An Interview With Dalston Blaze

An Interview With Dalston Blaze

On this Saturday’s blog, I am interviewing Dalston Blaze, one of the characters from the new Larkspur Mystery series. Dalston appears in ‘Guardians of the Poor’, ‘Keepers of the Past’, and will be playing a major role in the third instalment, ‘Agents of the Truth.’


The year is 1890, the place, Larkspur Academy, Cornwall.

 Hello, Mr Blaze. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Maybe I can start with some basic questions. Could you tell me your full name and if you have a nickname?

Morning. Yeah, me full name’s Dalston Blaze, and that’s it.

That’s unusual.

It is. But it ain’t my real name. According to His Lordship, my real name is John Andrew Harmer. Least, that’s what I was registered as when I was born. When I was nine months old, me parents died in a fire. I was the only one rescued, but no-one knew who I was, ‘cos I was taken straight to the Hackney spike and left there as an unknown. They put me in the book as ‘The baby from the Dalston blaze’, and that stuck as my name. Dalston’s a place in Hackney, see? As for a nickname… I don’t really have one. Jimmy Wright sometimes calls me Blazey, ‘cos we went through a place with that name on a train once. Joe calls me [here, Dalston makes a sign] but that’s my sign name, so you don’t say it aloud.

What does it mean?

It’s rude.

I think we can handle a little rudeness. I assume it’s not meant in a bad way.

No, it ain’t. And if you must know, [the sign again] means a good f**k.

I see. Moving on… Maybe you can tell me more about your parents.

I never met them. Well, I suppose I did, but I don’t remember them, ‘cos I was only a few months old. Mr Wright and Mr Fairbairn are looking into my case, ‘cos my dad owned a business in Dalston. He brought things into the country from Greece and Italy, they told me. Stored it at the store under the house, and did his business from there, but I don’t know much about it. When it went up in smoke, it were all insured, and Mr Fairbairn’s trying to get me the insurance money, but it was nineteen years ago. That’s the only connection I have with my parents.

No other family?

Only Joe, and maybe some of the men I’ve met at the academy, but they ain’t real family. Just feel like it, if you know what I mean.

I do. Now, you said you were taken to the workhouse — the spike. I understand you grew up there. Did you ever feel like running away?

The Hackney Workhouse

Most days, yeah. Thing is, though, where d’you go, and how d’you live? People think the workhouse is a bad place, and it is. Least, it can be. I was lucky, ‘cos the matron, Mrs Lee, she couldn’t have kids see, so she treated me like her own until I was five or six, then I had to go and live in the general population on the infants’ ward. She still kept an eye on me from then on, until I was eighteen, really. She wouldn’t let me be homed out, or sent to the ships, ‘cos I reckon she still thought of me as her own. So, I didn’t try and run away, ‘cos she’d have got in trouble, and so would I. Boys got whipped for going over [the wall] and I didn’t need to. I had it easier than most.

So, what smells do you associate with your childhood?

Piss mainly. They have tubs in the wards, see. Wards are big bedrooms for twenty or more. Well, they’re rooms with beds in, and at my spike, we slept two in a bed, with one tub to piss in during the night. The rooms stank of that and farts, then when I went to the older infants’ ward, up to sixteen, it stank of tobacco smoke, piss and farts. The men’s ward, from sixteen, was the same but with sweat too. The rock shed smelt of dust, the oakum shed of tar and old, wet rope. I don’t remember no smells from the food, ‘cos it didn’t smell of nothing, but there was a funny smell in the chapel on Sundays.

Let’s move on to now. Where are you now, and who do you live with?

Merevale Hall. The inspiration for Academy House

Right now, I share a room with Joe at Academy House. That’s on Lord Clearwater’s estate in Cornwall and it’s dead posh. ‘Cos of that, and ‘cos of his kindness, we look after the place; all of us. We’re there with Clem, who’s a local lad with a genius for business, so Fleet says, and there’s Frank. He’s a Greek-born nutter from the East End what got done for fiddling tax when he was fifteen or something. He’s twenty now, mad about sex, loyal as fuck and fancies me. But he ain’t having me. Then there’s Fleet, the nutter-genius who… Well, no-one really knows what Fleet does. He knows everything, lets us be ourselves, and eats scrambled eggs and porridge in the same bowl.

The academy ain’t a school, you understand. It’s a place where men who are… different and have something to offer but don’t have the chance… they get to come there if Lord Clearwater finds them and thinks they’ll do well. It’s not an easy place to describe, except we’re very lucky, and we appreciate the chance we’ve been given.

Did you always love to draw? Do you think there is a deeper reason that you have communicated through pictures?

Dalston’s drawing of Joe Tanner.

I don’t know where the drawing comes from, to be honest. I got in trouble for drawing on walls when I were little, so I suppose I always had it in me. Mrs Lee encouraged it, and I were grateful for that, ‘cos there’s nothing else to do in the spike except school, work and get bored. Me and Joe, when we met… We was eleven… twelve… We used pictures to talk to each other ‘cos he’s deaf. And ‘cos of that, I got better, and he ain’t bad, and we also had signs, which is how we talk now, mainly, ‘cos the drawings got us into trouble. I don’t know what you mean about a deeper reason, though. I just like it, I’m good at it, and Lord Clearwater says I can make money from it, so that’s alright by me.

Let’s get personal. When did you have your first kiss, and who was it with?

I was seventeen. It was Joe. Ain’t kissed no-one else.

What have been the most important events of your life?

Not dying in a fire. Meeting Joe. Getting pulled from prison by Mr Hawkins and His Lordship. Coming to the academy.

I think I know the answer to this, but who is the most important person in your life?

Joe Tanner

This annoying deaf bloke called Joe Tanner. [He gives me a cheeky wink; Joe is clearly more to him than just a ‘deaf bloke.’] You know, Joe can be difficult. He gets frustrated ‘cos people can’t communicate with him much, and he goes off in huffs and stuff, folds his arms when he refuses to talk, ‘cos without his hands, he can’t speak, but you have to understand what it’s like for him. He ain’t heard nothing since he was born, so he doesn’t even know what words sound like. He says a few, and Fleet’s been training him, but he talks with his hands and his face, and it’s a face that melts me heart each time I see it. He’s what Frank calls a handsome fucker, and he’s right. Dead sexy, kind, funny, he’s got a naughty sense of humour, and talks about people right in front of their faces, ‘cos they don’t know the sign language. We have to watch that a bit now, ‘cos Fleet and the lads have learnt some, and Mr Wright. So, Joe’s my man and he always will be. Some get all fancy and call it love; I just call it Joe.

Do you trust anyone to protect you? Who and why?

Joe, ‘cos he’s a hero. Jimmy Wright ‘cos he’s clever and strong. Lord Clearwater, ‘cos he’s like that. Fleet too, and Clem and Frank. We’ve become mates, see, and good ones. Already got into a couple of scrapes together, and all come out if it like… well, like brothers a bit, I suppose. Whatever. I feel safe and protected at the academy, but I always felt safe with Mrs Lee at the spike when she was there. So, her as well.

What makes you laugh?

Joe when he’s being naughty. Fleet and his different coloured suits and strange hats. Er… Jimmy, ‘cos he’s so dry at times. And Frank, because he’s such a malaka. That’s his word for wanker. He gets his signs wrong when he’s trying to talk to Joe, bless, and that can be funny. We laugh a lot at the House, but we also fight a bit sometimes, ‘cos you do when you’re in a family, don’t you? Least, that’s what they tell me, ‘cos I’ve never had one ’til now.

