The Clearwater Inheritance. The End of the Line?

The Clearwater Inheritance. The End of the Line?

I have quite a lot of news for you today, starting with the release of ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, book ten in the series. As I write, the Kindle version is now available to download, and the book is also on Kindle Unlimited. You can find it here. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0971F1HT3 That’s the Amazon.com link, but it is available in other Amazon countries/sites too.

The paperback version is still being checked by the Amazon bots and going through that process but should be available any moment if it’s not already out there. You will be able to find it from the main Clearwater Series page here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07RPCKF4L

Is this the end of Clearwater?

In a word, no. Having written ten stories and a prequel, so 11 books in total, I thought it might be time for a change. However, I enjoy the Clearwater world and characters so much, I don’t want to let them go. What was starting to become a problem for me, though, was having so many characters I wanted to write about, and I was looking for a way to deal with this. In ‘Inheritance’, I wanted to give a sense of something ending and something about to begin, and I wanted as many of my principles to play a part as possible without the story becoming cluttered. So, without giving anything away…

In ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, you’ll find four storylines taking place, and all leading to the same end: Who will inherit the Clearwater fortune and name? The story is set in three locations; Larkspur Hall in Cornwall, Clearwater House in London and across Europe. After it becomes clear that the inheritance is in jeopardy, the ‘crew’ split up to work various leads. Some stay at Larkspur, some go to London, and two head off to the Carpathian Mountains. Each team is working their own lead and has their own tasks. Meanwhile, the usurper to the Clearwater fortune is heading towards them with a devious plan of his own.

That’s the basic outline, but Clearwater’s inheritance (and thus, his ability to fund charities, run the mission, help those in need and do what he does) is not the only thing that might be lost. His new venture, The Larkspur Academy, will not happen if he loses the race to secure what is rightfully his. And that’s where the continuation comes in.

I’m now starting on the follow-on series, The Larkspur Mysteries. My intention is to bring in new characters and make each mystery/love story/mashup mainly about one new and central character. However, they exist in the Clearwater world. So, in the first book, which currently has a working title of ‘Dalston Blaze’, we meet an eighteen-year-old chap brought up in a workhouse. He is rescued from a predicament and sent to Larkspur to join the new ‘Academy.’ Thus, some of the existing characters play parts in the new series but are not always central. I’ll say no more for fear of giving away things that happen in ‘Inheritance.’

Thanks

This seems an appropriate place to thank people for their help in making the Clearwater series such a popular success. First of all, you, the readers who keep the writing going not only through book sales and reviews but also through interaction on my Facebook page. I must also thank those who work behind the scenes to ensure historical accuracy, people such as Andy Ward, my railways guru who helps with timetables and routes and all those factual details I love to insert into the fiction. Jenine, my PA, who does sterling work to promote the books and this site, and who keeps me in line with orders to post this and write an interview for that while holding down two full-time jobs, one of which is bringing up my two godchildren. Similarly, I must thank Neil, my husband, for reading the first drafts, calling me a ‘bastard’ for making him cry and laughing in the right places.

On the publishing side, my proofreader, Ann Attwood, tirelessly corrects my punctuation and typos with the patience of a saint and never complains when I repeatedly make the same mistakes despite her notes. Andjela K, my cover designer who, I think you’ll agree, produces some amazing covers. She does this from a few notes I send her and always seems to understand exactly what I am after. For ‘Inheritance’, I would like to thank Khayyam Akhtar, who produced an accurate map of the route two characters take across Europe, including the route of the Orient Express, which features in the story. The map is based on an existing German map of the time. Finally, Scott and Mark at Other Worlds Ink who now do my layout and interior design, and their reviewer Maryann who has been so supportive.

Price changes

And now for some business news. Thanks to various changes in tax and stuff I don’t fully understand, I have to put up the price of my eBooks and paperbacks. We noticed that many people sell their ‘novels’ at the same price as me, but those novels are actually novellas or even short stories. I have always tried to keep my prices low, but I was recently reminded that I am producing full-length novels of at least 90,000 words, and I should be offering them at a price more appropriate to the amount of material. For example, ‘Inheritance’ is 150,000 words long (which is why the print costs are more than usual), and that’s a lot of typing for a return of only $0.17c per sale.

However, for three days starting tomorrow, the first in the series will be run as a giveaway, so ‘Deviant Desire’ will be available for free for a very limited time. This is to celebrate the ‘end’ of the series and hopefully encourage new readers to start at the beginning and carry on through by buying the other 10 books. This, by the way, will be my first ever price rise since I started publishing ten years ago.

Instagram

A quick note. I now have an Instagram account/page/thing, and although I don’t really know what Instagram does, you can now follow me there.

MM Fiction Café on Sunday has an Interview with Archer

The MM Fiction Café will be hosting an interview with Archer, Lord Clearwater, this Sunday, 13th June. Check out their blog post, and find out a little more about Archer than you might already know.

A Treat from Doctor Markland

And finally… Another talented artist has been working with me to produce sketches of some of the characters for the Clearwater Family page, which you can find in the main menu. Dazzling Designz works through a ‘work for sale’ site and has been drawing several of the Clearwater crew over the last few months.

Her latest is a sketch of Doctor Markland, the scatty but brilliant doctor who first appears in ‘Deviant Desire.’ (He actually appears in the prequel, Banyak & Fecks too, if you look closely). The Doc has just appeared in an early scene in the new Larkspur Academy series, so he’s still with us. I thought I’d end by showing you the sketch. This is how I imagine him. Oh, and here’s a little known fact… When I was born, I was delivered — in the harsh winter of 63 when the Romney Marshes were deep in snow and the roads impassable — by our family doctor, Doctor Markland. He was nothing like the Doc in my books, though he did, apparently, take a first look at me and say, ‘He looks like a keen beer drinker; you should call him Toby,’ so he wasn’t far off.

I’ll be back next week. If, in the meantime, you want something to read, then ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ is out there and waiting.

Do We Judge a Book by its Cover? Part 2

Do We Judge a Book by its Cover? Part 2

Today, we have the second in our series ‘Do we judge a book by its cover?’ Here, I’ve invited some of my favourite authors to chat about their covers and what’s behind them. The reason for this is because I have a new Clearwater Mystery coming out during the coming week, and Andjela K has once again done me proud with the cover. This is the first Clearwater with no person on the cover, and there’s a reason for that. Being the 10th in the series, and the ending of one thing and the start of another, and concerns more than one main character. In fact, the story follows three paths, all leading to the same overarching end in one story, but the question was, who to put on the front?

As you can see, I didn’t put anyone on it (apart from a train driver, if you look closely, but he’s not in the story). What I asked for was a representation of the main ‘props’ in the story. In this case, you can see Rasnov Castle in Transylvania, the Orient Express as we now call it, and a piece of music by Bach, one of the preludes referred to in the mystery. I hope the cover also suggests a journey, snow, urgency and the period.

So, that’s what we’re talking about today; book covers. I’ll now hand you over to my guests.

 


 

A Little Morbid

by Olivier Bosman

Book 3 in The John Billings Mysteries

Published February 9, 2021

(Victorian mystery, the occult, Egypt, Treasure Hunt, LGBT)

 

The year is 1895.
An ancient manuscript claiming to hold the secrets of God’s creation;
A cunning old woman trying to make sense of it;
A deluded psychopath intent on stealing it away from her.
Following on from the events in “A Glimpse of Heaven”, Billings and Trotter travel to Egypt in search of the elusive “Codex of Solomon”, where things suddenly start becoming… a little morbid.

 

 Why did you choose this cover for your book?

The posture and clothes of the man in the picture give him an air of mystery.

Do you design it yourself or pass over to a specialist designer? What’s your process?

This was a premade cover, but I asked the designer to add an Egyptian background.

Are you making a statement with the cover?

Yes. It’s clear that this is a Victorian mystery set in Egypt.

Do you ask others for feedback or go with your gut feeling?

I go with gut feeling. If I ask for feedback I get contrasting opinions and that only confuses matters.

Do you usually do a cover reveal event?

No. I just announce my new book on Facebook and my newsletter without too much fanfare. It’s important to have a cover well before release date so you can do some marketing.

Who would be your ultimate person to provide a quote or appraisal for the cover of one of your future books?

I haven’t done that yet, nor have I thought about it. I’m not even sure who the leading author in my particular genre is. I guess it’s because my writing falls between genres.

Find Olivier at his website https://www.olivierbosman.com/
Universal book link https://books2read.com/alittlemorbid
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/olivier.bosman.author

**********************************

 

99 Days

by Matt Converse

Published May 27, 2021

 

(M/M, Sci-fi, romance, thriller, novella)

 

 

Life as we know it will never be the same. Flying saucers are spotted all over the world. But after one crashes into the San Francisco Bay, they disappear. Not far from the crash, Mitch rents his spare room to Claytone and quickly develops a crush. But what he doesn’t know is that Claytone will soon turn his world— and heart, upside down. Claytone’s final revelation will reach even further; it will change life on planet Earth— forever.

 

Why did you chose this cover for your book?

I looked through many pics at the site my publisher offers to choose from and this one grabbed my attention the second I saw it.

