have viscounts and counts, butlers, footmen, maids, housekeepers, solicitors… Mentioning the jobs people do also helps instil into a reader’s mind the kind of character they may be, though it’s always fun to play against type.

Jasper Blackwood

Physical appearances help, as does manner of speech, and my cast all have their own speech traits and mannerisms. Silas dips in and out of Irish, Billy Barnett is a Cockney, the viscount is highbrow, the Cornish butler has his own idioms, Andrej is blunt, Jasper is naïve, and his speech reflects that. Always pay attention to your dialogue and make sure you hear different voices as you write characters’ speech. Vocal patterns reflect a character’s background.

And, of course, characters’ choices help define them. When deciding how to approach a problem, Thomas will approach through logic, Silas is more devil may care, Andrej will blunder in and decapitate the issue, James will think about it sideways, Billy will opt for the practical solution, and Mrs Norwood will blame it on men and take a feminist approach. Those are examples based on my characters, but change their names for your own, and you will see how each becomes different.

Developing the cast

We hear a lot about one- and two-dimensional characters, those who might be described as ‘Joe is a bricklayer who knows what he wants.’ Fair enough, but if he starts out as your hero or main player knowing what he wants and still knows what he wants at the end, he hasn’t travelled very far. So, developing your character from when we first meet them to when they leave the stage is vital to ensure the reader travels on the journey you are creating.

Silas Hawkins

Example: In ‘Deviant Desire’, Silas starts out not needing to be loved (he says). He doesn’t want love because of past experience. He meets Archer, and when Archer falls I love with him, Silas rejects him. By the end, we have a different story, and that’s the start of Silas’ journey. It will run for the rest of his life, and as the series progresses, so does he. A street rat renter from the slums of Westerpool becomes the private secretary to a member of the House of Lords. That’s one journey, but with it, he develops from a man who only cares about his own survival to one who risks his own life to save his friends.

Another example is James Wright. He starts off as a timid, slightly chubby messenger still delivering messages at the age of 24 and ends up an assured detective. To get there, he must overcome the trauma of being bullied as a child and learn to believe in his own strengths. This is achieved through the actions (and character) of Clearwater and others and through the choices James makes along the way.

The trick is to ensure your characters develop. To look further into this, I suggest studying books on screenplay writing. Books such as ‘The Hero’s Journey’ by Vogler and ‘The 20th Century Screenplay’ by Aronson. Both will also give you invaluable insights into plot, structure and so on.

Archetypes

I don’t want to wander too far Into The Woods (another excellent book on the art of storytelling by John Yorke, and you can’t go wrong with anything written by Robert McKee), but stories have archetypal characters who play classic roles.

There are the obvious ones, the Protagonist and Antagonist, but there are others, and when I am writing a book, section or scene, I try to bear in mind which of my cast is playing what role/archetype at the time.

James Wright

What I mean is, you have impact characters. The impact character is the one who remains steadfast, thereby causing another character to change. There is also the antagonist who stops the hero from getting what he wants and needs. You have what I and others call the emotion character, the one who usually puts the softer side of the argument/case or reacts from the heart. There is the realism character, the one who thinks logically and puts the realistic side of the case. Then, you have the classic sidekick or the foil off whom your main character bounces. I should point out, though, that every character should have some of the traits of these roles. That’s how you end up with a three-dimensional ‘well rounded’ character and not a cardboard cut-out.

Ever seen The Golden Girls or other hit T.V. series concerning a small group of people? Well, you might say the Golden Girls are all protagonists and the antagonist is the fact they have been forced to live together. (That’s what makes sitcoms work; a group of people, all different, who are forced together by circumstances they wouldn’t usually choose for themselves.) When Blanche is the emotion character, Dorothy might be the realism character, but when Dorothy needs support, Blanche takes on the role of the realism character to help her see sense. That’s just one example. I am sure you can think of many others.
My rather vague point here is that by employing your characters under various scene-specific roles, you add to their character and give them depth. Dorothy remains the staid, sensible, big, reliable one, but at times, she is vulnerable, witty, gets thing wrong and can even be as horny as Blanche.

Fatal Flaws and all that jazz

Billy Barnett

There are, of course, many other facets to developing characters and defining them in ways outside of their characteristics. I advise you to look at those books I mentioned. I could chat away for hours, but those books are considered and expertly written by people who planned to write a book, not chat on a blog. You will find other mainstays of character creation, such as fatal flaws, where a character overcomes a fear or prejudice. In doing so, the character develops and becomes more interesting to the reader.

And my trick?

How do I manage to keep my characters fresh, different and interesting? More importantly, after 10 novels with one cast, how do I remember who is who and what they are like?

Apart from a ‘bible’ where I record their traits, height, eye colour, and other characteristics, I use a simple technique that I heartily recommend.
I cheat.

No, I don’t copy characters, but I do compare them. You may not have read the Clearwater Mysteries (or any of my other books), but it doesn’t matter. This list of superheroes should explain my point even if you don’t know the characters in my main cast. Superheroes help keep me on track when remembering which of my crew is assigned to which overall role, and although I don’t copy the characteristics of established comic book characters, keeping them in mind helps keep my characters on track. So, here it is, finally out the bag. If my Clearwater Mysteries crew were superheroes, this is who they would be.

Archer, Lord Clearwater

Archer, Lord Clearwater, is Ironman because he has the money and is the leader.
James Wright is Captain America because he is loyal and is my action man.
Andrej (Fecker) I think of as Thor because of his physique, blond hair and he is sometimes dopey.
Silas is Spiderman because he is young, can get in and out of anywhere and always has something new to learn.
Thomas is J.A.R.V.I.S., Iron Man’s (Archer’s) stable, calm and loyal assistant.
Jake O’Hara is the Flash on account of his speed.
Dr Markland could easily be Dr Strange.
Leaving the superhero path, Mrs Norwood is rather like Aunt May from Spiderman, Lady Marshall an older version of Lady Penelope from Thunderbirds where Jasper would be Alan Tracy, and Billy would be a Cockney version of Brains…

My Tips for Creating Characters

  • Don’t confuse character with characteristic
  • It’s what they choose to do and choose not to do that defines character
  • Ensure diversity in your ensemble
  • Develop them from A to D via the B and C, give them an arc
  • Let them have flaws
  • Pay attention to their ’emotional shielding’, how they overcome pain
  • Base them on people you know and, importantly, understand
  • Give them their own way of speaking, different backgrounds and traits, style etc.
  • Let them run away with dialogue and story and then go back and rein them in later

Those are just a few of my thoughts about creating characters. If you are serious about improving your creations, then my last tip is to read books on the subject by experts. I suggested books on screenplay writing because screenplays cram into 120 pages what a novel might fit in 400, and screenplay writers tend to have a more succinct and clearer approach to creating and developing characters.

Why Do I Write a Blog?

Why Do I Write a Blog?

Today, I thought I’d take a step away from writing about my writing to write about my blogging. Blogging is, of course, another way of writing, so I suppose I am still writing about writing, only, in this case, I am writing about my blog writing. Rather, blogs, plural as I have two.

Let me start off by saying that I am writing this blog in the way that I approach most of my blogging and a great deal of my writing. Simply put, I am making it up as I go along. I tend to write from a stream of consciousness angle. Starting with an idea, in today’s case, a suggestion from my PA, Jenine, I sit at the PC with an empty page and start writing. I write what is on my mind and develop from there.

I also tend to do that when writing my books; start with an idea, imagine a scene, and then let it flow. In the case of novel writing, I then do a lot of editing work as I go over the first draft, and I also pop backwards and forwards through a manuscript while writing it to keep facts consistent and make sure I have remembered the clues correctly.

I take the same approach with blog writing, but the only editing I do is when I have finished. Then, I use a couple of writer tools to help keep me in check. Grammarly is one, and Pro Writing Aid is the other.

