A Week of Work and Walking

A Week of Work and Walking

It’s been a busy week for me, and I thought I’d use today’s blog to let you know what I have been up to. First, news about the new series.

Guardians of the Poor

I’m staying with that title for the first book in the new Larkspur Mystery series because it works on so many levels. The news is, I finished the rough first draft yesterday, and as soon as I have posted this, I am going straight back to chapter one to start again. The story opens with a news report of a court case, and this is an actual report from the year in which the story is set, 1890. It is what inspired the novel, and concerns two men from a workhouse who were up in court on a charge of conspiring to perform an unnatural act. In other words, they were suspected of planning got have gay sex. Look at that again, ‘suspected’ and ‘planning to’, not ‘had done.’ That, I thought, although common at the time, was simply unjust.

I am thinking of using this model on the cover, but in Victorian costume and signing.

‘Guardians of the Poor’ concerns a deaf character, and I think we will see more of him and his partner in book two, which I haven’t even thought about yet. We also have a villain, the new Larkspur Academy and the new characters who live there, and we also get to catch up on what’s happening with others from the Clearwater Series. Archer features a great deal in this new novel, James and Silas have parts to play, and we also touch base with Jasper, Billy Barnett, Fecker and others.

 

Walking

And back to the ‘real’ world. Last Sunday, Neil and I were invited for breakfast by a friend who lives two bays away. As usual, we walked there (it’s only two miles), down the long flight of steps to the harbour, up and over the next hill, across country and finally down an ancient calderimi (donkey path) to the bay. Our friend lives at the far end of the bay, right on the seafront. We were going to walk back later in the morning but were offered a lift by a neighbour. We were grateful for that as the temperature was 40 degrees.

Neil’s latest steampunk topper, made for him by a regular visitor to the island.

I have also been out for a couple of exercise walks early in the morning where I mingle with the goats and sheep who live on the mountainside. During these walks, which are usually an hour long, I plan my next chapter, so I am happily wandering up the hillside telling myself a story which I then try to remember when I get home. What I end up with is the first draft of a chapter which is actually a second draft.

Godsons

We have two godsons on the island and one of them turns 18 next week. As part of his birthday, Neil took him scuba diving the other day, a first for both of them, and tonight (Saturday) we are taking him out for dinner. We have a signet ring for him to mark his 18th, as it should be a special occasion. His brother, who is younger, is learning to play the piano… Well, I am teaching him, and he is doing very well, and he has his first grade exam coming up later this month.

 

Legal

An early morning boat trip.

And, on a more formal note, I am now a legal alien. Thanks to the disaster that is Brexit, we UK nationals had to reapply for residency, having previously been covered as an EU citizen. Neil didn’t need to because he is Irish, but I did. The process started on April 26th, for me, and after two trips to Rhodes, the next and larger island to us, I went back last Wednesday to collect my card. This involved being up at 3.30 to catch a boat at 5.00 that didn’t arrive until 6.00, a two-mile walk to the aliens’ office, a 90-minute wait, but only five minutes at the counter, and because I was there so early, I was first in and first out and was able to get an early boat home and be back in time for lunch.

And Back to the Books

There, that’s a quick catch up on what I have been doing, which has been mainly writing, socialising and… I nearly forgot to tell you, learning BSL I have started a course in British Sign Language, partly as research for the language my deaf character uses, and partly because I’ve always wanted to know a bit more. It’s a beginner’s course and I am only on the third part, but I’m enjoying it and already know the alphabet, numbers and a few basic greetings. I’ve started to put sentences together now, and I am passing on what I learn to Neil so we can practise on each other, as I don’t know any other BSL signers on our island.

There, that really is it now. I am heading off to look at draft two of ‘Guardians of the Poor’, and I must contact Andjela about cover ideas. See you next week.

Jackson

Latest News

Latest News

This week’s blog is a little of all sorts of news. We have had a guest staying; the weather has been hot (40 degrees and humid); I had to go over to the next island for a day which always put my writing routine out of kilter, and we have lots of social engagements coming up, so I am all over the place. Still, I have some news for you, so here it is.

I was on Rhodes yesterday.

Guardians of the Poor

That’s the working title of the work in progress, the first of the Larkspur Mysteries. The main character is called Dalston Blaze, and he has a friend called Joseph Eldridge. I wanted a straightforward surname for Joe, but it’s still not 100% certain if the name will stay. Joseph is deaf, and this is the first time I’ve written a deaf character, so I am doing some research.
Without giving too much away, Joe doesn’t appear so much in this book, but he and Dalston will appear in others later in the series. The principal players in ‘Guardians’ are Dalston and Archer (Lord Clearwater), but we are also introduced to other new characters. There’s a young man at the academy called Frank Andino who swears a lot, is of Greek descent, was working as a tailor and is a mathematical wizard. He’s been good fun to have around so he’ll be staying a while.
Then there’s the man who is in charge of the Academy, Barbery Fleet, and once you meet him, you won’t forget him. Other mainstays of the Clearwater mysteries are involved too; James and Silas as lead investigators for the mystery feeding back to Archer in Cornwall, Duncan who appeared late in the last series, and Mrs Norwood, now even more of a ‘New Woman’ than ever. Fecker, Danylo, Nancarrow and the Larkspur staff also pop in and out, because much of the book is set at the country estate and that’s where they live and work.

The gif below is BSL fingerspelling of ‘Larkspur.’

So, lots of old chums, and plenty of new ones, a new villain or two and a new mystery. I am currently approaching the end of draft one with, probably, another 20,000 words to go for the crisis, climax and denouement. I shall be back to the book on Monday and will update you on progress in due course.

Here’s a very rough plan of the Larkspur Estate (or part of it). I may get my map designer to create a professionally drawn plan of the estate to insert into the book. The main ‘block’ (1, 2 and 3) is Larkspur Hall and to the east, through the woods, is Academy House (4). The estate is large, contains a ruined abbey, and includes some of Bodmin Moor.

Now then…

Learning Sign Language

As I said, ‘Guardians of the Poor’ involves Joe, (18) a character who has been deaf since birth. Because the series starts in August 1890, I needed to research the state of play regarding deaf schools, sign language and the life of the deaf, for want of a better expression, and this, I have started to do. It’s fascinating.

