I had a great birthday weekend, everyone. Thank you to all of you who sent best wishes and nice messages, and to those who downloaded a copy of Banyak & Fecks and/or Deviant Desire. They’re back from free-land now, but still there for sale along with all my others if you haven’t read the Clearwater Series yet. The excellent news is that Deviant Desire went to #2 in the charts over the weekend, which means Lord Clearwater and his crew might gather a few new supporters.
Meanwhile, at the desk… This week I’m pleased to tell you that the second draft of ‘Seeing Through Shadows’, the next Larkspur novel, is progressing well. Neil is beta reading the MS for story, plot etc., and I am working my way through a grammar & style check, editing, cutting and improving as I go. The aim is to release the book in April, so there’s not long to wait now. Anjela has come up with a cover, which I will let you see nearer the time, and I am working on the blurb which should also be ready shortly. So, next week, you may well see a short blurb/synopsis of ‘Seeing Through Shadows’, and I should have the MS ready to send off to be proofread.
To celebrate what would have been Lord Clearwater’s 163rd birthday, I have made two books free for two days. ‘Banyak & Fecks’, the Clearwater Mysteries’ prequel, and the first book in the series, ‘Deviant Desire’, are free on Kindle for this weekend only. Click here to check out the series.
Saturday, March 26th, 1859. The Illustrated Times, on its front page, began thus:
The coming congress.
So it seems that the great questions which for months have threatened Europe with war, are to be brought to the test of arbitration, and settled on the principles of common sense.
(The illustration shows ‘The Prince of Wales’s balcony on the Corso, Rome, during the carnival.’)
One hundred and sixty-three years later, the headlines aren’t that dissimilar, which is a shame, although there is less common sense in some areas of the world. Since Archer, Lord Clearwater, was born, there have been other historical events on his birthday, one of which is the birth of author James Collins (aka Jackson Marsh), in 1963. Also of note might be, the birth of Tennessee Williams in 1911, Richard Dawkins in 1941, Diana Ross in 1944, Bangladesh became an independent state in 1971, and (I hate to say it) Vladimir Putin was elected Head of State in 2000. On a happier note, Doctor Who returned to UK television on this day in 2005.
As it is Archer’s 163rd birthday, I thought I might take a look at what he has been through since he came to literary life on March 7th, 2019. Archer is only three years old in book terms, but he has been on, or played a part in, 13 adventures so far, appearing in 10 of the Clearwater Mysteries, and, so far, three of the Larkspur Mysteries. He doesn’t appear in the Clearwater prequel, Banyak & Fecks, other than as a vague reference in a dream Silas has, where he dreams of meeting such a man in a carriage full of money. He will appear in the fourth Larkspur mystery, ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ due out next month, although only briefly, because he is mainly away in London, dealing with events which are taking place in ‘The Delamere Mysteries.’ This is an idea I have for a second spin-off from the Clearwater Mysteries, and which I hope to write next year.
Adventures Archer has been involved in during his literary life so far.
As I was saying… His first claim to fame was unmasking the East End Ripper, the villain, based on Jack the Ripper, who started the series off in Deviant Desire. Since then, he has faced many perils, including: Fighting on a dockside gantry and falling into the Thames. Battling a villain on the roof of a speeding steam train heading for disaster. Racing across the country in a blizzard to rescue two kidnap victims. Appearing in court in full regalia to defend his innocent friends. Confronting other villains, falling into a mineshaft, and sword fighting his way out of an assassination.
Archer is quite an active chap, both in and out of the bedroom. In 1877, he became a lieutenant on The Britannia, where he served under his brother, Crispin, during conflicts on the Black Sea.
Archer was honourably discharged from the navy in 1886 following a near-fatal injury inflicted by his own brother. When Crispin was declared incurably insane, the 18th viscount reluctantly gave into Lady Emily’s wishes and arranged for Archer to succeed the title on his death. His naval training and upbringing have served him well, but he has natural talents too. These have seen him through love, laughter and a lot of laughs, while leaving him loyal, lordly and loving. I couldn’t think of anymore ‘L’ words to alliterate his character, only to add that he’s also rather lush.
He is handsome, debonair, and extremely well endowed, both financially and… elsewhere. In my writer’s imagination, Archer started off as a classic young, good-looking, wealthy aristocrat who was, in a way, a reluctant hero. His brother, Crispin, should have taken the title and all that goes with it, but Crispin was a psychopath and is already locked up when the stories start. Archer suffered much in his childhood because of Crispin, but also because of his father, who thought he was soft and unmanly, treated him appallingly both physically and emotionally, and made his early life as difficult as hell. However, Archer managed to live through all that, and when he was elevated to the title in 1888 (two months before the stories start), he did so with resolve.
