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.

A Week of Work and Walking

A Week of Work and Walking

It’s been a busy week for me, and I thought I’d use today’s blog to let you know what I have been up to. First, news about the new series.

Guardians of the Poor

I’m staying with that title for the first book in the new Larkspur Mystery series because it works on so many levels. The news is, I finished the rough first draft yesterday, and as soon as I have posted this, I am going straight back to chapter one to start again. The story opens with a news report of a court case, and this is an actual report from the year in which the story is set, 1890. It is what inspired the novel, and concerns two men from a workhouse who were up in court on a charge of conspiring to perform an unnatural act. In other words, they were suspected of planning got have gay sex. Look at that again, ‘suspected’ and ‘planning to’, not ‘had done.’ That, I thought, although common at the time, was simply unjust.

I am thinking of using this model on the cover, but in Victorian costume and signing.

‘Guardians of the Poor’ concerns a deaf character, and I think we will see more of him and his partner in book two, which I haven’t even thought about yet. We also have a villain, the new Larkspur Academy and the new characters who live there, and we also get to catch up on what’s happening with others from the Clearwater Series. Archer features a great deal in this new novel, James and Silas have parts to play, and we also touch base with Jasper, Billy Barnett, Fecker and others.

 

Walking

And back to the ‘real’ world. Last Sunday, Neil and I were invited for breakfast by a friend who lives two bays away. As usual, we walked there (it’s only two miles), down the long flight of steps to the harbour, up and over the next hill, across country and finally down an ancient calderimi (donkey path) to the bay. Our friend lives at the far end of the bay, right on the seafront. We were going to walk back later in the morning but were offered a lift by a neighbour. We were grateful for that as the temperature was 40 degrees.

Neil’s latest steampunk topper, made for him by a regular visitor to the island.

I have also been out for a couple of exercise walks early in the morning where I mingle with the goats and sheep who live on the mountainside. During these walks, which are usually an hour long, I plan my next chapter, so I am happily wandering up the hillside telling myself a story which I then try to remember when I get home. What I end up with is the first draft of a chapter which is actually a second draft.

Godsons

We have two godsons on the island and one of them turns 18 next week. As part of his birthday, Neil took him scuba diving the other day, a first for both of them, and tonight (Saturday) we are taking him out for dinner. We have a signet ring for him to mark his 18th, as it should be a special occasion. His brother, who is younger, is learning to play the piano… Well, I am teaching him, and he is doing very well, and he has his first grade exam coming up later this month.

 

Legal

An early morning boat trip.

And, on a more formal note, I am now a legal alien. Thanks to the disaster that is Brexit, we UK nationals had to reapply for residency, having previously been covered as an EU citizen. Neil didn’t need to because he is Irish, but I did. The process started on April 26th, for me, and after two trips to Rhodes, the next and larger island to us, I went back last Wednesday to collect my card. This involved being up at 3.30 to catch a boat at 5.00 that didn’t arrive until 6.00, a two-mile walk to the aliens’ office, a 90-minute wait, but only five minutes at the counter, and because I was there so early, I was first in and first out and was able to get an early boat home and be back in time for lunch.

And Back to the Books

There, that’s a quick catch up on what I have been doing, which has been mainly writing, socialising and… I nearly forgot to tell you, learning BSL I have started a course in British Sign Language, partly as research for the language my deaf character uses, and partly because I’ve always wanted to know a bit more. It’s a beginner’s course and I am only on the third part, but I’m enjoying it and already know the alphabet, numbers and a few basic greetings. I’ve started to put sentences together now, and I am passing on what I learn to Neil so we can practise on each other, as I don’t know any other BSL signers on our island.

There, that really is it now. I am heading off to look at draft two of ‘Guardians of the Poor’, and I must contact Andjela about cover ideas. See you next week.

Jackson

Latest News

Latest News

This week’s blog is a little of all sorts of news. We have had a guest staying; the weather has been hot (40 degrees and humid); I had to go over to the next island for a day which always put my writing routine out of kilter, and we have lots of social engagements coming up, so I am all over the place. Still, I have some news for you, so here it is.

I was on Rhodes yesterday.

Guardians of the Poor

That’s the working title of the work in progress, the first of the Larkspur Mysteries. The main character is called Dalston Blaze, and he has a friend called Joseph Eldridge. I wanted a straightforward surname for Joe, but it’s still not 100% certain if the name will stay. Joseph is deaf, and this is the first time I’ve written a deaf character, so I am doing some research.
Without giving too much away, Joe doesn’t appear so much in this book, but he and Dalston will appear in others later in the series. The principal players in ‘Guardians’ are Dalston and Archer (Lord Clearwater), but we are also introduced to other new characters. There’s a young man at the academy called Frank Andino who swears a lot, is of Greek descent, was working as a tailor and is a mathematical wizard. He’s been good fun to have around so he’ll be staying a while.
Then there’s the man who is in charge of the Academy, Barbery Fleet, and once you meet him, you won’t forget him. Other mainstays of the Clearwater mysteries are involved too; James and Silas as lead investigators for the mystery feeding back to Archer in Cornwall, Duncan who appeared late in the last series, and Mrs Norwood, now even more of a ‘New Woman’ than ever. Fecker, Danylo, Nancarrow and the Larkspur staff also pop in and out, because much of the book is set at the country estate and that’s where they live and work.

