New Release: Negative Exposure

New Release: Negative Exposure

Today I have news of my latest release, Negative Exposure.

This is book nine in the ongoing Clearwater Mystery series. It not only gives you a mystery, an exciting finale with a face-off and chase, but it also paves the way for book ten—more about that in a minute. First, I would like to tell you a little about what is behind Negative Exposure and how I came to write it.

Banyak & Fecks

Although this is book nine in the popular series, it is born out of the series prequel, Banyak & Fecks. When I was writing the prequel, I was researching what my main character, Silas Hawkins, might have done to make ends meet. If you have read it, you will know he moved to London in 1884, aged 16, to find his fortune, send money home to his sisters so they could survive. He was always a petty-criminal and not afraid of the law, so he fell into dipping (pickpocketing) and running scams. Having met Andrej (Fecks), he discovered prostitution, which led him to pose naked for a photographer.

There is a scene in Banyak & Fecks where Silas goes to have his photos taken, and it all goes wrong (no spoilers). That was the starting point for the idea behind Negative Exposure.

The story starts in December 1889 and the second Clearwater Foundation gala, held at the Lyceum Theatre in London. Silas is now the Foundation’s public face, and the Queen’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor, is considering becoming a patron of the charity. It’s all going well, but then Silas’ old life comes back to haunt him. The story of his past unfolds, and in the narrative, we’re taken back to the scene of the photographic session. From then on, the mystery becomes more complicated as James and Fecker work together to discover the villain’s identity and do something about it before it’s too late…

The Obscene Publications Act of 1857

This act of British law, also called Lord Campbell’s Act, was introduced into statute because, Prior to this Act, the “exposure for sale” of “obscene books and prints” had been made illegal by the Vagrancy Act 1824. but the publication of obscene material was a common-law misdemeanour. The effective prosecution of authors and publishers was difficult even in cases where the material was clearly intended as pornography. [Wikipedia]

Researching into this act, because I like to include factual historical details in my fiction, I discovered that the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Campbell, presided over its creation when the House of Commons was debating a bill to restrict the sale of poisons. Campbell made the analogy that (what we now call) pornography was a sale of poison more deadly than prussic acid, strychnine or arsenic. So, our obscenity laws stemmed from the sale of poison, and the act was not repealed and updated until over one hundred years later, in 1959.

All very interesting, but what I found more interesting was the law didn’t say anything about those who made the pornography or appeared in it. It was purely to do with the sale of printed works. More interesting, though typical of the time, was the blatant hypocrisy behind notions of pornography. It was something that would adversely affect women and young people — men, it seems, were not affected by images of naked men. I also looked into that and had to wonder how a person can pose for an artist and have a nude painting represent, say, a Classic figure from mythology and people call it acceptable art, and yet a naked man posing in the same fashion but for a camera was considered pornography. That was something of a rabbit hole, and one I may go further down one day.

All interesting stuff, and slightly explored in Negative Exposure, which is more a mystery thriller than it is a work about the originals of the Obscene Publications Act of 1857.

The Russian or Asiatic Influenza Pandemic of 1889/1890

Another aspect of Negative Exposure is the background world, what was actually happening in London in 1889, and that, ironically enough, was an influenza pandemic. It started in Asia and quickly spread across Europe in 1889, reaching London late in the year, just about the time my story starts. That, I thought, would act as a handy added layer of tension and could also make for a couple of twists.

And On To Book Ten

While writing Negative Exposure, my mind was already fast-forwarding to the next book.

Now then, some people might think that ten books in one series is enough, and right now, I agree. It’s not that I am getting tired of my characters or world, but I wonder if the reader might be. As the series has grown, so has the cast list, and there is now a group of ten main characters. They, I thought, might make for a good and final part ten. ‘The Power of Ten’ was my original idea, and I thought of a story that would see all ten main players banding together to fix one final mystery.

[The ten, by the way, would be: Clearwater and Silas, James and Thomas, Jasper & Billy, Fecker & Lucy, Mrs Norwood, Doctor Markland.]

Map showing the spread of the pandemic, 1889 to 1890

However, when I started on Negative Exposure and brought in the influenza pandemic as background colour, another idea occurred to me. This was an idea I had a while back, and one that concerns Archer (Lord Clearwater’s) title and estates. It’s complicated because he is the second son and the oldest one—the ‘real’ viscount—is still alive though stripped of his title (which, I don’t think, was possible, but this is fiction). So, I started to think, what would happen if Archer’s land, money, charities, business and all that were in jeopardy? Not the man himself, but everything he stands for. Well, actually, why not the man himself as well? What if Archer stands to lose everything? How might that come about? What could be done to save it?

And that’s how part ten has started. So far, it is titled ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, and the last couple of chapters of Negative Exposure pave the way and start the story rolling.

I am working on it. It’s turning out to be complicated to hone down to the simplest way of explaining the inheritance problem and how it might be shifted from one man to another, and it’s giving me a headache. But, once I have the technicalities nailed down, the rest of the story will flow because I have already invented it in my head.

‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ won’t be out for a few months, as I have to get everything right, and there are lots of ends to tie up before the series finishes.

Except, it’s not going to finish, not really, and not if I can keep the momentum and direct it into a siding. You see, I have an idea for a second series based in the Clearwater World, and the groundwork for that is also laid out in the final chapters of Negative Exposure, and the foundations will be laid during the telling of book ten, The Clearwater Inheritance.

No promises, but don’t worry that you after book ten you won’t read of Archer, Silas, Fecks and the crew, because they will be back as background characters in a new series, ‘The Larkspur Academy Mysteries’, or adventures, or… well, it’s all still rather in the planning stage, and I am not even sure it will be written.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling from me. The main point here is that Negative Exposure is now available in paperback and Kindle and on Kindle Unlimited if you use that service, and it’s set at the same price as all my other books. Just follow the links, read, enjoy, and if you do, review and share the news.

Thanks for being here, and I will see you next week.

Jackson

The Real History Behind The Clearwater Mysteries

Part 1 – Jack the Ripper

This is the first blog in a series over the next few months where I will look at the real historical events behind each of my books in the Clearwater Mysteries Series. Today we talk about that infamous murderer, Jack the Ripper and are joined by guest author Russell Edwards of “Naming Jack the Ripper” fame.

Where did my fascination with The Ripper come from?

I have had an interest in Jack the Ripper since I lived in the East End of London in the 80s/90s. I lived two miles away from Whitechapel and often walked down to Shoreditch and Spitalfields for the markets, treading some of the streets where Jack committed his murders. Like many, I love an unsolved mystery and have a theory that what draws people to this particular mystery is the possibility of being the one to solve it.

Books, documentaries, TV…

There are plenty of books on the subject, some by learned authors, some by amateur sleuths, and many purporting to have found ‘the final clue’, or to know the definitive answer. I have read, maybe not all of them but, enough to have a general understanding of the main details of the mystery. It was that background that led me to ‘Deviant Desire.’

In particular, I had read “The Diary of Jack the Ripper” by Shirley Harrison, ‘The Complete Jack the Ripper‘ by Donald Rumbelow, ‘Naming Jack the Ripper‘ by Russel Edwards, and had dipped in and out of ‘The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper‘ by Maxim Jakubowski, Kris Dyer, et al. Checking my Kindle content list, I remember I have also read ‘Jack the Ripper’s Streets of Terror‘ by John Stewart, ‘Chasing the Ripper‘ by Patricia Cornwell, and ‘Jack the Ripper: The Simple Truth‘ by Bruce Paley, and some compilations that had articles about aspects of the case along with other famous crimes of the age.

Good Lord! On top of that little lot, I have seen various documentaries on the subject, and of course, some rather dubious film and TV accounts. Most, if not all of these books and programmes offer their version of what actually happened, who Jack definitely was beyond doubt, and each of them is in their own way, convincing. They can’t all be right, and the truth is, we will probably never know the answer, and it’s that that keeps the fascination alive.

I invited Russell Edwards over to the blog today to chat with me. He is the author of  ‘Naming Jack the Ripper‘ and runs The Jack the Ripper Tour Company in London.

 

Russell, where did your obsession with Jack the Ripper start?

Not so much an obsession, but more an interest in the real story and the challenge of discovering who the true murderer was. It started when I watched the film: ‘From Hell’.  I did a Ripper tour the next day and it wasn’t until I did it did I realise that the Ripper murders occurred in the area I’d been in all that time. That’s where my story started.

