What’s in a Title?

What’s in a Title?

I am currently working on the first draft of the second Larkspur Mystery, and I’ve still not landed on a title. Titles usually come to me easily, but not this time. So, I thought, today, I would chat about some of my titles, explain where they came from and perhaps, that will give me inspiration for Larkspur Two, as it’s currently called.

Early Titles

Years ago, when I was young and everything was in black and white, I wrote a story. I was unemployed waiting for a new job to start, but the start date was delayed, and I had three months sitting around in a garret room (honestly) with very little money, so I sat and wrote all day, in longhand. It was a simple story about a young man running away from home and discovering London, falling for another young man who turned out to be a rent boy, and the friendship and eventual love affair that ensued. Towards the end, the pair went to Kent, had the best time of their lives, then came home, and a tragedy happened. I called that story ‘In From the Garden’.

Why?

No idea, really. It just felt right, but later, I realised that the two MCs had in fact come back from the garden of England, as the county of Kent is known, so maybe it came from there.

Gay erotic romanceSimilarly, the title of my first published book just came to me, and because I liked the phrase, I kept it. ‘Other People’s Dreams’ is about a rich man hiring four young, cute gay guys to crew his boat around the Greek islands. The job comes with a generous package of benefits and pay, but there are ‘certain strings attached.’

The inspiration for the story came to me when I was sitting on a beach here on Symi. I was on holiday here then, on my own, and was watching a yacht coming into the otherwise deserted bay. As it came close, I saw the crew were taking down the sails, and then I noticed they were all naked, and they were all men. ‘That’s someone’s dream,’ I thought, and suddenly, I not only had an idea for a story but also its title. That boat and the boys aboard were someone else’s dream. Simple.

The Mentor Series

Setting about a series of books that took older/younger and coming out as the key themes, I thought up another story that was mainly based around sex. This was another person’s dream, that of Camden, the MC, who is hired to mentor four younger gay men in a deserted house. His role is to help them develop their writing and personal skills, and overcome sexual inhibitions. I wanted the location of the story to be somewhere out of the way, and the title to reflect this, and that’s how I came up with The Mentor of Wildhill Farm.

Then, I thought, I’ll write a second one in the non-related series. (They are similar in theme, older/younger, coming out etc., but not with the same characters.) I knew it had to be The Mentor of… something and realised I had three words to come up with. One describes the atmosphere (wild), the second is a geographical feature (hill), and the third is the location of the story (farm). So, I made a list of suitable adjectives and locations.

  1. Remote, barren, lost, alone, distant, private…
  2. City, village, moor, wood, forest, marsh…
  3. House, estate, hall, ridge, castle, abbey…

From that brainstorming exercise, I came up with three titles for three more Mentor books, the Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge (I wanted to convey a barren landscape and rock climbing), of Lostwood Hall, and of Lonemarsh House. Each first part of the location reflects the younger man/men of the stories; wild, lost, alone, abandoned.

I was rather pleased with the subtlety, but I didn’t plan it.

Deviant Desire

What was more planned, and what took longer to arrive at, were the titles of the Clearwater novels, and of all of them, Deviant Desire took the longest to drop into place.

I think it started out as ‘Deviant Gaslight’ or something equally bizarre. I wanted to convey the Victorian era, shadows and deviancy, but then I wondered how the light from a gas lamp could be deviant. I sifted through all kinds of ideas as I was writing it because titles often come to me during the first draft. I must have entertained Dark Shadows, and then remembered it was a TV series, and how can shadows be light? I have my notes beside me, and in them, I see I also considered Deviant Lamplight, which was its title at the end of draft one. The word ‘deviant’ was clearly important, and as I went through the second draft, I asked myself what and who was I talking about? Silas was deviant (any gay man then was considered deviant), and he had a desire for sex, later for Clearwater, and their love would have been called a deviant desire, so that made sense. But the villain also had a desire for revenge and a desire to kill, and that, of course, is also deviant. By the end of draft two, I’d settled on ‘Deviant Desire’, and I am pleased to say, it is my best-selling novel to date.

Like the Mentor titles, the Clearwater series started out with a formula. In this case, an adjective and a noun, and I wanted all the forthcoming titles to have an adjective on the same theme as ‘deviant.’ I have a list somewhere, cribbed from a thesaurus or two, and from that list I came up with the words which best suited the story.

