What’s in a Title?

What’s in a Title?

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

Early Titles

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

Why?

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

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

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

The Mentor Series

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

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

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

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

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

Deviant Desire

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so it went on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except, it seems, for Larkspur Two.

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

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

Have a good week.

Jackson

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

News From Home

News From Home

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

Thanking the Inspiration

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

The research desk

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

Birthdays and Anniversaries

Two bunches of red roses

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

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

Going Further Afield.

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

Visiting Rhodes involves a ferry crossing

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

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

What Else?

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

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

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

See you next week.

What Do I Call My Character?

What Do I Call My Character?

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

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

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

It is important to ask yourself some questions.

When do your Characters Live?

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

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

What country is the character from?

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

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

Names can also make excellent book titles

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

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

How old is your character?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantasy names

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

Names to suit characters

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

Jasper Blackwood

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

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

Thomas Arthur Payne

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

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

We’ll say no more, and move on.

Nicknames

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

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

Beware the Obvious

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

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

Resources

And finally, another tip.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all part of the fun.

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

An interview with Mrs Norwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dalston Blaze’s portrait of Mrs Norwood

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


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

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

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

And is that what you do at Clearwater House?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A more traditional Victorian housekeeper

You assist with the detective agency, I understand?

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

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

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

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

‘But, you’re a…’

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

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

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

The servants’ hall

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

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

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

And what exactly do you ask about it?

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

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

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

Joseph Tanner of the Larkspur Academy

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Do I Publish So Often?

How Do I Publish So Often?

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

There is a simple answer: discipline and organisation.

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

It’s My Job

My typing station this morning.

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

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

My Daily Routine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do I do With all Those Words

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

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

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

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

They tell the story of the…

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

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

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

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

Be Organised.

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

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

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

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

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

Finally

Of course, the view fom the window helps.

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

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

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

Keep reading!

Jackson

Guardians of the Poor: Release and Cover Reveal

Guardians of the Poor: Release and Cover Reveal

Hello everyone!

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

Guardians of the Poor

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

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

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

The Mystery

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

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

Workhouses and Deafness

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

Larkspur in BSL fingerspelling (gif)

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

But I am getting ahead of myself…

Guardians of the Poor, cover reveal

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

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

Guardians of the Poor
Jackson Marsh

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

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

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

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

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

The Larkspur Mysteries series

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

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

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

An Author in August

An Author in August

Today, I wanted to catch you up on general news, where I am with the new book, and what life is like in the Southern Aegean in August. Let’s start with that one…

Fires and Silence

It’s hot. We’re seeing temperatures in the 40s most days, we’ve not had any rain since May and then it was only a smattering, and we’re currently under a cloud of ash that is still hanging about following serious forest fires in Turkey. Turkey is just over the water from us, about three miles away at its closest point, and we can see villages and roads from our island. Last week, we could also see flames and masses of smoke as wildfires broke out along the coastline. There have been some on the island of Rhodes too, but I think they are all now under control. Wildfires are raging around Athens at the moment too. Fires are common at this time of year but have been made worse because of a heatwave.

The smoke that’s hanging around in the atmosphere covered the sun, which made for a strange, almost eclipse-like, light. Thursday was an unusual day because there were no sparrows chirping, and no cicadas grating, as if the wildlife thought it was dusk. They stayed eerily silent.

Luckily, our island remains safe, though hot, and we have a forest here, so the authorities are on guard, and everyone is being careful. Meanwhile, I am at my desk with two fans on me and towels where I rest my sweaty arms (otherwise they slide off). All the windows are open, everything is covered in a layer of ash, even where I hoovered and dusted the day before, and we’re getting on with summer life.

Sign Language

We’re also getting on with learning BSL (British Sign Language) as best we can online. I am on part four of a nine-part course, and about to start part five. So far, it’s been mainly learning nouns, alphabet, numbers and a few questions. Neil and I sit opposite each other when I go to visit him at work at the bar, and we practice our signs on each other. They’re not so hard to remember and do, but harder to recognise when someone signs back at you. It’s all about practice, and it’s proving useful research for my writing.