Do you design it yourself or pass over to a specialist designer? What’s your process?

I pick out the picture and font of the lettering I want, then my publisher’s cover designer works her magic.

Are you making a statement with the cover?

I certainly hope so. I think it fits the contents of the book very well.

Do you ask others for feedback or go with your gut feeling?

I go with my gut feeling.

Do you usually do a cover reveal event?

I do a cover reveal of my two main social media platforms, Facebook and twitter.

Who would be your ultimate person to provide a quote or appraisal for the cover of one of your future books?

This is my only m/m sci-fi, most of mine are LGBT horror and thriller, so I wouldn’t mind a quote from Stephen King!

Amazon profile: https://www.amazon.com/Matt-Converse/e/B00TKCCVWY/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/matt.converse.39

Universal buy link: https://smarturl.it/99Days

**********************************

 

Silly Little Love Songs

by Frank W. Butterfield

The Latest book in The Romantical Adventures of Whit & Eddie Series

Published May 18, 2021

(Mystery, Hitman, Elders, Redemption, Billionaires)

 

It’s a mystery about a mystery. Sal Desimone was executed in 1948 for the murder of Pete Rudd. But did Sal really do it? Or was he covering for someone else? Whit and Eddie are digging into the past to find out the truth. But will doing so get them or the people they love killed?

 

Tell us why you chose this cover for your book?

This is the ninth book in the series, and it follows the template.

Do you design it yourself or pass over to a specialist designer? What’s your process?

I designed this myself with help from designer Ron Perry. Since I publish rapidly across a number of series, Ron helps me develop a template I can then adapt when new titles are ready.

Are you making a statement with the cover?

Yes! Just prior to the publication of this book, I revised the template and updated all the covers. There are two MCs and I previously only had one (Whit) on the cover. I added the other MC (Eddie) to the template and really like the results!

Do you ask others for feedback or go with your gut feeling?

I ask my loyal readers for their feedback but primarily follow my inner feeling about whether it’s right or not.

Follow Frank on his website https://frankwbutterfield.com

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/FrankWButterfield/

Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09581QSW9

 


I’d like to thank everyone for contributing to today’s post. Make sure you click through and read more about these books – you’re not going to be disappointed!

Have a great week, Jackson

Musical Cryptography: A Mystery Device

Musical Cryptography: A Mystery Device

A good mystery needs particular elements. Strong characters, motives, opportunities, means, deceptions, red herrings… There’s a long list. In all my mysteries, I also employ what I call a device. A plan, method, or trick with a particular aim, as the online dictionary defines its meaning. Without giving too much away about my Clearwater Mystery Series in case you’ve not read every book, I wanted to tell you about some of the devices I have used in this series and in my other novels.

A Mystery Device

When I talk about a device, I am referring to the thing that needs to be understood for the mystery to be unlocked and the ‘treasure’ found. That ‘treasure’ can be a murderer on the run, a kidnapping victim, the prevention of an assassination, anything. It is the particular aim of the investigating characters.

So far in this series and other books with a mystery or treasure hunt element, I have used murder sites to form a map, a poem to reveal a location, anagrams, the first draft of Dracula and the novel itself (The Stoker Connection), an oil painting, family history (The Blake Inheritance), rare books, unusual poisoning and, on more than one occasion, musical codes.

Here’s an aside. Years ago, when I first moved to Brighton, UK, I had an idea for a madcap mystery adventure concerning drag queens and opera singers. I never finished writing this one, but I spent hours working out the plot and the devices. The story hinged on a piece of coded music. Later, when I moved to Greece in 2002, I set about writing another mystery adventure comedy (I like my mashups), and in it, the device of a musical code. The story, Jason and the Sargonauts, was based on the original Jason and the Argonauts myth but concerned a group of elderly tourists coming to Symi on holiday and their young, gay rep. It is a mix of fiction and historical fact set in the present day and the past and concerns the search for The Golden Fleece. That’s not the original Golden Fleece, but something else, and the key to its whereabouts is hidden in a piece of music. This novel was written under my real name, James Collins, and you can find it here.

A Treatise On The Art Of Deciphering, And Of Writing In Cypher: With An Harmonic Alphabet (1772) by Philip Thicknesse

Wow, that’s a title and a half, but it is actually a real book. I now have a copy of it and dipped in and out of it when writing my current novel. It was written in 1772 and plays a part in the story. Naturally, I couldn’t let the name of the author go by without at least one character making a reference to Thicknesse. It is too good a word to turn down. (Inserts a wink emoji.)

Currently, I am working on the 10th book in the Clearwater Mystery series, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, and once again, I have used the device of a musical code. Or rather, a message hidden in a piece of music. It has always fascinated me – the thought that it might be possible to write a message into music that could only be understood by someone who investigated deeply enough, but there has always been the question, How?
How can you translate musical notes into the English language, create a message, and still make the music sound like music?

I shan’t tell you exactly how because that would spoil the story for you, and actually, it’s hard to do in text without bamboozling the non-music-reading reader and without showing images of a score while playing an audio track, but…

The current state of my notebook.

One of the simplest ways to do it would be to have each note represent one letter. Say you started on the note Middle-C, and every semitone going upwards was the next letter of the alphabet. Even if you’re non-musical, you might guess that the word AWAY, for example, would have the melody bouncing from bottom to top of the range in a very untuneful manner.

Then there’s the question of where to start? Who’s to say what note is A and what is Z? There are 88 notes on a modern piano keyboard, any one of which could be A with the consecutive alphabet running up or down. And how do you handle chords and harmonies?

As you might see, it’s a lovely idea but hard to explain, and for this reason, I researched musical codes to see if it was a viable device.

It is, and I am certainly not the first to have thought of it.

Musical Cryptograms

The B A C H motif

A musical cryptogram is a cryptogrammatic sequence of musical symbols, a sequence which can be taken to refer to an extra-musical text by some ‘logical’ relationship, usually between note names and letters. The most common and best known examples result from composers using ciphered versions of their own or their friends’ names as themes or motifs in their compositions. Much rarer is the use of music notation to encode messages for reasons of espionage or personal security. [Wiki]

There are two principal techniques, the German and the French. The most common musical cryptogram is the ‘B-A-C-H’ motif. JS Bach used this, but in the German-speaking world, the note B-flat was actually B, and B-natural was H, so he had more letters available. The French version is even more compliacted. I was interested to learn that several well-known composers have used a musical cryptogram, Bach, Schumann, Brahms, Ravel, Poulenc, Shostakovich and Elgar, among many others.

There is also a method of coding a message in music by way of patterns, where the shape of the phrase represents a letter. If you are interested, check out Atlas Obscura.
With so many possibilities to draw on, I eventually decided that to keep it simple was the best way forward, and so, I was delighted to find a quote that said, In its simplest form, the letters A through G can be used to spell out words or codes. [Ludwig Van Toronto.] I decided to limit myself to seven letters, the basic music notes as used in the English notation system. (Don’t get me started on do, re, me, fa, so, la, ti and the Solfège system of notation.) This naturally presented me with other challenges.

Limited Letters

Michael Haydn’s musical cipher of 1808

How to create a message using only seven letters? The starting place was an anagram solver and typing in A through to G to see what came up. Not a lot. So, bearing in mind that any of those seven letters can repeat as many times as necessary, I searched for anagrams made up from letters such as A and E (the only available vowels) plus DD, GG, F, CCC… and so on. Well, that took some time, but eventually threw up a list of words I could legitimately use.

After that, it was a case of putting the most useful ones in the right order and then building the answer to the riddle around them. I mean, there was no point the message reading ‘You will find it at the zoo’, because, from that sentence, I would only be able to use F D A E. But hang on… FDAE can be arranged to make FADE, and if I add another D, I can make FADED. What’s more, that doesn’t sound too bad if played as music. So, what something is made up of only the seven letters and might be faded? A faded DEAD… A faded DEAF… BED… DEED…

A DEED is a legal document, and an inheritance would be written into a legal document, a deed or, in this case, a fee tail, also called an entail, but still a DEED…

Finally

I’ll stop chatting there as I don’t want to give anything else away about what I am currently writing. All you need to know is that you’re in for a treat with the next Clearwater, and you don’t need to be a musician to understand the code. You can leave that to Jasper Blackwood…

Jasper Blackwood at work, 1890

By the way, The Clearwater Inheritance is currently going through its third draft, and I have booked it in for its final proofreading towards the end of May.

I have contacted Anjela about the cover and aim to have the novel released early in June. If you’ve not read Banyak & Fecks, you might want to slip that one in before the publication date because some of what happens in The Clearwater Inheritance relates to what happens in the prequel, Banyak & Fecks.

And now, back to 1890 and musical cryptography…

Why Do I Write a Blog?

Why Do I Write a Blog?

Today, I thought I’d take a step away from writing about my writing to write about my blogging. Blogging is, of course, another way of writing, so I suppose I am still writing about writing, only, in this case, I am writing about my blog writing. Rather, blogs, plural as I have two.

