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.

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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!

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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.

 

 

 

Musical Cryptography: A Mystery Device

Musical Cryptography: A Mystery Device

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

A Mystery Device

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The current state of my notebook.

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

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

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

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

Musical Cryptograms

The B A C H motif

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

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

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

Limited Letters

Michael Haydn’s musical cipher of 1808

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

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

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

Finally

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

Jasper Blackwood at work, 1890

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

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

And now, back to 1890 and musical cryptography…

An Interview with Andrej: AKA, Fecker

Of all the characters in The Clearwater Mysteries, Andrej seems to be the readers’ favourite. I must admit, he is one of my favourite characters too, and yet he started out as someone entirely different. Today, instead of a formal interview with the character, I thought I would tell you more about him but ask him some questions along the way.

Andrej Borysko Yakiv Kolisnychenko

‘That is my name, and no-one can take that away from me.’

Andrej was born in a village called Serbka, in Ukraine, sometime between 1867 and 1869. It might have been a year earlier because he has never been told what year he was born. He knows it was at Easter, though, and when you read ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, you will learn a little more about his birth. His village is a real place, although I have never been there, and it is hard to find information about it online. There is a river called The Balai, and he grew up on its banks, the son of a farmer. His family was large, but most of his brothers and sisters were killed during ‘the troubles’, a fictional rebellion based on Russian invasions of the area and the internal and external wars that took place in the region over time.

Serbka Village, Odessa Oblast, Ukraine, 2014

One of the reasons Andrej is a favourite character is because he is something of an enigma. He has one of the deepest backstories of any character in the series (though the main seven all have detailed and complex histories), and yet, when I first envisioned him, he was nothing more than a sidekick.

Without giving too much away, here is how the character of Andrej developed.

Deviant Desire

When I set about writing what is now part one of a ten-part series (plus one prequel), it was a standalone love story between Silas Hawkins, a renter, and Viscount Clearwater (Archer). A classic, rags to riches story if you like. However, all main characters need a foil or a sidekick, and Silas’ was to be Andy, an Artful Dodger type character from the East End. As I wrote his first appearance, I realised that all I was doing was imitating Dodger, and what was the point of that? What would be more interesting? Knowing the Victorian East End was a melting pot of many nationalities, immigration and migrant workers, I thought, why not make Andy an immigrant? Perhaps a Russian… Or maybe, someone even more marginalised… A Ukrainian.

So, Andy became Andrej (the Ukrainian spelling), and he arrives in chapter one of Deviant Desire with a backstory and an existing relationship with Silas.

Andrej, how did you and Silas meet?
I was turning trick in alley because I need money, and this boy, he comes in for piss, and he not see me. Oi! I shout. Fuck off, is my place. Then boy sees that trick is going to stab Andrej, and he piss on man, and Andrej is saved. Then boy he run away, but Dolya, she tell me later that I must help this boy, so I go find him. He is near dead, so Andrej take him home. We are soon friends.

Andrej is quite capable of speaking fluent English but chooses not to. English uses too many words, so why bother? He uses Russian and Ukrainian village words in his speech too. Hence ‘Dolya’ is fate, and he never says yes or no, only Da and Nyet.

Twisted Tracks

I’d fallen for Andrej by the time I realised that Deviant Desire could not be a standalone novel and decided to keep him in the series. He doesn’t play a large part in Twisted Tracks, but he proves his loyalty to his friends, and that theme is the backbone of the entire series. Andrej personifies that theme more than any other character. In Twisted Tracks, he also comes to realise that Archer is ‘Geroy’, his village word for a noble man, as opposed to a nobleman. Andrej has nicknames for everyone and uses them because they remind him of a person’s character. Silas is Banyak, which has various meanings, but mainly, it is an idiot or cooking pot that contains all manner of things. James is Tato, which means ‘daddy’, Thomas is Bolshoydick, which means ‘large penis’ (because, apparently, it is true), and Jasper is Pianino because it means ‘little piano.’

Andrej, why does Silas call you ‘Fecker’?
Is easy. Is because I am handsome fecker. He says this with his Irish accent once, and again, and in the end, the name sticks. I not mind. I am good at fecking, but I not feck lady yet. Not until I am married.

Unspeakable Acts

Andrej appears little in book three, which is mainly led by Silas and James, but he is there, getting on with things and keeping an eye on his best friend, Banyak. After book three, I decided that we needed to know more about Andrej. At that time, I wasn’t too sure about Andrej’s past, so I asked him some more questions as I wrote book four.

