Work In Progress 2.7

I have a quick update for you today. I am now up to 75,000 words of Larkspur Four, still with the working title, ‘Chester Cadman’ and it’s going well.

Things are starting to come together in both through lines of the story, the mystery plot and the emotional one. Although there’s no dramatic chase sequence or race to save a life in this one, the story has shape and is gradually building to a climax, which will hopefully be an ‘Ah, now I get it!’ kind of denouement.

I’ve had a bit of a disrupted week since last Wednesday, which is why I have only written 15,000 words in the last seven days, but things are quieter now, so I can knuckle down.

I have also been popping away from the typing to research the various elements needed for this story, but I can’t tell you all of them, otherwise I would give away some surprises. All I will say is, where last week’s research included the ingredients and the invention of stink bombs, this week it was the invention of the bubble bath (as we know it). And with that, I must return to Bodmin Moor and some strange goings-on.

Things That go Bump in the Research

Hello everyone, and welcome to my regular Saturday update. Today, I want to talk about phantasmagoria, Pepper’s ghost, and various things supernatural. Why? Because the fourth book in the Larkspur Mystery series is built around a ghost story, and when I’ve not been writing it, I have been researching all things ghostly.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, it’s an undeniable fact that belief in ghosts exists in just about all cultures. The ghost story as we know it can be traced back to Sir Walter Scott and his 1824 novel, ‘Wandering Willie’s Tale’, which is not as naughty as it might sound to those, like me, inclined to innuendo. We’re talking ghost rather than horror; you can mark the beginning of the horror genre with ‘The Castle of Otranto’ (1765) by Horace Walpole, but that’s a debate for another day.

Following Willie’s wanderings, we can cite Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ as a classic ghost story, and since the beginnings of the Victorian ghost novel, other writers have leapt on the spectral bandwagon including M.R. James, Violet Hunt, Henry James and the Irish writer, Sheridan Le Fanu.

The Larkspur Ghost: A Curious Development

Ages ago, before even the Clearwater Mysteries was born, I tried my hand at writing a contemporary paranormal MM romance novel, ‘Curious Moonlight.’ This received mixed reviews, and understandably so, because people who read the micro-niche of contemporary paranormal MM romance have specific rules, and I, the upstart, didn’t keep to them.

My novel was more about two men, one gay, one curious, trying to fall in love and being thwarted by, among other things, a hangover spirit from an old Cornish myth. What ‘Moonlight’ did do, though, was make me think of a sequel. In it, my two main characters were invited to a rambling country house to investigate the appearance of a ghost. The house was called Blackwood Abbey, the ghost was said to be that of a serving girl murdered for her romance with a monk in 1500-and-something, and the dead girl was still haunting the manor, which couldn’t be sold until the mystery was solved. And so it rambled on until I ran out of ectoplasm, and shelved the idea.

I am glad I did, because what I was trying to write was beyond me. It did, however, lead to bigger and better things. The idea of a mystery led to The Clearwater Mysteries, Blackwood Abbey led to the creation of Larkspur Hall (and Jasper Blackwood, I guess), and the two-word title led to others, such as Deviant Desire, Twisted Tracks and Unspeakable Acts. Between ‘Moonlight’ and Larkspur Four, I have written about fifteen better novels, and I now know what I am doing.

Except I don’t. Or I didn’t when I sat down to tackle the subject of all things ghostly in Victorian times, and in particular, the story of the Larkspur Ghost.

Chester Cadman

Larkspur Four is currently titled ‘Chester Cadman’ because that’s the name of the lead character, and a better title has not yet fallen into place. Don’t worry. I am not going to give away any spoilers.

The story was inspired by an advertisement in a London paper of 1981 which advertised Mr Maskelyen’s premier magical entertainment at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. The entertainment promised apparitions, bodies floating over the audience, and other ghostly occurrences every day promptly at three and every evening at eight (excepting Mondays). Such entertainments were popular in Victorian society, and the Egyptian Hall quickly became ‘England’s Home of Mystery.’ An advertising poster of the time promises, ‘Labial, Fanfare, Zoe & Psycho’ as part of Maskelyne & Cooke’s entertainment, but I am not sure I want to look into those attraction at this moment.

In my story, Chester (not his real name) fell from grace after paying a visit to Mr Maskelyen’s Entertainment, and afterwards, accepting an invitation to participate in a séance. Chester doesn’t believe in ghosts, you see, and is a debunker of ghost stories, except he can’t be, because the word ‘debunk’ didn’t exist until the next century, but you get the picture.

When the story starts, he is on his way to Larkspur Hall, where Archer (Lord Clearwater) and his steward/best friend, Tom, are waiting for him. Tom is reading a novel by the above mentioned Le Fanu in preparation for a discussion about ghosts.

