Editing the next Clearwater Story

Work in progress: Banyak & Fecks

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

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

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

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

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

Editing

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

Wrong.

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

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

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

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

Back to Banyak & Fecks

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

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

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

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

Editing alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And back to the editor

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

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

And finally


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

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

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

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

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

Jackson Marsh on Facebook
Grammarly
Pro Writing Aid

Coming Out

Coming Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

David Rees at Goodreads

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

An Interview with Frank Butterfield

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

Who is Frank Butterfield? Give us your bio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give us 5 tag words to describe your current series

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

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

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

Are your characters based on anyone from real life?

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

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

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

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

There are two characters I really don’t like.

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

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

How many hours a day do you write?

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

How do you relax and unwind?

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

 

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

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

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

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

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

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

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

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

Describe where you are sitting right now

 

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

 

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

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

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

Write what you want to read.

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

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

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

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

Unspeakable Acts: Male Sex Workers in Victorian London

Unspeakable Acts: Male Sex Workers in Victorian London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sins of Jack Saul

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

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

I have used all three as inspiration in my series.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newspaper illustration of The Cleveland Street Scandal.

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

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

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

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

Silas Hawkins depicted at The Royal Opera House

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

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

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

Links:

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