Ideas for the Next Clearwater Mystery

Ideas for the Next Clearwater Mystery

I have to admit, I completely forgot what day of the week it was, and that’s why my Saturday blog post is appearing on a Sunday. I was sitting here at the computer yesterday writing ideas for a new Clearwater story and thinking, ‘I’m sure there’s something I should be doing…’ There was, and here it is.

A (possible) New Clearwater Mystery for Book Nine

Here’s a treat for you. A sketch of Fecker drawn for the Clearwater Companion (a work in very slow progress).

During the last two weeks, I have begun work on a new Clearwater adventure. I had started one before I sat down to write the prequel, Banyak & Fecks, and had the beginning, the ending and the mystery in between semi-mapped out. I was going to call this one ‘Men of a Similar Heart’ because I liked the title, and I may still come back to that title and story in the future. For some reason, though, I reached around 30,000 words and found myself trundling. I mean, writing chapters where all kinds of interesting domestic things happened, characters chatted, and we delved into day to day life at Clearwater House, but where nothing actually happened to advance the mystery story. This suggested that either I wasn’t in the right mood to continue an adventure, or the story was mundane.

Victorian Erotica

So, I set that aside and started on a completely different idea which was thrown up during the writing of Banyak & Fecks. If you’ve read that one, you’ll know there is a scene where Silas is invited/seduced into posing naked for photographs. [I looked around the web for an image or two to illustrate that scene and found only a couple of solo men. The others were far too pornographic to display here.]

Later than 1889 judging from his hair style, but you get the picture.

This did go on in those times (1889). There was a market for erotica and pornography, straight and gay, and you can find original images online in various archives. Of course, the practice was going on before and has been happening ever since. My godfather (born in 1919) was once a model for erotic images in the 1920s and 30s. He posed for a fairly well-known photographer called Angus McBain, in Victoria, London, and told me about his sittings when he related his life story to me later in his life.

In Banyak & Fecks, Silas poses and is photographed… and then the story moves on. I was thinking about what to write next, aware that the ongoing series has reached the last few months of 1889, and I wondered, ‘Now what?’ Most of the love stories have been put in place, and I can’t really introduce another new character and love story, Clearwater House is now full of couples! Well, we have Archer/Silas, James/Thomas, Fecker/Lucy and now, Jasper/Billy. Apart from perhaps having some infidelity (which is not impossible), it’s currently hard to think how I can inject another love-thread into the saga. Instead, I thought, I might have a simple mystery for James, the detective, to solve with one or two of the other characters.

And then I remembered Silas’ photo-shoot with ‘Sir’ in Banyak & Fecks, and thought, ‘What if…?’ As that idea started to grow, I realised that, as we’re towards the end of 1889, another Clearwater Foundation Gala is due; another big theatrical event with the well to do of London, and thought, ‘that’s an interesting starting place,’ and the idea developed.

Relating the Story to Today

1889 saw the outbreak of a worldwide flu pandemic, the ‘Russian’ or ‘Asiatic’ flu that started in Bukhara in the Russian Empire (now in Uzbekistan). It reached England in December 1889, perfect timing, I thought if such a tragedy could be considered perfect.

This means I have three pieces of a possible mystery puzzle. 1) a threat to Clearwater and his way of life with the surfacing of erotic photographs of Silas, His Lordship’s secretary and coordinator of the Greychurch Mission. 2) The second Clearwater Gala, and 3) the arrival of Russian flu in Britain.

How to tie them together?

Well, I thought, also available to me in terms of historical accuracy, is Prince Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence, Queen Victoria’s grandson (also known as Prince Eddy, and one of the more unlikely suspects for being Jack the Ripper). He was away in South Africa at the time I am writing, but I can take a liberty with that, and I wondered how it might add pressure to the story if he was at the gala, and better, considering becoming the patron of the Clearwater Foundation.

A cencored image such as those Silas posed for.

With that in the offing, and images of Silas about to surface, there could be a head-on collision for Clearwater, and what’s more, it will take place during the outbreak of deadly flu. So, I then added another what if…? Someone close to Clearwater became gravely ill. That adds pressure, but what if this impending tragedy caused Clearwater to travel abroad, thus putting him in more danger, leaving some of his crew behind to deal with the possible Silas embarrassment?

Who is in charge of sorting out this mess? Well, at the moment, I am working on the idea that James, Silas and Fecker will take the lead in this story, and I am up to 30,000 words, which is about the end of the first act.

The New Story So Far

No spoilers, but in the story so far, the gala has happened, Prince Eddy is considering lending his name to the Clearwater Foundation, everyone is happy, but Dr Markland has pulled Archer aside to give him grave news. Back home the next day, Markland and Archer tell everyone about the flu heading to London, and Archer orders everyone to Larkspur for their protection.

The spread of Russian Flu 1889 – 1890

But… He’s also received word that his mother, while travelling to Bran Castle for Christmas as she does every year, has fallen ill with the flu in Paris. Archer and Thomas set off for Paris, Harvey and Mrs Norwood pack up Clearwater House and take the staff to Larkspur, and everything seems on track.

But… Behind this, Silas has received copies of photos he posed for three years previously, along with a blackmail threat, and the only people he can turn to are James and Fecker…

And… Well, that’s the next stage. As the characters investigate, I will inject a deadline and head to a climax that will somehow involve one of those ‘race to beat the baddie’ endings that we saw in Twisted Tracks, Unspeakable Acts, Artful Deception and the others.

That’s where I am at the moment. Today, if I can, I want to bring the first act to its end with one almighty twist, or development, or ‘oh no!’ moment, and that’s my job as soon as I have finished this stream of consciousness ramble.

Thanks for listening. Writing this has helped me clear my thoughts which were becoming a little bit stuck. Next week, hopefully, I will remember what day it is and post my last blog post of 2020 on Saturday as usual.

While searching for suitable photos for this post, I stumbled across Josephine Myles, ‘Gay romance with lashings of English sauce’ and a post on her site, from which I borrowed an image (which I censored slightly). Have a look at her site.

Notes From Home

Notes From Home

I thought I would combine book news with a personal update this week, and I have a few things to tell you about.

Banyak & Fecks

First of all, ‘Banyak & Fecks’, published at the start of the week, has already received a cracking, five-star review. This is a prequel to The Clearwater Mysteries and is written in, dare I say it, a more literary style. It’s not the usual murder, madness and mayhem of the books that follow, there are no cryptic clues for the reader to solve as you travel through the story with the Clearwater Crew, and although I’d consider it romantic, it’s not a romance.