Years ago, I was involved in fringe theatre in London and elsewhere. I used to have my own theatre company, and we’d put on musicals. One thing I always made sure we did during a run was to have a performance signed by a professional sign language interpreter. She would come and see the show, take home a script, and then for one performance in the run (or more, if needed), she would stand on the side of the stage and sign for anyone who was deaf who otherwise might not have been able to enjoy the show.
I decided it was high time I refreshed my skills and learnt lots of new ones, so I have taken up a course in basic British Sign Language (BSL). It’s a course you can do in your own time, and it’s all done online, with assessments, so you can see how you are doing. https://www.british-sign.co.uk/ is the website if you want to visit it. So far, I have made it through stage one, which is knowing some history of BSL, the fingerspelling alphabet, and numbers from one to 10. Next week, it’s on to stage two. As I go, I am passing on what I learn to Neil because a) he wants to learn, and b) I need someone to sign to, so it helps me remember.

 

Workhouses

‘Guardians’ is also partly set in the Hackney Workhouse (in 1890), as I think I said last week. So, I have been calling on the resources put online by a workhouse specialist, Peter Higginbotham. His website http://www.workhouses.org.uk is invaluable for background, history, details and even maps, and the Hackney workhouse has its own page. I’ve also bought some of his books, and am currently reading Voices of the Workhouse, and Indoor Paupers, which was written by a man who was in the Poplar Workhouse back in the 1880s. Again, fascinating stuff, and great for adding in all those historically accurate details I like to include.

And generally

Thanks to the giveaway we ran to celebrate the end of the Clearwater series, interest in ‘Deviant Desire’ and the books that come after it has shot up. In fact, that book went to number on in some of the Amazon charts, and the last time I looked, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ was at #36 in Amazon’s new release charts, so that’s excellent news. Thank you for all your reviews, comments and support.

Our house guest has just this minute left, the temperature is in the mid-thirties and rising (and it’s only 7.19 a.m.), and as I took yesterday off work, I must now get back to writing. I have left my characters on the verge of a discovery, and while I was in Rhodes yesterday, I ran the rest of the book through my head and invented the action to come, so I’d best get that written down before I forget. See you next week.

Thank you

Researching and the Larkspur Mystery Series

Researching and the Larkspur Mystery Series

Hi everyone,

This Saturday, I thought I’d tell you how I’m doing with the new series, The Larkspur Mysteries. I also have a treat for you at the end of this blog in the form of a flash fiction piece, but we will get to that later.

What are the Larkspur Mysteries to be?

A series of mysteries that revolve around a central character who is in some way involved with Lord Clearwater’s new Larkspur Academy. The Larkspur Academy is a place where young men can develop their unique talents and was inspired by Jasper Blackwood and Billy Barnett from the Clearwater Mysteries. Although it is overseen by the Clearwater Estate, it is run by a mentor instead of a headmaster as it is not a school, and he lives in the house with his men. They are not students as it is not a college, and deciding what to refer to them as has been one of my first headaches.

Merevale Hall, the buliding on which the Larkspur Academy is based.

The mentor is the eccentric but brilliant Barbary Fleet, and when the series starts, he and the academy have been in place for four months. There are already four young men there, benefiting from the Clearwater contacts, Fleet’s way of improving people, and from having space simply to be themselves.

Each story will take a central character. I was going to start the series off with Barbary Fleet himself and show how he came to be chosen to run this unusual establishment. I thought about giving readers a ‘how the academy started’ story along with Fleet’s own, but I’ve decided to do that in a later book. A little like how Banyak & Fecks is the prequel to the Clearwater Mysteries and yet wasn’t written until after book eight. By the time I have written a few of these new mysteries, I will know more about Fleet and the academy, which will make for a better prequel.

Anyway…

What is the First Story?

LLoyd’s Weekly London Newspaper June 1st 1890

Each of the stories will start with, or be inspired by, an actual event. The first book had a working title of ‘Dalston Blaze’, and I considered titling each one after the principal character. However, now I am 60,000 words into the first draft, I have thought of another working title, ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ We shall see. Whatever the title, the story was inspired by an article I found in Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper, dated June 1st 1890, exactly the right time for the period of my story. The piece was headed, The Chelsea Workhouse Scandals and the opening reads thus: Joseph Bailey, 35, porter, and Hugh Johnson, 16, were indicted for inciting each other to the commission of unnatural offences… Another line, later in the piece, states …the jury, after what they had heard, did not desire to hear counsel for the defence, which I thought was outrageous.

What set me off on a trail towards a mystery was the idea that two men were tried (unfairly, by the sound of it) for intending to have sex together, the unnatural offences mentioned in the report. What we have, are two men in a workhouse and facing five years of penal servitude for, as we’d say now, being gay. (Five years is what the older one got, the younger one’s sentencing was postponed, and I’ve not been able to find out what happened to him.) That sounds exactly like the kind of thing Clearwater would get his teeth into, and just the sort of men he would want to save, but how to mould a mystery?

The Hackney Workhouse.

What if the character in the dock, who we’ll call Dalston Blaze and who is 18, wants to be sentenced? What if it is his only way of avoiding death? And what if he is being guarded in the dock by a young Irishman posing as a policeman who is there to spring him from gaol? What if a new barrister has been called to represent him, a man called Sir Easterby Cresswell, who has an assistant by the name of Wright? And what if, by some ancient legal argument, Creswell holds off the sentencing until the partner in crime, who is missing, has been found? What if the missing man, also 18 and from the workhouse, was also a deaf mute? And what if the ‘evidence’ against the two was a message written in symbols because that’s how they communicate?

Then… What if Dalston finds himself bailed to the care of the Larkspur Academy?

And so it went on.

Inside the Hackney Workhouse, stone-breaking yard.

I have not only been researching old newspapers for stories to inspire, but I have also been looking into workhouses and sign language because my missing character is deaf from birth. The mystery is mainly ‘Why does someone want to kill these two workhouse boys?’ They are, by then, porters, but they have grown up together in the workhouse since they were twelve. They are best friends (possibly more?) and communicate via signs and symbols. Then, there is the mystery of what has happened to the missing deaf man, Joe?

Workhouse Children, Dalston Blaze when young.

It’s been a fascinating journey so far, and my research list is growing longer by the day. I don’t know when this book will be ready, there’s a long way to go yet, and it’s only the first draft. As it sets up the feel for the rest of the series, I need to make sure I get it right, so bear with me.

Meanwhile, here are some of the sites I’ve been using, along with books, for my research, in case anyone is interested in knowing more about the Victorian Workhouse, and the development of British Sign Language (BSL). After this list, I have the flash fiction treat for you.