The gif below is BSL fingerspelling of ‘Larkspur.’

So, lots of old chums, and plenty of new ones, a new villain or two and a new mystery. I am currently approaching the end of draft one with, probably, another 20,000 words to go for the crisis, climax and denouement. I shall be back to the book on Monday and will update you on progress in due course.

Here’s a very rough plan of the Larkspur Estate (or part of it). I may get my map designer to create a professionally drawn plan of the estate to insert into the book. The main ‘block’ (1, 2 and 3) is Larkspur Hall and to the east, through the woods, is Academy House (4). The estate is large, contains a ruined abbey, and includes some of Bodmin Moor.

Now then…

Learning Sign Language

As I said, ‘Guardians of the Poor’ involves Joe, (18) a character who has been deaf since birth. Because the series starts in August 1890, I needed to research the state of play regarding deaf schools, sign language and the life of the deaf, for want of a better expression, and this, I have started to do. It’s fascinating.

Years ago, I was involved in fringe theatre in London and elsewhere. I used to have my own theatre company, and we’d put on musicals. One thing I always made sure we did during a run was to have a performance signed by a professional sign language interpreter. She would come and see the show, take home a script, and then for one performance in the run (or more, if needed), she would stand on the side of the stage and sign for anyone who was deaf who otherwise might not have been able to enjoy the show.
I decided it was high time I refreshed my skills and learnt lots of new ones, so I have taken up a course in basic British Sign Language (BSL). It’s a course you can do in your own time, and it’s all done online, with assessments, so you can see how you are doing. https://www.british-sign.co.uk/ is the website if you want to visit it. So far, I have made it through stage one, which is knowing some history of BSL, the fingerspelling alphabet, and numbers from one to 10. Next week, it’s on to stage two. As I go, I am passing on what I learn to Neil because a) he wants to learn, and b) I need someone to sign to, so it helps me remember.

 

Workhouses

‘Guardians’ is also partly set in the Hackney Workhouse (in 1890), as I think I said last week. So, I have been calling on the resources put online by a workhouse specialist, Peter Higginbotham. His website http://www.workhouses.org.uk is invaluable for background, history, details and even maps, and the Hackney workhouse has its own page. I’ve also bought some of his books, and am currently reading Voices of the Workhouse, and Indoor Paupers, which was written by a man who was in the Poplar Workhouse back in the 1880s. Again, fascinating stuff, and great for adding in all those historically accurate details I like to include.

And generally

Thanks to the giveaway we ran to celebrate the end of the Clearwater series, interest in ‘Deviant Desire’ and the books that come after it has shot up. In fact, that book went to number on in some of the Amazon charts, and the last time I looked, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ was at #36 in Amazon’s new release charts, so that’s excellent news. Thank you for all your reviews, comments and support.

Our house guest has just this minute left, the temperature is in the mid-thirties and rising (and it’s only 7.19 a.m.), and as I took yesterday off work, I must now get back to writing. I have left my characters on the verge of a discovery, and while I was in Rhodes yesterday, I ran the rest of the book through my head and invented the action to come, so I’d best get that written down before I forget. See you next week.

Thank you

Researching and the Larkspur Mystery Series

Researching and the Larkspur Mystery Series

Hi everyone,

This Saturday, I thought I’d tell you how I’m doing with the new series, The Larkspur Mysteries. I also have a treat for you at the end of this blog in the form of a flash fiction piece, but we will get to that later.

What are the Larkspur Mysteries to be?

A series of mysteries that revolve around a central character who is in some way involved with Lord Clearwater’s new Larkspur Academy. The Larkspur Academy is a place where young men can develop their unique talents and was inspired by Jasper Blackwood and Billy Barnett from the Clearwater Mysteries. Although it is overseen by the Clearwater Estate, it is run by a mentor instead of a headmaster as it is not a school, and he lives in the house with his men. They are not students as it is not a college, and deciding what to refer to them as has been one of my first headaches.

Merevale Hall, the buliding on which the Larkspur Academy is based.

The mentor is the eccentric but brilliant Barbary Fleet, and when the series starts, he and the academy have been in place for four months. There are already four young men there, benefiting from the Clearwater contacts, Fleet’s way of improving people, and from having space simply to be themselves.

Each story will take a central character. I was going to start the series off with Barbary Fleet himself and show how he came to be chosen to run this unusual establishment. I thought about giving readers a ‘how the academy started’ story along with Fleet’s own, but I’ve decided to do that in a later book. A little like how Banyak & Fecks is the prequel to the Clearwater Mysteries and yet wasn’t written until after book eight. By the time I have written a few of these new mysteries, I will know more about Fleet and the academy, which will make for a better prequel.

