A Writer Writes (but not always)

A Writer Writes (but not always)

I have just read a blog post by author KJ Charles in which she warns against the guilt authors feel when they are not writing.

But hurling yourself into a book before you’re ready can be at best a waste of time, probably disheartening, and sometimes a project killer,

she writes at KJ Charles, When Not to Write. She also warns against writing when you’re not interested in writing, because then the reader won’t be interested either; and not forcing an idea, because forcing an idea can kill it. Knowing when not to write is important, she says, and I agree.

Here’s my take about not writing.

A Writer Writes

Remember ‘Throw Momma From The Train?’ that film about a frustrated author teaching creative writing? Well, Larry, played by Billy Crystal, tells his class just that; a writer writes.

But Not Always.

You know how it is when you meet someone new and they ask, ‘So, what do you do?’ and you want to say, ‘None of your business,’ but you don’t because you were well brought up. These days, I reply, ‘I’m a writer,’ because I am. I am also an author because I write novels, but a writer because I also hire myself out to write copy for websites and others when I need income. Which is all the time. I write just about every day, even if it’s only in my head, but there are some days when I simply don’t bother. Why?

I’ll explain.

Flowing

Sometimes a novel flows. I start with an idea for an opening and a climax, a theme and a device which, in the mysteries, is the key to unlocking the mystery, or the shroud that wraps the mystery and must be solved. (* Examples below.) With those in my head, or occasionally on paper, I set off on the adventure. From then on, the characters lead me down a path I have vaguely outlined in my head, and before I know it, six weeks have passed, and I am at the end of the first draft. Several of the Clearwater Mysteries happened like this because, after books one and two, I had a cast of formed characters, so I didn’t have to think about creating them, only developing them.

When I am flowing like this, I can write upwards of 6,000 words a day. Editing them later, of course, is another matter.

Slowing

On some occasions, I progress slowly, and accepting when that is necessary is a question of experience. ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, for example, was always going to be an end of series book. Therefore, I had loose ends to tie up, events from ‘Banyak & Fecks’ which took place several years before had to come back into play, I had to revisit characters from the past and plot where they were now, put it all in the context of a legal complication and the influenza pandemic of 1889/90, and have it progress through a timeline. However, it was also a novel that started something else, the Larkspur Academy, and the follow-on series of books, the Larkspur Mysteries. That thread had to be plotted in, and those foundations laid. (They actually began in book nine, ‘Negative Exposure.’)

Thus, if a novel needs technical plotting rather than running free, I tend to write more slowly. I will imagine a scene while on a walk or watching a dull TV show, and will write it up the next day once it has fermented.

Writing like this, I can write up to 3,000 words a day, but they are more thought out and will take less editing later.

Knowing

When not to write is another matter again. Some day I know that whatever I write will be crap, yet I still make myself write something. There’s nothing more inspiring than a blank piece of paper, and each empty Word doc is a challenge. Even if the words are no good, at least you got some practise, right?

Yes, well, not always. Sometimes, as KJ Charles says, forcing an idea can kill it. So, leave it alone and go and do something else. In my case, on days like this, I go and research. I find that is not only useful for my general knowledge and world-building, but it can set off creative ideas I’d not thought of.

Knowing when not to write is as important as ‘A writer writes’, and again, comes with experience. If you’re new to writing and have the feeling of ‘Now’s not the time to write’ because you are scared to, or worse, couldn’t be bothered, be careful not to make that an excuse for not working. Sometimes writing when you’re not in the mood can work, just don’t push it, or let the poor results put you off. I know when I am writing poorly, but I also know when I am page-filling (**see below), and I know when I am writing well.

So…

Flowing, Slowing and Knowing (when to hold back and fill your time with something more positive) are my three aspects of knowing when not to write.

A writer writes, Mr Crystal, just not all the time.

* The mystery device.

An example of a device, a key that unlocks the mystery, would be the painting in Clearwater six, ‘Artful Deception.’ This is different to the ‘smoking gun’, which, to my mind, is the ‘ah-ha!’ moment of cracking the case; when a character says, ‘Oh my God! Why didn’t I think of that?’ Or finds that vital clue which has evaded him all this time.

An example of a shroud that wraps the mystery would be the poem by Tennyson in Clearwater four, ‘Fallen Splendour.’

** Page filling

I was doing it yesterday, describing the interior of the British Museum Reading Room in 1890 in great detail. What I was actually doing was familiarising myself with a location and developing an idea. A lot of what I wrote won’t make it to the book, and I’ve done that many times before. In fact, as a treat, I will let you see a chapter which never made it to a book. This was going to be ‘Men of a Similar Heart’, a Clearwater Mystery about a death at a public school when Clearwater was young. I wrote the first five chapters, and had a thoroughly fun time doing so, and had the entire plot worked out. But then… it didn’t feel right, went so slowly I knew I didn’t want to be there. I knew something wasn’t right, so I put it aside for later. I still have the draft chapters though, and I’ll put part of one up now.

Remember, this is draft one, unedited, not proofed, and may come into use later.


Men of a Similar Heart, A Clearwater Mystery, Chapter Two in part, first draft. Copyrighted.

02

Witheringly thin and pale, the man clung to the back of his chair for support. His eyes hung in his face as two dark circles above prominent cheekbones, themselves overhangs of hollow cheeks. Silas didn’t know the man, but he was immediately concerned. Falconbridge was Archer’s age, but looked twenty years older, his eyes were tinted yellow, and his lips nearly non-existent. The only thing that suggested his thirty years was his hair, cut in a younger man’s fashion and thick, the temples, however, showing streaks of grey against black. Silas assumed he needed help discovering who was behind his poisoning; it was the only reason he could think of for an ill man to consider a private investigator.

