WIP: Guardians of the Poor

Guardians of the Poor

This week, I want to share with you some inside info on my work in progress. Don’t worry, there are no spoilers.

The Larkspur Mysteries

I have started book one in my new series, ‘The Larkspur Mysteries’, and it’s titled ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ This series follows on from The Clearwater Mysteries, starting a few months after the end of ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’

Clearwater has set up his ‘academy’, a place where disadvantaged young men can develop their talents and skills. The men come from the streets, the Cheap Street Mission (for ex-rent boys), or from an impoverished elsewhere, but they have all caught Clearwater’s attention because of circumstance, ability or the ‘crime’ of being gay. Academy House, on the Larkspur estate, is under the leadership of a new character called Barbary Fleet, and if you thought Doctor Markland was bonkers, wait until you meet Fleet. At the start of the series, the House only houses four young men, and when we arrive there later in the book, two of them are already on their way to success.

So, it’s a low-key start for the Larkspur Academy (which is not a school), but my intention is to base each new mystery around either the House or someone living there. They won’t all be based on the Larkspur Estate, though. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, in Bow Street Magistrate’s Court…

The story starts with a newspaper article. In fact, it is almost a direct copy of the article that inspired the story, adjusted to fit my plot and character names. My main character is up in court and is being defended by Sir Easterby Creswell, assisted by James Wright. The strange thing, however, is that the main character wants to be sentenced because prison is the only way out of a life-or-death predicament.

He is called Dalston Blaze, and the story is about him and his friend from the workhouse, Joe Tanner. Joe is deaf, and although he’s not on stage much, he is, if you like, the protagonist. It’s him we are putting on the cover, and the lady who does my character drawings, DazzlingDezigns, drew me a portrait based on the model’s photo that Andjela is currently using to produce the cover.

You’ll have noticed that there are already two characters from the Clearwater Mysteries on stage, Cresswell and James. Also appearing in the line up for ‘Guardians’ are, in order of appearance, Silas, Mrs Norwood, Duncan Fairbairn, Archer Lord Clearwater, Jasper Blackwood, Nancarrow, Billy Barnett, Jonathan and Maxwell the footmen, Danylo and Andrej (Fecker) and, if you remember her, Mrs Flintwich, the original cook from ‘Deviant Desire.’

That looks like a big cast list, but some of our favourites only appear briefly because they are staff on the estate, and Dalston Blaze gets to meet some. The story is mainly told from Dalston and Archer’s points of view, though there are some scenes that involve Detective James Wright.

Who Were the Guardians and Why the Poor?

So, what does the title mean?

Dalston and his friend Joe are worker-inmates at the Hackney Workhouse. (Now both 18, they are employed as kitchen helpers, but they still live in the institution, thus, they are worker-inmates.) The workhouses were places funded by the ratepayers of the borough, where the destitute could go for shelter. It’s more complicated than that, but people could apply to become ‘inmates’ and if the board of Guardians approved their cases, could then expect to be housed and fed for as long as necessary. Some ‘indoor paupers’ stayed at the workhouse for years, while others, the ‘in and outs’, only stayed a few nights. Those who only needed a bed for one night, the ‘casuals’, were accommodated in a separate ‘ward’, and if you read ‘Banyak & Fecks’, you’ll get a decent account of what a night in the casual ward was like.

The Hackney Workhouse.

Joe and Dalston have been in the workhouse a long time. Dalston since birth and Joe since the age of 12. Living in a workhouse for so long was uncommon because children were usually sent to orphanages, children’s homes or fostered out, but it happened. If you want to know more about workhouse life, read one or all of the books by Peter Higginbotham, some of which I have been using for my research.

The Guardians were, in effect, the Board of Guardians, or if you like, the Workhouse oversight committee, the gentry and interested parties elected to see to the running of the institutions. Elected, because they were dealing with ratepayers’ money, and thus, the workhouses were accountable to the community.

And it is that accountability that is the catalyst in ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ You see, at my Hackney Workhouse, things are not as they should be. Someone has a whacking great dirty secret he wants covered up, but my protagonist, Joe the deaf guy (now aged 18), knows the secret, and he has the evidence to expose the scandal. Joe and Dalston had a plan, but now Joe is in hiding with the incriminating evidence, and Dalston is in court needing to go to gaol, otherwise, he will be killed for what he knows.

Part of the mystery involves strange symbols written on standing stones.

Enter Clearwater and the Larkspur Academy, and off we go into the story which I shan’t tell you about because I don’t what to spoil it for you. I will say, however, it involves the new academy, the Larkspur estate and house, but also symbols ancient and new, sign language, a fair amount of real history, a young man coming to terms with his sexuality, and an ending that leaves things open for book two.

So, in my story, the Guardians of the Poor are many. The workhouse board of guardians, the two characters who try to expose the nasty secret, and Lord Clearwater and his crew who guard disadvantaged young men who may also be ‘on the crew’ (his euphemism for being gay).

When will Guardians be Ready?

I can’t say just yet. I have finished the second draft at 106,000 words, and now need to go through it line by line for edits. I need to remove some repetitions and unnecessary ideas. When I write a first draft, I often put things into the story that I think will be useful later, or I write a dreadful sentence because I can’t think how to say something decently, and I’ll come back to it. Later, I have to go back to these and either get rid of them or improve them, and often by then, I’ve forgotten I put them there. So, I tread carefully through drafts two and three, which is what I am doing now, and when that is done, I will read the whole thing as one continuous story and make sure it works. Then, there may be more edits before I send it to Ann for proofreading, and after it is laid out, to Maryann for an ARC review. Meanwhile… Andjela is working on the cover.

My writing room.

That’s why I can’t say when the book will be released, but I hope to have it with you by the end of September. I also need to work out what book two will be about as I like to mention the next in a series at the end of the one before.

And that’s me for this week. It’s 40 degrees outside and humid. I have my godson coming for his piano lesson later, and before then, I still have 15 chapters to pick apart and put back together. So, I’ll leave you now and wish you a happy week to come, and hope to see you back here next Saturday.

Last week we took our oldest godson to dinner for his 18th birthday.

A Week of Work and Walking

A Week of Work and Walking

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

Guardians of the Poor

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

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

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

 

Walking

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

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

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

Godsons

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

 

Legal

An early morning boat trip.

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

And Back to the Books

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

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

Jackson

Latest News

Latest News

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

I was on Rhodes yesterday.

Guardians of the Poor

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

The gif below is BSL fingerspelling of ‘Larkspur.’

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

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

Now then…

Learning Sign Language

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

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

 

Workhouses

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

And generally

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

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

Thank you

Researching and the Larkspur Mystery Series

Researching and the Larkspur Mystery Series

Hi everyone,

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

What are the Larkspur Mysteries to be?

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

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

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

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

Anyway…

What is the First Story?

LLoyd’s Weekly London Newspaper June 1st 1890

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

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

The Hackney Workhouse.

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

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

And so it went on.

Inside the Hackney Workhouse, stone-breaking yard.

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

Workhouse Children, Dalston Blaze when young.

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

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

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


Lord Bastion Announces

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

Jackson

Lord Bastion Announces
Jackson Marsh

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