Anyway…

What is the First Story?

LLoyd’s Weekly London Newspaper June 1st 1890

Each of the stories will start with, or be inspired by, an actual event. The first book had a working title of ‘Dalston Blaze’, and I considered titling each one after the principal character. However, now I am 60,000 words into the first draft, I have thought of another working title, ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ We shall see. Whatever the title, the story was inspired by an article I found in Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper, dated June 1st 1890, exactly the right time for the period of my story. The piece was headed, The Chelsea Workhouse Scandals and the opening reads thus: Joseph Bailey, 35, porter, and Hugh Johnson, 16, were indicted for inciting each other to the commission of unnatural offences… Another line, later in the piece, states …the jury, after what they had heard, did not desire to hear counsel for the defence, which I thought was outrageous.

What set me off on a trail towards a mystery was the idea that two men were tried (unfairly, by the sound of it) for intending to have sex together, the unnatural offences mentioned in the report. What we have, are two men in a workhouse and facing five years of penal servitude for, as we’d say now, being gay. (Five years is what the older one got, the younger one’s sentencing was postponed, and I’ve not been able to find out what happened to him.) That sounds exactly like the kind of thing Clearwater would get his teeth into, and just the sort of men he would want to save, but how to mould a mystery?

The Hackney Workhouse.

What if the character in the dock, who we’ll call Dalston Blaze and who is 18, wants to be sentenced? What if it is his only way of avoiding death? And what if he is being guarded in the dock by a young Irishman posing as a policeman who is there to spring him from gaol? What if a new barrister has been called to represent him, a man called Sir Easterby Cresswell, who has an assistant by the name of Wright? And what if, by some ancient legal argument, Creswell holds off the sentencing until the partner in crime, who is missing, has been found? What if the missing man, also 18 and from the workhouse, was also a deaf mute? And what if the ‘evidence’ against the two was a message written in symbols because that’s how they communicate?

Then… What if Dalston finds himself bailed to the care of the Larkspur Academy?

And so it went on.

Inside the Hackney Workhouse, stone-breaking yard.

I have not only been researching old newspapers for stories to inspire, but I have also been looking into workhouses and sign language because my missing character is deaf from birth. The mystery is mainly ‘Why does someone want to kill these two workhouse boys?’ They are, by then, porters, but they have grown up together in the workhouse since they were twelve. They are best friends (possibly more?) and communicate via signs and symbols. Then, there is the mystery of what has happened to the missing deaf man, Joe?

Workhouse Children, Dalston Blaze when young.

It’s been a fascinating journey so far, and my research list is growing longer by the day. I don’t know when this book will be ready, there’s a long way to go yet, and it’s only the first draft. As it sets up the feel for the rest of the series, I need to make sure I get it right, so bear with me.

Meanwhile, here are some of the sites I’ve been using, along with books, for my research, in case anyone is interested in knowing more about the Victorian Workhouse, and the development of British Sign Language (BSL). After this list, I have the flash fiction treat for you.

The British Newspaper Archive
Homosexuality In Nineteenth-Century England
Workhouses.org (My workhouse is based on the one at Hackney)
Brief History of BSL


Lord Bastion Announces

This was a piece I wrote for an anthology. It’s my first piece of flash fiction, i.e. a very short story complete in itself. As you can tell from my books, I tend not to write short stories, lol! So, this was something of a challenge to produce, but in the end, I was rather proud of it and thought I’d share it with my readers. Enjoy, and I’ll be back next week.

Jackson

Lord Bastion Announces
Jackson Marsh

Fleetfoot straightened his wing collar and leant his well-trained ear to the activity beyond his butler’s pantry. Servants moved through billowing kitchen steam in the vaulted chambers, and the day began in butler-acceptable fashion. Satisfied, Fleetfoot turned his scrutiny to the flat-iron and the daily broadsheet.
How many years had he spent with this iron? Too many for any other life, yet not enough.
Fleetfoot had loved his master in silence and servitude through an age of stigma. Lord Bastion, inventor and newspaper owner, was forbidden to express love. He, like Fleetfoot, dared not utter the unspeakable, forced by Victorian convention to deny the unnatural.
Secret life was a trial for both, but His Lordship knew he was loved by the unquestioning thing of black and white that glided through pillared halls. The man who gently closed laboratory doors, bowed his head and obeyed. The same companion now ironed the newspaper to set the ink, so his master’s untouchable fingers remained unsullied.
Licked finger, iron-touch, hiss and press.
Fleetfoot regarded the headline. Lord Bastion Invents… The master was always inventing, the headlines always lauding. Page two. Reheat, lick finger, touch and continue; every page the same.
Lord Bastion Announces… The master announced every day, but no reader knew what because a blank space always followed the caption.
Fleetfoot ironed the empty page, as was his time-worn duty.
Lord Bastion Announces… Something that only appeared when the ink was heated to the exact temperature by the correct iron pressed at the precise pressure by the only man able to read His Lordship’s daily declaration.
Lord Bastion Announces Fleetfoot, too, is loved.
The butler continued to iron his master’s newspaper and, like every day, was careful to catch the teardrops before they smudged the ink.