Your identification of the Ripper is based on the DNA collected from a shawl. Why was the shawl so important and how did you find it?

The Shawl

 

I was told that a shawl was for sale at a reputable auction house in Suffolk. I went to see it and it had blood on there. It was clearly very old. The auction brochure said: interested parties should make their own enquiries. It also stated that the shawl had been kept for a while at the crime museum at Scotland Yard. I called Scotland Yard and the investigation started there. I found a direct link to the dates of the last three murders to the pattern on the shawl. I told this to Scotland Yard who then told me the true story of the identity of Jack the Ripper.

If the Ripper had committed his crimes in the modern-day do you think the police would have been more successful in solving the crime?

Yes. He would have apprehended very quickly. There are CCTV cameras on every street in the area. With modern police procedures, he would have bee caught in my opinion. A copycat killer who murdered two prostitutes recently was apprehended very quickly.

Aaron Kosminski is the man that you believe to be Jack the Ripper – if you could meet him what would you say to him?

What was the trigger to murder the first one?

What do you think was going through his mind when he was killing those young girls, why was he so obsessed and brutal?

I’m a fully qualified Psychotherapist and have written a paper on this point. It is related to his mental health, his past, what happened to him as a child. I can’t really say what was going through his mind at the time other than he developed a bloodlust as serial killers do.

If you could choose one location that showcases Victorian London and everything linked to the Ripper, where would it be?

It would be the junction of Princelet Street and Wilkes Street. It really delivers the feeling of 1888 Whitechapel.

As you turn into Wilkes Street, Whitechapel you see the dark Georgian houses that existed at the time of the Ripper murders in 1888.

Moving to your walking tours, tell us a little bit about them.  

I incorporate the story of the murders with the discovery of the Ripper to educate the public who Jack the Ripper truly was. By coming on the tour I would hope that you learn the truth and the story of Jack the Ripper. Normally, the tours run every week from Aldgate East Tube Station at 7pm.

You can keep up to date with our tour news on Facebook and Instagram.

At the moment due to the current restrictions look out for online events and podcasts such as this discussion and chat with The Real Paranormal Magazine UK this week.

Thank you Russell for your time, a great guy to follow if you share our fascination.

 ———————————————————————————

So, back to my Clearwater world. Which came first? The idea for the series and then the setting in Victorian London OR thinking about the Ripper which led to the book?

Deviant Desire, The Clearwater Mysteries book one

I can’t remember exactly what I was doing when the idea for ‘Deviant Desire’ popped into my head. ‘Well,’ I thought one day out of the blue, ‘what if the Ripper had killed rent boys?’ (As we call them now.) Street rat renters in my imaginary, Clearwater world. That was how ‘Deviant Desire’ started. Take a Victorian renter, put him in Whitechapel in 1888 and see what happens. Oh, better add in a love story… What about the class divide too? He’ll need a sidekick, and I will need to do more research. I called Whitechapel’ Greychurch’ because I wanted to take other liberties than ‘Jack’ killing young men not women, but I did manage to get in some nods to the original story while inventing my fiction.

My imaginary world in Victorian London was created with facts twisted into my own plots

Readers might note that I have a ‘double event’, a murder takes place in Bishop’s Square (Elizabeth Stride was killed in Mitre Square). Annie Chapman died in Hanbury Street; my victim was found in Harrington Street. I invented Lucky Row, and Mary Ann Nichols was killed in Buck’s Row. Astute readers might also have noticed that Lord Clearwater lives in Buck’s Avenue which leads into a Buck’s Row, but that’s over in Knightsbridge. I changed the names (and dates) because I wanted them to fit my own trail of clues. My characters also work through a series of other possibilities, such as the murder sites forming a Star of David, or the letter A, but these, they quickly discount for logical reasons.

Jack the Ripper, and the knowledgeable books I have read on the subject, clearly inspired and, in part, informed the story of ‘Deviant Desire.’ In no way did I set out to solve the original murders. Nor did I base my story on facts – apart from the conditions and mores of the time, etiquette, grand houses, servants’ roles, transport and other historical background facts. Jack was the inspiration only, but what I did end up doing was unmasking my fictional Ripper. That, I thought, had to be done to complete the story, but the allure of Jack is that no-one knows who he was. The murders just stopped. Translate that to my fictional world, I thought, and I can explain why the ‘East End Ripper’ (as I called him) suddenly stopped his killing spree. In my world, it was because he’d done what he set out to do, but that still left me with my tongue in my cheek thinking, ‘But I can then tell the reader why and how his murders stopped.’ In other words, I thought, I could tell the reader what happened to ‘Jack’ and explain why my East End Ripper was never caught.

To learn that, you will have to read book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’, and possibly books three and four… Actually, up to book six, but, hopefully, after reading ‘Deviant Desire,’ you will want to carry on the series and find out how the characters develop, how storylines interweave and see what becomes of my street rat renter.

The Clearwater Mystery series has now reached eight published novels, number nine ‘Negative Exposure’ is about to come out, and number ten, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ has been plotted, and I am ready to start. And it’s all thanks to the unsolved case of Jack the Ripper.

As I final note, I want to say how thrilled I was that Russell took the time and trouble to answer questions for me. As an amateur, it’s an honour, like having a signed copy of his book. I have a hard copy, and maybe one day, when I can, I will return to the East End and take the tour, bringing the book with me for the ultimate signature.

I’ll be back next week. Meanwhile, if you want to see the cover of ‘Negative Exposure’ you can find it on my Facebook page.

Negative Exposure: Chapter One

Negative Exposure: Chapter One

I have a Valentine’s Day gift for you. Not a box of chocolates or bunch of flowers, not even anything remotely to do with love, not directly. What I have for you is the first chapter of the next Clearwater Mystery, ‘Negative Exposure.’

But, you can only read the whole chapter when you get the newsletter on Sunday 14th, so make sure to look out for it, or sign up for it here.

Today, though, I wanted to give you a little more information about Negative Exposure, the Clearwater Mysteries, Book Nine.

So, what’s the story? I hear you ask.
Well… I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but I can tell you that this time, we’re looking at blackmail. Silas is riding high on the success of the second Clearwater Gala. This is a star-studded, glittering night at London’s Lyceum Theatre performed in front of Prince Albert Victor, Queen Victoria’s grandson, also known as Prince Eddy.

Apart from being there, meeting the cast, the Clearwater’ crew’ and some of the boys from the Cheap Street Mission, the prince is considering becoming a patron of the Clearwater Foundation, a huge, honour and something that would probably put Archer on the path to an Earldom. And it’s all thanks to Silas.

However… Something from Silas’ past suddenly comes back to slap him in the face and threatens everything; Archer’s reputation, the Foundation’s success, the boys at the mission, Silas’ friends and even the reputation of Prince Albert Victor. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Doctor Markland reports an influenzas pandemic spreading from eastern Europe, and warns the household to travel to Larkspur Hall in Cornwall for their safety. On top of that, Archer (and Thomas) are called away to Paris, travelling into the heart of the outbreak, where Archer’s mother, Lady Clearwater, has been taken ill.

All this leaves Silas relying on James and Fecker to help him end the blackmail before anyone finds out, particularly Archer. As James investigates, the pressure mounts, he and Silas very nearly do something they shouldn’t, and Silas buckles under the stress of it all.

The mysteries pile up too. Who is the blackmailer? How to find him/her? How to stop him? And then, about halfway through, there’s another twist, and things get more tense until we end up with an ‘old-style’ Clearwater climax: action, a chase, a twist or two, remote location, acts of heroism…

While writing ‘Negative Exposure’, I also had in mind the tenth mystery. Therefore, number nine lays some of the groundwork for number ten, which has a working title of ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’ This means I am planning at least one more Clearwater Mystery before, perhaps, changing the direction of the Clearwater world… I am still thinking about that, and I have another idea for a spin-off story called ‘Blackwood & Barnett’ in a similar vein to ‘Banyak & Fecks’, but that’s for later in the year, if at all.

Meanwhile…

Negative Exposure should be available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle and Kindle Unlimited by the end of this month. We are still finalising the cover, so I can’t share that with you yet, but before you settle down to read what it is all about (no spoilers), here is a drawing, an artist’s impression of one of the lead characters of the series, and one of the heroes of book nine, James Wright.