The danger of this unplanned approach is that I often drift from one point to the next and forget what I was talking about. Still, that’s how I blog, that’s how it goes, and that’s how this blog is going to go.

When Did Blogging Start?

You know me, I like to discover the derivations of words, and for that, I tend to use the online dictionary by typing, for example, ‘Blog derivation’ or ‘Blog meaning’ in a search string and finding the dictionary page for that word. [See the image.]

Blog, the noun, is a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.

To blog, the verb, is to add new material to or regularly update a blog.

Blog, the word, derives as a truncation of the word Weblog, or web-log, I guess, rather than ‘we blog’, and it’s been around since 1900.

Except it hasn’t.

One of the functions of that online dictionary is showing you where a word was first recorded in print, and I use that part of it a great deal. When writing the Clearwater books set in the late 19th century, for example, I often pause after writing a word and think, ‘Did that word exist then?’ A quick check will tell me when it first appeared in print, and although that’s not 100% accurate as a guide to spoken usage, it’s a help. Only this week, I paused after writing the word ‘paperwork’ and wondered if a solicitor in 1890 would use such a word? The answer? No. That word didn’t start to appear in print until the 1940s, so I changed it to documentation.

As for ‘blog’, I was surprised to find that my online resource suggested it was in use between 1910 and 1940. If you look at the image (left), the graph, you can see there’s a bump at that time, before the word took off in the late 1990s. I checked that out via Google Books, and it turned out that the source of this unlikely information was a misprint. Rather, a miss-read by some computerised scanner. The word it was reading was an abbreviation of Building, printed as BLDG in various directories, and the scanner was mistaking the D for an O.

The lesson? Always double-check your research.

What Do I Get Out of a blog?

Well, for a start, I didn’t realise ‘documentation’ wasn’t in use in 1890 either. Not until I started talking about it just now and went to check. I’d used it in yesterday’s first draft of a Clearwater chapter, thinking ‘It must be okay’, and was going to leave it there. Now, when I return to that chapter, I will change it to ‘documents’ because ‘documentation’ wasn’t used until the 20th century. You see? Blogging helps my work.

It also gives me a legitimate reason to ramble on like I am doing now, sometimes get things off my chest, and, at other times, publicise my latest book. I always hope it brings me closer to my readers and them closer to me. That is why I prefer this freestyle, stream of consciousness approach.

Paid to Blog?

I have been, and let me tell you, it can be arduous and soul-destroying. A few years ago, I fell upon a travel site that wanted stories for their posts based on personal travel experiences. Wonderful, I thought. I’ve been to a few places, I’ll chat about them. Simple.

Not.

These kinds of sites need you to be SEO targeted and keyword rich (I loath such jargon). They needed you to include keywords in H Tags, and upload images with no ALT text, hit a particular word count, supply your own images, and stick to stringent guidelines while being creative. Woe betides anyone who falls foul of this creative cagery.

Cagery being a word I just invented. I think. (He makes a quick check online. Did you mean Calgary? No, I didn’t. Checks real dictionary and discovers ‘cage’ comes between caftan and cagoule, which is an interesting costume challenge, but the word cagery doesn’t exist, not even in the sense of ‘constraint’, which is what I meant.)

I think my point here is that these ‘earn a fortune by blogging’ websites are only suitable for those who can churn out the required words within strict rules, and I’m not one of them. I did do it, for a while at least, but it was too structured for me, and I was only being paid $40.00 for what turned out to be about six hours’ work for 600 words. I’d rather write a novel of 90,000 words and be paid nothing for my time than 600 words to someone else’s formula.

But, yes, it is possible to make money out of blogging. I used to have Google Adsense  links where a programme adds adverts to your pages and if anyone clicks on one, you get $0.0002, or something, but another pet hate of mine are blogs and sites that are advert-stuffed, so that get rich quick scheme didn’t last long.

Any money I make from my two blogs comes from the sales of my own books generated from my own links and publicity.

My Blogs Are My Conversation

Me outside a cafe

I think that’s obvious from the way I am rambling on as if you and I were sat outside a café having a chat, I’d had a glass of wine, and my usual staid and quiet tongue was well loosened. I use these pages to chat to you, and thus, myself, and often, in doing so, ideas spring to mind. Sometimes, I put up a less chatty, more planned blog, and although this process takes more time, it often offers more help in developing my books. For example, last October, while writing ‘Banyak & Fecks’, I undertook a lot of research into Male Sex Workers in Victorian London, the ways of the workhouse and the poverty of the East End in the 1880s. These subjects formed the background to the story (and others in the series). I decided to blog about that research, and in doing so, had to examine documents and, thus, discover extra facts, which then went into the novel. So, blogging about novel writing can feed into that writing, and vice versa.

Writing a blog also helps me think about the stories and the characters. I’ve done a couple of interviews with characters, one A Character Interview With James Wright, you can find if you follow that link. James is one of the central characters in the Clearwater series, and in answering questions set by Jenine, I had to think deeper than what comes out of my head, and that helped develop a deeper understanding of the man I was creating.

As Jenine put in the list of ideas she sent me for this post, I could also mention that writing a regular blog ‘Allows your PA to boss you around.’ That’s a good thing for both of us, because it stops me from being lazy, and it makes her feel like she’s doing something useful.

I hope you have gathered by now that I also like to put humour into my blogging.

I also put an awful lot of typos because I write as I think, and even my editing software doesn’t pick up everything. For example, before I changed it, the above sentence read, ‘I also like to put hummus into my blogging’, and on more than one occasion, I have written things like, ‘You must see this bog’, and ‘The main character is a cuntess.’ (I now have a heap of personalised corrections in Word auto-correct.)

And As For The Other Blog?

I have been mentioning my two blogs, this being one of them. The other, I have had on the go since about 2005. It started out as a website where I could publicise my husband’s photo shop on the Greek island of Symi. Later, it developed into a site where I could also talk about the books I was writing about living on a Greek island. Later still, when we closed the shop, I continued the blog because it had gained a huge following, and my mother liked to know what I was up to. It went from being a once-a-month update to a weekly one to a seven day a week chat and is now a five day per week chat about me, my life, my writing and day to day living on a Greek island. I also sound off about Brexit and ruffle a few feathers from time to time, and Neil and I post photos five times per week.

So, if you can stand this kind of ‘train of thought’ style, want to know what I, personally and as James, my real name, is up to here on Symi, Greece, then bookmark Symi Dream (symidream.com) where you can find me chatting about everything and nothing.

Blog Off

And so, thank you for listening to me thus far. I am going now, as I must turn my attention back to Clearwater 10, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, which is now up to a worrying 120,000 words in 1st draft form and still not reached its climax. This may well turn out to be a story in two parts. Either that, or I will have to chop out many interesting and fun scenes that are not 100% on-story, but which do contain elements of the mystery, and rework the whole thing. If I do, I may then publish the cut scenes separately or give them away for free in my newsletter, and if I do that, then I will make sure that I have not cut out any necessary plot points or clues.

Maybe I’ll just treat everyone to a very long Clearwater, like a Downton Abbey Christmas special and have done with it.

One thing’s for sure. As the writing of the book and its publication continue, I will be blogging about it.

The Clearwater Inheritance: Working on the first draft

The Clearwater Inheritance: Working on the first draft

I am currently at 90,000 words of the first draft of ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, the Clearwater Mysteries, Book Ten. I thought you might like to know how it was going and what research has gone into what promises to be the longest of the Clearwater novels.

I will have to be vague about some aspects of the story because I don’t want to give away any spoilers. I’m sure you’ll understand. What I can tell you, though, is that this may be the last of the Clearwater mysteries as we know them. I have an idea for a second series of books set in the Clearwater world, but with new characters, and we will see how that develops once ‘Inheritance’ is done and dusted.

