A week in lockdown: A personal post.

A week in lockdown: A personal post.

Over recent weeks I’ve blogged about ‘Banyak & Fecks’, book covers, my ghost and horror stories as James Collins, my editing process and Coming Out Week. This week, I thought it high time I filled you in on what I, as a person, have been doing, and what is happening in my real world. So, here is a personal post about a week in lockdown.

Where I live

As you may know, I live in Greece on a small island called Symi, which, if you look on the map, you will find not far north-east of Rhodes. It’s in the south Aegean, closer to the Turkish coast than it is to the next Greek island. Symi is small, yes, but not the smallest island in the country, and we have around 3,000 inhabitants. There are only two main settlements on the island, Yialos, the harbour area and Horio, the village that rambles from the top of the harbour bay, through a dip and up again against the side of our ‘mountain’, the Vigla. Neil and I are lucky enough to rent a house overlooking the harbour entrance, and our view is… Well, our view is this:

Greece is currently in its second lockdown since March. When this pandemic first reared its ugly head, Greece was one of the first countries to react and called the country into lockdown well before the end of March. I know that because we were returning from a once in a lifetime holiday to Canada. When we left Greece in early March, the virus was something that was happening elsewhere but still something to keep an eye on. Travelling through Athens and London, we were advised to wash our hands, use sanitiser and keep a little distance from others; that was it, and that was how it was when we reached Canada too.

After five days travelling across the country on a train, we got off in Vancouver to find the world had changed, and the return journey involved changing flights and plans, isolation and, ultimately quarantine at home.

Symi Dream

If you want to know more about this trip, I have just started blogging about it on my five-times-a-week blog over at www.symidream.com There, we’re currently on day six (still in London), but you can click back to find the start of the story, or just click to this page to read the first post and carry on from there.

We’re almost in that situation again because we’re not allowed out between 9pm and 5am, we must send a text message for permission to go to shops and a few other allowed activities, and we can’t visit friends. Everything is closed apart from essential services, and we have another two weeks to go before we can ease off.

So, what have I been doing?

Writing

As you can see from the way I ramble through these blog posts, I enjoy writing, and that’s what I have been doing. Actually, this past week, I have been doing a fine edit on ‘Banyak & Fecks’, the Clearwater prequel due for release at the end of the month. I have five days before it is due with my proof-reader, and still a quarter of the book to go through. I’ll reread it again after proofing of course, but we’re nearly there.

Between reads, I reread ‘Fallen Splendour’, one of my favourite Clearwater adventures. I’ve been going through the books making a few minor adjustments like typos we all missed (not many), getting rid of a few words the characters use that I’ve since learnt were not in use in 1888 (eek!), and generally checking facts against what I am writing in the prequel to maintain consistency.

Another of the projects I am working on, in the background, now and then, is The Clearwater Companion. This may end up on this website as a guide for fans of the ‘Clearwater Crew’, or it may end up being published, but it’s a collection of notes and backgrounds about the characters and the story. I have an artist in India who is turning cover images and descriptions of characters into pencil drawings for the book, and this month’s drawing is of Silas Hawkins. She sent it over this week, so I present it here for the first time.

Reading

I do like a good book. Not only as something to read, but something to hold, and this week, I took delivery of two new research books.

The first is titled, ‘East End 1888’ and is by William J. Fishman. It is a study of Tower Hamlets through the year 1888, which is perfect for me. Tower Hamlets (a London borough) includes the districts of Whitechapel and Limehouse, or, in my world, Greychurch and Limedock, and 1888 was, of course, the year of the Ripper murders, the inspiration for ‘Deviant Desire.’

The second book is titled. ‘The True History of a Little Ragamuffin’ by James Greenwood. James Greenwood (1832-1929) was a British social explorer, journalist and writer, and brother of the editor of The Pall Mall Gazette. You may remember, a while ago, I wrote about reading ‘A Night in the Workhouse’, the first piece of what we’d now call undercover journalism, published in January 1866. I found this via the online newspaper archive and have it in PDF if anyone wants to read it. I read about it first in ‘Slumming’ another book I recently acquired, and the workhouse article is the basis of Silas’ night in a workhouse in ‘Banyak & Fecks.’

‘The True History of a Little Ragamuffin,’ is a reprint of the original story Greenwood wrote based on his research and experiences working in the slums of East London. It tells the story of a young boy growing up in Clerkenwell, so, for me, it’s full of observations, language and details about the time I am currently writing in. It is, though, in tiny print and not easy to read.

 

The smell of books

Recently, before lockdown, my 13-year-old godson came for a piano lesson (I’ve been teaching him for a year now). One of the things I get him to do is find fun facts from an encyclopaedia of music I bought him last Christmas as the lessons are also about music generally. I have the same book, given to me on my 13th birthday, and thus, it’s rather old now and has a distinctive smell, as books do. Harry (or Little Mozart as I call him because he is so talented), was sitting next to me as I opened the encyclopaedia and he said, ‘I love the smell of books.’ I couldn’t agree more, and to hear it come from someone brought up with screens and phones, video games and computers as learning materials, I thought it was delightful. It pleased me to hear so much, I almost let him off his scales that day. Almost.

Other Symi winter things we do

But my world isn’t all about writing, I’d say only 80% of it is, the other 20% is made up of watching TV.

No, I’m joking, although we do spend a lot of the wintertime watching TV as there’s not a lot else to do on Symi in the darker months. This lockdown, to us, is not dissimilar to a usual winter on a small Greek island where many tavernas are closed, the beaches too, and where the weather can range from gloriously sunny to Biblically thunderous. One of the most popular questions from summer visitors is, ‘What do you do in the winter?’ I shan’t tell you what Neil says we do all winter but will tell you that there is a lot to see to, and plenty of things to keep one occupied.