Serbka, Ukraine

Andrej, what happened to your family? 

Is complicated and sad. My father (I not like him much), he was farmer and militia man. Dead. My first mother, she die when she gives us my sister, Daria. Daria, she and my second mother they disappear in the troubles. I don’t know if they are alive. My other sister, Alina, she was killed by Russians, also my brother Vladyslav. He die in war when he was near thirty. This leave only Danylo, and he go to war, and I not hear about him before I leave Ukraine. Now, I have Danylo back.

Fallen Splendour

Andrej’s backstory comes out during Fallen Splendour. At least, some of it does. Archer calls on him to assist in an investigation. While on their way and sleeping rough during a blizzard, he tells Archer some of his history. Later in the story, he proves himself more than loyal and determined to fight for his life. This involves cutting off three of his fingers. That’s the kind of man he is. During this time, he quietly falls in love with a kitchen maid, Lucy Roberts, and that relationship bubbles away in the background all through the series.

Inspiration for the drawing of Andrej (below).

So, Andrej, are you straight?
What is this ‘straight?’ I am man from Ukraine. I am strong. I farm, I ride horses, I learn tricks on horses in Circus with Ivo Zoran, and I am Master of Larkspur Horse. What is ‘straight? [I explain our modern terminology, and Andrej is mildly outraged.] What? You think I am queer like Banyak and others? Nyet. I have big, Ukraine koloty, and I need money, so I use this to make money, so I eat. Men, they like Andrej’s koloty, but I no like what I must do to make money, but I do it. This not make me queer. Don’t say that. You want me to get angry?

At six-foot-four and built like the proverbial brick shithouse, no-one wants to make Andrej angry, so we move on.

Bitter Bloodline

In book five, we explore Andrej’s relationship with James as they are tasked with rescuing the son of a famous writer. Again, Andrej proves himself loyal, straightforward, strong, and an expert horseman, and, by now in the series, we are also getting used to him injecting some humour.

Artful Deception

In book six, Andrej is again a background character, although a pillar; without him, the deception would not be possible. He does as he is asked, risks his life and suffers for it, but he is there, propping up the others in his quiet, steadfast way. This strength of character must come from somewhere, and I asked him where.

I don’t know. From the Balai, from the way Vlad he teach me the sword, and the way my father he teach me the horse and plough. I know what is right and what is wrong from early years, and when I see my village dying, and Blumkin and the others, they want to run and give themselves to Russians, I say, Nyet. This is not Andrej. I am thirteen years, I think. Maybe fourteen, I don’t know, but I do know I not stay and be killed by Russian. So, I walk.

I go to England which is richest country in world, and there, I make money to come home and look for sister and Danylo. Is long walk. Many troubles, but I meet kind mad with no eyes, and he gives me Banyak the horse, and she teach me loyalnist. [Loyalty.] Then, I fuck men for money and I find ship, and Makarov, and Captain, they help me and they teach me there are good people in world, and I should be one. All that, I think, all that make me how I am.

Home From Nowhere & One Of A Pair

Andrej is in books seven and eight, though they step away from what we are used to in the Clearwater world, and so, Andrej is in the backseat, rather than driving. Other characters get the leads, and we are introduced to two more main players, Jasper and Billy, the nephews of what is fast becoming the Clearwater family.

Andrej is featured on the cover of Fallen Splendour riding a charger.

Andrej, do you think of Clearwater and your friends as a family?
Da. We are friends, for sure, but because of how Geroy likes his house to be, we are more like family now. Geroy [Clearwater], he is like father because he is money and important man, and Thomas, he is like mother because he is bossy and always knows what is right. This makes Banyak [Silas] like the mistress, but that make me laugh, and Banyak is like brother with me now. Jimmy, he is also brother who looks after the boys, that’s Pianino and Vasily [Jasper and Billy], who are like nephews because they are young and naughty. Billy, he get in trouble with Thomas because he say words like ‘Bugger it, Me Lord’ and ‘Pig in shit’, and that make me laugh. Pianino is special, and needs Andrej to watch him, or he cry easily. This is because he is clever with music and did not have nice childhood. So, Andrej watches them all, and we are family.

By now in the series, I decided it was time we knew more about Andrej and Silas. They, after all, started us off in chapter one of Deviant Desire, and yet, their combined backstory had never been explained. How did they become such close friends?