Meanwhile, In the Real World

Meanwhile, In the Real World

After the release of The Clearwater Inheritance and the sales promotion that went with it, I thought I’d find myself wondering what to do next. Not so! In fact, I have a few things going on at the moment, and I thought this Saturday’s blog would be a good place to tell you about them.

Firstly, I want to thank everyone who took part in the recent book promotion, where we made ‘Deviant Desire’ free for a couple of days. Jenine organised this as a way to publicise the whole series. The idea, of course, was to boost sales of the books that follow in the series, and that’s what seems to be happening. Thank you to everyone who shared the news, wrote a review and made nice comments about the books on Facebook and so on. Keep up the good work.

The Larkspur Series

And on to what comes next… As you may know, I said that ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ marked the end of the Clearwater series, and yet it doesn’t. The characters will live on in The Larkspur Mysteries, and I have already started book number one. It has a working title of ‘Dalston Blaze’ after the main character. In it, we not only meet new characters (three or four so far, and I am on chapter 12 of the first draft), but we also meet up with characters from the previous books. However, you don’t have to have read the Clearwater series to enjoy what’s coming next. In this first book, we’ve already met Silas and James running their detective agency with the help of Mrs Norwood and a new character we met briefly in Clearwater 10, Duncan Fairbairn. Later, our MC, Dalston Blaze, is introduced to Archer down at Larkspur Hall. There, he meets a few other characters from the previous books and on the Larkspur estate, but mainly, he meets others at the new academy, by now (July 1890) being run from the old dower house.

Dalston is 18 and from the workhouse, and I am researching those institutions as much as I can to get some genuine background and flavour. There are flashbacks to life in the workhouse. There are coded symbols and messages involved as the mystery, a villain, of course, and likely as not, there will be a chase before the climax. There is also a friendship/love story, although that’s not the main thrust of the drama. I have already involved steam trains! I don’t know when this book will be ready. I expect it will be at least two months before I start thinking about its cover and publication.

The Haunted Manor

No, that’s not the next book; it’s a model kit I have started building. You might know I like to put together horror figure models, those made by Aurora in the 60s and 70s, and then re-released by Polar Lights and others. So far, I’ve made the Phantom, Dracula, the Witch and the Invisible Man.

I am halfway through the Wolfman but have put him aside because a new one came on the market. It’s not the same line as the others, but I made it when I was about 12 and wanted to have another go. It’s a model with moving parts, originally released by Disney, and it’s called ‘The Haunted Manor, Play it again Tom.’ It’s a man playing the organ, inside of which there’s a lurking mummy. I’ll let you see it when it’s finished.

Summer

That might not be for a while yet, because it’s starting to warm up here in Greece, and the paints dry too fast in their pots. So far on our little Greek island, the summer season has had a slow start. Understandable, of course, and we are hoping for more visitors as travel restrictions are eased. Neil is working at the bar for his two hours per day while I am at home writing, making my model, playing the piano for a friend who likes to sing, or teaching my godson to play. He should be taking his grade one examination at the end of next month, so we’re both nervously excited about that.

When I can, I’ve been taking some walks in the mornings before it gets too hot. I wander up the hill, thinking up the next chapter and occasionally stop for photos. I should do it every day, but I’m still not back in the routine. On the other hand, Neil has been walking and swimming most days, so he’s lost weight put on over the winter, whereas I haven’t. Yet. He’s also going to do an introduction to scuba diving course. Me? Er, no.

And Back to the Books

So, that’s my brief and general news from the desk this week. Next week, there will be something about music, and I am trying to remember which of my books involve music or have something to do with it…

The Clearwater Inheritance, Home From Nowhere, One of a Pair, Unspeakable Acts, The Students of Barrenmoor Ridge (both are musicians), The Blake Inheritance (involves a secret and a church organ), and The Mentor of Lonemarsh House (a music producer and a violinist).

If you’ve not read any of those, you can find all my books listed on my Amazon Author page here.

Have a great week to come, and I’ll be back next week to continue my series of ‘The real history behind the stories’, this time, looking at the music that features in my novels.

The Clearwater Inheritance. The End of the Line?

The Clearwater Inheritance. The End of the Line?

I have quite a lot of news for you today, starting with the release of ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, book ten in the series. As I write, the Kindle version is now available to download, and the book is also on Kindle Unlimited. You can find it here. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0971F1HT3 That’s the Amazon.com link, but it is available in other Amazon countries/sites too.

The paperback version is still being checked by the Amazon bots and going through that process but should be available any moment if it’s not already out there. You will be able to find it from the main Clearwater Series page here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07RPCKF4L

Is this the end of Clearwater?