Archer is, as we would say, gay, and has known it since an early age. His first sexual awakenings happened with Tommy Payne, then a hall boy at both Larkspur Hall and Clearwater House. Later, Tommy became Thomas, the footman, and when Archer took the title, he elevated him to the role of butler, where he became Mr Payne.
Through the series, Archer and Thomas’ love for each other bubbles beneath the surface, and rolls in waves between physical desire and platonic love. Because of their stations in life, there is no chance of a physical relationship, however, not even when Archer makes Thomas his steward, and Thomas becomes Tom. A steward is the highest rank Archer can give him to make him a gentleman, without Thomas leaving to become a man of business, and that’s something Thomas would never do. Tom and Archer will be together in an endless bromance until they die. Meanwhile, when Archer is away from Larkspur, Tom more or less takes his role, and some of the staff have commented privately that Tom is the new Lady Clearwater.
Archer has had lovers, though, and it was being discovered with one while in the navy that led to Crispin’s attempt to murder him. But, Simon Harrington died, leaving Archer to face civilian life and the viscountcy alone. Thus, he put his energies into his philanthropic endeavours, and because he understood what it was like to crave a life with ‘men of a similar heart’, and not be allowed one, he set about creating the Clearwater Foundation. In other words, Archer was gay, being gay was illegal in those days, and he wanted to help other gay men to exist as themselves. He began this with the Cheap Street Mission for rent boys, and while setting that up, wanted to interview one or two renters to get their thoughts and understand their needs. Enter Silas Hawkins. The two meet, and the earth moves. It’s love at first sight, and although the river of true love hasn’t run smoothly, Archer and Silas are still together to this day in 1891, which is where we are currently at in the Clearwater world.
Archer has a knack for knowing when another man is ‘of a similar heart.’ In other words, he’s got good gaydar, and that’s why his house is gradually filling up with gay staff. It’s not because he lusts after them, because he doesn’t (although I think he harbours a secret desire to experience what gave the straight Ukrainian, Andrej, his nickname ‘Fecker’, but then, don’t we all?). Archer simply likes to help people, particularly, but not exclusively, young gay men. Hence, he opened the Larkspur Academy for young, gifted, and, probably, gay men from underprivileged backgrounds.
By the time he did this, early in 1890, he had gathered around him a team of loyal and good friends, elevating each one of them to a better position in life, as he himself was elevated to viscount. Thomas we know about (hall boy to steward). From the slums of the Wiral to the back alleys of Greychurch, Silas goes on to become his own man of business. James Wright enters the series as a messenger, becomes household staff, a valet and later has his own private company. Andrej, a Ukrainian refugee, goes from war to circus, renting, groom to horse master. Lucy, from maid to head cook. Sally, from chambermaid to the youngest housekeeper of a grand house in the country. Barnaby Nancarrow from footman to butler, other stable lads at Larkspur become household staff or are promoted, and gradually, the young take the places of older staff, as Archer rids his life of his father’s legacy, and makes his land, estates, properties and business his own.
Currently, as I mentioned, he is in London working on some cases that I’ve not even thought of yet, and while he is there, the Larkspur Academy is about to welcome its next man, Chester Cadman. You will be able to read ‘Seeing through Shadows’ soon. If you will excuse me, I shall return to working on the new novel while wishing Archer a happy birthday, and looking forward to whatever he is going to be doing next.
It all came together over the weekend. Not only did I finish the first draft of Larkspur 4, I came up with a title. Now, I have a 108,000-word first draft that I am happy with, and a title which has got me thinking about the cover image.
The title is ‘Seeing Through Shadows’, and the timescale if all goes well is:
Finished final draft to be proofread by the last week in March (subject to availability)
Cover designed and ready by the end of April
Launched either very end of April or early May
All a bit vague right now, but then it has to be. I am already working through draft two, but because I took so much trouble with draft one, and have 30 + books experience of writing a first draft, I think my first drafts these days are pretty tight, though I say so myself. There’s still a way to go, but I’m getting there.
Back on Saturday with my regular, weekly, more in-depth blog.
Frank Andino was one of the first men to join the Larkspur Academy. In July 1890, when we first enter Academy House in ‘Guardians of the Poor’, Frank is already there. The narrator introduces him thus: the dark man who had sworn had a more familiar East End accent and was known for using swearwords in every other sentence.
Frank certainly uses colourful language, as you will see.
Frank Andino plays a major part in the 4th Larkspur Mystery (due out in April 2022), so I thought it was time we knew a little more about him. Just after New Year 1891, when he was twenty years old, I met him in the comfortable drawing room of Academy House and asked him a few probing questions.