Walking, for example. Up the hills, down to the bays, or even just around the ruins of the old village, many of which have not been repaired since WWII and the years afterwards when the island struggled to get back on its feet. It’s an atmospheric place, and was the inspiration for my book, ‘The Judas Inheritance’ (James Collins) which was made into a film in 2013 called ‘The 13th‘ (still to be released).

My writing station

As well as that, when we’re not locked down, we spend time with our godsons (Harry, 13, and Sam, 17) and their mum, Jenine (age withheld), playing cards, having family dinners, laughing a lot and being a family. Armistead Maupin once made a distinction between his ‘biological family’ and his ‘logical family’, and the boys and their mum are our ‘logical family.’ We have spent every Christmas with them bar one for the last 18 years, and we are looking forward to doing the same again this year.

So, another thing I’ve been doing this week is buying Christmas presents online as the shops are closed.

My other writing station, my father’s old desk.

We’ve also been preparing the house for the winter. Summers are hot here, up to 45 degrees and above sometimes, but winters are cold, down to 5 degrees but with a windchill that produces ice on the rosemary bushes. We also get a lot of rain, so we’ve painted the flat roofs to stop the rain coming through, and found the old towels to wedge under the ill-fitting doors and windows. I’ve yet to hang the draught-excluder curtains at the balcony windows (they face north) and the front door, but that’s on my list. As is my Invisible Man horror model kit which I started last winter and aim to finish this year.

What lies Ahead?

What lies ahead for me for the next week is finishing ‘Banyak & Fecks’ before 20th. I also have two piano lesson/practice sessions with Little Mozart which we are conducting via WhatsApp, me at my piano, him at his further up the hill, and I really should go out and do a few more healthy walks. Apart from that… We have a new season of The Crown on Netflix starting tomorrow, so that’s going to be a binge, I have two books to read, and my Clearwater bible to keep up to date with info from the prequel that I’ve not yet entered into it.

Inside the Clearwater Bible

As well as all that, I need to find time to make those minor changes to ‘Fallen Splendour’ and upload the new files to Amazon. Doing this doesn’t take the book off the shelf, and I’ve done it with books one to three in the series recently. It only takes a couple of hours, and I feel much better for doing it, which I do at my other desk on my old computer as this one doesn’t have the same programme. It gives me a chance to sit on the posh chair at the posh desk (above) which was my father’s, rather than my computer station. Oh, and I must also hoover the carpet because our cleaning-man (Sam, the other godson) can’t come for the next two weeks. We pay him, by the way, it’s not slavery, it’s his job, and very good he is at it too.

So, that’s a personal ramble to make a change from the books and writing posts of late, and I hope I’ve not bored you too much. I’ll be back next Saturday with something else. Meanwhile, if you want to escape lockdown and come on an adventure with us, click over to my personal Symi Dream blog. We’re currently in London with Paddington bear, meeting Jennifer Saunders and some old school friends, and are about to jet off to Toronto and Vancouver.

See you next week!

Symi Dream
The Judas Inheritance

Do We Judge a Book by its Cover?

Do We Judge a Book by its Cover?

This week I am revealing the cover for my next novel, ‘Banyak & Fecks’ a Clearwater prequel. To help celebrate this, we asked a few fellow authors to answer some questions about how they arrive at their covers. I’m thrilled to post the replies from A.L. Lester, Samantha SoRelle and Vincent Virga along with their covers and links to where you can find their books.

My new Clearwater cover is posted at the end of this blog, but first, let’s take a look at how these three authors arrange their book covers, see those covers and find out a little more about author and book.

A.L. Lester, Taking Stock
Published 19th September 2020
[Historical, Gay romance, 1970s, Disabled MC, Hurt-comfort.]

It’s 1972, and Laurie is a farmer with a problem. He’s had a stroke, and he can’t work his farm alone any more. Phil is running away from London and the professional suspicion that surrounds him at his City job. They’re both alone and unsure what the future holds. Can they forge a new life together with their makeshift found family in Laurie’s little village?

Why did you choose this cover for your book?
Honestly? Because it was purple!

Do you design it yourself or pass over to a specialist designer? What’s your process?
I work with my publisher, JMS Books, to get the cover that I want. I fill in a cover form when I submit the manuscript, saying what I think would work; and that’s a starting point. I pick out some cover art and tell them what I’m visualising, and then we have a couple of rounds tweaking the look of it and changing things if necessary.  I find it all quite stressful…decisions and all that. I don’t much like them!

Are you making a statement with the cover?
With Taking Stock it was really, REALLY hard to find appropriate cover models in the stock photography libraries. It’s set in the 1970s, and the models all tended to look like refugees from a book of knitting patterns. The sexiness levels were somewhere in the minus figures. I found a few pictures I liked that gave the right vibe for the book though, and I decided to use those rather than go for strictly accurate sideburns-and-flares type chaps. So my cover statement is more ‘Oh thank goodness, these people are in love and gazing at each other romantically’ than ‘Hey! It’s the 1970s! We all wore flares and had insanitary moustaches!’ if that makes sense?

Do you ask others for feedback or go with your gut feeling?
I rely on feedback from the cover artist. We have a good relationship, and if I say that it’s not working for me, the artist gives it another go. There’s mutual trust there, I think–they try and do their best for me, and I try not to take the mickey and be a primadonna about it.

Do you usually do a cover reveal event? If yes, is it only for selected viewing, e.g. through your newsletter?
I have in the past, but not recently, properly. I think in the future, it’s something I will make available through my newsletter or in my (tiny) Facebook group. I like people who are loyal followers to feel special.

Who would be your ultimate person to provide a quote or appraisal for the cover of one of your future books?
Oooh, good question! Can I have a dead person? I’ve got a series of 1920s mystery books planned for the next year, and I REALLY love this picture by Joan Miro, called ‘Horse, Pipe & Red Flower’. I’d love the trilogy to have covers similar to this!

