This week’s update: I am at Chapter 28 and at 99,000 words with, I imagine, four major scenes left to go as we fall into the finale. A scene might be one chapter, or it might be two or three, so I reckon I am looking at around 130,000 words by the time draft one is finished. Remember, this is the first part of a much longer story, which will conclude in the following book. How I am going to make the second one as intriguing, complex and rewarding as this one remains to be seen, but I know I have a fair amount of research to do. How to sail a 19th-century sailing ship for one thing.
Work was briefly interrupted on Monday, and here’s why. For the last couple of weeks, we’ve had a rat living in the lean-to roof. I saw the evidence before I heard it, and wondered how we were going to get rid of it. They come in from the ruins and pieces of wasteland around our hillside village, and we’ve had one before that used to leave its droppings in the spare toilet, though it never learnt to flush. As the lean-to roof is inaccessible without pulling the whole thing apart, we bought some humane poison from the pet shop. I put down three tablets and left the other five in the bag on the counter. The next day, not only had all three gone but so had the bag.
The rat continued to occupy the roof and our minds, and the ‘treatment’ appeared not to be working (though it can take up to 10 days, they say). However, on Monday, I heard a yell/scream, and called from across the courtyard, ‘Rat?’ to which Neil replied, ‘Yes.’ Attending the scene, I found he had the thing pinned to the spokes of our godson’s bike, which we keep in the laundry room lean-to, and he was using his crutch to keep it in place. (Neil recently had a bout of transient osteoporosis, so he was using his crutch, not his crotch.) We devised a cunning plan. Wearing an oven glove, I lifted the intruder by the tail and dropped it into an old ice cream tub. Holding the lid down but not sealed, I took the thing up to our dustbin station and left it in a paladin with a bag of rubbish on top. The bin men empty these stations at least twice per day and a visit was due. Ratty would have made his escape when the trash was tipped into the back of the truck, if not there, then when it reached the landfill way up the mountain.
And now, with that story told, I can resume work on the next work in progress. Thinking about it, I might have to write in a rat catcher because that was a busy job back in Victorian times, and now I know what it feels like to be one.
If you have read my previous blogs about how I write, you will know I am always looking up words. I don’t just mean finding an alternative word from the thesaurus, although I do that too, I mean discovering if the word I want was in use at the time I set my stories. (Currently 1888 to 1891.) Recently, I have had to change what I’ve written because some words didn’t exist back then; paperwork, acerbic, acidic, gobbledygook, for example. I also like to look up words to discover where they came from. I guess you might call me an amateur etymologist.
Imagine my excitement the other day when a visiting friend presented me with a present, a Reader’s Digest book, ‘The Origins of Words and Phrases.’ Once I have read the parts about how our language was born and developed and other interesting linguistic facts in the introduction, I will house the book on my shelves alongside my other handy reference guides ready to be used at a moment’s notice.
Talking of such books, I thought I would name a few of them today, in case you want to build up your own reference library and add to your writers’ toolkit. While I am about it, I’ll drop in random examples, and I’ll start with my latest addition, ‘The Origins of Words and Phrases.’
The Origins of Words and Phrases
A dictionary of over 3,000 of the most intriguing, amusing and surprising stories of the origin of some words.
Random example: Lunatic derives from the Latin word for moon, luna. Why? Because it was once thought that people went mad during the time of the full moon. Werewolves and British politicians are good examples.
The Oxford Dictionary of Idioms
Provides clear definitions of phrases and sayings with interesting facts and examples.
Random example: Roman holiday. An occasion on which enjoyment or profit is derived from the suffering of others. Origin; from Byron’s poem, ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’, where a dying gladiator is described as having been butchered to make a Roman holiday.
Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary
This is a great resource for finding old words, those that were in use then (1755) but which aren’t now.
Random example: Gymnospérmous (adj,) [γυμνος and σπερμα.] Having the seeds naked.
Well, I said they would be random! If you want a more up-to-date definition of this word, I managed to find this one: Gymnosperms are other types of vascular and non-vascular plants of the Kingdom Plantae, which produce seeds directly (without) bearing any flower.
Here’s another random one: Réremouse (n.s.) [hreremus, Saxon.] A bat.
An Unkindness of Ravens
A collection of collective nouns arranged in various headings. I could spend hours in this book, but here are a few fun ones:
A worship of writers. A kindle of kittens. A glaring of cats. A glozing of taverners.