Just to tempt you a little further, here is the last part of chapter one. We are at the Lyceum Theatre, London, and the second Clearwater gala has just come to an end.

Negative Exposure
The Clearwater Mysteries Book Nine

Excerpt from Chapter One

Friday, December 6th 1889
The Lyceum Theatre, London

The curtain might have come down on the on-stage production, but the off-stage performance was to continue until the prince had left the theatre. While Irving and Archer took the royal party backstage to meet the performers, Silas’ job was to gather mission clients and Archer’s staff at the top of the grand staircase ready for presentation.

‘Right,’ he said, turning to face his friends along the row. ‘That’s that over with. Now comes the fun stuff. Fecks, you’re on your best behaviour. Billy, if His Highness asks you anything, you reply without swearing, understood?’

‘Too bloody right, Mr Hawkins,’ Billy beamed, and Jasper flicked him with his programme.’

The auditorium hummed with murmurs of appreciation as the audience filed out, climbing the stairs to the back of the circle where they dispersed to collect cloaks and hats before descending to the foyer hoping to meet His Highness. Silas wove through them with polite excuses, keen to reach the grand staircase and meet Markland. He was more nervous about this part of the evening than he had been about anything else. Preoccupied with ensuring everything went to plan and his boys didn’t embarrass Archer in front of royalty, he forgot about the man who had been staring, and set his mind to what the prince might ask.

Silas Hawkins, a boy from the Westerpool gutters, was now the public face of the Clearwater Foundation and about to meet royalty.

Nothing must go wrong.


If you have not yet read the Clearwater Mysteries, you can find them all on my Amazon author page.
If you want to start right from the beginning, you should read ‘Banyak & Fecks’, but you don’t have to, and you can pop back to that one at any time.
The mystery that starts the ongoing series is ‘Deviant Desire’, and from then on, the characters develop, the world enlarges, and the mysteries remain just as intriguing.

Negative Exposure & A Valentine’s Peek

Negative Exposure & a Valentine’s Peek

Hi, welcome to my Saturday blog. Today, I want to tell you more about ‘Negative Exposure, the Clearwater Mysteries, Book Nine’, and give you a heads-up about something special for Valentine’s Day.

Negative Exposure

This is the ninth book in the ongoing series, the Clearwater Mysteries (though the 10th book in the Clearwater world, as there is a non-mystery prequel, ‘Banyak & Fecks’).

If you’ve been following the series, you’ll know that after the mayhem of books one to six, there was a break in pace for two slower, calmer mysteries, ‘Home from Nowhere’ and ‘One of a Pair’.

Inspiration for part of the cover

Well, with ‘Negative Exposure’, the Clearwater crew is back to detecting, unlocking clues, racing against time and battling things out on stormy clifftops. While I’m about it, I’m also drawing on information and events from the prequel and other novels through the series, and bringing in the real flu pandemic of 1889. (It was around for longer, but this story takes place in December 1889.)

Negative Exposure is also setting things up for Clearwater 10, which will be the prelude to a change in direction, but not an end to the Clearwater world. I’m still thinking about this idea, so my plans might change.

Negative Exposure starts at the end of the 2nd Clearwater Gala, this time, held at the Lyceum Theatre, London as discussed by Clearwater, Henry Irving and Bram Stoker in ‘Artful Deception.’ Everything’s going well until, the next day, two pieces of potentially devastating news arrive at Clearwater House. One, brought by Dr Markland, involves the spreading pandemic, the other is found by Harvey in Silas’ coat pocket, and threatens to blow Silas and Archer’s world apart.

What is it?

These days, we would probably call it pornography, back then the word, although in existence, wasn’t widely used, so I’ve gone with ‘erotica’ and other Victorian euphemisms. James leads the investigation, with Silas and Fecker also involved, and it takes them back into Silas’ past and an event from ‘Banyak & Fecks’, on to the Cheap Street Mission, and later, to the wilds of the west coast of Scotland. During all of this, there is a growing sexual frisson between two major characters who should not be attracted to each other. There is no great love story, other than my favourite theme of friendship and how far we would go for our friends.

I’ve decided to release a sample of the story in a special newsletter on Valentines Day, not because the story is about love, but as a gift for readers.

Valentine’s Day

On this day, I will be sending out a newsletter that will include part of a chapter from ‘Negative Exposure.’ I have yet to decide precisely what chapter and what part as it’s one of those stories that follows on scene by scene, and doesn’t have a section that can easily be taken out and posted as a standalone piece, but… well, we’ll see.

If you’ve not signed up to the newsletter, you can do it here with a couple of clicks.

I usually only send one per month, and I don’t bombard people with other writers’ books’ sales opportunities or news. It’s purely informal and personal, with news of my work and what I have been doing here on our quiet Greek island.

Back to Editing

While writing this post, I am in the middle of editing ‘Negative Exposure.’ I am currently on chapter 12 of 24, going through each page line by line, removing repeats and shaving off too many passive verbs and dangling modifiers, and all that grammar jazz. I’m also ensuring that clues tie-up, backstories are consistent, and words are spelt correctly. The manuscript is booked in with my proof-reader for February 15th, which means I am aiming for a release date in the week of February 22nd. Not long to wait now. It also means I have a tight deadline and as each chapter takes me roughly two hours to line-edit, I can’t hang around, and I need to get back to work.

First, though, I am finishing my cup of tea before going for a short walk around our village for the exercise. It gets in the way of my writing but must be done, and while I am doing it, I can put together an outline for Book 10, which has a working title of ‘The Final Prelude’, but that’s very much at the in-the-imagination draft stage right now.

One last thing, an appeal. If you’ve read any of my books and liked them, it would be helpful if you could give them a good rate on Amazon, or even a short review, and share news of the books around your social media. I know many of you do, but new readers might not know how much those small actions can help a writer develop his audience.

Thank you, and look out for the Valentine’s Day newsletter and your exclusive peek at ‘Negative Exposure’, the Clearwater Mysteries, Book Nine.

Jack

Character Interview with Matt Jaxx

Today, I’m turning my Saturday blog over to a character, and not one of mine! For this exclusive, let me introduce you to Matt Jaxx, aka Michael, aka ‘Eve.’ Matt’s a stripper, and currently hosting a new reality TV series, ‘America’s Next Top Stripper’, which is also the name of the latest book in a series by Matt Converse, released only a few days ago. (All the links you need are at the bottom of the post.)

I’ve just read the blurb on the book’s Amazon page, and it sounds like a gripper. The story falls into the MM romance, thriller/horror genre so is just up my street, and to give us more of a taste of who to expect in the story, we invited its central character, Matt in for a chat.

Michael moved from Ohio to San Francisco at the age of 21. A few years later he reinvented himself as the stripper Matt Jaxx. He is the central character in all four books in the series.

What is your full name? Do you have a nickname?

My name is Matt Jaxx and my nickname is amusing— it’s Eve. Only a small group of people from my gay tennis league know me by that name. It was given to me by Bill, aka “Baby Jane”, who I first met when joining the league. He dubbed me as “the it girl” and it was a nod to Eve Harrington from the movie All About Eve.

Where and when were you born?

I was born in Ohio in 1984.

Who are your parents?

My Mom and Dad are both from Ohio, and my Mom remains one of my most cherished people. She has a heart of gold and would do anything for her kids.

What is your occupation?

I am currently a game show host on the new reality series America’s Next Top Stripper. I was a stripper myself for many years until recently retiring. I am also an author with several books in the M/M dark genre.

What is your hair colour and eye colour?

Brown hair and brown eyes.

What does your voice sound like?

Some say they can detect an “Ohio” accent but I think my voice is typical of a man my age, not too high, not too deep.

Looking back into the past, how would you describe your childhood?

Pretty normal Midwest upbringing that I have valued more as I have grown older and heard other people’s not so happy stories. I am very lucky. As a teen, I got some of the teasing a young gay boy would— even one totally in the closet. But I always had an inner confidence.

Where did you learn most of your skills and other abilities?

Practise is how I became a popular stripper. I realized it wasn’t just about taking off your clothes, it was about putting on a performance and connecting with the audience.

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

It was with Belinda Roeser in the 3rd grade on the playground. I honestly can’t remember my first kiss with a guy, so it must not have been the best!

What is your biggest secret? Does anyone else know about this?