Twisted Tracks refers to the deviancy of both hero and villain, the laying of a tempting trail into a trap, and the climax which happens on a moving train.

Unspeakable Acts was a gift because I wanted a story set around a theatre, and chose the Royal Opera House, where not only were entertainment acts performing, but where the star couldn’t speak what he’d been ordered to speak by the villain. The villains were also involved in what Victorians called ‘unspeakable acts’, i.e. gay sex, and the Cleaver Street brothel. (Based on the Cleveland Street Scandal of 1889.)

Fallen Splendour came about because I wanted to base the mystery around a poem used as a coded message. One of my favourites is ‘The Splendour Falls’, an insert into a longer poem by Tennyson. He was alive at the time the story is set, so I dragged him into the story too. I liked the word ‘fallen’ because its reference to ‘fallen women’, as they were known then. Silas is a ‘fallen man’, you might say, and if the truth about Clearwater was known, he too would ‘fall’ from grace.

And so it went on.

Bitter Bloodline is about an ancient, bitter feud and Bram Stoker (in my world, then working on the beginnings of Dracula). Bitter also refers to the taste of a certain wine from the region of Transylvania, which plays a part in the story.

Artful Deception revolves around a piece of art and also refers to the way the characters outwit each other with theatrical devices.

From then on, the titles change. Things had happened in the series, and issues were resolved (no spoilers, but if you have read them, you might remember who has left the stories by then), and so, I was freer to play with the titles.

Home From Nowhere came to me during the writing and still gives me the same chill when I read the title as I felt when I wrote a short scene between Jasper and Andrej (Fecker). Fecks asks where Jasper is from, and Jasper tells him his background.

‘You come from everywhere,’ Mr Andrej said. ‘But you come from nowhere. Like me.’

That led to the title, and I wanted to use it at the very end of the story. However, watch out for doing this because it is such a cliché. It’s as much a cliché as characters in film repeating themselves for emphasis. ‘I know, son…(beat)…I know.’ Eek! Cringe, don’t do it. Similarly, finishing a novel with its title gives me the same creeps, so I changed it slightly for Jasper’s final speech.

‘I feel like I’ve been nowhere all my life, but now I’ve come home.’

Bless Jasper. He and Billy are each one half of a pair, and that’s how One Of A Pair came about. There is another play on words in there, and you will understand when you read the book.

At this point in these reis, I sidestepped to go backwards and explore how Silas and Fecker met. I reckoned a clever title wouldn’t be right, so I went for the simple Banyak & Fecks, their nicknames for each other. The title gave me the structure of the book. The nicknames come about during the story, but they are not the characters’ original names. Thus, the first quarter of the book is titled ‘Andrej’, the second, ‘Silas’, the third, ‘Andrej and Silas’, and it’s not until we come to the last quarter we get them fully-fledged as ‘Banyak & Fecks’. By then, they have become an inseparable pair, forever locked in a bromance, avoiding the Rippe’s knife and unknowingly about to step into Deviant Desire as two of the main characters.

In book nine of the series (not counting the prequel), I returned to the formula of the start of the series with Negative Exposure. The title refers to several aspects of the story; photography, posing naked, the risk of being found out… And in book ten, the only one without a figure on the cover, I couldn’t think of anything better than The Clearwater Inheritance. That was because it reflects not only to the main plot, the inheritance but also suggests something is coming after, and that something is the Larkspur Mysteries.

The Stoker ConnectionYou know, I’ve waffled enough for now, and still haven’t explained the Stoker Connection, The Blake Inheritance or Curious Moonlight, but I hope, by now, you’ve had an insight into how I come up with my tittles.

Except, it seems, for Larkspur Two.

Standing stones, ancient symbols, disappearances, a deaf main character, the wilds of Cornwall… There has to be something in there. I’ve just not got it yet.

Oh… By writing this, the word ‘signs’ has dropped into my head as a frontrunner, but Signs what or what Signs…? This is how my mind works, and I’ll leave you while it hopefully works some more, and I find the title. I am up to 80,000 words in the first draft, and I’ll tell you more about it soon. For now, I’m off.

Have a good week.

Jackson

You can find all my titles on the Jackson Marsh author page on Amazon.

What Do I Call My Character?

What Do I Call My Character?

‘No One Can Take Away Your Name.’ So says a character in The Clearwater Inheritance, and it’s true. It also reminds us that when we create a character’s name, it becomes very difficult to change it, especially when writing a series. So, how do you get it correct from the start?