He was soon to be proved wrong.

‘Clearwater,’ Falconbridge said, a smile on his skeletal face. ‘How the devil are you?’

Barely contained by skin, his Adam’s apple rose and fell like the puck of Silas’ imagined high striker, and the hand he offered was more bone than flesh.

‘Better than you by my first examination,’ Archer replied. ‘Freddie, are you ill?’

‘No, Archer, I am quite healthy.’ Hands were shaken and withdrawn. ‘I am suffering no disease or disability, but I am gravely concerned. Sit. Dine. I shall explain all.’

‘My secretary and friend, Silas Hawkins.’ For obvious reasons, it was as close to a personal introduction as Archer ever made about Silas, and in this instance came with the added, ‘Hawkins is also one of our two lead investigators.’

Introductions made, and seats taken, Archer switched the conversation to a less dramatic topic than Falconbridge’s appearance, the menu.

On cue, a waiter appeared from a door hidden among the cartoon representations of London characters that ladened the panelled walls, and slithered to the table to serve water. As he did so, an unexpected beam of sunlight streamed through the tall windows, one of which was partially open allowing the sound of the street to invade, and the waiter asked if Their Lordships would rather have it closed. As Falconbridge was the host, Archer left the decision to him, and, to Silas’ horror, did the same with the meal. Falconbridge chose the most uninspiring of dishes accompanied by a German wine, and told the waiter to leave the window open but to stoke the fire.

‘An excellent choice,’ the waiter fawned, unconvinced, before putting logs in the grate and slipping from the room as greasily as he had entered.

‘Terribly sorry to have been so blunt,’ Archer said once they were alone. ‘I didn’t mean to be rude, Freddie, but you don’t look at all well.’

‘The matter is forgotten.’ Falconbridge waved away the faux pas with spindly fingers. ‘I have become accustomed to the reaction of late.’

‘What has gone wrong?’

‘Nothing is amiss with me,’ Falconbridge said, adjusting his napkin. ‘But I fear something has gone terribly wrong with a dear friend of mine.’

‘I would suggest he’s a very dear friend,’ Silas said, his mind already filtering information.

‘Why do you say that?’

To his credit, Falconbridge didn’t take umbrage at a mere secretary joining the conversation as if they were well acquainted, and his manner was civil. His tone suggested he had already accepted Silas as an investigator of worth, a sign, perhaps that he was desperate. Either that, or Archer had sold the agency’s talents to him in a private correspondence. Whatever the reason for the viscount’s acceptance, Silas needed to live up to the part, and thought like James would have done while applying Thomas’ impeccable manners.

Silas had spent enough time working with Dr Markland at the mission to have picked up a few technical words and some knowledge of illness, and employed his experience in the manner Markland used when at work.

‘A man,’ he began once he was sure of his words, ‘that orders a light lunch because he has no appetite. Excuse the forwardness, but I suggest you have not eaten well for two or three weeks at least. I am no doctor, Sir, but the description His Lordship gave of you bears little resemblance to what I see, and as the two of you last met six months ago, the change is dramatic.’

Falconbridge gawped from Silas to Archer, himself wide-eyed at the sudden change in his secretary.

‘Go on,’ Falconbridge said, more interested than affronted at the familiarity.

‘Again, forgive my boldness,’ Silas continued. ‘But as you say you are physically fit and well, I have to conclude that you are suffering from nervous exhaustion. You suggest a problem with a friend, but this person must mean more to you than the average chum, else why worry yourself to starvation?’

‘I agree,’ Archer said. ‘Either that, Freddie, or you have transformed through some curse, which, in this day and age, and for a man so well educated, I find unlikely.’ Leaning on his elbows with a wicked glint in his eye, he enthused, ‘Or you are lovesick. Who is she?’

Falconbridge also leant forward, but his eyes were neither wicked nor glinting. They were wide with wonder.

‘I knew I’d come to the right men,’ he said, cracking a smile of pale gums. ‘You’re right, of course, Clearwater, but the friend is not a lady.’

‘Oh?’

‘Before I say more…’

Falconbridge paused as the waiter slunk back to the table, presented the wine, opened it, had it approved, and poured. The moment the bottle was in the ice bucket, another waiter appeared, this one crookbacked with a face set in a permanent leer, and set down the first course; a depressing salad served with a suspicion of sardines.

Once the hidden door had thudded gently back into place, Falconbridge resumed his sentence.

‘I wanted to ask how your new venture is coming along.’

‘The electricity company, the Henwood stud farm or the detective agency?’ Archer enquired.

‘The agency. Are your men experienced?’

‘We are,’ Archer replied. ‘And I say we because I count myself among the number. Mr Hawkins has handled several successful cases. Our director, James Wright, you may have heard of as it was he who cracked The Case of the Poisonous Parakeet, as the more sensational press titled it. We also have among our number Doctor Philip Markland who devised the cure for the unfortunate victim, a Russian speaking man of action, another who specialises in firearms, and we have a range of experts on whom we can rely. Together, we have extensive knowledge of codes, mysteries, the law and other foul deeds.’

‘Most excellent,’ Falconbridge nodded. ‘But who are these men? Where did you find them?’

‘At home,’ Archer said, calmly investigating his salad.