Clichés Avoid them like the Plague!
This book is basically a list of our top clichés and where they came from. It doesn’t just go for the low-hanging fruit, it plays hardball, and hits the ground running. You might cry, Houston, we have a problem, but the book certainly kicks ass. When you’re writing, you might find yourself between a rock and a hard place because of not knowing if a phrase is a cliché, so this book is handy for sorting the wheat from the chaff. Yes, you might have to buy it, but then, there’s no gain without pain.
Mark Forsyth’s Ternion Set
Three books by the lexicographer, Mark Forsyth, are both informative and fun to read. I’ll never remember all the information in them, but I dip in now and then to discover the meaning of, for example, syllepsis. Syllepsis is when one word is used in two or more incongruous ways. The author gives an example of the word took being used in nine ways, and I’ll use it to give you an example of my own.
It was late, and the party was winding down, so I took my hat, my coat and my leave.
The set of three books also includes The Etymologicon, ‘A circular stroll through the hidden connections of the English language’, and The Horologicon, ‘A day’s jaunt through the lost words of the English language.’ For example: Breakfast (somehow) comes from the Greek word, ariston, therefore the study of breakfast is aristology, and if you like eating breakfast, you are an aristologist.
There, I bet you didn’t know that.
The Vulgar Tongue
This is one of my favourites, and I use it a great deal when writing characters such as Frank Andino, and the new character in the Larkspur Mysteries, Bertie Tucker. This is a collection of slang and cant from 1785. I have a PDF version of it as well as a hardback because the PDF is easier to search. When doing so, I come across words like davy for affidavit. Crank, brisk and pert are all words for a mix of gin and water. A member mug is a chamber pot (or was). Seeing as how I am fast becoming an old fogey, I can tell you that it’s actually a very noble thing to be. Fogey derives from the French word fougueux, meaning fierce or fiery, and referred to retired soldiers.
Knowing your… stuff
I have plenty of other books in my collection, from dialect dictionaries to Brewer’s Fact and Fable, and from Strunk and White’s ‘Elements of Style’ grammar guide to the more succinct Joanne Adams book on the subject, ‘Grammar. Know your shit or know you’re shit.’
The shelves also contain an Oxford English dictionary, a thesaurus, a dictionary of quotations, a rhyming dictionary, and a guide to the English language, among others, and my online reference bookmarks include a glossary of Scottish words and an Irish one. Ship rigging diagrams, men’s clothing of the late Victorian era, a dictionary of idioms, a Cornish dictionary, a Gothic glossary, there’s a whole file about prisons and another about workhouses, and then there are digital, online copies of some of the print books mentioned above.
You don’t need all of these in order to write, but the point is, if you’re writing, words are your tools and how to use them is your craft. Understanding where words came from, and exploring how the language developed is background research for the writer in the way a painter understands what colours go together.
Apart from anything else, reading about words is fun and educational.
I must leave you with that thought now, because I’ve been sitting here for ages without a break, and I need to use my member mug.
See you on Wednesday for the Work In Progress update.
Here we are at 80,000 words of the next Larkspur Mystery, and I have characters all over the place. I have some in London chasing one clue, others on their way to Shropshire chasing another, and a third team about to set off to Kent. ‘Starting with Secrets’ is a treasure hunt at the end of which lies ‘A great treasure and a great secret’ according to the two women who set Archer, Lord Clearwater, the quest. From one clue grew four, hence we have three teams. The fourth clue has not yet been addressed.
I am nearing the beginning of the staggered climax of the story. I say staggered because there are three storylines to resolve, and the first has reached a dead end, leaving two more set pieces to write before the final climax and the resolve. Except, in this case, the resolution will have to wait for the book that comes next, ‘The Larkspur Legacy.’ You see, ‘Starting with Secrets’ is the first half of a longer story, and thus, its ending is the halfway point of the overall tale.
It will all make sense when you read both books, but when that will be is anyone’s guess. ‘Secrets’ is coming on well and is turning out to be one of those first drafts that writes itself. In the second and subsequent drafts, I will address and expand the emotional side of the story, because, at the moment, we are action-driven. I don’t mind that, but I don’t want it to be one of those Clive Cussler-style books where we leap from one action scene to the next with very little human relationship thread and emotional throughline that will engage the reader.