Guardians of the Poor

As I write, the final draft is with my proofreader, and I should get the MS back next week. Then, I will read through it for the last time and send it to have the interior laid out. That usually only takes a couple of days. I then check it again, and after that, it will be ready to publish. I imagine we’re looking at publication around the 20th of August if not slightly before.

Joe Tanner

‘Guardians’ is the first of the Larkspur series of mystery/bromance/adventure novels in the vein of the Clearwater Mysteries, but focusing on new characters who pass through the Larkspur Academy. That’s the institution Archer sets up at the end of the Clearwater series, a place where young men can come and, as he puts it, ‘better themselves.’ It’s an odd concept, but so far, it’s working. Through his London contacts like Jimmy Wright and Silas, Archer finds young men (18 years old and upwards, mainly), and gives them a place at the academy under the mentorship of the man he’s found to run it, Barbary Fleet. It’s not a school, it’s not compulsory and there are only four or five men there at any time. They all have special talents and deserve a chance in life, and mainly, they are gay. Of course, ‘gay’ wasn’t gay in 1890, but Archer knows when a man needs support and needs to come out, as we’d call it. The fact that they all get involved in some kind of mystery is, of course, what the stories are about; that and young men struggling with their sexuality, each other, falling in love, out of love, friendship and fighting hard to make a go of it.

As ‘Guardians’ is almost ready, I have turned my attention to the second in the series…

A Vow of Silence

‘Guardians’ features a character called Joe Tanner, who is profoundly deaf and has been since birth. I am keeping him and Dalston Blaze as the central pair of book two, ‘A Vow of Silence.’ Dalston is the main character in Guardians (along with Archer, the story is mainly from their point of view), but I want Joe to be the MC in ‘Vow’ because I want to write from a deaf man’s point of view, although there will be other characters’ viewpoints too.

‘Vow’ follows on from ‘Guardians’, and, like the first book, it is inspired by a real newspaper report and an actual event. I’ll say no more just now because I’ve only got as far as jotting down a basic plot, and anything can change.

And Finally

Make sure you keep an eye on this blog and on my Facebook page for the cover reveal of ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ It’s another corker from Andjela J, and the drawing (above) of Joe Tanner will give you a clue. Check back next week when more will be revealed…

Final Draft: How I Improve my Manuscript

Final Draft: How I Improve my Manuscript

This week, I wanted to give you an insight into how I edit and improve my manuscript. Remember, this is my process, and is not necessarily correct or the only way. I’ve used examples from my current work in progress (WIP), ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ The section I’ve borrowed from started off at 224 words and ended up at 164. That’s only 60 words shorter, but then editing isn’t always about cutting down your word count. I have identified several areas where I edit, and a professional editor would identify many more.

Here are my thoughts with examples.

Overall story

The first thing I do is write the first draft. When I do this, I am simply telling myself a story. I usually know how it will open and close, and I start at the beginning and work through. I make notes as I go and it’s a long list. I note:

  • Questions raised in the story, which I must answer later
  • Clues to be solved and their solutions
  • Character descriptions, eye colour, etc.
  • Dates and times, ages, birthdays
  • Ideas for developments and plot points
  • The timeline
  • My common typos so I can run a search/find later

I am also aware of my overall structure and pace, and as I like to use a classic four-act structure, I note when I have reached the end of each act. The acts generally run:

  1. Set up, inciting incident, MC’s current world, ending with a shift into a new world/experience/state.
  2. Developing to a mid-way twist or crisis,
  3. Reaction to that, finding answers leading to the major crisis and climax,
  4. Settling down, denouement and change.