I saw a post in a Facebook writers’ group the other day where an author was asking for advice about naming her characters. She gave a brief outline of each one, and then asked, ‘What should I call them?’ A brief outline isn’t much to go on, so I briefly told her what I do when I need to name a character.

Below are my thoughts on the subject in greater detail, and some of the ways I go about naming characters.

It is important to ask yourself some questions.

When do your Characters Live?

I am currently writing in the 1880s and my stories are set in England. Recently, when working on ‘Guardians of the Poor’, I was inspired by a newspaper article from the time. Mentioned in it was a workhouse official named Edward Capps. I took his name and made him the master of the Hackney workhouse, partly to keep some realism, partly because I wanted a villain with a fairly ordinary, yet slightly odd name, and it is an easy one to read. His henchman in that story is called Skaggot, a far more Dickensian name, and one which reads like a cross between skag and maggot, neither of which are very nice words. Skag is slang for heroin and was in use in the 1880s, and we all know what we think of maggots.

It’s worth remembering that some names in common usage today did not exist in Victorian times, so it’s important to check what era you are writing in, and the name trends of the time. These days, we might find Christian names such as Brooklyn, Phoenix, Brighton and other places as that seem to be a trend. Similarly, names from popular TV shows crop up from time to time. For example, there was an influx of Charlenes and Scotts when Neighbours first became popular in the UK. If you look at censuses from the late 1800s you will find a wealth of Mary-Ann, Charlotte and Victoria, and James, Albert and William. Far more traditional.

What country is the character from?

In Greece, it’s traditional for a couple’s first son to take the name of his paternal grandfather. I am sure the same kind of tradition applies in other countries, and in classes of British society. Sometimes, a mother’s maiden name is used, or a grandmother’s or a more distant relative. One of my brothers is named after a great-great-uncle, my other brother has among his names one of my father’s names, Clayre, which is an unusual name, and none of us knows where it came from.

I have written characters from Ireland, so I needed Irish names, and these can be very different from English names. Some are the same or very similar, for example, I have a character named Karan, and that’s the Irish spelling of Karen, so details are important to bear in mind. Ditto characters from Scotland, Ukraine and Transylvania, and others who appear in the Clearwater Mysteries, have country-appropriate names. My Romanian count wouldn’t have been called Charlie Smith. He is Roman Movileşti from the House of Bogdanesti (or Musat) because he has a lineage dating back to 1392.

Names can also make excellent book titles

An aside. When writing ‘Deviant Desire’, the first of the Clearwater Mysteries, I introduced a character called ‘Fecker’. There’s more about that name below, but his real name is Andrej, and that’s all we know about his name to start with. Later in the story, he appears at Clearwater’s house and is introduced by the footman. I wanted to raise a slight smile among my readers, and so gave the footman the task of announcing Andrej with his full name. Therefore, the name had to be complicated, but appropriate, and I went for Andrej Borysko Yakiv Kolisnychenko. Admittedly, not easy to read, and he was soon known as Mr Andrej, but his name was important. If/when you read through the series, including ‘Banyak & Fecks’ and particularly, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance,’ you will come to see why Andrej has these names, and why they are so important to him. As his mentor says during one of the stories, ‘No one can take away your name.’

As well as considering the character’s country, you should consider his location. There are differences in Christian and surnames between someone who is East London poor and someone who is West London rich. You don’t want to use cliché though. Not every East End scallywag was called Charlie, Bert or Dodger, and not all barmaids are called Betsy, Maisy and Poll. Try and be inventive, and one way to do that is to use nicknames. More about that in a moment.

How old is your character?

As I said, names, like clothes, come and go in fashion. Remember that your character may be 60 now, but when he was born, there may have been a different trend for names. When I was popped out, Toby was hip but unusual, these days, it’s more common.

You have to think, ‘Who were the parents, and what would they have called him/her?’ This gives you character background and some backstory, and a name can say a great deal about a character’s ancestors and parents. Think of the trends at the time and what was popular. Such things can include, the TV programmes of the time, pop singers, royalty, politicians, explorers, anyone hitting the newspapers in your country at the time of your character’s birth.

Parents, after all, are the ones who do the naming.