Banyak & Fecks is the story of how Silas and Andrej met on the streets of the East End in 1844. It tells of their growing relationship through to the day or so before ‘Deviant Desire‘ starts in 1888. The boys were teenagers at this time (although that word didn’t exist then), and I wanted to give an idea of what it’s like for a young man to experience the confusions of sexuality at that age and in that era.

I also wanted to drop in plotlines and people who appear in the books that follow, and astute readers will notice some. Without giving things away, when you read the story, you meet characters from ‘Deviant Desire’ (Molly at the rope house, for example, and a couple of the future victims of the Ripper). You also meet Eddie Lovemount from books two to four. James Wright is mentioned, as is the Cleaver Street brothel from ‘Fallen Splendour.’ I even put in a meeting with a doctor who has a bushy moustache and who Fecker thinks was called Marked-land, or something. It is Dr Markland, of course, appearing a few years before his first proper appearance in book one.

What I also did, was to lay down some of Silas’ past which could later come back to haunt him, and that leads me onto…

My Next Writing Project

Tower Bridge, London, being built in circa 1889, as mentioned in Banyak & Fecks.

To be honest, I’ve been having trouble starting the next Clearwater book, and I think that’s because I stepped away from the series to add in the prequel. Having said that, I have written four different openings of the same story, sometimes three or four chapters, but can’t decide which way to go. The other day, I went back to an old file and reread one of my opening chapter ideas, and something went ‘ping!’ So, I am now starting on that version of the next story, the working title of which was ‘Men of a Similar Heart’, but which, I think, will now be something else.

I won’t say too much about book nine, as I hope it will become, but I will tell you that it currently starts in December 1889 at the second Clearwater Foundation Gala – as foreshadowed in ‘Bitter Bloodline’, which is taking place at Henry Irving’s Lyceum Theatre. I intend to tie the story in with something that happened in ‘Banyak & Fecks’ that involved a photographer… And that’s all I am going to say about that. If all goes well, you can look forward to the next Clearwater instalment early next year.

Meanwhile…

Giveaway

Before that, we have Christmas, and as you may know by now, we’re running a free book giveaway. Head to my Facebook page, give it a like and follow, and every day, you can enter a draw to win a signed paperback copy of ‘Banyak and Fecks.’ There’s a different quote from a blurb or book every day, and all you have to do is correctly identify the book to have your name put into the hat. You can enter every day, so you have 24 chances of winning.

And while all that is going on…

Home news – a trip to Canada

I have been posting five times per week on my personal blog, www.symidream.com

The view from our sitting room.

This is a blog I have kept up for the last 14 years (I think it is, certainly a long time), and there, I put up photos of the Greek island Neil and I live on, and write a little each day about what we’re up to. Sometimes I write more in-depth posts, and sometimes I just ramble about what I am writing. These past three weeks, I have been writing about the holiday we took back in early March before C-19 took over when we went to London and Canada. You’ll have to go back to the start of November to begin at post one, but from there, you can follow the story through to the last day (yesterday). From now on, I’ll be back to my usual kind of Symi blogging.

Symi harbour last week.

For us, here in our rented house overlooking a glorious harbour, it’s mainly been about being locked down (the Greek national lockdown is now running until at least the 14th December), and so we’ve not been doing much. We have been out for a few walks, Neil more so than me, and we’ve watched a lot of TV. I’ve also started back on building a plastic model kit. This one is of The Invisible Man, and the kitchen table is currently covered with paints and pieces while the air is perfumed with white spirit and glue.

Not me, but my boarding school as I remember it.

I used to make these kits when I was 13 at prep school and took up the hobby again a couple of years ago. I make the Universal Horror Model kits, originally produced by Aurora with glow in the dark pieces. These days, the originals are collectors’ items (I have two) and not exactly cheap. So, I make the remoulds. The best time to do this is when we have one of our Greek island biblical thunderstorms, as we do in the winter when we unplug the router and computers, and I can sit for hours fiddling with paintbrushes and let my imagination wander to create the next Clearwater scene.

The current state of the kitchen table.

We have also been preparing for Christmas, though no decorations yet. Every year for the past 16 or so, we’ve spent Christmas Day with Jenine (our bestie and now my PA), and her two children, our godsons. Hopefully, this year will be no different, and it’s always a day of madness and fun. I’ve been teaching our youngest godson, Harry (13), to play the piano, and we currently have lessons via WhatsApp. He’s only been learning a year and is already over halfway through his first grade, so I am a very proud god-dad.

Get In Touch

I’ll finish by asking you if you have anything you’d like me to write about in my weekly blog. Would you like to know more about my writing process, how I came to be living on a Greek island, what I am planning, what’s my favourite book…? Anything at all, just drop me an email to jack @ jacksonmarsh.com, or leave a comment on my Facebook page, and I’ll do my best to blog about what you want to read.

In the meantime, thanks for reading, thanks for your reviews of my books, stay safe, and most of all, keep reading.

How I Write Book Blurbs – And A Christmas Giveaway

How I Write Book Blurbs – And A Christmas Giveaway

Recently, I noticed a few new writers on Facebook groups asking for advice about their blurbs and putting up some examples of what they had come up with. I found myself cringing at some and being impressed by others, and thought I would talk about the way I write mine. This short guide is about what I do. Whether you decide this is a good way to do it, or whether you think, ‘Hm, I’ll avoid his advice,’ it’s up to you.

There’s another reason for doing this today, which you will see if you follow my Facebook page during December. I will be running a prize draw through the month and giving away a signed copy of ‘Banyak & Fecks’ on Christmas Day. I’ll tell you more about that after I’ve blurbed about blurbs.

So, what is a blurb?

A blurb, also known as a book description, is found on the inside back cover of a hardback, on the back cover of a paperback and/or on the Amazon page under the product description. It’s the thing that a potential reader usually looks at after they’ve been impressed by your cover, or not. It’s your story in a nutshell and is probably the hardest thing to write after a logline. You are condensing your book into 150 to 200 words, after all, but you are doing so much more than that.

Start with a Logline

A logline is perhaps more of a filmmaker’s term, and it aims to reduce the film/story into even fewer words. When I write my books, I desperately fight to come up with a logline first, so I know what my story is, and then using that line as my focus to keep myself on track.

Yeah, right, well… Often I come up with it halfway through or at the end, because by then, I actually know what the story is about because the characters have taken over, but that’s me, and that’s novel writing. Film loglines, however, are a good place to start when writing a blurb because they help you focus.