The British Newspaper Archive
Homosexuality In Nineteenth-Century England
Workhouses.org (My workhouse is based on the one at Hackney)
Brief History of BSL


Lord Bastion Announces

This was a piece I wrote for an anthology. It’s my first piece of flash fiction, i.e. a very short story complete in itself. As you can tell from my books, I tend not to write short stories, lol! So, this was something of a challenge to produce, but in the end, I was rather proud of it and thought I’d share it with my readers. Enjoy, and I’ll be back next week.

Jackson

Lord Bastion Announces
Jackson Marsh

Fleetfoot straightened his wing collar and leant his well-trained ear to the activity beyond his butler’s pantry. Servants moved through billowing kitchen steam in the vaulted chambers, and the day began in butler-acceptable fashion. Satisfied, Fleetfoot turned his scrutiny to the flat-iron and the daily broadsheet.
How many years had he spent with this iron? Too many for any other life, yet not enough.
Fleetfoot had loved his master in silence and servitude through an age of stigma. Lord Bastion, inventor and newspaper owner, was forbidden to express love. He, like Fleetfoot, dared not utter the unspeakable, forced by Victorian convention to deny the unnatural.
Secret life was a trial for both, but His Lordship knew he was loved by the unquestioning thing of black and white that glided through pillared halls. The man who gently closed laboratory doors, bowed his head and obeyed. The same companion now ironed the newspaper to set the ink, so his master’s untouchable fingers remained unsullied.
Licked finger, iron-touch, hiss and press.
Fleetfoot regarded the headline. Lord Bastion Invents… The master was always inventing, the headlines always lauding. Page two. Reheat, lick finger, touch and continue; every page the same.
Lord Bastion Announces… The master announced every day, but no reader knew what because a blank space always followed the caption.
Fleetfoot ironed the empty page, as was his time-worn duty.
Lord Bastion Announces… Something that only appeared when the ink was heated to the exact temperature by the correct iron pressed at the precise pressure by the only man able to read His Lordship’s daily declaration.
Lord Bastion Announces Fleetfoot, too, is loved.
The butler continued to iron his master’s newspaper and, like every day, was careful to catch the teardrops before they smudged the ink.

Meanwhile, In the Real World

Meanwhile, In the Real World

After the release of The Clearwater Inheritance and the sales promotion that went with it, I thought I’d find myself wondering what to do next. Not so! In fact, I have a few things going on at the moment, and I thought this Saturday’s blog would be a good place to tell you about them.

Firstly, I want to thank everyone who took part in the recent book promotion, where we made ‘Deviant Desire’ free for a couple of days. Jenine organised this as a way to publicise the whole series. The idea, of course, was to boost sales of the books that follow in the series, and that’s what seems to be happening. Thank you to everyone who shared the news, wrote a review and made nice comments about the books on Facebook and so on. Keep up the good work.

The Larkspur Series

And on to what comes next… As you may know, I said that ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ marked the end of the Clearwater series, and yet it doesn’t. The characters will live on in The Larkspur Mysteries, and I have already started book number one. It has a working title of ‘Dalston Blaze’ after the main character. In it, we not only meet new characters (three or four so far, and I am on chapter 12 of the first draft), but we also meet up with characters from the previous books. However, you don’t have to have read the Clearwater series to enjoy what’s coming next. In this first book, we’ve already met Silas and James running their detective agency with the help of Mrs Norwood and a new character we met briefly in Clearwater 10, Duncan Fairbairn. Later, our MC, Dalston Blaze, is introduced to Archer down at Larkspur Hall. There, he meets a few other characters from the previous books and on the Larkspur estate, but mainly, he meets others at the new academy, by now (July 1890) being run from the old dower house.

Dalston is 18 and from the workhouse, and I am researching those institutions as much as I can to get some genuine background and flavour. There are flashbacks to life in the workhouse. There are coded symbols and messages involved as the mystery, a villain, of course, and likely as not, there will be a chase before the climax. There is also a friendship/love story, although that’s not the main thrust of the drama. I have already involved steam trains! I don’t know when this book will be ready. I expect it will be at least two months before I start thinking about its cover and publication.

The Haunted Manor

No, that’s not the next book; it’s a model kit I have started building. You might know I like to put together horror figure models, those made by Aurora in the 60s and 70s, and then re-released by Polar Lights and others. So far, I’ve made the Phantom, Dracula, the Witch and the Invisible Man.

I am halfway through the Wolfman but have put him aside because a new one came on the market. It’s not the same line as the others, but I made it when I was about 12 and wanted to have another go. It’s a model with moving parts, originally released by Disney, and it’s called ‘The Haunted Manor, Play it again Tom.’ It’s a man playing the organ, inside of which there’s a lurking mummy. I’ll let you see it when it’s finished.

Summer

That might not be for a while yet, because it’s starting to warm up here in Greece, and the paints dry too fast in their pots. So far on our little Greek island, the summer season has had a slow start. Understandable, of course, and we are hoping for more visitors as travel restrictions are eased. Neil is working at the bar for his two hours per day while I am at home writing, making my model, playing the piano for a friend who likes to sing, or teaching my godson to play. He should be taking his grade one examination at the end of next month, so we’re both nervously excited about that.

When I can, I’ve been taking some walks in the mornings before it gets too hot. I wander up the hill, thinking up the next chapter and occasionally stop for photos. I should do it every day, but I’m still not back in the routine. On the other hand, Neil has been walking and swimming most days, so he’s lost weight put on over the winter, whereas I haven’t. Yet. He’s also going to do an introduction to scuba diving course. Me? Er, no.

And Back to the Books

So, that’s my brief and general news from the desk this week. Next week, there will be something about music, and I am trying to remember which of my books involve music or have something to do with it…

The Clearwater Inheritance, Home From Nowhere, One of a Pair, Unspeakable Acts, The Students of Barrenmoor Ridge (both are musicians), The Blake Inheritance (involves a secret and a church organ), and The Mentor of Lonemarsh House (a music producer and a violinist).

If you’ve not read any of those, you can find all my books listed on my Amazon Author page here.

Have a great week to come, and I’ll be back next week to continue my series of ‘The real history behind the stories’, this time, looking at the music that features in my novels.

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

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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

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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

I Married An Author

This week we have a completely different blog post for Jackson’s fans. In fact, Jackson has had nothing to do with it at all! Instead it is me, Jenine, Jackson’s PA, and I thought it would be fun to learn a few secrets about Jackson and what it is like to be married to an author. So let me introduce you to the person who has all the inside info… Neil Gosling, husband of James Collins aka Jackson Marsh.