Let me start off by saying that I am writing this blog in the way that I approach most of my blogging and a great deal of my writing. Simply put, I am making it up as I go along. I tend to write from a stream of consciousness angle. Starting with an idea, in today’s case, a suggestion from my PA, Jenine, I sit at the PC with an empty page and start writing. I write what is on my mind and develop from there.

I also tend to do that when writing my books; start with an idea, imagine a scene, and then let it flow. In the case of novel writing, I then do a lot of editing work as I go over the first draft, and I also pop backwards and forwards through a manuscript while writing it to keep facts consistent and make sure I have remembered the clues correctly.

I take the same approach with blog writing, but the only editing I do is when I have finished. Then, I use a couple of writer tools to help keep me in check. Grammarly is one, and Pro Writing Aid is the other.

The danger of this unplanned approach is that I often drift from one point to the next and forget what I was talking about. Still, that’s how I blog, that’s how it goes, and that’s how this blog is going to go.

When Did Blogging Start?

You know me, I like to discover the derivations of words, and for that, I tend to use the online dictionary by typing, for example, ‘Blog derivation’ or ‘Blog meaning’ in a search string and finding the dictionary page for that word. [See the image.]

Blog, the noun, is a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.

To blog, the verb, is to add new material to or regularly update a blog.

Blog, the word, derives as a truncation of the word Weblog, or web-log, I guess, rather than ‘we blog’, and it’s been around since 1900.

Except it hasn’t.

One of the functions of that online dictionary is showing you where a word was first recorded in print, and I use that part of it a great deal. When writing the Clearwater books set in the late 19th century, for example, I often pause after writing a word and think, ‘Did that word exist then?’ A quick check will tell me when it first appeared in print, and although that’s not 100% accurate as a guide to spoken usage, it’s a help. Only this week, I paused after writing the word ‘paperwork’ and wondered if a solicitor in 1890 would use such a word? The answer? No. That word didn’t start to appear in print until the 1940s, so I changed it to documentation.

As for ‘blog’, I was surprised to find that my online resource suggested it was in use between 1910 and 1940. If you look at the image (left), the graph, you can see there’s a bump at that time, before the word took off in the late 1990s. I checked that out via Google Books, and it turned out that the source of this unlikely information was a misprint. Rather, a miss-read by some computerised scanner. The word it was reading was an abbreviation of Building, printed as BLDG in various directories, and the scanner was mistaking the D for an O.

The lesson? Always double-check your research.

What Do I Get Out of a blog?

Well, for a start, I didn’t realise ‘documentation’ wasn’t in use in 1890 either. Not until I started talking about it just now and went to check. I’d used it in yesterday’s first draft of a Clearwater chapter, thinking ‘It must be okay’, and was going to leave it there. Now, when I return to that chapter, I will change it to ‘documents’ because ‘documentation’ wasn’t used until the 20th century. You see? Blogging helps my work.

It also gives me a legitimate reason to ramble on like I am doing now, sometimes get things off my chest, and, at other times, publicise my latest book. I always hope it brings me closer to my readers and them closer to me. That is why I prefer this freestyle, stream of consciousness approach.

Paid to Blog?

I have been, and let me tell you, it can be arduous and soul-destroying. A few years ago, I fell upon a travel site that wanted stories for their posts based on personal travel experiences. Wonderful, I thought. I’ve been to a few places, I’ll chat about them. Simple.

Not.

These kinds of sites need you to be SEO targeted and keyword rich (I loath such jargon). They needed you to include keywords in H Tags, and upload images with no ALT text, hit a particular word count, supply your own images, and stick to stringent guidelines while being creative. Woe betides anyone who falls foul of this creative cagery.

Cagery being a word I just invented. I think. (He makes a quick check online. Did you mean Calgary? No, I didn’t. Checks real dictionary and discovers ‘cage’ comes between caftan and cagoule, which is an interesting costume challenge, but the word cagery doesn’t exist, not even in the sense of ‘constraint’, which is what I meant.)

I think my point here is that these ‘earn a fortune by blogging’ websites are only suitable for those who can churn out the required words within strict rules, and I’m not one of them. I did do it, for a while at least, but it was too structured for me, and I was only being paid $40.00 for what turned out to be about six hours’ work for 600 words. I’d rather write a novel of 90,000 words and be paid nothing for my time than 600 words to someone else’s formula.

But, yes, it is possible to make money out of blogging. I used to have Google Adsense  links where a programme adds adverts to your pages and if anyone clicks on one, you get $0.0002, or something, but another pet hate of mine are blogs and sites that are advert-stuffed, so that get rich quick scheme didn’t last long.

Any money I make from my two blogs comes from the sales of my own books generated from my own links and publicity.

My Blogs Are My Conversation

Me outside a cafe

I think that’s obvious from the way I am rambling on as if you and I were sat outside a café having a chat, I’d had a glass of wine, and my usual staid and quiet tongue was well loosened. I use these pages to chat to you, and thus, myself, and often, in doing so, ideas spring to mind. Sometimes, I put up a less chatty, more planned blog, and although this process takes more time, it often offers more help in developing my books. For example, last October, while writing ‘Banyak & Fecks’, I undertook a lot of research into Male Sex Workers in Victorian London, the ways of the workhouse and the poverty of the East End in the 1880s. These subjects formed the background to the story (and others in the series). I decided to blog about that research, and in doing so, had to examine documents and, thus, discover extra facts, which then went into the novel. So, blogging about novel writing can feed into that writing, and vice versa.

Writing a blog also helps me think about the stories and the characters. I’ve done a couple of interviews with characters, one A Character Interview With James Wright, you can find if you follow that link. James is one of the central characters in the Clearwater series, and in answering questions set by Jenine, I had to think deeper than what comes out of my head, and that helped develop a deeper understanding of the man I was creating.

As Jenine put in the list of ideas she sent me for this post, I could also mention that writing a regular blog ‘Allows your PA to boss you around.’ That’s a good thing for both of us, because it stops me from being lazy, and it makes her feel like she’s doing something useful.

I hope you have gathered by now that I also like to put humour into my blogging.

I also put an awful lot of typos because I write as I think, and even my editing software doesn’t pick up everything. For example, before I changed it, the above sentence read, ‘I also like to put hummus into my blogging’, and on more than one occasion, I have written things like, ‘You must see this bog’, and ‘The main character is a cuntess.’ (I now have a heap of personalised corrections in Word auto-correct.)

And As For The Other Blog?

I have been mentioning my two blogs, this being one of them. The other, I have had on the go since about 2005. It started out as a website where I could publicise my husband’s photo shop on the Greek island of Symi. Later, it developed into a site where I could also talk about the books I was writing about living on a Greek island. Later still, when we closed the shop, I continued the blog because it had gained a huge following, and my mother liked to know what I was up to. It went from being a once-a-month update to a weekly one to a seven day a week chat and is now a five day per week chat about me, my life, my writing and day to day living on a Greek island. I also sound off about Brexit and ruffle a few feathers from time to time, and Neil and I post photos five times per week.

So, if you can stand this kind of ‘train of thought’ style, want to know what I, personally and as James, my real name, is up to here on Symi, Greece, then bookmark Symi Dream (symidream.com) where you can find me chatting about everything and nothing.

Blog Off

And so, thank you for listening to me thus far. I am going now, as I must turn my attention back to Clearwater 10, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, which is now up to a worrying 120,000 words in 1st draft form and still not reached its climax. This may well turn out to be a story in two parts. Either that, or I will have to chop out many interesting and fun scenes that are not 100% on-story, but which do contain elements of the mystery, and rework the whole thing. If I do, I may then publish the cut scenes separately or give them away for free in my newsletter, and if I do that, then I will make sure that I have not cut out any necessary plot points or clues.

Maybe I’ll just treat everyone to a very long Clearwater, like a Downton Abbey Christmas special and have done with it.

One thing’s for sure. As the writing of the book and its publication continue, I will be blogging about it.

The Clearwater Inheritance: Working on the first draft

The Clearwater Inheritance: Working on the first draft

I am currently at 90,000 words of the first draft of ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, the Clearwater Mysteries, Book Ten. I thought you might like to know how it was going and what research has gone into what promises to be the longest of the Clearwater novels.

I will have to be vague about some aspects of the story because I don’t want to give away any spoilers. I’m sure you’ll understand. What I can tell you, though, is that this may be the last of the Clearwater mysteries as we know them. I have an idea for a second series of books set in the Clearwater world, but with new characters, and we will see how that develops once ‘Inheritance’ is done and dusted.

Developing the Cast

My desk this morning.

The series started in 1888 in London’s East End during the Ripper’s terror, and what started as a standalone insta-love story soon took on a life of its own. It was to be about two main characters, a street-rat renter, Silas Hawkins, and a young viscount, Clearwater. Halfway through writing ‘Deviant Desire’, however, I started to enjoy the research and characters so much, I decided to write a sequel. Andrej (Fecker’s) character took on more significance, and so did that of Thomas, the footman and life-long friend of Clearwater (and, if we are to be honest, the unrequited love interest).