In a word, no. Having written ten stories and a prequel, so 11 books in total, I thought it might be time for a change. However, I enjoy the Clearwater world and characters so much, I don’t want to let them go. What was starting to become a problem for me, though, was having so many characters I wanted to write about, and I was looking for a way to deal with this. In ‘Inheritance’, I wanted to give a sense of something ending and something about to begin, and I wanted as many of my principles to play a part as possible without the story becoming cluttered. So, without giving anything away…

In ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, you’ll find four storylines taking place, and all leading to the same end: Who will inherit the Clearwater fortune and name? The story is set in three locations; Larkspur Hall in Cornwall, Clearwater House in London and across Europe. After it becomes clear that the inheritance is in jeopardy, the ‘crew’ split up to work various leads. Some stay at Larkspur, some go to London, and two head off to the Carpathian Mountains. Each team is working their own lead and has their own tasks. Meanwhile, the usurper to the Clearwater fortune is heading towards them with a devious plan of his own.

That’s the basic outline, but Clearwater’s inheritance (and thus, his ability to fund charities, run the mission, help those in need and do what he does) is not the only thing that might be lost. His new venture, The Larkspur Academy, will not happen if he loses the race to secure what is rightfully his. And that’s where the continuation comes in.

I’m now starting on the follow-on series, The Larkspur Mysteries. My intention is to bring in new characters and make each mystery/love story/mashup mainly about one new and central character. However, they exist in the Clearwater world. So, in the first book, which currently has a working title of ‘Dalston Blaze’, we meet an eighteen-year-old chap brought up in a workhouse. He is rescued from a predicament and sent to Larkspur to join the new ‘Academy.’ Thus, some of the existing characters play parts in the new series but are not always central. I’ll say no more for fear of giving away things that happen in ‘Inheritance.’

Thanks

This seems an appropriate place to thank people for their help in making the Clearwater series such a popular success. First of all, you, the readers who keep the writing going not only through book sales and reviews but also through interaction on my Facebook page. I must also thank those who work behind the scenes to ensure historical accuracy, people such as Andy Ward, my railways guru who helps with timetables and routes and all those factual details I love to insert into the fiction. Jenine, my PA, who does sterling work to promote the books and this site, and who keeps me in line with orders to post this and write an interview for that while holding down two full-time jobs, one of which is bringing up my two godchildren. Similarly, I must thank Neil, my husband, for reading the first drafts, calling me a ‘bastard’ for making him cry and laughing in the right places.

On the publishing side, my proofreader, Ann Attwood, tirelessly corrects my punctuation and typos with the patience of a saint and never complains when I repeatedly make the same mistakes despite her notes. Andjela K, my cover designer who, I think you’ll agree, produces some amazing covers. She does this from a few notes I send her and always seems to understand exactly what I am after. For ‘Inheritance’, I would like to thank Khayyam Akhtar, who produced an accurate map of the route two characters take across Europe, including the route of the Orient Express, which features in the story. The map is based on an existing German map of the time. Finally, Scott and Mark at Other Worlds Ink who now do my layout and interior design, and their reviewer Maryann who has been so supportive.

Price changes

And now for some business news. Thanks to various changes in tax and stuff I don’t fully understand, I have to put up the price of my eBooks and paperbacks. We noticed that many people sell their ‘novels’ at the same price as me, but those novels are actually novellas or even short stories. I have always tried to keep my prices low, but I was recently reminded that I am producing full-length novels of at least 90,000 words, and I should be offering them at a price more appropriate to the amount of material. For example, ‘Inheritance’ is 150,000 words long (which is why the print costs are more than usual), and that’s a lot of typing for a return of only $0.17c per sale.

However, for three days starting tomorrow, the first in the series will be run as a giveaway, so ‘Deviant Desire’ will be available for free for a very limited time. This is to celebrate the ‘end’ of the series and hopefully encourage new readers to start at the beginning and carry on through by buying the other 10 books. This, by the way, will be my first ever price rise since I started publishing ten years ago.

Instagram

A quick note. I now have an Instagram account/page/thing, and although I don’t really know what Instagram does, you can now follow me there.

MM Fiction Café on Sunday has an Interview with Archer

The MM Fiction Café will be hosting an interview with Archer, Lord Clearwater, this Sunday, 13th June. Check out their blog post, and find out a little more about Archer than you might already know.

A Treat from Doctor Markland

And finally… Another talented artist has been working with me to produce sketches of some of the characters for the Clearwater Family page, which you can find in the main menu. Dazzling Designz works through a ‘work for sale’ site and has been drawing several of the Clearwater crew over the last few months.