If you like solving clues, you’ll love ‘Secrets’ and, as usual, they are all based on facts. Obscure facts at times, but still…
And so, to chapter 23 in which I return to clue two and a journey from Hertfordshire to Shropshire to hunt down a clue that reads like this:
By now, I think, you should have found, Numbers lead beneath the ground. 52.62 -2.31
October 1888, The Lamb and Compass, Limedock, London
This is not the most salubrious public house in the world. In fact, it is a haven for grimy sailors coming in from the docks after months at sea, looking for release in alcohol and whores of either sex. I am here, however, to interview Charles Tripp, a butler. We arranged the meeting several weeks past, but, as I will find out, Mr Tripp’s position has changed since our exchange of letters.
The man seems distracted. He is brooding about something, and although he is dressed in the manner of a man’s man, I can’t help but feel he is hiding dark thoughts.
Thank you for meeting with me, Mr Tripp. I would like to ask you a few questions if I may?
(As he acquiesces to my request, his mouth wrinkles into the kind of smile a trusted friend gives as he contemplates slitting your throat.)
Perhaps you could tell me your full name.
Charles Simon Tripp.
And you are the butler for Lord Clearwater of Riverside, correct?
(I sense this is the cause of the resentment apparent behind his eyes and decide not to probe. Yet.)
Can you tell me what being a butler entails?
The butler is the highest-ranking servant in the household. I am… I was responsible for the running of the house. This would include the organisation of the wine cellar, overseeing the work of the footmen at mealtimes, waiting on the master of the house, accounting for the silver and its cleaning, guarding the plate safe, and generally ensuring the house runs smoothly.
And how long have you been in service? Where did you start?
I entered service for the seventeenth Viscount Clearwater in eighteen thirty-six. Clearwater House had not long been built, and I was among the original staff, employed as a hall boy to fetch and carry for the older and more senior servants. By the age of seventeen, however, I had risen to the post of second footman to His Lordship, and soon after, received promotion to first footman at Larkspur Hall. On the death of my butler in sixty-five, His Lordship asked me to bypass the usual rank of under-butler and become his man. This I did willingly. On the death of His Lordship in eighteen seventy, I remained as butler for the eighteenth viscount, Mathias Riddington. On his sad passing two months ago, I retained my position.
Buttling for the current Lord Clearwater.
Oh? Have you retired from service?
No. I was retired from service by an ungrateful master.
(The answer is given with such a pointed stare I can feel his eyes prick the back of my own. I feel as though I am face to face with a wolf that has not eaten in days, and the slightest move on my part will give it the excuse to attack.)
I expect you have seen some great events at Larkspur Hall. Do you have a favourite time?
Butlers do not have favourites of anything, Sir. It is our job to uphold the nobleness of the household, to ensure work is carried out in a timely and quiet fashion. To ensure no speck blemishes the silver that adorns the impeccably clean crockery, and that the table is as much a credit to the Mistress as it is to her staff. Yes, there were many balls and dinners, hunting parties and Friday-to-Mondays at Larkspur Hall, and each one, to me, was a joy to serve. The joy, you see, comes from doing the job, being the best, and not letting the Master down on any front.
You must have met many important people.
I was once addressed by the Tzar of Russia, Alexander the Third, the Peacemaker, as his country called him. Our current Prime Minister once commented on my choice of wine during a dinner; the Marquis of Salisbury was a great friend of the family, as was Disraeli. It would be crass of me to mention more, Sir, but yes, there have been many great events held at Larkspur Hall and at Clearwater House. Although smaller gatherings during the season, they were no less grand and deserved, and received the same immaculate attention.
Forgive me, Mr Tripp, I failed to ask about your family life. You came to service when young, but from where?
From my family home in North London.
And do you have brothers or sisters? Are you still in touch with them?
My family was a large but tragic one. My father was a naval man, my mother remained at home. My eldest sister died in infancy before I was born, and a second sister was dealt a similar hand. I was the first boy of five, and the only one to survive past infancy. Ours was not a well-off district, and cholera was a regular visitor. My father attempted to move us several times, but his shipman’s pay prevented it, and when he too died, there remained but my mother and myself. She put me into service, and then, through grief, passed away. I was left with no family that I knew of, working in a large house, learning a new way of life, and realising I was on my own.
Was it then that you decided you would aim for a butlership?