I have a secret but only my best friends and family know. I may tell the world someday when I tell my entire life story in a book.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a sports writer.

Turning to your beliefs and opinions, Do you believe in the existence of soul mates and/or true love?

I do, even though it isn’t something I yearn for. I have always been pretty happy being single. But I have friends who have found this and I’m thrilled for them.

Who or what would you die for?

Nothing. That’s a bit too severe for me!

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

Torture, rape or kill I think would top the list.

Looking at your relationships, do you have a spouse or significant other? If so, tell us a little about him.

My boyfriend over the last several years was Justin, and we planned on getting married but are now just roommates instead. We decided neither one of us is ready for monogamy. Justin is one of the sexiest guys I’ve ever met. And his heart is huge—he’s a great guy who is honest, intelligent and just a good person.

Who is the person you respect the most, why?

My Mom. She has revolved her whole life around us kids, she would do anything for us. She has a heart of gold and to me, is a hero.

What do you look for in a potential lover?

First I have to be attracted, and for me, that can be any type. I tend to be drawn more to odd beauties. As for personality, intelligence and a sense of humor are a must. I want someone real, there is nothing worse than a phoney or someone who is pretentious.

Let us find out about your likes and dislikes… What makes you laugh?

Intelligent humor. Although, like anyone, there are times when really stupid things make me laugh too.

What is your most treasured possession?

A snow globe that was my Gran’s. When she passed away my Mom asked if I wanted anything of hers, and I chose the snow globe because as I kid I’d always shake it and watch it “snow” as a kid.

What shocks or offends you?

Any kind of prejudice.

What is your greatest extravagance?

I really don’t have one, the closest would be taking trips. I love a getaway.

How do you spend a typical night in?

It depends on the night! It can be anything from watching TV or writing to a night out at the club looking for boys!

What is your favorite color?

Red with silver a close second.

Do you like to read?

I like to read thrillers and horror novels. The scarier the better!

Now something more personal, if you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Nothing. I like being me.

What three words would others probably use to describe you?

That’s a tough one without sounding cocky! I’ll go with funny, friendly and smart.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Hopefully in my fifth season of America’s Next Top Stripper. Still writing and I’m guessing still single and happy about it.

What goal do you most want to accomplish in your life?

I want to bring entertainment to people.

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

In my sleep many years from now.

Do you like yourself?

Yes!

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

Nothing.

What is in your refrigerator?

Some dinners, juice, soda, the usual condiments and some wine for when I have a party.

Who would you invite to your ultimate dinner party?

Lady Gaga, Stephen King, tennis player Sascha Zverev, my friends Shawn, Tonya and Kevin.

Strip Shot, book 1 in the series.

We’ve all seen strippers up on stage. Did you ever wonder how they got there? The answer might surprise you.

Michael is a scrawny kid from Ohio who moves to San Francisco with his boyfriend Kenny. He loves everything about the city, except the guy he’s with. When things turn ugly, how will he escape and how will he survive on his own, completely alone in the big city?

Along the way, he meets an eccentric cast of characters in his own personal Oz. An unlikely and not so yellow brick road with unexpected twists and turns lead him to the stage, but what will he find when he gets there? Will he have what it takes to make it as a stripper? Sometimes, you only get one shot.
Universal buy link: http://smarturl.it/StripShot

Behind the Velvet Curtain, book 2 in the series.

Matt Jaxx is a sexy stripper who develops a fast following, but one of them turns scary stalker. Along the way, he meets Justin and it’s lust at first sight, both doing things they’d only fantasized about. Right when he seems to have it all, his stalker reappears, revealing his twisted agenda. Sex sells, what it attracts can be deadly.

Obsexsion, book 3 in the series.

When sex and a deadly obsession collide, not everyone will survive.

Matt fears his nightmares are premonitions that the Creeper will return. Justin comforts him but they soon face possible separation. Can their love survive? Will Matt return to the stage? And if he does, what–or who–will follow?

Universal buy link: http://smarturl.it/Obsexsion

Book 4 in the series: America’s Next Top Stripper (A brand new story that can stand alone.)


Who will claim the crown of America’s Next Top Stripper? After retiring from the stage, ex-male stripper Matt lands an amazing opportunity to host the new show America’s Next Top Stripper. Judging alongside a supermodel, an internationally famed stripper, and a drag queen, the panel more than has its work cut out for them when ten gorgeous, diverse, and sexy men show up at the show’s mansion. Matt must resist a crush on the resident bad boy Ace to remain impartial as the head judge.

Through lust, greed, and camaraderie, these ten men must compete to be the best. Show after show, these men deliver sultry and sexy performances and one is eliminated each week. Finally arriving at the Top 5, things take a dark turn and secrets long buried surface.

In the world of America’s Next Top Stripper, who will win and who will survive?

Universal buy link: https://smarturl.it/qbiknn

Amazon profile: https://www.amazon.com/Matt-Converse/e/B00TKCCVWY/

twitter: https://twitter.com/MattConverse1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/matt.converse.39

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13495845.Matt_Converse

 

 

What’s a Novel without Characters?

What’s a Novel without Characters?

Last week, I was talking about how I write a novel. Today, I want to talk about characters. After all, what’s a novel without characters?

Character Vs Characterisation.

In his book on screenwriting, Story, Robert McKee discusses the difference between character and characterisation, a concept that confounds many. Characterisation, he says, “is the sum of all observable qualities of a human being.”

So: age, height, sexuality, choice of vehicle, speech style, dress sense, personality, behaviour, job… And so on.

Many people, particularly new writers, think such things show a person’s character. They don’t, they are their characteristics. So, what makes a character and, more importantly, how do you show character when writing a novel?

My rule here is to never write something like, ‘Oh, Tony? Yeah, he’s a dodgy character,’ and leave it at that. Show Tony is dodgy (whatever that means), show him doing something so the reader imagines for himself how dodgy Tony must be.

Yeah, okay, but how?

Robert McKee, one of the gurus of screenplay writing, says: ‘True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.’

He also says the pressure is essential, and that reminded me of a writing truism. In this case, it was said best by Syd Field in his work, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting

“All drama is conflict. Without conflict, you have no action; without action, you have no character; without character, you have no story; and without story, you have no screenplay.”

For screenplay, you can read novel, play, musical, story…

How do I show character?

All this theory made me think about my characters and how I set about creating them. I shall be honest here, sometimes I don’t think about a character before I write him/her, I just let them write themselves as I go. In other cases, I sit and consider the character beforehand, and at other times, I imagine someone I know, put them in a story-appropriate costume and setting, and write them doing what I think that person would do. Later, as I go through the drafts of a novel, I pay more attention to whether that character would actually do whatever it is I have them doing. I ask myself, would they say that? And more importantly, would they choose to do that? Sometimes, they just do it, and they’ve made a decision and shown character before I realise what I’ve written. That, for me, is when I know the characters I am creating are real.

Here are some examples of how I show character in The Clearwater Mysteries. Some of these examples were planned, others just happened because I was being led by the characters I was creating.

Silas Hawkins

At one point in ‘Deviant Desire’, Silas and Fecker take Clearwater and Thomas into the East End to see the sites of the Ripper murders. Archer (Clearwater) is looking for clues and becomes increasingly aware of the life Silas has been living. He is also falling in love with the Silas. Seeing how he lives, the squalor and the danger, Archer, being an impetuous romantic, offers Silas a new life and declares his love for him. They happen to be at a Ripper murder site, in the dark, with a mob of vigilantes fast approaching, all of which are designed to add the conflict, drama and tension to what should be a romantic scene.

On hearing a handsome, wealthy man, a viscount, is offering him a way out of his hellish existence, and knowing that he has feelings for Archer, what does Silas do? In a classic romance novel he might swoon into the man’s arms and say, ‘Take me away from all this,’ but this is a Clearwater novel. Silas simply says no, tells Archer to run before they are caught, and disappears into the night.

That rejection defines his character. He’s not weak, he’s not swooning, he’s taking himself out of a ‘dream come true’ situation because he can’t cope with the idea of being loved. That’s his character or part of it, and we learn from that scene that Silas is insecure about love, but strong when it comes to his convictions.