 

Website: https://allester.co.uk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ALLesterAuthor/
UBL: https://books2read.com/takingstocklester

Samantha SoRelle, His Lordship’s Master
Published 20th November 2020. Series: His Lordship’s Mysteries
[Gay, Historical, Romance, Mystery, Scottish.]

Still reeling from the horrific events in London, Alfie thinks Balcarres House, the seat of his earldom, will be just the place to recover. But unexplained noises in the night, figures that vanish into thin air, and ghostly tales of the infamous Wicked Master all make for a less-than-restful stay. When one of the household turns up dead, matters only get worse. 

While Alfie tries to solve this mystery, his lover Dominick struggles to fit into his new station in life. It feels like the mud from the slums still sticks to his fine new clothes. He starts to worry that he’ll never be able to stand by Alfie’s side, and about what will happen when Alfie realises the same.

But Balcarres House holds secrets that cry out for blood. If Alfie and Dominick aren’t careful, they may become the next ghosts trapped within its walls. 

His Lordship’s Master is the second title in the His Lordship’s Mysteries series.

Why did you choose this cover for your book?
It’s a striking image that conveys the tone of my book, and the figure looks like shockingly similar to one of my main characters.

Do you design it yourself or pass over to a specialist designer? What’s your process?
I designed it myself using Canva at first, then Gimp once I became more familiar with the program.  My process is pretty simple. First I scour the internet or my own photo archives for a picture that fits what I’m looking for, then AFTER CHECKING THE USAGE RIGHTS, I spend endless hours tweaking it, moving it one pixel to the left, shading it two degrees cooler, etc. I know I spend more time fussing with it than most would, but when you’re your own designer, you’re allowed to make endless revisions!

For the first book in the series, “His Lordship’s Secret”, I used a photo I took myself then played around with the coloring, then was fortunate enough to find the painting I use for “His Lordship’s Master” which already fit my color scheme of golden yellow and navy blue, however with the emphasis on the blue as opposed to “Secret” being predominantly yellow. So the two are distinct but still maintain that stylistic link.

Are you making a statement with the cover?
The only statement I’m trying to make is “Here’s a book you want to read! Come take a closer look.” I do try to keep similar elements within a series, so someone who has read book one will immediately know book two when they see it.

Do you ask others for feedback or go with your gut feeling?
I ask for feedback after I have a rough version marked up, or if I can’t decide between certain elements, but mostly I just go with my gut.

Do you usually do a cover reveal event? If yes, is it only for selected viewing, e.g. through your newsletter?
So far, all I’ve done is tease for a few days on social media before releasing the cover.

Website: www.samanthasorelle.com
Facebook: @samanthasorelleauthor (www.facebook.com/pg/samanthasorelleauthor)
Amazon Series Page: www.amazon.com/author/samanthasorelle
Amazon Link “His Lordship’s Master”:  www.amazon.com/gp/product/B089FSQLLV

Vincent Virga, Gaywyck
Published 1980
[The first gay Gothic romance]

In the summer of ’75, pissed off by the fashion in the bestselling contemporary gothic romances of having the husband’s evil secret not a crazy wife in the attic but a hunky male lover in his bed, I decided to prove that genres have no gender. Essentially, it was about claiming territory. I was captivated by 19th-century writers like Charlotte Bronte, who used spooky happenings for spiritual shake-ups while prowling the labyrinthine corridors of self-discovery. My central character Robert Whyte’s psychological dilemma is not his being gay; it is his being human and prey to romantic delusions. To make this point, I rampaged through world literature and Hollywood movies abducting lines associated with female characters and putting them into the mouths of my male characters with no camouflage. (Like Bette Davis in “Now, Voyager,” Robert bursts into tears in Chapter 18 when being called “darling” for the first time.) I knew I had succeeded when Irish Murdoch sent me a note welcoming the new genre–the gay, gothic romance.  

In one sentence, tell us why you choose this cover for your book?
The book was published by Avon; and their art department, having much experience with romance novels, had great, brilliant fun with it on their own.

Do you design it yourself or pass over to a specialist designer? What’s your process?
With my own Amazon reprint, I did my own simple cover: a single peony for the first volume of the trilogy.

Are you making a statement with the cover?
Yes, peonies are my favorite flower and make an appearance in both published volumes of the Trilogy.

Do you ask others for feedback or go with your gut feeling?
With my own reprint, I knew what I wanted.

Do you usually do a cover reveal event? If yes, is it only for selected viewing e.g. through your newsletter?
There were no cover reveal events. They were first seen in reviews & in bookstore windows.

Who would be your ultimate person to provide a quote or appraisal for the cover of one of your future books?
I would have to talk this over with my editor. All of my nonfiction books have quotes from appropriate people.

My website is www.vincentvirga.com

Back to Jackson

I’m waving at my screen and saying a huge thank you to those authors for taking the time to give their answers, which I hope you found as interesting as I did.

Three very different sets of answers to the same questions.
That shows us that everyone has their own approach, or their publisher does, and that book covers are very personal things. I’m thinking of A.L. Lester’s comment about purple, and Vincent Virga’s comment about peonies. And what’s interesting about Samantha SoRelle’s comments about the image fitting how she imagined one of her main characters, hits home with me.
Which leads me to my next cover. As usual, I discussed this with my professional designer, Andjela K, and, because this novel is about two of the Clearwater series’ main characters, I wanted them to be on it. I gave Andjela descriptions and some photo ideas, and she agreed to create portraits of the two boys circa 1884, giving the cover an old-world feel with the colouring.
So, once again, my thanks to Ally, Samantha and Vincent (whose books are now in my to-be-read collection), and will leave you with the front cover of ‘Banyak & Fecks’, due out at the end of this month.

Jackson Marsh, Banyak & Fecks
Publishing at the end of November
[Historical, Bromance, Male prostitution, Survival]

Editing the next Clearwater Story

Work in progress: Banyak & Fecks

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

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

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

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

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

Editing

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

Wrong.