I should let you go. I know Fleet has a rule about not being late for meals.

Yeah. It’s the only thing he insists on, ‘cos it’s a time we’re all together and can talk about stuff.

But before you go. One thing I like to ask everyone is what do you have in your pockets right now?

Blimey. Er… Handkerchief, couple of pencil stubs… What’s that? Fuck, I thought I’d lost that. In me jacket I got this sketch of Joe. I always carry that. Me wallet, ‘cos I got some money now… Three quid, six shillings and thruppence ha’penny. A watch Fleet gave me. Think that’s it.

Excellent. Well, thank you Mr Blaze. I’ll let you get on with whatever you are doing these days.

Right now, I’m working on a case with Jimmy Wright, and me and Joe and him, we’re off to London soon. I can’t tell you nothing about that, except, we got to be back by the end of the month ‘cos Lord Clearwater’s giving a massive costume party. The Queen’s grandson’s going to be there, so we got to be posh, and they’re going to show everyone the drawings I did of Larkspur Hall. I could make a lot of money from it, so it’s got to go without a hitch.


You can find out whether the masked ball goes according to plan when ‘Agents of the Truth’ is released in early 2022. Follow its progress through my Work In Progress blog every Wednesday. There will be no spoilers.

If you’ve not met Dalson Blaze, Joe and the others, then the place to start is Guardians of the Poor, the first Larkspur Mystery.

WIP: Week Two, Plotster and Panster


WIP: Week Two, Plotster and Panster

I am in my second week of writing Larkspur Three. I have the working title, ‘Agents of the Truth’, and I am currently halfway through chapter five of the first draft. I don’t know if you remember, but last week I said that I had plotted the four acts of this story, and was wondering what was going to take up the middle two. Well, now I find I have plenty going on in the middle two acts, and at the end, but not so much in the first quarter. Maybe what I mean is I have too many ideas for the middle and just enough for the first and last, but that, for me, is the point of a first draft. As you may know, I live by the maxim:

Don’t get it right, get it written (and then get it right).

And that’s the point of a first draft. Tell yourself a story and then perfect it. You can’t edit a blank page, so write something.

In this case, I have written nearly five chapters, but I shan’t tell you what’s happening, as that’s not the point of WIP Wednesdays. The point of this blog is to tell you how I am writing it, and to catch you up on any other news, books-wise or personal, and that, I shall do at the end.

Plotster/Pantster

When I first hear these two words, I had to scramble around to find out what they meant, and once I’d done that, they were obvious.

Plotster. Someone who plots a story before writing it.

Panster. Someone who makes it up as they go along.

I am a hybrid because I do both, but why ‘they’ don’t just use plotter and freestyle is beyond me.

In the case of ‘Agents’, as we will call the WIP, I needed facts at my fingertips because the story involved eight murders over 10 years, and some of the details were discussed in ‘Keepers of the Past’, therefore, I needed consistency. Along with those notes, I plotted a basic outline because there are to be two points of view; one MC remaining in Cornwall while the second MC heads to London, and I need a timeline so I know where and when everyone is. There is also a deadline and I have a date for that (October 31st 1890), so, I thought, I need to plan every day of the story.

Well, I don’t actually, because I can always go back and redate the chapters if I need to, as long as I am not relying on a factual event that took place on a specific date in 1890, and so far, I am not.

I am, however, usually more of a panster, and I am being one in the case of ‘Agents’ — to a certain degree. I have a timeline, I know how I want Act 1 to end, and I know what the middle-point twist is at the end of Act 2, what the crisis is at the end of Act 3 and what the climax is during Act 4, but I haven’t yet thought of the details. Much of that will come from the characters as I put them together and let them lead while using their own reasoning. Example: I might think it best that characters A and B do this… But, when the dialogue and action are flowing, one of them may come up with another idea and they end up doing that

That’s happened to me before. I get so into a scene, I let it run away from me, but I keep typing and let the characters talk and interact, and usually, I end up with a twist or turn I’d not thought of. I know it still comes from me, but when you free yourself from the plotster stricture, you can do more inventive things.

And that’s where I am right now with ‘Agents’, banging through draft one, and currently at… [does a quick check] …11,160 words. Oh, that’s not bad, actually. I usually aim for the first act to end around 25,000 words, so I am nearly halfway through the first quarter of the book.

I’ll chat about the four-act structure another time. For now, here’s some random book and home news.

See below

Book and Home

In the book department, ‘Keepers of the Past’ shot to #6 in Amazon’s LGBTQ/Historical ranking within a couple of days of release. I now have three titles in the top 100, and that’s great news.

Symi yesterday morning

Meanwhile, at home, I’ve started taking myself off for a couple of miles walking in the morning. This is after I’ve done a little freelance work, and before I sit down to do chatty blogs and write chapters. I like to go as soon as it’s light, and before I get stuck into creative writing, because then I have the rest of my day free. I usually take the same route, but I’ll post the odd photo now and then so you can see what I am looking at while I walk and plot the next chapter. Talking of which…

Back to work.

See you on Saturday for my next blog post.

A New Release

A New Release, a New Blog Day, a New Enterprise and a New Season. It’s all go in the house of Jackson Marsh.

Keepers of the Past: The Larkspur Mysteries Book Two

Yesterday, I uploaded the files for ‘Keepers of the Past’ to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. About two hours later, I received an email saying the Kindle version was live. I’ve never known it to be so fast. I also sent the files for the paperback version, but they always take longer to go through the process.

‘Keepers of the Past’ is available in several countries and here are the links for the main three.

USA
UK
Canada

Amazon also publishes them in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Australia and India. I’ve never known why they aren’t available in other countries like Denmark, but it seems there’s nothing I can do about that.

Click the link, or go to your Amazon outlet and run a search, and you will find it. Alternatively, it will be on my Amazon author page any moment now.

A New Wednesday blog

Meanwhile, back at the desk… I have started a WIP blog. That’s a Work In Progress update and you’ll receive one here every Wednesday unless there’s some unforeseen circumstance. You can read the first of these posts here, or look at the recent posts list on the right of this page. That first post gives you all the details.

Fiverr

I’ve just signed up with Fiverr.com to try to raise some extra cash. I’m starting with MM romance outline appraisals and story development for new authors, in case you know anyone who might want advice. You can find my first gig here:

I have used both Fiverr and PeoplePerHour to find artists. Andjela, who designs my covers, came from PPH, and ‘Dazzling’, who creates the pencil sketches and drawings, came via Fiverr. Although I’ve experienced both sites as a buyer, this is the first time I am trying the service as a seller, and all I really have to sell is my expertise in creating stories. If anything comes from it, the money will be very useful because my copywriting work has taken something of a slump of late, through no fault of my own, I should add. One of my major clients, a large company in the USA, has restructured and put the work in-house, so I must hunt around for more, hence the Fiverr thing and maybe next week, I’ll apply to PPH as well. Tha doume, as they say in Greece, we will see.

On Symi

View from the balcony yesterday.

And talking of Greece… The summer season has come to an end here on Symi, but no-one’s told the weather. We’re still enjoying 20 degrees and clear skies, save for a blip the other day when we had some much-needed rain. It doesn’t rain much here between May and November, but we can expect storms, high winds, cold temperatures and everything else that comes with the winter season. Those days are tempered by good-weather days when you can sunbathe one minute, and put on your winter coat the next. So far, we’ve not had to use our heaters, though the duvet is back on the bed, and we’ve still got the windows open during the day.

