Editing the next Clearwater Story

Work in progress: Banyak & Fecks

I’m working on ‘Banyak & Fecks’, the prequel to the first Clearwater mystery. This isn’t a mystery, however, and it’s not MM Romance, though it is romantic. It’s a story about the friendship between a Ukrainian refugee and the son of an Irish immigrant who meet in London in 1884.

The story starts in 1881 when Andrej (Fecks) leaves his homeland, and the first five chapters are dedicated to him and his journey across Europe. The next five chapters start in 1884 when Silas (Banyak) leaves his home in Westerpool to travel to London looking for work so he can send money home to his twin sisters.

Deviant Desire‘, the first book in the mystery series, begins in 1888, when they have known each other for four years. The second half of ‘Banyak & Fecks’ is about those four years, what happened to them as rent boys, and how their friendship developed. The story takes us up to the day before the first scene of ‘Deviant Desire’ during the time of the Ripper murders.

Here’s the book title taken from the first draft of the cover. There will be a full cover reveal in a couple of weeks.

That’s a quick summary of the story. What I wanted to talk about today is how I am working on it. I finished draft one a couple of weeks ago and am now editing draft two. It’s a slow process.

Editing

Everyone should have an editor, but not everyone likes to have one. Why? Well, because lots of people don’t like someone else telling them what they should do with their creation. The author knows best, right?

Wrong.

I learnt this years ago when writing musicals. I’d write the book (dialogue/story) and the songs, and be happy with what I’d created. There’s no point writing a musical that no-one will see, so I then raised funds to produce them. For the first one, I hired a director who turned out to be useless; all she did was tell the actors where to stand. I watched rehearsals in horror and realised that, although it needed improving, the director didn’t want to interfere with what I’d written. I got rid of her and took over. I collaborated with the cast on character, dialogue and lyrics, and worked with the musical director on the score, cutting, improving, moving things around and so on. I even changed a scene because the set designer had a better idea than mine. The show was better for it, and when I revived it a few years later, I changed, edited and improved it again.

The point here being, collaboration can be a good thing, and usually is.

‘But my creation is perfect!’ cries the newbie author in the manner of Victor Frankenstein exclaiming, ‘It’s alive!’ Yes, well, we all know how that turned out.

Some people can solo-edit, and that’s up to them. Others can afford a professional editor, and that’s wonderful as long as it’s someone you trust. You should always stay true to your vision but remain open to suggestions, and learn to swallow your pride. Your work will benefit from the discussion if not the input, because writing is a solitary pastime.

Back to Banyak & Fecks

Having finished the first draft of ‘Banyak & Fecks’, I sent the first chapter to a trusted friend of mine who had proofread some of my James Collins’ novels, and with whom I had collaborated on a film script or two. He’s what I’d call a ‘word technician.’ An Oxford classicist, ex-newspaper editor, BBC journalist of the past, and also a long-standing, highly pedantic friend, so, I trust him.

I sent him the chapter knowing it was good and made perfect sense to me, and he came back with It certainly has lots of promise but definitely needs a lot of re-working and re-writing, as you probably realise. As a writer, you think, ‘Really? Not sure I agree with you there…’ Then he comes up with notes such as over-dense, slightly confusing, and quite hard to get through… confused over timelines… descriptions were good but lacking in emotion… quite a lot of passive voice… I was also a bit confused about… make that moral response more ambiguous and flexible, otherwise you’re creating a stereotype…

And so on. There were many positive comments too, I should add.

I wasn’t disheartened. I took the comments on board and thought about them as I began editing.

Editing alone

Now then let me pull out two phrases from what I’ve just written, afford a professional editor, and quite a lot of passive voice.

Not everyone can afford to pay a freelance editor, myself included. So what do you do?

I use two plug-in programmes. Grammarly, and Pro Writing Aid (PWA). Both are good at what they do, they have different ways of working, you can customise them, and I use them for two kinds of writing. Grammarly, I use for my freelance review and copywriting and find it’s good at picking up on punctuation and typos. Here it is in use on what I am writing right now.

As you can see, I’ve not gone back over this post yet, as I’ve not reached the end.

I don’t use Grammarly as an editor I use it more as a proof reader. (When I am happy with a drafted novel, I pay for a professional proof reader.)

Pro Writing Aid, however, I do use as an editor because it covers all manner of technical things, such as passive voice, adverb use, repetitions, sentence length, readability and clichés. It also compares the writing to published standards, giving notes such as, ‘68% of sentences start with a subject (compared to 72% in published writing).’ It’s just said that about what I’ve written for this post so far. When you visit their website, you can find out how they compare to published writing, and find explanations for passive voice, ‘sticky sentences’ and the rest.

I can tell you, examining every sentence with this writing tool is a slow business, because it’s so in-depth, and it’s tempting to skip some features because there are so many. I try not to. Here’s a screenshot of PWA at work on my sentence length.

You also have to be aware of over-editing. When I’m using PWA, I start with the Grammar & Style feature which picks up on grammar, spelling, readability, passive verbs and repeated sentence starts. Later, I check overused words, then repeats in close proximity, sentence length and… You know, it goes on and on. The thing is, the programme might suggest cutting this and changing that, and if you cut things around too much, you can lose your voice, your style. So, such programmes should be used judiciously, and you should approach your editing as an individual. If everyone did as these plug-ins suggest, all our writing would come out the same.

And back to the editor

Which is why, whenever possible, writers should work with a living, breathing editor. Together, they can improve the work technically while keeping an eye on the wider picture. What these programmes can’t do is examine a whole manuscript and check things like character arc, pace, repetition of theme or descriptions, and obvious errors.

I’m thinking there of a paragraph in ‘Deviant Desire’ that originally said Silas and Andrej met at night-time, and then, in the next, describes the meeting as being in the afternoon. I mean, that contradictory information was only two sentences apart! I only noticed when I reread DD some months after publication, but I changed the manuscript and reloaded it to Amazon. The joy of self-publishing! Fixing errors after publication is easy, but then, if I’d had an editor, there wouldn’t be errors to fix.

And finally


‘Finally’, is an adverb, and adverbs are to be avoided in creative writing because they tell not show. (There are 29 of them in this post so far. PWA is not happy.) Anyway… Adverbs are to be avoided. (Passive verb: to be avoided. Better is, ‘you should avoid adverbs.’) You should do this for your whole manuscript. (Style improvement: ‘a complete manuscript.’) As I was trying to say… Adverbs are to be avoided… (Repetition: Frequent 5 word phrases, ‘adverbs are to be avoided’, try these ten suggestions…)

That’s the kind of thing my PWA programme comes up with, and believe it or not, I don’t mind.

What’s come out of all this ‘editing with a robot’ experience?

  • They can be useful for those who can’t afford a professional editor.
  • You learn a great deal about grammar and spelling. (Both programmes can be customised to English-English and the America equivalent.)
  • You don’t always have to agree with what they say.
  • It’s easy to overwork your MS, so be careful.
  • You still need to see the story from afar for the wider picture.
  • It takes a hell of a long time to do a line edit.

And there I will leave you and return to chapter 18 of ‘Banyak & Fecks.’ Another three hours lie ahead (or is it lay ahead?), and that’s just on the one chapter. The Clearwater prequel should be ready before Christmas. Once I, Grammarly and PWA have done with it, it still needs to go through my proof reader, and if you are looking for one, I can recommend Anne Attwood at https://www.facebook.com/AnnieA2017/ who also offers editing services.

Jackson Marsh on Facebook
Grammarly
Pro Writing Aid

Coming Out

Coming Out

Last Sunday was International Coming Out Day (October 11th), and that turned my mind to coming out novels, or first-time stories as they are sometimes called. I’ve been talking about some of my coming out icons and scenes on my Facebook page all week, but to round it off, here’s a little more.

I didn’t come out until I was 25, probably because for the first 21 years of my life, I was illegal, the age of consent then being 21 in the UK. I didn’t start reading overtly gay literature until I was in my twenties. Where I grew up and when, there was no such thing as popping to your local bookshop to order the latest Gay Men’s Press publication, even if I knew of its existence. There was no Amazon to buy from because there was no internet, and it wasn’t until I moved to London in the early 1980s that I even knew gay literature existed. (Not counting Wilde, Forster et al. who were spoken about in hushed whispers at school.)

Once I found an outlet for gay novels through Gay’s The Word bookshop and others in the capital, I was off and reading. As I was writing this post, two novels came back to me, and I looked them up to see if they are still available. I particularly remember ‘In The Tent’ and ‘The Milkman’s On His Way’, both by David Rees, both of which were about young men (late teens, at school) struggling with their sexuality and coming out. Both, I found uplifting, reassuring and helpful.

They, for me, were the front runners of what I do now – write gay literature. Oh, and there’s another recommendation for you, ‘The Front Runner‘ by Patricia Nell Warren.

I had a look at my catalogue of books and wondered, ‘Have I written a coming out story?’ That might sound like an odd thing for an author to ask, but I decided I’d never sat down to write a coming out story. At the heart of most of my novels, I decided, was friendship, and when a character summons the courage to tell a friend he is gay, I see it more of a test of friendship than a coming out novel. I think, because, I have read so many coming out novels that seem to be the author coming out rather than a character, I subconsciously shied away from it. Or did I?