Take my main player in The Clearwater Mysteries: Archer Camoys Riddington, 19th Viscount Clearwater, Lord Baradan of Hapsburg-Bran, Honorary Boyar Musat-Rashnov, to give him his full set of names and titles. Obviously, I don’t refer to him by all of them all the time. The official announcements happen only two or three times during 11 books, and most of the time he is known as Archer, Archie, Your Lordship or Lord Clearwater. It depends on the status between characters. Titled friends would call him Clearwater, servants, My Lord, his lover, Archie, and so on.

Archer was named by his father, a hideously military man, who was obsessed with the Battle of Agincourt. Archer’s brother is called Crispin as the battle was fought on that day, and Archer is named after the longbowmen who were responsible for the victory. He’s also got Camoys as a name because he was one of the commanding officers.

So, think ‘Who named this character’ bascule you can be sure it wasn’t you.

Fantasy names

Having said that, you do name your characters, and none of the above thoughts may apply if you’re writing fantasy. There, you can be extra-creative, but be careful. Make sure your names are easy to read. Marthigglysistbour from the planet Zyghrthithril ain’t that easy to visually digest. I am immediately put off a book if the title has in it a difficult-to-read name. The Kronghstyz Series of Sci-Fi fantasies might fill its author with pride, but for me, it would get me scrolling past.

Names to suit characters

This is one of my faves. I love checking out what names mean or thinking about why characters are called what they are. I do this a lot, sometimes just to amuse myself with obscure references and meanings, sometimes because it suits the story.

Jasper Blackwood

This morning, I wrote a newspaper article from 1882, and in it, mentioned a local policeman. ‘It seems to me the man were murdered,’ Inspector Trawlish of the Cornish Constabulary said. The name came out of my fingers rather than my head, but I wanted something vaguely Cornish-sounding and thought of fishing. Trawler would have been too obvious for a detective, but Trawl-ish sounds like he’s not very accurate in his work, so I went with that. Later, I also had a tea rooms owner and she popped out as Mrs Killraddock. I don’t know why. Probably because it also sounds Cornish (and the story is set there in 1890), but looking at it again, I imagine Mrs Killraddock being not very good at cooking kippers. ‘Don’t ask her to make breakfast, she’ll kill yer ‘addock.’

Meanwhile… In The Clearwater Mysteries, Silas Hawkins is named after the priest who delivered him and slapped him into life, Father Patrick. However, Silas’ mother wanted the Priest’s name before he was ordained, and that was Silas. To have called him Patrick O’Anything Irish-sounding would have been a cliché.

Thomas Arthur Payne

Thomas Payne is named because he is from a part of Kent I know well and there, there live a large collection of families called Payne. Simple. It also provided me with a play on words when Tom Payne and James Wright become involved in the detective agency. They were going to call it ‘The Wright-Payne Detective Agency’ until Silas pointed out another meaning.

If you want to find the best examples of names suiting characters, you only have to read Dickens. He was a master of characterisation through naming as you can see with Uriah Heap, Mr Bumble, Uncle Pumblechook, and who can forget Dick Swiveller from The Old Curiosity Shop? Come to that, what about Master Bates (Charlie), one of the boys from Oliver Twist?

We’ll say no more, and move on.

Nicknames

I like to give my characters nicknames for two reasons.
1) It’s what happens in real life, and
2) They can help define characters and relationships.

In the Clearwater Mysteries, Silas calls Andrej, ‘Fecker’ because, in Silas’ Irish accent, ‘He’s a very handsome Fecker.’ The name stuck. Similarly, Fecker, shortened to Fecks, calls Silas Banyak. In the Ukrainian village Fecker comes from, a banyak was a small cooking pot into which you’d put all kinds of stuff to produce one meal. Thus, for Fecker, Silas is a mixture of all things bubbling away and always on heat. Banyak was also the name of a faithful horse that brought him halfway across Europe, so the name also symbolises Silas’ loyalty to his friend.

Beware the Obvious

To finish with, here are a few things I suggest you look out for when inventing names.