Banyak & Fecks

I might have overindulged myself with this one, and popping a prequel into a series after eight books might seem a bit odd, but I wanted a break from the hardcore action of the first six books and the cosey mysteries of seven and eight. So, turned to the past.

Young Banyak (right) and Fecks taken in 1887

Banyak & Fecks is in four parts.
Part one gives us Andrej’s story from the moment he escapes the Russians. The first part of the book takes him from there to London and up to the point he meets Silas. The second part then flashes back to introduce us to Silas in the Westerpool (Wirral) slums, and we meet a very cheeky, confident young trickster who, when he comes to London, soon falls on hard times. Part three starts the moment Andrej and Silas meet, and their relationship evolves from there to part four. This is when Silas has got over his crush on Andrej. Andrej has ‘fallen in love’ with Silas though only platonically, and the two live together as a couple of besties. It is a classic bromance, only set in the Victorian slums of the East End. The book finishes a couple of days before Deviant Desire starts, during the reign of The East End Ripper (based on Jack the Ripper).

Negative Exposure

‘The White Ship’, home to Banyak & Fecks in 1887

Andrej plays a significant role in book nine. Things that happened in Banyak & Fecks come back to haunt Silas and potentially ruin everything Archer has built over the previous installments. You should read Banyak & Fecks before Negative Exposure to get the best from it, but it’s not 100% necessary. This story returns us to the previous action-adventure, platonic love, bromance themes of the earlier stories. As I wrote it, I was aware that book ten was on its way, and Negative Exposure runs directly into ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’

Andrej is in every story, there as a main player or in the background, and he is certainly in book ten. Or he will be when I finish it. He plays a major part in ‘the Clearwater Inheritance’, as you will see, and as this might be the last in the series as we know it, you may be in for some shocks.

I’ll finish by asking Andrej one more question.

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

Andrej, do you think you will ever return to Ukraine?
How I know this? I don’t know what Dolya has for me. I don’t know if my sister and second mother live, so how I know if I go back to look? I have Danylo and now… Now I have other news about Serbka and me when a boy. Now I have big decision to make because in Vienna I meet a man… Nyet. You not know this yet, so Andrej stay quiet. But I say this: my family is Clearwater now. Banyak, Jimmy, Pianino and Miss Lucy. I will marry Miss Lucy one day. She not know this yet, but I will tell her. So, maybe we go to Ukraine and I show her the Balai, but we not live there. Maybe I show her Vienna and… Maybe we stay at Larkspur where I am master of horse, and soon, we have little Feckers in the house. What happen next to Andrej? Only Dolya knows this.

[Actually, I know what happens next to the Clearwater crew, but you will have to wait for ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ to find out what that is. Currently, I am aiming for publication in June, maybe at the end of May.]

Character Interview with Georgios Manolas

On the blog today, an interview with Georgios Manolas, the central character in ‘The Last of the Moussakas’ by Fearne Hill. I’m particularly excited by this interview and the book because, as you know, I moved to live in Greece 19 years ago and live on a small island. Not Aegina, the island of the story, but one where traditional family values and the views of the church are obstacles to gay people and therefore love. So, I’m interested in seeing how Georgios’ story unfolds and reading the delicious details of life on his Greek island.

Here is the interview. Enjoy!

Georgios Manolas is a character created by author Fearne Hill.

Fearne Hill, lives deep in the southern British countryside with varying numbers of hens, a few tortoises and a beautiful cocker spaniel.

When she is not overseeing her small menagerie, she enjoys writing MM contemporary romantic fiction. And when she is not doing either of those things, she is working as an anaesthesiologist.

 

First a short introduction – where do we first meet Georgios?

Georgios’s story begins on the Greek island of Aegina. We first meet him clearing the tables at the end of a busy evening working in his uncle’s restaurant, where he is a chef and general dogsbody. His lifelong best friend, Max, is drunkenly slumped at one of the tables. As always, even in his inebriated state, Georgios knows Max is the most beautiful man he has ever seen.

What is your full name?

My name is Georgios Manolas. I’m named after my grandfather. My brother and cousin forget my name sometimes and call me faggot or homo. My best friend, Max, calls me Georgie boy. I kind of like it.

Where and when were you born?