James Wright

In book four, ‘Fallen Splendour’, we know that James is handsome, a ‘jock’ by today’s standards, literate and loyal, and we know he was bullied when younger, but these are characteristics. So, we need him to show character. Cut to the scene where Inspector Adelaide has taken Silas from Clearwater House and thrown him in gaol, Archer and Fecker are away, Thomas is at Larkspur, and two strangers, the Norwoods, have come to look after the house. James is alone, and because of the way Adelaide behaved, he suffers a flashback to his bullying. He crumples by the door thinking all is lost but, hs anger at Adelaide unlocks an inner strength. Refusing to be put down, bullied and trampled over, and does something about it. The conflict of the scene, the arrest, brings out the best in James. He chooses not to give in, chooses to seek help, and so his character develops from servant to friend to businessman.

Archer, Lord Clearwater

Of all the characters, Archer is the one most driven by outrageous, character-defining decisions, mainly because he can. The fifth richest nobleman in the country, he has the resources to do whatever he wants. He could give his life over to pleasure if he wanted, as so many rich landowners did. He could spend his time at any one of his homes and evict those families who rent his property if he fancied using it for himself. He could attend balls and galas, the theatre and dinners simply to socialise, and he could treat his servants like shit as his father treated them, and treated Archer.

He doesn’t.

He has more money than any of us can dream of, and yet chooses to use it for others. He sets up a charity to help who we’d now call rent boys, which, in 1888, was a fairly dangerous thing to do as it could invite all manner of negative speculation. Archer doesn’t care. He treats his staff well, is constantly trying to promote them and make them his equals if not friends (his fatal flaw), and he chooses to see the best in people (another flaw which nearly leads to his death on a few occasions). We get from that that Archer is a kind man, but it’s deeper than that. Like Silas, he needs to be loved, but for different reasons, and although it would be easy for him to throw money at people to make them happy, he doesn’t. His charity is also a business concern, his fundraising galas are also social manipulation, he gathers influential friends and knows how to play the political game while choosing to fill his house with staff we’d call gay or gay-friendly. In other words, in a time and place when being gay was punishable by two years in prison with hard labour, he chooses to tread a dangerous path and risk losing everything including his title, by protecting other gay men.

Some of Archer’s character-making decisions are made under great pressure. Examples: Knowing the Ripper’s identity and that the man is dangerous, he opts to accept his invitation to a potentially fatal confrontation (twice). When faced with a bland, legally correct and society-expected speech in front of 2,000 people at the Lyceum Theatre, he sets it aside to speak from the heart. (That’s book nine, you’ll have to wait for that.) Those are but a few examples.

Thomas Payne

Today, Tom is interviewed exclusively at the MM Fiction Café.

These interviews are an excellent way for a writer to stop and think more deeply about the character he has created. In this case, it’s Thomas Arthur Payne, and I was attending more to his characteristics than his character choices.

Thomas begins his fictional life as Clearwater’s footman, later, his butler and, at the end of book nine as something else (no spoilers!). Tom’s interview is accompanied by a drawing that I had commissioned (left), and I’ve posted it here so you can get a rough idea of how I see him. The drawing is pretty accurate except I notice the artist gave him an earring, which he would not have worn, and his cheeks are a bit chubby, but that was her interpretation of my description and everyone imagines characters in their own way.

Check out Tom’s chat with Josh at MM Fiction Café, and you will learn a few things about him that you won’t find in the books.

Finally

There is a line in a film, and I can’t remember which one, where someone says, ‘History judges us not on what we choose to do, but on what we choose not to do,’ and that also works when putting together a character. Ultimately, choices, or choosing not to make them, define character, particularly decisions made under pressure and during conflict because, as Syd Field says, “All drama is conflict. Without conflict, you have no action; without action, you have no character; without character, you have no story.”

[Currently, Saturday morning, European time, the Fiction Café server is having an issue. You may need to check back with it later to read the interview.]

How I Write a Novel

How I Write a Novel
Thoughts, Tips and Tricks

For this week’s blog, I’ve jotted some notes on how I go about writing a novel. There was once a book on my shelves titled ‘The Three Rules of Novel Writing’, but I discarded that years ago because, according to some, there are no rules to writing a novel. That’s not true. Mark Twain agreed that there were three, “Write, write and write”, and endless websites and creative writing commentators come up with lists of what you should and shouldn’t do when you want to write a novel. I tend to side with Mr Twain: Write.

The word ‘novel’ originated from the Latin novella, a singular noun use of the neuter plural of novellus, diminutive of novus, meaning ‘new’. We’ve probably all used the word, as in, ‘That’s a novel idea,’ and that’s exactly what a novel should be; a novel idea expressed through the medium of storytelling, one of mankind’s oldest forms of communication. Take it to the extreme, and you could write anything and call it a novel. For example, I’ve seen some books that had no punctuation or no speech marks around dialogue… Hideously affected if you ask me, and they come across as publisher-wank, for want of a better way to put it, and being ‘original’ for the sake of it. My advice? Avoid!

But I am not here to lecture on the art and craft of writing a novel, simply to tell you how I do it and what my thoughts on novel writing are. So let’s leap straight into a common question I am asked when being interviewed. Are you a pantster or a plotter?

Pantster

When I first came across the word pantster, I thought it was some fetish-related quirk or a typo, but soon discovered it refers to someone who makes it up as they go along. As in, flying by the seat of your pants, I guess. Famous pantster novelists include Margaret Atwood and Stephen King.

I’m in good company then, because I am sometimes a Pantster. In fact, I can confess that my entire Clearwater Mystery series has been written by pantstering, if “to pantster” can be a verb. I usually start with a question?

Deviant Desire: What if Jack the Ripper killed rent boys?
Twisted Tracks: What happened next?
Unspeakable Acts: Why not bring in a Cleveland Street scandal idea?
Fallen Splendour: What if the clue to a mystery was hidden in a Tennyson poem?
Bitter Bloodline: Why not expand the series to involve real-life characters of the time?
Artful Deception: How many twists can I get in one story?
Banyak & Fecks: Can I write a Victorian bromance?

Some tools of the trade on my shelves.

Next, I usually have a beginning and an end. For the current work in progress (‘Something Exposure’, still not fully titled), I want a thrilling chase towards the edge of a cliff kind of climax followed by a massive twist that leaves the reader thinking, ‘Oh no! What next?’ I have both in my head, and I’m currently heading towards them.

For some stories, I have an opening. Example: ‘Home From Nowhere.’ Here, I wanted to start with Jasper being woken in the early hours and told to be ready to leave immediately. ‘Why?’ I asked myself and received the answer, ‘We’ll find out as we go along.’ As that story progressed, the ending came into sight about halfway through writing, before then, when I reached chapter five, I think, I had to ask myself, ‘So what’s the mystery?’ and then music popped into my head.

For other stories, I start with a setting, a ‘world’ in which the story takes place. Again, I can give you a list: Deviant Desire, Jack the Ripper. Unspeakable Acts, Opera. Banyak & Fecks, male prostitution in the 1880s. Something Exposure, Victorian, male pornography. Artful Deception, art. And so on.

For all of them, then, I have either a beginning to launch me into the story, or an end I know I have to aim for, and what happens in between is made up as I go along. Sometimes, the characters add the twists for me. I’ll be beavering away on a chapter, and it’s flowing, and I’m heading towards the last line which I imagine to be one thing, and one of the characters will suddenly say something I wasn’t expecting. Either that, or I throw in a line to see where it will lead to, and I take myself by surprise. There’s an example in ‘Fallen Splendour’ at the end of chapter four when Mr Norwood answers the door to find three men looking for Silas.

‘These men are here to see Mr Hawkins,’ Norwood announced.
‘Actually, Sir,’ the moustached man said, straightening his overcoat and squaring his shoulders. ‘We are here to arrest him.’

Believe it or not, I didn’t see that coming. My subconscious must have said, ‘What if…?’

Making it up as you go along is fun, but does require a lot of backpaddling, changing details in written chapters as you go, and making notes to remind yourself of things to tie up later, but it also offers the freedom to let the characters run wild. You can always tame them later.

Plotter

Plotting, on the other hand, involves… well, plotting. When I was studying screenplay writing, I learnt an awful lot about structure. I am still a structuralist as having a structure is different from plotting. All of my novels have a basic four-act structure as you see in most mainstream films. 1) Ordinary world, 2) change of world 3) halfway twist or boost/change, 4) unravelling. That’s a very basic outline of the four-act, hero’s journey storytelling structure which I like to think of like this:

Act 1:  There is no problem.