  • Make sure they don’t all start with the same letter. Archer, Andrew, Andrej, Allan, Alice and Amy all appearing on one page, even in one novel, is confusing.
  • Ensure the name are time and place appropriate
  • Remember who named them. Two of my characters are named after places. Jasper Blackwood got his surname from the workhouse where he was placed as a baby. Dalston Blaze got his name because he was an unknown child rescued from a fire in a place called Dalston. He was entered into the workout register as ‘The boy from the Dalston Blaze’ and the name stuck.
  • Ensure that you proofread and keep the names consistent (says he!). It’s easy to miss a letter or not see a typo. I often write Adnrey instead of Andrej and never see it.
  • Tip: When I am reading through a full MS and come across a typo, I immediately do a search/find for that misspelt word. That way, I can pick up any other instances and correct them before I miss them again.
  • Don’t make names too complicated, even if it reads perfectly well to you.
  • Try and say something about your character in their name (see Dickens)
    Keep a list of names used so you don’t repeat yourself. This can be tricky in places and times when something like 50% of males were all called by the same name, but you’ll find a way around it.
  • Consider nicknames, but make sure you explain, subtly, that Silas is also called Banyak, and Andrej is also called Fecker, or Fecks, etc.
  • Keep nicknames consistent with the character using them. For example, only Andrej calls Lord Clearwater ‘Geroy’. It means noble in his Ukrainian, so it would be inappropriate for others to use it. Only Andrej’s closest finds are allowed to call him Fecker, so nicknames can also show relationships between characters.

Resources

And finally, another tip.

There are hundreds of baby naming websites out there, simply search for ‘popular boy/girl names,’ and you will be set for life. If writing in the modern-day.

If writing in the past, census lists, passenger lists, ‘popular Victorian names’ searches, and so on will all be invaluable.

If writing about Irish characters, or wherever, do the same thing. ‘Popular Irish names…’ or search for names of Celtic saints, if you want something mystical and old. Countries, place names… Be inventive, find them on Google Maps.

Save a bookmark file named ‘character names’ or something, and put in there the links to websites you find that are of use.

There, those were my random thoughts on naming characters. I’m off now to work on chapter 17 of the next Larkspur Mystery (still untitled), where I will be inventing more names because I’ve got something like eight murder victims to think up.

It’s all part of the fun.

Thanks for reading and I’ll be back next Saturday.

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

Self-Publishing: How I Do It

Self-Publishing: How I Do It

Everyone should write a book, and many people do. Good. What you then do with it is another matter. What follows is what I do. I’m not saying it is the best or only way, but it has worked for me for several years, and I’m happy to share my thoughts and experience. So, here is what I do to get my books published.

No Vanity Publishing

First of all, I have never paid a vanity publisher and I never will. That’s where you pay a company to produce your book, and they send you a few copies and promise to sell the rest. You should never pay anyone to publish your work. Publishers should pay you, and that’s that. Of course, getting your work to a publisher is one story, having them accept it is another, and then having to abide by their guidance is something else entirely, and a topic for another day.

If you want to find an agent or a publisher, I recommend The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. It has everything you need.

My Method, Step by Step

I self-publish my books on Amazon as paperbacks, Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. There are many other ways to sell your book online, but this is the method I use.

My desk this morning.

I Write the Book

First, I write the book… Actually, first I write the blurb, the text that goes on the back of the cover and on the book’s Amazon page. Doing that helps me focus on what the book is about, and I can always change the blurb later. So, with an overall idea of the story noted down, I start writing.
I write draft one.
I start again with draft two.
Then I start on draft three, which is more like an edit of draft two, then draft four… and so on. Often, before I have finished editing, I set my mind to the cover.

Covers

Book covers sell books, and it’s worth investing in a designer who knows what they are doing.

I used to design my own covers, and there are still some of my older books out there (as James Collins) with my designs on the front. Since writing as Jackson Marsh, I have employed a professional designer. My designer charges me €80.00 for the main front cover (for Kindle), the full cover (for print), and her price includes changes, setting the back text, working out the spine and sending me the upload file. All Jackson Marsh covers have been designed by Andjela K.

There are several places you can go to find a designer, and prices vary. I found Andjela through People Per Hour and her page is here. Andjela K. From there, you can explore the rest of the site.

Recently, I commissioned another artist to draw me some illustrations of the Clearwater characters, mainly for my website, but perhaps, one day, they will end up in a book. I found Dazzlingdezines on Fiverr.com, and again, you can explore the site from that link. I recently commissioned my first map from Khayyam Aktar who I found on the same site.

These sites have strict rules about copyright and ownership of commissioned work, and it is worth reading them before you commission someone.