Hello Neil, it’s great to have you with us today. Firstly, let’s go back to the beginning…how and when did you meet James?

We met in a night club called Revenge in Brighton back in 1997, two nights before Princess Diana died. I’m crap at chat up lines, so I said to James, “I really want to talk to you, but I have no chat up lines”. He liked my honesty, and the rest is history. We decided to take things slowly….so I moved in three days later.

Neil and James in Brighton, UK 1998

Do you remember the first time James told you he wanted to write and publish a book, what was your reaction?

He had always been trying to write books. Even back when I met him, he was putting on a musical, so I have always known him to either write words for books or musicals. Actually, we have more personal time together now he is a writer than ever before.

What is your role in James’ professional life?

I take care of the house!

Being British, it is my job is to make him endless cups of tea, make sure his dinner is on the table on time and generally take care of the house. Joking aside, I have been involved in just about all his books. We chat endlessly about what may or may not happen in a story line. Sometimes I am used as a sounding board as he outlines problems, and by the time he has finished, he has sorted out his problem, and away he goes again. I also get to read his books after the first or second draft. This is so I can tell him if the story works, or if there is too much repetition.

Does he have any writer quirks?

Lol. Yes, he does, it’s quite scary. His head spins around three times and he spits at the nearest person available as he tells them to go and wash their socks in hell. Besides that, no, he is quite ‘normal’, whatever that means.

Any signs that say, “Go away, I’m busy.”

Yes, “Go away, I’m busy!” Or “Can it wait until later?” Actually, I’m joking, he’s pretty good, and most of the time will stop what he is doing. I know when he is busy, so tend to try and leave him to carry on working, although I don’t think he will agree with that statement.

Do you get to contribute to the plots?

Hey, I think I’ve lost the plot already, what was that? Yes, I do, or at least I think I do. We chat endlessly about plots, although as I have said, I am regularly used as a sounding board. Quite often he agrees with me and then its nice to read something I have helped him with.

Does he take constructive criticism well?

Yes, he is good at taking criticism, he doesn’t have to use it, but he is always interested to hear people’s views on his books. It makes him grow as a writer.

What is it like to read the sex scenes in his novels?

Hahahaha, well, what can I say about that? I love them, in fact, I keep trying to get him to write more sex scenes, but he is more interested in the rest of the story line. Sex is part of life for most of us, so it would be daft to miss out sex scenes, and he writes it almost poetically, which is part of the romance.

Has he dedicated any books to you?

Yes, one of his horror stories called ‘Lonely House.’ It feels nice, I mean, how many people have had a book dedicated to them? It was really sweet, and I loved it. He has also written a song for me called ‘Sleep On’ which he has played and was sung by beautifully Kinny Gardner in front of many audiences when he used to do cabaret shows. We have a recording of it on CD at home, and it still brings tears to my eyes when I hear it.  So yes, it all makes me feel rather special.

Your husband spends most of his days inside an imaginary world, do you ever get jealous?

What’s there to be jealous of? What is normal to the spider is chaos for the fly.

What is it like at the house when a deadline is approaching?

Its full of fast tapping as he works his magic on the keyboard at a frantic pace. It’s a bit like a horse ride, you start off with a slow canter, but by the end, it’s a full-on gallop. ‘My Fair Lady’ comes to mind here, ‘Come on Dover, move your bloomin’ ass!’ It’s not only the story line he has to finish, but also the cover of the book, the editing that needs to be sorted out, and then the publishing, and which part of the book he feels best to use for the blurb. And then there is a sigh, and once its all finished, its down to the pub!

The three of us celebrating as The Clearwater Inheritance is sent off for proofreading!

It was at that point that we came up with the idea for hijacking the blog this week 🙂

 

What is the biggest frustration of being married to a writer?

I’m going to go off script here. I work in a bar in the afternoons, and I really like it when he comes down to join me, especially if it is a slow day. I remember once messaging him to see if he wanted to come down. It had been a really, slow day. His answer soon came back. ‘I will try, but I am in the middle of crashing a train.’ Now, how many people do you know who get a text like that. Lol.

Also, sometimes he will wake up at say 2.30 in the morning, his head is full of ideas, so he gets up and starts typing. By the time it comes to the afternoon he is knackered.

When Jackson is full on researching and writing he must be exhausted after such an effort. How does he unwind after an intense writing session?

Ooh err, that’s a bit personal, go back to the sex scene question, and use your imagination. He normally sits down closes his eyes for a few seconds and then we either talk about it, or switch on the TV so he can try to take his mind off it.

You said that you usually prepare the dinner at home, what’s James’ favourite meal of yours?

Neil’s Easter Extravaganza Cake

Anything I make as it means he doesn’t have to (lol). Actually, his favourite meal is sausage, mash, peas and gravy. But in saying that, he loves it when I cook an Indian meal. And he loves my cakes. I was making one a week over the winter, but I had to stop as it certainly piled on the pounds.

What is it like to be married to someone who is in dreamland most of the time?

I love it, there is always something different to discuss, or to chat about. Life certainly isn’t boring. I’m in dreamland myself most days, which means we gel perfectly. ‘What was that, dear?’ ‘No idea, not a clue.’ And life goes on.

James is a great romance writer, what is the most romantic thing James has ever done?

Picture this, it was the year 1923 and a little girl from a small village in Italy found herself alone. Oh sorry, that’s someone else’s story. For my 40th birthday, we went to South America. Peru, Ecuador, including The Galapagos islands and Machu Picchu. On this particular day, while we were staying in the rainforest of Machu Picchu he told me a secret that he had been keeping from me. He had arranged a Shaman to marry us, well at least to bless our partnership later that evening. I was gob smacked, and that takes a lot. Later that day, we walked deeper into the rain forest with an interpreter and someone else who was using my camera to take the photos.

Being blessed in the rainforest, 2007

We met the Shaman and he did a big ceremony for just the two of us. It was quite funny in a way as we had to repeat words in Quechuan, which is the language of the Incas. We had to say it properly as well, and we found ourselves repeating the words over and over again until we got it right. It all turned out well in the end. Although I think I was married to a tree and James was married to a bush, but who knows, it was a very romantic time.

Tell me about a time you felt proud of your husband.

Toasting our wedding as we sailed to a remote bay for our Blessing and celebrations, Symi 2017

God, so many times I wouldn’t know where to begin. He has won many awards over the years, for his music, his books and even a couple of film scripts. But if I was going to pinpoint one day, then it would have to be the day we got married on Symi surrounded by friends and family.