Act 2:  What is this problem?

Act 3:  How do we deal with this problem?

Act 4: Let’s put this problem to bed.

Some of my Victorian research books

Okay, so you could say that’s an outline for a plot, but it’s not really. That’s the frame on which you’re going to build your story, and there are plenty of other tried and tested structures, for example, Shakespeare’s five-act structure, but let’s not go there right now.

Plotting, to me, means detailing the action and the character arcs, developments and relationships, as you would do very carefully if writing a film. That involves storyboarding and telling yourself, ‘In chapter six, X must do something in order to show her development from A to C via B.’ ‘In chapter seven, the relationship between Y and Z reaches the point where the subplot rides above the main plot, and the MC comes to terms with the IC’s resilience, forcing…’

Yeah, well, as you might imagine, that’s far too technical for me. I can do it and have done it when writing film scripts, but it’s simply too restrictive.
(Btw, MC = main character, and IC = impact character, the wall he hits, the man he falls in love with, the challenge character, etc.)

Having said that, I do have to do some basic plotting, particularly in a mystery. Mainly, that’s around pacing. Don’t give away too much yet, drop a clue here so the reader will know it but forget it long enough for it to be a pleasant twist later, make sure you foreshadow that, if a character’s going to escape by galloping a horse, make sure we know early on that he can ride… And so on. But I don’t outline each chapter and arc my characters in fine detail. I have done in the past; ‘Jason and the Sargonauts‘ was one of my first James Collins novels, and that took a lot of plotting because of timelines, and because I was new to writing. Now, I like to think I am more intuitive. Besides, if you get it wrong in draft one, you can always go back and untangle your plot in draft two onwards.

My process

So, my process now is this:

From the Clearwater ‘bible’

I have an idea, a ‘what if?’, an ending I want to use, a twist to drop in at some point, a world I want to write in (Ripper, opera, art, music, early pornography…), or sometimes, simply a title. With Unspeakable Acts, the title came before the story.

I start at page one. Sounds obvious but often it’s the last chapter that’s in my head, and yet I leave that one and write chronologically to give myself something to aim for, and often, the ending changes or develops as I go as more and better ideas come to mind.

Actually, I messed with the chronology in ‘Artful Deception’ which opens a few days after the start of the story proper. We have the first scene, wonder what it’s all about, and find out later when the scene is fitted back into the storyline, although from a different point of view so as not to be repetitive. That’s a common film technique.

I make notes as I go. When writing anything, it’s vital that if you come up with an idea for later, you note it somewhere, else you’ll forget it. Similarly, I have a list of ‘Tie-ups’. These are ideas I have along the way and add in, intending to use them again later. The list is to make sure they do.

For my current Clearwater work in progress, I have a file titled ‘Ideas for act one onwards’ and running through it, I find these headings:
A ‘POC’ for each chapter. (POC = point of chapter, to ensure there’s a point to each part of the story and I’m not just indulging myself with interesting but unnecessary detail).
Time limit – to remind me of the timeline and pace.
The letter. In this case, a blackmail letter starts the mystery story, and it’s in my notes so I can easily refer to it as I go.
Notes on photographic ‘printing out’ paper, Eastman’s Solio paper (1888) very important!
Then there’s a whole section on train times because that’s one thing I like to be realistic about. I have notes from my friend, Andy, a railways’ expert who has copies of rare timetables books from my era.
TWISTS. In capitals, note. One of these rather alarmingly says, ‘CUT TO: Funeral’, but I will say no more.
A list of additional/cameo characters so I can add them to the ‘bible’ and maybe use them in later stories.
TIE UPS. Ah, there it is!

There then follow links to all kinds of research websites and title of books I’ve dipped into and might want to check back with.

My Rules for Writing a Novel

To summarise this rather rambling post, I’d say that my rules to writing a novel are simple. This list is not exhaustive.

  1. Don’t get it right, get it written, and then get it right.
  2. Write what you would like to read.
  3. Keep everything realistic within the world you create.
  4. Make sure everything ties up.
  5. Plot if you must but don’t let it restrict you.
  6. Write to the best of your ability.
  7. Constantly ask yourself, ‘Is that what I meant to say?’ and ‘Can I write this better?’
  8. Learn your grammar!
  9. Employ a professional proofreader.
  10. Write something every day, even if you think it’s rubbish.
  11. Don’t feel you must adhere to anyone’s rules.

And now, I shall thank you for reading, and head back to chapter 19 of ‘Something Exposure’ where one of my MCs is just about to confront the IC, while my other two MCs race to stop him. I must take what should be a cordial meeting to the point of fatality in a realistic and thrilling way without being ridiculous or allowing the pace to slacken. We’re at the crisis and climax stage, and I really can’t leave these boys hanging around a cold castle in the wilds of Scotland any longer.

See you next week!

MM Fiction Café

MM Fiction Café

The New Site for Readers and Writers of MM Romance and Fiction

Everyone loves to get something for nothing, and the most valuable thing an author can be given is free positive publicity. Today, I wanted to tell you a little about how I, as an author, like to prove that sharing is caring, and more than anywhere, I find this in the world of indie writers and their readers.

One of the things I’m keen to do is promote the work of author friends. You can see that on past posts, like the one about book covers. I also share some new releases and author news on my Facebook page. It’s not a lot, but it’s something.

Other people, on the other hand, do a lot more. Today, I want to feature a newly revamped site that’s 100% free for readers and writers. It has just come back online, it’s called MM Fiction Café, and it has been set up by my FB friend, Josh Dale. As I look at Josh’s FB friends list, I see we have several in common: Jay Northcote, Ann Attwood, Amy Spector and Elle Keaton among them. These are other authors (Ann is an editor and proofreader), and all people I wouldn’t have met if it weren’t for the free-sharing and caring ethos that surrounds most indie authors, especially in the world of MM romance and gay fiction.

MM Fiction Café

The café has been relaunched for 2021, and, as I write, Josh is in the process of uploading and finalising, snagging and perfecting, but I thought, as this is launch week, I would give my readers a heads-up and let you in on the new-look site before everyone else gets there. Below are three other places where you can join the community of readers and writers for free, but before that, I asked Josh for more details about the MM Fiction Café, and here is what he sent.

What is MM Fiction Cafe?

MM Fiction Café has been relaunched for 2021 with a new look website. The concept was originally started three years ago as a place for Josh to post his book reviews. During that time, it has promoted over 800 books from 400 authors and reviewed 300 books.

The site is clear and easy to navigate, it already contains the core content, but they are working on many new and exciting features.

Current features include
  • Authors Directory

Which allows readers to find information about the author, such as their Bio, published book list, as well as the links for buying and social weblinks all in one place.

  • Book Directory

Want to find a book’s information without all the promo info?  It is easy to search and filter the books by genre, tropes or novel size to find exactly what you are looking for.

  • Reviews Directory
  • Blog Directory

Where you can read all the Promo posts.

Road Map for New Features
  • Favourites / To Be Read Lists. (coming soon)

Soon visitors will be able to log in and save their favourite authors, books, reviews and blog posts to their own favourite / TBR lists.

  • Series Directory (coming soon)

A section to find your favourite series and all the books within the series.

  • Comments / Readers Reviews (working on)

Visitors who log in will be able to comment on our posts and leave positive/constructive reviews on books.

  • Coming Soon / Release Date Diary (working on)

Want to know when your favourite author’s next book is due to be released.  We will have a diary where authors can list their work in progress / next release. And they will be able to update their progress.

  • Author interface

Ability for authors to add their own details to the author directory and for them to add books to the book directory/series directory.

This will be an invaluable new resource for the MM fiction Community, a great place for us all to catalogue our books, and for our readers to easily keep up to date with our works.

Josh and his team invite you to visit the website, and if you have a suggestion for a new feature or would like them to consider a change to the website, please feel free to contact them using the general enquiries link at the bottom of the Request / Enquiries page.

Links

Website: https://mmfictioncafe.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mmmidnightcafe
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MMfictioncafe
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/MMFictionCafe/mm-fiction-cafe/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/MMFictionCafe/

Other free-to-join MM Romance and Fiction Websites

And back to me. There are many sites out there where authors can promote their work and where readers can see what’s new in the world of MM Fiction, but not all of them are free, and some are more popular, and therefore more useful, than others. I’ve chosen three where my work appears. I take an active role in two, Queer Romance Ink and All Author (which covers all genres, not just MM romance), but I let Good Reads take care of itself.