Chester is invited to join the Larkspur Academy, which he does, and his first task is to ‘debunk’ the mystery of the Larkspur Ghost. Along the way, he encounters various personal problems, love, lust and lingering doubt, and learns much about the darker history of Larkspur Hall and the Clearwater viscounts. I can’t tell you any more than that because I’ve not written it yet, but I am up to 70,000 words. (You can follow its progress on my Work In Progress blogs on Wednesdays.)

Phantasmagoria and Pepper

One of the things I am researching for the background of this novel, to add authenticity and detail, is phantasmagoria. I can’t define it any better than this description I found in a paper by Japanese academic Yurie NAKANE:

Phantasmagoria is an early projection show using an optical instrument called a magic lantern. Brought to Britain from France in 1801, it amused spectators by summoning the spirits of absent people, including both the dead and the living. [Link to the full article free download.]

It didn’t, of course. I mean, it did, but not really. What this theatrical device did was project an image of a person, or an object, a skeleton from the closet or something else better left forgotten, onto a screen, onto mist or a sheet of glass. The effect was to make the ghostly image appear among real people and furniture, thereby giving the appearance of an apparition before our very eyes.

Phantasmagoria began way before Chester Cadman was born at sea. Yurie Nakane tells us, Phantasmagoria in Paris was conducted by Philidor in 1792 for the first time. And later in her paper, In October, 1801, Paul Philidor brought phantasmagoria to Britain and started to give performances there.

The stage trick of phantasmagoria, went through a few developments, one of which was ‘Dircksian phantasmagoria’ in the mid-19th century, but Henry Dircks’ confabulations required a special auditorium be built, and could only be seen by a few spectators in a purpose-built gallery during daylight. (You’d never get funding these days.) However, he worked with a chap called John Henry Pepper, and that led to the creation of a stage trick called Pepper’s Ghost.

This illusion requires two rooms; the stage on which is a visible but camouflaged sheet of glass, and a ‘blue’ room out of sight. The figure in the blue room is simply reflected in the glass, and hey presto! We have a moving, talking apparition. That technique is still used in magic acts, theatre, theme parks and film studios today.

I suppose the moral is, don’t take your Pepper with a pinch of salt.

You can find more on Phantasmagoria in an excellent article by Sandra Gulland on her website, including images. [Link is here.]

Back to the story

In my novel, phantasmagoria and Pepper’s Ghost get only a passing mention, yet I still took the time to check them out, because they are things Chester Cadman would have known about. He also has things to say about hypnotism, or mesmerism, spiritualism and seances, none of which have much impact on the story. Discovering such detail to give your character a little more depth is called research, and has taken up most of my week.

As has writing, and it was while writing the other morning that I had something of a supernatural experience. Before I tell you what it was, you should know that it was daylight, I was at the computer I am at now, totally sober and writing a description of my character, Fleet, comedically blundering about with his eyes closed because he wanted to know what it was like to be blind. I wasn’t writing anything creepy at all. Neil was in the kitchen preparing lunch, I was alone, and my office door was closed (it opens to the outside and it was six degrees, sunny, but cold).

I jolted in shock, my heartbeat shot up, skin went cold and I clutched my pearls, exclaiming, ‘Oh, must you!’ as you do when you’re thinking of something else, and open a door to find your husband unexpectedly on the other side. Except, the dark shape that had crept into the corner of my left eye, covering the height of the bookcase, and moving towards the window, was no longer there. I was left with that aftershock of shock, a little weak kneed, and looking over my shoulder. I politely asked the whatever not to do that again while I was in the room, but finished writing to go and have lunch, knowing the whatever hadn’t meant to take me by surprise.

Strange, but true, and also useful. I now know what it’s like to unexpectedly see a ghostly form, or to think you did, and the experience will inform my writing. Accidental research. Can’t beat it.

Before I go…

Before I go, I want to tell you that I will be doing an ‘author takeover’ on a Facebook group tomorrow from 6 pm Greek time (4 pm GMT). I will be at the MM Fiction Addiction Café chatting about ME and giving away an e-copy of ‘Guardians of the Poor’ (or another of my novels if you already have that one). I will be talking more about the Larkspur Mysteries, and answering questions, so sign up (free, of course) and pop into the cafe if you want to know more.

I’ll be here on Wednesday with my Work In Progress blog to update you more about Chester Cadman, Larkspur Mysteries book four.

Jackson

Work In Progress 2.4

The Larkspur Mysteries book four

So, where am I?… Oh yes, the still untitled Larkspur book four. It’s still called ‘Chester Cadman’ as a working title, because that’s the name of the new main character. All I can tell you about him is that he comes with a few surprises. I could tell you a lot more, as I am getting to know him quite well, but I don’t want to spoil anything for you. I am currently at chapter 10 and 37,776 words of a rough, first draft.