Hello, Frank. Let’s start with the basics. Can you tell me your full name and if you have any nicknames?
Yeah, alright, if you must. Me name…? If you want the full whack, try putting your lips around Ozias Philimonas Andinopoulos.
I s’pose Frank’s me nickname, and I’ll tell you why. There ain’t too many Greeks in London, see, and we had the tailoring business. You put up a shop sign saying Tailoring by Athanasios Andinopoulos and Son, and not only won’t you get much trade, you’d run out of flippin’ paint. Athanasios is me dad, see. Calls himself Tony. Calls me Frank ’cos it’s more English. Easier to fit in when you’re an immigrant.
So, you weren’t born in London?
No, mate. Fucking Greek, ain’t I? Mind you, I was only born in Greece. Came to London when I was a moro—a baby—so that’s all I’ve ever known.
I can see you quite clearly, of course, but for our readers, can you describe your features so they can picture you?
Yeah, alright. About five feet seven, strong build, see. Stocky, they call it. But furry, dark skin, handsome as fuck. [He winks at me in a suggestive manner.] Black hair, bit curly. Dark brown eyes, a smile that melts a man’s heart… Usual kind of Greek looks. Classic Greek grower down there, too, if you know what I mean.
I didn’t, so I asked, and he treated me to a description of his private parts.
Want to see?
No, thank you. Let’s move on.
Tell me about your childhood.
Bloody marvellous, mate. Except it weren’t, of course. Me mum and dad, see, they came over in 1870. They was living in a small village on a small island, and there weren’t nothing going on apart from fishing and farming, and me dad had bigger aspirations than looking after goats and fucking sheep. I mean… just goats and sheep. So, he borrowed some money from the family, and just after I were born, got us a passage on a steamer. Came to London, found work easy enough ’cos he’s a talented tailor, and after a few years of that, set himself up with his own shop, Tony Andino, Tailors. Don’t need such a big shop sign, see.
Anyway, they had a decent income. I got the basic schooling but didn’t pay much attention to it, ’cos it were all words and shit, but I was really good with numbers. Most days, I’d help me dad behind the shop, picking up scraps, sweeping, he taught me how to stitch then line-out, use patterns, cut and stuff, so I ended up working in the shop with him instead of going to school. This were in Greychurch, not far from Shoreditch where there was a good tailoring trade, see? Me mum had fucked off by them. Some grimy French sailor, me dad said, but whatever. Me and dad worked the shop from when I were about ten up to last year.So, me childhood… Well, it were alright, I suppose. Work, mainly. Work and counting numbers, ’cos I’ve always been fascinated by numbers. Sewing. Did a lot of that. Didn’t have much mates ’cos the Greeks in London, see, well, there ain’t so many of us, but me dad did make me learn the fucking language, so at least I speak both now. Probably speak Greek better than I do bloody English.
Next, I’d like to get personal.
Bet you would, malaka. Nah, go on. What?
You are twenty now, and you are living in a house with other men… of a similar heart, we might say. Have you become friends with any of them? Or more than friends?
I’m everyone’s mate. Joe, the deaf bloke, he’s me mate. Then there’s Clem. I’m helping him set up a business ’cos that’s his talent, but he ain’t so good with accounts and shit, and that’s what I do. Dalston’s a good mate too, but as for more than friends? You mean sex and that, yeah? Being honest, no, not got anyone like that.
But you’d like to have someone?
Wouldn’t we all, malaka? Yeah, ’course I would. I mean, I won’t lie to you. When I first saw Dalston, I thought, ‘Fuck, he’s a handsome lad, wouldn’t mind having a go around that lanky body and see what he’s hiding in his slant pockets. You know, what’s he got behind his fly piece? I’d love to measure the inseam from the lower ankle to the crotch bottom and above, if you get me. But Dalston was already stitched up with Joe, so that was out. Since then… No, not got anyone special, but all me mates are special, and I’d do anything for them.
You’ve not had a first kiss yet then?
Fuck off, ’course I have. But I ain’t telling you about it.
Oh, alright then. I was sixteen, and he was a tar off the ships down Limehouse, and it only lasted, like, three seconds ’cos he was drunk and thought I was a Ratcliffe whore. Long story. Too much beer, not enough gas light.
And an accidental kiss is as far as you’ve gone?