You ask such trite questions, Sir. (A flash of annoyance, and I’d swear his eyes glazed red for a second.) I answer them only out of duty. No. It was not then that I set my sights on being a butler. Such a desire creeps upon a man without him realising. It becomes ingrained in a servant that one must always strive to be better, and one accepts without thought that a natural progression is to be expected. Hall boy to footman and up through the ranks either in the same house, but more often, in another. Once a servant, there is nowhere to go but upwards or sideways. One would never step away from the progression to step down. It is beneath a footman, for example, to become a delivery boy, and beneath a hall boy to become a sweeper of the roads. A maid will only leave to become a wife. A housekeeper, like a butler, is married to the position. I no more decided one day to set my sights on a butlership as I set my sights on becoming destitute.
(Dare I ask the question? The man is speaking with passion, but I fear it is not passion for his job, but an angry fervour that has something to do with his earlier statement that he was Lord Clearwater’s butler, and no longer is.)
Your next question, Sir, or I will be about my business.
Apologies, I was wondering… What is your business these days?
(That, dear reader, is how to ask a question without asking it.)
I am, through no fault of my own, currently a man of my own means. On leaving… When I was unfairly dismissed from service, I was presented with a piece of irony. It is the way I describe the centrepiece Clearwater gave me as I left. It is ironic because it was the eighteenth viscount’s most treasured possession, second only to myself. I was his most treasured ornament, and in giving it to me, Clearwater threw the greatest insult. Why? Because, for me to live, I had no choice but to sell it. To sell my only reminder of my former life, my glory, a state to which, I have vowed, I will one day return. The centrepiece shall be the cause of Clearwater’s undoing. His repayment for his treatment of me, for with its sale, I have secured finance enough to see my vow to fruition, no matter what it takes.
(I fear my subject has stepped from one path to another, and I have ceased to exist. The threat of his stare is now aimed at nowhere but inside his mind, and I choose not to think on what he may be imagining. An observer’s job, however, is sometimes to probe, and I dare one last prompt.)
You have something on your mind, Mr Tripp. Is it your future?
It is, and it is a dark one. A lengthy tunnel at the end of which is a light, and only one thing can bring me to that light. As my way ahead ends in illumination, so Clearwater’s will end in a similar atonement. You see, our paths can only run parallel for a certain time. At some point they will merge and cross, and when they do, there will emerge from the embroilment only one path, either his or mine, for we two cannot both exist in this world. There can be life for only one of us.
(At this point, I detected some kind of madness within the man. A paling of the skin, a tightening of the mouth, or perhaps the glint of the eye which came with a twitch of the lips, as though a devious thought had occurred to both excite and concern him. That, and the chill shiver I suffered, told me I had probed far enough and for my own safety, it was time I retired.)
This interview was conducted not long after the events depicted in ‘Deviant Desire’ the first of the Clearwater Mysteries. If you want to begin an ongoing series that develops from the time of Jack the Ripper, through ten books and into the second series, the Larkspur Mysteries, then you can find all the novels in order on the series page: The Clearwater Mysteries.
We’re up to 67,000 words now folks. I’ve been beavering away at around 3,000 words per day and the story is progressing well. This is going to be something of an epic because I am building in four strands emanating from one initial clue. I’ve got Silas, Joe and Dalston in London, James and a new character, Archie Tucker, in Hertfordshire, Thomas and the others at Larkspur, and a fourth strand/clue yet to be addressed. Meanwhile, our villains are out and about, and we still don’t know where the evil Tripp is or what he is up to.
I am trying to give previous characters cameo roles now and then, so yesterday, I had a scene with Jake O’Hara, who appears in ‘Unspeakable Acts’ in the Clearwater series, and pops up now and then in other books. I even mentioned Oleg, one of Lady Marshall’s footmen who turned up in an early Clearwater, and more characters will pop in as the story progresses. There are reasons for their appearances, though, so it’s not a gratuitous thing.
In fact, there are reasons all characters have appeared in previous Clearwater and/or Larkspur books, and ‘Starting with Secrets’ and the one that will come after it, draw them all together in one way or another for the ultimate ‘chase the clues before the deadline’ story. What I still need to include more of is an emotional throughline or two. I have one running, and I know where that is going, but there needs to be more. That will come with the second draft which, at this rate, will be ready next week. (Only joking; this book is going to take some time to get right and ready.) As a teaser the mystery actually starts here….. with Victorian flatware cutlery…
Yesterday, I was pottering around the British Museum in 1891, and today I have to return to Larkspur to catch up on what’s happening there, so if you will excuse me, I’ll head off there now and see you on Saturday for my next blog post.