An example of a logline would be: The ageing patriarch of an organised crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son. (The Godfather)

Loglines are not to be confused with taglines, the publicity headings if you like. A tagline would be ‘In space, no one can hear you scream’ (Alien), or, ‘There are 3.7 trillion fish in the sea. They’re looking for one.’ (Finding Nemo).

A logline for my new release (due out on Monday/Tuesday of next week) might be:
A Ukrainian refugee and the son of an Irish immigrant meet, bond, and become sex workers in Victorian London.

That’s a very simple outline of ‘Banyak & Fecks’ but is the overarching story, therefore should be the basis of the blurb.

From Logline to Blurb

Do you know what your story is about, or do you only know what happens?
A blurb isn’t a synopsis. Well, it is, kind of, but it’s not a full synopsis. It’s 150 to 200 words that a) introduce your main characters, b) set the stage for your conflict, c) establish the stakes/risks, d) show the reader why they will like this book. Simple, eh?

No, not really.

Here’s a made-up example of what I consider a bad blurb based on a few I have read.
“Jack searches for love and has a one night stand with Jock that leads to them becoming insta-lovers, but Jess gets jealous and kills Jack in a brawl the next day. Jock yearns for his lost love like a teenager with raging hormones. Will he ever find happiness?”

For a start, I am already confused between Jack, Jock and Jess. However ‘insta-lovers’ suggests a bit of nookie might happen as long as we understand the modernism, ‘insta.’ We know one of them gets killed, so that’s that tension gone, but who are these people and what chemicals were they taking? ‘A teenager with raging hormones searching for love?’ What does that mean? After that, I didn’t care who found love and moved on.

It’s difficult. In fact, writing a blurb is more difficult than writing a 120k word novel or a 100-word synopsis. I just took another look at my ‘Banyak & Fecks’ blurb and realised I’d written 196 words, which is a bit over the top, but I also noticed I’d cheated.

How? Well, I’ve put certain information outside of the book description, but I reckon that’s okay because that info will be for the Amazon page, and people will have read that before buying the paperback, so I don’t need it on the back. Your Amazon book description can give more information than you book blurb, and so, is a convenient space in which you can expand your sales pitch and description.

The ‘cheated’ info runs:

‘Banyak & Fecks’ ends the day before the first Clearwater Mystery, ‘Deviant Desire‘ begins. It is a story of friendship and platonic love set in Greychurch, the imaginary Whitechapel of the Clearwater world. Extensively researched, readers are taken from the Russian steppe and the Wirral slums to the squalor of the East End in the late 1880s.

[Genre: Historical Bromance]

[‘The Clearwater Mysteries.’ Historical MM Romance, mystery and adventure.]

You don’t need all that on the back of your book, but it’s excellent information to put on Amazon, your blog, publicity, social media etc.

My Blurb Advice Based on My Learning Curve

What you do need is a brief outline of who, what and why. Who is/are the main character(s)? What’s the tension, conflict, interest? Why does the book appeal?

1          Keep it simple. Don’t give in to temptation and outline the entire story.
2          Use power words. (See below.)
3          Think, ‘Who am I writing for/selling to.’
4          Remember, you know who/what you’re talking about – but the potential readers don’t.
5          Don’t be indulgent. The blurb doesn’t show off what a great novelist you are or how cleverly you use words. If anything, it should show off how succinctly you can write, how objective you can be, and how good a salesperson you are.

Here’s an example of a blurb

I am not saying it’s the best example, but this is the blurb for my best-selling novel, ‘Deviant Desire.’ That’s bestselling for me, not as in ‘New York Times bestseller or anything. I’ve put notes in brackets and power words in bold. Power words are things like fear instead of ‘are scared of’, and kill rather than ‘attack.’ Murder or disembowel might have been even better.

Deviant Desire taken apart:

Deviant Desire blurb on Amazon

The Victorian East End (time and place) lives in fear of the Ripper (tension) and his mission to kill rent boys. (Character setting general. This opening line also sets the overall atmosphere and theme.)

Silas Hawkins, nineteen and forging a life on the streets (main character 1) could well be the next victim, (personal danger) but when he meets Archer, his life changes forever. (How? Why? Interest in what comes next.) Young, attractive and rich, Archer is The Viscount Clearwater, a philanthropist, adventurer and homosexual. (Main character 2, conflict between classes, sexy man suggesting ‘Mr Right.’ Homosexual isn’t the best or most powerful word, but ‘gay’ didn’t exist in that context in 1888. Even ‘homosexual’ was only used in the professional medical world, but there you go.)

When Archer suspects the Ripper is killing to lure him to a confrontation, (Why? Who is the Ripper?) he risks his reputation and his life (what’s at stake MC 1) to stop the madman’s murders. (Summary of action plot.) Every man must play his part, including Silas. (What’s at stake, MC 2) Secrets must be kept, lovers must be protected, and for Archer and Silas, it marks the start of their biggest adventure – love. (That lot doesn’t tell us what happens, it suggests what might happen and, hopefully, our imagination is stirred.)

There then follows on Amazon pages only:

A mashup of mystery, romance and adventure, (tells the potential reader if this is their kind of thing) Deviant Desire is set in an imaginary London of 1888. (Imaginary to show we’re not taking a new look at Jack the Ripper, so Ripperologists don’t get offended.) The first book in the on-going The Clearwater Mysteries series (shows there are more, and if you enjoy this one, your investment will pay off) and mixes fact with fiction. The series takes the theme of loyalty and friendship in a world where homosexuality is a crime. (Covers the overall series without going into detail, and says what kind of books follow, though not what stories.)

Insta-love, physical romance, mystery and murder. (A general covering of ‘tropes’ a word I dislike but a necessary evil.)

Some writers also put ‘triggers’ but, to be honest, with power words such as murder, Ripper, homosexual, and physical romance, you’d have to be pretty dim not to pick up on the fact this is going to be a gay murder thriller with some sex in it. ‘Physical romance’ is there because it’s best not to mention ‘sex’ on Amazon pages, they get funny about things like that.

DS Billings Mystery series box set

Another thing you can do on the Amazon page is put quotes from reviews of the book, or others in a series. You’ll see that’s what I’ve done for Deviant Desire’ and others. For ‘Banyak & Fecks’ I am lucky enough to have a quote from Olivier Bosman, author of the DS Billings Victorian Mysteries.

A colourful and enchanting tale. Beautifully written. Marsh does an excellent job of evoking the look and feel of a different age.”

Again, I’m not saying I am the expert on writing blurbs, I am simply passing on my experience. If you want professional advice by trained educators, you can easily find it through an online search.