Neil is still working at the bar in the afternoons and will be there until after the island’s famous Panormitis Festival, which is happening at the other end of the island this weekend. Pilgrims from around the world, but mainly Greece, come to visit. There are religious services, a market, feasting and dining. We’ve been several times over the 19 years we’ve lived here, and one year, we walked there (it’s 14 km, they say, but up and down zigzagging roads and hills), and boy were we glad of the bus home afterwards.

Also, with winter comes time to do those niggling odd jobs. Neil is currently working through his cornucopia of herbs and spices, Indian cookery books and equipment, giving the kitchen a makeover. When he finishes work, we intend to redecorate the inside of the house, and while all that’s going on, I have a list of things to work through. I’ve already painted the flat roof to weatherproof it, so we don’t get rain in the bathroom. That done, my next task is to fix the porch roof, change the waste pipes on the laundry sink, clear out the spare wardrobe, and maybe, one day… just maybe, we will sort out the mousandra. A mousandra is a sleeping area, traditionally above a kitchen for warmth. Our is like a spare room with a low, sloping ceiling above the bedroom, and it’s full of things that ‘might be useful one day’, and things we don’t know where else to put, plus items we don’t use, but you never know…

While all that is going on, I need to get into a new routine. I’ve been lazy of late, and I must get out early in the morning and do my three-mile walk. It’s not only for the exercise, but it’s also thinking time, plotting and planning as I slug one and a half miles uphill. The walk down is always a relief. So, my routine from next week, weather permitting, will be roughly: wake at 4.00 as I do, knock off the little copywriting work I have at the moment, go up the hill, come back and set to the next chapter of the next book. Lunch break always involves an episode of MasterChef or similar, and then, rather than a summer siesta, I’ll be back at the desk in the afternoon until it’s time for Netflix.

Now, it’s time for me to go and plough on with Larkspur Three. Don’t forget to check in on Wednesdays and Saturdays from now on, and remember to share Facebook posts, reviews and all that jazz, because every little helps.

Keepers of the Past, the Larkspur Mysteries, book three.

WIP Blog: Starting a New Blog Day and a New Novel.

WIP Blog: Starting a New Blog Day and a New Novel.

I am adding a new day to my weekly blog. The Saturday blog will remain as it is, with general updates, interviews with other authors, notes about research and so on, but I am now adding a Wednesday WIP.

A Wednesday WIP?

Each week on Wednesday, I’ll blog about my current work in progress, my WIP. This will give you a weekly, blow-by-blow account of what I am writing and how. Don’t worry, there will be no plot spoilers, and the posts may be brief, but you will be able to follow the writing process with me.

So, where to start?

Keepers of the Past

I’ll start by telling you I have just been through the print version of ‘Keepers of the Past’, the second Larkspur Mystery. The lovely people at Other Worlds Ink are seeing to the book layout as I write, and the novel is due to be released this weekend. Check back on Saturday for more news. As I have just finished the second part of the mystery series, it’s time to start on the next, and I began last Sunday, sitting at my desk with a new notebook made and given to me by a friend.

I usually use a standard notebook in which I scribble ideas as I write. As I read back sections of a draft, I add notes such as ‘CHECK griped’ because I notice I’ve spelt a word incorrectly (it should be gripped) and, when I have all separate chapters together in one document at the end of a draft, I can then run a find command and double-check every instance of the misspelt word. I have a list of my most common typos, form instead of from, etc., and I add to this list when I notice a new one, and run the find command for all of them.

I also make notes of details that I later transfer to my ‘bible’, in this case, the Clearwater/Larkspur bible where I have noted everything from characters’ ages to eye colour, supporting cast per story, who was working at Larkspur in what year, dates of birth and all that jazz.

As I am starting Larkspur Three, and as the new, customised notebook was gifted recently, I thought now was a good time to start using it. It already contains some WIP notes.

Larkspur Three

This novel will grow out of ‘Keepers of the Past.’ That story ends with a couple of unanswered questions, and they will form the backbone of Larkspur Three, as yet untitled. I am considering ‘Agents of the Truth’, but it’s not sitting comfortably. I was thinking of the first three novels as being a trilogy within the longer series, and as we’ve had guardians and keepers, poor and past, I wanted a similar title, preferably with the last word beginning with the letter P, and the first having something to do with protecting.

The title will come to me as I write the story.

Starting the WIP

Work on L3 began a couple of days ago, and I already have a few pages of notes. Some I’ve titled ‘Random Ideas’, and I add to them as they occur. Other pages include a timeline of events from the past, for reference and accuracy, a list of pressures to apply to the main characters, and one double-page spread is a rough, four-act timeline. I’ve included a photo, but you won’t be able to enlarge it because I don’t want you to see the plot.

I know how the story will start, I know what will happen at the climax, and I know who my lead characters are (James Wright and Dalston Blaze leading on one storyline, Archer leading on the other, and when I say leading, I mean they are the point of view characters). I already have ideas for challenges and events for the middle section, and a note of what I need to research.

In this case, popular costumes of late Victorian masquerade balls, sects, rituals, and the etiquette of a royal event. That should keep me busy.

So, the first notes of this WIP were made on November 1st, and chapter one, a newspaper report, has been drafted. As soon as ‘Keepers of the Past’ is done and up on Amazon, I will start the story proper and chapter two.

Check in next week for a Wednesday WIP update, but don’t forget the regular Saturday blog.

The Magic Number Nine

The Magic Number Nine

Last week, I promised I would show you part of ‘Keepers of the Past’ which I cut from the book. (More details of how the book is going are at the end of this post.) The cut section is below in its raw form, before I made any corrections or edits. The book, of course, will be laid out properly. I can’t get WordPress to do indents and things, so, sorry about the layout.

Keepers of the Past: Extract

The scene. Joe is intrigued by the mysterious standing stones and stone circles he has been visiting on Bodmin Moor. Many of them have nine stones, and he has uncovered more coincidences involving the numbers nine and eighteen. These have led him to believe that a friend’s cousin is in trouble. Joe is deaf, so Dalston is interpreting for him. Frank is at the academy because he has an unusual talent for mathematics (and tailoring, but otherwise, he’s uneducated and he swears a lot, be warned).

Joe, Dalston and Frank are in the study where there is a chalkboard. Joe has asked him to explain why nine is considered a magic number.


‘Look here,’ Frank said, taking the chalk from Joe and shoeing him away. ‘This is what I can tell you about the sodding number nine, right? Sit down, pay attention and you’ll be fucking amazed.’
Joe did as instructed, sitting forward in the armchair, his chin on his fists, and his eyes flitting between Dalston’s fingers and Frank writing on the board.
‘The number nine is special,’ Frank began. ‘Dalston, what’s two nines?’
‘Eighteen.’
‘Right. What’s three?’
Dalston started counting on his fingers.
‘Nah, you don’t have to do that,’ Frank interrupted and held up his hands. ‘Look, Joe. You want to know what three nines make?’
‘Twenty seven.’
‘Yeah, alright, so you’re a bloody genius. Look.’ Frank bent the middle finger of his left hand. ‘Take down number three, and you’re left with what? Two on one side and seven on the other. Twenty seven.’ Doing the same with the next finger, he said, ‘Take down number four, you’re left with three and six, and that ain’t the price of me fucking hat. It’s what four nines make. Do it with your little finger, Dalston.’
Dalston did, and realised he was left with four fingers on one hand and five on the other.
‘Right, forty five. So it goes on up to ten.’ Frank bent the thumb of his right hand, leaving nine fingers in a row. ‘Ninety.’
‘So, you’ve got a trick to remember your nine times table,’ Dalston said with a smirk. ‘Not exactly genius material, mate. What’s your point?’
‘Want to see another bit of magic, Joe?’
Joe was enthralled, bending his fingers and marvelling at the results.
‘Joe?’ Frank waved in his sightline. ‘Watch this.’
Back at the board, he wrote a list of numbers.