Silas couldn’t start eating until the viscounts did, and Falconbridge showed no interest in his meal. Growing tired of the politeness and formality, he decided to move things along.

‘Aye,’ he said. ‘Jimmy was His Lordship’s valet, Andrej’s the coachman. The butler looks after the weapons in his cellar, and we’ve got an assistant housekeeper with a memory like a camera. Oh, and our man of all works knows a bit about mechanics. Our disguise man lives next door. You don’t need to worry about credentials, Your Lordship.’

‘I see that you come with the brevity of the Irish, Mr Hawkins,’ Falconbridge said, unfazed by what he had been told. ‘But I can’t quite place the accent.’

‘Dublin, My Lord, though raised in Westerpool.’

‘Ah, then that will be it. Please, do start.’

Silas did, but soon wished he hadn’t. Spoiled of late by Lucy’s overindulgence in the kitchen, a weak salad that smelt of Billingsgate leftovers was not exactly his cup of tea. A cup of tea would have gone down better than the insipid wine, and Archer’s barely concealed gasp of dismay when he took a sip, suggested he was of the same opinion.


And so it wittered on to the end of 3,700 words. I took from it the name Falconbridge (‘Negative Exposure’), and rather liked the descriptions of the waiters, but that was about it.

And so… To work. I hope to see you on Wednesday for the Work In Progress blog.

WIP: Week Four. ‘Agents of the Truth’

WIP: Week Four. ‘Agents of the Truth’

A Quick Update on ‘Agents of the Truth’

I’m sticking with the title. The more I get into the story, the more it makes sense. Some characters become agents for the Clearwater Detective Agency, and they are after the truth behind two mysteries. So, that’s that.

Last Sunday, I finished chapter 10, a short chapter that rounds off the end of the first act. The pieces and players are in place, we know the deadline, we’ve hit some dead ends in an investigation, and a new relationship is forming. Now, at the end of the first quarter, I am at 30,000 words and very happy with them I am too. As a first draft.

Next, the action will move to London, with some sections flashing back to Larkspur Hall as Archer, Tom and Nancarrow prepare for the event of the season, the bal masque, the charity masked ball.

A blacksmith’s forge, 19th century

As usual, I have been researching as I go, and have been using a few valuable resources. Shakespeare, the Bible, and an Edgar Allan Poe story have all come into play so far. I have read about working in a blacksmith’s forge in the late 18th century, men’s clothing (again), and what costumes were popular at masked balls of the time (not an easy thing to find). Oh, and Fleet has invented a board game that is ahead of its time. That was easy to research, as I have the actual game in a cupboard.

And so, onwards and upwards, as they say, and into Act Two.

Here is an extract from the end of chapter two.

 

Larkspur Hall, Cornwall
Monday 14th October 1890

There was no letterhead, no date, and no letter. Just a piece of plain paper on which were glued a series of words in different fonts. At first, he assumed it was James or his friend the barrister, Creswell, replying to their invitation in a way designed to be a joke. The unconnected words, however, suggested something far more sinister.

Prick, Bleed, Poison, Die, Wrong…?

‘What is it?’ Thomas was at the door with a collection of mail. ‘Are you unwell?’

Archer slipped the note beneath a book and looked up, feigning ease. ‘Hm? Oh, no. All is well, thank you. Just, er… Just pondering Shakespeare.’

‘What on earth for?’ Thomas took three long strides into the room and placed the mail on the desk. ‘Never mind. Here are today’s acceptances. The genuine ones. Where are you going?’

Archer had collected his jacket and was making for the door. ‘To the library. I have an urgent meeting.’

‘With whom?’

‘The Merchant of Venice,’ Archer replied, and left the room with his pace and pulse quickening.


I will see you on Saturday for my regular blog.

Jackson

An Interview With Dalston Blaze

An Interview With Dalston Blaze

On this Saturday’s blog, I am interviewing Dalston Blaze, one of the characters from the new Larkspur Mystery series. Dalston appears in ‘Guardians of the Poor’, ‘Keepers of the Past’, and will be playing a major role in the third instalment, ‘Agents of the Truth.’


The year is 1890, the place, Larkspur Academy, Cornwall.

 Hello, Mr Blaze. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Maybe I can start with some basic questions. Could you tell me your full name and if you have a nickname?

Morning. Yeah, me full name’s Dalston Blaze, and that’s it.

That’s unusual.

It is. But it ain’t my real name. According to His Lordship, my real name is John Andrew Harmer. Least, that’s what I was registered as when I was born. When I was nine months old, me parents died in a fire. I was the only one rescued, but no-one knew who I was, ‘cos I was taken straight to the Hackney spike and left there as an unknown. They put me in the book as ‘The baby from the Dalston blaze’, and that stuck as my name. Dalston’s a place in Hackney, see? As for a nickname… I don’t really have one. Jimmy Wright sometimes calls me Blazey, ‘cos we went through a place with that name on a train once. Joe calls me [here, Dalston makes a sign] but that’s my sign name, so you don’t say it aloud.

What does it mean?

It’s rude.

I think we can handle a little rudeness. I assume it’s not meant in a bad way.

No, it ain’t. And if you must know, [the sign again] means a good f**k.

I see. Moving on… Maybe you can tell me more about your parents.

I never met them. Well, I suppose I did, but I don’t remember them, ‘cos I was only a few months old. Mr Wright and Mr Fairbairn are looking into my case, ‘cos my dad owned a business in Dalston. He brought things into the country from Greece and Italy, they told me. Stored it at the store under the house, and did his business from there, but I don’t know much about it. When it went up in smoke, it were all insured, and Mr Fairbairn’s trying to get me the insurance money, but it was nineteen years ago. That’s the only connection I have with my parents.