The Stoker ConnectionThe Stoker Connection
In this novel, the premise is ‘What if Stoker didn’t write ‘Dracula’ but merely put together actual diaries and evidence supplied to him by the characters in his story?’ Not what you’d immediately think was a coming out novel, would you? Yet, when I got to the end of it, I realised that what I had written was indeed a novel about coming out wrapped up in an engaging YA mystery.

I even wrote the blurb: Dexter and Morgan meet on their eighteenth birthday. The attraction is instant but confusing. As they deal with coming out, they are bound together by more than first love. They’re bound by coincidence and destiny as it happens, but along the way, Dexter’s coming out is pre-empted and complicated by his well-meaning but slightly dim best friend, whereas Morgan’s took place under the knowing eye of his sex therapist mother. Each boy had a completely different coming out experience with friends and family, but both had a third when they come out to each other. Still, I maintain that the story isn’t your classic ‘coming out’ story because that’s not the main thrust of the plot.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts if you’ve read, ‘The Stoker Connection’. You can comment on my Facebook page and let me know what you think.

The Mentor Collection
I call it a collection rather than a series because the stories are not linked. They all concern a younger man and a relationship with an older man, so they are what some people call; ‘May to December’ or older/younger romance novels. Except, the first one, ‘The Mentor of Wildhill Farm’ is more erotica than it is romance, but it was my first, and I was finding my feet.

The Mentor of Lonemarsh HouseThe Mentor of Lonemarsh House
I’m sometimes asked, what is my favourite of the four Mentor books, and although I like all of them, I would have to say ‘The Mentor of Lonemarsh House’ because it’s closer to a classic coming out novel. In this story, 35-year-old Matt Barrow takes on Lonemarsh House, an isolated manor in the Kent marshes. When he meets 23-year-old Jason Hodge, a brilliant violinist, Matt knows this is the young man he wants to share his new life with, but Jason is closeted and at the mercy of his treacherous friends.

There’s your classic coming out trope – treacherous friends – which equates to peer pressure, and in the story, also the non-understanding parents and remote-village locals with backwards attitudes. Jason knows he is gay but can’t tell anyone (his female best friend already suspects/knows, of course), not until he meets and falls for the older man, Matt. ‘The Mentor of Lonemarsh House’ is definitely MM Romance, but it is older/younger romance with an element of coming out, and yet, still not a coming out story. Again, you may disagree, and I’m happy to have a discussion on my Facebook page, or even personally via email.

Another reason I am fond of ‘Lonemarsh’ is because it is set where I grew up, on a lonely marsh. The house that John buys and is moving into when he meets Jason is based on the house I grew up in, and, I guess, I based Jason on myself – a young man closeted because of where he lived, though he’s a far better violinist than I am a pianist.

The Students of Barrenmoor Ridge
Outside of The Clearwater series, my top-selling title is ‘The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge‘, another older/younger, kind-of-coming out story set in the world of mountaineering and mountain rescue. This one, I felt, needed a sequel, but not one specifically about the older/younger couple of the story, so I came up with ‘The Students of Barrenmoor Ridge.’

Now then, this story probably comes closest to your typical coming out novel. Liam has set himself a goal. To come out to his best friend, Casper, before his 18th birthday while hiking at Fellborough in the Yorkshire Dales. You don’t get much clearer than that! In Liam’s case, though, it’s not the pressure of friends and family that’s kept him from coming out to his bestie, it’s the fear that Casper won’t want to know him any longer if he does. That’s another pressure on young guys wanting to come out that is often explored in coming out novels. Set at Barrenmoor again, bad weather and mountain rescue are involved, but it soon becomes apparent that the rescue is more than physical. Liam and Casper both have secrets that when known, have the potential break or mend their hearts.

In ‘The Students’ you can see the influence that David Rees had on me when I was a young reader, and not only because some of the story takes place in a tent between guys who are 18 and holding secrets. Also, in all the mentor books, you can feel an influence of ‘The Front Runner’ which, it could be argued, is a story about mentoring and love with an age gap.

Why do coming out stories matter?
Coming out a favourite theme for many writers of gay literature, particularly new writers, because it is something every gay person either suffers or just gets on with. It’s something every out gay person has done, and something every closeted gay person wrestles with or in some way has to deal with. Coming out is a rite of passage that only gay people go through, no matter their sex or age. I think it’s the duty of authors of gay lit when writing about coming out, to give the younger or closeted reader not only characters they can identify with but hope that their personal story will come right in the end. You might even offer advice, as in ‘The Students’ which is basically saying, ‘If he’s your best friend, he’ll understand; if he doesn’t, he wasn’t…’

Links

David Rees at Goodreads

My author page on Amazon where you can find all my books

An Interview with Frank Butterfield

This week, I’m delighted to host an interview with the delightful and talented Frank Butterfield, author of the Nick Williams mystery series and the Golden Gate love stories series, along with many other books.

Who is Frank Butterfield? Give us your bio

I was born and raised in Lubbock, Texas, but have lived all over the US. I went to the University of Texas in Austin mainly to learn Portuguese and, after three semesters, dropped out and never looked back. I started off working in the hospitality industry, from one of the best hotels in Manhattan to a bed-and-breakfast in Provincetown. After a while, I realized I could learn how to code, got a job working as a US government contractor, and ended up managing very large contracts. Finally, I knew I needed to work for myself. I started off as a kind of spiritual life coach (something I still do) and then decided to try my hand at writing. Although I’ve done a lot of travelling as a child with my family and as an adult (I’ve been to every state in the lower 48), I now stay close to home in Daytona Beach, Florida.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I first wanted to be a teacher. Then a minister.

When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?

I knew I wanted to write when I was 9 years old and tried to write a short story. In school, I hated writing because I hated how formulaic it was and, for whatever reason, decided I couldn’t write even though I had the desire to do so. Then, in 2016, when I was 49, I figured out a way to write that worked for me and it’s been going gangbusters ever since!

What was your first published work? Tell us a little about it.

I self-published The Unexpected Heiress on June 1, 2016. It’s a short mystery novel which introduces the two main characters around whom I’m building an extensive universe. Their names are Nick Williams and Carter Jones.

They’re a couple, living together in a bungalow in 1953 San Francisco. Things kick off when Nick’s sister is murdered. The story is fast and doesn’t linger (two things I like in my writing). I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I first started, but I’m in love with everything Nick and Carter have brought into my life. I’m wrapping up my 67th title as I write this and expect a lot more to come.

Why did you choose your particular time period to set your stories in?

I’ve always been fascinated by the middle part of the twentieth century. I sometimes think I was born about 40 years late. I’ve also always been fascinated by the lives of LGBTQ folks during the time before Stonewall.

What kind of research do you do, describe the balance between research and writing?

For each historical fiction title, I start off with the newspapers and magazines published on or around the first day the story begins. I always find tidbits of things to add in to give the backgrounds of the stories some colour. If I’m going to include a historical figure in the story, I try to find a video of them speaking and moving around so I get some insight into how they would express themselves. In most cases, that’s easy enough to do.

“Every book seen is something I use for research, including The Hardy Boys!”

Once I have a sense of who is involved and what they might do, I turn the stable of characters I’ve already established loose on them. In my latest short story, Nick and Carter (who are wealthy and donate a lot of money to the Democratic Party) make one of their multiple futile attempts to meet John Kennedy. That had one bad run-in with his brother, Robert, during the time of the McCarthy hearings, about 8 years before. In this short story, neither John nor Robert appear but I did include the man who was governor of Michigan at the time (Labor Day of 1960). He turned out to be quite a character and was a lot of fun to write about.

For the most part, research gets the writing ball rolling. Then, as I’m writing, I do verify bits and pieces as I go along. Since I have access to a lot of newspapers, I can do things like find out what radio or TV program was on at a particular time on a particular day. I try to include as many little things like that as I can. I want the reader to smell the cigarette smoke that’s everywhere, hear the scratchy sound of a record player, and feel the tightness of leather shoes that are still new and how slick they can be on a rainy sidewalk. That sort of thing.

Give us 5 tag words to describe your current series

I work on three series at the same time. My current book is in my contemporary series. Five tag words for the series: Football, Megachurch, Coming Out, Billionaires, Ghosts

Tell us about your current book? And when can we expect to see it?

My current title is This Thing Called Love. It’s book 7 in The Romantical Adventures of  Whit & Eddie. It’s set during the first week of September of this year (2020) so there’s lots of masks and social distancing and testing. It starts off with Whit & Eddie moving to San Antonio for the football season (they own a fictional NFL team). Eddie’s mother, who lives in nearby Austin, decides to escape her self-imposed isolation and just shows up at their new house. At the same time, Whit’s mother drops a bombshell on her megachurch congregation and that leads to all sorts of twists and turns.

Are your characters based on anyone from real life?

All of the primary and secondary characters in my historical fiction novels are created out of whole cloth with a couple of exceptions: actress Rosalind Russell and her husband, Freddie Brisson, are recurring secondary characters. Their son is still alive so, in the scenes where someone politely asks about him, he’s always at camp or at a friend’s house.