When we talk about the Victorian period, we are talking about the years of the reign of Queen Victoria, 1837 to 1901. It was a time of significant change in the United Kingdom. The industrial revolution, the age of the steam train, steam-powered factories, a rise in industry and exploration, inventions, and the growth of the British Empire across the world. It also saw the rise of the middle class, a great divide between rich and poor, and a move from agricultural labouring to factory work for many, because it was in the cities where wealth could be made.
When you’re sitting down to write a novel set in these times, you really ought to know what you’re talking about. Or at least, do your research.
Alison Weir, the writer of many a great historical novel, says that,
“You can’t write a historical novel without being familiar with the sources. You have to have an idea of how people lived. It’s a completely different world and you’ve got to get in the mindset, the zeitgeist, that informs the language.”
If you were writing a book set in, say, the 1990s or 1980s, you may remember what it was like to be around at that time. It depends on your age, of course, but if I was writing about the 1980/90s, I’d remember the clothes, the TV shows, the politics, the way of life, the new-fangled thing like CDs, DVDs and BluRay. I’d know what it was like to be a young person of the time because I was there, so my characters would be drawn from my experience of the zeitgeist, the culture, and the language of the time.
Clearly, I was not around in 1888 when my Clearwater Series begins, so how do I know how the characters spoke? How did I know what the streets of the East End smelt like? How do I know what it was like to exist in a workhouse or live in Belgravia? And how could I tell what it was like to fight a villain on top of a moving steam train hurtling towards certain death?
I didn’t, and I still don’t. Not 100%, because I’ve never fought a villain on the top of a moving anything, and as a novelist, one must use imagination. But your imagination must be confined to the times in which you are writing. I have to admit, when I started writing the historical series, my mind wasn’t 100% in the times because I started Deviant Desire with the intention of setting it all in a fictional London. Now, with the Larkspur Series (and in the later Clearwater books) we are firmly in London and the world as it was at the time because I have learnt as I have gone along. It’s too late now to change Greychurch to Whitechapel, and Limedock to Limehouse, but it is never too late to learn from mistakes. This is why, a little way into the Clearwater series, I returned to the earlier books and struck out every use of the words okay, teenager, adolescent and others. I’d learnt by then that those words were not in use until the 20th century. They weren’t in the Victorian era zeitgeist. (Nor was homosexual, which was only used in medical terms from the 1860s, and which gets a mention in my next novel.)
Where do I get my information from? You may ask, and that was the point of this post; to share a few resources with you. I have previously mentioned particular books, but today, I wanted to highlight a few websites I regularly use. These will be useful if you’re starting out on writing a book set in the Victorian period, or you might simply find them of interest. I currently have over 150 bookmarks in my ‘research’ bookmark folder on Firefox, and within it, there are several sub-folders such as ‘travel’ and ‘maps.’
My go-to source for writings of the time is the Dictionary of Victorian London at http://www.victorianlondon.org, an excellent resource created by author Lee Jackson. I have some of his books on my shelves, but I’m talking about online resources here. If you head to this link you will find the index for the Dictionary, which is actually a list of categories, and within them, you find collected pieces from various sources written in the Victorian period. Each section has subsections, so, for example, I want to look up Prison life, and within ‘Prisons’, I find Executions and Punishments, Prisons, Rehabilitation of Offenders and Remand. I go to ‘Prisons’ and there’s another sub-list. Following one of those links, ‘Pentonville’, I find several pieces from newspapers, reports and other publications written between 1843 and 1879.
The point is, at a site like this, I have reports and information directly from the time in which I am writing. By reading them, I gain a sense of the language and how it was used, and also the zeitgeist of the time.
I also use the British Newspaper Archive, where I can search for newspapers published on specific days, and read what was happening in the world on that day in 1891 or whenever. This archive is also useful for checking what day of the week a date was, the weather, finding advertisements to mention in my books to add authentic detail, and finding interesting asides, like actual cricket scores for my character Dr Markland.
Another of my favourite sites is The National Library of Scotland. Why? If you click the link, you’ll find an incredible resource for maps. Ordnance Survey, Military, County, there’s an endless list. I have a bookmark that leads me directly to a London map of 1888. It doesn’t give me street names, but I can see where the railways ran and other details, and, by using a slider, I can reveal beneath it the modern-day map of the city to make a comparison.