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

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

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

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

Back to Banyak & Fecks

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

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

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

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

Editing alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And back to the editor

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

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

And finally


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

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

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

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

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

Jackson Marsh on Facebook
Grammarly
Pro Writing Aid

Researching for Historical Fiction: Victorian London

Researching for Historical Fiction: Victorian London

In this week’s blog, I thought I would share some of my notes on how I’ve been researching my historical fiction series, The Clearwater Mysteries.

My Clearwater ‘bible’ and some research.

Let’s start with the obvious question. “What is historical fiction?” Now, let’s reply with the obvious answer. “Historical Fiction is a literary genre in which the plot takes place in a setting located in the past.” Clearly, that’s not yesterday, but some time further back, and in my case, we’re talking about Victorian times, specifically 1888 and 1889, and even more specifically, England, London in particular.

So, what do I know about Britain 130 years ago? History at school was either 1066, The Tudors, or the Arab-Israeli conflict of the 1960s, not really much help. I do, however, have an interest in Jack the Ripper (1888), have read a few books around the subject and the times, but, until recently, that was as far as my knowledge stretched.

Not the best foundations on which to build a historical fiction series set in the late Victorian period, so, what’s the answer?

Here is a tip: The answer is always research.

You don’t have to be an emeritus professor of literature and history to write historical fiction and, despite what someone might have told you, you don’t have to write about what you know. Tom Clancy didn’t know anything about submarines when he wanted to write ‘The Hunt for Red October’, so what did he do? He researched. Similarly, all I knew about life in Victorian London was from watching TV shows and films, which are not always the most accurate of study tools, nor are some documentaries. So, what did I do?

‘You researched.’
Good, you’re paying attention, but how did I do it, and can I offer any tips for anyone else wanting to write historical fiction? Rather, anyone who wants to write it well? I accept I am not (yet) in the same league as Hilary Mantel or Ken Follett, but whatever I am doing seems to be working. Coming into the genre untrained, as it were, I can also offer some examples of where I’ve gone wrong which may help you avoid the same pitfalls.

So, here are a few of my tips on making your historical fiction more accurate, and, as we’re talking about London in the 1800s, we’ll start at the Ohio State University in 2015.

I found a page on their website that summarised an article, ‘7 Elements of Historical Fiction‘ by author, M.K. Todd, and here, in brief, is my interpretation of those seven elements, with some notes on how I deal with them in the Clearwater Mysteries, set in the late 1880s.

Characters, real or imaginary, must act appropriately to the time.

I am writing about upstairs/downstairs life at Clearwater House and Larkspur Hall, and one thing Archer, Lord Clearwater, would love to do, is treat his servants as his friends. Simply put, he can’t, or at least, he can’t be seen by the outside world to do so, because it simply wasn’t done. That wasn’t how it worked, though there are records of noblemen treating their staff well, even having consensual affairs with, or marrying staff. So, what does Archer do? He promotes them, makes his lover his private secretary, his best friend, his butler, and, in the case of James Wright, makes him a businessman.

My tip here is not to push what was ‘the done thing’ too far, although I do it by making Archer an overly generous man, which, in turn, causes resentment from his peers, and thus gives me some juicy conflict to inject into what are generally feel-good stories.

Dialogue should be accessible to today’s reader with enough about it to appear real for the time.

Yeah, well, okay, but, you know… whatever. Recently, I realised I had used the word ‘okay’ in dialogue in a couple of the Clearwater books, but I am gradually editing out that and other time-inappropriate words. The word okay didn’t come into use until the mid-20th century. Similarly, it’s unlikely anyone said whatever in the way we hear it on TV now, so it’s not just words we must be aware of but turns of phrase. Similarly, many of my characters are gay, but they can’t be, because homosexuality wasn’t in usage until after 1900, and gay, even later, so those words are out.

Tip: If you want to check the usage of a word against your era, Google the word’s definition, and you will find the online dictionary gives the etymology and a convenient graph of instances of usage and popularity. If the graph is flatlining in your era, don’t use that word in dialogue.

Setting. The reader should be placed in the setting of the time from the start, and fall deeper into it as the story goes on.

Putting the date at the top of the first chapter is handy. I first did this in ‘Unspeakable Acts’, the third in the series, and I did it as part of a newspaper headline. The article that followed, written in a style inspired by newspapers of the time, also set up the place and background to the story. It also adds another layer of realism to the book.

That’s another trick I use from time to time, adding in realistic newspaper articles in the correct style as they can give the reader not only a feel for the time, but information and background which might otherwise sound clunky in the narrative. Bram Stoker did this masterfully in Dracula.

Themes must be explored within the context of the time.

The theme of the Clearwater Mysteries is male bonding, which we can then break down into bromance, gay relationships and acceptance of homosexuality. Or, if you like, the theme is about how my gay men survived at a time when prejudice was rife and homosexuality illegal. At the heart of the series is a set of characters who must survive being illegal and unacceptable, a state that surrounds their personal conflicts and happiness. I believe that, as the series develops, the reader takes in the theme subliminally and that heightens the romances and platonic friendships, giving us more fulfilling feel-good moments. You could use this theme in stories set in any era, but the pressures that bear on the characters will vary according to time and place.

Plot must be historically viable of course, and will be shaped by events of the time.

Some of my plots revolve around fictionalised real events, such as the Ripper murders of 1888 (in my case, the victims being rent boys, not women). Other mystery plots in the series involve real people of the time such as Stoker and Irving, places of the time, such as the Royal Opera House, employment such as telegram messenger boys and servants, and even real ships and trains. You’ll see in ‘One of a Pair’ (due out next weekend), there are references to chemicals and medical research that existed in 1889 but were called different names then, and genuine poisoning cases. Even the Adriatic sail-steamer of the White Star Line gets a look-in and description, but the 1871 ship that was replaced with a more famous steamer in 1906, and all travel details in the story are taken from timetables of September 1889, exactly when the story is set. Oh, and many of the laws referred to in ‘Artful Deception’ are, or were, real.