I was born and raised in the same ramshackle house where I live now, hidden amongst the backstreets of Aegina town. A dwelling ideally suited to a family of four but accommodating an extended family of ten. Privacy and solitude are rare commodities. My family have lived here for generations. The furthest abroad I have ever travelled is on the ferry to mainland Greece.

Aegina back street

Tell us a little more about your home

Our stone house is built on three floors, bits of each floor added in a higgledy-piggledy fashion at varying intervals over the last two hundred years to accommodate the growing family. My older brother Dion and I share the tiny attic space. The current permanent residents, in order of apparent importance are: my great grandmother Noni, my uncle Papa Marcos and his browbeaten wife Cynta, my taciturn grandmother (who slavishly cares for Noni), and my own, downtrodden gentle mother Simone. Then there is my spiteful cousin Nico (although he sometimes lives with a girlfriend and their child until she periodically gets fed up with his laziness and throws him out), my permanently depressed teenaged cousin Agatha, my brother Dion, me and my younger sister Ava, who is still in nappies. Which in itself warrants a mention, given that my father died of a heart attack eight years ago and my mum has never remarried. And I don’t actually recall my slender mother ever looking pregnant or giving birth and I’d like to think it’s something I’d notice. Sixteen-year-old Agatha, however, did look fairly tubby a couple of years ago, then took a trip to see some other relatives (we literally seem to have hundreds of them) in the Peloponnese and she lost the weight spectacularly quickly. But we don’t talk about that.

What is your occupation?

I have been the chef at Papa Marco’s restaurant since I left school at fifteen. Along with everyone else, I am paid a pittance. One day, I’d like a restaurant of my own.

Turning to your physical characteristics, what colour are your eyes?

Dark brown

What does your voice sound like?

I am Greek, quietly spoken. My English accent is embarrassingly bad.

What three words would others probably use to describe you?

My brother would describe me as a faggot. My mother would say I was kind. Max would tell me I was beautiful.

Do you have any physical traits that stand out?

I am slight of build with typical Mediterranean olive-skinned looks. I probably look younger than I am.

Let’s talk about your past, how would you describe your childhood?

I can’t recall a time when Max and I weren’t best friends. He has been a constant my whole life. We are actually second cousins, although that doesn’t mean much on this island, as it seems that everyone is related to everyone else at some point along the family tree. He spent every single holiday on the island and all my memories are filled with weeks and weeks of glorious sunshine and Max. Swimming and snorkeling in the sea, day and night, cycling all over the island, camping on the beach under the stars, or hiking up in the mountains. Endless strawberry gelatos and gyros, sleepovers, and sun cream.
My father died when I was fourteen. My mother and I loved him very much. When he died my childhood ended.

When did you have your first kiss, and who with?

My first kiss was with Max. We were only fourteen years old, and a minute later he’d passed out cold on cheap Tsantali wine that we’d nicked from Papa Marcos’s restaurant when no-one was looking. Every time I kissed a girl, I wished it was Max. Max is openly gay and every time he kissed a boy, he says he wished it had been me.

What is your biggest secret?

My biggest secret is that I am homosexual, and Max and I are in love. I think we always have been. My dad used to say, ‘Georgios, if you grow up and finds yourself a wife you love as much as you love Maxi, then you’ll do very well for yourself.’ But I’ll never find a woman like that.

Something a little more personal, do you believe in the existence of soul mates and/or true love?

I have only ever had one true love, which sounds terribly soppy. Max is the soppy one, not me. He tries to be cool and suave but pampers me rotten.

Who is the most important person in your life, why?

Without my Max, I’d go insane on this bloody island.

Your Likes and Dislikes … what is your favourite colour?

The brilliant blue of the Aegean of course; it matches Max’s eyes.

What is your most treasured possession?

I have an ancient Vespa scooter that belonged to Nico and Dion before it was passed down to me. I have very few possessions to call my own.

Do you like to read? If so, what do you like to read?

I read cookery books. I fantasise about reproducing the recipes for my dream restaurant.

What makes you laugh?

My Maxi, when he sings very badly.

What is the quality you most like in a man?

Kindness and understanding. Is that too much to ask for? And patience, because for Max and me to have our happy ending, he’s got to unpick some family feuds going back to the second world war. The Nazis occupied our little island and the rift between Max’s German ancestors and mine is deep. Sometimes, I think it is insurmountable.

Do you like yourself?