In my contemporary series, I’m Eddie, the narrator. Our timelines diverge in 2014, but all of his past is my past. My mother is Eddie’s mother along with the rest of my family. I blur certain random things but all of them know I’m doing this. In many ways, this series is my mostly true memoir. Whit’s experience in the NFL is based on that of Tim Tebow, an actual football player. Whit looks like a beefier version of Rob Gronkowski, another actual football player. His personality, however, is very much distinct from either man.

Do you have a favourite character? Or maybe one that sometimes drives you crazy?

I have many favourite characters. Nick is at the top of my list. Carter and Whit and Ronnie (Daytona Beach historical series and contemporary series) are all tied for second.

There are two characters I really don’t like.

One is Carter’s ex, an engineer by the name of Henry. As he gets older, Henry gets more and more impatient with the changing world around him. For example, when we get to the 70s, he really doesn’t get why Stonewall and gay rights are such a big deal. His husband, Robert, is a saint!

The other character I don’t like is Nick’s second lover, Jeffery. He’s very much into how things look and can’t make up his mind if he’s gay or straight. He ends up getting married and having a daughter. Nick is about the only person in the world who really loves him.

How many hours a day do you write?

It really depends. I write when I want to write. I’m not good at adhering to schedules. On average, I probably write around 4 hours a day. But some days I can be at my laptop for 8 to 10 hours, easily.

How do you relax and unwind?

I go to the beach and walk or jump in the water. I don’t live right on the beach, but it’s only a 7-minute drive away.

 

If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go? And would you take anyone with you?

I would go to the island of Kauai, one of the Hawaiian Islands. I’ve written about it and know lots of people who’ve lived there. But I’ve never been. For my first time, I’d probably go by myself…

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Dorothy L. Sayers (but not Agatha Christie since I’d want to dish about Dame Agatha with Miss Sayers).

George Washington Carver and his lover, Austin Wingate Curtis, Jr. I hesitate to invite them because I’d just want to listen to Dr. Carver talk and talk which would probably be boring for him. He was such a fascinating man and truly a wonderful human being.

One of my ancestors: Ferdinand Flake, who was a newspaper publisher in Galveston, Texas, before, during, and after the American Civil War. He was against Texas seceding and got in trouble for that but survived, nonetheless. I suspect he was a real hoot.

Marsha P. Johnson. She may or may not have been at Stonewall. I always wish I’d met her when she was alive. I’ve heard her speak and she’s a real firecracker.

Barbara Gittings. She was a lesbian activist and one of my favourite people. She and Miss Sayers would probably go to town and have a lot to talk about.

Describe where you are sitting right now

 

I’m in my living/dining room sitting at my dining table which is also my desk. My view is of my sweet little neighbourhood south of downtown Daytona Beach. There are palm trees (which the woodpeckers love) and cypress all covered in Spanish moss. It’s a lovely spot.

 

Who is your favourite author and how has their writing influenced you?

I don’t have just one: Dorothy L. Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, James A. Michener, Armistead Maupin, E.M. Forster, Andrew Holleran. The first four taught me about story structure, writing epics, and detailing personal vignettes to give plenty of feel and colour for times and places far away. The latter two taught me how to move into the souls of gay men, in particular, to reveal them. I can hear Nick telling me those are some ridiculous and high-falutin words right there…

Leave us with some words of wisdom, either your own or borrowed from someone else…

Write what you want to read.

Website: https://frankwbutterfield.com
FB: https://www.facebook.com/FrankWButterfieldAuthor
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/frankwbutterfield/

Check out Frank’s latest book, ‘This Thing Called Love’.

As I read more about Frank, I realised what we have in common: historical stories, world-building, research methods, and even the glasses and a beard. I particularly like his closing quote, ‘Write what you want to read’ as that’s exactly what I do.

Now all that’s left to do is thank Frank for taking the time to answer the questions, and click on over to his website to look up some of those 67 Nick and Carter stories. I’ve got some catching up to do!

Unspeakable Acts: Male Sex Workers in Victorian London

Unspeakable Acts: Male Sex Workers in Victorian London

October is LGBT History month in America. Founded in 1994 by a high school teacher, October was chosen because schools were in session and October 11th is Coming Out Day. Each year, the organisation celebrates 31 LGBT icons and asks for nominations for the following year. There’s a link to the website at the end of this post.

So, what has that to do with the title of this post and my series set in the 1880s? Let me explain.

Astute readers may have noticed the titles of the first four books in The Clearwater Mystery series, and how each one employs a word once used to describe gay men; Deviant Desire, Twisted Tracks, Unspeakable Acts, and Fallen Splendour. Yes, I did that on purpose, and the second word of each title relates to the story:

Deviant Desire – Archer’s (then considered) deviant love for Silas, and the Ripper’s deviant desire to kill. Twisted Tracks – the trail the Ripper leaves

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

as he tries to escape, and the finale happens on top of a moving train. Unspeakable Acts – set at the Royal Opera House where a speech is unspeakable because the speaker may be murdered if he makes it and an opera also has acts. It also relates to the activities that go on inside the Cleaver Street male brothel. Fallen Splendour – based on Tennyson’s line, ‘The splendour falls on castle walls’, where the splendour of the characters’ friendship flourishes, we end up at Larkspur Hall, Clearwater’s country home, and we have a splendid appearance of a particular character right at the end.

Each one is a play on words, fine. So, what has that to do with the title and male sex workers in Victorian London let alone LGBT History month?

Well, I thought, ‘Who might be a gay icon from the 1880s?’ , if such a thing took place and being gay then was acceptable/legal. I decided, apart from Clearwater who is fictitious, I might have nominated John Saul.

John (actually christened Johannes also known as Jack, or Irish Jack) was born in Dublin in 1857.

The Sins of Jack Saul

He was involved in a homosexual scandal at Dublin Castle in 1884, came to London and worked briefly at Drury Lane, but was also a sex worker. The book ‘The Sins of Jack Saul’ by Glenn Chandler is available from Amazon if you want the full story. John/Jack Saul is also thought to be the author of a famous gay, erotic novel, ‘The Sins of the City of the Plain’ (1881), and I can tell you, it’s an eye-opener. I don’t know whether nominating such a chap is the right thing to do, he was in and out of court, but never actually imprisoned (as far as I can remember), probably because he entertained titled and wealthy gentlemen, and they didn’t want to risk being exposed. Still, having researched what such young men had to do to survive, I’ll use him as my imaginary nomination for LGBT History Month 1888 on behalf of all sex-working young men of the time.

Currently, I am researching and writing a Clearwater prequel, ‘Banyak & Fecks’, and these two characters turn to sex work to stay alive. Every time I search for resources about male prostitution in London in the 1880s, I come up against three main categories: Jack Saul, telegraph boys, and the Cleveland Street Scandal. (The trial of Oscar Wilde is beyond my current era, so that hasn’t happened yet.)

I have used all three as inspiration in my series.

A bust, possibly of Jack Saul, found in Paris.

Left: No photograph of Saul is known to exist. However, in 2020 Glenn Chandler was contacted by a reader of his biography who owned a paper-mache head of a smiling young male which had been purchased in a Paris flea market years before. It bears a metal plate reading “Jack Saul 1890”

Silas Hawkins (of the Clearwater Mysteries) is loosely based on the Jack Saul from ‘The Sins of the City…’. Although Silas a very good-looking young fellow, he is not effeminate but does have a fresh-looking, beardless face and sparkling blue eyes. The Jack Saul of the story is also described as having …an Adonis-like figure… especially about what snobs call the fork of his trousers, where evidently he was favoured by nature by a very extraordinary development of the male appendage. A description which inspired my character, Andrej (Fecks), and the fact that Thomas in my series has auburn hair the same as Jack Saul and an extraordinary development of his own, isn’t coincidental either.

Telegraph boys were also notorious for giving ‘extras’ for a small fee. These young men, some as young as thirteen, were employed to deliver telegrams, the equivalent of today’s texting, I guess. Smartly dressed in tight blue uniforms, fit from walking, and employed to knock at the doors of private homes, you can imagine how gay men, closeted by necessity, might find them tempting, and as the youths weren’t well paid, ‘tips’ were often welcome.

James Wright enters my series in book one as a telegraph boy, but only to deliver a message and make eyes at Thomas, and comes into his own in book two, ‘Twisted Tracks.’ When younger, James, like many young men in the service, had been approached by an older messenger who suggests he could do well if he gave ‘extras.’ James isn’t interested. Later, the same older boy, Eddie Lovemount, tries to interest him in a male brothel in Cleaver Street, and again, James isn’t interested.

However, in book three, ‘Unspeakable Acts’, Silas, on seeing Viscount Clearwater’s old school friend at dinner, thinks he remembers the man from a time he was taken to Cleaver Street (by Lovemount) to consider becoming a kept ‘Mary-Ann.’ Silas declines, but, in the story, has to return there to discover if Clearwater’s friend uses the brothel, and James assists him. In the house, Silas witnesses what would have been called unspeakable acts taking place, and parts of the mystery start to come together.

Hopefully, you can see the connections I am making here.

Newspaper illustration of The Cleveland Street Scandal.

Jack Saul was called as a witness in the Cleveland Street Scandal which came about after Thomas Swinscow, a General Post Office messenger was investigated for having too much money about his person. Swinscow admitted that he made his cash working for Charles Hammond at 19 Cleveland Street, a male brothel. A couple of other young men involved were called Newlove and Thickbroom (honestly), so I think I was justified in calling my brothel agent Lovemount. Another was called George Wright, but it was coincidental that I called my character James Wright.