No other family?

Only Joe, and maybe some of the men I’ve met at the academy, but they ain’t real family. Just feel like it, if you know what I mean.

I do. Now, you said you were taken to the workhouse — the spike. I understand you grew up there. Did you ever feel like running away?

The Hackney Workhouse

Most days, yeah. Thing is, though, where d’you go, and how d’you live? People think the workhouse is a bad place, and it is. Least, it can be. I was lucky, ‘cos the matron, Mrs Lee, she couldn’t have kids see, so she treated me like her own until I was five or six, then I had to go and live in the general population on the infants’ ward. She still kept an eye on me from then on, until I was eighteen, really. She wouldn’t let me be homed out, or sent to the ships, ‘cos I reckon she still thought of me as her own. So, I didn’t try and run away, ‘cos she’d have got in trouble, and so would I. Boys got whipped for going over [the wall] and I didn’t need to. I had it easier than most.

So, what smells do you associate with your childhood?

Piss mainly. They have tubs in the wards, see. Wards are big bedrooms for twenty or more. Well, they’re rooms with beds in, and at my spike, we slept two in a bed, with one tub to piss in during the night. The rooms stank of that and farts, then when I went to the older infants’ ward, up to sixteen, it stank of tobacco smoke, piss and farts. The men’s ward, from sixteen, was the same but with sweat too. The rock shed smelt of dust, the oakum shed of tar and old, wet rope. I don’t remember no smells from the food, ‘cos it didn’t smell of nothing, but there was a funny smell in the chapel on Sundays.

Let’s move on to now. Where are you now, and who do you live with?

Merevale Hall. The inspiration for Academy House

Right now, I share a room with Joe at Academy House. That’s on Lord Clearwater’s estate in Cornwall and it’s dead posh. ‘Cos of that, and ‘cos of his kindness, we look after the place; all of us. We’re there with Clem, who’s a local lad with a genius for business, so Fleet says, and there’s Frank. He’s a Greek-born nutter from the East End what got done for fiddling tax when he was fifteen or something. He’s twenty now, mad about sex, loyal as fuck and fancies me. But he ain’t having me. Then there’s Fleet, the nutter-genius who… Well, no-one really knows what Fleet does. He knows everything, lets us be ourselves, and eats scrambled eggs and porridge in the same bowl.

The academy ain’t a school, you understand. It’s a place where men who are… different and have something to offer but don’t have the chance… they get to come there if Lord Clearwater finds them and thinks they’ll do well. It’s not an easy place to describe, except we’re very lucky, and we appreciate the chance we’ve been given.

Did you always love to draw? Do you think there is a deeper reason that you have communicated through pictures?

Dalston’s drawing of Joe Tanner.

I don’t know where the drawing comes from, to be honest. I got in trouble for drawing on walls when I were little, so I suppose I always had it in me. Mrs Lee encouraged it, and I were grateful for that, ‘cos there’s nothing else to do in the spike except school, work and get bored. Me and Joe, when we met… We was eleven… twelve… We used pictures to talk to each other ‘cos he’s deaf. And ‘cos of that, I got better, and he ain’t bad, and we also had signs, which is how we talk now, mainly, ‘cos the drawings got us into trouble. I don’t know what you mean about a deeper reason, though. I just like it, I’m good at it, and Lord Clearwater says I can make money from it, so that’s alright by me.

Let’s get personal. When did you have your first kiss, and who was it with?

I was seventeen. It was Joe. Ain’t kissed no-one else.

What have been the most important events of your life?

Not dying in a fire. Meeting Joe. Getting pulled from prison by Mr Hawkins and His Lordship. Coming to the academy.

I think I know the answer to this, but who is the most important person in your life?

Joe Tanner

This annoying deaf bloke called Joe Tanner. [He gives me a cheeky wink; Joe is clearly more to him than just a ‘deaf bloke.’] You know, Joe can be difficult. He gets frustrated ‘cos people can’t communicate with him much, and he goes off in huffs and stuff, folds his arms when he refuses to talk, ‘cos without his hands, he can’t speak, but you have to understand what it’s like for him. He ain’t heard nothing since he was born, so he doesn’t even know what words sound like. He says a few, and Fleet’s been training him, but he talks with his hands and his face, and it’s a face that melts me heart each time I see it. He’s what Frank calls a handsome fucker, and he’s right. Dead sexy, kind, funny, he’s got a naughty sense of humour, and talks about people right in front of their faces, ‘cos they don’t know the sign language. We have to watch that a bit now, ‘cos Fleet and the lads have learnt some, and Mr Wright. So, Joe’s my man and he always will be. Some get all fancy and call it love; I just call it Joe.

Do you trust anyone to protect you? Who and why?

Joe, ‘cos he’s a hero. Jimmy Wright ‘cos he’s clever and strong. Lord Clearwater, ‘cos he’s like that. Fleet too, and Clem and Frank. We’ve become mates, see, and good ones. Already got into a couple of scrapes together, and all come out if it like… well, like brothers a bit, I suppose. Whatever. I feel safe and protected at the academy, but I always felt safe with Mrs Lee at the spike when she was there. So, her as well.

What makes you laugh?