Yes, although sometimes I wish I had the fortitude to stand up to Papa Marcos, Nico and Dion. To be gay and proud and hang the consequences. But I have so much to lose if I do.

Looking to the future, where do you see yourself in five years from now?

A dream view

With my own beachfront restaurant in Aegina, packed with tourists and locals alike, because I serve the best food on the island. And after a hard night at work in the kitchen, Max will be waiting for me, in our home up in the hills overlooking the Aegean.
A boy can dream, can’t he?

 

 

If you could choose, how would you want to die?

With Max at my side, when we are both very, very old.

And finally, some questions just for fun, what do you have in your pocket?

The keys to my scooter, my wallet and a paring knife.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Saffron. Specially imported from the Middle East. I use it sparingly.

Who would you like to invite to your fantasy dinner party?

A British chef, now dead, named Keith Floyd. He was a flamboyant rule breaker, a drinker and a raconteur. And while I am none of those things, he could teach me so much. Max would come along too, to keep the conversation rolling while I stare at my culinary idol. Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever confessed that before! Not even Max knows.

——————————————————————————-

 

Fearne Hill’s latest novel is available now, you can find her on Goodreads.

Last of the Moussakas

Max Bergmann is Europe’s hottest drum and bass DJ. From the outside, his life is a whirl of glamorous vodka-fuelled parties and casual hook-ups, whilst inside he craves the one thing he can’t have – his Greek childhood friend, Georgios Manolas.

Following a disastrous PR stunt and one drunken hook-up too many, Max realises the time has come to reassess his life choices. Returning to his childhood home on the Greek island of Aegina, if he wants any chance of having Georgios permanently in his life, he has to delve into the mystery of the longstanding hatred of the Bergmann’s by Georgios’s family.

Georgios is a chef and has spent his whole life on the tiny Greek island of Aegina. He has held the family restaurant together since he left school, with very little reward, and dreams of one day running a restaurant of his own on the island. Yet if he acknowledges his feelings for Max, he runs the risk of losing not just his traditional Greek family but also his livelihood.

As Max slowly uncovers the secrets of the past, he is left wondering whether a little Greek girl’s heart-breaking wartime diary could not only hold the key to his family’s history, but could it also unlock his and Georgios’s future together?

The Last of the Moussakas is a warm romance about two men’s quest for the truth about the past and unlocking a path to a future together

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Tips For Creating Characters: The Way I Do It.

Tips For Creating Characters: The Way I Do It.

Earlier this week, I came across a blog, ‘Writers Helping Writers.‘ In it, I found many useful articles, a couple of which sparked an idea for today’s blog. One article asked where characters’ strengths came from, and another talked about ’emotional shielding.’ These are universal to the human experience and come in a number of forms that can be applied to your character after a traumatic experience. [Read the full article here.]

This made me think about how I create my characters, and I thought I would offer my own tips for writers struggling to create theirs. This, as always with my advice, is based on what I do, which is loosely based on books I have read and courses I have taken, but mainly on my own experience.

Character Vs Characteristics

One definition I found for this distinction reads: Character is a “group of features”, traits and characteristics that form the individual nature of some person or thing. Characteristic is a “distinguishing feature”. A feature that helps to identify, tell apart, or describe recognisably; a distinguishing mark or trait.

This is often a concept new writers struggle with, so I’ll put it simply in my own words.

A character is defined by what they choose to do and what they choose not to do. It is behaviour and nature, how they treat people, and the decisions they make.

Characteristics are, as that quote says, distinguishing features. That doesn’t just mean height, weight, hair colour and so on, although those are handy tools for helping a reader differentiate between characters.

Andre

Let’s take Andrej as an example. Andrej is one of the characters in The Clearwater Mysteries, and he stands out from the others because he is tall, strong, Ukrainian, has blue eyes, long blond hair, is straight, speaks broken English and doesn’t stand for nonsense. Those are some of his characteristics.

However, his character is shown by what he chooses to do/not do and how he reacts. He is straight. Yes, he is, yet he worked for several years as a rent boy because he had to. He made a conscious decision to earn money by whatever means he could, and that was the easiest way. He speaks broken English, but he can speak English well. He chooses not to because, in his opinion, the English use too many words. He is gentle with those he cares about but is happy to kill their enemies.

Here are a couple of lines from my current work in progress (W.I.P.), the 10th book in the Clearwater series.

‘I am sure Andrej is fine. If anyone can navigate their way through Eastern Europe, it is your brother.’