And now, the signed-book giveaway news.

During December, from 1st to 24th, I am giving everyone the chance to win a signed paperback of ‘Banyak & Fecks.’ Each day, I will put up a quote from one of my books, or from one of my blurbs, and all you have to do is leave a comment on the Facebook post giving the title of the book from which the quote comes.
You don’t have to have read them all, some you will pick up from the blurbs, others will be obvious, and some will be harder.
Follow my Facebook page. Identify the book and put the name of the book in the comments below. You can enter on as many days as you like, even every day if you want.

Each correct answer will be numbered on a spreadsheet. When I get together with my godsons on Christmas Eve, I will ask one of them to randomly pick one number/entry from a hat, and that will be the winner.
I’ll then announce the winner on my Facebook page, and we’ll exchange private messages so you can give me the address to send the book to. (Note: it will take a while to arrive as it will be posted from our little Greek island, but you should get it sometime in January.)

Now, I must get on with setting up the files for ‘Banyak & Fecks.’ Look out for it on Amazon over the next few days, and I look forward to seeing everyone join in with the December giveaway.

Here’s one good, in-depth article about writing book blurbs.

The DS Billings Mystery series by Olivier Bosman, box set, Kindle edition

The Clearwater Mysteries: What’s next?

The Clearwater Mysteries: What’s next?

My next novel, ‘Banyak & Fecks’ should be available in a couple of weeks, and my newsletter will tell you when it has been published. There will also be news on my Facebook page. It occurs to me that I have done a rather strange thing, or I am about to. I realised that what I have done is write an eight-part, ongoing series over the last two years, and now, I’ve gone back to before that series started and written a prequel. So, that’s kind of cart about horse, as Fecker might say.

The Theme of The Clearwater Mysteries started with a pebble

Banyak & Fecks works whether you’ve read some, all or none of the series, and you can slip it into your reading at any time without it interrupting the flow of the series. It won’t give away any spoilers either, but it will explain a few things you might wonder about as you read the eight books.

For example, in book one, ‘Deviant Desire’, Silas’ only possession is a small, black and white pebble and when he wakes up at Clearwater House to find his clothes have been burnt, he is desperate to know where it is. Luckily, Thomas, the footman, being a caring chap as well as drop-dead gorgeous, finds and keeps it, assuming that it has importance to the urchin.

Later in the series, we learn that Andrej gave Silas the pebble, and Silas kept it as a reminded of their deep friendship. What we don’t know, in detail, is how Andrej (Fecks) came by it and why it is so important to him. In Banyak & Fecks, we not only learn how Fecks got the pebble, but also why and what it means.

As I was writing Banyak & Fecks, I realised that this small object carries the weight of the story’s theme – the series’ theme in fact: friendship and male bonding; bromance if you like. The pebble is a symbol, and although not mentioned in every book, is still in Silas’ possession at the end of book eight.
The pebble also has significance for me, and I don’t mind sharing that with you. In fact, I can do better and show you a photo of it.

I’ve had this pebble since I was 16. (It is 1.5 inches wide and sitting in a bowl made from a coconut shell I bought in Croatia.) It was given to me by my best friend, Andrew when we were walking on the beach. It was just a ‘Here you go, a present for no reason,’ moment, and nothing more romantic because our relationship was platonic. However, it meant much to me; it must have done as I still have it 41 years later. That sense of best-friendship, strong platonic love between one young man and another, is what drives the Clearwater Mysteries, or the relationships side of the stories, and I guess, the overarching theme stems from then, my teenage years.

Fecker and his horses

Another piece of backstory which is never fully explained in the series is Fecker, his horses, and his riding ability. In book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’ we have a classic ‘chasing a steam train on horseback’ scene. Archer (Viscount Clearwater) and his crew have answered a call to confront his nemesis, the Ripper. During the scene, the new footman, James, finds himself inching along the side of the coal cars at speed, trying to reach the cabin to pull the brakes and stop the train from crashing. At one point, he is hanging by his fingertips, in danger of falling to his death, when Fecker gallops alongside, stands and pushes James back to safety before calming riding on. How can he do this? At some point in the stories, Silas has said something vague like ‘He trained in a circus’, and it’s kind of left at that. In ‘Banyak & Fecks’, however, we find out how Fecks came to work in a circus, what he learnt there, and the dreadful thing that happened to make him leave. You might also be interested to know that a horse he has towards the start of the story is called ‘Banyak’, a word that in Ukrainian slang, means ‘idiot’. The word also has another, kinder, meaning which is explained in the book, as is the way in which Silas and Andrej came to call each other Banyak and Fecks.

Fecker’s skill with and love of horses is also developed in book four, ‘Fallen Splendour’, by which time he has become Clearwater’s coachman, and fallen in love with Lucy, a maid.

Sexuality in The Clearwater Mysteries

Hang on, didn’t Silas and Andrej work as rent boys in the East End? How can Fecker do that if he’s straight? Ah-ha! This is also explained in ‘Banyak & Fecks.’

My vision of ‘The White Ship’ where Banyak and Fecks lived in the East End

Andrej was 16 when, by necessity, he turned to renting on the streets of Genoa. Without being too graphic, most men will remember how easy it is to, um, perform at that age and beyond, and how embarrassing it was that one’s hormones often kicked in at the most inopportune moments. Fecker is still renting when we first meet him in ‘Deviant Desire’, but stops as soon as he doesn’t need to do it anymore. He does it because he can and must, not because he wants to. Having said that, there’s a scene in ‘Banyak & Fecks’ where he loses himself in a moment, can’t help himself, and kisses another man. By this time, he’s about 18, and, we would now say, confused (slightly) about his sexuality.

Silas’ sexuality is in no doubt from the moment we first meet him in the prequel, and he loves the fact it makes him a criminal because he’s quite proud to be one. He too undergoes a confusing transition, from wanting to know what sex with a man is like, to his first time with X (spoiler avoidance there), to finding it mundane when renting. It’s not until he meets Archer, however, that he is fully able to be himself, and that happens in ‘Deviant Desire.’

Running through the series, but not starting from the prequel, is the theme of Archer’s, Thomas’ and James’ sexuality. Later, we meet Jasper and Billy, also of the same ‘persuasion’, we’re never quite sure about Doctor Markland (but then neither is he), and there are even questions about which way Mrs Norwood leans, and what Lady Marshall has got up to in her past. In my Clearwater world, I wanted everyone to be gay, but that’s not realistic, but there’s no doubt that my core characters are. Apart from Fecker, who is always something of an enigma.