Queer Romance Ink (QRI)

QRI is ‘an inclusive library of romance titles across the queer rainbow.’ It’s 100% free for readers and a place where you can browse by all manner of means: title, author, genre, niche, tropes and so on. Authors pay to be listed as the site has overheads, and I don’t mind that at all. I have been found there by many loyal readers, and through its partner company, Other World Links, I have indulged in blog tours of new releases, and other publicity events. I did my first blog tour with them when ‘Twisted Tracks’ first came about. That’s part two of The Clearwater Mysteries, and I thought I’d give it a go as I’d never done a blog tour before. For me, it involved writing interviews and other short articles for over 25 blogs where bloggers discuss new gay fiction. It was a fun thing to be involved with and, I am sure, led to the Clearwater series’s ongoing success. ‘Deviant Desire’ hadn’t had such an official launch. Although it had started selling reasonably well, as soon as that blog tour came out, it shot right up the rankings as many readers decided to start with book one (Deviant Desire) before heading to part two, the book that was being toured.

All Author

All Author is a site that runs on similar lines but is not queer fiction specific. It’s one of, if not the top site for authors seeking publicity and readers seeking new ideas for what to read next. Again, I pay a small amount to list my work there, but what I get in return is phenomenal. For a start, it’s a huge database for readers and writers and thus, connections. They allow my PA, the wonderful Jenine, to make up gifs and banners and other publicity material. They also feature books on their front pages and run automated Twitter posts for me. I don’t Tweet, so that’s a boon, and again, the results of using them outweigh the minimal cost I pay each year to be listed.

Remember, MM Fiction Café has been set up to 100% free, another reason to support it, and a better example of how authors in the world of gay fiction are prepared to help each other for no financial gain.

Good Reads

Tbh, I’ve never been sure about Good Reads, and I hardly use it as I spend more time writing than I do reading. However, I do use it because I have author friends there that I like to promote and it’s free.

When I published my second book of memoirs about moving to and living on a Greek island (under the name, James Collins), I asked a personal friend to write a short testimonial. This she did, and very nice it was too. Anne is Anne Zouroudi, the famed Bloomsbury author of The Greek Detective Series. She’s always been Anne, of course, but now, her books have taken off, and a TV series is being discussed. Sometimes, it’s who you know, perhaps, but the point is, Anne follows and supports me via Good Reads, and so do many others. And, better still, it’s free for readers and writers to post and publicise there, find books, write and read reviews, and join in with the online community of book lovers.

Meanwhile, at the Café

To finish, I’ll refer you back to Josh and the MM Fiction Café. Go and take a look, but remember, the relaunch was only this week, it’s still bedding in, and it will take a little time for more books to be added. Bookmark the site and pop back to it to see what’s new, specifically in the world of MM Romance.

As indie authors, it’s fantastic to have a site like this where we’re welcome to list and share for free. I’m totally in favour of authors supporting each other by sharing info on newsletters, sharing blog posts, making special appearances on each other’s sites, and promoting each other without asking for something in return, and that’s exactly what Josh is doing. After all, caring is sharing, particularly at the MM Fiction Café.

[If any authors of gay lit, MM romance or historical fiction want to put a guest blog post on my site, just get in touch.]

My links

Jackson at QRI
All Author
Good Reads profile

New Year, New Story

New Year, New Story

Hello and welcome to 2021. It is January 1st as I write this. I have been up since 5.30, we had a power cut at 6.00, and just after the lights went off, the thunder started. It’s now 7.30, the power is on, the rain is hammering on the roof, and I couldn’t be happier. Why?

Clearwater #9

Because I am 50,000 words into the first draft of a new story, I have a wealth of Christmas gifts still to explore, but more than that, we are happy and safe on our Greek island, and there is a whole year ahead in which to achieve some wonderful things. One of them will be this new book, currently untitled but with ‘Something Exposure’ as an idea: The Clearwater Mysteries book nine. It is a return to the classic Clearwater of mystery to be solved by a deadline, testing friendships, reputations at stake, and threats to the Clearwater way of life. I won’t give too much away, but so far, the story includes the second Clearwater Foundation gala, Prince Albert Victor, Victorian male erotica and the influenza pandemic of 1889/1890, the ‘Asiatic Flu’ as it became known.

Number nine stars James, Silas and Fecker in the main, as the others have been ordered to Larkspur by the viscount, and the London house is to be closed. However, Archer and Tom have to travel to Paris on urgent personal business. (Will they finally get time alone together enough to allow their repressed feelings for each other to bubble over into something more physical? I’m not sure yet.) So, while I am constructing number nine, I am also thinking sideways of another (ten) which may run parallel to it, but involve other members of the crew. I am thinking Archer, Tom and Jasper as I’m rather falling in love with Jasper’s character.

We will see how that all goes, and I’ll keep you updated on my weekly, Saturday blog.

Vincent Virga

Meanwhile, I want to tell you about one of the Christmas gifts my lovely assistant, Jenine, gave me. You may remember we had a post in November called, ‘Do We Judge a Book by its Cover?‘ I was honoured to be joined in that post by Vincent Virga, author of Gaywyck, the first gay, gothic romance published in 1980. If you follow the link and look at Vincent’s website, you will see details of his other works. These include the Cartographia.

 

“CARTOGRAPHIA offers a stunning array of 200 of the most beautiful, important, and fascinating maps in existence, from the world’s largest cartographic collection, at the Library of Congress.” There are more details here.

Well, my present was a copy of this stunning book. So far, I’ve only had a quick glance at the pages, but it’s on my desk ready for me to pour over as soon as I resume my working week on Monday.

Glenn Chandler

Beside it is a copy of the script for ‘The Sins of Jack Saul’ by Glenn Chandler and Charles Miller. This is a musical version of the life of the notorious Victorian male prostitute, Jack Saul, on whom my |Clearwater Mysteries character, Silas Hawkins, is very loosely based. Glenn has also written the definitive book about Jack Saul which I have and have read (and must read again), and was kind enough to dig out the script of his musical, send it to Jenine who then printed it for me as another wonderful Christmas present. I’ve read it, and intend to write more about this in the future.

Meanwhile, you can find out more about the musical here.

Book giveaway

During December, I ran a quote competition on my Facebook page. Each day, I posted a quote from one of my books or its blurb. Readers named the book, and all correct answers were entered into a spreadsheet from which my godsons drew a column and row at random. Maryann was the winner and will receive a signed copy of ‘Banyak & Fecks’ (as soon as it arrives here, I sign it and post it on; the mail has been much delayed by Christmas, but it is on its way). More giveaways will be announced on the new page on this site, so keep an eye on that.

And into 2021

So far, on my list of things to do in 2021, I have the new book… And that’s about it. We’re not planning to travel anywhere, though if at all possible, Neil will go to Scotland to visit his children and grandchildren. We are hoping that Symi opens up for tourism from May onwards and that we have a better summer season than we did last year. As I write (yesterday as you read this), Neil is baking a cake to take up to Jenine and the god-boys where we will be having lunch and playing games, as restrictions in Greece have been relaxed a little for today, St Vasilis Day in Greece, and we are allowed limited mingling. We are looking forward to that, and I am looking forward to slipping back into my writing regime from Monday onwards and producing the next stories. ‘Something Exposure’, Clearwater nine, is, as I say, well underway, and I can’t wait to get it out to you.

So, I will sign off by wishing you a peaceful and trouble-free year ahead, and leave you with an image Andjela, my cover designer, made up for me of Neil looking rather like Clearwater, the industrialist, posing for a photograph in 1890.

Remember, if you keep reading, I’ll keep writing!
Jackson

Winter Solstice and Christmasses Past, Present and Fictional

Winter Solstice and Christmasses Past, Present and Fictional

It occurred to me, as we approach Christmas that I’ve never written a Christmas story. I have come close with the final scene of ‘Fallen Splendour’ where we join the Christmas staff ball at Larkspur Hall in 1888, and I have also come close as James Collins, in my novel, ‘The Saddling.’ I say ‘close’, because, in Saddling, there is no Christmas because there is no Christian religion, not since the Blacklocks family took over the village in… I forget the year but before the witch trials of ‘The Witchling’ and sometime after the first return of ‘The Eastling’ in the 13th century.