Her latest is a sketch of Doctor Markland, the scatty but brilliant doctor who first appears in ‘Deviant Desire.’ (He actually appears in the prequel, Banyak & Fecks too, if you look closely). The Doc has just appeared in an early scene in the new Larkspur Academy series, so he’s still with us. I thought I’d end by showing you the sketch. This is how I imagine him. Oh, and here’s a little known fact… When I was born, I was delivered — in the harsh winter of 63 when the Romney Marshes were deep in snow and the roads impassable — by our family doctor, Doctor Markland. He was nothing like the Doc in my books, though he did, apparently, take a first look at me and say, ‘He looks like a keen beer drinker; you should call him Toby,’ so he wasn’t far off.

I’ll be back next week. If, in the meantime, you want something to read, then ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ is out there and waiting.

Do We Judge a Book by its Cover? Part 2

Do We Judge a Book by its Cover? Part 2

Today, we have the second in our series ‘Do we judge a book by its cover?’ Here, I’ve invited some of my favourite authors to chat about their covers and what’s behind them. The reason for this is because I have a new Clearwater Mystery coming out during the coming week, and Andjela K has once again done me proud with the cover. This is the first Clearwater with no person on the cover, and there’s a reason for that. Being the 10th in the series, and the ending of one thing and the start of another, and concerns more than one main character. In fact, the story follows three paths, all leading to the same overarching end in one story, but the question was, who to put on the front?

As you can see, I didn’t put anyone on it (apart from a train driver, if you look closely, but he’s not in the story). What I asked for was a representation of the main ‘props’ in the story. In this case, you can see Rasnov Castle in Transylvania, the Orient Express as we now call it, and a piece of music by Bach, one of the preludes referred to in the mystery. I hope the cover also suggests a journey, snow, urgency and the period.

So, that’s what we’re talking about today; book covers. I’ll now hand you over to my guests.

 


 

A Little Morbid

by Olivier Bosman

Book 3 in The John Billings Mysteries

Published February 9, 2021

(Victorian mystery, the occult, Egypt, Treasure Hunt, LGBT)

 

The year is 1895.
An ancient manuscript claiming to hold the secrets of God’s creation;
A cunning old woman trying to make sense of it;
A deluded psychopath intent on stealing it away from her.
Following on from the events in “A Glimpse of Heaven”, Billings and Trotter travel to Egypt in search of the elusive “Codex of Solomon”, where things suddenly start becoming… a little morbid.

 

 Why did you choose this cover for your book?

The posture and clothes of the man in the picture give him an air of mystery.

Do you design it yourself or pass over to a specialist designer? What’s your process?

This was a premade cover, but I asked the designer to add an Egyptian background.

Are you making a statement with the cover?

Yes. It’s clear that this is a Victorian mystery set in Egypt.

Do you ask others for feedback or go with your gut feeling?

I go with gut feeling. If I ask for feedback I get contrasting opinions and that only confuses matters.

Do you usually do a cover reveal event?

No. I just announce my new book on Facebook and my newsletter without too much fanfare. It’s important to have a cover well before release date so you can do some marketing.

Who would be your ultimate person to provide a quote or appraisal for the cover of one of your future books?

I haven’t done that yet, nor have I thought about it. I’m not even sure who the leading author in my particular genre is. I guess it’s because my writing falls between genres.

Find Olivier at his website https://www.olivierbosman.com/
Universal book link https://books2read.com/alittlemorbid
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/olivier.bosman.author

**********************************

 

99 Days

by Matt Converse

Published May 27, 2021

 

(M/M, Sci-fi, romance, thriller, novella)

 

 

Life as we know it will never be the same. Flying saucers are spotted all over the world. But after one crashes into the San Francisco Bay, they disappear. Not far from the crash, Mitch rents his spare room to Claytone and quickly develops a crush. But what he doesn’t know is that Claytone will soon turn his world— and heart, upside down. Claytone’s final revelation will reach even further; it will change life on planet Earth— forever.

 

Why did you chose this cover for your book?

I looked through many pics at the site my publisher offers to choose from and this one grabbed my attention the second I saw it.

Do you design it yourself or pass over to a specialist designer? What’s your process?

I pick out the picture and font of the lettering I want, then my publisher’s cover designer works her magic.

Are you making a statement with the cover?

I certainly hope so. I think it fits the contents of the book very well.

Do you ask others for feedback or go with your gut feeling?

I go with my gut feeling.

Do you usually do a cover reveal event?

I do a cover reveal of my two main social media platforms, Facebook and twitter.

Who would be your ultimate person to provide a quote or appraisal for the cover of one of your future books?

This is my only m/m sci-fi, most of mine are LGBT horror and thriller, so I wouldn’t mind a quote from Stephen King!

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

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

Universal buy link: https://smarturl.it/99Days

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Silly Little Love Songs

by Frank W. Butterfield

The Latest book in The Romantical Adventures of Whit & Eddie Series

Published May 18, 2021

(Mystery, Hitman, Elders, Redemption, Billionaires)

 

It’s a mystery about a mystery. Sal Desimone was executed in 1948 for the murder of Pete Rudd. But did Sal really do it? Or was he covering for someone else? Whit and Eddie are digging into the past to find out the truth. But will doing so get them or the people they love killed?