Joe when he’s being naughty. Fleet and his different coloured suits and strange hats. Er… Jimmy, ‘cos he’s so dry at times. And Frank, because he’s such a malaka. That’s his word for wanker. He gets his signs wrong when he’s trying to talk to Joe, bless, and that can be funny. We laugh a lot at the House, but we also fight a bit sometimes, ‘cos you do when you’re in a family, don’t you? Least, that’s what they tell me, ‘cos I’ve never had one ’til now.

I should let you go. I know Fleet has a rule about not being late for meals.

Yeah. It’s the only thing he insists on, ‘cos it’s a time we’re all together and can talk about stuff.

But before you go. One thing I like to ask everyone is what do you have in your pockets right now?

Blimey. Er… Handkerchief, couple of pencil stubs… What’s that? Fuck, I thought I’d lost that. In me jacket I got this sketch of Joe. I always carry that. Me wallet, ‘cos I got some money now… Three quid, six shillings and thruppence ha’penny. A watch Fleet gave me. Think that’s it.

Excellent. Well, thank you Mr Blaze. I’ll let you get on with whatever you are doing these days.

Right now, I’m working on a case with Jimmy Wright, and me and Joe and him, we’re off to London soon. I can’t tell you nothing about that, except, we got to be back by the end of the month ‘cos Lord Clearwater’s giving a massive costume party. The Queen’s grandson’s going to be there, so we got to be posh, and they’re going to show everyone the drawings I did of Larkspur Hall. I could make a lot of money from it, so it’s got to go without a hitch.


You can find out whether the masked ball goes according to plan when ‘Agents of the Truth’ is released in early 2022. Follow its progress through my Work In Progress blog every Wednesday. There will be no spoilers.

If you’ve not met Dalson Blaze, Joe and the others, then the place to start is Guardians of the Poor, the first Larkspur Mystery.

WIP: Week Three. Act One.

WIP: Week Three. Act One.

‘Agents of the Truth’ is coming along. I am now up to 20,000 words and am halfway through chapter eight. I had intended to reach 25,000 and the end of act one, but I may go over that target, which means we might be in for a longer novel. Either that, or there will be lots to edit. It’s zipping along, though, as per my usual style. Plenty of intrigues, some pressures building in the background for the characters to be challenged with later. I’ve also dropped clues for later (and noted them so I don’t forget to resolve them), and there has been some humour.

You might wonder what I mean by ‘Act One’, so let me explain. I’ve picked up the term from my screenplay writing, because films are all about structure, and are divided into acts. I have several books on the subject, and if you want to know more, I suggest two:

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler Mythic Structure for Writers

The 21st Century Screenplay by Linda Aronson

Here they are on my shelf beside my Jackson Marsh collection. Ann Zouroudi, who writes the Greek Detective Mysteries published by Bloomsbury, gave me the Vogler book, so it has a special place on my shelf. It’s a great book for understanding the journey of a hero through a classic story, which he breaks down into acts. The Aronson one is more filmmaking centred, and discusses other structures besides the four-act structure I favour. Both are invaluable for plotting, character arcs, and structure, whether for film or fiction.

Act One

I’ve read many discussions of the four-act structure of storytelling, and when you know what they are, you recognise them in films. A standard film script will be roughly 20 pages for each act, leading to an 80-page script, with each page being one minute of screen time. During that time, things happen that turn the plot and move things forward, and they always happen at the end of acts. I’m referring to the plot there, but along with the plot, a character will also develop, and that process goes through several stages of the four acts. (We’ll have a quick look at that in a moment.)

We often refer to act one to as ‘The normal world’, where everything is in its place and the hero/heroine is undisturbed. Then, a challenge comes along, he resists it, gets mentored, accepts it, and ‘steps over the threshold’ into the new and unexplored world of act two… and off we go. That’s known as the reluctant hero’s journey beginning. In my Clearwater world, the heroes are rarely reluctant, but I still use the same basic structure.

Without giving away too much, ‘Agents of the Truth’ starts out in Archer’s normal world, a villain makes a subtle appearance, the men at the academy are existing in their normal world too, but then one or two are asked to assist with something outside of their usual day-to-day. They accept the challenge, and away we go. Simple?

You can rest assured it won’t be!

Four Acts

Think of any standard horror film and you’ll easily be able to identify your four acts. Crudely put, they run like this.

Act 1, There is no shit

Act 2, What is this shit?

Act 3, What do we do about this shit?

Act 4, Shit dealt with

Or to use Titanic a more gentille example, with the end of act turning points:

Act 1, People board the Titanic, and it sets off

Act 2, Rose and Jack get it together, ship hits iceberg

Act 3, Ship is sinking, panic, ship sinks

Act 4, Jack dies, stories resolve, Rose dies

20,000 words

Having written many books and screenplays in the four-act structure, I now find I don’t need to remind myself of turning points, character arcs and so on. They come naturally to me, although they are always at the back of my mind. So, having reached 20,000 words and approached my end of act one target, I find I will go beyond it. That’s fine, the novel can be longer, or it can be cut, because I have not yet reached the turning point that will take us into act two.

In terms of writing, I should have written 25 or 30,000 words by now, but in the last couple of days, a few home-life things got in the way. I.e. Needing a new washing machine, having to take some paid work to make money, cooking a chocolate mousse, etc.

So, I shall leave this here, and get back to ‘Agents of the Truth’ (I like the title more each day), and I’ll see you on Saturday when there will be an interview with one of my characters. Dalston Blaze will be along to talk about his life in the workhouse, his love for Joe Tanner, and his move to the Larkspur Academy. I hope to see you then.