Oh no, mate. I gone further than that. I had to when me dad got put inside. Had to make a living somehow. That’s how I ended up down the alleys of Greychurch with the other lads, putting it about for a sixpence so’s we could eat. Not saying it’s the best way of making a shilling ’cos it ain’t. It’s dirty, dangerous and a bit more than dodgy, what with the rozzers on one side and the creeps and crazies on the other. Still, when you’re young, got a fit frame, no shame and a fucking Greek grower… Well, Lord Sir Ponsonby Ponce will pay a good guinea for a good grinding. Only thing is, as the lads said, you got a be ready to be ground if you want to make a pound.
I see. And does that mean you don’t believe in true love, or finding a soul mate?
Why should it? It were a job, that renting lark, but it’s in me past now. I would say it were behind me, but that’s where it was a lot of the time, and having your face pressed against a slimy Greychurch wall ain’t the way to find true love. But I still believe in it.
One day, someone’s going to come along, and soon as I see him, I’ll know. It’ll feel right, like two halves of the same pattern coming together in one seam.
Here, look at this… [He takes out his pocket watch.] Don’t know how he knows what to write, but every man at the academy gets one of these from Fleet, see? We’re here for a couple of days, and one of these pops up, and everyone’s’ is different. He gets the backs engraved with something, and mine says, ‘Love is one soul in two bodies.’ Fleet said it were his version of something said by this bloke called Aristotle, but it’s what I believe, so there you go.
Who or what would you die for, or otherwise go to extremes for?
Me mates. Next?
Who do you look up to?
Dalston ’cos he’s six feet tall. Mr Andrej at the stables ’cos he’s six feet four. Nah, only joking. I’d say me dad, ’cos he took the rap for me and went to gaol when it were me what fiddled the tax, but apart from him, I have to say Fleet.
He’s the man who runs the Larkspur Academy, yes?’
He’s a fucking nutter, is what Fleet is, but yeah, he somehow runs this place. He ain’t a teacher, but he is a professor, or was. He ain’t a dad figure, though he’s always there with some bit of advice when you need it. He knows just about everything about anything, and he’s right smart. Dresses like a clown, and has some weird habits, but he always knows the right thing to say at the right time, though he never tells you what to do.
And what is the greatest thing Fleet has taught you since you have been living at the academy?
Bloody hell… That’s a hard one. You don’t actually know Fleet is teaching you anything, see? Not at the time. But later, you realise he’s said something you took in, and he were dead right about it. Er… He teaches us words, how to get along… The main thing, though, I s’pose, is that he’s taught me it ain’t wrong to be loyal to your mates, ’cos in this world, if you ain’t got mates, what have you got?
I understand the academy is only a temporary arrangement. With that in mind, where do you see yourself in five years?
How the fuck do I know, malaka?
Yeah, you’re right, though. Some men have only stayed a couple of months here before Lord Clearwater’s organisation found them a decent job and place to live. Others, like me and Clem, we’ve been here eight months already, but there’s no pressure for you to move on or nothing. Right now, I’m helping Clem organise his business what he’s doing with His Lordship, and Fleet says I should put me mind to bookkeeping, but we’ll see. Me dad’s getting out of debtor’s prison soon-ish, and I’d like to bring him down here to Cornwall and set him up somewhere, so I might go back to tailoring, accounting, but probably not renting, though I don’t mind a bit of anonymous tickle-tail now and then.
What I’d like though, would be to have a safe place to be with me man, whoever that turns out to be. Don’t mind where, nor what I’m doing, being honest, as long as I got good mates to look after and a beau to be with. We’ll see, though. Like I always say, you take each day as it slaps you round the head, and fucking get on with it.
We are running out of time, so just two more questions. Tell me, Frank, just for fun, what do you have in your pocket right now?
You’re a nosey fucker, ain’t ya? Right now, I got me pocket watch in me waistcoat, an handkerchief in me jacket along with… Ten shillings and sixpence ha’penny, and a note to remind me to… Oh, shit. I forgot to do that. Never mind. And in me trousers, I got me classic Greek grower hanging at five but ready to go to seven. Next?
Finally, I understand there have been sightings of a ghost on the Larkspur estate. What is your take on that?
Bloody hell, malaka, why didn’t you ask me this before? This kind of thing’s right up me back jacksie ’cos me dad saw a ghost once. Yeah, I don’t know what’s been going on out there, but people are talking of seeing this weird thing late at night, and they’ve been hearing strange noises inside the Hall as well. Arthur… he’s one of the lads what works in the kitchens, but comes over here to deliver messages and shit… He says some of the maids are thinking of leaving ’cos they’re scared. You don’t need to be scared of ghosts, I say, you just got to believe in them. Arthur said, His Lordship and Mr Payne, his steward what runs the estate, they’s thinking of bringing in someone to hunt it, you know, like they do. Don’t know who, mind you, but if they don’t sort it out soon, he’s not going to have any staff left.