For book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’, I wanted Thomas to have his own love interest and was already considering the background to book three, part of which I wanted to set around the famous Cleveland Street Scandal. Thus, when book two opens, we meet a messenger, James Wright. Each character has his own flaws and skills, but the characters develop through a series of trials, tribulations, successes and failures, and are still developing. Book seven, ‘Home From Nowhere’, introduced two more main players, Jasper Blackwood and Billy Barnett, bringing the ‘canonical five’ MCs up to seven. With ‘Negative Exposure’, the number of episodes in the series reached nine plus one prequel.

The stage is set for part ten, and it will be something of an epic.

The Clearwater Inheritance

The story starts at the end of book nine, and the challenge is set in the last few lines of ‘Negative Exposure.’
The person who holds our future in the stroke of a pen goes by the name of Cooper Raglan.’

You will find that some storylines and character’s personal journeys in book ten were started as far back as the prequel. For example, ‘Inheritance’ is set in January 1890, but one through-line has its roots in 1881. The on-going story of Archer’s maniac brother, Crispin, comes into play, as does his mother’s death, his ancestry and Larkspur Hall. The ‘crew’, now of seven main players, must employ all their individual skills to survive the story, and you’re going to find some of my favourite devices and settings.

Rasnov Citadel. I visited there in 2013.

There is a mystery, of course, and there is a code to be deciphered. Music again plays a big part in the story, as do the railways, and there is a legal element to be figured out. Although I have part-invented some of the legalities because the laws around inheritance have never been easy to understand or explain, I’ve put that matter in the hands of Sir Easterby Creswell, the barrister, because he has a knack of explaining things in one or two sentences. A castle is also involved, but not just any old castle. I have mixed fact with fiction and have sent two of my characters to Rasnov, which is now in Romania. In 1890, I believe, it was in Transylvania.

What there isn’t in ‘Inheritance’ is a love story, and so, what started out as an MM romance series with ‘Deviant Desire’, has now become a mystery series with one underlying love theme. Not a romance, as such, but something I find romantic. And that is, the love of friends, particularly, male love of male friends, what we might now call bromance. Some of my pairs are still in love with each other and always will be, but the series has always been about (mainly) gay men bonding as men. Being set in 1888 to 1890, it’s set against the background of homosexuality being illegal (and not yet even being called homosexuality). That has always been the canvas on which the Clearwater world is painted. That and the class divide, the upstairs/downstairs world, the Liberals against the Tories, equality versus snobbery, right against wrong, and acceptance.

Researching ‘Inheritance’

That’s some background. Now we’re on a research tour.

I started ‘Inheritance’ with a timeline plan because I knew that there were to be three main storylines, and I needed to keep track of where everyone was at any one time. I have used the technique of telling parts of the story through letters, as characters do in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This is a handy device for a few reasons.

One, letters can impart exposition to the reader without bogging down the action. Two, readers get into the character’s mind. Three, they give the narrative a sense of time and place – of being real. Four, letters can be intercepted or lost, thereby adding to the tension.

However, only part of the ‘Inheritance’ narrative is presented in letters, unlike ‘Dracula’, which is an epistolary novel (written as a series of documents). If you want to read one of my completely epistolary novels, then I point you to ‘The Stoker Connection.’

For realness, I have again used genuine sections from newspapers of the time which I find in the British Newspaper Archives. You need to subscribe to get the full benefit, but it is well worth it. I also find background information such as costs and times of trains, adverts for medicines and other matters, reports of concerts and events, and all these small details make the story more real.

Musical Code & Philip Thicknesse

I swear I did not make up that man’s last name!

Part of the musical code as it stands at the moment.

The outcome of Clearwater’s problem in ‘Inheritance’ relies on the cracking of a code. In this case, a musical code, and so, I needed to turn my mind to how this might be achieved. Did you know, JS Bach, Mozart, Brahms and others employed codes so they could write messages in their music? Bach’s use of code is quite famous and yet simple.

There are seven letters employed in musical notation, A to G, but in Bach’s time, the note B-natural was named H, and B-flat was B. Thus, Bach was able to score B-flat, A, C, and H (what we now call B), and thus make his name, BACH, sound as a melody. Brahms wrote the name of his (assumed) lover in one of his pieces, minus one letter, and there are all kinds of theories around what Mozart may have done in The Magic Flute.

I didn’t want my musical code to be too complicated because although it might be fun for me to be devious, overly-clever codes need explaining to the reader, which bogs down a narrative. While inventing my code, though, I turned up a book from 1772 by a man called Philip Thicknesse. This has the snappy title of “A Treatise On The Art Of Deciphering, And Of Writing In Cypher: With An Harmonic Alphabet”, and you can find it at Forgotten Books and other outlets. I’ll be honest, I haven’t read all of it yet, and it’s not an easy read, what with the letter S printed as an F and all that florid language, but it did set me on the right track for the simple code around which I could base the mystery.

Locations

Another facet of ‘Inheritance’ is the location. Rather, locations, because I have set the story in three. London, Larkspur Hall and Europe.

Austria-Hungary (ethnic, 1890, with red 1914 and blue 1920 borders)

Europe. I mean, how big does an author want their location to be? In my story, two of the characters must travel from Cornwall to what is now Romania and back, and in 1890 the way to go was by train. Actually, by several trains and a boat, plus a carriage or two, and their final destination is, of course, a remote one.

For train information, I again turned to my expert friend, Andy Ward, and asked him how long such a journey would take. In a nutshell, the answer was, It will take 107 hours to get from Bodmin to Brasov/Brasso, including a 15 hour overnight stop in Vienna. My characters then only have to travel ten miles to Rasnov castle. Coming back, it’s quicker because there are only 5 hours in Vienna, but the route is similar, total time 96 hours.

In the story, my characters stop off in Paris for a night. They are invited to the Hofburg, the Emperor’s palace in Vienna where they meet Brahms, sleep the night at Budapest railway station, put up at a guest house in Brasov, and travel through the worsening influenza pandemic which was still running riot across Europe in 1890. Oh, and it’s January, remember, so it’s cold and not at all comfortable.

London. Meanwhile, two other main characters are dispatched to London to search the Clearwater archives kept by the solicitor, Mr Marks. While there, they must interview the barrister Creswell to see if there are any archaic inheritance laws that may stop the villain from doing what he intends to do. This sees one of our MCs accidentally appearing in the High Court (because I do like a courtroom scene), and brings in a couple of other cameo characters we’ve met in previous novels.

Larkspur Hall

Larkspur Hall. The viscount’s country home is a large, rambling pile of mixed architecture and history which deserves a novel all of its own. In ‘Inheritance’, we get to meet some new staff and find out more about the Hall, which we’ve only been to briefly in ‘Fallen Splendour’ and for longer in ‘Bitter Bloodline.’ I have not yet mapped the Hall, although its basic plan is in my head, but I have used various sources for inspiration, mainly ‘The Victorian Country House’ by Mark Girouard, which has very informative text and plenty of excellent images and plans.

I have my A4 notepad beside me as I write this blog, and in it, I have several pages of notes and reminders I have made along the way. This is without the Word documents and other electronic things I have in my ‘Book 10′ folder. They include Thicknesses’ book in Pdf, maps of Eastern Europe from the late 19th century, and another book which was exactly what I needed, ‘Travels in Various Parts of Europe During the Years 1888, 1889 and 1890’ by Gilbert H. W. Harrison. (Google books.) He gives accounts of travelling from London to Paris, to Vienna to Budapest, and that’s the route I have used for my two characters, who had their journey set up by Thomas Cook and Son of the Strand. You see? I like to keep it real.

Meanwhile, my notes. Here is a snippet of what goes through my mind when I am creating one of my mysteries, as found in my scrawly handwriting.

Billy sniffing. Flu later?
Silas does this without Archer knowing. (Does what? I have no idea, I can’t remember now.)
Code? 12 major, 12 minor = 24 x two volumes = 48. 1 x P + 1 x F = 2 x 12 = 24.
1859 Archer, 1829 dad, 1800 grandfather.
Count Movileşti (real family, Moldavian).
The Hall 14th century, tower, main hall. Abbey. Celtic monks, St Crannock pre 1066.
James’ birthday, Jan 10th, he’s just turned 27.
Freiherr (baron) Kubinsky.
A B C D E F G

And then, in a box of its own: Remove Duncan from story and use later.

Onwards to the future…

Duncan is a day-player we meet briefly in book nine, and I wrote him in intending to use him in book ten. The trouble is, he doesn’t now fit, and so, I have decided I may bring him into whatever comes after book ten.

That may well be ‘The Larkspur Academy Mysteries’, but on that subject, I shall remain quiet for now, because, as I finish, I have two characters in a blizzard in Transylvania, three suffering in the Clearwater Archive in Chancery Lane, a sick housekeeper, a broken telegraph system, huge news from abroad that’s about to cause the final countdown to kick in, and somebody vital has started to feel very unwell.

My characters are waiting for me. I have left them in limbo and must go and see to them.

Jasper Blackwood at the piano.

Oh, before I do. One last thing. As ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ includes the cracking of a musical code, the character of Jasper Blackwood plays a large part. Jasper, or Pianino as Fecker calls him, is 18 and a musical genius. This coming Wednesday, 31st March, you can find an interview with him over at the MM Fiction Café.