 

If you could only pick one, which character of the Clearwater Family is most like you?

Billy. Although he isn’t in it as much as the others, he is cheeky, cunning and has a quick wit.

Which is your favourite book from the Clearwater Series?

Deviant Desire
Book 1 Clearwater Mysteries

Not being biased at all, I love them all. But if I have to choose one I would say the first one, Deviant Desire, as it sets everything up and we meet most of the main characters from the very beginning. But in saying that, I really did love Banyak and Fecks the prequel to the whole series.

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have any literary ambitions of your own? Have you ever thought about writing something together?

I did write a little bit in the book Symi 85600 under his real name, James Collins. This is about our first 5 years of living on a small Greek island. Plus, as a photographer, my photos were used in Village View another book about our lives in Greece.

The Symi Collection by James Collins

I have written under my own name and won an award for it back in 2007 or 8. But you can only find those stories in over 18 sites.

At the moment there is no plan for a joint effort, but I have thought a few times about writing a book, but like many others, I am too lazy. You need to be self-disciplined and dedicated, which Jackson Marsh/James Collins is.

What is the best thing about being married to a writer?

We respect what each other does like any other couple. Life is always interesting, and no one day is the same as the last. I also like it when we are sitting in the square close to our house, and every now and then you can see someone looking over and pointing at him. Then they come over and ask if it is really him. He smiles, answers them and they go away happy. People also come up to him with one or two of his books and ask him to autograph them, it’s like living with a superstar, but without the money.

Thank you so much Neil, loved your answers and I think that James/Jackson will be relieved to know that living and being married to you is pretty good!


Next week on the blog Jackson has invited some fellow M/M authors over to discuss their book cover choices and we will hear more about the the upcoming release of The Clearwater Inheritance.

In the meantime, on Monday, Jackson is also making a guest appearance over on A. L. Lester’s blog where he will be talking about writing gay fiction back in the 1890’s. You can find Ally’s website and blog here  

Hope you enjoyed the hijacking, have a good week everyone!

 

The Clearwater Inheritance: Blurb, Excerpt and Cover

The Clearwater Inheritance: Blurb, Excerpt and Cover

Today, I have an advance peek at the blurb, cover, and part of The Clearwater Inheritance, book ten in The Clearwater Mysteries series. We are aiming for publication around the 12th of June, so keep an eye on my Facebook page for more details.

The blurb

A book blurb is the text you find on the back of a book, the thing that tells you a little about the story you are about to read. For ‘Inheritance’ I didn’t want to give too much away, and it’s quite a complicated story. A blurb should be short and to the point, and they are often the most difficult things to write. I try to start with a ‘logline’, as they call it in the film world; a short statement that sums up the entire story. Here’s an example taken from ‘Game of Shadows.’ Detective Sherlock Holmes is on the trail of criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty, who is carrying out a string of random crimes across Europe.

That tells us who and what the film is about, though it doesn’t give details, nor does it spoil any surprises.

Here is what I have for The Clearwater Inheritance at the moment. You will notice I have also included a quote because that’s just something I like to do when I can.

Excerpt

Here’s an excerpt that doesn’t give away any spoilers, but, I hope, it will leave you wondering what’s going on. This hasn’t been proofread or formatted yet, and it may change slightly by the time of publication. It is part of chapter 30, and I have omitted the first part of the chapter so as not to spoil anything for you, but I have put the chapter heading.

Between Szeged, Hungary and Vienna, Austria

Saturday 18th January
Night

The locomotive steamed west from Budapest, its steel plough slicing snow and hurling it aside in swathes. Its pistons pumped an incessant pulse, while the chimney belched a constant stream of smoke that billowed from tunnels and trailed behind to hover above the sleeping countryside.
Cities fell away to become dense forests topped with silvery-blue moonlight that bathed the land from the hedgerows to the star-showered horizon. The Danube glinted beneath the cloudless sky until the train left the river to its meandering and sped away on its own path. The warm throw of yellow light from the dining car brushed banks and fields, the silhouettes of the wealthy rising and falling over cuttings in distorted shapes and vanishing as the carriages pounded across bridges. Firemen shovelled, stewards served, and passengers dreamt of elegance in gently rocking bunks, unaware of the rise and fall of the hills, and the urgent, shrill night-cry of the whistle.
The Orient Express kept its times, crossed the borders, and made its destinations. It saw its passengers on and off through a night that held the continent from Constantinople to Calais in an icy grip as brittle as the thinnest crystal. Night ferries crossed the channel miles from the locomotive and its precious passengers, and the same moon glowed as full over them as it did over Larkspur Hall. The same light bathed the moor, its rises and valleys a patchwork of grey and silver shadows, the countryside blanketed in a fine covering of pristine snow.
An owl swooped from an ancient, weathered oak to glide across a frozen stream. Alert for movement but finding none, it rose on silent wings to watch over the estate where Larkspur waited in the pensive darkness, shuttered and blind. The owl circled the tower and followed the parapet, passing rooms where footmen slept, and dormers under which maids turned in dreams of sweethearts and summer days. Attracted by a solitary light, the bird landed on a cornice washed by the throw from an oil lamp and twitched its head, intrigued by and concerned for what took place inside.
Beneath the sloping roof, a young man sat on the edge of an older woman’s bed, holding her hand, and mopping her brow. Her lips moved weakly, and her pale flesh was uncoloured by the lamp-throw which lit the man’s hair in shades of russet and bronze. Light caught the tears that dropped from his cheeks as, leaning closer to listen, he gripped the frail hand tightly, made promises, spoke comforting words and said thanks, until the life in her dulling eyes faded.
His head hung, and his shoulders heaved as he placed her hands across her chest. Wiping his cheeks, he closed her eyes before lifting the sheet to cover her head and said a final goodbye.
When the man approached the window and placed a candle there to flicker in remembrance, the owl dropped from the parapet and continued its flight. It passed the tower where a younger man slept beside a dying fire with a letter in one hand. Building plans, fallen from the other, lay on the floor abandoned to sleep.
The owl passed into the depths of night, while in the corridor beyond the tower, a butler turned down the gas until the passage was a monochrome path of dimly glowing glass and careful footsteps. Pausing at a door, he listed for sounds from within, but his master was sleeping, and he continued to where the two wings of the house met. There, with the grand hall in darkness, he slipped through the baize and followed the winding, stone steps to the ground floor, dimming lamps and securing locks.
The servants’ hall was deserted, but in a few hours, would begin another day as the hall boys laid the fire and stoked the ovens, swept the floors, and washed the tables long before the day considered dawning. The butler met his steward there and learnt his news. The men consoled each other, reminded themselves of their positions and responsibilities, and went their separate ways.
The steward took the path the butler had recently taken, along concealed passages, up the winding stairs, and emerged in the grand hall, there to pause for a moment to relive a memory before climbing to the first floor. Like his colleague, he stopped outside the master bedroom but didn’t disturb its occupant. Instead, let himself into his own room, there to mourn alone.
Throughout the Hall, bristles of moonlight investigated curtain edges and stole around them to play on rugs and furniture. Clocks ticked, and springs wound towards release. The considered chime of a grandfather clock struck regretfully from the library and echoed through the stillness, while the drawing room carriage clock tinkled, polite and distant. In the smoking room, the Wilard lighthouse tolled beneath its dome, and the brass spheres of the anniversary timepiece swung relentlessly back and forth.
In the study, soft ticking on the mantlepiece counted away the seconds, as the last of the embers shuffled through the grate to their rest. Gently, the hour passed, the echoes died, and Larkspur slept in darkness.
But not in silence.
At some time during the night, when clouds had put the moon to bed, and the owl had retaken its perch on the faraway oak, the wood and brass telegraph shocked itself into life. In the alcove beside the moon-forgotten desk, the steel pins snapped their delicate jaws in urgent rhythm, and the wheel turned.