Developing the Cast

My desk this morning.

The series started in 1888 in London’s East End during the Ripper’s terror, and what started as a standalone insta-love story soon took on a life of its own. It was to be about two main characters, a street-rat renter, Silas Hawkins, and a young viscount, Clearwater. Halfway through writing ‘Deviant Desire’, however, I started to enjoy the research and characters so much, I decided to write a sequel. Andrej (Fecker’s) character took on more significance, and so did that of Thomas, the footman and life-long friend of Clearwater (and, if we are to be honest, the unrequited love interest).

For book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’, I wanted Thomas to have his own love interest and was already considering the background to book three, part of which I wanted to set around the famous Cleveland Street Scandal. Thus, when book two opens, we meet a messenger, James Wright. Each character has his own flaws and skills, but the characters develop through a series of trials, tribulations, successes and failures, and are still developing. Book seven, ‘Home From Nowhere’, introduced two more main players, Jasper Blackwood and Billy Barnett, bringing the ‘canonical five’ MCs up to seven. With ‘Negative Exposure’, the number of episodes in the series reached nine plus one prequel.

The stage is set for part ten, and it will be something of an epic.

The Clearwater Inheritance

The story starts at the end of book nine, and the challenge is set in the last few lines of ‘Negative Exposure.’
The person who holds our future in the stroke of a pen goes by the name of Cooper Raglan.’

You will find that some storylines and character’s personal journeys in book ten were started as far back as the prequel. For example, ‘Inheritance’ is set in January 1890, but one through-line has its roots in 1881. The on-going story of Archer’s maniac brother, Crispin, comes into play, as does his mother’s death, his ancestry and Larkspur Hall. The ‘crew’, now of seven main players, must employ all their individual skills to survive the story, and you’re going to find some of my favourite devices and settings.

Rasnov Citadel. I visited there in 2013.

There is a mystery, of course, and there is a code to be deciphered. Music again plays a big part in the story, as do the railways, and there is a legal element to be figured out. Although I have part-invented some of the legalities because the laws around inheritance have never been easy to understand or explain, I’ve put that matter in the hands of Sir Easterby Creswell, the barrister, because he has a knack of explaining things in one or two sentences. A castle is also involved, but not just any old castle. I have mixed fact with fiction and have sent two of my characters to Rasnov, which is now in Romania. In 1890, I believe, it was in Transylvania.

What there isn’t in ‘Inheritance’ is a love story, and so, what started out as an MM romance series with ‘Deviant Desire’, has now become a mystery series with one underlying love theme. Not a romance, as such, but something I find romantic. And that is, the love of friends, particularly, male love of male friends, what we might now call bromance. Some of my pairs are still in love with each other and always will be, but the series has always been about (mainly) gay men bonding as men. Being set in 1888 to 1890, it’s set against the background of homosexuality being illegal (and not yet even being called homosexuality). That has always been the canvas on which the Clearwater world is painted. That and the class divide, the upstairs/downstairs world, the Liberals against the Tories, equality versus snobbery, right against wrong, and acceptance.

Researching ‘Inheritance’

That’s some background. Now we’re on a research tour.

I started ‘Inheritance’ with a timeline plan because I knew that there were to be three main storylines, and I needed to keep track of where everyone was at any one time. I have used the technique of telling parts of the story through letters, as characters do in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This is a handy device for a few reasons.

One, letters can impart exposition to the reader without bogging down the action. Two, readers get into the character’s mind. Three, they give the narrative a sense of time and place – of being real. Four, letters can be intercepted or lost, thereby adding to the tension.

However, only part of the ‘Inheritance’ narrative is presented in letters, unlike ‘Dracula’, which is an epistolary novel (written as a series of documents). If you want to read one of my completely epistolary novels, then I point you to ‘The Stoker Connection.’

For realness, I have again used genuine sections from newspapers of the time which I find in the British Newspaper Archives. You need to subscribe to get the full benefit, but it is well worth it. I also find background information such as costs and times of trains, adverts for medicines and other matters, reports of concerts and events, and all these small details make the story more real.

Musical Code & Philip Thicknesse

I swear I did not make up that man’s last name!

Part of the musical code as it stands at the moment.

The outcome of Clearwater’s problem in ‘Inheritance’ relies on the cracking of a code. In this case, a musical code, and so, I needed to turn my mind to how this might be achieved. Did you know, JS Bach, Mozart, Brahms and others employed codes so they could write messages in their music? Bach’s use of code is quite famous and yet simple.

There are seven letters employed in musical notation, A to G, but in Bach’s time, the note B-natural was named H, and B-flat was B. Thus, Bach was able to score B-flat, A, C, and H (what we now call B), and thus make his name, BACH, sound as a melody. Brahms wrote the name of his (assumed) lover in one of his pieces, minus one letter, and there are all kinds of theories around what Mozart may have done in The Magic Flute.

I didn’t want my musical code to be too complicated because although it might be fun for me to be devious, overly-clever codes need explaining to the reader, which bogs down a narrative. While inventing my code, though, I turned up a book from 1772 by a man called Philip Thicknesse. This has the snappy title of “A Treatise On The Art Of Deciphering, And Of Writing In Cypher: With An Harmonic Alphabet”, and you can find it at Forgotten Books and other outlets. I’ll be honest, I haven’t read all of it yet, and it’s not an easy read, what with the letter S printed as an F and all that florid language, but it did set me on the right track for the simple code around which I could base the mystery.

Locations

Another facet of ‘Inheritance’ is the location. Rather, locations, because I have set the story in three. London, Larkspur Hall and Europe.

Austria-Hungary (ethnic, 1890, with red 1914 and blue 1920 borders)

Europe. I mean, how big does an author want their location to be? In my story, two of the characters must travel from Cornwall to what is now Romania and back, and in 1890 the way to go was by train. Actually, by several trains and a boat, plus a carriage or two, and their final destination is, of course, a remote one.

For train information, I again turned to my expert friend, Andy Ward, and asked him how long such a journey would take. In a nutshell, the answer was, It will take 107 hours to get from Bodmin to Brasov/Brasso, including a 15 hour overnight stop in Vienna. My characters then only have to travel ten miles to Rasnov castle. Coming back, it’s quicker because there are only 5 hours in Vienna, but the route is similar, total time 96 hours.

In the story, my characters stop off in Paris for a night. They are invited to the Hofburg, the Emperor’s palace in Vienna where they meet Brahms, sleep the night at Budapest railway station, put up at a guest house in Brasov, and travel through the worsening influenza pandemic which was still running riot across Europe in 1890. Oh, and it’s January, remember, so it’s cold and not at all comfortable.

London. Meanwhile, two other main characters are dispatched to London to search the Clearwater archives kept by the solicitor, Mr Marks. While there, they must interview the barrister Creswell to see if there are any archaic inheritance laws that may stop the villain from doing what he intends to do. This sees one of our MCs accidentally appearing in the High Court (because I do like a courtroom scene), and brings in a couple of other cameo characters we’ve met in previous novels.

Larkspur Hall

Larkspur Hall. The viscount’s country home is a large, rambling pile of mixed architecture and history which deserves a novel all of its own. In ‘Inheritance’, we get to meet some new staff and find out more about the Hall, which we’ve only been to briefly in ‘Fallen Splendour’ and for longer in ‘Bitter Bloodline.’ I have not yet mapped the Hall, although its basic plan is in my head, but I have used various sources for inspiration, mainly ‘The Victorian Country House’ by Mark Girouard, which has very informative text and plenty of excellent images and plans.