Conflicts must be appropriate to time and place.

Archer’s conflict (wanting his servants to be his friends) is time appropriate, and the gay characters living in times when homosexuality was illegal, are time appropriate, as are the troubles in Andrej (Fecker’s) Ukraine. There are other conflicts, such as Silas and Andrej surviving the streets of the East End by becoming rent boys, because many people turned to prostitution to survive. Other conflicts in the series include Mrs Norwood divorcing her cheating husband without losing her respectability, and Jasper’s treatment at the hands of Earl Kingsclere, which he can do nothing about.

World building. Readers must live in a world of your time beyond your story.

I take this as meaning, you can’t just tell a romantic story in a drawing room, one afternoon in late spring, not unless you are putting on a dodgy amateur dramatic play. The Clearwater world ranges from the intimate, i.e. Archer’s dressing room where his valet dresses him, to the wider world of the servants’ hall below stairs and their everyday life in service. It also ranges from the house to the city around it, and on to the country, and in ‘Artful Deception’, even to Europe. But it’s not just a case of location, there are also things like attitudes, religion, politics, beliefs, manner, etiquette and costume, all of which must be appropriate to the period. These things impact on the behaviour and attitudes of characters both major and minor, and their inclusion, makes the story more believable.

So, how do you achieve all that?
The answer, again, is and always will be, research, which brings me on to a few more tips and recommendations.

Be wary of documentaries.
I was watching an esteemed TV presenter narrating a respectable British series on the Victorians and chatting away knowledgeably about the state of London streets in 1870. One clip they ran showed cars driving around Piccadilly Circus. Er, maybe several years later post 1892, but certainly not in 1870. As the programme didn’t say when the clip was from, it was misleading.

Tip: I watch documentaries and make notes about dates and events, people mentioned and so on, and then double-check them elsewhere, just to be sure.

Read books
Other people’s historical fiction, yes, but again, I’d still check for accuracy unless I’m reading Hilary Mantel or someone I really trust – no offence to fellow writers.

As you can see from the photos, I have a wealth of books on my shelves that cover Victorian architecture, life in stately homes, books on 19th-century fashion, and in particular, ones written by scholars or people of the times. (Tip: Sketches by Boz, Charles Dickens, is a good place to start, especially for the 1830s.) I also have a fair few railway timetables, maps and dictionaries of rhyming slang, dialects and the etymology of words. I love buying books, but when I need a quick-fix fact-check, I download to Kindle as it’s much quicker than waiting for a delivery.

Use the internet wisely
Double-check everything. Don’t take Wikipedia as gospel, it’s much better to search out specialist sites.

Dictionary of Victorian London (click to go to the site)

On which note, I want to finish by pointing you towards The Victorian Dictionary. This invaluable archive was compiled by the author, Lee Jackson, a writer of fiction and fact, some of whose books are also on my shelves. This website has become my first go-to place for research because it gives examples of the time. For example, there are descriptions by writers who visited the London Docks in 18-whenever or saw the depravity of the East End first-hand. Similarly, there are snippets from newspapers and periodicals and other writings of the time about all aspects of life. It has a searchable database with subject headings too, and a bibliography. There’s even a database of Victorian slang which I love to dip into. (It’s mainly from around London as the site is actually http://www.victorianlondon.org/) I’ll do that now and leave you with a couple of random words that you might want to use in dialogue when appropriate to your characters.

Tulips of the goes – the highest order of fashionables
Romoners – fellows pretending to be acquainted with the occult sciences, fortune tellers
Bender – a shilling
Diddle cover – the landlord of a gin shop

I could go on, but I’ve already gone on long enough. My last tip would be, when thinking about writing historical fiction, do your research and make it fun. I have learnt so much over the past couple of years, I am now at the point of being able to insult people without them having a clue what I’ve said!

I will see you next week with details about the next release, ‘One of a Pair’ the Clearwater Mysteries Book Eight.

Banyak and Fecks, A Clearwater prequel

Banyak and Fecks
A Clearwater prequel

In the last couple of years, since I’ve been able to commit more time to my writing, I have fallen into the habit of starting on the next book while the current one is ‘resting.’ I take a book through its however many drafts and reach the point of leaving it alone before I fiddle with it too much and break it. During this time, it waits for its slot in my proof reader’s schedule, and Andjela K designs the cover. Meanwhile, I turn my attention to what’s next. So, while ‘One of a Pair’ awaits proofing and layout, I have started on the book to come after, and it’s a prequel with the working title, ‘Banyak and Fecks.’

If you’ve read the Clearwater Mysteries, or if you’ve only read the first one, ‘Deviant Desire’, you will know how it all starts. Here’s the opening paragraph.

Silas from the cover of Deviant Desire.

Silas Hawkins was searching for coins in an East End gutter when a man four miles distant and ten years older sealed his fate. Silas had no idea that the discussion taking place concerned him, or that it was even happening. He wouldn’t know the details for some time, but even if he had heard the conversation, he wouldn’t have believed it. It wouldn’t have concerned him if he had, because Silas wasn’t the kind of youth to shy from a challenge, not even one that might threaten his life.

Even though he is only 19, Silas arrives at the start of the Clearwater series with a history. We learn parts of it through the book, where he mentions his upbringing in ‘Westerpool’ (the Wirral). We see where he used to live in book four, ‘Fallen Splendour’, but there is a lot of detail as yet unshared in the series. Hold that thought.