Cover

And finally, the cover.
As you may know, I have been working with graphic designer, Andjela Vujic since publishing my first novel. She has designed all my covers, and some have been nominated for awards. Again, she has come up with exactly the image I had in my mind when I outlined the main elements of the story. What’s unusual about this one is that it’s the first of my covers not to feature a figure. If you look at the Clearwater covers, you can see Archer, Silas, Fecker, Jasper, Billy, and the assassin, Dorjan. There are too many main players in ‘Inheritance’ to single anyone out for the cover, and so I went for… Well, I shan’t tell you as you’ve not seen it yet.

When you’re ready, you can click the reveal image below, and the full front cover will open in a separate window.
But don’t do it just yet! I have one more piece of news. Next Saturday, I have a guest blog post for you. It is not from another author, and it’s not advertising anyone else’s books. It’s not even a character interview, though the man who will be writing it is something of a character. My husband, Neil, will be writing his thoughts about what it’s like to married to an author. I can’t wait. (I think.)
Okay, now click the reveal to see the cover, and remember to keep an eye on the blog and the Facebook page for more news of the release date for The Clearwater Inheritance.

Click to see the cover

The Real History Behind The Clearwater Series

Part 2 – Trains

This is the second blog in a series where I look at the real historical events and facts behind my Clearwater Mysteries Series. Today we talk about my love of train travel, how it features in the books and are joined by my personal Railway Guru, Andy.

There is a lot of train travel in The Clearwater Mysteries, and for two reasons. Firstly, in the era in which the books are set, there were no cars or aeroplanes, travel was steam-powered, horse-driven, by sail, or you could walk. Secondly, I’ve always had a thing for travel, maps and routes. Within that is an interest in steam trains, though I am no expert. It must be in my blood, this thing about locomotives, and if it is, I can identify a good reason why.

The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway: A Childhood on the Tracks

It’s ironic, maybe, that I was born in 1963, the year the first Beeching report was undertaken. ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’ sought to streamline the nationalised railways industry and was responsible for identifying 2,363 stations for closure (55%) and 30% of route miles. It’s also interesting that when I was born, my small, fairly remote hometown still had a railway station, and steam trains were still in use on mainlines, although they were being replaced by diesel. However, I can honestly say that the first time I ever travelled by train, it was pulled by a steam locomotive.

New Romney Railway (1966) – YouTube film

A mile from where I was born (in a petrol station and car repair shop, by the way) was, and still is, the central station for the world’s smallest passenger-carrying light railway. That’s the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (RHDR), a 13.5-mile steam railway on a 15-inch gauge. The line was opened in 1927 and later expanded, much used by the military in WWII, and runs today as a popular tourist attraction. When I was at school, my classmates from out of town used it to get to school, and when I was growing up, it was part of my playground. I have childhood memories of not only riding on it but also being at the stations among the steam, playing on the tracks and simply watching the locomotives trailing steam and smoke across the marsh.

As an aside, at some point in the 70s, my godmother, The Dowager Lady Alvingham (on whom Lady Marshall is based in the Clearwater books), showed an interest in buying a castle that stands on a hill overlooking Romney Marsh. At the same time, my uncle, who had a passion for model railways, showed an interest in buying the RHDR. Their plan was to sit in Aunty Dolly’s castle, watching Uncle Hugh’s ‘toy’ trainset chugging across the flatlands below. Sadly, it never came to fruition, but my uncle did give us the model layout he’d built, and my father installed it in our attic. It was a vast landscape about 12 feet by four, had houses with working lights, the Flying Scotsman with real smoke, and provided hours of endless fascination for my brothers and me.

Still Chugging

My interest in train travel is still chugging along. In fact, it is my preferred method of travel. There is something romantic in planning a journey, and sometimes I think I am a frustrated travel agent. I don’t mean popping into Expedia and booking a flight and hotel; I mean looking at a map, working out what railways will get you there, finding the timetables and working out the connections.

Our travel companion, Paddington, at budapest train station

A few years ago, Neil and I decided on a Central European holiday. It was my fault, really. I wanted to travel a few countries by train, so I got out the atlas, Googled a bit, and set to work on a route. Because we live on an island, we had to start the journey by boat and fly to our first destination, Vienna. We were met by Neil’s brother, who lives there, and travelled into the city by train, so that was a good start. After a couple of days there, we moved on, and in the space of a couple of weeks, went from Vienna to Prague to Budapest to Belgrade on a variety of train journeys, some more classy than others.

Me fulfilling a bit of a dream, on a train, in the Carpathian mountains, coming back from Transylvania

Before this, we had been to Romania for my 50th birthday, flying into Bucharest and then taking the train into the Carpathian Mountains to Sighisoara, the alleged birthplace of Vlad Tepes on whom Stoker based Dracula. We also travelled by train to Brasov and stayed there on the way back to Bucharest, and we did all this first-class because, in Europe, ticket prices are often a tenth of the price they are in the UK and elsewhere.

I mention all this because, in the upcoming novel ‘The Clearwater Inheritance,’ some of the characters find themselves travelling by train and visit, among other places, Vienna, Budapest, and Brasov, and they journey through the Carpathian Mountains.