In Unspeakable Acts, I refer to the brothel as being at Cleaver Street for the same reason Whitechapel is Greychurch, and Limehouse is Limedock because I wanted to be creative with certain facts. For example, the Cleveland Street Scandal didn’t break until later in 1889, and my story takes place in November 1888, and in Deviant Desire, the Ripper is killing rent boys, not female sex workers.

Let’s get back to ‘Unspeakable Acts’ and LGBT History Month, and let’s do it via ‘Banyak & Fecks’ which is still currently ‘on the typewriter.’

This prequel fills in information about Silas and Andrej (Banyak & Fecks as they nickname each other), and part of their backstory is about selling their bodies for sex in order to eat. It’s nothing like ‘The Sins of the City of the Plain’ in that it is not graphic, though we’re not left in any doubt what they have to agree to do to earn their money. As I was/am writing it, and researching into what life would have been like for them, and while trying to find research other than Saul, messenger boys and Cleveland Street, it occurred to me how dangerous the job would have been (and still can be, I imagine).

Silas Hawkins depicted at The Royal Opera House

These young men of the past risked all kinds of disease and infections from lice to syphilis. They risked death, as their female counterparts did at the hands of Jack the Ripper. They suffered abuse in the name of fetish, such as hinted at in ‘Unspeakable Acts.’ Some were used as male models and went willingly to the studios, while others were coerced and then forced into pornography. Meanwhile, although the death penalty for sodomy in the UK was abolished in 1861, thanks to section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, the Labouchere amendment, ‘gross indecency’ was a crime carrying a penalty of up to two years with hard labour.

The thing that got me in the Cleveland Street scandal and other trials of telegraph boys and male sex workers was that if a scandal did break, or an arrest was made, it was usually the victim who was punished, not the instigator. The victim being the youth who undertook the work because he had no choice, the instigators often being rich, titled or older men with the contacts, finances and ability to get themselves off – if you will excuse the term.

Which is why, if now was 1888, and I was voting for my LGBT icon of the day, I’d vote for Jack Saul, deviant though he no doubt was, and through him, Silas, Fecker and all those other lads who had no option but to use the only thing they had to make money, their bodies.

Links:

LGBT History Month
The Sins of Jack Saul by Glenn Chandler
The Sins of the City of the Plain
The Clearwater Mystery Series, by Jackson Marsh

Slumming it in Victorian London

Slumming it in Victorian London

While researching for my Clearwater Series, and ‘Banyak & Fecks’ in particular, I have been investigating the slums of Victorian London. Thanks to books like Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London by Seth Koven, and websites such as www.victorianlondon.org/ and The British Newspaper Archive, I’ve learnt a little about slums and slumming.

You often hear the phrase ‘slumming it’, you may even use it, and you know what it means today. But did you know when and how it originated? (I expect you do, but just in case, I’ll explain anyway.)

Origins of word usage, ‘slumming’

I searched through the newspaper archive looking specifically for the word ‘Slumming’ and found a couple of instances from the 18th century. They interested me because I thought the word didn’t come into use until the mid-19th century. They turned out to be spelling errors and were meant to read ‘summing’, so that made sense. Between 1800 and 1849 there were 77 instances of usage in the newspapers kept in the archive, and early instances were, again, typos, ‘summoning’, ‘slumping’ and similar instead of slumming.

In the second half of the 19th century, however, instances rose sharply to 3,741, and that figure was surpassed in the first half of the 20th century, at 3,799. I wasn’t about to check every single instance, so refined my search to the 1800s, as I am currently writing in that decade, and found most usages came in 1884, January, to be precise. Interestingly, that’s the year when, in my current work in progress, Banyak and Fecker meet.

So, from that basic hunt, I concluded ‘slumming’ as a word began in the mid-19th century, as I thought. But what was it?

This excerpt from The St James Gazette explains it neatly.

[Incurably idle, defiantly vicious, delicious horror, valuable acquisition at dinner parties… just about sums it up!]

Simply put, it became fashionable for the well to do, the West-enders, or middle and upper classes, to take themselves off to the slums of Chelsea, Whitechapel and other places, to see ‘how the other half lived.’ Abhorrent to us these days, perhaps, and the equivalent of rubbernecking a road accident, but that was how things were. Parties would be organised, some daring the streets and slums on their own, others finding a local guide, and not all of them dropping shillings to those whose homes they nosed around in.

Examples from newspapers and publications

There are plenty of mentions in publications of the day, and I picked out just a couple of examples for you.

“Now, then, who will go slumming down Chelsea way? It is apparently as nasty, and is far more convenient for West-enders to get at, by road, rail, and river, than Whitechapel.”

[The Sportsman, July 16th 1887]

Slumming appeared in literature both serious and comedic, such as I found in  ‘A working class tragedy’ by H. J. Bramsbury (chapter XXXVII), which appeared in a publication called Justice, on February 16th 1889.

Click for full size

You might be able to see from the screenshot I took, how a visitor asks if friends would like to go slumming, and when asked what that is, explains: ‘It is quite the thing now. How the poor live is quite the newest idea. You go around and visit the slums as they are called.’

When asked what good it does, the visitor replies, ‘Well, I think it makes one feel thankful that one doesn’t belong to the lower orders.’

‘But what good do the poor derive from it?’

‘Oh, I don’t know that it does them much good except you give them a shilling occasionally… It’s quite astonishing what the interesting inhabitants are willing to do for a shilling.’

We might gape at such an attitude these days, and I’m hoping the story was satirical, but it highlighted not only what slumming was, but the upper classes’ attitude towards it as it because a popular fad. What also caught my attention was the institution that the poor would do ‘astonishing’ things for twelve pence. (Banyak and Fecks charge more or less than a shilling depending on what ‘service’ they provide.)

Slumming even turns up in popular songs of the time, as this verse from ‘The Barrel Organ’ attests.

Since high society first found a pleasure new in “slumming,”
And visiting an East-end court was deemed a task becoming
We’ve oft been told how sad a state the “masses” now are in
And what foul wretchedness is bred of ignorance and gin.

[Quoted in ‘Truth’, February 23rd 1888]

Click for full size

A charitable reason.

Some slummers, you might call them, went to the East End and elsewhere for charitable reasons, to see conditions for themselves, and as slumming became more popular, so more people learnt of the conditions in which the poor lived. You can find a page at Victorian London here which gives an excerpt from Dottings of a Dosser, by Howard J. Goldsmid, 1886, which includes, “Slumming” became a popular amusement; and with this amusement, and the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the matter, the public conscience was salved.

Here is an excerpt from my work in progress, ‘Banyak & Fecks’ (first draft).

On dry nights, the visitors would meet at the stone arch, warm in winter furs but cold with apprehension, speaking in hushed voices and telling each other what they expected to see.
Some came to see what they could do.
‘I believe there is talk of something called the Jew’s Temporary Shelter’, one said. ‘I may contribute to the fund.’
‘I was at Keeble,’ said another. ‘We were instrumental in establishing the Oxford House Settlement. It’s in Bethnal Green.’
It was, and it offered a club for boys, a gymnasium and a library. It hosted concerts for the poor and brought them together beneath the word of God at Bible readings while being occupied by those from the upper-classes keen to experience life side-by-side with the destitute.
‘We must all play our part,’ one woman instructed. ‘It is our Christian duty to help the unfortunates and to understand what they endure. Which reminds me, Marjory, are you invited to Sir Malcolm’s ball?’

So, slumming was a popular pastime in the years my current work in progress is set, and I have used it as a plot device. Now then, if you promise me you understand this is only the first draft, and you will be kind, let me share a little of it with you.

It’s late in 1884, Silas (Banyak) has met Andrej (Fecks), but has not yet found the courage to sell his body on the street. Instead, using his wits, he has noticed slumming tours and decides to set himself up as a guide. As usual, I have taken historical facts and real locations and mixed them with fiction. Silas is taking a group of slummers into Greychurch…

‘First of all, gents, you’ve got your loafers, them as who’s the drones in this working-class hive,’ he would say as he led his party along Cheap Street. ‘Me old dad were what you’d call a loafer, ’cos he’d carry bread baskets from Simpson’s bakery over at Five Dials right across to Old Nichol Street through there, and he’d do it ten times each morning before the sun came up, rain or shine.’ A complete lie, but no-one knew.
He’d done his research and knew his facts, however, and there was enough truth in his speech to satisfy the cynical and put down those who thought they knew more than he did.
‘The Old Nichol,’ he would say, quoting from a publication he’d found, ‘is the place between Shoreditch High Street and Bethnal Green. It’s got twenty streets in it with seven hundred and thirty knackered houses where something like six thousand people live. I don’t want to lose any of you decent folks in there, so we ain’t going in ’cos it’s the worst slum in the East End, and there’s more interesting ones for you gents in Greychurch.’

[If you’ve not read The Clearwater Mysteries, Greychurch is Whitechapel. Silas’ facts about the Old Nichol are true.]