When we first meet Andrej (Fecker/Fecks), he also comes with a history. Remember we’re dealing with two young male prostitutes as you read Andrej’s first entrance:

(Silas) had deliberated at this window so often that some good had come of his indecision. That good appeared beside him, bringing the smell of apples and the reflection of a tall man of similar age.
‘Privet, Banyak,’ he said in his native tongue.
‘Evening, Fecks.’ Silas acknowledged his mate’s reflection with a nod towards a marble angel.
Fecker, like Silas, was nineteen and had picked up a street-name known only to his close mates. Silas had given it to him not long after they met. Andrej, his real name, knew that it was Irish slang for fucker, but he took pride in that. Unlike Silas, he wasn’t queer, and only rented when he was desperate. His cock was usually enough to secure him an income. There were plenty of men who were happy to pay for the youth’s substantial endowment, particularly as it was attached to a six-foot-two blond lad built like a docker.

This is how I imagine Andrej/Fecker

Again, as the series unfolds, we learn some of Fecker’s past, particularly when he is travelling with Archer in book four, ‘Fallen Splendour’, and tells him why he left Ukraine and came to England. What we have never had, however, is the full story of that journey.

And that’s where ‘Banyak and Fecks’ comes in. I am currently writing a prequel to ‘Deviant Desire’ which tells the story of how Fecker and Silas came to London. Starting in two different countries at different times, these two characters eventually meet in 1884 and spend nearly four years living and working together on the streets of the East End before book one starts. I wanted to explore the beginning of their friendship. To do that, I decided, I had to go right back to the pivotal moments in their lives, the inciting incident, as they call it in scriptwriting circles, and that’s what I’ve started doing.

At the moment (this is only draft one), the story opens with Andrej aged about 14 (no-one, not even he, knows his exact age) surveying the ruins of his home following an invasion by the Russians who have taken his sister and killed his father. One brother had also died in the fighting, and another, Danylo, is missing. With nothing left and no-one to turn to, Andrej decides he must find a new life, so, when he has established himself, he can return to his homeland and search for what’s left of his family.

Serbka, Ukraine
Late summer, 1881

A Ukrainian farmhouse, 19th century. Fecker’s home before it was destroyed.

They were coming for him again now; he could see activity across the long field towards the village where the smoke still rose, and the wailing was louder than yesterday. They could come for him, but he would not go, and he gripped his grandfather’s knife as he said his farewell to his childhood.
Andrej put the pebble in his pocket. It gave him the strength to leave the past, turn his back on the land that was no longer his, face the west, and walk.

Fecker’s story begins a few years before Silas’, because Silas didn’t leave Westerpool until his mother died in 1884, and I am still playing around with how the two stories will be told. If I write it chronologically, the first quarter of the book will be about Andrej and the second about Silas, and they will meet at the halfway point. The second half will then be about them both, the lead up to the Ripper murders and the night they meet Thomas in The Ten Bells, and are offered the chance to meet Lord Clearwater. I’m still thinking about structure and, when the draft is finished, will see how it reads if I cut the stories together. My concern is that we’ll jump from 1881 to 1884, back to 1882 and forwards again to 1884, and so on. We’ll see.

This story won’t be a mystery, nor a thriller, nor a romance. It will be a simple story of adversity and friendship, and I have to say, some of Fecker’s story that’s already written isn’t exactly cheerful. It’s the story of a refugee walking across Europe to find safety, and we see a great deal of that happening today. As someone who has worked directly with refugees, I’ve seen the conditions, pain, hope and resolve first-hand, so I have some observations to draw on there.

The poor of Liverpool, 19th century. Silas when he was about 11?

Against that seriousness (in which there are lighter, happier moments, colourful characters and friendships), I have to balance Silas. He’s a cheeky scamp with a lot of self-confidence, speaks with the blarney of his Irish mother and doesn’t care what he does to survive, although, to start with, its petty crime rather than prostitution.

‘Ach, Father, if I were to confess me sins, we’d still be here come Christmas. Will you not take a pew?’

Here’s an extract from the first draft. Silas has come to tell the family priest that he is leaving Westerpool the next day.

‘A pair of shoes you’re wearing today,’ (Father Patrick) observed as they walked along the deserted aisle, treading on the tombs of the long-dead and once wealthy of Westerpool. They weren’t new shoes, but they were new for the usually barefooted Silas. ‘Now how did you come by those?’
‘Ach, Father, they were a gift from God, I’m telling ya,’ Silas replied, his accent a mix of his mother’s Irish and local slum. ‘The Good Lord himself left them for me on a windowsill only last evening.’
‘Uh hu.’ The priest was dubious, and rightly so. ‘And this windowsill, would it have been inside or outside the house it was attached to?’
‘Outside, for sure, Father. They were just left there, discarded.’
‘I’ll remind you, you’re in the house of Our Lord, Silas Hawkins.’ When the lad didn’t reply, he hinted with more vigour. ‘And I’ll remind you, you came to me, and as that only happens when you’re wanting something. You’ll be more likely to get it if you attach some truth to our discussion.’
They entered the chancel, and the priest paused with his hand on the sacristy door, unwilling to enter until Silas accepted his terms.
‘Aye, well perhaps the windowsill was a way on the inside of the house,’ the lad admitted sheepishly.
‘A way?’
‘More like…You now, an arm’s reach… Well, maybe it wasn’t a sill but the floor beside the cupboard… Or inside it, I forget now, Father, but they were left there for me by God, I’m sure of that.’

Silas, of course, is a great manipulator and mimic, and I’ve already started having some fun with him when he arrives in London, confident that he will make his fortune.

I’d tell you more, but I’ve already chatted on far too long, and I only wanted to let you know what I was up to. What I will add, however, is that ‘Banyak and Fecks’ is taking more research than any of the others so far. The number of times I’ve had to work out distances between Serbka and Brasov, Belgrade and Genoa, or look up nautical terms, Russian-Ukrainian words and sayings… That’s one thing. The other has been my ongoing research into the East End of London in the 1880s, from the street slang to the way of life, though it was hardly any life at all for the poor.

[I am using an excellent online resource, and if anyone is interested in Victorian London, I highly recommend The Dictionary of Victorian London, a site put together by author Lee Jackson. I have some of his publications on my shelves, and they are invaluable.]