Negative Exposure & A Valentine’s Peek

Negative Exposure & a Valentine’s Peek

Hi, welcome to my Saturday blog. Today, I want to tell you more about ‘Negative Exposure, the Clearwater Mysteries, Book Nine’, and give you a heads-up about something special for Valentine’s Day.

Negative Exposure

This is the ninth book in the ongoing series, the Clearwater Mysteries (though the 10th book in the Clearwater world, as there is a non-mystery prequel, ‘Banyak & Fecks’).

If you’ve been following the series, you’ll know that after the mayhem of books one to six, there was a break in pace for two slower, calmer mysteries, ‘Home from Nowhere’ and ‘One of a Pair’.

Inspiration for part of the cover

Well, with ‘Negative Exposure’, the Clearwater crew is back to detecting, unlocking clues, racing against time and battling things out on stormy clifftops. While I’m about it, I’m also drawing on information and events from the prequel and other novels through the series, and bringing in the real flu pandemic of 1889. (It was around for longer, but this story takes place in December 1889.)

Negative Exposure is also setting things up for Clearwater 10, which will be the prelude to a change in direction, but not an end to the Clearwater world. I’m still thinking about this idea, so my plans might change.

Negative Exposure starts at the end of the 2nd Clearwater Gala, this time, held at the Lyceum Theatre, London as discussed by Clearwater, Henry Irving and Bram Stoker in ‘Artful Deception.’ Everything’s going well until, the next day, two pieces of potentially devastating news arrive at Clearwater House. One, brought by Dr Markland, involves the spreading pandemic, the other is found by Harvey in Silas’ coat pocket, and threatens to blow Silas and Archer’s world apart.

What is it?

These days, we would probably call it pornography, back then the word, although in existence, wasn’t widely used, so I’ve gone with ‘erotica’ and other Victorian euphemisms. James leads the investigation, with Silas and Fecker also involved, and it takes them back into Silas’ past and an event from ‘Banyak & Fecks’, on to the Cheap Street Mission, and later, to the wilds of the west coast of Scotland. During all of this, there is a growing sexual frisson between two major characters who should not be attracted to each other. There is no great love story, other than my favourite theme of friendship and how far we would go for our friends.

I’ve decided to release a sample of the story in a special newsletter on Valentines Day, not because the story is about love, but as a gift for readers.

Valentine’s Day

On this day, I will be sending out a newsletter that will include part of a chapter from ‘Negative Exposure.’ I have yet to decide precisely what chapter and what part as it’s one of those stories that follows on scene by scene, and doesn’t have a section that can easily be taken out and posted as a standalone piece, but… well, we’ll see.

If you’ve not signed up to the newsletter, you can do it here with a couple of clicks.

I usually only send one per month, and I don’t bombard people with other writers’ books’ sales opportunities or news. It’s purely informal and personal, with news of my work and what I have been doing here on our quiet Greek island.

Back to Editing

While writing this post, I am in the middle of editing ‘Negative Exposure.’ I am currently on chapter 12 of 24, going through each page line by line, removing repeats and shaving off too many passive verbs and dangling modifiers, and all that grammar jazz. I’m also ensuring that clues tie-up, backstories are consistent, and words are spelt correctly. The manuscript is booked in with my proof-reader for February 15th, which means I am aiming for a release date in the week of February 22nd. Not long to wait now. It also means I have a tight deadline and as each chapter takes me roughly two hours to line-edit, I can’t hang around, and I need to get back to work.

First, though, I am finishing my cup of tea before going for a short walk around our village for the exercise. It gets in the way of my writing but must be done, and while I am doing it, I can put together an outline for Book 10, which has a working title of ‘The Final Prelude’, but that’s very much at the in-the-imagination draft stage right now.

One last thing, an appeal. If you’ve read any of my books and liked them, it would be helpful if you could give them a good rate on Amazon, or even a short review, and share news of the books around your social media. I know many of you do, but new readers might not know how much those small actions can help a writer develop his audience.

Thank you, and look out for the Valentine’s Day newsletter and your exclusive peek at ‘Negative Exposure’, the Clearwater Mysteries, Book Nine.

Jack

What’s a Novel without Characters?

What’s a Novel without Characters?

Last week, I was talking about how I write a novel. Today, I want to talk about characters. After all, what’s a novel without characters?

Character Vs Characterisation.

In his book on screenwriting, Story, Robert McKee discusses the difference between character and characterisation, a concept that confounds many. Characterisation, he says, “is the sum of all observable qualities of a human being.”

So: age, height, sexuality, choice of vehicle, speech style, dress sense, personality, behaviour, job… And so on.

Many people, particularly new writers, think such things show a person’s character. They don’t, they are their characteristics. So, what makes a character and, more importantly, how do you show character when writing a novel?

My rule here is to never write something like, ‘Oh, Tony? Yeah, he’s a dodgy character,’ and leave it at that. Show Tony is dodgy (whatever that means), show him doing something so the reader imagines for himself how dodgy Tony must be.

Yeah, okay, but how?

Robert McKee, one of the gurus of screenplay writing, says: ‘True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.’

He also says the pressure is essential, and that reminded me of a writing truism. In this case, it was said best by Syd Field in his work, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting

“All drama is conflict. Without conflict, you have no action; without action, you have no character; without character, you have no story; and without story, you have no screenplay.”

For screenplay, you can read novel, play, musical, story…

How do I show character?

All this theory made me think about my characters and how I set about creating them. I shall be honest here, sometimes I don’t think about a character before I write him/her, I just let them write themselves as I go. In other cases, I sit and consider the character beforehand, and at other times, I imagine someone I know, put them in a story-appropriate costume and setting, and write them doing what I think that person would do. Later, as I go through the drafts of a novel, I pay more attention to whether that character would actually do whatever it is I have them doing. I ask myself, would they say that? And more importantly, would they choose to do that? Sometimes, they just do it, and they’ve made a decision and shown character before I realise what I’ve written. That, for me, is when I know the characters I am creating are real.

Here are some examples of how I show character in The Clearwater Mysteries. Some of these examples were planned, others just happened because I was being led by the characters I was creating.

Silas Hawkins

At one point in ‘Deviant Desire’, Silas and Fecker take Clearwater and Thomas into the East End to see the sites of the Ripper murders. Archer (Clearwater) is looking for clues and becomes increasingly aware of the life Silas has been living. He is also falling in love with the Silas. Seeing how he lives, the squalor and the danger, Archer, being an impetuous romantic, offers Silas a new life and declares his love for him. They happen to be at a Ripper murder site, in the dark, with a mob of vigilantes fast approaching, all of which are designed to add the conflict, drama and tension to what should be a romantic scene.

On hearing a handsome, wealthy man, a viscount, is offering him a way out of his hellish existence, and knowing that he has feelings for Archer, what does Silas do? In a classic romance novel he might swoon into the man’s arms and say, ‘Take me away from all this,’ but this is a Clearwater novel. Silas simply says no, tells Archer to run before they are caught, and disappears into the night.

That rejection defines his character. He’s not weak, he’s not swooning, he’s taking himself out of a ‘dream come true’ situation because he can’t cope with the idea of being loved. That’s his character or part of it, and we learn from that scene that Silas is insecure about love, but strong when it comes to his convictions.

James Wright

In book four, ‘Fallen Splendour’, we know that James is handsome, a ‘jock’ by today’s standards, literate and loyal, and we know he was bullied when younger, but these are characteristics. So, we need him to show character. Cut to the scene where Inspector Adelaide has taken Silas from Clearwater House and thrown him in gaol, Archer and Fecker are away, Thomas is at Larkspur, and two strangers, the Norwoods, have come to look after the house. James is alone, and because of the way Adelaide behaved, he suffers a flashback to his bullying. He crumples by the door thinking all is lost but, hs anger at Adelaide unlocks an inner strength. Refusing to be put down, bullied and trampled over, and does something about it. The conflict of the scene, the arrest, brings out the best in James. He chooses not to give in, chooses to seek help, and so his character develops from servant to friend to businessman.

Archer, Lord Clearwater

Of all the characters, Archer is the one most driven by outrageous, character-defining decisions, mainly because he can. The fifth richest nobleman in the country, he has the resources to do whatever he wants. He could give his life over to pleasure if he wanted, as so many rich landowners did. He could spend his time at any one of his homes and evict those families who rent his property if he fancied using it for himself. He could attend balls and galas, the theatre and dinners simply to socialise, and he could treat his servants like shit as his father treated them, and treated Archer.

He doesn’t.

He has more money than any of us can dream of, and yet chooses to use it for others. He sets up a charity to help who we’d now call rent boys, which, in 1888, was a fairly dangerous thing to do as it could invite all manner of negative speculation. Archer doesn’t care. He treats his staff well, is constantly trying to promote them and make them his equals if not friends (his fatal flaw), and he chooses to see the best in people (another flaw which nearly leads to his death on a few occasions). We get from that that Archer is a kind man, but it’s deeper than that. Like Silas, he needs to be loved, but for different reasons, and although it would be easy for him to throw money at people to make them happy, he doesn’t. His charity is also a business concern, his fundraising galas are also social manipulation, he gathers influential friends and knows how to play the political game while choosing to fill his house with staff we’d call gay or gay-friendly. In other words, in a time and place when being gay was punishable by two years in prison with hard labour, he chooses to tread a dangerous path and risk losing everything including his title, by protecting other gay men.