Specific to my novels is the theme of homosexuality, and if you wanted to know what it was like to be gay in the Victorian Period, you only need to head to Rictor Norton’s sourcebook. His list of articles dates from 1800 to 1891, and it is from here that I find inspiration for the court cases, characters and histories of some of my stories. There is a full collection of reports about the Cleveland Street Scandal, for example. If you have read ‘Speaking in Silence’, you can find the original reports here.
I could blether on for hours and give you the full list of what’s in my research bookmarks folder, but instead, here’s a list of some others that you might find of interest.
‘Always put the weather in’ is a top tip from many authors, and I always have weather in my books. I also have accurate sunrise and sunset times, and phases of the moon too, and I get all that from Time and Date, where you can search by year and place for accuracy.
I have links to various dictionaries, such as Cockney Rhyming Slang, one for Irish phrases and slang words, and a dictionary of the Cornish dialect. I always check words were in use in my time period, and to do this, I use Google’s online dictionary because it gives a graph of printed usage of words. I have a dictionary of idioms bookmarked along with some oddments such as a list of Latin mottos, a Gothic glossary (Gothic architecture, that is), a glossary of carriages, and my favourite, The Vulgar Tongue (1785) for slang words.
The points of this post are:
Always ensure your characters are acting, talking and thinking within the zeitgeist of the time, and make sure your/their language is time-appropriate.
You can do this by reading novels written at the time, but better, newspapers and other journals, such as those you find in the online archives.
Keep every useful page you come across and bookmark it, making separate folders in your bookmarks if necessary.
You can’t beat a book on a shelf, but for speed, I use the net. What I don’t do, however, is take a search engine’s results as 100% accurate in their information and I always double-check what I read on online encyclopaedias with a website run by experts. If in doubt, do your research.
[I’ll be back on Wednesday with an update on the work in progress, ‘Starting with Secrets’.]
Well, I’m not sure how this happened, but by the end of today, I shall be at 50,000 words of the next book in the Larkspur Mysteries series, ‘Starting with Secrets.’ This is only WIP blog 2! One of the reasons this one is going so smoothly is that I have been planning it since starting book four, and it’s already plotted, I know all but a few of the characters, and I started writing scenes for it while I was writing ‘Speaking in Silence’, which, I am pleased to say, is doing well. Thank you for your reviews!
But 50,000 words? That’s like half a novel already and yet I am only a third of the way through the planned story. This book is either going to be another epic like ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, or it’s going to end up being two books. It is, in fact, the first part of a two-part finale to the series, and I intend to write on and on until I reach the end and not worry about word length. Then, when it’s done, I will take a look and decide if it’s a) is over-written and needs massive editing, b) it’s a two-parter or c) it’s just a long book with lots of mystery, thrills and spills.
It is a very simple story: Archer is left a treasure hunt which he wants to solve. However, the clues are obscure and, it turns out, they are also many. This means the ‘crew’ has to split into three teams, including the academy men, and among them is a new character, Bertie Tucker. While not being sure of why he is at the academy, Bertie becomes a distraction for Edward and that means he becomes a concern for Henry, and it’s down to James (Jimmy Wright) to play the part of mentor while investigating one line of clues. Meanwhile, Silas takes the lead on a London-based hunt, leaving Tom to consider the last two cryptics back at Larkspur. Behind all of this, there is a villain trying to stay one step ahead and bringing in other characters to his evil team, and there will be moments of danger, excitement and, of course, bromance.
I’m putting a lot of background research into this one, as I usually do, but as the story is so big and diverse, so is my background reading. All will be revealed in time, but for now, I am ploughing on with chapter 14, and wondering what the word count will be this time next week. Be here then to find out.
Having just released ‘Speaking in Silence’, I thought I would take a day off. Ha! As if. I can’t remember the last time I had a full day off. Because we live on a Greek island, people assume I spend my days sitting under olive trees jotting notes in a leather-bound notebook, watching the lazy world go by and popping down to the beach for a swim in the afternoons.
I’m not saying I’m a workaholic, but I am. If you’ve been following my Saturday blog, you will have read about my typical day. Up at 4.30am or a little later in the winter, cup of tea, and to the desk where I write up to 4,000 words per day for other people, because we have to pay the rent. I usually aim to get that done by around eight or nine, if I haven’t gone for a walk, which I sometimes do in the summer months.
At some point during the morning, I can start on my own writing, and on days when I don’t have paid work in, I can get to my next chapter earlier. That’s on days when I don’t have to prepare a blog for my site like I am doing now.