Making connections

One of the fun things about writing a prequel after eight books that follow it was laying down connections and bringing in backstories from the books that follow, if you follow me.

For example, in book three, ‘Unspeakable Acts’, Silas returns to a boy brothel at Cleaver Street. (I took my inspiration for that one from the Cleveland Street scandal of 1889.) He remembers being taken there by a man called Eddie Lovemount who propositioned him in The Ten Bells when Silas was renting. In ‘Banyak & Fecks’, we see that meeting and what followed, and Silas’ experiences at the brothel are set out in more detail. Eddie also mentions a messenger boy he’s got his eye on. He fancies him, but the lad won’t play ball, and he names him as James Wright. We meet James in book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’ (and briefly in book one), and there, we learn more about him and Eddie Lovemount and their days as messenger boys. James then has a meteoric rise from messenger to footman to valet to private detective, but that’s the kind of magic Clearwater weaves.

While putting these scenes together, I had to refer back – or forwards – to books already written to make sure my facts tied up. While doing that, I made a few minor changes to books one to four (nothing that alters the plot, mainly getting rid of words that weren’t in existence then, like homosexual, teenager and okay), so it was a useful exercise in that respect.

Similarly, because Banyak & Fecks ends just as ‘Deviant Desire’ is about to begin, the end of the prequel takes place once the Ripper murders have started. ‘Deviant Desire’ begins after the third (or fourth) murder, and they and the Ripper are the ‘action plot’ if you will. So, when I came towards the end of the prequel, I needed to remind myself of how book one starts and was able to bring in more facts and details from the real Ripper murders. In a couple of cases, I have quoted sections from actual news reports of the time, changing only names to suit my story. I was also able to bring the victims into the story, as many of the Ripper’s victims knew each other, and so, when you read Banyak & Fecks, you will meet some of the unfortunate boys who don’t make it to the end of the book.

So, what’s next?

As I said, ‘Banyak & Fecks’ should be available soon. My proof-reader is currently going through it, no doubt tutting at my punctuation, Andjela, the designer, is working on the back cover, and when I have both, I shall have one more read-through, make up the Kindle and print files and send it on its way.

Which begs the question, what to write next? I must admit I’ve been in limbo land these past couple of weeks unsure whether to return to Clearwater and write a book nine or look at something else. Book eight, ‘One of a Pair’ feels like the end of something in the way that book four ‘Fallen Splendour’ feels like the end of a chapter or the halfway point in a longer epic, and I have been wondering where to go now.

I also have my Saddling series to finish (as James Collins), because that’s crying out for a fourth and final book. At the same time, I have this inner stirring which feels like the need to start on another series entirely. I’m still thinking gay, mysterious, adventurous and Victorian, and wonder if I am being drawn towards Steampunk. It’s not a genre I’ve read, even though my husband has The Steampunk Bible and likes the fashion, but I like the thought of inventing another world within Victorian London. After all, I’ve done so much research for The Clearwater Mysteries, it would be a shame not to use it.

So, I will leave you on that note – hopefully looking forward to ‘Banyak & Fecks’ and telling all your friends to read the series, and I’ll take a couple of days off while I wait for inspiration to smack me in the face.

Remember, you can sign up for my monthly newsletter here.

A week in lockdown: A personal post.

A week in lockdown: A personal post.

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

Where I live

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

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

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

Symi Dream

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

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

So, what have I been doing?

Writing

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

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

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

Reading

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

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

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

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

 

The smell of books

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

Other Symi winter things we do

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

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

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

My writing station

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

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

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

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

What lies Ahead?

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

Inside the Clearwater Bible

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

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

See you next week!

Symi Dream
The Judas Inheritance

Do We Judge a Book by its Cover?

Do We Judge a Book by its Cover?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My website is www.vincentvirga.com

Back to Jackson

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

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

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

Halloween Reading: Lonely, Curious or a Judas?

Welcome to Halloween, and the chance for me to talk about three of my novels.

My Horror History

When I was 11, I hankered after all things Hammer Horror, the British film company that made a series of Dracula, Frankenstein and other horror films. I’m not sure what it was that attracted me to these films at such an early age, but my best friend and I shared the Hammer Horror magazines. Where some boys smoked or did other naughty things ‘behind the bike sheds’, we pored over the horror stories. These magazines had glossy photos of Christopher Lee impaled on a cartwheel, or Peter Cushing bearing a crucifix, and those, I found more exciting than the busty vamp playing the leading lady. That Christmas (1974), I asked my dad to buy me Dracula, the Bram Stoker novel, and I have since read it innumerable times. My novel, ‘The Stoker Connection’ is based on it, and Bram Stoker appears in the Clearwater Mystery book five, ‘Bitter Bloodline.)

I was also into James Herbert novels like ‘The Rats’ and ‘The Fog’, Universal horror movies, and even made the Aurora glow in the dark horror model kits. Strange then, that I have only written one or two horror novels… So far.

Horror Novels

Actually, thinking about it, I’ve written more, if you include ghost stories and dark thrillers. For example, as James Collins, I have three books in the Saddling series. Starting with The Saddling, they follow the MC, Tom Carey, who returns to his ancestor’s village of Saddling in pursuit of a mystery which, if solved, will land him an inheritance. What Tom finds is a village living in the past with its own rituals and way of life akin to the 19th century. He also finds confusion when he meets the ethereal, mysterious and stunningly attractive Daniel Vye, and later finds love. I won’t give too much away, but the plot was inspired by The Wicker Man film from 1973. Part two, ‘The Witchling’ is about a returning witch seeking revenge, and part three, ‘The Eastling’ concerns one of the annual festivals and a dark spirit that inhabits the marsh mists. You can find them on my James Collins Author page.

As for my first, true horror story, well, that’s also a James Collins and was inspired by a true story.

Lonely HouseLonely House

Some time ago, two youths broke into a lonely farmhouse to rob it but encountered the owner with a shotgun. Outraged, the owner shot the boys and later, was put away for the crime. I wondered, what if it was the other way around? Two boys break into a lonely house because they are vagrants and starving. They encounter a man with a shotgun, but instead of him shooting them, they shoot him and kill him.

They do this just as a car arrives at the house; the family coming to the old man’s birthday party. The boys hide the body and try and cover their tracks, but as the story unfolds, they learn that things are not what they seem. Forced to confess, they take the family to where the body is hidden, only to find it gone.

And then things get really bad.