Some of Archer’s character-making decisions are made under great pressure. Examples: Knowing the Ripper’s identity and that the man is dangerous, he opts to accept his invitation to a potentially fatal confrontation (twice). When faced with a bland, legally correct and society-expected speech in front of 2,000 people at the Lyceum Theatre, he sets it aside to speak from the heart. (That’s book nine, you’ll have to wait for that.) Those are but a few examples.

Thomas Payne

Today, Tom is interviewed exclusively at the MM Fiction Café.

These interviews are an excellent way for a writer to stop and think more deeply about the character he has created. In this case, it’s Thomas Arthur Payne, and I was attending more to his characteristics than his character choices.

Thomas begins his fictional life as Clearwater’s footman, later, his butler and, at the end of book nine as something else (no spoilers!). Tom’s interview is accompanied by a drawing that I had commissioned (left), and I’ve posted it here so you can get a rough idea of how I see him. The drawing is pretty accurate except I notice the artist gave him an earring, which he would not have worn, and his cheeks are a bit chubby, but that was her interpretation of my description and everyone imagines characters in their own way.

Check out Tom’s chat with Josh at MM Fiction Café, and you will learn a few things about him that you won’t find in the books.

Finally

There is a line in a film, and I can’t remember which one, where someone says, ‘History judges us not on what we choose to do, but on what we choose not to do,’ and that also works when putting together a character. Ultimately, choices, or choosing not to make them, define character, particularly decisions made under pressure and during conflict because, as Syd Field says, “All drama is conflict. Without conflict, you have no action; without action, you have no character; without character, you have no story.”

[Currently, Saturday morning, European time, the Fiction Café server is having an issue. You may need to check back with it later to read the interview.]

How I Write a Novel

How I Write a Novel
Thoughts, Tips and Tricks

For this week’s blog, I’ve jotted some notes on how I go about writing a novel. There was once a book on my shelves titled ‘The Three Rules of Novel Writing’, but I discarded that years ago because, according to some, there are no rules to writing a novel. That’s not true. Mark Twain agreed that there were three, “Write, write and write”, and endless websites and creative writing commentators come up with lists of what you should and shouldn’t do when you want to write a novel. I tend to side with Mr Twain: Write.

The word ‘novel’ originated from the Latin novella, a singular noun use of the neuter plural of novellus, diminutive of novus, meaning ‘new’. We’ve probably all used the word, as in, ‘That’s a novel idea,’ and that’s exactly what a novel should be; a novel idea expressed through the medium of storytelling, one of mankind’s oldest forms of communication. Take it to the extreme, and you could write anything and call it a novel. For example, I’ve seen some books that had no punctuation or no speech marks around dialogue… Hideously affected if you ask me, and they come across as publisher-wank, for want of a better way to put it, and being ‘original’ for the sake of it. My advice? Avoid!

But I am not here to lecture on the art and craft of writing a novel, simply to tell you how I do it and what my thoughts on novel writing are. So let’s leap straight into a common question I am asked when being interviewed. Are you a pantster or a plotter?

Pantster

When I first came across the word pantster, I thought it was some fetish-related quirk or a typo, but soon discovered it refers to someone who makes it up as they go along. As in, flying by the seat of your pants, I guess. Famous pantster novelists include Margaret Atwood and Stephen King.

I’m in good company then, because I am sometimes a Pantster. In fact, I can confess that my entire Clearwater Mystery series has been written by pantstering, if “to pantster” can be a verb. I usually start with a question?

Deviant Desire: What if Jack the Ripper killed rent boys?
Twisted Tracks: What happened next?
Unspeakable Acts: Why not bring in a Cleveland Street scandal idea?
Fallen Splendour: What if the clue to a mystery was hidden in a Tennyson poem?
Bitter Bloodline: Why not expand the series to involve real-life characters of the time?
Artful Deception: How many twists can I get in one story?
Banyak & Fecks: Can I write a Victorian bromance?

Some tools of the trade on my shelves.

Next, I usually have a beginning and an end. For the current work in progress (‘Something Exposure’, still not fully titled), I want a thrilling chase towards the edge of a cliff kind of climax followed by a massive twist that leaves the reader thinking, ‘Oh no! What next?’ I have both in my head, and I’m currently heading towards them.

For some stories, I have an opening. Example: ‘Home From Nowhere.’ Here, I wanted to start with Jasper being woken in the early hours and told to be ready to leave immediately. ‘Why?’ I asked myself and received the answer, ‘We’ll find out as we go along.’ As that story progressed, the ending came into sight about halfway through writing, before then, when I reached chapter five, I think, I had to ask myself, ‘So what’s the mystery?’ and then music popped into my head.

For other stories, I start with a setting, a ‘world’ in which the story takes place. Again, I can give you a list: Deviant Desire, Jack the Ripper. Unspeakable Acts, Opera. Banyak & Fecks, male prostitution in the 1880s. Something Exposure, Victorian, male pornography. Artful Deception, art. And so on.

For all of them, then, I have either a beginning to launch me into the story, or an end I know I have to aim for, and what happens in between is made up as I go along. Sometimes, the characters add the twists for me. I’ll be beavering away on a chapter, and it’s flowing, and I’m heading towards the last line which I imagine to be one thing, and one of the characters will suddenly say something I wasn’t expecting. Either that, or I throw in a line to see where it will lead to, and I take myself by surprise. There’s an example in ‘Fallen Splendour’ at the end of chapter four when Mr Norwood answers the door to find three men looking for Silas.

‘These men are here to see Mr Hawkins,’ Norwood announced.
‘Actually, Sir,’ the moustached man said, straightening his overcoat and squaring his shoulders. ‘We are here to arrest him.’

Believe it or not, I didn’t see that coming. My subconscious must have said, ‘What if…?’

Making it up as you go along is fun, but does require a lot of backpaddling, changing details in written chapters as you go, and making notes to remind yourself of things to tie up later, but it also offers the freedom to let the characters run wild. You can always tame them later.

Plotter

Plotting, on the other hand, involves… well, plotting. When I was studying screenplay writing, I learnt an awful lot about structure. I am still a structuralist as having a structure is different from plotting. All of my novels have a basic four-act structure as you see in most mainstream films. 1) Ordinary world, 2) change of world 3) halfway twist or boost/change, 4) unravelling. That’s a very basic outline of the four-act, hero’s journey storytelling structure which I like to think of like this:

Act 1:  There is no problem.

Act 2:  What is this problem?

Act 3:  How do we deal with this problem?

Act 4: Let’s put this problem to bed.

Some of my Victorian research books

Okay, so you could say that’s an outline for a plot, but it’s not really. That’s the frame on which you’re going to build your story, and there are plenty of other tried and tested structures, for example, Shakespeare’s five-act structure, but let’s not go there right now.

Plotting, to me, means detailing the action and the character arcs, developments and relationships, as you would do very carefully if writing a film. That involves storyboarding and telling yourself, ‘In chapter six, X must do something in order to show her development from A to C via B.’ ‘In chapter seven, the relationship between Y and Z reaches the point where the subplot rides above the main plot, and the MC comes to terms with the IC’s resilience, forcing…’

Yeah, well, as you might imagine, that’s far too technical for me. I can do it and have done it when writing film scripts, but it’s simply too restrictive.
(Btw, MC = main character, and IC = impact character, the wall he hits, the man he falls in love with, the challenge character, etc.)

Having said that, I do have to do some basic plotting, particularly in a mystery. Mainly, that’s around pacing. Don’t give away too much yet, drop a clue here so the reader will know it but forget it long enough for it to be a pleasant twist later, make sure you foreshadow that, if a character’s going to escape by galloping a horse, make sure we know early on that he can ride… And so on. But I don’t outline each chapter and arc my characters in fine detail. I have done in the past; ‘Jason and the Sargonauts‘ was one of my first James Collins novels, and that took a lot of plotting because of timelines, and because I was new to writing. Now, I like to think I am more intuitive. Besides, if you get it wrong in draft one, you can always go back and untangle your plot in draft two onwards.

My process

So, my process now is this:

From the Clearwater ‘bible’

I have an idea, a ‘what if?’, an ending I want to use, a twist to drop in at some point, a world I want to write in (Ripper, opera, art, music, early pornography…), or sometimes, simply a title. With Unspeakable Acts, the title came before the story.

I start at page one. Sounds obvious but often it’s the last chapter that’s in my head, and yet I leave that one and write chronologically to give myself something to aim for, and often, the ending changes or develops as I go as more and better ideas come to mind.

Actually, I messed with the chronology in ‘Artful Deception’ which opens a few days after the start of the story proper. We have the first scene, wonder what it’s all about, and find out later when the scene is fitted back into the storyline, although from a different point of view so as not to be repetitive. That’s a common film technique.