My morning usually finishes around 11.00, certainly before midday, because by then I might have written 6,000 words or more, and my brain needs a rest. There then follows a two-hour lunch break, sometimes a doze, and I tend to go back to the desk to read through what I wrote in the morning. I’ll either finish at three and have a siesta, or carry on until around four when I might pop out for a drink and to rest my brain. Bedtime is often at nine, though the other day it was eight.
That’s my day and while it’s going on, other people are having a holiday because Symi is a holiday island during the summer. This year, we’re experiencing a milder August than we had last year when the temperature got up to 45 degrees or slightly over, and the days were humid. Currently, we’re averaging around 36 degrees in the shade in our courtyard, which is slightly lower than it was in July when we hit 42. That’s a far cry from the winter months when I spend the morning heating my office, typing with my gloves on and still don’t get the temperature past nine degrees.
Symi’s a popular place for sailboats in the summer, small yachts and massive gin palaces alike, and this summer is no exception. The last two years were quieter due to the pandemic, but this season has been busy from day one.
We have up to five day-trip boats per day come over from Rhodes bringing visitors for a few hours, and many regular visitors come to stay for two weeks or more; some come several times per year, and who can blame them?
We’re into festival season now and have already had the famous ‘Symi shrimp festival’ where the municipality gives out the island’s local delicacy (small shrimps that you eat shell and all) and where the band plays music, and people dress in traditional costume and dance. I try to avoid this festival because I once had a bad allergic reaction to these shrimps, and now can’t even stand the smell of them, but that’s me.
There will be other festival events such as bands in the town and village squares, musicians in the church courtyards, possibly plays, art exhibitions and other cultural events too. The festival used to run for three months, but now it’s more like one month, and will take us to September.
This September, Neil and I will be celebrating living on the island for 20 years. We arrived on his birthday, and that is also celebrated on the same day, as is our marriage, which happened on his birthday too. We will also celebrate meeting 25 years ago around the same time, so early September is our own kind of festival season.
Before that, however, I must get back to the business of writing, and it is a business. Someone commented the other day, ‘I don’t know how you do it,’ referring to my output. My reply when people say this is, ‘It’s my full-time job’ and it is. Even when I am writing for other people, my mind is on the real work; mine. It’s there when I am walking in the morning, having a shower, meeting people for drinks—I’m terrible because I’m often not there—and when I am watching TV of an evening. That is the life of a writer. It’s a good job I’m not keen on swimming anymore, otherwise, I might be tempted to sit beneath a tree on the beach, contemplating life and taking the occasional dip. Too many stories, not enough time!
On which note, if you want to follow the progress of the next novel, check into the Wednesday Work in Progress blog, where I will update you about ‘Starting with Secrets’, the Larkspur Mysteries book six. I am already 30,000 words in…
Okay, before we start on our next journey together, let’s just check in with the news.
Speaking in Silence, the Larkspur mysteries book five is now available on Amazon as a paperback, Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. Follow that link and you’ll be directed to your own country’s Amazon if necessary.
Now, onto the next one which I started while I was finishing the last one. That’s something I often do, but in this case, I did it because I knew that what happens next in the Clearwater/Larkspur saga has to relate back to what the previous novels contain. In the case of ‘Starting with Secrets’, we go right back to before even 1888 and Deviant Desire, the first in the Clearwater series. (Which, I notice, now has 75 ratings and many decent reviews. A few more ratings and we’ll cross the 100 mark, a milestone for me, so keep rating every book you read folks!)
I am already 25,000 words into ‘Secrets’ and am nearing the end of Act One. The thing is, this is the first part of a two-part adventure, and so the first quarter of ‘Secrets’ is actually the first eighth of the overall story. As a four-act story needs a turning point at the end of each act, when I get to 50% through ‘Secrets’, I will be at the end of Act One of the two-parter, if you get me. I have to bear all this in mind as I plough on.
So far, we have met one new character and we’re about to meet a couple of ghosts from the past. James and Silas have been called down to Larkspur because Archer has been set a treasure hunt. It will, ultimately involve the academy men, Fleet and various other charters we know and love (or hate). There will be trysts and triumphs, sadness and success, love and maybe a little lust if it is appropriate (am thinking of you, Charles).
I’ll keep you informed as I write on, so stay tuned to the Wednesday WIP blog, and check back on Saturday for my weekly ramble about all things books, me and creative.
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