9, 18, 27, 36, 45, 54, 63, 72, 81, 90.

‘That’s your nine times table up to ninety, right? Notice anything about it?’ When neither Joe nor Dalston could answer, he added a zero before the first nine. ‘Now? No? Bloody hell…’ Frank sighed and drew a vertical line. ‘If I stuck a mirror between the two fives… between forty-five and fifty-four right there, you’d get the same sequence of numbers going forwards as you would going back. The last five numbers are a mirror bleeding image of the first. Get it?’
‘Yes. So?’
‘It only happens with nine,’ Frank said. ‘That’s why they call nine a magic number. Do it with your three or your seven, five, whatever, you won’t get the same mirror image. And there’s something else. Give us a number with nine in it, Joe. Any one with two digits, that’s two…’
‘I-o,’ Joe interrupted, and signed nine and six.
Frank wrote them on the board, 96, said, ‘Here’s another bit of magic for you,’ and beside it, wrote 69. ‘Take any two-digit number involving nine, reverse it, and take one away from the other… Ninety six minus sixty nine, we get seventy two. Seven plus two makes nine.’
‘Yeah?’ Dalston said, thinking that was just another coincidence. ‘What about forty-nine take away ninety-four? You can’t do that.’
”Course you can.’Frank wrote on the board.

49 minus 94 = -45
4 + 5 = 9

‘Just have to go to the left of zero and into minus. It works there too, see? Anyhow, me point is, Joe, the number nine is a weird one. Oh, hang on, there’s something else.’
More scratching on the board, the shrill squeal of chalk, and a few swearwords later, Frank had produced another list.
‘Joe. We got nine, and we got eighteen.’ He pointed to the numbers as he spoke. ‘One and eight is nine like you say. Then, we got twenty-seven. Two and seven make?’
‘Nine.’
‘Correct. Three and six? Nine. Four and Five? Nine, and so on.’
‘I never thought of that,’ Dalston said, doubt now turning to intrigue.
‘That’s ‘cos you ain’t the fucking mathematical genius, ain’t it,’ Frank tutted. ‘Give us a number. Any number.’
Dalston faltered, scrambling for something that wasn’t written on the board. ‘Seventy six.’
Frank wrote it, and turned to Joe.
‘How old are you, Joe?’
‘Nineteen.’
Frank wrote that on the board, and asked Dalston for another number; a higher one.
‘One hundred and sixty-two,’ came out of his mouth for no reason.
‘And I’m going to write this, ‘cos it’s the year.’
There were now four numbers on the board. 76, 19, 162 and 1890.
Frank stood to the side, reminding Dalston of a schoolteacher, except the ones he’d known were older than twenty and didn’t swear so much.
‘Dalston,’ Frank said, making him sit up straight and expect a telling off. ‘What’s nine times seventy-six?’
‘How the fuck would I know?’
‘Bloody hell,’ Frank muttered, and chalked up the answer. ‘Seventy-six times nine is six hundred and eighty-four.’ He’d worked it out in a heartbeat, and Dalston could only assume he was correct. ‘And the others…’
A few seconds passed, and the chalkboard was now a confusing mess of numbers that blurred Dalston’s vision.

76 x 9 = 684
19 x 9 = 171
162 x 9 = 1,458
1890 x 9 = 17,010

‘Do you see where I’m leading you with this?’
Dalston interpreted the question to Joe, and they stared at each other for a second before Joe made the sign for lunatic.
Laughing, Dalston said, ‘No, Frank, we ain’t got a clue. What are you trying to say?’
‘Ain’t it obvious?’
‘No.’
‘Right! Look here, seventy-six times nine makes six hundred and eighty-four, right?’
‘I’ll take your word for it.’
‘Good, ‘cos I ain’t fucking lying. Add up six, eight and four and what do you get?’
Joe gasped and signed, ‘Eighteen.’
‘Correct. Add one and eight?’
‘Nine.’
‘And we’re back to the sodding start. Who wants to go next on this merry-go-round? Dalston, what’s one plus seven plus one?’
‘Nine.’
‘And if you add up the others, you’ll get to some division of nine. Always.’
‘Always?’
‘Yup.’
‘That’s incredible.’
‘No, it ain’t. It’s just how it works, and that, Joe, is another reason some people reckon the number nine is fucking magic. Gets me every time, I have to say. No matter what you multiply by nine, you can always add the individual numbers of the answer and keep going until you got one digit, and it’ll always be nine. One last random one to prove me point, then I’m getting another drink.’
A little more scratching on the board, and Frank finished his lecture with a large random number.

14,892 x 9 = 134,028
1 + 3 + 4 + 0 + 2 + 8 = 18
1 + 8 = 9

He signed his work, Frank Andino, and poured himself a healthy glass of brandy, saying, ‘If you want to know about all your number nine, Joe, then all I can tell you is that it’s a fucking weird one. No wonder they was writing it everywhere, putting up rocks and stuff, but I don’t see what it’s got to do with a bloke getting killed, nor young David’s cousin, neither.’


I cut most of this as I worked on later drafts. Why? Simply because there is too much explanation, and it is not all relevant to the plot. I realised that I’d put such a lengthy explanation in there because a) I thought it was fascinating, and b) in writing the scene, what I was doing was explaining it to myself. In the redraft, the interesting information is still there, but I summed it up in a couple of paragraphs. Although I have kept one or two of the examples, showing digits rather than words, there are fewer of them. This, I hope, will get the point across without confusing the reader, as the above first draft does.

Keepers of the Past: Update

As I write, I am doing my final read-through having completed the various drafts and used ProWritingAid to conduct a line edit. The final draft goes to my proofreader next week, and once it is back, I will have one last read before uploading it all to Amazon. I have the front cover and will reveal it soon. My designer is working on the full cover for the paperback, and I have two illustrations ready to use at the front of the book. Everything is in place, and, with luck, we’re looking at a release date towards the end of the first week of November. I’ll let you know.

Well, that’s it from me for this week. The summer season is winding down here on our Greek island, and we have swapped the fans for the heaters, and the summer wardrobe for the winter one, but the days are still warm, and the sun continues to shine. Have a good week, and I will be back next Saturday. Meanwhile, keep in touch through my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/jacksonmarshauthor

JM

Editing: Keepers of the Past

Editing: Keepers of the Past

I am now into my final edit of the second Larkspur mystery, ‘Keepers of the Past’, so I thought it would chat about my editing process.

First Draft

I work by the maxim, Don’t get it right, get it written (then get it right). When I embark on a first draft, I start at the beginning of the story and work through to the end. On some days, I know I’m not doing my best, but I write anyway, and on others, I fly through, marvelling at how wonderfully the story is telling itself. Later, when I reread the draft, I often discover that the slower days produced the better work, and when I thought I was doing well, I wasn’t. Still, the first draft is there, the story is told no matter how badly, and I have something to work with.

Second Draft

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King says that an author should seek to cut something like 10% of the first draft when working on the second. I seek to do this but don’t always find, and I don’t take it as a rule that must be obeyed. Sometimes, I find I end up with 10% more in a second draft, and that’s fine, as long as it’s a necessary and well-written 10%.