You’ve not seen it yet?
No, mate. But I hope to.
You think ghosts are real?
’Course I fucking do, and I tell you what, given half a chance, I’ll prove it.
I can’t believe we’re halfway through March already. It’s also hard to believe that, as I write this, I have only three or four more chapters to write for the first draft of the Larkspur Mysteries Book Four. I still have no title, although I am getting closer. Some kind of muse is fluttering, and I am playing with the words secret or forbidden, or maybe both. Watch this space.
Right now, I am up to 91,000 words and, as I thought, the first draft is going to run to over 100,00 words. Now that’s what I call a book. I had a moment the other day when someone said they’d written and published 100 books, then referred to them as novels, then when I looked, they were 10,000-word short stories posing as ‘novels’ and for sale at a higher price than real-length novels. The moment passed, and where was I…?
Oh yes. Three chapters left to go, possibly four because I’ve not nailed down the epilogue yet, and I aim to finish this draft by the end of this week. While writing it, my characters have come up with a couple of phrases I might use in the blurb:
May our sins die with us
Risk is the spark that ignites adventure
I rather like those.
I have also been dipping into some surface research, by which I mean, scratching the surface of a subject to get just what I need, rather than becoming a specialist in the subject overnight. These subjects include Cornish dialect and language, and I found a wonderful on-line resource for this at RootsWeb. http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~marcie/kernow/dialect.html That long page is a dictionary where you can run a search (Ctrl + F) and look up any word you want to know in Cornish dialect. Perfect.
Anyway, that’s where I am at the moment, and now, I must get back to chapter 23 where it’s all about to kick off!
Having your own workspace with your author tools to hand is the best way to focus your mind on writing your book.
The other day, my research into Larkspur Four grew so much I needed to bring in the music stand.
What? I hear you ask.
My typing table/computer desk isn’t very wide, and I have no room to put my notebooks beside me, especially as the one I am using is rather large. Therefore, I used my music stand as a bookstand, and had my newly invented Clearwater family history directly to my left, so I could more easily refer to it. This made me think that a blog post about what is on an author’s desk might be fun and interesting.
I have uploaded some photos to illustrate the phenomenon of my author’s desk, and apologise for the slightly blurred quality. They were taken on my phone with no natural light because my shutters are closed against the strong winds, which have brought the temperature back down to six degrees. And this is in Greece.
I work at two desks. Firstly, there’s the one where I have my laptop on its stand and where I sit on a kneel-up stool.
This is an Ikea computer station, and I bought it because of the shelves. They mean I can have books and other bits and piece to hand. If you take a closer look at the photo above, you’ll see, across the top: a photo of my husband and I when we were (much) younger, an old brass vase, an old school handbell, and a silver candelabra. These oddments I keep there because they go with the old-fashioned feel I like in my study. On the walls in the photo are an old print of the county of Kent, where I am from, and a print of a painting by my mum. As I sit, directly to my right, I have…
A couple of shelves that house a print copy of The Vulgar Tongue, a dictionary of old English cant and slang, and it’s resting against a few notebooks. Along with a handy pack of tissues, I have a tin containing flash drives, and beneath, my address books and a place for random pencils, pieces of notepaper and so on. I don’t like a crowded workspace, and I like to see free space on shelves, because it means there’s room for more notebooks.
If I look up from the laptop, which is on a lean-to stand, I can see the magnetic boards where I sometimes pin notes, and where right now, I have a note of when my mother arrives for a holiday, a note about how to shortcut to an em dash, an en dash, and a hyphen (— and – and – respectively). On the other board, I have a certificate to remind me I’ve adopted a Galapagos penguin, but that’s another story. While, directly to my left, I have…
…an altogether more interesting couple of shelves and a ‘secret’ drop-down drawer full of things I’d forgotten I’d put there. The top shelf houses a set of cassette tapes (remember them?) from my youth, including one of me playing the piano at the age of 16/17 in 1979/1980. Sadly, on it I am even singing some of my own dreary songs. The tapes are beyond playable really, but I have put that one into digital format for prosperity. There are also recordings of my early cabaret acts and musicals that I wrote. They sit with a dope pipe (needed to listen to me singing at the age of 17, but never used, I just liked the colour), a glass I bought in Prague in 1991, and a little bear. That’s one of those random gifts from the husband, like the penguin. Beneath this I’ve got a handy grammar reference book, my glasses and a small bottle of complimentary good-knows-what from a posh hotel I kept because I liked the colour.