 

Tell us why you chose this cover for your book?

This is the ninth book in the series, and it follows the template.

Do you design it yourself or pass over to a specialist designer? What’s your process?

I designed this myself with help from designer Ron Perry. Since I publish rapidly across a number of series, Ron helps me develop a template I can then adapt when new titles are ready.

Are you making a statement with the cover?

Yes! Just prior to the publication of this book, I revised the template and updated all the covers. There are two MCs and I previously only had one (Whit) on the cover. I added the other MC (Eddie) to the template and really like the results!

Do you ask others for feedback or go with your gut feeling?

I ask my loyal readers for their feedback but primarily follow my inner feeling about whether it’s right or not.

Follow Frank on his website https://frankwbutterfield.com

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/FrankWButterfield/

Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09581QSW9

 


I’d like to thank everyone for contributing to today’s post. Make sure you click through and read more about these books – you’re not going to be disappointed!

Have a great week, Jackson

I Married An Author

This week we have a completely different blog post for Jackson’s fans. In fact, Jackson has had nothing to do with it at all! Instead it is me, Jenine, Jackson’s PA, and I thought it would be fun to learn a few secrets about Jackson and what it is like to be married to an author. So let me introduce you to the person who has all the inside info… Neil Gosling, husband of James Collins aka Jackson Marsh.

Hello Neil, it’s great to have you with us today. Firstly, let’s go back to the beginning…how and when did you meet James?

We met in a night club called Revenge in Brighton back in 1997, two nights before Princess Diana died. I’m crap at chat up lines, so I said to James, “I really want to talk to you, but I have no chat up lines”. He liked my honesty, and the rest is history. We decided to take things slowly….so I moved in three days later.

Neil and James in Brighton, UK 1998

Do you remember the first time James told you he wanted to write and publish a book, what was your reaction?

He had always been trying to write books. Even back when I met him, he was putting on a musical, so I have always known him to either write words for books or musicals. Actually, we have more personal time together now he is a writer than ever before.

What is your role in James’ professional life?

I take care of the house!

Being British, it is my job is to make him endless cups of tea, make sure his dinner is on the table on time and generally take care of the house. Joking aside, I have been involved in just about all his books. We chat endlessly about what may or may not happen in a story line. Sometimes I am used as a sounding board as he outlines problems, and by the time he has finished, he has sorted out his problem, and away he goes again. I also get to read his books after the first or second draft. This is so I can tell him if the story works, or if there is too much repetition.

Does he have any writer quirks?

Lol. Yes, he does, it’s quite scary. His head spins around three times and he spits at the nearest person available as he tells them to go and wash their socks in hell. Besides that, no, he is quite ‘normal’, whatever that means.

Any signs that say, “Go away, I’m busy.”

Yes, “Go away, I’m busy!” Or “Can it wait until later?” Actually, I’m joking, he’s pretty good, and most of the time will stop what he is doing. I know when he is busy, so tend to try and leave him to carry on working, although I don’t think he will agree with that statement.

Do you get to contribute to the plots?

Hey, I think I’ve lost the plot already, what was that? Yes, I do, or at least I think I do. We chat endlessly about plots, although as I have said, I am regularly used as a sounding board. Quite often he agrees with me and then its nice to read something I have helped him with.

Does he take constructive criticism well?

Yes, he is good at taking criticism, he doesn’t have to use it, but he is always interested to hear people’s views on his books. It makes him grow as a writer.

What is it like to read the sex scenes in his novels?

Hahahaha, well, what can I say about that? I love them, in fact, I keep trying to get him to write more sex scenes, but he is more interested in the rest of the story line. Sex is part of life for most of us, so it would be daft to miss out sex scenes, and he writes it almost poetically, which is part of the romance.

Has he dedicated any books to you?

Yes, one of his horror stories called ‘Lonely House.’ It feels nice, I mean, how many people have had a book dedicated to them? It was really sweet, and I loved it. He has also written a song for me called ‘Sleep On’ which he has played and was sung by beautifully Kinny Gardner in front of many audiences when he used to do cabaret shows. We have a recording of it on CD at home, and it still brings tears to my eyes when I hear it.  So yes, it all makes me feel rather special.

Your husband spends most of his days inside an imaginary world, do you ever get jealous?

What’s there to be jealous of? What is normal to the spider is chaos for the fly.

What is it like at the house when a deadline is approaching?

Its full of fast tapping as he works his magic on the keyboard at a frantic pace. It’s a bit like a horse ride, you start off with a slow canter, but by the end, it’s a full-on gallop. ‘My Fair Lady’ comes to mind here, ‘Come on Dover, move your bloomin’ ass!’ It’s not only the story line he has to finish, but also the cover of the book, the editing that needs to be sorted out, and then the publishing, and which part of the book he feels best to use for the blurb. And then there is a sigh, and once its all finished, its down to the pub!

The three of us celebrating as The Clearwater Inheritance is sent off for proofreading!