For me, the second draft is often a read-through of the first with an eye to consistency of story. Have I said something early on that doesn’t tie up later? Does a character’s eye colour accidentally change? Particularly important to me is the timeline, and because I use dates as chapter headings, I need to ensure these remain accurate. (They are accurate to the calendar from the year in which the story is set, and I check this with publications in the online newspaper archive because not all online date calculators are accurate.) Another thing to look out for is repetition. I often put some piece of vital information early in the story, and then repeat it later, which is unnecessary. What I’m doing is reminding myself to make sure the info is in there, because after putting it in chapter one, by the time I get to chapter ten, I can’t remember if I’ve written in it the story. Therefore, draft two is often about removing repetition. A reader should only need to read something once, and if I find myself saying aloud, ‘Yes, I know this,’ I delete it.

Third (or Fourth) Draft

Here’s where things get technical. I finally know the story and characters well enough, and have the plot, timeline, developments etc. in order, so they can now take care of themselves. What needs attention next is the grammar, and I do what people call a line edit. This is where you go through every single line of the text looking for mistakes. I’m not just talking about typos, I am always on the look out for them, but grammar, sentence construction and use of words. The question in my head at this stage is, Can I write this better? Which I would change to How can this be improved, if I was editing this blog post. (I would also add a question mark to the improvement. I put it that way to highlight how you should be aware of missing punctuation as much as everything else.)

I am currently on draft three of ‘Keepers of the Past’, and at the line edit stage. As an assistant, I use a plug-in to Word called ProWritingAid (PWA). I used to use Grammarly, but it messed with Word so much, I threw it out. PWA offers the writer plenty of suggestions on all kinds of things, and it can bog you down with so many, you end up over-editing. So, use it with care. I check through its reports for basic grammar, overused words, sentence length, clichés, and one they call ‘style’, because, among other things, it picks up on adverb use.

Another habit of mine when first drafting is to bung in an adverb when I can’t be bothered to explain something in a more literary way, and then forget to go back and change it. ‘I never use them in dialogue tags,’ he said sheepishly, because he has done, but only when unavoidable. When PWA tells me there are 17 adverbs in this chapter, and I gasp, I go through and eliminate as many as possible. Often, they are not needed. Here’s an example:

Someone had spent hours twisting and tightening, or it might have been done by a machine, but their labours had ultimately been in vain.

Ultimately been in vain? Why not just, been in vain? We know it happened in the past. I do, though, leave adverbs in speech, because that’s how people talk. Stephen King’s view on adverbs is they are lazy writing. It’s a case of show, not tell. ‘I am not!’ he said, angrily. That might be what you mean, and it’s a quick way of saying it, but, ‘I am not,’ he fumed, thumping the table with such force the crockery jumped’, lets the reader imagine so much more.

It also reminds me to mention exclamation marks! I hate them! I hate them more when they are overused!! I once read an autobiography by a film director known for making epic fantasy films. A brilliant screenwriter and director, but he didn’t employ a great editor. Every other line ended in an exclamation mark. I couldn’t believe it! We had the Money! Yes, okay, so you were excited, and one might forgive the dreaded ! after such an exclamation, but when the story continues with, So, we were off to the studio. There, we attended the auditions! Calm your enthusiasm, mate, that’s just unnecessary, as exclamation marks, in my opinion, often are.

Where was I? Oh, yes…

Overused Words

I have my next chapter open for editing and have run my PWA report, asking it to identify overused words. I always get a shock at this point, and here’s why. This is, verbatim, what the report says:

Overused Words Check
was/were. You have overused this word compared to published writing. Consider removing about 7 occurrences from 122.

One hundred and twenty-two uses of was/were!? The chapter only has 3,882 words in it – and never use exclamation and question marks together, btw. Nor abbreviations such as btw, unless you can justify doing so.
Overuse of was/were and had suggests not only lazy writing, but passive verb use and too much back-flashing. The report also highlighted 80 occurrences of had, and here’s more of the example text, pre-edit. (I have highlighted the overuse.)
Joe, my deaf character, is trying to make sense of some ancient symbols, one of which is a rope. While doing so, he reminisces about his time in the workhouse oakum shed, where his job was to unpick lengths of old rope.

As he worked, Joe often wondered who had put the ropes together. Someone had spent hours twisting and tightening, or it might have been done by a machine, but their labours had ultimately been in vain, and he wondered how they felt about that. The rope had done its job, it had held sails, secured vast ships to dockyard bollards, or perhaps tied down tea chests as the ship braved the distant oceans. He wondered what the rope had seen, what it would know, and tried to imagine life aboard a ship…

I’ve not edited this chapter yet, but when I do, I might rewrite the section thus:

As he worked, Joe often wondered who first put the ropes together. Someone spent hours twisting and tightening the threads, but in the end, their labours came to nothing, and he wondered how they would feel if they knew. The rope played its part, fastened sails, secured vast ships to dockyards, or kept cargo safe as the ship braved the wild oceans. He wondered where the rope had sailed and tried to imagine life aboard a ship…

Slightly better, and it might read as odd, because, here, it is out of context. It was an example of how easy it is to overuse certain words. Others to watch for include could, feel, know and see in their various forms (felt, knew, knowing, saw, seen, etc.)

The point of this section was to point out how finickity it can be to improve a manuscript, but how much better the finished work will be because of it. The danger, however, is over-editing. Being too nit-picky, you can ruin a sentence, paragraph or entire chapter by fiddling with it too much. It’s possible to lose the sense of the writing, the feel and the style, so you must watch out for that. Using PWA along with my own decisions, it can take me two hours to get through 4,000 words. ‘Keepers of the Past’ ran to 105,000 words in the first draft, so that means the line edit will take me about 26 hours. (Perhaps I should take it up as a profession and offer my services?)

While all that is going on in my office, my husband is in the sitting room reading through the first draft. His job, which he does willingly and for free, is to make sure the story makes sense, to point out any obvious repetition, and anything he thinks is unnecessary. Only yesterday he came to me to say most of one chapter was not needed, and unlike the rest of the book, he didn’t enjoy it. I suspected that would happen, because when I wrote it, I thought, ‘I like this part, but is it necessary?’ He gave me the answer I knew I should have found for myself, and the lesson there is, when editing, always trust your instincts.

Or, as our family doctor used to say, ‘If in doubt, whip it out.’ If you have read the Clearwater series, you won’t be surprised to know our family doctor was called Dr Markland.

After Editing?

After I have done my content, structure and line editing, I send the MS to be proofread by a professional proofreader. I am lucky enough to have discovered the editor and proofreader Ann Attwood, and highly recommend her services for being reliable, honest and knowledgeable.

Once back from proofing, the MS goes through another read to check the proofs, of course, but also, by then, I’ve had some distance from it, so I can take a fresh look. From then on, the novel is on its own and out there in the big wide world, and I can cut along to the next one and start the process all over again.

Next Week’s Blog

I intended to give you the first draft of the unnecessary chapter, pre-editing, so you can see what the fuss was all about. Part of ‘Keepers of the Past’ has to do with the mystical number nine, and the cut chapter delves into numerology and the strange way in which the number nine works. I found it so fascinating, I wrote a whole chapter about it, where foul-mouthed Frank takes us through its mystery. Totally not needed (apart from containing a plot point which I can easily move), it’s now in the cuts folder, but I will share it with you next week.

Until then, keep reading, and I’ll keep writing.

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The Larkspur Mysteries Book Two

The Larkspur Mysteries Book Two

I have to admit, this Larkspur Mysteries Two is taking me some time to draft. There are a few reasons for this.