He’d stop outside the doss house to give the lad across the street time to count the number and collect just enough meat pies for his tray. Martin Tucker was somehow related Aunt Molly, and by the time Silas’ party emerged from the doss house, would be on the steps with his angelic face cleaned, his smile broad and inviting, but barefoot in his ragged clothes. On some nights, after selling his pies and slipping Silas a percentage, he’d make eyes at the men in the group, and it wasn’t uncommon for a gentleman to hang back, break from the pack and follow the lad into the next door yard. Martin was thirteen.
‘Not all the men what stays here’s a loafer, but the place is men only.’ Silas continued his talk in the lobby, giving Cormack time to check the room they were going to see, hide any women under the beds and lock the children in a cupboard in case any of the tourists were officials in disguise. ‘Most of the men’s seen better days. They got respectable artisans what the waves of trade-depression has overtaken and submerged.’ Some of his patter was lifted directly from the St. James Gazette. ‘They got clerks elbowed out of a berth by the competition of smart young Germans. There’s men what were once shopkeepers who got ruined ’cos the working-folk couldn’t afford their business. Even professional men like solicitors and surgeons can be found among the motley crowd in a kip-‘ouse kitchen. Right, let’s see a room. You might want to tuck your trousers into your boots, Sir.’
‘Oh? Why.’
‘Nippers, mate. Fleas.’
Some of his paying customers asked him personal questions, such as where he lived, and he was able to reply honestly.
‘I got a little gaff with me best mate, Miss, down Limedock. Andrej his name is.’ The honesty didn’t last for long. ‘Comes from Russian royalty, but got kicked out of his country ’cos he married the wrong girl. They killed his kids and his wife, stole his land, so he had to come here. Now works shifting sugar sacks and rocks down at the Lower Pool.’
‘How tragic. But he is an immigrant?’
‘That’s right, Madam.’
‘And you share lodgings with such a man? Why?’
Sometimes Silas had to fight the temptation to punch his guests. ‘Look at it his way, love. Who’d you rather share a bed with, rats or royalty? Watch where you tread here, someone’s had too much gin and left their lunch on the step. Right, this is where I used to sleep…’

Available on Amazon

Finally

The racism suggested in that scene was prevalent, whipped up by newspapers much as it is today, and took a form of classism. The poor of the East End, the immigrants and refugees, were dragging the city down, taking jobs and spreading disease, so said the newspapers then as some, while slumming it in a different fashion, do today, but that’s a subject for another day.

Banyak & Fecks’ is still being written. It is a prequel to The Clearwater Mysteries and a standalone novel, not a mystery, and not MM Romance. Instead, it is a story of friendship and survival. I aim to have it ready later in 2020.

Interview, One of a Pair, and an update

Interview, One of a Pair, and an update

It’s been a busy week here in my writing world.

Firstly, I was interviewed by Alan Wild for his excellent website that features interviews with writers of gay fiction. This interview gives you some personal background about me, includes some photos of where I live, and starts with a photo of me playing a church organ. If you’ve read my standalone YA romantic mystery, ‘The Blake Inheritance’, you will know that I have a particular interest in church organs. The photo was taken a couple of years ago when I returned to my hometown of New Romney, on the Romney Marshes, UK, and was lucky enough to be invited to play for a service I happened up. It was a bit nerve-wracking as I’d not played for years, but the nice thing was that this was the same instrument I learnt to play on over 40 years previously.

Here’s the link to the Interview with Jackson Marsh

Secondly, the eighth book in the clearwater Mystery series was published yesterday. There is a more detailed post about this novel further down my blog, but, in brief: ‘One of a Pair’ continues the story of Jasper and Billy, sees James Wright deal with his first case as the lead investigator of the agency, and brings in the eccentric Dr Markland to play an important role. You may remember Markland from ‘Deviant Desire’ and later, ‘Unspeakable Acts’ where he fell in love with a certain young lady who turned out to be… Ah, no spoilers allowed, sorry.

Here’s the link to ‘One of a Pair’ which can be found on Amazon around the world

While all that has been going on, I have been writing the prequel to the Clearwater Mystery series, and I’ve titled it ‘Banyak & Fecks.’

Those of you who’ve read the series will know who those two are, but what you won’t know, are the details of how they came to meet in London in 1844, and what they were doing between 1844 and October 1888 when ‘Deviant Desire’ starts. Actually, Fecker’s story begins even earlier, in 1881 in Ukraine when he was 13 (or 15, as no-one really knows his exact age). I’m enjoying the research for this one and have been reading about all kinds of things; the history of Ukraine, circuses in the 1800s, ships, the East End slums, language, Victorian rent boys and prostitution, and several other side matters too. No promises on a release date for this one, but I am aiming for the end of this year. I’ll tell you now, it’s not the same as the others, it’s not even a mystery, but it is a story of an unlikely but more or less instant friendship, and how two young men survived the East End streets in the 1800s.

The Clearwater Companion

My writing desk where I research and make notes. The open book is my leather-bound Clearwater ‘bible’, the floor plan is Clearwater House, and the map on the wall is the GWR rail routes circa 1890.

Chugging along in the background is my idea for, one day, producing a Clearwater Companion, a book of information, details, maybe illustrations if I can afford an artist, and other snippets for anyone who might be interested. This is an ongoing project and one that will take a long time to compete. I don’t know yet when the series will end. It may never do as I am enjoying writing it so much, but now and then, when I am not working, I jot down notes in my ‘Companion’ folder for use later. So far, I’ve only written an outline of Archer, Lord Clearwater, but I thought I would share with you what I have.

Remember, these are only notes.

Archer, Lord Clearwater of Riverside and Larkspur

Born: March 26th 1859, Larkspur Hall, Cornwall, second son of the 18th Viscount Clearwater and Lady Clearwater
Full name: Archer Camoys Riddington

Major life events
1868    Attended Millfield Preparatory School
1872    Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth
1874    Midshipmen
1876    Sub-lieutenant, Royal Naval College, Greenwich
1877    Lieutenant aboard HMS Britannia
1886    Honourable discharge after an injury during the Odessa skirmishes. Elevated to ‘The Honourable’ on the incarceration of his elder brother
1888    July. Elevated to the 19th Viscount Clearwater on the death of his father

Full title: Viscount Clearwater of Riverside and Larkspur, Lord Baradan of Hapsburg-Bran, and Honorary Boyar Musat-Râșnov.

We learn his full title in ‘Fallen Splendour’ when he is called into court to testify.

This is the Shutterstock model who represents Archer on the cover of ‘Deviant Desire.’ The image was bought under license.

Titles
A Viscount is the fourth rank of the British peerage system, coming beneath an Earl but above a Baron. The Clearwater of the title is derived from family land owned in the north of the country. Riverside is the family’s London Borough, and Larkspur, their country seat on Bodmin Moor.

Lord Baradan of Hapsburg-Bran. This is a made-up title, intended to show Archer’s European heritage. The Hapsburg (also spelt Habsburg) was one of the principal sovereign dynasties of Europe from the 15th to the 20th century. Hyphenating it with Bran, in what is now Romania, I wanted to make a link with Transylvania. Bran Castle, near Brasov, is known as ‘Dracula’s Castle’, though it has little or nothing to do with Vlad Tepes, Bram Stoker or his novel.

Honorary Boyar Musat-Râșnov. A boyar was a member of the highest rank of the feudal Bulgarian, Russian, Serbian, Wallachian, Moldavian, and later Romanian and Baltic states aristocracies, second only to the ruling princes from the 10th century to the 17th century. Again, I wanted Archer’s roots to run deep in European history in case that would be of use later in the series. Because the title ‘Boyar’ fell out of use in the 17th century, I made him an ‘honorary.’ Rasnov is a place between Bran and Brasov (all of which I have visited). These are all inherited titles, passed down from father to son over the centuries.

Geroy
Fecker first calls Archer ‘Geroy’ in ‘Twisted Tracks’ after Fecker witnesses Archer’s noble actions towards his friends. In Ukrainian/Russian the word герой translates as hero, worthy or valiant.

Archer and Camoys
Archer’s father (Mathias) was obsessed with the battle of Agincourt (25th October 1415). He named his eldest son Crispin, because he was born on the anniversary of the battle which is also St Crispin’s Day. I had in mind Shakespeare’s Henry V, and in particular, the lines, “… we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.” In the series, Crispin tried to kill Archer and therefore shed his brother’s blood, but as Archer builds his ‘crew’ of friends, we come to see them as a band of brothers.

Archer was named after the archers who won the battle of Agincourt, and Thomas de Camoys was the English peer who commanded the left wing of the English army at the battle. It is not a name Archer uses very often!

From my notebook
My notes on Archer include the following jottings.
Philanthropist, youngest member of the House of Lords at 29 (1888)
Brown eyes, stubble by evening, fit, prominent cheekbones. Toned. (Big and hairy ‘down there’.)
Doesn’t believe in class distinctions. Didn’t like his father. Gay, modern, forward-thinking.
5′ 10″, pouting lips, dark lashes.
Last time at the servants’ hall table on 13th birthday.
(Father ailing, Crispin mad, Archer to succeed, recovering from Odessa skirmish of 1886. Father, Mathias, 51, hunting accident (?) Father: 1837 to 1888)
‘Geroy’ by Fecks (honourable)

Have a good week and I will be back next Saturday. Remember, you can always post comments about the blog on my Facebook page, and if you go there, please do give a like and share.