Here’s an example of my section at draft one stage:

What hit him was a building as tall as the workhouse, a gravelled stable yard, and the smell of trees beyond a red brick wall. Once out of the carriage, Mr Hawkins told him to wait while he and the coachwoman stabled the horses, and taking in his surroundings, he noticed the double gates through which they had come. For a second, Clayton contemplated making a run for it.

Repetitions

Great, the first draft is done, and I have an overall picture of the story. Now, I start on draft two. The first thing I did with my current WIP was change the MC’s name from Clayton to Dalston. That’s easy to do in Word with find/replace. I also read through the text highlighting repetitions. When writing draft one, it’s easy to think, ‘Have I made that point? Will the reader take that in?’ So, I tend to restate important facts, mainly to ensure I have put them in. Later, I have to identify them and take them out, else they become repetitious.

Also, I’m aware of repeating words. In my current draft four, I am conscious that, in dialogue, I’ve been writing, ‘Now then,’ Mr Wright continued…’ for example, and I think my characters ‘continue’ on just about every other page. So, I’ve been finding ways around that repetitive habit. Similarly, I look for overuse of ‘He’ at the start of a sentence, as there’s always a better way around that. Ending a sentence with a pronoun doesn’t tread well either, so anything ending with him, her, it, they, is rewritten. There’s also the overuse of a character’s name, although you don’t want to constantly replace a name with him/her either. So, balance is key. (As is not using split infinitives such as ‘to constantly replace.’)

Right ideas in the wrong place

Here’s another thing I am guilty of. As I go through draft one, I often write in ideas for later or change an idea for a better one that comes naturally to mind as I write. This can be a real pain in the arse. For example, at one point, Dalston has lived 13 years in the workhouse and later, he’s been there since he was a baby. Here’s an example:

There was nowhere to go. The workhouse had been his home for thirteen of his eighteen years, and he couldn’t remember where he had lived before. His first memory was of a matron in a white cap standing him beneath a tap, naked and shivering, and dousing him with cold water. From then on, life had been a repetitive round of sitting in silence, standing in line, sharing beds and, later, picking at oakum with a spike, or breaking rocks in the rock shed.

That was draft one. By the time we get to draft four, we have something much more succinct and accurate to the story.

There was nowhere to go. The workhouse had been his home all his life; a repetitive existence of sitting in silence, standing in line, sharing beds, and picking at oakum with a spike.

The mention of his first memory was one of those ideas that felt right at the time, but later, I realised it was something for further on in the story. The example is from chapter three, now Dalston’s first memories come out in chapter 14 where their placement makes much more sense.

Too many words

Here’s part of the above example: From then on, life had been a repetitive round of sitting in silence, standing in line, sharing beds and, later, picking at oakum with a spike, or breaking rocks in the rock shed.

That, remember, has now become:

The workhouse had been his home all his life, a repetitive existence of sitting in silence, standing in line, sharing beds, and picking at oakum with a spike.

That’s 33 words down to 28, but again, cutting the word count isn’t everything. What’s missing from the later draft is or breaking rocks in the rock shed. We don’t need two examples of workhouse life, not at that point in the story. The sentence, although still long, is more succinct.

Here’s another example of me trying to get my thoughts in order over four drafts.

Draft one: Whether Joe would survive on his own was another matter, and one that brought Clayton more sadness than being left on his own.

Draft two: It was a question of survival, but not knowing if Joe would survive on his own caused Dalston more sadness than being left on his own.

Draft three: Joe could have been anywhere, though, and not knowing if Joe would survive on his own caused Dalston more sadness than being without him.

Draft four: Is the same as draft three, but I’m still not 100% sure. (The second Joe is not needed, it could be a ‘he’, the ‘would’ might become a ‘could’, and caused Dalston more sadness than being without him is clumsy.)

Grammar

Ah, yes, grammar. I’m not wonderful at this, and my punctuation is dodgy. That’s why I employ an expert proofreader. I also use a couple of programs. I started off with Grammarly, which is good at finding punctuation issues and other things according to its own style, but I found it messed around with my Word autocorrect and spellcheck. I unplugged that plugin and now use ProWritingAid. This wizard of a programme looks at all manner of things such as spelling, grammar, style, repeated phrases, passive verbs, sentence length, readability, clichés… There’s a lot to it, and you pick which parts you examine.