Standing Stones

The book is taking a fair amount of research. It’s one of those stories that I want to make as accurate as possible, yet be able to bend the facts to suit. It’s set in an actual place, Bodmin Moor in England, and includes references to real places, in this case, standing stone circles and other ancient monuments. However, they’re not all in the places I want them to be, so I have ‘fiddled’ with a couple, and invented a couple of my own. Researching where they are, and how they can provide clues to the mystery, is taking time, as is the background reading about such stones and their place in history.

Writing Deaf

Another thing that is causing me to write slowly is getting to grips with the character of Joe Tanner, my deaf leading man. It’s not just a case of being careful not to write, ‘he said,’ but to use ‘he signed’ instead, and there are many other factors to consider from a technical point of view. For example: I have a scene where Joe is out on the moor, the weather is foul, and a thunderstorm is coming in. The scene is from Joe’s point of view, so I cannot describe any sounds. Therefore, we, the reader, have to feel the thunder. I have to create the atmosphere with one sense missing, sound, because Joe doesn’t know what sound is. That’s proving to be interesting to write, and his deafness has a knock-on effect on other characters.

Dalston, his lover, knows how to sign, and Joe can read lips if people speak clearly, but until now, if Joe wanted to communicate with another character, he had to have Dalston there to interpret. He uses the written word, of course, and has improved his writing under Fleet’s guidance, and he can read. Some of the other characters have been having lessons in sign with varying degrees of success, so I have found a way around that issue.

The OS map is permanently open on my desk these days

How does a man deaf since birth read? Joe doesn’t hear the words in his head. He can’t. He’s never heard them out of his head, so, instead, he uses images. He visualises what he’s reading if you like, but as he is currently reading books about ancient standing stones, and he’s never seen half of what he is reading about (long barrows, menhirs, cists etc.), Fleet has been offering him illustrations to assist.

Joe is the MC in this story, a spotlight he shares with Dalston, and I’m really enjoying the challenge. By the way, Neil and I have now both passed our course in basic British Sign Language (BSL), and intend to keep it going between us, for practice, add more words and phrases to our arsenal, and, hopefully, improve.

Complicated Plot

You know me, I like to make my mysteries challenging for the characters and thus, the reader, and yet aim for a satisfying denouement. Well, this one is not only complicated by Joe’s deafness and a shift in his relationship with Dalston, but also by the subject matter.

My very dodgy sketch of the symbols that play a big part in the story

It’s actually a simple challenge. Lord Clearwater wants to know the story of the ancient monoliths that stand within his property boundary. What were they for? Why is there one embedded in the walls of the ruined abbey? And what do the symbols mean? Carved stones are rare in Cornwall, it’s more of a Pictish thing, apparently, and yet, one of the standing stones has carvings on it. Lord Clearwater’s mystery is only one thread, however, there is another far more sinister but also historic, and that, Joe stumbles upon while researching the stone row. I won’t say too much more about that, because I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but suffice to say, there is also a deadline, there will be an ‘action climax’ when I get to it (I am nearly there), and, hopefully, everything will tie up and make sense. Right now, I am reaching the part in the story where clues are coming together and, for the sake of accuracy, I am having to go back and forth between the written chapters to ensure the clues laid down early on, tie-up with the untangling of the plot at the crisis point.

And then there are visitors.

At this time of year, we have many regular visitors returning to the island where we live. Neil works in a bar, and it’s very popular with British visitors who like to come and say hello and catch up on island news. In the winter months, I’m a ‘bed at nine’ kind of person and am often up at three or four in the morning to start work. Right now, though, we are being taken out to dinner, and we’re entertaining at home sometimes, and that means later nights, and thus, later mornings. My writing time is compressed somewhat, as is my energy. Not complaining, it’s a very sociable time of year and makes up for the seven months of winter when we hardly see anyone, but I am more tired than usual, so I am working slower.

Recent early morning view from the balcony

But I am still ploughing through draft one of Larkspur two. I am up to 85,000 words, with probably another 25,000 to go, and I am aiming to have the draft finished in the next two weeks. After that, there will be the second and third draft, the cover to commission, and so on, and of course, the title to find. That’s yet to fall into place, but it will before long. In the meantime, I have commissioned my illustrator to produce a much better version of my sketch of the standing stones, and I am expecting a miraculous drawing or two to come through within the next week or so. I’ll post it on a future blog when it does.

I’ll be back next week with more author chat, but for now, it’s back to the mystery…

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How Do I Publish So Often?

How Do I Publish So Often?

A couple of weeks ago, my Saturday post was about Self-Publishing and how I do it. After that, I wrote a post about how I improve my manuscript. I wrote these in response to questions I’d received by email and on my Facebook page. Sitting outside our local kafeneion the other afternoon, I fell into conversation with someone who asked, ‘How do you write so many stories?’ or words to that effect. The answer was simple, ‘It’s my job.’

There is a simple answer: discipline and organisation.

This week, I thought I would give you an insight into my writing process.

It’s My Job

My typing station this morning.

I see writing and self-publishing as a job and one that I enjoy doing. That means I suffer most of what everyone suffers when they are work-conscious. If I don’t write, it’s like not turning up for work. If I am writing and I am interrupted, it’s like being disturbed at any workplace; someone else is paying for me not to be working. If I take a break, I am still thinking about work for when I get back. I have a mental in-tray and a to-do list. I deal with admin before I start writing. I put away the phone and its distractions until I have a break.

You see? Just like working in an office, except without being paid. I mean, if someone paid me even €1.00 per hour for my writing, I would be ‘As rich as Croesus by teatime‘ as Barbary Fleet says in The Guardians of the Poor.

My Daily Routine

And when I say daily, I mean seven days per week.

I’m an early riser, so I am usually up around four in the summer, a little later in the winter. Sometimes I’m up at 3.30, sometimes not until five, in which case I feel like I am late for work. I read the news, though I don’t know why, and I have a cup of tea, before commuting to work. This involves crossing the porch from the house to the ‘workhouse’, as I call our extra bit or property that houses our offices and laundry.

My other desk is where I research and make notes in books. Currently, there’s a rough map of part of the Larkspur estate, plus my ‘Clearwater Bible’.

PC switched on, tea by my side… First, I check my emails in MailWasher. Download and reply, or set aside for later.
Then, I turn on Firefox, check my overnight sales, have a quick look on Facebook in case there are any messages.
If I have any writing work for other people, I do that first. This can range from ten minutes to a couple of hours, and it varies.
5.45 in the morning, I go for a three-mile walk. Well, okay, so not every day, and it depends on when the sun comes up, but in Greece, in August, you need to be out early if you’re walking. Most days, I just have another cup of tea and try not to feel guilty.

However, when I do manage a walk, I am still working. I plan the day’s chapter in my head, telling myself the story like a first draft, and then, when I get back to write it down, it’s like an improved second draft.

So, admin done, walk done, real paid work done, I can then set about my story.
I try to write a chapter each day. Or, 3,000 to 4,000 words.
The best days are when I have no paid work because then, I have more time. Best for my creativity, but not for my bank, of course. Then, I start writing as early as four or five and blast through until I can do no more.

I stop for lunch at 11.00, although we don’t eat until 12.00. Bear in mind, I’ve usually done five or six hours by now, and that’s why I don’t go back to work until around 14.00. A three-hour lunch break? Of course, I have to get in an episode of Survivor and currently two of The Amazing Race.

Notes made during ‘Inheritance’, keeping track of the Riddington family tree.

Afternoons vary, but often I’m at the desk for another two hours or so, reading through the morning’s work, or sometimes adding more words.