That’s my rather prosaic computer station. Meanwhile, over at my writing desk…
This used to be my father’s back in the 1970s. It’s a dark wood and inlaid with leather, has three deep drawers and brass fittings. I bought a captain’s chair to go with it, also in dark wood and leather, and these sit beneath an oil portrait of my uncle (off shot), and a tapestry my mother made of a house we used to live in. To the right is my hideous Ikea bookshelf (I’d rather it was oak, but… well, you know, money), where one whole shelf is now filled with my published novels, and there are so many books elsewhere, they are stacked in piles. On the desk, however, from left to right, I have…
A line of notebooks supported by a ‘book collection’ CD cabinet which holds some very old computer CDs, but would also be the perfect size for a secretive bottle of port. Each of the notebooks has a history as being either a present or something I liked, and they are either hardback or leather bound. They are my ‘special’ notebooks, like the two currently in use on the desk; my Clearwater bible and my larger Larkspur bible. I also have a pewter tankard engraved with one of my names, Tobias, an early 20th C reading lamp, half a coconut shell with a glittering, turquoise interior I bought on honeymoon in Croatia (because I liked the colour), an old-style table magnifying lamp, and, of course, more books.
In front of the notebook line is a brass compass in a small wooden case to remind me of Clearwater times, and that I am on charting my way towards writing my 40th novel, and a painted stone. Another gift from my husband. He commissioned this from a local artist when it was our stone anniversary, which was also noted as being our rose anniversary.
There. That may have filled a few moments of your coffee break. I put this up so you might have an insight into what I, as an author, have around me. Also in my writing space… My reference books are cluttering the bookcase, and I have a cabinet behind me full of more notebooks and covered in my current hobby; building horror figure models. Above this is an original map of the Great Western Railway from about 100 years ago, and a rough plan of Larkspur Hall. Like I said, keep your tools close to hand.
As you can see, I take my workspace seriously, yet try to make it a comfortable and meaningful place to work. Having your own workspace, peace, quiet and your tools to hand is the best way to focus your mind on writing your book. Not only do I have a routine of at least six hours of writing every day, I do it in the same place, with the same silence and atmosphere. That’s how I’ve managed to write and sell so many novels. It works for me, but everyone has their own way of doing things.
Check in on Wednesday’s work in progress blog to see how the new novel is coming and have a great weekend. J x
I have a quick update for you today. I am now up to 75,000 words of Larkspur Four, still with the working title, ‘Chester Cadman’ and it’s going well.
Things are starting to come together in both through lines of the story, the mystery plot and the emotional one. Although there’s no dramatic chase sequence or race to save a life in this one, the story has shape and is gradually building to a climax, which will hopefully be an ‘Ah, now I get it!’ kind of denouement.
I’ve had a bit of a disrupted week since last Wednesday, which is why I have only written 15,000 words in the last seven days, but things are quieter now, so I can knuckle down.
I have also been popping away from the typing to research the various elements needed for this story, but I can’t tell you all of them, otherwise I would give away some surprises. All I will say is, where last week’s research included the ingredients and the invention of stink bombs, this week it was the invention of the bubble bath (as we know it). And with that, I must return to Bodmin Moor and some strange goings-on.
Hello everyone, and welcome to my regular Saturday update. Today, I want to talk about phantasmagoria, Pepper’s ghost, and various things supernatural. Why? Because the fourth book in the Larkspur Mystery series is built around a ghost story, and when I’ve not been writing it, I have been researching all things ghostly.
Whether you believe in ghosts or not, it’s an undeniable fact that belief in ghosts exists in just about all cultures. The ghost story as we know it can be traced back to Sir Walter Scott and his 1824 novel, ‘Wandering Willie’s Tale’, which is not as naughty as it might sound to those, like me, inclined to innuendo. We’re talking ghost rather than horror; you can mark the beginning of the horror genre with ‘The Castle of Otranto’ (1765) by Horace Walpole, but that’s a debate for another day.
Following Willie’s wanderings, we can cite Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ as a classic ghost story, and since the beginnings of the Victorian ghost novel, other writers have leapt on the spectral bandwagon including M.R. James, Violet Hunt, Henry James and the Irish writer, Sheridan Le Fanu.
The Larkspur Ghost: A Curious Development
Ages ago, before even the Clearwater Mysteries was born, I tried my hand at writing a contemporary paranormal MM romance novel, ‘Curious Moonlight.’ This received mixed reviews, and understandably so, because people who read the micro-niche of contemporary paranormal MM romance have specific rules, and I, the upstart, didn’t keep to them.