Newsletters and Other Resources

Newsletters and Other Resources

Newsletters

Before I get started, I wanted to draw your attention to the QRI Newsletter. Queer Romance Ink is one of the resources I use for book promotion. They list ‘coming soon’ titles, have a blog, lists of authors and their books, and they review new books. They have favourably reviewed many of my titles over the years, and this month, are giving away one of my novels, ‘The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge.’ This mentor novel is currently my third most popular title (after Deviant Desire and Twisted Tracks), and you can get a free copy plus three others when you join their newsletter list. This offer runs for a month, and the sign-up form is here:

https://www.queeromanceink.com/join-our-email-list/

You can also sign up for my newsletter, not that I send one out very often, and the link for that is here: http://jacksonmarsh.com/newsletter/

Meanwhile…

Other Resources

I am currently writing ‘Agents of the Truth’ (working title), the third Larkspur Mystery, and the 14th novel set in the Clearwater world. While doing so, I found myself looking for a PDF of a book I wanted to refer to, and went scrambling through folders on my PC trying to find it. ‘I know it’s on here somewhere… What book did I use it for?’ I tend to do this. To download a book or reference material into the current WIP file and leave it there. What I should do, is have a central folder for all books, make sure I change the file name to the title, and put them in categories.

I’m pleased to say, I’ve started to do this with the aim of one day putting the list on a page on this site, so other authors and interested parties can easily find the resources. They are all online and mostly free anyway, so it’s a case of knowing where to go, and if I can help point people in the right direction, all well and good.

I just checked into my new ‘Research Books and Docs’ folder, and the list is quite a healthy one, but it needs further sorting and labelling. I have, for example, the rather vague, and yet very specific, ‘Arsenic poisoning’ pdf. I know I read that for ‘One of a Pair’, but couldn’t remember exactly what it was, so I had a look…

Arsenic Poisoning by Dr D.N. Guha Mazumder, Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research, Calcutta.

Well I never.

I have a copy of ‘Monumenta Historica Britannica’ (or ‘Materials for the History of Britain from the earliest period to the end of the reign of King Henry II.’) Published by command of Her Majesty in 1848. That was of use when writing ‘Keepers of the Past.’ Well, the parts that weren’t in Latin, Anglo Saxon and Greek were quite useful.

I have two copies of ‘The Uncommercial Traveller’ by Charles Dickens next to ‘Rent, Same-Sex Prostitution in modern Britain’, and nearby, a copy of The Vulgar Tongue. (Those last two titles are not related.)

Dictionaries

The list contains other gems, many from the past, such as Dickens Dictionary of London 1890. The dictionary was published every year, by Charles’ Dickens son, I believe, but as I am writing in 1890, this edition was perfect. It’s priceless for all authors working in the late 19th century, and I only wish I could afford/find a printed copy for my bookshelves. It’s the sort of thing I can sit and read all day. There are maps, advertisements, lists of historical and forthcoming events, and then a dictionary of all things London from the Bank of England to the Sanitary Assurance Association. Did you know that to subscribe to the Saville Club in Adelphi Terrace cost £5. 5s, and to become a member, ‘The committee elects; one black ball in five excludes.’ Or, you could join the (new) Salisbury Club in St James as a ‘town member’ for £10. 10s, assuming you are not black balled, and for £5. 5s if you are a country member. Foreign members only had to pay £2. 2s. Bargain.

The Vulgar Tongue is one of my favourites, and I have a hardback copy next to me on this desk. It’s a dictionary of cant (street language/slang) compiled in 1785. You can open it to any page and find a gem. Examples:

Page 165, India Wipe: a silk handkerchief.
Page 129, Fussock. A frowsy old woman.
Page 128, Frummagemmed. Choked, strangled or hanged. Cant.

If your darby consisted of a strike, your ready money was twenty shillings which you could have spent on ‘strip me naked’ (gin). Brothers were interesting things. A brother of the blade was a soldier, of the bung, a brewer, and of the gusset, a pimp. Yaffling was eating, to milk the pigeon was to attempt an impossible task, and a cock hoist was a cross buttock, something I have still to get to the bottom of.

I am straying. Sorry, that’s what happens when I open such a dictionary.

I shall return to the subject of resources in the future, as I have many more to tell you about, but I think my point, for now, is that I have collected an amount of useful or interesting recourses, free books in pdf format, newspaper articles from the National Archives Online (a subscription service), and other places of interest, and will set about cataloguing them, and sharing the most useful ones on a new page on my site. One day.

For now, the sun is coming up, and I want to take a walk while I plan chapter seven of ‘Agents of the Truth.’ So I will finish now, and leave you with a reminder to sign up to the QRI Newsletter and receive four free eBooks, one of which is mine.

Don’t forget to catch up with what’s happening with ‘Agents’ on my Wednesday Work In Progress blog.

View from my walk yesterday. Click to enlarge.

WIP: Week Two, Plotster and Panster


WIP: Week Two, Plotster and Panster

I am in my second week of writing Larkspur Three. I have the working title, ‘Agents of the Truth’, and I am currently halfway through chapter five of the first draft. I don’t know if you remember, but last week I said that I had plotted the four acts of this story, and was wondering what was going to take up the middle two. Well, now I find I have plenty going on in the middle two acts, and at the end, but not so much in the first quarter. Maybe what I mean is I have too many ideas for the middle and just enough for the first and last, but that, for me, is the point of a first draft. As you may know, I live by the maxim:

Don’t get it right, get it written (and then get it right).