Instead, Saddling, the village of the series, follows its own Lore based on nature and the turning of the seasons. The first in the series, ‘The Saddling’ opens on winter solstice night, 1292 when a great storm threatens the Romney Marshes with flooding. That is based on a real event, the great storm of 1287 where villages were washed away, and lives and livestock were lost.

Part of our harbour in flood this week.

As the winter solstice is only a couple of days away, I thought this was an appropriate time to talk about it and the Christmases of my youth on the Marsh, and now, here on the Greek island, Symi. Where, by the way, the approach of the solstice combining with an upcoming full moon, has resulted in our harbour already being slightly flooded.

Winter Solstice

The winter solstice, hiemal solstice or hibernal solstice, also known as midwinter, occurs when one of the Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun. It happens twice yearly, once in each hemisphere. This year, it occurs at 10.02 UTC on Monday and marks the northern hemisphere’s shortest day, the first day of winter.

This year, according to The National Geographic, “… just head of Christmas, two of the solar system’s brightest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, [will] engage in a celestial dance that will bring them within planetary kissing distance in the evening sky.”

A bit flowery perhaps, but true. “The moment of closest approach arrives on 21st December—the winter solstice for those in the Northern Hemisphere and the start of summer for those in the Southern Hemisphere. The two planets will appear closer together than at any time in almost 400 years in an event known as a great conjunction.”

According to Astronomy.com, On 21st December, Jupiter and Saturn will appear closer in Earth’s night sky than they have since 1226 A.D. This event is being described as causing a ‘Christmas star’, which all seems nicely appropriate, and the date, 1226, gives me a very tenuous link back to ‘The Saddling.’

After the initial storm scene of ‘The Saddling’ which sets up the Lore that is to follow and the superstitions and rites of the village, the story cuts to 18th December 2012. It is 720 years after the great storm, and the central character, Tom Carey is struggling to keep his life together, obsessed with tracing his family tree in order to inherit a fortune from his last family member. By chapter eight, he has arrived in the village of Saddling and, as his car has broken down miles away, seeks a room at the inn, The Crow and Whiteback. It’s charmingly old-fashioned but shows no signs of Christmas, and when the landlady, Susan Vye appears through the floor from the cellar below, and he takes her by surprise, Tom comments, ‘Nice place, but not very Christmassy, Only four more shopping days to go.’ He laughed, she didn’t.

The story unfolds as Tom searches for clues to his family mystery, the storm clouds gather, he befriends two local lads who are preparing for their saddling, and he learns that the ceremony is to be held on the evening of the winter solstice. In our present world, this Monday.

The Saddling series plays on such natural events as this year’s ‘Christmas star’, the solstices and equinoxes, the natural birth, harvesting, dying and rebirth of the land, the relationships between man and nature, farming and festivals. Apart from finding it interesting to research, I used this natural flow of the earth as a background because I wanted to set the stories against the naturalness of change and difference. By which I mean, as Tom makes his way through book one, he comes to realise that like it or not, he is attracted to another man. As the series progresses, the villagers gradually come to accept that Tom and Barry’s ‘friendship’ is as natural as the changing seasons, the tide, the earth’s cycle, and that, underneath it all, is the message of the books.

Winters on Romney Marsh

Fairfiled, Romney Marsh and St Thomas Becket church – the inspiration for The Saddling. (The church features on the cover of all three Saddling books.)

I wasn’t aware of the solstice when I was growing up on the Marsh, but I was aware of Christmas. I didn’t have any particular interest in the fields and deeks (irrigation ditches/dykes that prevent the land from flooding) or the farming way of life, but I must have absorbed it. My best friend from nine to 12 years was the son of a farmer. I’d cycle over to his house about a mile away into the wide, flat landscape of the fields to play in the hay barn, make rafts on the wider deeks, help his dad deliver lambs at lambing (though more likely get in the way), and sit down to huge suppers of ‘lookers pie’ prepared by his classic farmer’s-wife mum.

[On the Marsh, a looker is a shepherd and lookers’ pie is shepherds’ pie made with chops not mince.]

The ruins of All Saints church, Hope

I have never been very good at sleeping, and in my teens, I would sometimes walk out onto the marsh at night. It has an atmosphere of its own, with nothing to hear but the cry of an owl, the breeze in the hawthorn bushes and the occasional plop of a frog leaping into a dyke. I walked to a place called Hope*, just outside New Romney, one of the villages that were washed away in the great storm and now nothing more than a ruined church wall, just to enjoy the peace and the smell of damp coarse-grass and sheep treddles.

[That’s a Kentish word for sheep poo, a smell that, when you’ve grown up with it, is more comforting than you might think!]

Later in my teens, one of my best friends was also the son of a farmer, and I’d visit his house too. As is the way of the Marsh, he lived next door (half a mile) from his cousin, my earlier bestie, the families farmed together, but in this case, I visited to play on his dad’s snooker table, and play music as we were in a swing band by then. His dad, by the way, is now in his 90s and still actively farming his land.

Christmases

The Romney Marshes before they were ‘inned’ (irrigated)

And then there were the Christmases. These, for me, were traditional family affairs. We were expected to attend Midnight Mass at the parish church where I ‘sang’ in the choir and learnt to play the organ. As my two brothers and I got older, we went under the bribe of being able to open a present when we returned home. Older still, this tradition ended up with my dad being the only one who attended church, me staying at home to watch concerts on TV and wait for my older brothers to return from the pub when we opened presents, often not going to bed until well after three in the morning.

If you were wondering where Romney Marsh is; it’s on the south coast of England.

Another big part of my teen years was music, as you might have gathered from my Jackson books like ‘The Blake Inheritance‘ and ‘Home From Nowhere.’ I started playing the piano aged six or seven and carried on throughout primary, prep and secondary school to finally rise to the complicated heights of grade eight in my early 20s. I was inspired in music by teachers at both prep school (where the music teacher took me to play the organ in Hythe church when I was 11, and from when I was transfixed by the musical ‘machines’). At secondary school, our music teacher arranged for us to attend concerts in Canterbury Cathedral and elsewhere at his own expense, encouraged me to stage musical revues and write songs for the junior years. He also saw a friend and me through our A-Level, arranging for Dominic (the only other A-Level music student) to be in a masterclass with Julian Lloyd Webber which I attended, and had a great knack of staging the Christmas concerts at the parish churches of New Romney and Lydd. Being a piano player, I wasn’t needed for the orchestra, but was dragged in to play the percussion (not as easy as it sounds) and sometimes ‘sing’ in the choir. I put ‘sing’ like that because I mouthed along more than sounded notes.

From Past to Present

Our tree this year.

All of these random reminiscences have a bearing on what I write now. The loneliness of the Marshes at night, the earthy, natural way of life, lambing, harvests, hay bales, hawthorn-lined, narrow roads and the deeks, the wide, flat landscape of the drained marshland and its rich history, the memories of cold legs in damp-smelling churches, the vibration of the organ in the last bars of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, and the present-giving by the fire… The older you get, the more you reminisce, but in my case, the more I put such reminiscences into my books, although often, from a different character’s perspective.

And now, the past not only influences what I write, but what we do at Christmas. This year may be slightly different, but we will still be able to be with our ‘logical’ family, our two godsons on the island and their mum as we have been for the last 17 out of 18 Christmases. It will be a day of fun, feasting and falling about laughing against an underscore of Annie Lennox and carols from Kings, godson #1 on his piano and, if we can drag him screaming from his Xbox, godson #2 on his guitar (he hasn’t got it yet, and I hope it arrives in time).

But before all that, we have Monday and the Winter Solstice, and it strikes me that if you’ve not already read it, you could get hold of a copy of The Saddling today, 19th, and start reading it, following the story day by day on the exact dates the story is set. You will reach the climax on Monday night, and if you are lucky enough to have a thunderstorm that night, you’ll get the full dramatic effect.

Whether you do that or not, have a peaceful solstice and seasonal feast or holy day, and I will be back with you on 2nd January with my next rambling blog post.

The Saddling is available to download now on Kindle and is available in Kindle Unlimited, and in paperback.

‘A Place Called Hope’ by Emma Batten

* A Place Called Hope is a novel by the daughter of my childhood piano teacher, and is very much worth reading, as are all of Emma Batten’s Romney Marsh, historical novels.