Ancient rituals are involved again, as is a supernatural inheritance, a lot of deception and a freezer full of body parts, but I’ll not spoil the story for you.

Unsurprisingly, this novel is called ‘Lonely House’, and you can find it on Amazon. It’s a kind of ‘cabin in the woods’ story with plenty of twists and two central main characters who not only have a dubious past but what one reviewer called ‘a Steinbeckish relationship’, which I thought rather flattering. We are also left wondering if they end up as a couple.

The Judas Inheritance

Also, as James Collins, I wrote ‘The Judas Inheritance‘ back in 2014. At the time, I was working with a collaborator on ideas for a low-budget horror film. He was involved with a film company who wanted to make good-quality but cheap-to-produce horror films, as they are, apparently, best sellers in the film world, or were at the time.

I came up with a story set on a Greek island during the Greek financial crisis of the time, and one which could easily be scripted and filmed here.

I used Symi, my home, as the island because of it’s ruins and scenery which would provide the sets should the film ever get made. It was! Well, a budget was raised, and a crew came over, we filmed for two weeks during which I was reduced from scriptwriter and producer to location manager, office manager and catering, but that’s how low-budget films get made. Neil even appeared in it as a character who wasn’t even in the script when we started, and the film, although looking fantastic and sounding good, wandered from the script so much, there was a problem in post-production, and it was never released. Such is life in the screen trade.

Anyway… ‘The Judas Inheritance’ is presented in two voices. The narrator via diary form (note the ‘Dracula’ inspiration) and in the third person, so the reader is at times in the story and at other times, outside. It concerns an inheritance left to a reluctant hero who travels to the island to claim his late father’s possessions and discovers an island in decline. An evil spirit has been set free by the father’s investigations into the whereabouts of the 30 pieces of silver given to Judas in the Bible story. The spirit of a guilt-ridden Judas causes islanders to kill themselves in ever-increasing nasty ways, and if not stopped, will cause the end of the entire population. There’s the analogy to the financial crisis if you want one.

The story combines actual island history with supernatural imagination, and as with many of my books, is a mix of fact and fiction.

Jackson’s Horror

And then we switch over to Jackson Marsh. I started writing as Jackson because I wanted to be freer with my storylines and characters. The Judas Inheritance is the only novel with no gay character, but the James Collins ones are tame in terms of gay relationships and openness of sexuality and sex. I didn’t want to confuse my established readers, who follow my autobiographical books about moving to and living in Greece, by presenting them with two guys bouncing around a bed, and so came up with Jackson Marsh. As him, I can write more intimately about men and what we do together.

That’s one thing, and after a few books with a fair amount of erotica involved (such as ‘The Mentor of Wildhill Farm’, I am now veering more towards the ‘fade to black’ handling of sex scenes, or at least, writing fewer of them.

Curious Moonlight

In ‘Curious Moonlight‘ I went for the ‘fade to black’ approach because I wanted to write a story about a gay-curious guy struggling with feelings towards an out gay guy. Luke moves into an old house on a Cornish clifftop and needs a repairman. Peran turns up to do the job, but that’s where the clichés end. The house comes with an unsettled spirit and a long history which, together, Luke and Peran investigate.

As they do, they come closer together, but Peran is straight… ish. The trouble is, the spirit, or ghost, doesn’t want them to be happy until his story is known and understood, and starts misbehaving. I’m making it sound like a comedy, but it isn’t. It’s a slow-burn, paranormal romance and mystery.

Curious Moonlight was inspired by an old Cornish legend. In it, an old sea captain, living alone and remotely, was the go-to person when young, newbie sailors wanted to be blessed before their first voyage. A night spent with the old man would ensure safe travels, but when the sailors returned the next morning, none would speak of what had taken place, or what the ‘blessing’ consisted of, only that it took all night. Well, you can imagine how my imagination set off on a voyage of its own with that one! That story is the background of the haunting.

Whatever you decide to read this Halloween or after it, I hope you enjoy it. Meanwhile, here’s the latest news from my desk.

Banyak & Fecks

Banyak & Fecks has been booked in for its proof-reading on November 20th. That means, I should have it back and approved about a week later, and that means, I should be able to release it around the end of that month. Andjela, the cover designer, has shown me the first proofs of the cover idea and has created two portraits, one of Fecker and one of Silas. I think they’re fab. We’ll do a proper cover reveal in due course.

As usual, you can find all my novels on my two author pages.

Jackson Marsh
James Collins

Editing the next Clearwater Story

Work in progress: Banyak & Fecks

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

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

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

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

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

Editing

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

Wrong.

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

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

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

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

Back to Banyak & Fecks

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

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

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

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

Editing alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And back to the editor

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

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

And finally


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

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

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

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

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

Jackson Marsh on Facebook
Grammarly
Pro Writing Aid

Coming Out

Coming Out

Last Sunday was International Coming Out Day (October 11th), and that turned my mind to coming out novels, or first-time stories as they are sometimes called. I’ve been talking about some of my coming out icons and scenes on my Facebook page all week, but to round it off, here’s a little more.

I didn’t come out until I was 25, probably because for the first 21 years of my life, I was illegal, the age of consent then being 21 in the UK. I didn’t start reading overtly gay literature until I was in my twenties. Where I grew up and when, there was no such thing as popping to your local bookshop to order the latest Gay Men’s Press publication, even if I knew of its existence. There was no Amazon to buy from because there was no internet, and it wasn’t until I moved to London in the early 1980s that I even knew gay literature existed. (Not counting Wilde, Forster et al. who were spoken about in hushed whispers at school.)

Once I found an outlet for gay novels through Gay’s The Word bookshop and others in the capital, I was off and reading. As I was writing this post, two novels came back to me, and I looked them up to see if they are still available. I particularly remember ‘In The Tent’ and ‘The Milkman’s On His Way’, both by David Rees, both of which were about young men (late teens, at school) struggling with their sexuality and coming out. Both, I found uplifting, reassuring and helpful.

They, for me, were the front runners of what I do now – write gay literature. Oh, and there’s another recommendation for you, ‘The Front Runner‘ by Patricia Nell Warren.

I had a look at my catalogue of books and wondered, ‘Have I written a coming out story?’ That might sound like an odd thing for an author to ask, but I decided I’d never sat down to write a coming out story. At the heart of most of my novels, I decided, was friendship, and when a character summons the courage to tell a friend he is gay, I see it more of a test of friendship than a coming out novel. I think, because, I have read so many coming out novels that seem to be the author coming out rather than a character, I subconsciously shied away from it. Or did I?