After draft two, I run each individual chapter through specific points in ProWritingAid. I look for grammar and style, overused words, sentence length, and clichés. Within those settings, the programme flags up passive verbs (which are not your enemy, just don’t overdo them), readability enhancements and repeated sentence starts.

Don’t just rely on these plugins, though. I also refer to published books on grammar and style and have my wonderful proofreader. Some would say that as you are creating your story in your style, you can employ whatever grammar you think fit, and yes, I suppose you can.
But it’s more about readability than showing off your crazy grammar style. Oops! I started a sentence with ‘but’, my old English teacher wouldn’t approve. But, it’s fine for emphasis. And, you can do it with and as well, for emphasis, but do it too often and you’ll read like an action comic. What you should do however is make sure the reader can understand what you’re saying because if you don’t write consistently and clearly using proper punctuation and you make your sentences too long and complicated as I often do in drafts one to three then your reader is literally going to run out of breath by the time they reach the end of what you’re trying to say.
Gasp.
In other words, don’t write sentences with no punctuation like I just did.

Be aware of some classic mistakes, such as the use of the Oxford comma: This book is dedicated to my readers, Harry and Sam. I have only two readers? No. This book is dedicated to my readers, Harry, and Sam. The comma replaces ‘to.’ This book is dedicated to my readers, to Harry, and to Sam.

And remember to help your uncle, Jack, off a horse, not help your uncle Jack off a horse.

And so on.

Do I mean that? (It.)

Every time I write a book, I do it for two reasons. 1) To write what I would like to read, and 2) To improve my writing a little more each time. Thus, I stay aware of bad habits, like starting sentences with ‘He’ and having my characters ‘continue’ during dialogue. Or, ‘What is that?’ she asked. We know she’s asking, there’s a question mark right there! Oh, and don’t use too many !! Certainly don’t put two together, and try to aim for none.
Another thing I’ve found myself doing recently is using ‘it’ when I know what I am talking about, but the reader may not. This usually happens with a break between the subject and the use of ‘it.’
Dalston put his sketchbook on the table when Frank came back with a sewing kit and wanted to fix a lock to it.
Say what? That was a made-up example, but not far off what I sometimes do when my brain is working faster than my fingers. What I meant was, Dalston put his sketchbooks on the table. When Frank returned, he brought a sewing kit, intending to attach a lock to the book…

Always read and reread sentences as if you’ve never seen them before. In fact, you should do that with the whole MS and ask yourself, ‘Am I saying what I mean to say, or am I writing lazily?’
Oh yes, and you can use adverbs, just don’t do it all the time.
Don’t be lazy: ‘I ain’t like that.’ Dalston was angry. (Boring!)
‘I ain’t like that!’ Dalston kicked the chair away and balled his fists. (Better.)

This leads me on to:

Can I make it better?

All of what I’ve been talking about comes down to the same end: Can I make it better? The answer is always ‘Yes’, but the question is always ‘How?’
There’s a theatre saying that’s bantered around as a joke, and I’ve used it myself when working on musicals as a director. ‘Let’s do it again, only better.’
Better is not specific, of course, and only you will know when your MS is perfect. For you. It will never be perfect for everyone, but you should always make it the best it can be.
Be critical of your own work. Don’t write it, read it, and think, ‘That’s wonderful. It’s done.’ Nothing is ever finished. I rarely read my books once published because I always see how I could have done something better or differently. I’m still finding better words for lyrics I wrote for a show in 1997, not that it will ever be performed again.
It’s not about taking out words but improving the ones you have. Well, sometimes it is about taking out words and putting them in another chapter because it’s something you want to say but doesn’t feel right when you first put it.
It’s not about trawling the thesaurus for something other than good, bad, ugly, it’s about asking why you wrote ‘good’ rather than leaving the reader with the impression something was good. Dalston woke feeling good, is pretty rubbish, really. Dalston woke with a spring in his step, is a cliché. Dalston woke full of the joys of… Don’t even go there. Dalston woke, remembered what the day promised, and grinned his toothy grin. Well, it’s a start.