I’ve had to double-check the layout of Larkspur Hall and the grounds, look up the history of Larkspur Abbey, and invent a few stories from the past. This has involved delving beyond my newspaper archive right back to 1541 and the dissolution of the monasteries (1536 to 1541).

The present day is January 1891, as the country suffers a very cold winter, and the location for book four is Cornwall. So far, it looks like it’s all going to take place on the Larkspur Estate and at Academy House as well as inside the main Hall, out in the grounds and further afield to one of the farms on Bodmin Moor. There is an old mystery to solve, so in a way, this book is going to be like a cold case solved by a new character. For a change, Tom Payne has more of the protagonist role than Lord Clearwater, Frank Andino plays a major part, and I am setting up other characters, threads and mysteries for the future.

Here’s a brief extract from a book found in the Larkspur library:

An Account of Strange Events Witnessed and Reported at Larkspur Hall

Compiled from Documents, Diaries and Other Sources

by Hedrek Nancarrow, Librarian, 1878

There are many tales of the nocturnal visitant to the Larkspur Estate, some handed down through generations by word of mouth, others documented by Hall staff and the family, and some from testimony given, in later years, to the police. Earlier, there are others given to the village bailiff, the incumbent vicar or rector, and previous notable men of Larkspur village. Below, I present a selection of such reports in the order of their date, and from this, several things will be noted…  

Thus, I conclude the origins of the story. Suffice to say, in 1540, a tryst between the monk, Madroc, and an unnamed serving girl gave rise to the dismissal of both, and that, in turn led to the formation of a ghost believed to be the spirit of the murdered girl, which was, in fact, an invention to keep out the unwanted. During the civil war and estate troubles of the mid-1600s, the tale passed into lore, and did not rear its spectral head again until much later.

Work in Progress 2.3

Chester Cadman: A New Character at Larkspur

In this week’s update, I can tell you that Larkspur Four is currently at 28,000 words of its first draft, or chapter eight of a novel which is building in a file I’ve called ‘Chester Cadman.’ That’s not the title of the book, it’s the name of the main character. He’s a newbie to the Clearwater world and the Larkspur Academy, and comes with an interesting history that’s already led me to plenty of research.

That research has, so far, included mesmerism, seances and other related mysteries, The Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, and mapmaking and cartography in 1890s. Also on my list for background reading is the political situation in Egypt at that time.

All I can tell you about Larkspur Four right now is that it revolves around sightings of a medieval serving girl wandering through the grounds and ruined church. An apparition from the past which has been reported over the centuries, and a mystery that needs investigating.

While that’s going on, we’re introduced to a few new characters, while the main Clearwater men are elsewhere, apart from Thomas Payne who has been left to run the hall. Some of the newer Larkspur characters are still about, with Fleet, Frank and Clem at Academy House (along with Dalston and Joe for the time being), while at the Hall, Nancarrow and the newer footmen and others play supporting roles.

But Chester Cadman is my main man on this one, and being handsome, enigmatic and in need of friendship, attracts Frank’s attention – of course. Frank is going to be there right by his side, loyal, desperate to be loving and, maybe, destined to be disappointed. We shall have to wait and see.

I will be back on Saturday with a regular blogpost. In the meantime, on Thursday I will be the guest at fellow MM author, Elle Keaton’s facebook group. Join us at Highway to Elle for chatter and a giveaway, hope to see you there!

Agents of The Truth and ‘How I upload to Amazon’

The exciting news today is that the third Larkspur mystery, ‘Agents of the Truth’ is now available on Amazon. As I write, the Kindle version can be found here, and in Kindle Unlimited, and the paperback should be live any moment now.

Uploading to Amazon

I am often asked about the process, not just of how I write my novels, but how I publish them. So, today, I thought I would let you in on my system. As usual, this is how I do it, and other authors have their own ways of going about things. My version isn’t necessarily right for you, but it works for me. Here it is in stages.

One. Write the Book.

That’s the part that takes the time. ‘Agents’ took me just over three months from start to finish, but I am able to write full time; sometimes for other people, mostly, though, for myself. There are other blog posts such as this one which you can find with a search which tell you about my writing process, but in a nutshell it’s: draft one, draft two for consistency and repetition, style and ‘saying it better’, draft three for grammatical accuracy, draft four for finality. My husband reads draft one for consistency, knowing I will improve the writing, and I take on board what he says. Meanwhile, I contact Andjela, my cover designer, and she works up a cover for the Kindle version. After draft four, I send the manuscript to be proofread, and while that is going on, I begin work on the Amazon process. While that’s happening, I advise Andjela of the final page count so she can make the full cover. I don’t have the finished PDF print file by then, but I can make an educated guess of the final page count from the word length of the final MS and comparing it with previously published books.