‘My brother doesn’t navigate, Sir. He stampedes.’

That is an example of one way you can implant a character into a reader’s mind; have someone else talk about them.

Making characters different

The Clearwater novels started off with four main characters. Silas Hawkins and his best friend Andrej (aka ‘Fecker’), Lord Clearwater and his best friend and footman, Thomas Payne. There was also the villain, of course. The current W.I.P. has a cast of thousands. Well, several is more accurate. As the series developed, I introduced more principal players to such as extent that to include all of them in every novel would be unwieldy. That’s why, in book eight, ‘One of a Pair’, and book nine, ‘Negative Exposure,’ most of the cast are off stage. In part ten, I am doing all I can to give everyone’s favourite character a role, or at least an appearance. The problem with a large cast is, how do you make them all different?

Names are useful, obviously, but without a character, a name is just a name. Titles help, and in the Clearwater world, we have viscounts and counts, butlers, footmen, maids, housekeepers, solicitors… Mentioning the jobs people do also helps instil into a reader’s mind the kind of character they may be, though it’s always fun to play against type.

Jasper Blackwood

Physical appearances help, as does manner of speech, and my cast all have their own speech traits and mannerisms. Silas dips in and out of Irish, Billy Barnett is a Cockney, the viscount is highbrow, the Cornish butler has his own idioms, Andrej is blunt, Jasper is naïve, and his speech reflects that. Always pay attention to your dialogue and make sure you hear different voices as you write characters’ speech. Vocal patterns reflect a character’s background.

And, of course, characters’ choices help define them. When deciding how to approach a problem, Thomas will approach through logic, Silas is more devil may care, Andrej will blunder in and decapitate the issue, James will think about it sideways, Billy will opt for the practical solution, and Mrs Norwood will blame it on men and take a feminist approach. Those are examples based on my characters, but change their names for your own, and you will see how each becomes different.

Developing the cast

We hear a lot about one- and two-dimensional characters, those who might be described as ‘Joe is a bricklayer who knows what he wants.’ Fair enough, but if he starts out as your hero or main player knowing what he wants and still knows what he wants at the end, he hasn’t travelled very far. So, developing your character from when we first meet them to when they leave the stage is vital to ensure the reader travels on the journey you are creating.

Silas Hawkins

Example: In ‘Deviant Desire’, Silas starts out not needing to be loved (he says). He doesn’t want love because of past experience. He meets Archer, and when Archer falls I love with him, Silas rejects him. By the end, we have a different story, and that’s the start of Silas’ journey. It will run for the rest of his life, and as the series progresses, so does he. A street rat renter from the slums of Westerpool becomes the private secretary to a member of the House of Lords. That’s one journey, but with it, he develops from a man who only cares about his own survival to one who risks his own life to save his friends.

Another example is James Wright. He starts off as a timid, slightly chubby messenger still delivering messages at the age of 24 and ends up an assured detective. To get there, he must overcome the trauma of being bullied as a child and learn to believe in his own strengths. This is achieved through the actions (and character) of Clearwater and others and through the choices James makes along the way.

The trick is to ensure your characters develop. To look further into this, I suggest studying books on screenplay writing. Books such as ‘The Hero’s Journey’ by Vogler and ‘The 20th Century Screenplay’ by Aronson. Both will also give you invaluable insights into plot, structure and so on.

Archetypes

I don’t want to wander too far Into The Woods (another excellent book on the art of storytelling by John Yorke, and you can’t go wrong with anything written by Robert McKee), but stories have archetypal characters who play classic roles.

There are the obvious ones, the Protagonist and Antagonist, but there are others, and when I am writing a book, section or scene, I try to bear in mind which of my cast is playing what role/archetype at the time.

James Wright

What I mean is, you have impact characters. The impact character is the one who remains steadfast, thereby causing another character to change. There is also the antagonist who stops the hero from getting what he wants and needs. You have what I and others call the emotion character, the one who usually puts the softer side of the argument/case or reacts from the heart. There is the realism character, the one who thinks logically and puts the realistic side of the case. Then, you have the classic sidekick or the foil off whom your main character bounces. I should point out, though, that every character should have some of the traits of these roles. That’s how you end up with a three-dimensional ‘well rounded’ character and not a cardboard cut-out.