This is a photo of us celebrating our three-year wedding anniversary, 18 years since arriving on Symi, and Neil’s birthday which all happened on the same day, September 8th. Neil’s the one pulling a funny face and wearing a top hat; he’s far more into SteamPunk than I am.

Researching for Historical Fiction: Victorian London

Researching for Historical Fiction: Victorian London

In this week’s blog, I thought I would share some of my notes on how I’ve been researching my historical fiction series, The Clearwater Mysteries.

My Clearwater ‘bible’ and some research.

Let’s start with the obvious question. “What is historical fiction?” Now, let’s reply with the obvious answer. “Historical Fiction is a literary genre in which the plot takes place in a setting located in the past.” Clearly, that’s not yesterday, but some time further back, and in my case, we’re talking about Victorian times, specifically 1888 and 1889, and even more specifically, England, London in particular.

So, what do I know about Britain 130 years ago? History at school was either 1066, The Tudors, or the Arab-Israeli conflict of the 1960s, not really much help. I do, however, have an interest in Jack the Ripper (1888), have read a few books around the subject and the times, but, until recently, that was as far as my knowledge stretched.

Not the best foundations on which to build a historical fiction series set in the late Victorian period, so, what’s the answer?

Here is a tip: The answer is always research.

You don’t have to be an emeritus professor of literature and history to write historical fiction and, despite what someone might have told you, you don’t have to write about what you know. Tom Clancy didn’t know anything about submarines when he wanted to write ‘The Hunt for Red October’, so what did he do? He researched. Similarly, all I knew about life in Victorian London was from watching TV shows and films, which are not always the most accurate of study tools, nor are some documentaries. So, what did I do?

‘You researched.’
Good, you’re paying attention, but how did I do it, and can I offer any tips for anyone else wanting to write historical fiction? Rather, anyone who wants to write it well? I accept I am not (yet) in the same league as Hilary Mantel or Ken Follett, but whatever I am doing seems to be working. Coming into the genre untrained, as it were, I can also offer some examples of where I’ve gone wrong which may help you avoid the same pitfalls.

So, here are a few of my tips on making your historical fiction more accurate, and, as we’re talking about London in the 1800s, we’ll start at the Ohio State University in 2015.

I found a page on their website that summarised an article, ‘7 Elements of Historical Fiction‘ by author, M.K. Todd, and here, in brief, is my interpretation of those seven elements, with some notes on how I deal with them in the Clearwater Mysteries, set in the late 1880s.

Characters, real or imaginary, must act appropriately to the time.

I am writing about upstairs/downstairs life at Clearwater House and Larkspur Hall, and one thing Archer, Lord Clearwater, would love to do, is treat his servants as his friends. Simply put, he can’t, or at least, he can’t be seen by the outside world to do so, because it simply wasn’t done. That wasn’t how it worked, though there are records of noblemen treating their staff well, even having consensual affairs with, or marrying staff. So, what does Archer do? He promotes them, makes his lover his private secretary, his best friend, his butler, and, in the case of James Wright, makes him a businessman.

My tip here is not to push what was ‘the done thing’ too far, although I do it by making Archer an overly generous man, which, in turn, causes resentment from his peers, and thus gives me some juicy conflict to inject into what are generally feel-good stories.

Dialogue should be accessible to today’s reader with enough about it to appear real for the time.

Yeah, well, okay, but, you know… whatever. Recently, I realised I had used the word ‘okay’ in dialogue in a couple of the Clearwater books, but I am gradually editing out that and other time-inappropriate words. The word okay didn’t come into use until the mid-20th century. Similarly, it’s unlikely anyone said whatever in the way we hear it on TV now, so it’s not just words we must be aware of but turns of phrase. Similarly, many of my characters are gay, but they can’t be, because homosexuality wasn’t in usage until after 1900, and gay, even later, so those words are out.

Tip: If you want to check the usage of a word against your era, Google the word’s definition, and you will find the online dictionary gives the etymology and a convenient graph of instances of usage and popularity. If the graph is flatlining in your era, don’t use that word in dialogue.

Setting. The reader should be placed in the setting of the time from the start, and fall deeper into it as the story goes on.

Putting the date at the top of the first chapter is handy. I first did this in ‘Unspeakable Acts’, the third in the series, and I did it as part of a newspaper headline. The article that followed, written in a style inspired by newspapers of the time, also set up the place and background to the story. It also adds another layer of realism to the book.

That’s another trick I use from time to time, adding in realistic newspaper articles in the correct style as they can give the reader not only a feel for the time, but information and background which might otherwise sound clunky in the narrative. Bram Stoker did this masterfully in Dracula.

Themes must be explored within the context of the time.

The theme of the Clearwater Mysteries is male bonding, which we can then break down into bromance, gay relationships and acceptance of homosexuality. Or, if you like, the theme is about how my gay men survived at a time when prejudice was rife and homosexuality illegal. At the heart of the series is a set of characters who must survive being illegal and unacceptable, a state that surrounds their personal conflicts and happiness. I believe that, as the series develops, the reader takes in the theme subliminally and that heightens the romances and platonic friendships, giving us more fulfilling feel-good moments. You could use this theme in stories set in any era, but the pressures that bear on the characters will vary according to time and place.

Plot must be historically viable of course, and will be shaped by events of the time.

Some of my plots revolve around fictionalised real events, such as the Ripper murders of 1888 (in my case, the victims being rent boys, not women). Other mystery plots in the series involve real people of the time such as Stoker and Irving, places of the time, such as the Royal Opera House, employment such as telegram messenger boys and servants, and even real ships and trains. You’ll see in ‘One of a Pair’ (due out next weekend), there are references to chemicals and medical research that existed in 1889 but were called different names then, and genuine poisoning cases. Even the Adriatic sail-steamer of the White Star Line gets a look-in and description, but the 1871 ship that was replaced with a more famous steamer in 1906, and all travel details in the story are taken from timetables of September 1889, exactly when the story is set. Oh, and many of the laws referred to in ‘Artful Deception’ are, or were, real.

Conflicts must be appropriate to time and place.

Archer’s conflict (wanting his servants to be his friends) is time appropriate, and the gay characters living in times when homosexuality was illegal, are time appropriate, as are the troubles in Andrej (Fecker’s) Ukraine. There are other conflicts, such as Silas and Andrej surviving the streets of the East End by becoming rent boys, because many people turned to prostitution to survive. Other conflicts in the series include Mrs Norwood divorcing her cheating husband without losing her respectability, and Jasper’s treatment at the hands of Earl Kingsclere, which he can do nothing about.

World building. Readers must live in a world of your time beyond your story.

I take this as meaning, you can’t just tell a romantic story in a drawing room, one afternoon in late spring, not unless you are putting on a dodgy amateur dramatic play. The Clearwater world ranges from the intimate, i.e. Archer’s dressing room where his valet dresses him, to the wider world of the servants’ hall below stairs and their everyday life in service. It also ranges from the house to the city around it, and on to the country, and in ‘Artful Deception’, even to Europe. But it’s not just a case of location, there are also things like attitudes, religion, politics, beliefs, manner, etiquette and costume, all of which must be appropriate to the period. These things impact on the behaviour and attitudes of characters both major and minor, and their inclusion, makes the story more believable.

So, how do you achieve all that?
The answer, again, is and always will be, research, which brings me on to a few more tips and recommendations.

Be wary of documentaries.
I was watching an esteemed TV presenter narrating a respectable British series on the Victorians and chatting away knowledgeably about the state of London streets in 1870. One clip they ran showed cars driving around Piccadilly Circus. Er, maybe several years later post 1892, but certainly not in 1870. As the programme didn’t say when the clip was from, it was misleading.

Tip: I watch documentaries and make notes about dates and events, people mentioned and so on, and then double-check them elsewhere, just to be sure.

Read books
Other people’s historical fiction, yes, but again, I’d still check for accuracy unless I’m reading Hilary Mantel or someone I really trust – no offence to fellow writers.

As you can see from the photos, I have a wealth of books on my shelves that cover Victorian architecture, life in stately homes, books on 19th-century fashion, and in particular, ones written by scholars or people of the times. (Tip: Sketches by Boz, Charles Dickens, is a good place to start, especially for the 1830s.) I also have a fair few railway timetables, maps and dictionaries of rhyming slang, dialects and the etymology of words. I love buying books, but when I need a quick-fix fact-check, I download to Kindle as it’s much quicker than waiting for a delivery.

Use the internet wisely
Double-check everything. Don’t take Wikipedia as gospel, it’s much better to search out specialist sites.

Dictionary of Victorian London (click to go to the site)

On which note, I want to finish by pointing you towards The Victorian Dictionary. This invaluable archive was compiled by the author, Lee Jackson, a writer of fiction and fact, some of whose books are also on my shelves. This website has become my first go-to place for research because it gives examples of the time. For example, there are descriptions by writers who visited the London Docks in 18-whenever or saw the depravity of the East End first-hand. Similarly, there are snippets from newspapers and periodicals and other writings of the time about all aspects of life. It has a searchable database with subject headings too, and a bibliography. There’s even a database of Victorian slang which I love to dip into. (It’s mainly from around London as the site is actually http://www.victorianlondon.org/) I’ll do that now and leave you with a couple of random words that you might want to use in dialogue when appropriate to your characters.