My novel was more about two men, one gay, one curious, trying to fall in love and being thwarted by, among other things, a hangover spirit from an old Cornish myth. What ‘Moonlight’ did do, though, was make me think of a sequel. In it, my two main characters were invited to a rambling country house to investigate the appearance of a ghost. The house was called Blackwood Abbey, the ghost was said to be that of a serving girl murdered for her romance with a monk in 1500-and-something, and the dead girl was still haunting the manor, which couldn’t be sold until the mystery was solved. And so it rambled on until I ran out of ectoplasm, and shelved the idea.
I am glad I did, because what I was trying to write was beyond me. It did, however, lead to bigger and better things. The idea of a mystery led to The Clearwater Mysteries, Blackwood Abbey led to the creation of Larkspur Hall (and Jasper Blackwood, I guess), and the two-word title led to others, such as Deviant Desire, Twisted Tracks and Unspeakable Acts. Between ‘Moonlight’ and Larkspur Four, I have written about fifteen better novels, and I now know what I am doing.
Except I don’t. Or I didn’t when I sat down to tackle the subject of all things ghostly in Victorian times, and in particular, the story of the Larkspur Ghost.
Larkspur Four is currently titled ‘Chester Cadman’ because that’s the name of the lead character, and a better title has not yet fallen into place. Don’t worry. I am not going to give away any spoilers.
The story was inspired by an advertisement in a London paper of 1981 which advertised Mr Maskelyen’s premier magical entertainment at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. The entertainment promised apparitions, bodies floating over the audience, and other ghostly occurrences every day promptly at three and every evening at eight (excepting Mondays). Such entertainments were popular in Victorian society, and the Egyptian Hall quickly became ‘England’s Home of Mystery.’ An advertising poster of the time promises, ‘Labial, Fanfare, Zoe & Psycho’ as part of Maskelyne & Cooke’s entertainment, but I am not sure I want to look into those attraction at this moment.
In my story, Chester (not his real name) fell from grace after paying a visit to Mr Maskelyen’s Entertainment, and afterwards, accepting an invitation to participate in a séance. Chester doesn’t believe in ghosts, you see, and is a debunker of ghost stories, except he can’t be, because the word ‘debunk’ didn’t exist until the next century, but you get the picture.
When the story starts, he is on his way to Larkspur Hall, where Archer (Lord Clearwater) and his steward/best friend, Tom, are waiting for him. Tom is reading a novel by the above mentioned Le Fanu in preparation for a discussion about ghosts.
Chester is invited to join the Larkspur Academy, which he does, and his first task is to ‘debunk’ the mystery of the Larkspur Ghost. Along the way, he encounters various personal problems, love, lust and lingering doubt, and learns much about the darker history of Larkspur Hall and the Clearwater viscounts. I can’t tell you any more than that because I’ve not written it yet, but I am up to 70,000 words. (You can follow its progress on my Work In Progress blogs on Wednesdays.)
Phantasmagoria and Pepper
One of the things I am researching for the background of this novel, to add authenticity and detail, is phantasmagoria. I can’t define it any better than this description I found in a paper by Japanese academic Yurie NAKANE:
Phantasmagoria is an early projection show using an optical instrument called a magic lantern. Brought to Britain from France in 1801, it amused spectators by summoning the spirits of absent people, including both the dead and the living. [Link to the full article free download.]
It didn’t, of course. I mean, it did, but not really. What this theatrical device did was project an image of a person, or an object, a skeleton from the closet or something else better left forgotten, onto a screen, onto mist or a sheet of glass. The effect was to make the ghostly image appear among real people and furniture, thereby giving the appearance of an apparition before our very eyes.
Phantasmagoria began way before Chester Cadman was born at sea. Yurie Nakane tells us, Phantasmagoria in Paris was conducted by Philidor in 1792 for the first time. And later in her paper, In October, 1801, Paul Philidor brought phantasmagoria to Britain and started to give performances there.
The stage trick of phantasmagoria, went through a few developments, one of which was ‘Dircksian phantasmagoria’ in the mid-19th century, but Henry Dircks’ confabulations required a special auditorium be built, and could only be seen by a few spectators in a purpose-built gallery during daylight. (You’d never get funding these days.) However, he worked with a chap called John Henry Pepper, and that led to the creation of a stage trick called Pepper’s Ghost.
This illusion requires two rooms; the stage on which is a visible but camouflaged sheet of glass, and a ‘blue’ room out of sight. The figure in the blue room is simply reflected in the glass, and hey presto! We have a moving, talking apparition. That technique is still used in magic acts, theatre, theme parks and film studios today.
I suppose the moral is, don’t take your Pepper with a pinch of salt.