I make notes as I go. When writing anything, it’s vital that if you come up with an idea for later, you note it somewhere, else you’ll forget it. Similarly, I have a list of ‘Tie-ups’. These are ideas I have along the way and add in, intending to use them again later. The list is to make sure they do.

For my current Clearwater work in progress, I have a file titled ‘Ideas for act one onwards’ and running through it, I find these headings:
A ‘POC’ for each chapter. (POC = point of chapter, to ensure there’s a point to each part of the story and I’m not just indulging myself with interesting but unnecessary detail).
Time limit – to remind me of the timeline and pace.
The letter. In this case, a blackmail letter starts the mystery story, and it’s in my notes so I can easily refer to it as I go.
Notes on photographic ‘printing out’ paper, Eastman’s Solio paper (1888) very important!
Then there’s a whole section on train times because that’s one thing I like to be realistic about. I have notes from my friend, Andy, a railways’ expert who has copies of rare timetables books from my era.
TWISTS. In capitals, note. One of these rather alarmingly says, ‘CUT TO: Funeral’, but I will say no more.
A list of additional/cameo characters so I can add them to the ‘bible’ and maybe use them in later stories.
TIE UPS. Ah, there it is!

There then follow links to all kinds of research websites and title of books I’ve dipped into and might want to check back with.

My Rules for Writing a Novel

To summarise this rather rambling post, I’d say that my rules to writing a novel are simple. This list is not exhaustive.

  1. Don’t get it right, get it written, and then get it right.
  2. Write what you would like to read.
  3. Keep everything realistic within the world you create.
  4. Make sure everything ties up.
  5. Plot if you must but don’t let it restrict you.
  6. Write to the best of your ability.
  7. Constantly ask yourself, ‘Is that what I meant to say?’ and ‘Can I write this better?’
  8. Learn your grammar!
  9. Employ a professional proofreader.
  10. Write something every day, even if you think it’s rubbish.
  11. Don’t feel you must adhere to anyone’s rules.

And now, I shall thank you for reading, and head back to chapter 19 of ‘Something Exposure’ where one of my MCs is just about to confront the IC, while my other two MCs race to stop him. I must take what should be a cordial meeting to the point of fatality in a realistic and thrilling way without being ridiculous or allowing the pace to slacken. We’re at the crisis and climax stage, and I really can’t leave these boys hanging around a cold castle in the wilds of Scotland any longer.

See you next week!

MM Fiction Café

MM Fiction Café

The New Site for Readers and Writers of MM Romance and Fiction

Everyone loves to get something for nothing, and the most valuable thing an author can be given is free positive publicity. Today, I wanted to tell you a little about how I, as an author, like to prove that sharing is caring, and more than anywhere, I find this in the world of indie writers and their readers.

One of the things I’m keen to do is promote the work of author friends. You can see that on past posts, like the one about book covers. I also share some new releases and author news on my Facebook page. It’s not a lot, but it’s something.

Other people, on the other hand, do a lot more. Today, I want to feature a newly revamped site that’s 100% free for readers and writers. It has just come back online, it’s called MM Fiction Café, and it has been set up by my FB friend, Josh Dale. As I look at Josh’s FB friends list, I see we have several in common: Jay Northcote, Ann Attwood, Amy Spector and Elle Keaton among them. These are other authors (Ann is an editor and proofreader), and all people I wouldn’t have met if it weren’t for the free-sharing and caring ethos that surrounds most indie authors, especially in the world of MM romance and gay fiction.

MM Fiction Café

The café has been relaunched for 2021, and, as I write, Josh is in the process of uploading and finalising, snagging and perfecting, but I thought, as this is launch week, I would give my readers a heads-up and let you in on the new-look site before everyone else gets there. Below are three other places where you can join the community of readers and writers for free, but before that, I asked Josh for more details about the MM Fiction Café, and here is what he sent.

What is MM Fiction Cafe?

MM Fiction Café has been relaunched for 2021 with a new look website. The concept was originally started three years ago as a place for Josh to post his book reviews. During that time, it has promoted over 800 books from 400 authors and reviewed 300 books.

The site is clear and easy to navigate, it already contains the core content, but they are working on many new and exciting features.

Current features include
  • Authors Directory

Which allows readers to find information about the author, such as their Bio, published book list, as well as the links for buying and social weblinks all in one place.

  • Book Directory

Want to find a book’s information without all the promo info?  It is easy to search and filter the books by genre, tropes or novel size to find exactly what you are looking for.

  • Reviews Directory
  • Blog Directory

Where you can read all the Promo posts.

Road Map for New Features
  • Favourites / To Be Read Lists. (coming soon)

Soon visitors will be able to log in and save their favourite authors, books, reviews and blog posts to their own favourite / TBR lists.

  • Series Directory (coming soon)

A section to find your favourite series and all the books within the series.

  • Comments / Readers Reviews (working on)

Visitors who log in will be able to comment on our posts and leave positive/constructive reviews on books.

  • Coming Soon / Release Date Diary (working on)

Want to know when your favourite author’s next book is due to be released.  We will have a diary where authors can list their work in progress / next release. And they will be able to update their progress.

  • Author interface

Ability for authors to add their own details to the author directory and for them to add books to the book directory/series directory.

This will be an invaluable new resource for the MM fiction Community, a great place for us all to catalogue our books, and for our readers to easily keep up to date with our works.

Josh and his team invite you to visit the website, and if you have a suggestion for a new feature or would like them to consider a change to the website, please feel free to contact them using the general enquiries link at the bottom of the Request / Enquiries page.

Links

Website: https://mmfictioncafe.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mmmidnightcafe
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MMfictioncafe
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/MMFictionCafe/mm-fiction-cafe/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/MMFictionCafe/

Other free-to-join MM Romance and Fiction Websites

And back to me. There are many sites out there where authors can promote their work and where readers can see what’s new in the world of MM Fiction, but not all of them are free, and some are more popular, and therefore more useful, than others. I’ve chosen three where my work appears. I take an active role in two, Queer Romance Ink and All Author (which covers all genres, not just MM romance), but I let Good Reads take care of itself.

Queer Romance Ink (QRI)

QRI is ‘an inclusive library of romance titles across the queer rainbow.’ It’s 100% free for readers and a place where you can browse by all manner of means: title, author, genre, niche, tropes and so on. Authors pay to be listed as the site has overheads, and I don’t mind that at all. I have been found there by many loyal readers, and through its partner company, Other World Links, I have indulged in blog tours of new releases, and other publicity events. I did my first blog tour with them when ‘Twisted Tracks’ first came about. That’s part two of The Clearwater Mysteries, and I thought I’d give it a go as I’d never done a blog tour before. For me, it involved writing interviews and other short articles for over 25 blogs where bloggers discuss new gay fiction. It was a fun thing to be involved with and, I am sure, led to the Clearwater series’s ongoing success. ‘Deviant Desire’ hadn’t had such an official launch. Although it had started selling reasonably well, as soon as that blog tour came out, it shot right up the rankings as many readers decided to start with book one (Deviant Desire) before heading to part two, the book that was being toured.

All Author

All Author is a site that runs on similar lines but is not queer fiction specific. It’s one of, if not the top site for authors seeking publicity and readers seeking new ideas for what to read next. Again, I pay a small amount to list my work there, but what I get in return is phenomenal. For a start, it’s a huge database for readers and writers and thus, connections. They allow my PA, the wonderful Jenine, to make up gifs and banners and other publicity material. They also feature books on their front pages and run automated Twitter posts for me. I don’t Tweet, so that’s a boon, and again, the results of using them outweigh the minimal cost I pay each year to be listed.

Remember, MM Fiction Café has been set up to 100% free, another reason to support it, and a better example of how authors in the world of gay fiction are prepared to help each other for no financial gain.

Good Reads

Tbh, I’ve never been sure about Good Reads, and I hardly use it as I spend more time writing than I do reading. However, I do use it because I have author friends there that I like to promote and it’s free.

When I published my second book of memoirs about moving to and living on a Greek island (under the name, James Collins), I asked a personal friend to write a short testimonial. This she did, and very nice it was too. Anne is Anne Zouroudi, the famed Bloomsbury author of The Greek Detective Series. She’s always been Anne, of course, but now, her books have taken off, and a TV series is being discussed. Sometimes, it’s who you know, perhaps, but the point is, Anne follows and supports me via Good Reads, and so do many others. And, better still, it’s free for readers and writers to post and publicise there, find books, write and read reviews, and join in with the online community of book lovers.

Meanwhile, at the Café

To finish, I’ll refer you back to Josh and the MM Fiction Café. Go and take a look, but remember, the relaunch was only this week, it’s still bedding in, and it will take a little time for more books to be added. Bookmark the site and pop back to it to see what’s new, specifically in the world of MM Romance.

As indie authors, it’s fantastic to have a site like this where we’re welcome to list and share for free. I’m totally in favour of authors supporting each other by sharing info on newsletters, sharing blog posts, making special appearances on each other’s sites, and promoting each other without asking for something in return, and that’s exactly what Josh is doing. After all, caring is sharing, particularly at the MM Fiction Café.