Tulips of the goes – the highest order of fashionables
Romoners – fellows pretending to be acquainted with the occult sciences, fortune tellers
Bender – a shilling
Diddle cover – the landlord of a gin shop

I could go on, but I’ve already gone on long enough. My last tip would be, when thinking about writing historical fiction, do your research and make it fun. I have learnt so much over the past couple of years, I am now at the point of being able to insult people without them having a clue what I’ve said!

I will see you next week with details about the next release, ‘One of a Pair’ the Clearwater Mysteries Book Eight.

Banyak and Fecks, A Clearwater prequel

Banyak and Fecks
A Clearwater prequel

In the last couple of years, since I’ve been able to commit more time to my writing, I have fallen into the habit of starting on the next book while the current one is ‘resting.’ I take a book through its however many drafts and reach the point of leaving it alone before I fiddle with it too much and break it. During this time, it waits for its slot in my proof reader’s schedule, and Andjela K designs the cover. Meanwhile, I turn my attention to what’s next. So, while ‘One of a Pair’ awaits proofing and layout, I have started on the book to come after, and it’s a prequel with the working title, ‘Banyak and Fecks.’

If you’ve read the Clearwater Mysteries, or if you’ve only read the first one, ‘Deviant Desire’, you will know how it all starts. Here’s the opening paragraph.

Silas from the cover of Deviant Desire.

Silas Hawkins was searching for coins in an East End gutter when a man four miles distant and ten years older sealed his fate. Silas had no idea that the discussion taking place concerned him, or that it was even happening. He wouldn’t know the details for some time, but even if he had heard the conversation, he wouldn’t have believed it. It wouldn’t have concerned him if he had, because Silas wasn’t the kind of youth to shy from a challenge, not even one that might threaten his life.

Even though he is only 19, Silas arrives at the start of the Clearwater series with a history. We learn parts of it through the book, where he mentions his upbringing in ‘Westerpool’ (the Wirral). We see where he used to live in book four, ‘Fallen Splendour’, but there is a lot of detail as yet unshared in the series. Hold that thought.

When we first meet Andrej (Fecker/Fecks), he also comes with a history. Remember we’re dealing with two young male prostitutes as you read Andrej’s first entrance:

(Silas) had deliberated at this window so often that some good had come of his indecision. That good appeared beside him, bringing the smell of apples and the reflection of a tall man of similar age.
‘Privet, Banyak,’ he said in his native tongue.
‘Evening, Fecks.’ Silas acknowledged his mate’s reflection with a nod towards a marble angel.
Fecker, like Silas, was nineteen and had picked up a street-name known only to his close mates. Silas had given it to him not long after they met. Andrej, his real name, knew that it was Irish slang for fucker, but he took pride in that. Unlike Silas, he wasn’t queer, and only rented when he was desperate. His cock was usually enough to secure him an income. There were plenty of men who were happy to pay for the youth’s substantial endowment, particularly as it was attached to a six-foot-two blond lad built like a docker.

This is how I imagine Andrej/Fecker

Again, as the series unfolds, we learn some of Fecker’s past, particularly when he is travelling with Archer in book four, ‘Fallen Splendour’, and tells him why he left Ukraine and came to England. What we have never had, however, is the full story of that journey.

And that’s where ‘Banyak and Fecks’ comes in. I am currently writing a prequel to ‘Deviant Desire’ which tells the story of how Fecker and Silas came to London. Starting in two different countries at different times, these two characters eventually meet in 1884 and spend nearly four years living and working together on the streets of the East End before book one starts. I wanted to explore the beginning of their friendship. To do that, I decided, I had to go right back to the pivotal moments in their lives, the inciting incident, as they call it in scriptwriting circles, and that’s what I’ve started doing.

At the moment (this is only draft one), the story opens with Andrej aged about 14 (no-one, not even he, knows his exact age) surveying the ruins of his home following an invasion by the Russians who have taken his sister and killed his father. One brother had also died in the fighting, and another, Danylo, is missing. With nothing left and no-one to turn to, Andrej decides he must find a new life, so, when he has established himself, he can return to his homeland and search for what’s left of his family.

Serbka, Ukraine
Late summer, 1881

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

They were coming for him again now; he could see activity across the long field towards the village where the smoke still rose, and the wailing was louder than yesterday. They could come for him, but he would not go, and he gripped his grandfather’s knife as he said his farewell to his childhood.
Andrej put the pebble in his pocket. It gave him the strength to leave the past, turn his back on the land that was no longer his, face the west, and walk.

Fecker’s story begins a few years before Silas’, because Silas didn’t leave Westerpool until his mother died in 1884, and I am still playing around with how the two stories will be told. If I write it chronologically, the first quarter of the book will be about Andrej and the second about Silas, and they will meet at the halfway point. The second half will then be about them both, the lead up to the Ripper murders and the night they meet Thomas in The Ten Bells, and are offered the chance to meet Lord Clearwater. I’m still thinking about structure and, when the draft is finished, will see how it reads if I cut the stories together. My concern is that we’ll jump from 1881 to 1884, back to 1882 and forwards again to 1884, and so on. We’ll see.

This story won’t be a mystery, nor a thriller, nor a romance. It will be a simple story of adversity and friendship, and I have to say, some of Fecker’s story that’s already written isn’t exactly cheerful. It’s the story of a refugee walking across Europe to find safety, and we see a great deal of that happening today. As someone who has worked directly with refugees, I’ve seen the conditions, pain, hope and resolve first-hand, so I have some observations to draw on there.

The poor of Liverpool, 19th century. Silas when he was about 11?

Against that seriousness (in which there are lighter, happier moments, colourful characters and friendships), I have to balance Silas. He’s a cheeky scamp with a lot of self-confidence, speaks with the blarney of his Irish mother and doesn’t care what he does to survive, although, to start with, its petty crime rather than prostitution.

‘Ach, Father, if I were to confess me sins, we’d still be here come Christmas. Will you not take a pew?’

Here’s an extract from the first draft. Silas has come to tell the family priest that he is leaving Westerpool the next day.

‘A pair of shoes you’re wearing today,’ (Father Patrick) observed as they walked along the deserted aisle, treading on the tombs of the long-dead and once wealthy of Westerpool. They weren’t new shoes, but they were new for the usually barefooted Silas. ‘Now how did you come by those?’
‘Ach, Father, they were a gift from God, I’m telling ya,’ Silas replied, his accent a mix of his mother’s Irish and local slum. ‘The Good Lord himself left them for me on a windowsill only last evening.’
‘Uh hu.’ The priest was dubious, and rightly so. ‘And this windowsill, would it have been inside or outside the house it was attached to?’
‘Outside, for sure, Father. They were just left there, discarded.’
‘I’ll remind you, you’re in the house of Our Lord, Silas Hawkins.’ When the lad didn’t reply, he hinted with more vigour. ‘And I’ll remind you, you came to me, and as that only happens when you’re wanting something. You’ll be more likely to get it if you attach some truth to our discussion.’
They entered the chancel, and the priest paused with his hand on the sacristy door, unwilling to enter until Silas accepted his terms.
‘Aye, well perhaps the windowsill was a way on the inside of the house,’ the lad admitted sheepishly.
‘A way?’
‘More like…You now, an arm’s reach… Well, maybe it wasn’t a sill but the floor beside the cupboard… Or inside it, I forget now, Father, but they were left there for me by God, I’m sure of that.’

Silas, of course, is a great manipulator and mimic, and I’ve already started having some fun with him when he arrives in London, confident that he will make his fortune.

I’d tell you more, but I’ve already chatted on far too long, and I only wanted to let you know what I was up to. What I will add, however, is that ‘Banyak and Fecks’ is taking more research than any of the others so far. The number of times I’ve had to work out distances between Serbka and Brasov, Belgrade and Genoa, or look up nautical terms, Russian-Ukrainian words and sayings… That’s one thing. The other has been my ongoing research into the East End of London in the 1880s, from the street slang to the way of life, though it was hardly any life at all for the poor.

[I am using an excellent online resource, and if anyone is interested in Victorian London, I highly recommend The Dictionary of Victorian London, a site put together by author Lee Jackson. I have some of his publications on my shelves, and they are invaluable.]

On sale for $0.99c for International Buy a Book Day, September 7th.

There we are. That is an update on what I am doing right now, and there will be more about ‘Banyak and Fecks’ as time goes on. There will also be more about the Clearwater Mysteries Book Eight, ‘One of a Pair’ which you should be able to start reading in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t read ‘Deviant Desire’, now would be a good time to start as it will be on sale for International Buy a Book Day, on September 7th, Monday. You will be able to find it on Amazon Kindle for $0.99c, but only for 24 hours.

Coming Next: One of a Pair

Coming Next: One of a Pair

This week, I’m giving you a cover release, or at least, a draft cover release because it’s not quite finished yet. I also want to whet your appetite for the story – without giving away any spoilers.

The next book in the Clearwater Mysteries series is called ‘One of a Pair’ and it follows on from ‘Home From Nowhere’, starting about six weeks after that story finished. For those who enjoyed the start of Jasper’s story in ‘Home’ (and the feedback suggests that was everyone), you’ll be pleased to know that it continues in ‘One of a Pair.’