With the MS back from proofing, I then have another read to agree the proofs, and make any minor changes that might have been niggling me between times. I have usually started on the next book by then but put that aside while I deal with the Amazon things.

Preparing to Upload to Amazon

The first thing I do, after logging into my KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) dashboard, is ‘create a new eBook.’ All I can do at this stage is enter the title, the series information, the author’s name and the blurb (which I can change when it comes back from proofing if necessary). I also put in keywords and select the two categories, in the case of Clearwater and Larkspur, that’s Gay and Historical.
On the next page, I can’t do anything about uploading the internal file or the cover as I don’t have them by then, though sometimes, I can upload the Kindle cover. With Kindle, I then press ‘save as draft’and turn to the print version. The info I’ve added is already there, but not the cover. However, I opt for an Amazon ISBN because I only sell my novels through Amazon and KU, and I need that ISBN for the front matter.

Front and Backmatter

The frontmatter of a book is made up of the first few pages. The publishing disclaimer and copyright claim etc., and in there, I need to put the ISBN number I’ve just had created. I also list those who have contributed to the book; the proof-reader, cover designer, illustrator and layout company. More about that in a moment. I basically take the front matter from the previous book, make sure I change the title, date and ISBN, and add to the list of ‘also by Jackson Marsh.’

The backmatter consists of author’s notes and a list of my titles with a little more info, and, for the Kindle version, direct links to where the books can be found.

Front and backmatter are two sperate Word doc files.

Formatting a Book for Amazon

I used to do the internal layout myself, using Adobe InDesign. Not being a graphic designer, this was something of a learning curve, and not a process I enjoyed. Since Clearwater nine, ‘Negative Exposure’, however, I have used Mongoose Author Servies at Other Worlds Ink.

This process costs me an extra $60.00, but it’s more that worth it. I contact the guys in advance and warn them I have a layout job coming up, and when I am happy with the proofs of all printed matter, gather them into one ‘final files’ folder. Other Worlds Ink have a list of requirements, and I go through them for each book, to make sure I communicate to them what I want them to know and how I want the internals to look. They now have a template for me, so it’s an easy task both ways. Within a couple of days, I have the PDF of the print version sent back to me, and I can go through it to pick up anything that we want to change. I.e., if there’s a stray line at the top of an otherwise blank page. Mind you, they use Velum to create the internals, and that programme automatically sorts out most oddities.

Once I’m happy with the print version, I agree it, and they send me seven other files including the Kindle, ePub and Kobo – not that I use any of the others, but sometimes, I’ll give a book away for free and some readers prefer those other formats.

And Back to the Amazon Upload

So, now I have all files, including the full, wrap-around cover from Andjela, so the task ahead is easy. I simply upload the interna Kindle file via KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), and when that’s done, I set the price. Then comes the nerve-wracking bit where you have to press ‘I am ready to publish my book,’ but because OWI have done the layout, I know I’ve got nothing to worry about.

You may, once you’ve uploaded your internal file, get a message saying Amazon have found spelling mistakes, and you’re able to check these and the layout before you publish. My ‘spelling errors’ are usually unusual names or slang/dialect I have used along the way, but I still check them and ensure the book looks good in the Kindle, phone and table viewer.

Then, with the Kindle under review, I turn to the print version and do the same thing: upload the full cover and the internal file, both in PDF format. Again, you can check the layout and look before you proceed to pricing and publishing.

That’s it, really. Amazon say it can take 72 hours before the book goes live, but the ‘Agents’ Kindle version went live within two hours of me hitting ‘publish.’ The print version usually takes longer, but for me, no more than two days. Then, you can see all the links to the various Amazon stores where it’s available, and simply copy them to wherever you want them.

And After Amazon?

My next task, which I must see to today, is to list my latest book with my usual services. I use Queer Romance Ink as a listings place, because they do all kinds of wonderful things like interviews, giveaways, newsletters and features.

All Author is another where I have a dedicated Jackson Marsh page and listings.

I also have to update my Amazon Author Page and make sure the new book is listed there. I do this once both versions are available to make sure they both get listed.

I don’t know how it works with Goodreads, but somehow, my books find their way to an author page there too. I tend not to use Goodreads much.

Then? Well, then I hand things over to my PA Jenine and she organises me to put up posts of Facebook and in various groups to get the publicity machine rolling.

It’s not as hard as your think to publish on Amazon. I’ve been doing it for several years now it gets easier each time. I still have a checklist though, and read the terms, conditions and instructions in case they have changed. Go slowly, but if you do get into trouble, their author services help department are responsive and quick, very helpful and there to assist.

And now… Now I must return to chapter seven of Larkspur Four. Check Wednesday’s Work In Progress blog for my next update.