I have my A4 notepad beside me as I write this blog, and in it, I have several pages of notes and reminders I have made along the way. This is without the Word documents and other electronic things I have in my ‘Book 10′ folder. They include Thicknesses’ book in Pdf, maps of Eastern Europe from the late 19th century, and another book which was exactly what I needed, ‘Travels in Various Parts of Europe During the Years 1888, 1889 and 1890’ by Gilbert H. W. Harrison. (Google books.) He gives accounts of travelling from London to Paris, to Vienna to Budapest, and that’s the route I have used for my two characters, who had their journey set up by Thomas Cook and Son of the Strand. You see? I like to keep it real.

Meanwhile, my notes. Here is a snippet of what goes through my mind when I am creating one of my mysteries, as found in my scrawly handwriting.

Billy sniffing. Flu later?
Silas does this without Archer knowing. (Does what? I have no idea, I can’t remember now.)
Code? 12 major, 12 minor = 24 x two volumes = 48. 1 x P + 1 x F = 2 x 12 = 24.
1859 Archer, 1829 dad, 1800 grandfather.
Count Movileşti (real family, Moldavian).
The Hall 14th century, tower, main hall. Abbey. Celtic monks, St Crannock pre 1066.
James’ birthday, Jan 10th, he’s just turned 27.
Freiherr (baron) Kubinsky.
A B C D E F G

And then, in a box of its own: Remove Duncan from story and use later.

Onwards to the future…

Duncan is a day-player we meet briefly in book nine, and I wrote him in intending to use him in book ten. The trouble is, he doesn’t now fit, and so, I have decided I may bring him into whatever comes after book ten.

That may well be ‘The Larkspur Academy Mysteries’, but on that subject, I shall remain quiet for now, because, as I finish, I have two characters in a blizzard in Transylvania, three suffering in the Clearwater Archive in Chancery Lane, a sick housekeeper, a broken telegraph system, huge news from abroad that’s about to cause the final countdown to kick in, and somebody vital has started to feel very unwell.

My characters are waiting for me. I have left them in limbo and must go and see to them.

Jasper Blackwood at the piano.

Oh, before I do. One last thing. As ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ includes the cracking of a musical code, the character of Jasper Blackwood plays a large part. Jasper, or Pianino as Fecker calls him, is 18 and a musical genius. This coming Wednesday, 31st March, you can find an interview with him over at the MM Fiction Café.

Character Interview with Robin Shipp

For this week’s blog, I’m pleased to introduce you to Robin Shipp. Robin is a character created by author, Glenn Quigley. Glenn is also a graphic designer and photographer who lives in Ireland and, as an author, has won a Rainbow Award for his second novel, The Lion Lies Waiting.

Today, we’re getting to know Robin Jonas Shipp, a fisherman from 1780 who appears in all three of Glenn’s novels.

First a short introduction – where do we first meet Robin, a quick background.

When we first meet Robin, he’s starting his day as he always does – aboard his beloved fishing boat, Bucca’s Call. He lives in the little village of Blashy Cove and isn’t well-liked. He’s something of a pariah due to the fact that most people think his father was a murderer. He has few friends and lives a quiet, simple life in the year 1780.

What is your full name?

 My full name is Robin Jonas Shipp. My middle name comes from my grandfather. I never knew ’im, mind you. ’E died long before I were born. ’E were a sailor, though, like me.

Where and when were you born?

I can’t say when, exactly, but it were fifty years ago. I were found on board my very own boat, believe it or not. It used to belong to my dad, you see, and one of the women ’e ’ad a dalliance with, well, she gave birth to me and left me there for ’im to find.

Tell us a little about dad…

My dad were Captain Erasmus Shipp. ‘E were at sea for years, took over ’is father’s vessel for a while, then came back ’ome to the island. ’E never married, ’e ’ad too much of a wanderin’ eye, by all accounts.

What is your occupation?

I’m a fisherman. Well, oysterman, if you want to be all technical about it, but I do a spot of pilchard fishin’ in ’igh season, so that counts.

What is your hair colour and eye colour?

I used to ’ave a lovely ’ead of blonde ’air. All gone now, mind you. Well, apart from this little tuft just above my fore’ead, but it’s white as snow these days. My eyes are sky blue.

Portrait of Robin, by Glenn Quigley

Do you have any physical traits that stand out ?

I suppose the first thing people notice about me is my size. I’m taller than anyone in the village, and wider, too. Makes it hard for me to blend in. I always stick out like a sore thumb, no matter where I am. Got a bigger belly than most, except maybe the village butcher. I’m strong, though. A lifetime haulin’ oyster dredgers will do that. I always wear my cap, too. It used to belong to my Dad and it’s got this funny little anchor pendant sewn to it. I’ve never seen another one like it. The rope is ’eld in a spindle in the crown, and winds up around it. I wonder where ’e got it from.

What does your voice sound like?  

Oh, I can’t say as I know for certain. I’ve never ’eard it. It’s deep, I’m told. Maybe a bit raspy. I like to think it’s warm. ’Ere’s somethin’ for you— people keep tellin’ me that I ’ave a strong accent! Can you believe that? I don’t know what they’re on about, I think I sound like everyone else round ’ere.

Looking back over your past, how would you describe your childhood?

Now there’s a question. ’Ow long ’ave you got? I remember spendin’ a lot of time with Dad. ’E taught me ’ow to fish, ’ow to cook, and ’ow to clean. I were ’appy, I can tell you that. I used to spend a lot of time with ’is friends — Barnabas and Morwenner. They never ’ad any children of their own and they raised me as much as ’e did, I suppose. We were ’appy, all of us. Until the night that everythin’ changed. I can’t ’ave been more than ten years old. Barnabas died and Dad disappeared, all on the same night. That’s why folks round ’ere say ’e killed ’im, you see. They say Dad killed Barnabas and ran off to join a whalin’ crew. The whaler sank a couple of weeks later and everyone on board drowned. Includin’ Dad. Worst time of my life, that were…

What is you biggest secret? Which person do you least want to know about this secret, why?

I can’t tell you that, it wouldn’t be a secret!

What did you dream of doing when you grew up?

I dreamt of doin’ what I’m doin’ now. Bein’ a fisherman. I went to sea for a few years, when I were a younger man. Tried my ’and at whalin’. Nasty business, that. Not for me. And I weren’t built for life on a ship. I’m too big, I’m always in people’s way, always breakin’ somethin’. I came back ’ome and realized this is where I’m meant to be. I just wish I weren’t ’ere alone.

 

Something a little more personal, do you have a spouse or significant other? If so, tell us a little about him.

Not these days. Not since Duncan. And ’e won’t even talk to me anymore.

Do you believe in the existence of soul mates and/or true love?

If you’d asked me that a few years ago, I’d ’ave said yes. Backalong, when me and Duncan were… Actually, I don’t want to talk about ’im. Can we change the subject, please?

Of course, who is the person you respect the most?

Morwenner Whitewater. She lost ’er ’usband and ’er friend on the same night and she never let it turn ’er bitter or angry. She’s the strongest person I know.

What is your greatest extravagance?

I treat myself to a bottle of whiskey every once in a while. George Reed does me a good price. ’E’s the landlord of the Moth & Moon. One of the few people I can call a friend.

Early sketches of Merryapple Island, Robin, Duncan, pub landlord Mr Reed and Lady Eva

In your opinion, what is the most evil thing any human being could do?

Take away a child’s parent. Leave them adrift. Alone.

What do you look for in a potential lover?

Ginger ’air. I dunno, I don’t think about it much.

Let’s talk about your likes and dislikes, what is your most treasured possession?

Either my boat, Bucca’s Call, or my cap. I wear it all the time. It were Dad’s, ’e gave it to me the day I caught my first fish.

What makes you laugh?

Oh, lots of stuff. I laugh all the time. I do like watchin’ gulls fightin’ over scraps. They’re pests, but funny ones.

What shocks or offends you?

I’m a sailor, there’s not much shocks me anymore! You should ’ear the language down at the ’arbour after a bad day’s fishin’!