 

Across Canada by train, 2020

One of my life’s ambitions was to travel across Canada by train, a five-day journey from Toronto to Vancouver. (We passed through a place called Clearwater, and stopped at a place called Collins.) This we achieved last year, just before the world was overcome by the virus.

 

 

Seen in Vancouver

Actually, we left Vancouver at the end of the Canadian leg of the journey, the day after the country went into lockdown. Although our trip wasn’t over, we had to cut the London and Athens legs short as there was no point in going there; everything was shut. Rearranging flights at two in the morning while sitting in an airport, buying boat tickets, finding hotels, and wondering whether we might have to travel from London to Athens by hire car or train… Well, for me, that was like a weird dream come true. The travel agent in me kicked in, and we became like continents on ‘The Amazing Race.’

You won’t be surprised to learn I am keen on ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ by Jules Verne.

——————————————————————————-

At this point I thought it would be fun to invite my good friend Andy over tell us a little about himself. He has become my Railway Guru, always willing to answer my questions and check facts for me as I research the series. I asked him where his love of trains came from and how that seed grew.

I first became interested in railways at the age of 10 when my parents unwisely bought me an “ABC” locomotive spotting book to shut me up on an interminable family holiday rail journey from Birmingham to Ilfracombe. They came to very much regret doing this as my bedroom filled up with railway magazines, models, and bits of actual railway equipment. I was already interested in buses as there was a major bus depot a few minutes walk from my house. Through the teenage years the interests became more advanced with much borrowing of books from the library, and at the same time steam was disappearing from the UK national railway network. No doubt all that reading about how things came to be the way they were encouraged me to take a University degree in history, and then start a career in transport management (buses in this case). A switch to managing freight transport followed, and then manufacturing industry.

So great that your childhood hobby grew into your career. And I know that even now in retirement you have managed to carry on in a new capacity…

The view of the Booking Officer

Yes, after semi-retirement I took up a part-time position at my local heritage steam railway as Booking Office Supervisor, surrounded by 1898 vintage buildings, real working steam trains, and a superb shop selling second hand railway books. I have also added looking at ferries and aircraft to my transport studies.

When not doing this I like reading fiction, often set in the late-Victorian, Edwardian, 1920/30/40s era, and sneering at authors who get their railway facts wrong (and so often their geography too). Being used as a consultant on your “Clearwater” series was immensely satisfying as a result.

Thank you Andy and I really think that maybe it will be your turn next to write a book!

——————————————————————————-

So back to my writing and how I use trains in the Clearwater Mysteries.

The first time a train appears is in chapter one of book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’.

James Joseph Wright was born on January 10th, 1863, at the precise moment the world’s first underground train delivered its passengers to Farringdon station. As the locomotive puffed and fumed from the tunnel, James’s mother, some four miles distant, puffed and fumed through her own first delivery.

That’s the only time an underground train is mentioned in the series, but overground trains start to feature from then on. I started this book with an ending in mind. I wanted one of those classic ‘fight on the roof of a moving train’ moments and wanted to add in men on horseback riding alongside, someone (James) inching along the outside of the trucks, the villain doing away with the driver, and the train racing out of control towards a fiery end… And that’s exactly what you get.

Archer wasn’t far behind, galloping from the ridge to the rear of the train and encouraging his mount with his crop. The horse knew its purpose and worked with him, delivering him up the embankment to the backplate. The viscount drew level with the last car, stood in the stirrups, and grabbed the rail. With one great leap, he left the saddle and swung his legs across to the car. He landed first time and clambered aboard as the horse veered off and slowed. Archer wasted no time climbing to the roof, and James turned his attention to the engine.

‘Jimmy!’ Archer was above him, fighting the wind for his balance. ‘Warn the driver. Stop the train.’

Everything was shadows and speed, gusts and fumes as James fought his way to the next car. Wooden, it offered a narrow walkway, making it easier for him to pass, but there were no handholds apart from cracks in the planking where he dug his fingertips, pressing his body flat against the side. He didn’t know how many more cars there were before the tender, but the headlamps were still a way off. The driver was expecting to continue straight on and was steaming the engine hard. [Twisted Tracks, chapter 24.]

Fallen Splendour and Other Journeys

Trains appear again in book four, ‘Fallen Splendour.’ For this one, I wanted another tense sequence and included a race against time. In this case, I had to get James from London to the Welsh coast to collect Archer and get them both back to the High Court in London in as few hours as possible. Initially, I thought I had not left myself enough time and thought I might have to rewrite some chapters because the time I had given James to achieve his task seemed unreasonably short. Then I referred to my railways guru, Andy, and he told me about ‘specials.’ Apparently, if you had enough money and clout, you could have the railways put on a special train just for you, and this, they could do with a few hours’ notice. Perfect! Of course, being a Clearwater novel, I didn’t go for just any old special, which is why Archer finds himself steaming through the night in Queen Victoria’s royal carriage.

Bitter Bloodline’ (book five) starts with a train crash. ‘Artful Deception’ (book six) takes us across the English Channel and on a relatively short journey to the Netherlands and back, plus another train journey to Derbyshire. In book seven, ‘Home From Nowhere’, Jasper encounters his first journey by train.

Jasper’s fear soon gave way to intrigue when the train moved, and became awe when it picked up speed. It wasn’t long before he began to enjoy the rhythmic trundling, and the only time he thought he was going to die was when they passed through a tunnel. The

sound was deafening, smoke poured in through the window, and the carriage was plunged into darkness. It was over in seconds, leaving the footman struggling with the window, and Jasper shaking.

Train journeys are also featured in books eight and nine, but when we reach book ten… Well, that’s when I thought it was time to branch out from the domestic lines and go intercontinental.

The Clearwater Inheritance

You know how I am with ‘Dracula’, the epistolary novel to end all epistolary novels in my opinion… I employ a little of this ‘story in journals, letters, and other documents’ style in The Clearwater Inheritance.

Dracula opens with Jonathan Harker writing about his journey from Munich to Bistritz (now called Bistrita), travelling through Vienna and Budapest. Two of my characters take the same route because they are also travelling to Transylvania (though that’s got nothing to do with vampires).

I may have travelled on similar routes, but not, obviously, in the same century or on the same kind of trains, so I had to do some research into how such a journey would have been. You know how you sometimes get lucky? I put a search string into the search engine that read something like this: ‘Travelling in Europe in 1890’, and what should I find in a book collection?

Travels in Various Parts of Europe During the Years 1888, 1889 and 1890, Being a short and practical account, by Gilbert H. W. Harrison (with 24 illustrations).