Have I gone too far?

As I rewrite my drafts, I ask myself ‘Is this needed?’ and if it isn’t, it goes in the Cut folder, just in case I want it after all, or it contains something I can reuse another time. Currently, I have an entire chapter in the ‘Guardians’ Cut folder, and three other folders containing the first three drafts. I have been editing the MS for some weeks now, and it started at 105,000 words and is currently at 104,000. That means I have taken out only 1,000 words. Some writers suggest you should cut 20% from your first draft word count, and maybe that’s correct. I probably have cut 30,000 words from my first draft, but then I have replaced most of them with something better.
The trick is to improve your work, and if that means cutting, then do so, but remain aware of your style. Don’t just cut for the sake of it, but similarly, don’t leave something in a) if you’re not sure about it, and b) just because you like it. Whatever you take out, you can use elsewhere. Even if you can’t, what you have written has been practice, and by cutting it—no matter how painful it was to do—you have learnt something from the experience.
When I set about writing a chapter, the first thing I ask myself is, what is the POC? That’s my shorthand for Point Of Chapter. What is the point of this chapter? Is it to advance the plot or the character? Hopefully, both. I apply the same to any sections I am not sure about. I ask myself, what is the point of this paragraph? Is it scene-setting, a transition from one scene to another, is it colourful background, setting the time or era, or is it because I rather liked the prose and thought everyone should be treated to it?
Always wonder about your POC, and if a chapter has no plot advancement or character development, then you probably don’t need it.

And now, I think I have gone too far. I’ve rambled through my early morning thoughts, and I must return to my WIP and continue to check my POCs, cut out ‘continue’, check my pace, spelling, punctuation and readability, and make the MS as good as it can be.

I’ll be back next Saturday with an update on ‘Guardians of the Poor.’

Self-Publishing: How I Do It

Self-Publishing: How I Do It

Everyone should write a book, and many people do. Good. What you then do with it is another matter. What follows is what I do. I’m not saying it is the best or only way, but it has worked for me for several years, and I’m happy to share my thoughts and experience. So, here is what I do to get my books published.

No Vanity Publishing

First of all, I have never paid a vanity publisher and I never will. That’s where you pay a company to produce your book, and they send you a few copies and promise to sell the rest. You should never pay anyone to publish your work. Publishers should pay you, and that’s that. Of course, getting your work to a publisher is one story, having them accept it is another, and then having to abide by their guidance is something else entirely, and a topic for another day.

If you want to find an agent or a publisher, I recommend The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. It has everything you need.

My Method, Step by Step

I self-publish my books on Amazon as paperbacks, Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. There are many other ways to sell your book online, but this is the method I use.

My desk this morning.

I Write the Book

First, I write the book… Actually, first I write the blurb, the text that goes on the back of the cover and on the book’s Amazon page. Doing that helps me focus on what the book is about, and I can always change the blurb later. So, with an overall idea of the story noted down, I start writing.
I write draft one.
I start again with draft two.
Then I start on draft three, which is more like an edit of draft two, then draft four… and so on. Often, before I have finished editing, I set my mind to the cover.

Covers

Book covers sell books, and it’s worth investing in a designer who knows what they are doing.

I used to design my own covers, and there are still some of my older books out there (as James Collins) with my designs on the front. Since writing as Jackson Marsh, I have employed a professional designer. My designer charges me €80.00 for the main front cover (for Kindle), the full cover (for print), and her price includes changes, setting the back text, working out the spine and sending me the upload file. All Jackson Marsh covers have been designed by Andjela K.