And that’s the point of a first draft. Tell yourself a story and then perfect it. You can’t edit a blank page, so write something.

In this case, I have written nearly five chapters, but I shan’t tell you what’s happening, as that’s not the point of WIP Wednesdays. The point of this blog is to tell you how I am writing it, and to catch you up on any other news, books-wise or personal, and that, I shall do at the end.

Plotster/Pantster

When I first hear these two words, I had to scramble around to find out what they meant, and once I’d done that, they were obvious.

Plotster. Someone who plots a story before writing it.

Panster. Someone who makes it up as they go along.

I am a hybrid because I do both, but why ‘they’ don’t just use plotter and freestyle is beyond me.

In the case of ‘Agents’, as we will call the WIP, I needed facts at my fingertips because the story involved eight murders over 10 years, and some of the details were discussed in ‘Keepers of the Past’, therefore, I needed consistency. Along with those notes, I plotted a basic outline because there are to be two points of view; one MC remaining in Cornwall while the second MC heads to London, and I need a timeline so I know where and when everyone is. There is also a deadline and I have a date for that (October 31st 1890), so, I thought, I need to plan every day of the story.

Well, I don’t actually, because I can always go back and redate the chapters if I need to, as long as I am not relying on a factual event that took place on a specific date in 1890, and so far, I am not.

I am, however, usually more of a panster, and I am being one in the case of ‘Agents’ — to a certain degree. I have a timeline, I know how I want Act 1 to end, and I know what the middle-point twist is at the end of Act 2, what the crisis is at the end of Act 3 and what the climax is during Act 4, but I haven’t yet thought of the details. Much of that will come from the characters as I put them together and let them lead while using their own reasoning. Example: I might think it best that characters A and B do this… But, when the dialogue and action are flowing, one of them may come up with another idea and they end up doing that

That’s happened to me before. I get so into a scene, I let it run away from me, but I keep typing and let the characters talk and interact, and usually, I end up with a twist or turn I’d not thought of. I know it still comes from me, but when you free yourself from the plotster stricture, you can do more inventive things.

And that’s where I am right now with ‘Agents’, banging through draft one, and currently at… [does a quick check] …11,160 words. Oh, that’s not bad, actually. I usually aim for the first act to end around 25,000 words, so I am nearly halfway through the first quarter of the book.

I’ll chat about the four-act structure another time. For now, here’s some random book and home news.

See below

Book and Home

In the book department, ‘Keepers of the Past’ shot to #6 in Amazon’s LGBTQ/Historical ranking within a couple of days of release. I now have three titles in the top 100, and that’s great news.

Symi yesterday morning

Meanwhile, at home, I’ve started taking myself off for a couple of miles walking in the morning. This is after I’ve done a little freelance work, and before I sit down to do chatty blogs and write chapters. I like to go as soon as it’s light, and before I get stuck into creative writing, because then I have the rest of my day free. I usually take the same route, but I’ll post the odd photo now and then so you can see what I am looking at while I walk and plot the next chapter. Talking of which…

Back to work.

See you on Saturday for my next blog post.

A New Release

A New Release, a New Blog Day, a New Enterprise and a New Season. It’s all go in the house of Jackson Marsh.

Keepers of the Past: The Larkspur Mysteries Book Two

Yesterday, I uploaded the files for ‘Keepers of the Past’ to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. About two hours later, I received an email saying the Kindle version was live. I’ve never known it to be so fast. I also sent the files for the paperback version, but they always take longer to go through the process.

‘Keepers of the Past’ is available in several countries and here are the links for the main three.

USA
UK
Canada

Amazon also publishes them in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Australia and India. I’ve never known why they aren’t available in other countries like Denmark, but it seems there’s nothing I can do about that.

Click the link, or go to your Amazon outlet and run a search, and you will find it. Alternatively, it will be on my Amazon author page any moment now.

A New Wednesday blog

Meanwhile, back at the desk… I have started a WIP blog. That’s a Work In Progress update and you’ll receive one here every Wednesday unless there’s some unforeseen circumstance. You can read the first of these posts here, or look at the recent posts list on the right of this page. That first post gives you all the details.

Fiverr

I’ve just signed up with Fiverr.com to try to raise some extra cash. I’m starting with MM romance outline appraisals and story development for new authors, in case you know anyone who might want advice. You can find my first gig here:

I have used both Fiverr and PeoplePerHour to find artists. Andjela, who designs my covers, came from PPH, and ‘Dazzling’, who creates the pencil sketches and drawings, came via Fiverr. Although I’ve experienced both sites as a buyer, this is the first time I am trying the service as a seller, and all I really have to sell is my expertise in creating stories. If anything comes from it, the money will be very useful because my copywriting work has taken something of a slump of late, through no fault of my own, I should add. One of my major clients, a large company in the USA, has restructured and put the work in-house, so I must hunt around for more, hence the Fiverr thing and maybe next week, I’ll apply to PPH as well. Tha doume, as they say in Greece, we will see.

On Symi

View from the balcony yesterday.

And talking of Greece… The summer season has come to an end here on Symi, but no-one’s told the weather. We’re still enjoying 20 degrees and clear skies, save for a blip the other day when we had some much-needed rain. It doesn’t rain much here between May and November, but we can expect storms, high winds, cold temperatures and everything else that comes with the winter season. Those days are tempered by good-weather days when you can sunbathe one minute, and put on your winter coat the next. So far, we’ve not had to use our heaters, though the duvet is back on the bed, and we’ve still got the windows open during the day.