How do you spend a typical night in?

I ’ave dinner by myself at ’ome by the fireplace, or at my favourite spot in the Moth & Moon, then go to bed. I’m always up before dawn so an early night is a must. Not as if I’ve much else to do, anyway.

Do you like to read?

I’m not one for readin’. It’s too ’ard. All them words crammed up tight like pilchards in an ’ogs’ead. Dad left a lot of books in the loft but I don’t look at them.

Describe the routine of a normal day for you. How do you feel when this routine is disrupted?

Up before dawn, wash, dress, then ’ead down to the ’arbour. A quick check of the equipment, then it’s time to cast off and spend all day fishin’. I’ll probably eat at the Moth when I get back to shore. Maybe a quick chat with George or Morwenner. I might pop into the bakery to see Edwin, if ’is mum isn’t about. (She doesn’t like me. I mean, she really doesn’t like me.) Edwin is my other friend. Nice bloke, ’e is. Then it’s ’ome to sit by the fireplace for a bit before bed. I don’t mind a break in routine. Livens things up a bit, doesn’t it? Not that it ’appens very much.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Maybe I’d want to be a tad shorter? There’s only so many times a man can bang ’is ’ead on a doorframe before it becomes tiresome. Edwin says that’s the real reason I wear my cap all the time.

What three words would others probably use to describe you?

Big. Clumsy. Menace.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I’ll probably still be workin’ in Bucca, sellin’ fish at the market, and gettin’ in everybody’s way.

Do you like yourself?

Most of the time. Some of the time.

What is on your bedside table?

A jug of water and a striker-lantern. That’s a lantern with a clockwork thing inside. You turn a key and it does…a thing with…another thing that lights a candle. I’m a fisherman, not an engineer, I dunno ’ow it works!

Who would you most love to share an evening in “The Moth and Moon” with?

My dad. I know ’ow it sounds but there’s no one else I’d want to talk to. I don’t know about politics, or art, or any of that stuff. What would I ’ave to talk to a king or queen about? No, it would ’ave to be my dad. I’d ask what really ’appened to ’im that night ’e left. Oh, and my mum, I suppose. It would nice to know who she is.

If you could choose, how would you want to die?

At sea, on board Bucca’s Call. I were born in ’er and I’ll die in ’er.

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We Cry The Sea, has just been released this week and is the third book in The Moth and Moon series.

The Moth and Moon

In the summer of 1780, on the tiny island of Merryapple, burly fisherman Robin Shipp lives a simple, quiet life in a bustling harbour town where most of the residents dislike him due to the actions of his father. With a hurricane approaching, he nonetheless convinces the villagers to take shelter in the one place big enough to hold them all—the ancient, labyrinthine tavern named the Moth & Moon.

While trapped with his neighbours during the raging storm, Robin inadvertently confronts more than the weather. There’s a storm coming. And it’s going to change everything.

EBOOK FORMAT https://books2read.com/u/mKyQlE

PRINT – YOUR LOCAL AMAZON LISTING https://getbook.at/themothandmoon

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSHOP Ask for THE MOTH AND MOON with ISBN 9781948608145

The Lion Lies Waiting

Winter, 1780, and the solstice is fast approaching. Four months after the events of The Moth and Moon, burly fisherman Robin Shipp is preparing for his first Midwinter festival with his lover, the handsome baker Edwin Farriner. But when a letter arrives begging for help, they must travel with their friend, Duncan, to Port Knot on sinister Blackrabbit Island for a final confrontation with Edwin’s mother. Also visiting the island are Lady Eva and her wife Iris, with a stunning proposition that could change Robin and Edwin’s lives forever.

The snow-covered harbour town of Port Knot is a dangerous place. While there, Robin, Edwin, and Duncan explore the menacing rooftop settlement known as the Roost, mingle with high society in the magnificent splendour of Chase Manor, and uncover a violent conspiracy threatening the island’s entire way of life.

Old rivalries will flare, shocking secrets will be revealed, and as Duncan’s scandalous past finally catches up with him, will it ultimately destroy them all?

The men will be tested to their limits as they discover that on Blackrabbit Island, the lion lies waiting.

EBOOK FORMAT https://books2read.com/u/mYALlp

PRINT – YOUR LOCAL AMAZON PAGE https://getbook.at/thelionlieswaiting

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSHOP Ask for THE LION LIES WAITING with ISBN 9781949909715

We Cry The Sea

After the explosive events of The Lion Lies Waiting, life has returned to normal for burly fisherman Robin Shipp. That is until the innkeeper of the ancient Moth & Moon approaches him with a surprising proposal, and an unexpected arrival brings some shocking news that sends Robin on a perilous journey alone.

While he’s away, his lover, Edwin, anxiously prepares for the birth of his first child with his friend, Iris. Her wife, Lady Eva, must travel to Blackrabbit Island for a showdown over the future of the family business. Meanwhile, Duncan nurses an injured man back to health but as the two grow close, the island’s new schoolmaster makes his amorous intentions clear.

Robin’s search for answers to the questions that have haunted his entire life will take him away from everyone he knows, across a dangerous ocean, and into the very heart of a floating pirate stronghold. Pushed to his limits, Robin’s one last chance at finding the truth will cost him more than he ever imagined.

EBOOK FORMAT https://books2read.com/wecrythesea

PRINT – YOUR LOCAL AMAZON PAGE Getbook.at/WeCryTheSea

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSHOP Ask for WE CRY THE SEA with ISBN 978-1-64890-234-5

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MERCHANDISE

You can buy a range of t-shirts inspired by the Moth and Moon books exclusively from Moodybear https://themoodybear.com/themothandmoon.html

The designs include Robin on his boat, the sign above the Moth & Moon, and some pirate flags from my new novel, We Cry The Sea!

SOCIAL MEDIA

Facebook: www.facebook.com/glennquigleyauthor

Twitter: @glennquigley

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Sign up to my newsletter for the latest info, never-before-seen art, and exclusive discount codes: www.glennquigley.com/newsletter

Glenn Quigley Self Portrait

 

 

 

Developing a Series

My Two Year Journey Through The Clearwater World

Just over two years ago, I decided to write a standalone book taking the premise: ‘What if Jack the Ripper had killed male prostitutes?’ I wanted it to have elements of mystery and romance, but essentially, to be a thriller. By the time I had finished the first draft of ‘Deviant Desire’, I had realised that the story was unfinished because ‘Jack’ was never caught. Therefore, I thought I should write a sequel, and the premise there would be, ‘Why did the killings suddenly stop?’ So, I started on ‘Twisted Tracks’, and as I was writing that, I realised I had created a group of characters and a world that cried out to be an ongoing series. Two years later, there are nine mystery books in the series, one non-mystery prequel, and I am working on book ten.

Today, I thought it would be interesting to look back over the journey from Deviant Desire to the present day and see the development of The Clearwater Mysteries.

(If you click on the photos you will open up the blog posts from along the way).


Deviant Desire, Book One

March 8th, 2019

First book in the series published

 

The standalone story was ready to go to publication. I had completed the book, found a cover designer, Andjela K, and a proof-reader, Anne Attwood, and had managed the layout of the book myself. Deviant Desire was published, and although I didn’t know at the time, it was to become my top-selling title and the first in a popular series. I’d hit a nerve, or tapped a seam, or stirred imagination or something, and because I thought it was the best book I’d written so far, I was more than pleased.

Other Worlds

As well as creating the characters and the mystery plot, I also developed a world. I incorporate fact with fiction in my historical mysteries, but I change the original world because I need to take liberties and use artistic licence. For example, Whitechapel becomes Greychurch in my imaginary London, although descriptions of the place are based on authentic sources.

Other Worlds Ink took me on a book tour

As I was writing book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’, I decided that I could do with some help with publicity, and so I turned to Other Worlds Ink to arrange a blog tour for me. This ran from April 29th to May 12th, 2019, and was the first such tour I had undertaken.