The Stoker ConnectionThe Stoker Connection
In this novel, the premise is ‘What if Stoker didn’t write ‘Dracula’ but merely put together actual diaries and evidence supplied to him by the characters in his story?’ Not what you’d immediately think was a coming out novel, would you? Yet, when I got to the end of it, I realised that what I had written was indeed a novel about coming out wrapped up in an engaging YA mystery.

I even wrote the blurb: Dexter and Morgan meet on their eighteenth birthday. The attraction is instant but confusing. As they deal with coming out, they are bound together by more than first love. They’re bound by coincidence and destiny as it happens, but along the way, Dexter’s coming out is pre-empted and complicated by his well-meaning but slightly dim best friend, whereas Morgan’s took place under the knowing eye of his sex therapist mother. Each boy had a completely different coming out experience with friends and family, but both had a third when they come out to each other. Still, I maintain that the story isn’t your classic ‘coming out’ story because that’s not the main thrust of the plot.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts if you’ve read, ‘The Stoker Connection’. You can comment on my Facebook page and let me know what you think.

The Mentor Collection
I call it a collection rather than a series because the stories are not linked. They all concern a younger man and a relationship with an older man, so they are what some people call; ‘May to December’ or older/younger romance novels. Except, the first one, ‘The Mentor of Wildhill Farm’ is more erotica than it is romance, but it was my first, and I was finding my feet.

The Mentor of Lonemarsh HouseThe Mentor of Lonemarsh House
I’m sometimes asked, what is my favourite of the four Mentor books, and although I like all of them, I would have to say ‘The Mentor of Lonemarsh House’ because it’s closer to a classic coming out novel. In this story, 35-year-old Matt Barrow takes on Lonemarsh House, an isolated manor in the Kent marshes. When he meets 23-year-old Jason Hodge, a brilliant violinist, Matt knows this is the young man he wants to share his new life with, but Jason is closeted and at the mercy of his treacherous friends.

There’s your classic coming out trope – treacherous friends – which equates to peer pressure, and in the story, also the non-understanding parents and remote-village locals with backwards attitudes. Jason knows he is gay but can’t tell anyone (his female best friend already suspects/knows, of course), not until he meets and falls for the older man, Matt. ‘The Mentor of Lonemarsh House’ is definitely MM Romance, but it is older/younger romance with an element of coming out, and yet, still not a coming out story. Again, you may disagree, and I’m happy to have a discussion on my Facebook page, or even personally via email.

Another reason I am fond of ‘Lonemarsh’ is because it is set where I grew up, on a lonely marsh. The house that John buys and is moving into when he meets Jason is based on the house I grew up in, and, I guess, I based Jason on myself – a young man closeted because of where he lived, though he’s a far better violinist than I am a pianist.

The Students of Barrenmoor Ridge
Outside of The Clearwater series, my top-selling title is ‘The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge‘, another older/younger, kind-of-coming out story set in the world of mountaineering and mountain rescue. This one, I felt, needed a sequel, but not one specifically about the older/younger couple of the story, so I came up with ‘The Students of Barrenmoor Ridge.’

Now then, this story probably comes closest to your typical coming out novel. Liam has set himself a goal. To come out to his best friend, Casper, before his 18th birthday while hiking at Fellborough in the Yorkshire Dales. You don’t get much clearer than that! In Liam’s case, though, it’s not the pressure of friends and family that’s kept him from coming out to his bestie, it’s the fear that Casper won’t want to know him any longer if he does. That’s another pressure on young guys wanting to come out that is often explored in coming out novels. Set at Barrenmoor again, bad weather and mountain rescue are involved, but it soon becomes apparent that the rescue is more than physical. Liam and Casper both have secrets that when known, have the potential break or mend their hearts.

In ‘The Students’ you can see the influence that David Rees had on me when I was a young reader, and not only because some of the story takes place in a tent between guys who are 18 and holding secrets. Also, in all the mentor books, you can feel an influence of ‘The Front Runner’ which, it could be argued, is a story about mentoring and love with an age gap.

Why do coming out stories matter?
Coming out a favourite theme for many writers of gay literature, particularly new writers, because it is something every gay person either suffers or just gets on with. It’s something every out gay person has done, and something every closeted gay person wrestles with or in some way has to deal with. Coming out is a rite of passage that only gay people go through, no matter their sex or age. I think it’s the duty of authors of gay lit when writing about coming out, to give the younger or closeted reader not only characters they can identify with but hope that their personal story will come right in the end. You might even offer advice, as in ‘The Students’ which is basically saying, ‘If he’s your best friend, he’ll understand; if he doesn’t, he wasn’t…’

Links

David Rees at Goodreads

My author page on Amazon where you can find all my books

An Interview with Frank Butterfield

This week, I’m delighted to host an interview with the delightful and talented Frank Butterfield, author of the Nick Williams mystery series and the Golden Gate love stories series, along with many other books.

Who is Frank Butterfield? Give us your bio

I was born and raised in Lubbock, Texas, but have lived all over the US. I went to the University of Texas in Austin mainly to learn Portuguese and, after three semesters, dropped out and never looked back. I started off working in the hospitality industry, from one of the best hotels in Manhattan to a bed-and-breakfast in Provincetown. After a while, I realized I could learn how to code, got a job working as a US government contractor, and ended up managing very large contracts. Finally, I knew I needed to work for myself. I started off as a kind of spiritual life coach (something I still do) and then decided to try my hand at writing. Although I’ve done a lot of travelling as a child with my family and as an adult (I’ve been to every state in the lower 48), I now stay close to home in Daytona Beach, Florida.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I first wanted to be a teacher. Then a minister.

When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?

I knew I wanted to write when I was 9 years old and tried to write a short story. In school, I hated writing because I hated how formulaic it was and, for whatever reason, decided I couldn’t write even though I had the desire to do so. Then, in 2016, when I was 49, I figured out a way to write that worked for me and it’s been going gangbusters ever since!

What was your first published work? Tell us a little about it.

I self-published The Unexpected Heiress on June 1, 2016. It’s a short mystery novel which introduces the two main characters around whom I’m building an extensive universe. Their names are Nick Williams and Carter Jones.

They’re a couple, living together in a bungalow in 1953 San Francisco. Things kick off when Nick’s sister is murdered. The story is fast and doesn’t linger (two things I like in my writing). I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I first started, but I’m in love with everything Nick and Carter have brought into my life. I’m wrapping up my 67th title as I write this and expect a lot more to come.

Why did you choose your particular time period to set your stories in?