Work In Progress 2.2

While ‘Agents of the Truth’ is being formatted ahead of its release this weekend, I have started on book four of The Larkspur Mysteries series.

Larkspur Notes

So far, I have an outline, and have reached chapter five.

As usual with my first drafts, I am ploughing through, telling myself a story, and making lots of things up as I go along. While doing this, I am making notes to remind myself to come back to particular points later, so I don’t forget something vital, inventing a couple of new main characters, wondering where I am going, and reinventing history.

I have an idea that a ghost story will be involved; or rather, a myth about a ghost at Larkspur Hall. The ancient abbey, the church ruins, mesmerists and seances will all come into it, because mesmerists and the supernatural were popular pastimes in Victorian times, and I am researching that area as much as I can for authenticity.

You are getting sleeepppyyyy

Book four starts a couple of months after ‘Agents of the Truth’ ends, and where ‘Agents’ completes a trilogy within the series, book four (untitled) may end up being a standalone mystery with a new character who will become very important later in the series finale – whenever that might be.

So, that’s where I am. Sitting at my writing station with my notes open on my writing desk, flicking between the National Newspaper Archives for articles on mesmerists from the early 1890s, and with a copy of Gilda O’Neill’s ‘The Good Old Days’ by my side. (There is a chapter on tricksters that includes mesmerists which is proving very handy.) I shall get on with it now, and be back with you on Saturday when I hope to have the links for where you can buy and download ‘Agents of the Truth.’

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09CNXGHV3?binding=kindle_edition&ref=dbs_dp_rwt_sb_pc_tukn

Agents of The Truth: Cover Reveal

‘Agents of the Truth’ is nearly ready for publication. I am aiming for next weekend, 5th or 6th February for it to be live on Amazon. You will find the cover reveal at the bottom of this post along with the blurb and a section of the author’s notes to whet your appetite.

When I started on the Larkspur Series, I intended each book to concentrate on an individual new character and an independent mystery. Well, that went the way of the dodo, and books one to three turned out to be a trilogy. This happened for a couple of reasons. One, I fell in love with Dalston Blaze and Joe Tanner. Two, the mystery Dalston was brought to the academy to solve turned out to be too big for just one book. Actually, one mystery is dealt with in book one, but in doing so, a second mystery arises, and that’s what sees us through book two. By the time that finishes, there’s still an unanswered question, and that’s what drives book three.
So, before ‘Agents of the Truth’ comes out, I thought you might like an outline of books one and two, just to remind you of the story so far, or tempt you to start the series if you’ve not yet read it.

Guardians of the Poor (The Larkspur Mysteries Book One)

Starting in the cells of Newgate prison and a courtroom at the Old Bailey, Guardians introduces the reader to the Larkspur Academy through the eyes of Dalston Blaze. Dalston (named after where he was born) travels to Larkspur Hall, where he meets Lord Clearwater who asks him to investigate mysterious symbols carved into ancient standing stones on the Larkspur estate.
As well as meeting other characters at the academy, including the eccentric genius, Barbary Fleet, Dalston and the reader experience the house and grounds and learn some of the history of the Hall and the area. However, he has a mystery of his own, and as he gradually reveals his past to Clearwater, so he exposes himself to self-examination in what is essentially a coming-of-age story.
Dalston’s personal mystery takes us back to where he was brought up, the infamous Hackney Workhouse, where we meet Joe Tanner and learn of a dark secret Dalston and Joe need to expose.
With two mysteries running concurrently, and only one solved by the end of the book, the way is paved for a continuation, and that is book two.

Keepers of the Past (The Larkspur Mysteries Book Two)

The mystery of the standing stones is not yet fully understood, but now we have Joe Tanner in the picture. Joe is deaf and incredibly intelligent, and, since coming to live at Larkspur, allowed to be himself and his talents encouraged, he begins to investigate a mystery of his own. The coming-of-age element continues as Joe and Dalston’s relationship is able to develop, freed from the strictures of the workhouse. But, the course of true love never runs smoothly. With the pressures inherent in deafness, a secret relationship and adapting to a new life, Joe retreats into himself to solve his mystery.
While doing so, it becomes apparent that a series of murders over the past eight years not only have a connection to various ancient sites on Bodmin Moor but also to Larkspur Hall. Joe is convinced there is to be another, and with Fleet’s mentoring, and empowered by the academy to believe in himself, he sets about solving a very complicated riddle.
By the end of this story, Dalston’s original mystery might be solved, but another question arises: Who has committed the murders? That’s the mystery that leads us into book three.