I couldn’t have asked for anything better and was able to draw on first-person accounts of Folkestone, the channel crossing, Paris, Vienna, Budapest and parts of Hungary as they had been experienced in the same year as my story. I even have my characters stay at or mention hotels and stations Harrison saw and described.

Harrison was on a tourist route, however, and my characters follow the same route until they realise Thomas Cook & Son haven’t grasped the urgency of their journey. There are other delays, and backstory from ‘Banyak & Fecks’ comes into play at one point, as do other pre-mentioned backstories concerting Lady Clearwater’s Romanian/Transylvanian connections and other things to do with Archer’s past. Ultimately, my travelling characters need to get back to England in a hurry.

The map created for ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ based on one from 1912. All rights reserved. Dark lines and lighter solid lines show the Orient Express routes, dotted lines are the characters’ other routes.

Again, I spoke to Andy about this side of the story and asked how long it would have taken from Bodmin in Cornwall to Brasov in what is now Romania in 1890. He came back with suggested times and routes. Finding original timetables is never easy, but I reckon, in the story, I am as close to what was possible as I can be. For the return journey, though, I needed to speed things up a bit and so looked into using the Express d’Orient, the Orient Express as we now call it.

A timetable from The Orient Express

A couple of chapters happen aboard this luxury train, but this is not an Agatha Christie, and the journey to and from Brasov is only one aspect of the story, but again, I tried to be as accurate as possible, at least with descriptions and distances. I had to reschedule the Orient Express to a different day, else the rest of the plot wouldn’t work, but apart from that, the race home is, as far as I can see, accurate, if a little tight. The characters have an awful lot of luck making steamers and ‘very early’ trains, but hey, it’s fiction and fact mixed, faction, you might say, and it was all possible.

End of the line

Is book ten the end of the line for Clearwater? Has the series finally reached its destination? All I can say is, running at 150,000 words, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ is the longest of the stories, and it does have a sense of rounding things off. It also has a sense of leaving something open for another series set in the same world, and it is that idea I will be considering once this book has been published.

Look out for my newsletter at the start of June, as there will be an extract from the book included as a special preview for those who sign up. (There won’t be any plot spoilers.)

I must go now, but I will add a list of references I have used for my railway research as a guide for anyone who is interested to know more.

Books:


 

Journal of the Society of Arts (1891), Austro-Hungarian Railways and the Zone System
London Daily News 1890 (and other newspapers of the time)

Online:

GlobalSecurity.org (on which my map of the route is based) https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/europe/orient-express.htm

The Man In Seat 61

 

 

News From Both Worlds

News From Both Worlds

Hello everyone, here’s what’s going on in my writing world and my real world. Let’s start with where we are right now, at my website.

The Clearwater Family

We are starting to build new pages. Have a look at the top menu, and you will see The Clearwater Family. You can click on that to find links to individual pages about the main characters in the Clearwater series. So far, we have interviews with Jasper, Thomas, Andrej and James, and more will come along in time. When they are published as a blog post, they will also be available under the family. So, if you have missed any chats with the characters, you can find them there. This is part of the ongoing project, ‘The Clearwater Companion.’

The Clearwater Inheritance

The news on Clearwater 10 is that I am almost at the end of the third draft, while Neil is almost at the end of his beta read. Proofing is booked in for May 25th, Anjela is working on the cover, and I am aiming for publication in early June.

There are no spoilers here, but already I have overheard Neil in the other room muttering things like, ‘You can’t do that!’ ‘Oh no!’ ‘Ha! I knew it!’ and other helpful/unhelpful asides. There are a few twists, a code, lots of history, an evil villain, and a certain amount of travel involved in this story, which is to be the longest of the Clearwater collection so far.

Flash Fiction

I have devoted my writing time to the Clearwater series for the last two years because it grabbed me, and I love writing it. But, during that time, I was also able to release The Students of Barrenmoor Ridge, and recently, I was invited to enter a flash fiction anthology competition. I’ve never written flash fiction before (I had to look up what it was), but I thought I’d have a go. The competition called for only 300 words which, to me, is more like a sentence – lol – rather, a couple of paragraphs, but I did my best. The very short story has a beginning, middle, end, something to do with gay/love, and is kind of in the required genre of mystery/sci-fi/fantasy. Oh, and it also had to be about ink, as if there weren’t enough constraints already. I won’t know the outcome for a while yet, but if it is not accepted into the anthology, I will post it here.

Meanwhile…

Meanwhile, here in Symi, Greece, we are at last allowed to go to the pub. Well, to the kafenion and the tavernas as we don’t have pubs.

Easter on Symi. Neil made the cake.

There are still restrictions in place, but they are easing ahead of the opening up for tourism date of May 15th. This could be an excellent thing for the economy, but not such a good thing for health; we will have to wait and see. If you want to know more about where I live and what we do on Symi, click the link for my five times per week blog from the island, Symi Dream.

Neil and I have had our first vaccination against ‘the thing’, and the second one is due next week. I had a couple of dodgy days after the first, with heavy cold/flu symptoms and a very painful arm, but you know what us writers are like, I just got on with it, and it passed.

At Rhodes Old Town with my godson

Also, a couple of weeks ago, I went to Rhodes for the first time in 13 months. In fact, it was my first time off our island since we came back from Canada last year. This trip was to start the process of proving I have the right to live in Greece now the UK has left the EU. Tedious, I know, and don’t get me started on Brexit. I am now waiting to go back to Rhodes to have a fingerprint taken as the second stage of my application to remain as a third-country national. Neil is still a European citizen because he has an Irish passport, lucky thing. We’ve been here nearly 19 years, had a business and all that, and I should have no trouble getting my new residency card. I hope!

Next

And now, I am four chapters away from the end of the latest draft of the Clearwater Inheritance, and so I must get on.

Yesterday’s sunrise seen from our roof

Neil has gone for a walk and a swim, as the temperature has been up to 30 degrees of late, but I am chained to the desk and deadline. I have been out for a few walks recently, and I need to do more to get rid of some of this lockdown lard. I’ve spent the last year at the desk, making models or watching endless TV series, with only a few strolls up and down the hills and not my usual five days per week schedule. Still, I’ve got lots written and a few models made.

Two of the horror figure models I have made during lockdown – and a photo of Neil created by Anjela in the Clearwater style

So, thanks for reading. Keep in touch and keep following the Facebook page, sharing things around and leaving reviews. I’ll be back next week with… something else to chat about.