Neil is still working at the bar in the afternoons and will be there until after the island’s famous Panormitis Festival, which is happening at the other end of the island this weekend. Pilgrims from around the world, but mainly Greece, come to visit. There are religious services, a market, feasting and dining. We’ve been several times over the 19 years we’ve lived here, and one year, we walked there (it’s 14 km, they say, but up and down zigzagging roads and hills), and boy were we glad of the bus home afterwards.

Also, with winter comes time to do those niggling odd jobs. Neil is currently working through his cornucopia of herbs and spices, Indian cookery books and equipment, giving the kitchen a makeover. When he finishes work, we intend to redecorate the inside of the house, and while all that’s going on, I have a list of things to work through. I’ve already painted the flat roof to weatherproof it, so we don’t get rain in the bathroom. That done, my next task is to fix the porch roof, change the waste pipes on the laundry sink, clear out the spare wardrobe, and maybe, one day… just maybe, we will sort out the mousandra. A mousandra is a sleeping area, traditionally above a kitchen for warmth. Our is like a spare room with a low, sloping ceiling above the bedroom, and it’s full of things that ‘might be useful one day’, and things we don’t know where else to put, plus items we don’t use, but you never know…

While all that is going on, I need to get into a new routine. I’ve been lazy of late, and I must get out early in the morning and do my three-mile walk. It’s not only for the exercise, but it’s also thinking time, plotting and planning as I slug one and a half miles uphill. The walk down is always a relief. So, my routine from next week, weather permitting, will be roughly: wake at 4.00 as I do, knock off the little copywriting work I have at the moment, go up the hill, come back and set to the next chapter of the next book. Lunch break always involves an episode of MasterChef or similar, and then, rather than a summer siesta, I’ll be back at the desk in the afternoon until it’s time for Netflix.

Now, it’s time for me to go and plough on with Larkspur Three. Don’t forget to check in on Wednesdays and Saturdays from now on, and remember to share Facebook posts, reviews and all that jazz, because every little helps.

Keepers of the Past, the Larkspur Mysteries, book three.

WIP Blog: Starting a New Blog Day and a New Novel.

WIP Blog: Starting a New Blog Day and a New Novel.

I am adding a new day to my weekly blog. The Saturday blog will remain as it is, with general updates, interviews with other authors, notes about research and so on, but I am now adding a Wednesday WIP.

A Wednesday WIP?

Each week on Wednesday, I’ll blog about my current work in progress, my WIP. This will give you a weekly, blow-by-blow account of what I am writing and how. Don’t worry, there will be no plot spoilers, and the posts may be brief, but you will be able to follow the writing process with me.

So, where to start?

Keepers of the Past

I’ll start by telling you I have just been through the print version of ‘Keepers of the Past’, the second Larkspur Mystery. The lovely people at Other Worlds Ink are seeing to the book layout as I write, and the novel is due to be released this weekend. Check back on Saturday for more news. As I have just finished the second part of the mystery series, it’s time to start on the next, and I began last Sunday, sitting at my desk with a new notebook made and given to me by a friend.

I usually use a standard notebook in which I scribble ideas as I write. As I read back sections of a draft, I add notes such as ‘CHECK griped’ because I notice I’ve spelt a word incorrectly (it should be gripped) and, when I have all separate chapters together in one document at the end of a draft, I can then run a find command and double-check every instance of the misspelt word. I have a list of my most common typos, form instead of from, etc., and I add to this list when I notice a new one, and run the find command for all of them.

I also make notes of details that I later transfer to my ‘bible’, in this case, the Clearwater/Larkspur bible where I have noted everything from characters’ ages to eye colour, supporting cast per story, who was working at Larkspur in what year, dates of birth and all that jazz.

As I am starting Larkspur Three, and as the new, customised notebook was gifted recently, I thought now was a good time to start using it. It already contains some WIP notes.

Larkspur Three

This novel will grow out of ‘Keepers of the Past.’ That story ends with a couple of unanswered questions, and they will form the backbone of Larkspur Three, as yet untitled. I am considering ‘Agents of the Truth’, but it’s not sitting comfortably. I was thinking of the first three novels as being a trilogy within the longer series, and as we’ve had guardians and keepers, poor and past, I wanted a similar title, preferably with the last word beginning with the letter P, and the first having something to do with protecting.

The title will come to me as I write the story.

Starting the WIP

Work on L3 began a couple of days ago, and I already have a few pages of notes. Some I’ve titled ‘Random Ideas’, and I add to them as they occur. Other pages include a timeline of events from the past, for reference and accuracy, a list of pressures to apply to the main characters, and one double-page spread is a rough, four-act timeline. I’ve included a photo, but you won’t be able to enlarge it because I don’t want you to see the plot.

I know how the story will start, I know what will happen at the climax, and I know who my lead characters are (James Wright and Dalston Blaze leading on one storyline, Archer leading on the other, and when I say leading, I mean they are the point of view characters). I already have ideas for challenges and events for the middle section, and a note of what I need to research.

In this case, popular costumes of late Victorian masquerade balls, sects, rituals, and the etiquette of a royal event. That should keep me busy.

So, the first notes of this WIP were made on November 1st, and chapter one, a newspaper report, has been drafted. As soon as ‘Keepers of the Past’ is done and up on Amazon, I will start the story proper and chapter two.

Check in next week for a Wednesday WIP update, but don’t forget the regular Saturday blog.