At 15.30 (ish) in the summer, I go for a siesta, after which I’ll probably join the husband at his bar and relax. Sometimes, mainly in the winter, I’ll work through the afternoon until five, giving me a 12 hour day, but with a couple of hours off in the middle; so a 10-hour day is not uncommon.
Now and then, I take a day off, but even when I have to be away from the writing for a day, I get the admin done first.

That’s how I write between 3,000 and 4,000 words per day. More on a good day.

What do I do With all Those Words

Above is what I do when banging out a first draft. When working on a second, third, fourth etc., the route remains the same, but instead of writing, I am rewriting or editing. Later, I am checking, then double-checking, so no hours are wasted.

I keep notes as I go. I used to do this in a book, and sometimes, I still do, but recently, I’ve started putting my thoughts in another Word document. This is because there’s no room on my PC desk to put a notepad beside me. I have to put it in my lap, write the note, and then put it back each time, and that’s cumbersome.
So, I type, telling myself the story from head to fingers. I pause now and then to make a note. For example, the current WIP, the second Larkspur Mystery, is currently raising many questions which need to be answered. So, I have incorporated a table into my flow-sheet, my plot outline, or as I have labelled it, ‘Vow storyline’ because ‘Vow’ was going to be part of the title. This table is simply a list of questions to answer later or get rid of later if I don’t need them. An excerpt reads:

How does Dalston translate the symbols?With Fleet’s help
What do the symbols mean?

If the nine lines were a count, what did the other symbols mean?

They tell the story of the…

That won’t mean anything to anyone but me, and I’ve doctored it so there are no spoilers, but it’s an example of how I keep notes as I go.

Another thing I do is change the text to red when I have used the idea. Example:

Joe examines what he can of the 2nd stone within the ruin walls – at the altar end of the church, so very important.
Dalston translates the standing stone’s symbols according to Joe’s theory.

The red is an idea I have used, the black is yet to be done. I do this just to keep myself in check.

Be Organised.

From the Clearwater ‘bible’, a chart of main characters’ ages through the years.

Discipline is one thing, organisation is another.
I am lucky as I am semi-retired, but even if you only have one hour a day for writing, that one hour is for writing, and you need to be firm about that. Even if you’re only sitting and thinking, you are working. Even if you write rubbish, you are writing. Some days, I write a chapter, and the next, I put it in the ‘cuts’ folder because I thought it was no good. Later, I may take an idea from it or just a sentence. Never trash, always keep, because you never know…
I have a folder for each book, and within it, other folders for research, images, and drafts. The main folder soon fills up with individual chapters, and these, I name in detail.
Current WIP chapters are labelled:
01 Newspaper September 11th 1890
02 Joe and standing stones September 12th
03 Breakfast 12th

Chapter numbers keep the order, the text reminds me of what’s in each one, and the dates are there to remind me of the timeline.
When draft one is done, I put them all together, read through and make any find/replace changes. For example, if I decide to change a name. (Dalston started out as Clayton, but I changed his name halfway through writing ‘Guardians’, and it’s much easier to wait until the full draft is finished, and then use Find/Replace in Word to make the changes.)
That done, I put draft one in its own folder, and take the full draft apart, putting each chapter separately in the draft two folder. Then, I work through each chapter with ProWritingAid as I edit, improve, rewrite, etc.
Put draft two together. Read it over a couple of days for continuity, make any changes, pick up some typos, etc.,

And repeat… Until I am happy I have a final draft.

Eventually, I get to a stage where I am in danger of fiddling with the MS too much, and that’s when I send it to be proofed. By then, my designer will be working on the cover, and I would have finalised the blurb.
While the MS is off for proofing, I might start on the next book… And so it goes on.

Finally

Of course, the view fom the window helps.

So, when I am asked how I publish so many books, I can only say it is because I am disciplined and organised. Each time I write a chapter, I aim to improve my style. Each time I publish a book, I aim to make the next one better. After a while, you find you write better first drafts, and thus, have more time to spend on second and third drafts. You learn to pick up on your common errors and repetitions, and simply don’t write them.

I guess the bottom line is that you keep at it, and the more you write, the better you (should) be at it.
As for where the ideas come from, well, that’s a post for another day.

If you’ve not yet started the Larkspur series, book one, ‘Guardians of the Poor’ is now available on Kindle, and will be in paperback as soon as I get the full cover, which I hope to have this weekend.

Keep reading!

Jackson

Guardians of the Poor: Release and Cover Reveal

Guardians of the Poor: Release and Cover Reveal

Hello everyone!

I have exciting news for you this week and a unique treat. ‘Guardians of the Poor’ will be available in a couple of days, and as soon as it is, I will put the links on my Facebook Page. I also have the cover to show you. This is the first time anyone has seen it, and we will get to that in a minute.

Guardians of the Poor

Guardians of the Poor is the first in a new series, ‘The Larkspur Mysteries.’ This series follows on from ‘The Clearwater Mysteries’ and concerns some of the original characters but introduces new ones as we enter the world of Clearwater’s new academy. The Larkspur Academy is not a school, college or any other kind of institution in the usual sense, it’s a place where young men with a specific talent can come and be safe. Clearwater identifies these men, all of whom have something in common, and invites them to start a new life under the tutorship of Professor Fleet, or, as he prefers to be called, just Fleet.

This is actually my husband, Neil, but the image inspired me to write Fleet.

Fleet is something of an eccentric but is also a genius, and he brings some humour to the story while mentoring his young men, edging them towards self-improvement and allowing them to come out of their various shells (and to come out). Fleet, however, is not the main character in this first story; that role falls to a young man called Dalston Blaze. Where Archer (Clearwater) is the protagonist, Dalston is the main character and his friend Joe Tanner is the second MC if you like, or as some would say the impact character. Dalston finds himself with a sidekick, the foul-mouthed but totally loyal Greek-Londoner, Frank, and comes up against the flirtatious Scotsman, Duncan Fairbairn, who we first met in ‘Negative Exposure’, book nine of the Clearwater series.

The Mystery

The mystery in ‘Guardians’ isn’t so much a mystery but a problem to be solved, although there is a mystery quest, ‘Where is Joe, and how can we find him?’ That falls to the detectives, James Wright and Silas Hawkins to discover, along with Duncan, now their researcher. James and Silas are based in London, where they are watched over by the motherly Mrs Norwood, who has a crucial role to play later in the story. Meanwhile, Archer is at Larkspur, working with Dalston to uncover the story of the villains, a workhouse master and his schoolteacher, two very nasty pieces of work.

The story moves from London to Cornwall and the academy on the Larkspur estate, back to London, and finally, back to Cornwall, and the ending leads into book two, which I have started writing.

Workhouses and Deafness

As you know, I like to include actual events, places and sometimes people with my fiction, and ‘Guardians’ was inspired by a newspaper report about two men accused of and tried for ‘unnatural offences’ (i.e., gay sex). The book opens with a version of that newspaper report, which I first put in word for word. Then, after reading it back, I realised how convoluted and confusing the report was, so I tidied it up to make it more readable. It concerned the Chelsea workhouse in 1890, but I moved my action to the Hackney workhouse, because I knew the area better, and was more easily able to research the actual workhouse. Much of what you will read in the book is based on an authentic account of a man living in such an institution, as well as other writings I have found from those who experienced workhouse life first-hand.