There are several places you can go to find a designer, and prices vary. I found Andjela through People Per Hour and her page is here. Andjela K. From there, you can explore the rest of the site.

Recently, I commissioned another artist to draw me some illustrations of the Clearwater characters, mainly for my website, but perhaps, one day, they will end up in a book. I found Dazzlingdezines on Fiverr.com, and again, you can explore the site from that link. I recently commissioned my first map from Khayyam Aktar who I found on the same site.

These sites have strict rules about copyright and ownership of commissioned work, and it is worth reading them before you commission someone.

The map designed by Khayyam Aktar

When the Writing Stops

The book is finished, yippee! You’ve written it, edited it, cut and paste, ripped things out, started again… whatever, you are happy with your final draft. If you are not, ask yourself why and go back and fix what your gut tells you isn’t right.
Then, read it through again from top to bottom to see how many typos you can pick up.
Leave it alone for a week or so.
Read it again and see how many more typos you can pick up.
Hire a proof-reader.

Now then, there is also a stage there which I’ve missed out and that’s working with an editor. I have a friend who is a professional editor and who reads and comments on my third or fourth draft, and I listen to what he says. You may want to hire a professional editor, but I can’t tell you what costs you might incur, because I’ve never paid an editor.

Back to the Proof-Reading.

You can read your own work 100 times and still not notice every error of spelling or punctuation. I used to have several friends read my final draft and send me their own notes/corrections, and frankly, it was clumsy, and I felt bad about asking them. These days, I hire a professional proof-reader, Ann Attwood.

One of Dazzlingdezines’ character sketches

When I think my manuscript (MS) will be ready in, say a couple of weeks, I contact Ann to fix a date when she can work on it. That then becomes my deadline and pushes me towards getting the MS polished. Ann reads it, I wait like a schoolboy expecting an exam result, and the MS comes back. In this case, it comes in Word with ‘track changes’ open, so I can see what Ann has changed or fixed, and I can agree with them or not. (I invariably do.)

Having read through the MS again, I check the blurb one last time. Then, I send the blurb to Andjela to add to the full cover, and give her a rough idea of the page count so she can fix the spine. You won’t know the final page count until the book has been laid out, so make sure your designer is flexible about making changes after the cover is done.

As for the cost, you should expect to pay around £1.00 per 1,000 words, though prices vary, and different proof-readers charge different amounts.

Layout

Previously, I used Adobe InDesign to do my own internal layout. Remember, I am not a designer, but I knew how to use about 10% of the program and that was all I needed.

Other Worlds Ink author services

From ‘Negative Exposure’ onwards, I have been using Other Worlds Ink to layout my pages, and they do a great job. They understand about widows and orphans (odd words hanging on the first and last lines that don’t look right) and use a program that takes care of other technical things that were tedious to do in InDesign. They also sort out the page numbering, content, front and back matter* setting, and insertion of maps and illustrations – should I ever have any.

My files come back from Other Worlds Ink, and they supply the PDF for print, the various files for e-readers, Kindle etc, and they will also undertake changes when, a few months after publication, you realise you’ve left in a couple of typos.

* Front and back matter. Your book should have ‘front matter’ for sure. That’s the publishing details. If in doubt, look at the front pages of one of my books and you will see what I include; legal notice, credits, list of other novels etc.

And So, To Amazon

Everything you need to know about self-publishing via Amazon is on Amazon, you just need to know where to find it.

Kindle Direct Publishing(KDP) is the place. First, read the pages on the site.

Set up an account, or use your Amazon account login, and you will find a dashboard that’s easy to use. Mind you, I have been using it for so many years now, I’m bound to say that. I seem to remember some trial and error, but nothing daunting as long as you read everything carefully. They have a very good help department for authors.

To take you through the actual uploading process would take too long, and would be rather pointless as it’s self-explanatory, but…

My author page on Amazon (part of it)

You create an eBook, paperback or both. Upload details such as title and author name, and assign an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). Amazon will assign you one if you are only going to sell on Amazon, and as that’s what I do, I can’t comment on how you go about getting ISBNs for other publishing platforms.