Agents of the Truth (The Larkspur Mysteries Book Three)

In book one, we got to know Dalston Blaze. In book two, we learn much about Joe Tanner. In book three, we see them working together, although it is Dalston who, through no fault of his own, is left to put the puzzle pieces together.
Again, I have gone for a double mystery, and the story centres around Larkspur Hall and Clearwater House as Dalston and Joe head to London to solve clues. While there, they meet well-known archaeologists and painters, while, at Larkspur, Lord Clearwater prepares for a royal visit. Meanwhile, a shadowy figure from Clearwater’s past prepares to return…

The Blurb for ‘Agents of the Truth’:

“Despite your adversities, Mr Blaze, you remain unbroken because of who you are, not what you can or cannot do.”

Mrs Norwood, October 1890

Shakespeare, the Bible, Edgar Allan Poe… What could a series of random quotes have to do with a masked ball and eight unsolved murders?

Archer, Lord Clearwater, is hosting a masquerade at Larkspur Hall, and Prince Albert Victor is the guest of honour. The vitally important event is miles away from London, where Jimmy Wright has enlisted the help of Dalston Blaze and Joe Tanner in solving two mysteries: Who has been sending Archer cryptic notes, and who has murdered eight men on Bodmin Moor?

Dalston finds himself the only one who can solve both riddles, but self-doubt, his concerns for Joe, and his newly found admiration for Jimmy Wright are obstacles he must overcome if he is to prevent Lord Clearwater’s downfall.

But, what if the killer isn’t after His Lordship? What if the plan is to assassinate the prince? Or worse, someone much closer to Dalston’s heart?

Notes from the author

For this series, I am adding author’s notes to the end of the book. In the past, readers have asked me for information about some of the historical facts in the Clearwater Mysteries, so I decided to put these notes in purely out of interest. The other day, my author friend, Elle Keaton said she is immediately drawn to a book that has ‘archaeologist’ in its blurb, and as ‘Agents’ introduces us to three from the past, I thought this extract from the notes might be of interest.

From the author’s notes:
[While in the British Museum Reading Room in October 1890…] Dalston meets Samuel John Carter, father of the famed archaeologist, Howard Carter who discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1822. Samuel Carter was an artist and illustrator, and in 1890, Howard would have been sixteen, and was already showing a talent for sketching antiquities. That pursuit was encouraged by Lady Amhurst of Norfolk (as Stoker tells us in his letter), and, in 1891, she prompted the Egypt Exploration Fund to send him to the excavation of Beni Hasan in Middle Egypt. In 1892, when he was eighteen, Howard Carter worked with Flinders Petrie.
Joe and Dalston not only meet the Carters, but also two renowned archaeologists and Egyptologists, Flinders Petrie (1853 to 1942) and Margaret Murray (1863 to 1963). Petrie was already established in the field by that date, but Murray didn't begin her Egyptian studies until 1894 when she attended University College London, so I took a slight liberty there. However, her department head at UCL was Flanders Petrie, so again, it’s not impossible they used the Reading Room at the same time.

The cover reveal

And now, the cover reveal. Again, Andjela has come up with a masterpiece that evokes the atmosphere of the story while highlighting two elements from the plot.
Click the image to open the cover in a new window.


The Larkspur Mysteries Book Four

As yet untitled, I can tell you that Book Four starts with Dalston Blaze bringing a new character to the Academy. The first sequence is a bridge between books three and four, but from then on, we have a whole new mystery, a new lead character, a love story and, of course, plenty of complications, facts and fiction combined, some humour and an adventure. There are also to be plenty of surprises… But that’s another story…


Agents of the Truth is the third novel in The Larkspur Mysteries, and the stories are best read in order.

The Larkspur Mysteries follow on from The Clearwater Mysteries series, and both feature gay main characters, and are set at a time when homosexuality is illegal. They are a combination of MM/romance, mystery, and bromance, and are inspired by historical fact.

The Complete Clearwater Mysteries

Clearwater: The Cornish Connection.

Clearwater: The Cornish Connection.

The Clearwater Mysteries open in London’s East End in 1888, and for the first three books, the action centres around Clearwater House in the west of the city. We don’t get to Cornwall until the end of book four, ‘Fallen Splendour,’ and even then, it is only a fleeting visit. Clearwater’s country home, Larkspur Hall, begins to come to life in book five, ‘Bitter Bloodline’, and is one of the main settings for book ten, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’ It is, of course, also the star of the new Larkspur Academy series.

But where and what is Larkspur Hall, and where did it come from?

Larkspur Hall is a fictitious stately home in Cornwall, and a question I am often asked is…

Why Cornwall?

My mother moved from Kent to Cornwall in the 1980s, and I made my first visit there when I was about 20. I looked up where I was going and what I could expect, using books in those days, and asked others who had been there what they thought of the place. I was told to expect impressive cliffs, wild countryside, a dramatic coastline and superb, open vistas dotted with ancient monoliths and settlements.