It was at that point that we came up with the idea for hijacking the blog this week 🙂

 

What is the biggest frustration of being married to a writer?

I’m going to go off script here. I work in a bar in the afternoons, and I really like it when he comes down to join me, especially if it is a slow day. I remember once messaging him to see if he wanted to come down. It had been a really, slow day. His answer soon came back. ‘I will try, but I am in the middle of crashing a train.’ Now, how many people do you know who get a text like that. Lol.

Also, sometimes he will wake up at say 2.30 in the morning, his head is full of ideas, so he gets up and starts typing. By the time it comes to the afternoon he is knackered.

When Jackson is full on researching and writing he must be exhausted after such an effort. How does he unwind after an intense writing session?

Ooh err, that’s a bit personal, go back to the sex scene question, and use your imagination. He normally sits down closes his eyes for a few seconds and then we either talk about it, or switch on the TV so he can try to take his mind off it.

You said that you usually prepare the dinner at home, what’s James’ favourite meal of yours?

Neil’s Easter Extravaganza Cake

Anything I make as it means he doesn’t have to (lol). Actually, his favourite meal is sausage, mash, peas and gravy. But in saying that, he loves it when I cook an Indian meal. And he loves my cakes. I was making one a week over the winter, but I had to stop as it certainly piled on the pounds.

What is it like to be married to someone who is in dreamland most of the time?

I love it, there is always something different to discuss, or to chat about. Life certainly isn’t boring. I’m in dreamland myself most days, which means we gel perfectly. ‘What was that, dear?’ ‘No idea, not a clue.’ And life goes on.

James is a great romance writer, what is the most romantic thing James has ever done?

Picture this, it was the year 1923 and a little girl from a small village in Italy found herself alone. Oh sorry, that’s someone else’s story. For my 40th birthday, we went to South America. Peru, Ecuador, including The Galapagos islands and Machu Picchu. On this particular day, while we were staying in the rainforest of Machu Picchu he told me a secret that he had been keeping from me. He had arranged a Shaman to marry us, well at least to bless our partnership later that evening. I was gob smacked, and that takes a lot. Later that day, we walked deeper into the rain forest with an interpreter and someone else who was using my camera to take the photos.

Being blessed in the rainforest, 2007

We met the Shaman and he did a big ceremony for just the two of us. It was quite funny in a way as we had to repeat words in Quechuan, which is the language of the Incas. We had to say it properly as well, and we found ourselves repeating the words over and over again until we got it right. It all turned out well in the end. Although I think I was married to a tree and James was married to a bush, but who knows, it was a very romantic time.

Tell me about a time you felt proud of your husband.

Toasting our wedding as we sailed to a remote bay for our Blessing and celebrations, Symi 2017

God, so many times I wouldn’t know where to begin. He has won many awards over the years, for his music, his books and even a couple of film scripts. But if I was going to pinpoint one day, then it would have to be the day we got married on Symi surrounded by friends and family.

 

If you could only pick one, which character of the Clearwater Family is most like you?

Billy. Although he isn’t in it as much as the others, he is cheeky, cunning and has a quick wit.

Which is your favourite book from the Clearwater Series?

Deviant Desire
Book 1 Clearwater Mysteries

Not being biased at all, I love them all. But if I have to choose one I would say the first one, Deviant Desire, as it sets everything up and we meet most of the main characters from the very beginning. But in saying that, I really did love Banyak and Fecks the prequel to the whole series.

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have any literary ambitions of your own? Have you ever thought about writing something together?

I did write a little bit in the book Symi 85600 under his real name, James Collins. This is about our first 5 years of living on a small Greek island. Plus, as a photographer, my photos were used in Village View another book about our lives in Greece.

The Symi Collection by James Collins

I have written under my own name and won an award for it back in 2007 or 8. But you can only find those stories in over 18 sites.

At the moment there is no plan for a joint effort, but I have thought a few times about writing a book, but like many others, I am too lazy. You need to be self-disciplined and dedicated, which Jackson Marsh/James Collins is.

What is the best thing about being married to a writer?

We respect what each other does like any other couple. Life is always interesting, and no one day is the same as the last. I also like it when we are sitting in the square close to our house, and every now and then you can see someone looking over and pointing at him. Then they come over and ask if it is really him. He smiles, answers them and they go away happy. People also come up to him with one or two of his books and ask him to autograph them, it’s like living with a superstar, but without the money.

Thank you so much Neil, loved your answers and I think that James/Jackson will be relieved to know that living and being married to you is pretty good!


Next week on the blog Jackson has invited some fellow M/M authors over to discuss their book cover choices and we will hear more about the the upcoming release of The Clearwater Inheritance.

In the meantime, on Monday, Jackson is also making a guest appearance over on A. L. Lester’s blog where he will be talking about writing gay fiction back in the 1890’s. You can find Ally’s website and blog here  

Hope you enjoyed the hijacking, have a good week everyone!