Ever seen The Golden Girls or other hit T.V. series concerning a small group of people? Well, you might say the Golden Girls are all protagonists and the antagonist is the fact they have been forced to live together. (That’s what makes sitcoms work; a group of people, all different, who are forced together by circumstances they wouldn’t usually choose for themselves.) When Blanche is the emotion character, Dorothy might be the realism character, but when Dorothy needs support, Blanche takes on the role of the realism character to help her see sense. That’s just one example. I am sure you can think of many others.
My rather vague point here is that by employing your characters under various scene-specific roles, you add to their character and give them depth. Dorothy remains the staid, sensible, big, reliable one, but at times, she is vulnerable, witty, gets thing wrong and can even be as horny as Blanche.

Fatal Flaws and all that jazz

Billy Barnett

There are, of course, many other facets to developing characters and defining them in ways outside of their characteristics. I advise you to look at those books I mentioned. I could chat away for hours, but those books are considered and expertly written by people who planned to write a book, not chat on a blog. You will find other mainstays of character creation, such as fatal flaws, where a character overcomes a fear or prejudice. In doing so, the character develops and becomes more interesting to the reader.

And my trick?

How do I manage to keep my characters fresh, different and interesting? More importantly, after 10 novels with one cast, how do I remember who is who and what they are like?

Apart from a ‘bible’ where I record their traits, height, eye colour, and other characteristics, I use a simple technique that I heartily recommend.
I cheat.

No, I don’t copy characters, but I do compare them. You may not have read the Clearwater Mysteries (or any of my other books), but it doesn’t matter. This list of superheroes should explain my point even if you don’t know the characters in my main cast. Superheroes help keep me on track when remembering which of my crew is assigned to which overall role, and although I don’t copy the characteristics of established comic book characters, keeping them in mind helps keep my characters on track. So, here it is, finally out the bag. If my Clearwater Mysteries crew were superheroes, this is who they would be.

Archer, Lord Clearwater

Archer, Lord Clearwater, is Ironman because he has the money and is the leader.
James Wright is Captain America because he is loyal and is my action man.
Andrej (Fecker) I think of as Thor because of his physique, blond hair and he is sometimes dopey.
Silas is Spiderman because he is young, can get in and out of anywhere and always has something new to learn.
Thomas is J.A.R.V.I.S., Iron Man’s (Archer’s) stable, calm and loyal assistant.
Jake O’Hara is the Flash on account of his speed.
Dr Markland could easily be Dr Strange.
Leaving the superhero path, Mrs Norwood is rather like Aunt May from Spiderman, Lady Marshall an older version of Lady Penelope from Thunderbirds where Jasper would be Alan Tracy, and Billy would be a Cockney version of Brains…

My Tips for Creating Characters

  • Don’t confuse character with characteristic
  • It’s what they choose to do and choose not to do that defines character
  • Ensure diversity in your ensemble
  • Develop them from A to D via the B and C, give them an arc
  • Let them have flaws
  • Pay attention to their ’emotional shielding’, how they overcome pain
  • Base them on people you know and, importantly, understand
  • Give them their own way of speaking, different backgrounds and traits, style etc.
  • Let them run away with dialogue and story and then go back and rein them in later

Those are just a few of my thoughts about creating characters. If you are serious about improving your creations, then my last tip is to read books on the subject by experts. I suggested books on screenplay writing because screenplays cram into 120 pages what a novel might fit in 400, and screenplay writers tend to have a more succinct and clearer approach to creating and developing characters.

Why Do I Write a Blog?

Why Do I Write a Blog?

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

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

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

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

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

When Did Blogging Start?

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

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

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

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

Except it hasn’t.

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

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

The lesson? Always double-check your research.

What Do I Get Out of a blog?

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

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

Paid to Blog?

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

Not.

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

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

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

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

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

My Blogs Are My Conversation

Me outside a cafe

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

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

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

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

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

And As For The Other Blog?

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

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

Blog Off

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

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

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

The Clearwater Inheritance: Working on the first draft

The Clearwater Inheritance: Working on the first draft

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

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

Developing the Cast

My desk this morning.

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

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

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

The Clearwater Inheritance

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

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

Rasnov Citadel. I visited there in 2013.

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

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

Researching ‘Inheritance’

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

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

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

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

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

Musical Code & Philip Thicknesse

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

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

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

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

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

Locations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larkspur Hall

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

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

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

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

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

Onwards to the future…

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

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

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

Jasper Blackwood at the piano.

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