On sale for $0.99c for International Buy a Book Day, September 7th.

There we are. That is an update on what I am doing right now, and there will be more about ‘Banyak and Fecks’ as time goes on. There will also be more about the Clearwater Mysteries Book Eight, ‘One of a Pair’ which you should be able to start reading in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t read ‘Deviant Desire’, now would be a good time to start as it will be on sale for International Buy a Book Day, on September 7th, Monday. You will be able to find it on Amazon Kindle for $0.99c, but only for 24 hours.

Other People’s Dreams Can Be Yours

Other People’s Dreams Can Be Yours

This week, I want to tell you more about myself, in particular, where I live and why. If you read my story on my Facebook ‘About’ page, you will see that I live on a Greek island. However, I was born on the south coast of England, so how did that happen?

Symi, Greece

I first came to Symi in 1996, and I came almost by accident. Somehow, I found myself able to afford a holiday and having been to Greece once before, wanted to go again. I found a brochure in a travel agent’s and looked for the place that had the smallest write-up and no airport. Symi leapt out at me because it is far south in the chain of Greek islands, and to get here, you need to travel by boat. I stayed for two weeks, and the first one was filled with exploration as the island offers wonderful walks as well as beaches.

My view when drafting ‘Other People’s Dreams’

While on a beach one day, ‘Nanou’ it’s called, I watched a yacht out in the bay. On it was a group of men (mainly naked), larking around, jumping off and generally having a good time. That gave me an idea for a story. Until then, I’d been writing cabaret material, songs and theatre pieces, not prose, but the sight of the boat and that thought ‘What if…?’ got under my skin. The next day, back at my solo studio overlooking another bay, I jotted down some ideas for a story, and the second week of my holiday was spent writing it, or at least, some of it. That story went on to become ‘Other People’s Dreams‘ which I first released under my real name, James Collins. Later, I decided to put into the Jackson Marsh catalogue because it’s more suited to Jackson’s genre. Once I’d finished it, I submitted it to Gay Men’s Press, and it was accepted for publication. However, before the editor and I could set about preparing it, the company fell apart, and it never happened. Years later, I published it myself.

Symi sunrise

The point there was that Symi, a small Greek island in the Aegean, had inspired me to write a novel, and I did. What Symi also did, though, was show me a place where I could find inspiration and have time and peace to write, and from then on, it became my dream to live there, sit under an olive tree, and write books. In fact, when I was up for a promotion at my old day job and they asked me that dull question, ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ I answered, ‘Living in Greece, writing books.’ I was 34 then, and we moved here when I was 39 so that one was off the to-do list.

Recently, I’ve been hammering away at the Clearwater Mysteries and before them, the Mentor series, while also putting together some stories as James Collins in the Saddling mystery series. I’ve also, as James, released ‘Remotely’ a gay/straight body-swap comedy, and have written a few books about living on Symi. So, a lot of writing, but now I can work for myself, I have the time and place that I longed for when sitting on that beach wondering ‘What if…?’

Symi 5600

My Symi books are an honest collection. The first one, ‘Symi 85600’, is a collection of notes, emails, letters and jottings I made when, in 2002, Neil and I left England to try living in Greece for a year. It was my first self-published book, and actually, one of the first to appear on Lulu.com, the self-publishing platform I used before Amazon took over everything. ‘Symi 85600’ talks about our experiences of moving here and I’ve never actually edited the content, so it comes ‘warts and all.’ I don’t believe in glamming up travel experiences and don’t like those clichés one reads in books where the author has fallen as much in love with a country as they have with syrupy adjectives. It’s honest, as is the second one about our experiences of living here, ‘Carry On Up The Kali Strata.’

Part of the Kali Strata, Symi

That second book contains articles I wrote for the local newspaper and some stories, plus other observations, and also some photos taken by Neil when we had a photography business on the island. Later, in 2013, I put together ‘Village View’, which was the name of my column in that newspaper. The third book takes us through one whole year living on Symi. It’s made up of selected blog posts, as I write a five-day per week blog at www.symidream.com

‘Village View’ takes us through my 50th year. Jackson readers who have tried ‘The Stoker Connection’ and/or ‘Bitter Bloodline’ won’t be surprised to know I spent my 50th birthday in Transylvania having coffee in the house where Vlad Tepes was allegedly born. But I digress…

Symi

The fourth book in the Symi, Greece collection is ‘Symi, Stuff & Nonsense’ and is another compilation. This one includes some of my original diaries before and when moving to Symi, as well as travel anecdotes from my past and some other random observations. It takes us up to a couple of years ago, so if you read all four books in order, you travel with me from Brighton to Symi (and elsewhere) in consecutive order from 2002 to about 2017, and hopefully, enjoy the read as you go.

Before I go, I wanted to explain that the 85600 in ‘Symi 85600’ is the postcode, and the Kali Strata is a set of wide stone steps that joins Symi harbour, to the village where I live. If I take a trip to the post office, it’s about 400 steps down and then 400 back up.

And so, that’s where I live and what I’ve been writing since I got here. I guess Symi hasn’t always given me the inspiration to write, but moving here has allowed me space and time, the freedom to write, and now I’m lucky enough to be able to write what I want when I want while looking out at one of the most spectacular views in Europe. Well, that’s only my opinion, but I think my husband’s photos in this post speak for themselves.

I’ll be back next week with another catch-up and post. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in checking out my James Collins novels and Symi books, you can find them on my author page (link below). All bar one involves a gay character in some role. There’s a comedy set on Symi, ‘Jason and the Sargonauts’ that’s historically correct, and another one that’s set here, ‘The Judas Inheritance’ which was made into a film, and filmed on Symi. So, there’s plenty more reading for you there.