You choose your genre, categories and keywords, and upload your blurb, cover and internal files.

You set your price to ensure you make something on each sale. The base price is a minimum that covers Amazon’s costs. Then, you press submit.

There are processes for checking as you go. You can test the Kindle file on various online readers, and see the print book’s inside to check its layout, and Amazon will get back to you if there are any issues. They are particular about cover size, for example, so always read the guidelines.

A day or so later, sometimes more immediately, a message comes back to say your book is available, and they give you the links to the pages where it appears.

And Afterwards?

Well, that’s all to do with setting up an author page, maybe a website, a Facebook page, organising your publicity, and trying to sell the thing. That is definitely a post for another day.

For more information and advice, I’d suggest joining a Facebook group or two. There are plenty, and you will soon come to realise which is best for you. Everyone’s experience is different, as are their methods, and the above is a basic outline of how I go about it. I’m happy to answer broad questions if I can, and you can contact me on my email here.

Before you do, though, please note: I won’t publish your book for you, I don’t read unsolicited samples, and I’m not going to hold anyone’s hand as they explore Amazon KDP for the first time because all the instructions are there. If in doubt, hire an expert. Yes, you will have to pay, but you won’t be paying a vanity publisher, which means, you keep control of your work from start to finish. Amazon says you can ‘publish for free, but really, you must expect an outlay. Without taking into account my time, I expect to pay around €300.00 to publish one of my books. I pay for the cover design, stock photos to use on the cover, professional proofreading and the layout artist. I do it because I love writing stories and improving my writing with each one.

That’s it. See you next week.

WIP: Guardians of the Poor

Guardians of the Poor

This week, I want to share with you some inside info on my work in progress. Don’t worry, there are no spoilers.

The Larkspur Mysteries

I have started book one in my new series, ‘The Larkspur Mysteries’, and it’s titled ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ This series follows on from The Clearwater Mysteries, starting a few months after the end of ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’

Clearwater has set up his ‘academy’, a place where disadvantaged young men can develop their talents and skills. The men come from the streets, the Cheap Street Mission (for ex-rent boys), or from an impoverished elsewhere, but they have all caught Clearwater’s attention because of circumstance, ability or the ‘crime’ of being gay. Academy House, on the Larkspur estate, is under the leadership of a new character called Barbary Fleet, and if you thought Doctor Markland was bonkers, wait until you meet Fleet. At the start of the series, the House only houses four young men, and when we arrive there later in the book, two of them are already on their way to success.

So, it’s a low-key start for the Larkspur Academy (which is not a school), but my intention is to base each new mystery around either the House or someone living there. They won’t all be based on the Larkspur Estate, though. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, in Bow Street Magistrate’s Court…

The story starts with a newspaper article. In fact, it is almost a direct copy of the article that inspired the story, adjusted to fit my plot and character names. My main character is up in court and is being defended by Sir Easterby Creswell, assisted by James Wright. The strange thing, however, is that the main character wants to be sentenced because prison is the only way out of a life-or-death predicament.

He is called Dalston Blaze, and the story is about him and his friend from the workhouse, Joe Tanner. Joe is deaf, and although he’s not on stage much, he is, if you like, the protagonist. It’s him we are putting on the cover, and the lady who does my character drawings, DazzlingDezigns, drew me a portrait based on the model’s photo that Andjela is currently using to produce the cover.

You’ll have noticed that there are already two characters from the Clearwater Mysteries on stage, Cresswell and James. Also appearing in the line up for ‘Guardians’ are, in order of appearance, Silas, Mrs Norwood, Duncan Fairbairn, Archer Lord Clearwater, Jasper Blackwood, Nancarrow, Billy Barnett, Jonathan and Maxwell the footmen, Danylo and Andrej (Fecker) and, if you remember her, Mrs Flintwich, the original cook from ‘Deviant Desire.’