I arrived at night on the train from Paddington, in itself, a romantic journey, and was taken to a remote farmhouse where my mother was living while she and my step-dad renovated a Wesleyan chapel they were converting into a home. It was dark, of course, but the following morning, I was up early to throw back the curtains and catch my first sight of the promised wild and inspiring countryside… and saw nothing but fog for two days.

Ah well, that was still romantically mysterious enough for me, and when the weather improved, it didn’t take long before I was exploring Penwith by bicycle and falling in love with the county. Penwith is the very last part of the last county in England, home to Land’s End and locations with enigmatic names such as Zennor, Kelynack, and Crows-an-wra where my mother’s chapel was/is. It is also where you find Penzance, of the pirates’ fame, but let’s not bring Gilbert and Sullivan into this.

I have returned to Cornwall many times over the years. My husband and I took the children there one Christmas and stayed in a remote farmhouse on the moors near the Nine Maidens stone circle.

On another visit one night, my antique Ford Escort delivered me to a guesthouse somewhere equally as remote just as the radiator blew up, leaving me somewhat stranded. The upside of this was an uninterrupted and unpolluted night sky. I have never seen so many stars. They seemed so close, I could have lit a cigar from them.

These days, living in Greece, I don’t have the chance to visit Cornwall very often, except in my imagination, and that’s a very tenuous link to the next question: Where and what is Larkspur Hall?

Larkspur Hall  

The name came from my imagination while I was writing book two, ‘Twisted Tracks.’ I just checked the original publication and noted, with alarm, that I had written, ‘Larkspur is Lord Clearwater’s country house two miles north of London.’ Cornwall is actually over 200 miles from London by car, and Bodmin, where Larkspur is now situated, is 259 miles from Knightsbridge and Clearwater House. I re-released ‘Twisted Tracks’ in 2020 and made the change. Larkspur is now described as being ‘miles west of the city’, and I left it vague because, then, I wasn’t then sure exactly where I was going to place it.

I can’t remember when I decided to put Larkspur on the edge of Bodmin Moor. I think it was while creating ‘Fallen Splendour’, but I chose the location for several reasons.

  1. It is remote, which is helpful when I want seclusion and a sense of being cut off from the world. Very useful for when we have an assassin stalking the grounds.
  2. The distance is handy for when we have a race against time. In the late 1880s, it would have taken up to 12 hours to reach Larkspur from London by train. When the race to stop a murder is on, changing lines, the weather and conflicting timetables all play a part in delaying the hero and heightening the tension.
  3. Bodmin Moor is wild, subject to rough weather, has an ancient history and is romantic. Moors have always been popular with romantic writers (Egdon Heath for Hardy, the Yorkshire Moors for Emily Brontë), because of their combination of loneliness, mystery and tradition.
  4. I like Cornwall. Simple
A beautiful and dramatic sunrise over Bodmin Moor

Is Larkspur Hall based on a real property?

Yes and no. I based it on several. When you read the Clearwater Mysteries, you will find characters mention how the Hall has been added to over the years, how it started life as an abbey, has a square tower, church-like pillars in the grand hall, and what I call a horseshoe staircase, which is actually an imperial staircase. (See photo, for the shape. At Larkspur, the stairs and balustrades are stone.)

An imperial staircase (sometimes erroneously known as a “double staircase”) is the name given to a staircase with divided flights. Usually, the first flight rises to a half-landing and then divides into two symmetrical flights both rising with an equal number of steps and turns to the next floor. [Wikipedia.]

This is a central point for a few action scenes in the Clearwater and Larkspur Mysteries, and appeals to my sense of the theatrical. As does the tower, the ruined church in the grounds, and the maze of servants’ passages. Larkspur is said to have 16 bedrooms, but they are actually suites, so include a sitting room, dressing room and bathroom. Thanks to Archer, the Hall is now powered by electricity and the servants’ rooms all have gas heaters and hot and cold running water.

The inspiration for the outside of the Hall came from several places. Lanhydrock House is one. Although Larkspur is taller and doesn’t have the protruding wings of Lanhydrock, the gatehouse is similar. (See photo.) You could also look at Highclare Castle where Downton Abbey is filmed, but if you do, only look at the front, and move its main tower from behind the building and stick it on the end of the west wing.

By the way, Lanhydrock is just south of Bodmin, and about six miles away from Larkspur.

There is an interpretation of Larkspur Hall on the cover of ‘Bitter Bloodline.’

I have an Ordnance Survey map of Bodmin Moor, and on it, I have marked the Larkspur estate. If you wanted to look up the estate boundary (on OS Explorer map 109), you would find it like this: The northern boundary abuts the village of Waterloo, and runs east to Medland, drops south from there to Fore Downs, west from there to Trago and beyond, and runs northwards back to Waterloo via Trewardale and Trewint. It takes in all of what is now the military land marked ‘danger area’, the A30 doesn’t exist, and I have wiped out several villages and hamlets. Sorry about that.