Now then, I can’t give too much away, but ‘One’ is a mystery, though not in the same vein as the earlier action-led mysteries like ‘Fallen Splendour’ or ‘Artful Deception.’ This is a calmer mystery, though still with tension, and a race to beat the clock. Our lead character is James Wright, now a private investigator in his own right. Here is part of the blurb for the back cover:

Enlisting the brilliant but scatter-brained Dr Markland for help while mentoring Jasper through the pain of first love, James embarks on a mystery that takes him from the Greychurch morgue to Queenstown in Ireland where tide and time wait for no man. It is a journey of discovery, both scientific and emotional.

I had great fun writing this one because it involves a suspected poisoning. Not that someone being poisoned is fun, but researching poisoning in Victorian times was. The fun part was finding something that was not your standard 19th-century toxin (and I can’t tell you what those were without spoiling the story for you), and I turned to my brother for help. My brother, by the way, is not a poisoner, but he was a chemist, as in, someone who works with chemicals. My nephew was of great help too as he studied medical genetics, and from that, you can see where the scientists are in our family! They were of great help in identifying the more unusual and little-known facts about certain chemicals and helped me put some of the scientific parts of ‘One of a Pair’ together. My problem was then finding out what such things were called in 1889 when the story is set. All I can tell you is that much of what you read is factual, or at least, possible, but some of the chemical names I have used are made up.

Don’t think that ‘One’ is going to be all formulas and compounds, it’s not. I have injected some humour into the story, as well as love and ‘ah’ moments, pace and tension. You’ll find Thomas isn’t too happy about… something, Mrs Norwood is playing ‘mother’ to the boys, Dr Markland shows his genius, and there’s a fair amount of domestic detail below-stairs at Clearwater House. As usual, I turned to another friend of mine for train journey details and all things railways, and the timings are accurate based on his ancient copy of Bradshaw’s Railways Timetables, as are the details about the White Star Line and their liners.

Enough about the story, back to the cover. I thought about this for a long time because I wanted to show a representation of one of the characters. I’m never sure whether this is a good idea, because every reader forms their own image of what the characters look like, and to put one so obviously on the cover can distract the imagination. I did it for ‘Deviant Desire’ where you can clearly see Archer and Silas, and the same model appears as Silas on the cover of ‘Unspeakable Acts.’ For other covers, Andjela K, my cover designer, has used silhouettes, so for ‘Twisted Tracks’ we see Archer and Silas running for a train, ‘Fallen Splendour’ shows a man on a charger, and the man could be Archer or Fecker. The cover of ‘Bitter Bloodline’ shows the back of Dorjan, the assassin, and ‘Artful Deception’ shows a man on fire, but we can’t see his face. ‘Home From Nowhere’ is obviously Jasper and Billy up on the roof, but we don’t see their faces, but for ‘One of a Pair’ I thought we should see Jasper… or is it someone else? The image isn’t yet finished because the chap on the front should be holding a smoking test tube which Andjela K hasn’t yet fitted in, but otherwise, it’s there.

Before you scroll down to the cover image, if you haven’t already, I just want to let you know that ‘One of a Pair’ is going off for proof reading on September 10th, and that means, it should be available around the 24th, maybe sooner. You’ll know when it’s available from my Facebook page, and you can always sign up to the newsletter to get more news. I send out a newsletter each month to keep in touch with everyone, and unlike other authors, I don’t use them to advertise everyone else’s books, only my own, so there is also a newsletter when a release happens.

And finally… The cover as it stands now.

One of a Pair

One of a Pair, the Clearwater Mysteries, book eight, draft cover

Ps. I had to disable comments on the blog/site because of spammers, but if you have any comments about the cover or anything else, feel free to put them on my Facebook page.

 

 

Other People’s Dreams Can Be Yours

Other People’s Dreams Can Be Yours

This week, I want to tell you more about myself, in particular, where I live and why. If you read my story on my Facebook ‘About’ page, you will see that I live on a Greek island. However, I was born on the south coast of England, so how did that happen?

Symi, Greece

I first came to Symi in 1996, and I came almost by accident. Somehow, I found myself able to afford a holiday and having been to Greece once before, wanted to go again. I found a brochure in a travel agent’s and looked for the place that had the smallest write-up and no airport. Symi leapt out at me because it is far south in the chain of Greek islands, and to get here, you need to travel by boat. I stayed for two weeks, and the first one was filled with exploration as the island offers wonderful walks as well as beaches.

My view when drafting ‘Other People’s Dreams’

While on a beach one day, ‘Nanou’ it’s called, I watched a yacht out in the bay. On it was a group of men (mainly naked), larking around, jumping off and generally having a good time. That gave me an idea for a story. Until then, I’d been writing cabaret material, songs and theatre pieces, not prose, but the sight of the boat and that thought ‘What if…?’ got under my skin. The next day, back at my solo studio overlooking another bay, I jotted down some ideas for a story, and the second week of my holiday was spent writing it, or at least, some of it. That story went on to become ‘Other People’s Dreams‘ which I first released under my real name, James Collins. Later, I decided to put into the Jackson Marsh catalogue because it’s more suited to Jackson’s genre. Once I’d finished it, I submitted it to Gay Men’s Press, and it was accepted for publication. However, before the editor and I could set about preparing it, the company fell apart, and it never happened. Years later, I published it myself.

Symi sunrise

The point there was that Symi, a small Greek island in the Aegean, had inspired me to write a novel, and I did. What Symi also did, though, was show me a place where I could find inspiration and have time and peace to write, and from then on, it became my dream to live there, sit under an olive tree, and write books. In fact, when I was up for a promotion at my old day job and they asked me that dull question, ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ I answered, ‘Living in Greece, writing books.’ I was 34 then, and we moved here when I was 39 so that one was off the to-do list.

Recently, I’ve been hammering away at the Clearwater Mysteries and before them, the Mentor series, while also putting together some stories as James Collins in the Saddling mystery series. I’ve also, as James, released ‘Remotely’ a gay/straight body-swap comedy, and have written a few books about living on Symi. So, a lot of writing, but now I can work for myself, I have the time and place that I longed for when sitting on that beach wondering ‘What if…?’

Symi 5600

My Symi books are an honest collection. The first one, ‘Symi 85600’, is a collection of notes, emails, letters and jottings I made when, in 2002, Neil and I left England to try living in Greece for a year. It was my first self-published book, and actually, one of the first to appear on Lulu.com, the self-publishing platform I used before Amazon took over everything. ‘Symi 85600’ talks about our experiences of moving here and I’ve never actually edited the content, so it comes ‘warts and all.’ I don’t believe in glamming up travel experiences and don’t like those clichés one reads in books where the author has fallen as much in love with a country as they have with syrupy adjectives. It’s honest, as is the second one about our experiences of living here, ‘Carry On Up The Kali Strata.’

Part of the Kali Strata, Symi

That second book contains articles I wrote for the local newspaper and some stories, plus other observations, and also some photos taken by Neil when we had a photography business on the island. Later, in 2013, I put together ‘Village View’, which was the name of my column in that newspaper. The third book takes us through one whole year living on Symi. It’s made up of selected blog posts, as I write a five-day per week blog at www.symidream.com

‘Village View’ takes us through my 50th year. Jackson readers who have tried ‘The Stoker Connection’ and/or ‘Bitter Bloodline’ won’t be surprised to know I spent my 50th birthday in Transylvania having coffee in the house where Vlad Tepes was allegedly born. But I digress…

Symi

The fourth book in the Symi, Greece collection is ‘Symi, Stuff & Nonsense’ and is another compilation. This one includes some of my original diaries before and when moving to Symi, as well as travel anecdotes from my past and some other random observations. It takes us up to a couple of years ago, so if you read all four books in order, you travel with me from Brighton to Symi (and elsewhere) in consecutive order from 2002 to about 2017, and hopefully, enjoy the read as you go.

Before I go, I wanted to explain that the 85600 in ‘Symi 85600’ is the postcode, and the Kali Strata is a set of wide stone steps that joins Symi harbour, to the village where I live. If I take a trip to the post office, it’s about 400 steps down and then 400 back up.

And so, that’s where I live and what I’ve been writing since I got here. I guess Symi hasn’t always given me the inspiration to write, but moving here has allowed me space and time, the freedom to write, and now I’m lucky enough to be able to write what I want when I want while looking out at one of the most spectacular views in Europe. Well, that’s only my opinion, but I think my husband’s photos in this post speak for themselves.

I’ll be back next week with another catch-up and post. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in checking out my James Collins novels and Symi books, you can find them on my author page (link below). All bar one involves a gay character in some role. There’s a comedy set on Symi, ‘Jason and the Sargonauts’ that’s historically correct, and another one that’s set here, ‘The Judas Inheritance’ which was made into a film, and filmed on Symi. So, there’s plenty more reading for you there.

James Collins Author at Amazon
James Collins Author Facebook Page

Symi’s charm is in its people and the minutiae of their lives; James’s great talent lies in his careful observation of the absurd and the amusing, the dramas and the difficulties (because nothing in Symi is ever simple), and in reporting what he sees with kind humour and a writer’s eye for the details essential to lively travel writing.
Anne Zouroudi, author of Bloomsbury’s Greek Detective mysteries.