That looks like a big cast list, but some of our favourites only appear briefly because they are staff on the estate, and Dalston Blaze gets to meet some. The story is mainly told from Dalston and Archer’s points of view, though there are some scenes that involve Detective James Wright.

Who Were the Guardians and Why the Poor?

So, what does the title mean?

Dalston and his friend Joe are worker-inmates at the Hackney Workhouse. (Now both 18, they are employed as kitchen helpers, but they still live in the institution, thus, they are worker-inmates.) The workhouses were places funded by the ratepayers of the borough, where the destitute could go for shelter. It’s more complicated than that, but people could apply to become ‘inmates’ and if the board of Guardians approved their cases, could then expect to be housed and fed for as long as necessary. Some ‘indoor paupers’ stayed at the workhouse for years, while others, the ‘in and outs’, only stayed a few nights. Those who only needed a bed for one night, the ‘casuals’, were accommodated in a separate ‘ward’, and if you read ‘Banyak & Fecks’, you’ll get a decent account of what a night in the casual ward was like.

The Hackney Workhouse.

Joe and Dalston have been in the workhouse a long time. Dalston since birth and Joe since the age of 12. Living in a workhouse for so long was uncommon because children were usually sent to orphanages, children’s homes or fostered out, but it happened. If you want to know more about workhouse life, read one or all of the books by Peter Higginbotham, some of which I have been using for my research.

The Guardians were, in effect, the Board of Guardians, or if you like, the Workhouse oversight committee, the gentry and interested parties elected to see to the running of the institutions. Elected, because they were dealing with ratepayers’ money, and thus, the workhouses were accountable to the community.

And it is that accountability that is the catalyst in ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ You see, at my Hackney Workhouse, things are not as they should be. Someone has a whacking great dirty secret he wants covered up, but my protagonist, Joe the deaf guy (now aged 18), knows the secret, and he has the evidence to expose the scandal. Joe and Dalston had a plan, but now Joe is in hiding with the incriminating evidence, and Dalston is in court needing to go to gaol, otherwise, he will be killed for what he knows.

Part of the mystery involves strange symbols written on standing stones.

Enter Clearwater and the Larkspur Academy, and off we go into the story which I shan’t tell you about because I don’t what to spoil it for you. I will say, however, it involves the new academy, the Larkspur estate and house, but also symbols ancient and new, sign language, a fair amount of real history, a young man coming to terms with his sexuality, and an ending that leaves things open for book two.

So, in my story, the Guardians of the Poor are many. The workhouse board of guardians, the two characters who try to expose the nasty secret, and Lord Clearwater and his crew who guard disadvantaged young men who may also be ‘on the crew’ (his euphemism for being gay).

When will Guardians be Ready?

I can’t say just yet. I have finished the second draft at 106,000 words, and now need to go through it line by line for edits. I need to remove some repetitions and unnecessary ideas. When I write a first draft, I often put things into the story that I think will be useful later, or I write a dreadful sentence because I can’t think how to say something decently, and I’ll come back to it. Later, I have to go back to these and either get rid of them or improve them, and often by then, I’ve forgotten I put them there. So, I tread carefully through drafts two and three, which is what I am doing now, and when that is done, I will read the whole thing as one continuous story and make sure it works. Then, there may be more edits before I send it to Ann for proofreading, and after it is laid out, to Maryann for an ARC review. Meanwhile… Andjela is working on the cover.

My writing room.

That’s why I can’t say when the book will be released, but I hope to have it with you by the end of September. I also need to work out what book two will be about as I like to mention the next in a series at the end of the one before.

And that’s me for this week. It’s 40 degrees outside and humid. I have my godson coming for his piano lesson later, and before then, I still have 15 chapters to pick apart and put back together. So, I’ll leave you now and wish you a happy week to come, and hope to see you back here next Saturday.

Last week we took our oldest godson to dinner for his 18th birthday.