One of the guest posts they arranged for me can be seen on MM Good Book Reviews and was published on May 4th.

Twisted Tracks, Book Two

May 2019

Deviant Desire was now building momentum and selling well. Reviews were coming in, and they were, at first, a little mixed. I must admit that one was scathing, but when I read it, I realised that it was probably written by someone who was livid because they’d not thought of the idea themselves. They gave away some of the plot twists (which is unforgivable in a review), and other plot points they mentioned were inaccurate. I wasn’t daunted, however, and book sales were better than any of my other novels, and so I pressed on.

Book Two saw the momentum continue

 

The publication of Twisted Tracks coincided with the book tour, which helped sales enormously. Readers who enjoyed book one could instantly move on to the ‘to be continued’ story in book two and Twisted started to pick up sales, readers and reviews from the week of its publication.

 

Unspeakable Acts, Book Three

Book Three sees the Viscount launching his foundation to help the street boys of the East End

Come June of that year, I decided that I needed to leave the Ripper element aside (at least for now), and turn my attention to what else was going on in Victorian London in 1888. Researching the life and work of Victorian rent boys threw up little, as it is not a much-discussed topic, but I had previously read about a scandal that involved a male brothel in Cleveland Street in 1889, and had that at the back of my mind as a setting for one of the future Clearwater Books. However, I couldn’t wait until 1889. I invented my own potential scandal based in my world and employed a male brothel in Cleaver Street.

The Royal Opera House, London, one of the settings for ‘Unspeakable Acts’

Another of my areas of fascination is the theatre. So, I combined the Cleveland Street scandal (my version), the Royal Opera House (factual) and an imaginary opera into book three, Unspeakable Acts, and this was published in early June.

The series was building momentum, and I knew that I was on a roll, but what next?

 

A writing retreat

June 2019

Tilos – the perfect writers’ retreat

Not being a great fan of writers’ workshops and getaways where strangers pick apart each other’s work and someone tells you how you should write, I don’t go on group retreats. However, that year, I decided I could do with some solo time to work on the next book. I found myself an apartment on an island near ours, an island called Tilos, and booked myself a week of solitude. Tilos is home to only 200 people, and it offers peace, quiet, a village square for evening relaxation and plenty of solo-time walking and ‘chilling.’ I went there in June 2019 armed with my laptop and a book of Tennyson poems.

Fallen Splendour, Book Four

Book four and the feeling that maybe that was the end

I had so much invested in my characters by now, I wasn’t worried about books sales. It was what was going on in the lives of my Clearwater crew (as a fan named them) that was important, and the series had gathered so much momentum, it was hard to conceive it would ever finish. I sat down at my keyboard in my rented apartment overlooking the sea and laid out my tools for part four. A kidnapping, a coded message, and a race to rescue the victim. Simple, but tied up with a poem by Tennyson.

I wrote 35,000 words in the five days I was on Tilos, and work continued when I returned home to Symi. Andjela came up with another perfect cover, and Fallen Splendour was released on June 15th.

 

It was hard to think that this might be the last book. There is the feeling with the last chapter that suggests the series is ending, and, if it were a film, the camera would pull away from the five main characters looking down over the splendour of Larkspur Hall at Christmas as we fade out…. Cut.

But…

An interlude

Autumn 2019

I needed to return to my other series, The Saddling series (by James Collins, my real name), because it should have four parts, and I’d only written three. I tried to leave Clearwater alone and work on part four of Saddling, but after plotting, researching and putting together 40,000 words, I realised that what I was doing was transporting some Clearwater elements into Saddling, and they are two completely different worlds. The message-to-self here was that I needed to continue Clearwater. I wasn’t done with it yet. I was having too much fun. I’d covered the Ripper, the Cleveland Street scandal, Opera, Tennyson, kidnapping, coded messages, train crashes, what else was there?

There was Larkspur Hall.

Bitter Bloodline, Book Five

So far, Clearwater had existed mainly in London, but the Viscount also owns a massive country house with 16 bedrooms, a tower, a ruined abbey, a village and everything else that went with great stately homes of the past. I was also hooked on the idea of involving real people, and so, Bitter Bloodline (which has a bit of a Dracula influence without the vampires) was created to showcase Bram Stoker, Henry Irving and others.

Book five is published

So, during the latter part of 2019, I worked on Bitter Bloodline, broke into the Lyceum theatre, researched poisons and how the Borgia’s managed to poison dinner guests (not that the Borgia’s were in the story), planned a rough landscape of Larkspur, bought an OS map of Bodmin Moor, where the house is, and learnt a fair amount about Transylvanian wine. Bitter Bloodline was published in early November 2019.

That’s five books in only eight months. Five very successful books, I should add, and full length at an average of 95,000 words each. Clearwater was taking over my life.

Into 2020

And now we take a siding because, while I was writing approximately half a million words into five books, I had also retired. Rather, semi-retired on a private pension scheme from years ago which allowed me to take a holiday of a lifetime.

The Royal Opera House, part of our whirlwind stay in London

As Neil and I left Symi in March 2020, rumours were spreading that due to covid-19, towns and cities might have to close down, and the world was in for a pandemic. We had booked a trip to Canada and had been looking forward to it for 14 months. It didn’t feel like the best time to travel, but at the same time, our insurance wouldn’t cover us if we cancelled.

We went via Athens and London, where I could visit some of the Clearwater scenes, the Lyceum theatre, for example, and the National Gallery where book six’s opening was to be set. We had a fantastic time crossing Canada by train, but by the time we reached Vancouver, the epidemic had become a pandemic, and all those places we’d seen had closed behind us. We were among the last to have dinner atop the CN Tower, we were on the last cross-Canada excursion train, on one of the last flights out of Vancouver, and had an adventure of our own trying to get home that was worthy of Clearwater himself.

 

Artful Deception, Book Six

May 2020

Book six released

But reach home we did, and it was straight back to work for me. Book Six in the series, Artful Deception, was released on May 30th, 2020. I wanted this one to finally finish off the Ripper story of books one and two, and again, there was a feeling that it would be the last in the series. I wrote it, released it, and that was, in a way, that. I don’t know why I didn’t give it the same attention as the others, I think my mind was on what to write next, but it didn’t matter. The series had picked up so much momentum, it had a life of its own, but I wanted to write something… calmer.

Home From Nowhere, Book Seven

August 2020

Full of more historical research and one of my favourite subjects, music

This story grew out of a character we briefly met in Artful Deception – a hall boy working for the evil Earl Kingsclere. What would it have been like, I wondered, to be a young man of 17 trapped in the world of working below stairs with no hope of going anywhere? What would happen if that young man had an incredible talent from birth? How could this be a mystery? Not only did I want a cosy, not too tense mystery, I also wanted a love story.

Clearwater exists in the world of Victorian Britain when to be gay meant disgrace and imprisonment, and that is the confine of everyone in my world; all the gay characters, I mean – and most of the leading players are gay. For the mystery, I once again turned to music and real people. For the love story, I turned to two opposing characters: a cheeky, rough-diamond Cockney, Billy Barnett, and a mild-mannered slightly ‘on the spectrum,’ hall boy, Jasper Blackwood. (The name came first, and as I wanted him to be a dichotomy, I gave him a name you might expect of a Penny Dreadful villain.)

Passionate about the research and the details of historical fiction

There is a lot of historical fact in the background of Home From Nowhere, particularly around who the parents turn out to be. By now, my reference bookshelves were bulging with all the books I’d bought to inform my Clearwater world.

I think Home From Nowhere has received more praise and more five stars than any of the other books to date, and Jasper and Billy are currently playing significant parts in book ten, which is still being written.