You can find more on Phantasmagoria in an excellent article by Sandra Gulland on her website, including images. [Link is here.]
Back to the story
In my novel, phantasmagoria and Pepper’s Ghost get only a passing mention, yet I still took the time to check them out, because they are things Chester Cadman would have known about. He also has things to say about hypnotism, or mesmerism, spiritualism and seances, none of which have much impact on the story. Discovering such detail to give your character a little more depth is called research, and has taken up most of my week.
As has writing, and it was while writing the other morning that I had something of a supernatural experience. Before I tell you what it was, you should know that it was daylight, I was at the computer I am at now, totally sober and writing a description of my character, Fleet, comedically blundering about with his eyes closed because he wanted to know what it was like to be blind. I wasn’t writing anything creepy at all. Neil was in the kitchen preparing lunch, I was alone, and my office door was closed (it opens to the outside and it was six degrees, sunny, but cold).
I jolted in shock, my heartbeat shot up, skin went cold and I clutched my pearls, exclaiming, ‘Oh, must you!’ as you do when you’re thinking of something else, and open a door to find your husband unexpectedly on the other side. Except, the dark shape that had crept into the corner of my left eye, covering the height of the bookcase, and moving towards the window, was no longer there. I was left with that aftershock of shock, a little weak kneed, and looking over my shoulder. I politely asked the whatever not to do that again while I was in the room, but finished writing to go and have lunch, knowing the whatever hadn’t meant to take me by surprise.
Strange, but true, and also useful. I now know what it’s like to unexpectedly see a ghostly form, or to think you did, and the experience will inform my writing. Accidental research. Can’t beat it.
Before I go…
Before I go, I want to tell you that I will be doing an ‘author takeover’ on a Facebook group tomorrow from 6 pm Greek time (4 pm GMT). I will be at the MM Fiction Addiction Café chatting about ME and giving away an e-copy of ‘Guardians of the Poor’ (or another of my novels if you already have that one). I will be talking more about the Larkspur Mysteries, and answering questions, so sign up (free, of course) and pop into the cafe if you want to know more.
I’ll be here on Wednesday with my Work In Progress blog to update you more about Chester Cadman, Larkspur Mysteries book four.
The WIP news this week is that I am now over 60,000 words into the first draft of ‘Chester Cadman’, the working title for the fourth Larkspur mystery. I notice this is my sixth post about this work in progress, which means I am six weeks into its writing. That means I am averaging 10,000 words a week. It’s winter here in Greece, and with rainy and cold weather, I’ve not had much chance to get out and about. Therefore, I am at the desk by six in the morning, and once I’ve done any paid work that’s come in and sorted out my admin, I can usually put in a good five hours per day on the novel. It will be less in the summer when we have visitors, I have bar work in the afternoon, and more distractions.
This week, I have been learning all kinds of interesting facts as my research has taken me in many directions. Take yesterday, for example. I needed to write a simple piece of dialogue which first read:
‘I have provided you two pairs of binoculars.’
What’s wrong with that? Nothing, but…
Remember, the story is set in January 1891; that’s one thing. Another is my desire to pay attention to detail, and to make the stories happen in a believable world. That’s why I rushed to the net to have a look at the history of binoculars, to see what was in use at the time. Then, I wondered how I might add some reality and detail to the piece of dialogue that wasn’t just for the sake of word count. Slipping into the mind of the person speaking (Tom Payne, the Larkspur steward), I altered the dialogue to read thus:
‘To be sure, I called on Mr Danylo. Before he came to us, he served in the Ukrainian army, and surveillance was one of his skills. He lent me two pairs of Zeiss binoculars. He says they are better than the Porro make, and infinitely less clumsy than telescopes, because they are smaller. They use a Z-shaped prism and have objective lenses. I hope that means something to you, because it baffled me.’
I may change the end of that to one of Tom’s Kentish colloquialisms, or something to inject a little humour.
Also on my look-up list this week have been: Ancient Egyptian and Arabic proverbs, reigning British monarchs from 1716 to 1815, and the ingredients of a stink bomb (don’t ask), all pertinent to the plot or groundwork for future stories.
My pile of scrap paper and notes is growing, as is my enthusiasm for the story as I head towards the part where I join ‘action plot’ with the ’emotional plot’; though there’s no great action sequence planned for this one, not in the style of the previous Larkspur books at any rate.
But who knows? That’s the joy of writing. I know where I am going to end up, but how I get there is up to the people I am creating.
And so, on to chapter seventeen…
P.S. if you missed it at the weekend check out my guest post over on Ofelia Grand’s website, it includes an exclusive excerpt from Larkspur Four 😲
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