[If any authors of gay lit, MM romance or historical fiction want to put a guest blog post on my site, just get in touch.]

My links

Jackson at QRI
All Author
Good Reads profile

Winter Solstice and Christmasses Past, Present and Fictional

Winter Solstice and Christmasses Past, Present and Fictional

It occurred to me, as we approach Christmas that I’ve never written a Christmas story. I have come close with the final scene of ‘Fallen Splendour’ where we join the Christmas staff ball at Larkspur Hall in 1888, and I have also come close as James Collins, in my novel, ‘The Saddling.’ I say ‘close’, because, in Saddling, there is no Christmas because there is no Christian religion, not since the Blacklocks family took over the village in… I forget the year but before the witch trials of ‘The Witchling’ and sometime after the first return of ‘The Eastling’ in the 13th century.

Instead, Saddling, the village of the series, follows its own Lore based on nature and the turning of the seasons. The first in the series, ‘The Saddling’ opens on winter solstice night, 1292 when a great storm threatens the Romney Marshes with flooding. That is based on a real event, the great storm of 1287 where villages were washed away, and lives and livestock were lost.

Part of our harbour in flood this week.

As the winter solstice is only a couple of days away, I thought this was an appropriate time to talk about it and the Christmases of my youth on the Marsh, and now, here on the Greek island, Symi. Where, by the way, the approach of the solstice combining with an upcoming full moon, has resulted in our harbour already being slightly flooded.

Winter Solstice

The winter solstice, hiemal solstice or hibernal solstice, also known as midwinter, occurs when one of the Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun. It happens twice yearly, once in each hemisphere. This year, it occurs at 10.02 UTC on Monday and marks the northern hemisphere’s shortest day, the first day of winter.

This year, according to The National Geographic, “… just head of Christmas, two of the solar system’s brightest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, [will] engage in a celestial dance that will bring them within planetary kissing distance in the evening sky.”

A bit flowery perhaps, but true. “The moment of closest approach arrives on 21st December—the winter solstice for those in the Northern Hemisphere and the start of summer for those in the Southern Hemisphere. The two planets will appear closer together than at any time in almost 400 years in an event known as a great conjunction.”

According to Astronomy.com, On 21st December, Jupiter and Saturn will appear closer in Earth’s night sky than they have since 1226 A.D. This event is being described as causing a ‘Christmas star’, which all seems nicely appropriate, and the date, 1226, gives me a very tenuous link back to ‘The Saddling.’

After the initial storm scene of ‘The Saddling’ which sets up the Lore that is to follow and the superstitions and rites of the village, the story cuts to 18th December 2012. It is 720 years after the great storm, and the central character, Tom Carey is struggling to keep his life together, obsessed with tracing his family tree in order to inherit a fortune from his last family member. By chapter eight, he has arrived in the village of Saddling and, as his car has broken down miles away, seeks a room at the inn, The Crow and Whiteback. It’s charmingly old-fashioned but shows no signs of Christmas, and when the landlady, Susan Vye appears through the floor from the cellar below, and he takes her by surprise, Tom comments, ‘Nice place, but not very Christmassy, Only four more shopping days to go.’ He laughed, she didn’t.

The story unfolds as Tom searches for clues to his family mystery, the storm clouds gather, he befriends two local lads who are preparing for their saddling, and he learns that the ceremony is to be held on the evening of the winter solstice. In our present world, this Monday.

The Saddling series plays on such natural events as this year’s ‘Christmas star’, the solstices and equinoxes, the natural birth, harvesting, dying and rebirth of the land, the relationships between man and nature, farming and festivals. Apart from finding it interesting to research, I used this natural flow of the earth as a background because I wanted to set the stories against the naturalness of change and difference. By which I mean, as Tom makes his way through book one, he comes to realise that like it or not, he is attracted to another man. As the series progresses, the villagers gradually come to accept that Tom and Barry’s ‘friendship’ is as natural as the changing seasons, the tide, the earth’s cycle, and that, underneath it all, is the message of the books.

Winters on Romney Marsh

Fairfiled, Romney Marsh and St Thomas Becket church – the inspiration for The Saddling. (The church features on the cover of all three Saddling books.)

I wasn’t aware of the solstice when I was growing up on the Marsh, but I was aware of Christmas. I didn’t have any particular interest in the fields and deeks (irrigation ditches/dykes that prevent the land from flooding) or the farming way of life, but I must have absorbed it. My best friend from nine to 12 years was the son of a farmer. I’d cycle over to his house about a mile away into the wide, flat landscape of the fields to play in the hay barn, make rafts on the wider deeks, help his dad deliver lambs at lambing (though more likely get in the way), and sit down to huge suppers of ‘lookers pie’ prepared by his classic farmer’s-wife mum.

[On the Marsh, a looker is a shepherd and lookers’ pie is shepherds’ pie made with chops not mince.]

The ruins of All Saints church, Hope

I have never been very good at sleeping, and in my teens, I would sometimes walk out onto the marsh at night. It has an atmosphere of its own, with nothing to hear but the cry of an owl, the breeze in the hawthorn bushes and the occasional plop of a frog leaping into a dyke. I walked to a place called Hope*, just outside New Romney, one of the villages that were washed away in the great storm and now nothing more than a ruined church wall, just to enjoy the peace and the smell of damp coarse-grass and sheep treddles.

[That’s a Kentish word for sheep poo, a smell that, when you’ve grown up with it, is more comforting than you might think!]

Later in my teens, one of my best friends was also the son of a farmer, and I’d visit his house too. As is the way of the Marsh, he lived next door (half a mile) from his cousin, my earlier bestie, the families farmed together, but in this case, I visited to play on his dad’s snooker table, and play music as we were in a swing band by then. His dad, by the way, is now in his 90s and still actively farming his land.

Christmases

The Romney Marshes before they were ‘inned’ (irrigated)

And then there were the Christmases. These, for me, were traditional family affairs. We were expected to attend Midnight Mass at the parish church where I ‘sang’ in the choir and learnt to play the organ. As my two brothers and I got older, we went under the bribe of being able to open a present when we returned home. Older still, this tradition ended up with my dad being the only one who attended church, me staying at home to watch concerts on TV and wait for my older brothers to return from the pub when we opened presents, often not going to bed until well after three in the morning.

If you were wondering where Romney Marsh is; it’s on the south coast of England.

Another big part of my teen years was music, as you might have gathered from my Jackson books like ‘The Blake Inheritance‘ and ‘Home From Nowhere.’ I started playing the piano aged six or seven and carried on throughout primary, prep and secondary school to finally rise to the complicated heights of grade eight in my early 20s. I was inspired in music by teachers at both prep school (where the music teacher took me to play the organ in Hythe church when I was 11, and from when I was transfixed by the musical ‘machines’). At secondary school, our music teacher arranged for us to attend concerts in Canterbury Cathedral and elsewhere at his own expense, encouraged me to stage musical revues and write songs for the junior years. He also saw a friend and me through our A-Level, arranging for Dominic (the only other A-Level music student) to be in a masterclass with Julian Lloyd Webber which I attended, and had a great knack of staging the Christmas concerts at the parish churches of New Romney and Lydd. Being a piano player, I wasn’t needed for the orchestra, but was dragged in to play the percussion (not as easy as it sounds) and sometimes ‘sing’ in the choir. I put ‘sing’ like that because I mouthed along more than sounded notes.

From Past to Present

Our tree this year.

All of these random reminiscences have a bearing on what I write now. The loneliness of the Marshes at night, the earthy, natural way of life, lambing, harvests, hay bales, hawthorn-lined, narrow roads and the deeks, the wide, flat landscape of the drained marshland and its rich history, the memories of cold legs in damp-smelling churches, the vibration of the organ in the last bars of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, and the present-giving by the fire… The older you get, the more you reminisce, but in my case, the more I put such reminiscences into my books, although often, from a different character’s perspective.

And now, the past not only influences what I write, but what we do at Christmas. This year may be slightly different, but we will still be able to be with our ‘logical’ family, our two godsons on the island and their mum as we have been for the last 17 out of 18 Christmases. It will be a day of fun, feasting and falling about laughing against an underscore of Annie Lennox and carols from Kings, godson #1 on his piano and, if we can drag him screaming from his Xbox, godson #2 on his guitar (he hasn’t got it yet, and I hope it arrives in time).

But before all that, we have Monday and the Winter Solstice, and it strikes me that if you’ve not already read it, you could get hold of a copy of The Saddling today, 19th, and start reading it, following the story day by day on the exact dates the story is set. You will reach the climax on Monday night, and if you are lucky enough to have a thunderstorm that night, you’ll get the full dramatic effect.

Whether you do that or not, have a peaceful solstice and seasonal feast or holy day, and I will be back with you on 2nd January with my next rambling blog post.

The Saddling is available to download now on Kindle and is available in Kindle Unlimited, and in paperback.

‘A Place Called Hope’ by Emma Batten

* A Place Called Hope is a novel by the daughter of my childhood piano teacher, and is very much worth reading, as are all of Emma Batten’s Romney Marsh, historical novels.