One of a Pair, Book Eight

And still, the momentum continued. We are into August 2020 now, and as it is the month of my brother’s birthday, and as he was a chemist before he retired, I innocently asked him about unusual poisons, as you do. He gave me the idea for the slightly unlikely but completely possible twist I needed to make One of a Pair work, and once I had that the rest of the mystery more or less wrote itself. My scatter-brained character, Doctor Markland, appears in this book by popular demand, there was much research to do on chemicals and train travel, and this, like Fallen Splendour, was a book that more or less wrote itself.

Book eight released

It also competed the love story begun in Home From Nowhere and is another ‘cosy’ mystery, though with a little more tension.

A cover note: One of a Pair was also the first time I have found a photo of a character and based the character’s description around the image. Usually, it’s the other way around. Jasper Blackwood appears on the cover.

 

 

Looking forward to the past

We are up to September 2020, and I am in a more literary mood.

Slumming, just one of the subjects researched for the series

I wanted to try a book that was not reliant on a complicated, twisting mystery plot. I also wanted to know more about the two characters who began the series, Silas Hawkins and Andrej Kolisnychenko. Or, as they are known to each other through nicknames, Banyak and Fecker (Fecks). Silas is the son of an Irish immigrant, Fecker is a Ukrainian refugee. They met in 1884, lived together as friends, and worked together as renters, but when we meet them in Deviant Desire, they already have a strong bond that you might these days call a bromance. Fecker is straight, Silas is gay, and nothing happens between them sexually (not these days), yet they love each other.

So, I thought, how did that all come about?

Banyak & Fecks, The Prequel

November 2020

The prequel

That’s how Banyak & Fecks was born, and it is probably the most researched book in the series. It’s a prequel, and by the time One of a Pair (book eight) came out, Banyak & Fecks was already in the first draft stage. By now, my assistant Jenine was on board and doing all kinds of magical things to boost sales and develop my website and reputation. That’s why we now have interviews with other writers, more in-depth articles like this one, cover reveals and competitions. She keeps busy while I write books.

But for all that, I wasn’t sure where to go next. I wanted the series to continue because I didn’t feel like I was quite done with it yet, and I didn’t want to say goodbye to my characters. But was it running out of steam?

Apparently not.

November 2020

During 2020, apart from travelling across Canada and narrowly avoiding a pandemic, I had also started on a Clearwater mystery titled ‘Men of a Similar Heart.’ This involved a murder at a boarding school in 1877, and I reached the 60k word mark relatively quickly. Then, it did run out of steam and was going nowhere. I had four different openings of the story, but none of them fitted. I had some great characters, but I had seven main characters and loads of secondary ones by now. There were subplots of forbidden longing between my main couples, Silas and Archer, James and Thomas, but because I’d stepped away from 1889 and gone back in time, something was getting in my way…

Negative Exposure, Book Nine

erotic photography paved the way for book nine

It turned out to be pornography. Well, erotic photographs of the past.

There is an incident in Banyak & Fecks that moves the Andrej/Silas relationship forward. I hit upon the idea that this incident from 1886 might come back to haunt Silas in 1889, and that’s how Negative Exposure came about. Once I realised that was where the story was going, it was easy to write, and while I was writing it, I became aware that a new series was now waiting in the wings.

However, before I can get to that, I need to finish the Clearwater collection, and book nine, Negative Exposure, lays the groundwork for the plot of book ten and plants the seed for the next series.

Onwards to the Beginning 

Book nine with a new cover concept

 Negative Exposure was released in February 2021, 20 months after releasing Deviant Desire, and brought the series up to just under one-million words in total. (I have been through four keyboards in that time.) The story is more akin to the earlier ones, with a mystery leading to a deadline and a chase. It is tenser than the likes of Home From Nowhere and ends with the crew gathering for Christmas at Larkspur Hall, as they do at the end of Fallen Splendour. However, it also ends on a twist that I only decided upon when writing the penultimate chapter. It was one of those ‘light bulb’ moments, and as soon as I wrote the last line, I thought, ‘Oh bugger. How do I get myself out of that?’

The Clearwater Inheritance, Book Ten

January 2021

Manchester Weekly Times and Examiner, 11 Jan 1890, Sat Page 2

Book ten will pick up where book nine left off. What Lord Clearwater said in his last speech means it has to (damn the man!), so, as I write, I am researching all manner of things from European train travel in 1890 to personal telegraph systems, legal entails and inheritance law of the 19th century. I have several scenes plotted, some including a selection of my favourite characters from the past. I am referencing people and events from ten previous books while getting to grips with the imaginary Larkspur Hall layout and its 50 + rooms. I am also making parallels with today’s pandemic, as there was one ravaging the world in January 1890, and all the time, laying more groundwork for the series that will follow.

For this, the future of Clearwater, I have decided that my Clearwater characters will still exist and appear but will be the background to a set of new people and others who we might already know who will play larger parts in a slightly different series. I can’t say much more than that right now because this is still very much in the planning stage, and, speaking honestly, I am not 100% sure how it will start or where it will go. But it’s there somewhere in the recesses of my imagination and only needs some kind of deviant desire on my part to bring it out.

It has been two years since I wrote the first line of what was meant to be a standalone romantic thriller; Silas Hawkins was searching for coins in an East End gutter when a man four miles distant and ten years older sealed his fate. I didn’t know it then, but young Mr Hawkins had sealed my fate, at least for the time being.

The Clearwater Series, available from Amazon on Kindle or paperback

A Character Interview with James Wright

 

James Joseph Wright was born on January 10th, 1863, at the precise moment the world’s first underground train delivered its passengers to Farringdon station. As the locomotive puffed and fumed from the tunnel, James’s mother, some four miles distant, puffed and fumed through her own first delivery.

[Twisted Tracks, The Clearwater Mysteries Book Two]

_______________________________

That is the opening of the second Clearwater Mysteries novel. It introduces us to a character who is to become one of the Clearwater five, the five main characters central to the ongoing series. James makes a brief appearance in book one, ‘Deviant Desire‘ when he is a telegram messenger boy and delivers the ‘smoking gun’ telegram to Clearwater House and meets Thomas. I wanted Thomas to have a love interest but had no idea that James would take on such an important role in the series. Mind you, neither did James and since he met the love of his life, he has crashed a locomotive, foiled an assassin or two, become friends with Tennyson, borrowed Queen Victoria’s private train, rescued Bram Stoker’s son, impersonated a barrister and saved Silas’ life on more than one occasion.

James is the lead detective in the Clearwater Detective Agency, and I thought it was about time we knew a little more about him. So, I sat down with him one quiet Sunday afternoon in The Crown and Anchor pub, near his home in South Riverside, London (in January 1890) and asked him a few questions.

 

What is your full name?

My full name is James Joseph Wright. My mother calls me Jim or Jimmy. Most of my friends call me Jimmy, but Andrej, His Lordship’s coachman, who has nicknames for everyone, calls me Tato. I know, it makes me sound like a bloody King Edward’s potato, but in Andrej’s language, it means ‘daddy.’ He started calling me this when the two of us had to look after Bram Stoker’s son, Noel because someone was trying to kill him. It’s not the worst nickname a man can have. We call Andrej Fecker because Silas used to call him ‘one handsome fucker’, and in Silas’ Irish accent, it sounds like Fecker. Andrej calls my lover, Thomas, ‘Bolshoydick’ because in Ukrainian, it means ‘large penis.’ (Long story, don’t ask.) So I suppose I got off lightly with Tato.

Where do you live now, and with whom?

Clearwater House 1st floor plan (rough)

At the moment, I’m at Clearwater House, Riverside. That’s the London home of Lord Clearwater where I came to work as a footman in 1888. To start with, I had a room on the top floor opposite Thomas, the butler. The following year, when Archer (Lord Clearwater) set up the detective agency and I became a gentleman, Archer have me a suite of rooms on the first floor. I have my own bedroom and sitting room, and an inside bathroom. This is at the back of the house, overlooking the yard and the mews, and beyond them, St Matthew’s Park. I am very lucky. Thomas still has his rooms above mine but only spends time in them if there are guests in the house; otherwise, we more or less live together.