Larkspur in BSL fingerspelling (gif)

My second principal character, Joe Tanner, is deaf. I thought it high time we addressed some social issues in my mysteries, and I have long wanted to write a deaf character, and I mean one who has been deaf from birth. Joe is deaf and dumb (I am sure there’s a more PC expression, but we are dealing with 1890 here), and that presented me with all manner of interesting challenges when writing him. Even more so now I have started on book two, where Joe is the main character.
I have been researching what it is like to be deaf to the point of studying sign language (BSL) and am trying to get to the bottom of how to write from a deaf person’s point of view. As you may know, I tend to write my novels from the characters’ POV, rather than an all-seeing narrator, and part of that is writing the action using words and thoughts suitable for the narrating character. Archer, for example, has a slightly more educated narrator’s voice than James or Silas. But how to do it for Joe? Because he is deaf from birth, he doesn’t know what words sound like, so when he reads, he doesn’t have a voice in his head, but instead (as I understand it), visualises signs and images. There are only a few instances when we hear Joe’s point of view in ‘Guardians’ but there will be much more in book two. That’s currently untitled, but it will involve a mystery of standing stones and murder.

But I am getting ahead of myself…

Guardians of the Poor, cover reveal

As I said, I will let you know when the book is ready, and I’ll announce that on Facebook, and here, later. Knowing how these things work, you may get a notification from Amazon before I do. That often happens because of the time differences around the world. I am aiming to upload the files this weekend. I am just waiting for the full cover from Andjela, so the print version may be a couple of days later than the Kindle. As usual, the book will be available for Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and in Paperback and only from Amazon.

And now, I can reveal the cover. Beneath this image, I have put the blurb for Guardians and the new series, but before that… Click the image, the Kindle cover will open, and you will be the first to see it.

Guardians of the Poor
Jackson Marsh

The greatest gift one man may give another is his trust.”
Barbary Fleet, 1890.

Standing stones, messages written in symbols, and the language of the deaf. It falls to Lord Clearwater to unlock the mystery of Dalston Blaze and his deaf friend, Joe Tanner, two young men arrested for committing ‘unnatural offences’ at the Hackney workhouse.

Dalston hopes for a prison sentence. It’s the only way to save his life. Instead, he is bailed to the Larkspur Academy on Lord Clearwater’s Cornish estate, where there is only one rule: honesty above all else. For Dalston, this means confronting his past, learning to trust, and admitting his secrets. Joe is the key, but Joe is missing, and his location is locked deep inside a memory seen in sign language, and clouded by eighteen years of workhouse life.

If Dalston remains silent, the immoral workhouse master and his sadistic schoolteacher will continue to inflict pain and suffering on all inmates of the Hackney workhouse. If he tells the truth, he and Joe will die.

The Guardians of the Poor is a combination of mystery, adventure and male romance, set in 1890. It draws on first-hand accounts of workhouse life at the time, and is the first of a new series of mysteries set in the Clearwater world.

The Larkspur Mysteries series

Beginning in 1890, The Larkspur Mysteries follow on from The Clearwater Mysteries series of 11 novels. It’s not necessary to have read the Clearwater books before you embark on the Larkspur series. However, if you enjoy mystery, romance, adventure and a mix of historical fact and fiction, then begin the journey with ‘Deviant Desire.’ (Or the non-mystery prequel, ‘Banyak & Fecks.’)

Lord Clearwater has created a unique academy for disadvantaged young men. The Larkspur Academy is, ‘A non-academic institution with the aim to provide deserving men the opportunity to expand talent, horizons and knowledge for the betterment of the underprivileged and general society.’ It’s not a school. There are no lessons, no teachers, no schoolboys and no rules. The series exists in the established Clearwater world of the late 1800’s where homosexuality is a crime everywhere but on Clearwater’s country estate in Cornwall.

The series is ongoing. Each story involves male bonding, bromance, friendship and love. Mystery, adventure and a little comedy play their parts, and every story is inspired by true events from the past.

An Author in August

An Author in August

Today, I wanted to catch you up on general news, where I am with the new book, and what life is like in the Southern Aegean in August. Let’s start with that one…

Fires and Silence

It’s hot. We’re seeing temperatures in the 40s most days, we’ve not had any rain since May and then it was only a smattering, and we’re currently under a cloud of ash that is still hanging about following serious forest fires in Turkey. Turkey is just over the water from us, about three miles away at its closest point, and we can see villages and roads from our island. Last week, we could also see flames and masses of smoke as wildfires broke out along the coastline. There have been some on the island of Rhodes too, but I think they are all now under control. Wildfires are raging around Athens at the moment too. Fires are common at this time of year but have been made worse because of a heatwave.

The smoke that’s hanging around in the atmosphere covered the sun, which made for a strange, almost eclipse-like, light. Thursday was an unusual day because there were no sparrows chirping, and no cicadas grating, as if the wildlife thought it was dusk. They stayed eerily silent.

Luckily, our island remains safe, though hot, and we have a forest here, so the authorities are on guard, and everyone is being careful. Meanwhile, I am at my desk with two fans on me and towels where I rest my sweaty arms (otherwise they slide off). All the windows are open, everything is covered in a layer of ash, even where I hoovered and dusted the day before, and we’re getting on with summer life.

Sign Language

We’re also getting on with learning BSL (British Sign Language) as best we can online. I am on part four of a nine-part course, and about to start part five. So far, it’s been mainly learning nouns, alphabet, numbers and a few questions. Neil and I sit opposite each other when I go to visit him at work at the bar, and we practice our signs on each other. They’re not so hard to remember and do, but harder to recognise when someone signs back at you. It’s all about practice, and it’s proving useful research for my writing.

Guardians of the Poor

As I write, the final draft is with my proofreader, and I should get the MS back next week. Then, I will read through it for the last time and send it to have the interior laid out. That usually only takes a couple of days. I then check it again, and after that, it will be ready to publish. I imagine we’re looking at publication around the 20th of August if not slightly before.

Joe Tanner

‘Guardians’ is the first of the Larkspur series of mystery/bromance/adventure novels in the vein of the Clearwater Mysteries, but focusing on new characters who pass through the Larkspur Academy. That’s the institution Archer sets up at the end of the Clearwater series, a place where young men can come and, as he puts it, ‘better themselves.’ It’s an odd concept, but so far, it’s working. Through his London contacts like Jimmy Wright and Silas, Archer finds young men (18 years old and upwards, mainly), and gives them a place at the academy under the mentorship of the man he’s found to run it, Barbary Fleet. It’s not a school, it’s not compulsory and there are only four or five men there at any time. They all have special talents and deserve a chance in life, and mainly, they are gay. Of course, ‘gay’ wasn’t gay in 1890, but Archer knows when a man needs support and needs to come out, as we’d call it. The fact that they all get involved in some kind of mystery is, of course, what the stories are about; that and young men struggling with their sexuality, each other, falling in love, out of love, friendship and fighting hard to make a go of it.

As ‘Guardians’ is almost ready, I have turned my attention to the second in the series…

A Vow of Silence

‘Guardians’ features a character called Joe Tanner, who is profoundly deaf and has been since birth. I am keeping him and Dalston Blaze as the central pair of book two, ‘A Vow of Silence.’ Dalston is the main character in Guardians (along with Archer, the story is mainly from their point of view), but I want Joe to be the MC in ‘Vow’ because I want to write from a deaf man’s point of view, although there will be other characters’ viewpoints too.

‘Vow’ follows on from ‘Guardians’, and, like the first book, it is inspired by a real newspaper report and an actual event. I’ll say no more just now because I’ve only got as far as jotting down a basic plot, and anything can change.

And Finally

Make sure you keep an eye on this blog and on my Facebook page for the cover reveal of ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ It’s another corker from Andjela J, and the drawing (above) of Joe Tanner will give you a clue. Check back next week when more will be revealed…