James Collins Author at Amazon
James Collins Author Facebook Page

Symi’s charm is in its people and the minutiae of their lives; James’s great talent lies in his careful observation of the absurd and the amusing, the dramas and the difficulties (because nothing in Symi is ever simple), and in reporting what he sees with kind humour and a writer’s eye for the details essential to lively travel writing.
Anne Zouroudi, author of Bloomsbury’s Greek Detective mysteries.

Mindset and Language in Historical Romantic Fiction

Mindset and Language in Historical Romantic Fiction
19th Vs 21st Century in The Clearwater Mysteries

Deviant Desire, The Clearwater Mysteries book one

This week, I read a blog post titled ‘How do you read historical romance?‘ written by Joanna Chambers, author of MM Romance novels such as ‘Unnatural’ and the ‘Enlightenment’ series. I found the post of great interest and very well written, and a paragraph towards the end made me wonder about my own historical fiction.

Joanna’s post first discusses what makes a reader exercise willing suspension of disbelief (a phrase coined by Samuel Coleridge, a fact I never knew until reading the post). Later, she talks about the mindsets of characters, and we’re talking about historical fiction here, remember, not contemporary. The part of the blog post that made me stop and think was this:

I will admit to not much liking characters who appear to have wholly 21st-century mindsets and who seem not to struggle at all with being at odds with the society they live in. I like to see the characters in historical romances having to wrestle with the norms of their time…”

I stopped and thought, ‘Do mine do that?’

I mean, do my Clearwater characters have 21st-century mindsets and do they struggle with the norms of their time? I asked this because I have read historical fiction, both MM romance and not, and have put books down after a couple of chapters because a) the language doesn’t fit the period, and b) the mindset doesn’t fit the period, and sometimes c) because there were too many clichés, but that’s another matter. Knowing that I’ve been critical of others’ work, I started to wonder if I was a pot calling out a kettle (to carefully ‘PC’ a phrase attributed to Don Quixote, and later, an anonymous poem published in a magazine in 1876), and I had a think about how I have written the Clearwater Mysteries.

Do my characters have a 21st-century mindset?

Well, yes and no. When writing the books, I am always aware of what surrounds the characters, and I mean not only the landscapes but the politics, the expected norms and the etiquette. They are the ‘shell’ that encloses all characters, particularly those who exist either side of the baize door. As Thomas (Payne, the butler) calls it, ‘The great divide.’

And there’s where my 21st mindset comes in. Archer (Lord Clearwater) and Thomas grew up together, they are a similar age, Thomas came into service at eight and Archer was allowed to befriend him when his authoritarian father was absent. The friendship they formed back then grew and came perilously close to a teenage love affair. By then, Thomas was a footman, and Archer was the Honourable Archer Riddington, so the gay thing aside, a friendship should have been out of the question.

Even when Archer takes the title of viscount, he is still held back by the ‘great divide’, although one wonders if Tom and Archer shouldn’t be the couple living together in love. That can never happen because of the expected norms of the time. A butler and viscount being so personally close was definitely not expected in the later 19th century.

But two men being friends (possibly more) is entirely within the mindset of MM Romance, or, as the Clearwater Mysteries are, romantic MM fiction.

Archer’s liberal views are progressive, and his perfect world would be one without this upstairs/downstairs divide. He treats his servants as friends, and if he had his way, there would be no baize door.

I think what I am trying to say is, if characters in the novels spoke and behaved exactly as expected in 1888/1889, there would be little or no room for what holds the Clearwater Mysteries together; the bonding and friendships between the characters, particularly the men.

Take the relationship between Silas Hawkins and James Wright, for example. Read book four, ‘Fallen Splendour’, and you would be forgiven for thinking that what these two young men have is a ‘bromance’, a word that only came into use in the past ten years, and one which does not even appear in my 2006 OED. So, it’s not a word I could use in the stories, and it wouldn’t have been a ‘mindset’ of the time. It’s my job as an author, to convey the emotion and state of ‘bromance’ so the reader can relate and engage, but without the characters actually calling their friendship a bromance.

Which brings me on to language

Joanna’s post also made me think about language. There are two languages in my novels, that of the narrator and that of the characters in dialogue.

My characters speak with today’s attitudes (so readers can relate), and yet in a language that is appropriate to the period. In book eight (due out later in September), Jasper Blackwood behaves like today’s typical teenager, except he spends his time playing a piano not an Xbox, but his language is period-appropriate. For example, when James is trying to understand Jasper’s teenage sulk, Jasper says, “As I see it, Mr Wright, an older gentleman has me trapped in my bedroom, and he is inappropriately dressed. Some would consider this improper.’ James doesn’t have him trapped, but he is wearing a dressing gown, and if this was a modern scene, Jasper would be far less polite!

Language is where we have to be careful. While rereading one of the earlier stories in the series, I was horrified to see a character use the word ‘Okay.’ I was sure I’d checked this usage, but further research proved that the word didn’t come into use until around 1926. Oops! I am continually checking words and phrases to make sure they were in use in the late 19th century, and sometimes have to change the dialogue to fit. Researching chemistry and medical matters for book eight (‘One Of A Pair’, due out at the end of September) proved interesting as I was dealing with a batrachotoxin which, after consulting with my brother, a chemist, I learned was a phrase only coined in the 1960s, so that was out. I invented a term of my own instead.

What I try to do with my Clearwater mindset and language is to engage the reader with a modern mindset while telling a story set in the past. Contemporary attitudes are present, so the reader doesn’t feel detached from the characters and places, but they are bound by time-appropriate situations and expectations. Hopefully, nothing grates as being to 21st century, while the language remains free of Victorian clutter, though believable, allowing the reader to suspend their disbelief and get on with enjoying a good, romantic adventure.

I know I have wandered from Joanna’s original points, and if you want to read the article that inspired this post, you can find it here: How do you read historical romance?

Joanna Chambers
Blog https://joannachambers.com/
Author page UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Joanna-Chambers/e/B00MB8JFDM/