When we are at Larkspur Hall, Archer’s country house, I used to have the senior footman’s rooms by the butler’s suite in the basement. Now, though, I have a similar but much larger suite of rooms opposite Silas and Archer’s, and Thomas has the suite next door. There’s a connecting door, so we can sort of live together without anyone knowing, and it’s like a bloody palace. Archer is very generous, as you can tell.

To which social class do you belong?

Who knows? (He laughs.) I was born in South Riverside, which is a typical lower-middle-class part of London near Chelsea, full of artisans and workmen, people with their own trades and businesses. My dad is a merchant seaman, and my mother a straw bonnet maker. We have a typical two-up two-down and an outside privy in a small yard, but we always had enough to get by. When I came to Clearwater House as a footman, I suppose I shifted sideways in class and went into ‘above stairs service.’ When Archer set up the agency, I became a gentleman with my own self-generated income, though not one with land or a title like the viscount. I still consider myself working class, though I can act ‘upper’ when I need to and ‘lower’ if necessary.

How would you describe your childhood?

Apart from having a younger and very annoying sister who is never happy about anything, childhood was alright. I had to go to school, but I was good at reading and always wanted to know more, so I suppose I was a bit annoying too. They made me go to Sunday school as well, but I used to bunk off that.

Telegraph boys line up to receive telegrams for delivery at the Central Telegraph Office in London

When I was 14, I got a job as a post office runner and then a messenger delivery boy. The job came with a uniform, and we had to do drills in the yard every morning like we were in the army. I got bullied there because I was dumpy and not very fit, but when I got taller, I started to get fitter.

They (the older messenger lads and one in particular) tried to get me into the money-making scam where they’d have sex with punters for coins, but I refused to do this. I was fascinated with the idea, though, because I think I always knew I wasn’t interested in girls, but doing it for money wasn’t for me. I suppose I was after love rather than just sex, but when you want sex with another man these days, well, you could end up in prison, so I had to keep quiet about all that.

Tom

So, when it comes to my first kiss, that was with Tom. He’d got me a job at Clearwater House and was showing me around on my first day. He got me the job because we fancied each other, though he also said I’d be good at it, and we were in his butler’s pantry… Actually, that was the second time. The first was when he showed me his rooms on the top floor. It was awkward, and I wanted to do a lot more than kiss, but we couldn’t. Later, we had a bit of a kiss in his pantry (his office), but we didn’t really get much of a chance until later when we were all in the north chasing the Ripper. Archer engineered a time we could be alone in this room we’d all been using at an inn, and Tom and I had had a bit of a row (long story), and we’d not even said ‘I love you’ by then, because we didn’t know how. Anyway, we managed an hour alone and did… You know, for the first time, though, that was a bit awkward too. We’re much better at it now. (He laughs.) But be careful who you tell that too, else we’ll get in trouble.

Do you have a criminal record?

No, but I should have! I’ve always been honest, you see, and that’s what Lord Clearwater liked about me. He tested me once with a five-pound note, and there was no way I was going to rip him off, and he saw that. So, he welcomed me to his ‘crew’ his circle of trusted friends and told me the first rule of Clearwater House which is honesty above all else. Since then, I’ve crashed a locomotive train into a river, helped Silas break into a brothel, punched Clearwater’s lights out, impersonated a barrister in open court (another long story), impersonated a Metropolitan police officer and lied about who I am, but only when I’ve had to. So much for ‘honesty above all else’! But it’s all been for the right reasons.

Are you able to kill? Under what circumstances do you find killing to be acceptable or unacceptable?

I had to think about this for a minute. I’m now a private investigator and have been in some pretty sticky situations. I’ve been there when people have died, but I haven’t actually killed anyone. There was the man who was trying to murder Silas, and he fell to his death. I was there but didn’t push him. Then there was the man trying to kill Archer, but Tom set fire to him, and Silas shot the other man in the head. The blackmailer… Well, that was his own fault… I better stop there, or I might get in trouble.

But to answer your question, yes, I could kill someone, but I’d rather stop someone from being killed. If anyone was trying to kill any of my close mates, anyone on the crew or any of the boys, like Jasper or Billy, then, as long as it was to save them or in self-defence, yes, I’d put a bullet in a man. Mind you, I don’t have a gun of my own so I’d have to borrow one.

Who or what would you die for or otherwise go to extremes for?

Goes without saying. Tom, Archer, Silas, Fecker, Jasper, Billy, Mrs Norwood… The Clearwater’ crew.’ Oh, and my family, of course.

What are your favourite hobbies and pastimes?

I go for a run around the park every morning when it’s not raining too hard, and I sometimes join some lads in the park on a Sunday for a game of football. I’ve played rugby as well, but I only do all this because, without it, I’d quickly get fat again.

A few of my favourite books

I read a bit because of my job. I have a stack of old copies of The Police Gazette and The Illustrated Police News for research on cases and keeping up to date with police procedures. I like novels, the kind of ‘Boy’s Own Paper’ style of things. I’ve got a signed Wilkie Collins that Lady Marshall gave me, and a book of Tennyson poems that Lord Alfred gave me, but otherwise, I use Archer’s library, and that’s full of all kinds of stuff from Burke’s Landed Gentry to a history of the Royal Navy. So, I read a lot and do a bit of sport.

 

Are you spontaneous, or do you always need to have a plan?

When you work for Lord Clearwater, you have to get used to making things up as you go along. I plan when I need to.

Describe the routine of a normal day for you.

There’s no such thing as a normal day when you’re a Clearwater detective and live with and work for Lord Clearwater. I have a routine, though, for when we’re not on a case. Tom’s always up early, and so am I. I go for a run if I can, have a wash or a bath, then go down to breakfast. I have breakfast with His Lordship and Silas when they’re at home or down in the servants’ hall with Fecks and Mrs Norwood and the boys when Archer is away. Then I’m in my office (Clearwater library), reading, looking at requests for help from all kinds of people who need an investigator, and Silas and I deal with those letters and things. He also runs a hostel in Greychurch, so I am on my own so a lot of the time.

If I’m not working on a case, I’m reading, researching, always trying to learn new stuff, helping Billy Barnett with this or that as he’s always trying to invent things and improve things. Sometimes, I go riding with Fecker, but usually, I’m busy on a case all day. When I’m free in the evening, I spend time with Tom in our suite just chatting or cuddling up, you know. Now and then, Archer drags us all to a theatre or a concert, and we go out to eat. Pretty ordinary things really, because I reckon I’m an ordinary lad from South Riverside who was lucky to fall in love and meet a man who only sees the best in people and encourages them to be themselves; Clearwater, that is.

What are you working on now?

Well, obviously, I can’t say too much, but I’ve come up to London from Larkspur Hall to work on a case that’s to do with inheritance. I’ve got meetings set up with Marks, His Lordship’s solicitor, and I have to get to the Inns of Court to see my barrister friend, Sir Easterby Creswell (always a bit of madness involved when he’s on the case).

“The Epidemic of Influenza” Manchester Weekly Times and Examiner, 11 Jan 1890, Sat Page 2

I’m working out of Clearwater House, trying to avoid this bloody influenza pandemic, and the rest of the time, I’m slowly sifting through the Clearwater archives to try and find a document that will save Archer’s fortune from going to a very distant and undeserving Romanian relative, while also helping Archer set up a new academy for gifted young men, or whatever it’s going to be when he decides.

One thing You can say about being part of Clearwater’s world; there’s never a dull moment.

(James has just celebrated his 27th birthday.)