The Hall would be situated at Pounds Conce, and Larkspur Village would be roughly where Millpool is, but it’s all made up. Having said that, some places mentioned in the Clearwater and Larkspur Mysteries are real. Colvannick and the standing stones, Pengelly Farm, Blisland and many of the ancient sites mentioned in the books.

Which is another segue into…

Standing Stones. Fact or Fiction?

Featuring The Colvannick Stone Row

Fact: There are hundreds of ancient sites to visit in Cornwall, including the Colvannick Stone Row, the centre of the first two Larkspur Mysteries. Stone circles, monoliths, ancient settlements, barrows, cairns and fogous can be found almost anywhere in the county, and Bodmin Moor has its fair share. These were the inspiration for the mystery, ‘Keepers of the Past’, where most of what you read is based on existing monuments, history and fact. Most of, note, not all. To find out more, you can read the author’s notes at the back of the book. In the new series, the Larkspur Mysteries, I am putting these notes to give the reader some insight into how I mix fact and fiction. That is something I have been doing since Silas first appeared in ‘Deviant Desire’ looking through the gutters of Greychurch (Whitechapel), while Archer was at home in North Riverside (Knightsbridge), and Fecker was working at the docks in Limedock (Limehouse).

In the up-coming book three, ‘Agents of the Truth’, the characters visit the British Museum Reading Room, the Inns of Court, Newgate and Wormwood Scrubbs prisons, all real and described as they were in 1890. They also visit the Cheap Street Mission (fictional), and meet real one-day famous archaeologists, including Howard Carter, then aged 16. They also get to explore Larkspur Hall and other parts of Cornwall, as will you when you read ‘Agents of the Truth’, due out in February.

The Clearwater Mysteries

The Larkspur Mysteries

WIP Blog Ten: ‘Agents of the Truth’ Draft Three

 

WIP Blog Ten: ‘Agents of the Truth’ Draft Three

I am in week ten of writing the next Larkspur Mystery, ‘Agents of the Truth.’

Today, I will set about chapter 15, giving it a line edit. I’ve spent the last few days editing every line in the book from the start to the end of chapter 31, going through them for grammar, ease of reading, and picking up as many typos as I can.

My writing process so far:

Draft One: Write the story for me and keep each chapter as a separate file, titled by Number, Day of story, Point of Chapter. I just sit down and write it and don’t care how well I write the sentences but keep in mind the plot, character arcs and consistency.

Draft Two: I read-through for plotting, pacing and repetition. I eradicate what has become unnecessary; add in what I forgot last time. If I notice a typo, I run a search/find in Word for that typo, to check I’ve not done it elsewhere. I often do this with names. I might write Jams instead of James, so I search/find ‘James’ just to be sure it wasn’t a one-off. At this stage, the MS is in one large document. *Tip* Add oft-mistyped words to your autocorrect list.

Draft Three: I pull the draft two MS into separate chapters again, and run ProWritingAid (PWA) for grammar and style, overused words, sentence length, clichés and then, once again, style. This process picks up on the repetition of words and verbs (too many have/had/has in one block of text, for example). It identifies long sentences where I’ve joined separate thoughts/threads together with and, but, while… I also avidly check for adverbs. (Words like ‘avidly’.) These can be signs of lazy writing, and influence the ‘show don’t tell’ rule. Better than writing, ‘he said angrily’ is to show the character being angry. The PWA check also helps with typos and punctuation.

That’s where I am right now. Draft four will be another read-through before the MS goes to be proofread. I should point out that, if I feel it’s warranted, I will completely rewrite a chapter or section from scratch. I did this more when I was starting out than I now have a handle on construction and flow. These days, I know when to stop writing in draft one, tear that page out and start again, rather than leave in a substantial chunk or chapter to be dealt with later. So, drafts two onwards tend to be editing rather than rewriting.

And, while that’s going on, I have made a date with my proof-reader, so I have until January 24th to complete my edits, and I have sent a cover idea to Andjela and asked her to think about the image. The images today are some of the ‘idea shots’ I sent her.

The cover won’t be of a cute young man this time, because ‘Agents of the Truth’ is more of a classic detective story than it is about a dreamy young thing falling in love. It’s an adventure that changes a character’s life (two characters, actually), and it follows on from book two ‘Keepers of the Past.’

I am aiming for mid-February as a release date (while avoiding the Valentine’s Day deluge of romantic shorts that flood Amazon and KU every year.)

If you’ve not started the Larkspur series yet, you have time to begin at ‘Guardians of the Poor’ and enjoy the ride.

See you on Saturday for my regular, weekly author’s blog.

Jack

 

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.