I’ve always been fascinated by the middle part of the twentieth century. I sometimes think I was born about 40 years late. I’ve also always been fascinated by the lives of LGBTQ folks during the time before Stonewall.

What kind of research do you do, describe the balance between research and writing?

For each historical fiction title, I start off with the newspapers and magazines published on or around the first day the story begins. I always find tidbits of things to add in to give the backgrounds of the stories some colour. If I’m going to include a historical figure in the story, I try to find a video of them speaking and moving around so I get some insight into how they would express themselves. In most cases, that’s easy enough to do.

“Every book seen is something I use for research, including The Hardy Boys!”

Once I have a sense of who is involved and what they might do, I turn the stable of characters I’ve already established loose on them. In my latest short story, Nick and Carter (who are wealthy and donate a lot of money to the Democratic Party) make one of their multiple futile attempts to meet John Kennedy. That had one bad run-in with his brother, Robert, during the time of the McCarthy hearings, about 8 years before. In this short story, neither John nor Robert appear but I did include the man who was governor of Michigan at the time (Labor Day of 1960). He turned out to be quite a character and was a lot of fun to write about.

For the most part, research gets the writing ball rolling. Then, as I’m writing, I do verify bits and pieces as I go along. Since I have access to a lot of newspapers, I can do things like find out what radio or TV program was on at a particular time on a particular day. I try to include as many little things like that as I can. I want the reader to smell the cigarette smoke that’s everywhere, hear the scratchy sound of a record player, and feel the tightness of leather shoes that are still new and how slick they can be on a rainy sidewalk. That sort of thing.

Give us 5 tag words to describe your current series

I work on three series at the same time. My current book is in my contemporary series. Five tag words for the series: Football, Megachurch, Coming Out, Billionaires, Ghosts

Tell us about your current book? And when can we expect to see it?

My current title is This Thing Called Love. It’s book 7 in The Romantical Adventures of  Whit & Eddie. It’s set during the first week of September of this year (2020) so there’s lots of masks and social distancing and testing. It starts off with Whit & Eddie moving to San Antonio for the football season (they own a fictional NFL team). Eddie’s mother, who lives in nearby Austin, decides to escape her self-imposed isolation and just shows up at their new house. At the same time, Whit’s mother drops a bombshell on her megachurch congregation and that leads to all sorts of twists and turns.

Are your characters based on anyone from real life?

All of the primary and secondary characters in my historical fiction novels are created out of whole cloth with a couple of exceptions: actress Rosalind Russell and her husband, Freddie Brisson, are recurring secondary characters. Their son is still alive so, in the scenes where someone politely asks about him, he’s always at camp or at a friend’s house.

In my contemporary series, I’m Eddie, the narrator. Our timelines diverge in 2014, but all of his past is my past. My mother is Eddie’s mother along with the rest of my family. I blur certain random things but all of them know I’m doing this. In many ways, this series is my mostly true memoir. Whit’s experience in the NFL is based on that of Tim Tebow, an actual football player. Whit looks like a beefier version of Rob Gronkowski, another actual football player. His personality, however, is very much distinct from either man.

Do you have a favourite character? Or maybe one that sometimes drives you crazy?

I have many favourite characters. Nick is at the top of my list. Carter and Whit and Ronnie (Daytona Beach historical series and contemporary series) are all tied for second.

There are two characters I really don’t like.

One is Carter’s ex, an engineer by the name of Henry. As he gets older, Henry gets more and more impatient with the changing world around him. For example, when we get to the 70s, he really doesn’t get why Stonewall and gay rights are such a big deal. His husband, Robert, is a saint!

The other character I don’t like is Nick’s second lover, Jeffery. He’s very much into how things look and can’t make up his mind if he’s gay or straight. He ends up getting married and having a daughter. Nick is about the only person in the world who really loves him.

How many hours a day do you write?

It really depends. I write when I want to write. I’m not good at adhering to schedules. On average, I probably write around 4 hours a day. But some days I can be at my laptop for 8 to 10 hours, easily.

How do you relax and unwind?

I go to the beach and walk or jump in the water. I don’t live right on the beach, but it’s only a 7-minute drive away.

 

If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go? And would you take anyone with you?

I would go to the island of Kauai, one of the Hawaiian Islands. I’ve written about it and know lots of people who’ve lived there. But I’ve never been. For my first time, I’d probably go by myself…

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Dorothy L. Sayers (but not Agatha Christie since I’d want to dish about Dame Agatha with Miss Sayers).

George Washington Carver and his lover, Austin Wingate Curtis, Jr. I hesitate to invite them because I’d just want to listen to Dr. Carver talk and talk which would probably be boring for him. He was such a fascinating man and truly a wonderful human being.

One of my ancestors: Ferdinand Flake, who was a newspaper publisher in Galveston, Texas, before, during, and after the American Civil War. He was against Texas seceding and got in trouble for that but survived, nonetheless. I suspect he was a real hoot.

Marsha P. Johnson. She may or may not have been at Stonewall. I always wish I’d met her when she was alive. I’ve heard her speak and she’s a real firecracker.

Barbara Gittings. She was a lesbian activist and one of my favourite people. She and Miss Sayers would probably go to town and have a lot to talk about.

Describe where you are sitting right now

 

I’m in my living/dining room sitting at my dining table which is also my desk. My view is of my sweet little neighbourhood south of downtown Daytona Beach. There are palm trees (which the woodpeckers love) and cypress all covered in Spanish moss. It’s a lovely spot.

 

Who is your favourite author and how has their writing influenced you?

I don’t have just one: Dorothy L. Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, James A. Michener, Armistead Maupin, E.M. Forster, Andrew Holleran. The first four taught me about story structure, writing epics, and detailing personal vignettes to give plenty of feel and colour for times and places far away. The latter two taught me how to move into the souls of gay men, in particular, to reveal them. I can hear Nick telling me those are some ridiculous and high-falutin words right there…

Leave us with some words of wisdom, either your own or borrowed from someone else…

Write what you want to read.

Website: https://frankwbutterfield.com
FB: https://www.facebook.com/FrankWButterfieldAuthor
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/frankwbutterfield/

Check out Frank’s latest book, ‘This Thing Called Love’.

As I read more about Frank, I realised what we have in common: historical stories, world-building, research methods, and even the glasses and a beard. I particularly like his closing quote, ‘Write what you want to read’ as that’s exactly what I do.

Now all that’s left to do is thank Frank for taking the time to answer the questions, and click on over to his website to look up some of those 67 Nick and Carter stories. I’ve got some catching up to do!