The map designed by Khayyam Aktar

When the Writing Stops

The book is finished, yippee! You’ve written it, edited it, cut and paste, ripped things out, started again… whatever, you are happy with your final draft. If you are not, ask yourself why and go back and fix what your gut tells you isn’t right.
Then, read it through again from top to bottom to see how many typos you can pick up.
Leave it alone for a week or so.
Read it again and see how many more typos you can pick up.
Hire a proof-reader.

Now then, there is also a stage there which I’ve missed out and that’s working with an editor. I have a friend who is a professional editor and who reads and comments on my third or fourth draft, and I listen to what he says. You may want to hire a professional editor, but I can’t tell you what costs you might incur, because I’ve never paid an editor.

Back to the Proof-Reading.

You can read your own work 100 times and still not notice every error of spelling or punctuation. I used to have several friends read my final draft and send me their own notes/corrections, and frankly, it was clumsy, and I felt bad about asking them. These days, I hire a professional proof-reader, Ann Attwood.

One of Dazzlingdezines’ character sketches

When I think my manuscript (MS) will be ready in, say a couple of weeks, I contact Ann to fix a date when she can work on it. That then becomes my deadline and pushes me towards getting the MS polished. Ann reads it, I wait like a schoolboy expecting an exam result, and the MS comes back. In this case, it comes in Word with ‘track changes’ open, so I can see what Ann has changed or fixed, and I can agree with them or not. (I invariably do.)

Having read through the MS again, I check the blurb one last time. Then, I send the blurb to Andjela to add to the full cover, and give her a rough idea of the page count so she can fix the spine. You won’t know the final page count until the book has been laid out, so make sure your designer is flexible about making changes after the cover is done.

As for the cost, you should expect to pay around £1.00 per 1,000 words, though prices vary, and different proof-readers charge different amounts.

Layout

Previously, I used Adobe InDesign to do my own internal layout. Remember, I am not a designer, but I knew how to use about 10% of the program and that was all I needed.

Other Worlds Ink author services

From ‘Negative Exposure’ onwards, I have been using Other Worlds Ink to layout my pages, and they do a great job. They understand about widows and orphans (odd words hanging on the first and last lines that don’t look right) and use a program that takes care of other technical things that were tedious to do in InDesign. They also sort out the page numbering, content, front and back matter* setting, and insertion of maps and illustrations – should I ever have any.

My files come back from Other Worlds Ink, and they supply the PDF for print, the various files for e-readers, Kindle etc, and they will also undertake changes when, a few months after publication, you realise you’ve left in a couple of typos.

* Front and back matter. Your book should have ‘front matter’ for sure. That’s the publishing details. If in doubt, look at the front pages of one of my books and you will see what I include; legal notice, credits, list of other novels etc.

And So, To Amazon

Everything you need to know about self-publishing via Amazon is on Amazon, you just need to know where to find it.

Kindle Direct Publishing(KDP) is the place. First, read the pages on the site.

Set up an account, or use your Amazon account login, and you will find a dashboard that’s easy to use. Mind you, I have been using it for so many years now, I’m bound to say that. I seem to remember some trial and error, but nothing daunting as long as you read everything carefully. They have a very good help department for authors.

To take you through the actual uploading process would take too long, and would be rather pointless as it’s self-explanatory, but…

My author page on Amazon (part of it)

You create an eBook, paperback or both. Upload details such as title and author name, and assign an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). Amazon will assign you one if you are only going to sell on Amazon, and as that’s what I do, I can’t comment on how you go about getting ISBNs for other publishing platforms.

You choose your genre, categories and keywords, and upload your blurb, cover and internal files.

You set your price to ensure you make something on each sale. The base price is a minimum that covers Amazon’s costs. Then, you press submit.

There are processes for checking as you go. You can test the Kindle file on various online readers, and see the print book’s inside to check its layout, and Amazon will get back to you if there are any issues. They are particular about cover size, for example, so always read the guidelines.

A day or so later, sometimes more immediately, a message comes back to say your book is available, and they give you the links to the pages where it appears.

And Afterwards?

Well, that’s all to do with setting up an author page, maybe a website, a Facebook page, organising your publicity, and trying to sell the thing. That is definitely a post for another day.

For more information and advice, I’d suggest joining a Facebook group or two. There are plenty, and you will soon come to realise which is best for you. Everyone’s experience is different, as are their methods, and the above is a basic outline of how I go about it. I’m happy to answer broad questions if I can, and you can contact me on my email here.

Before you do, though, please note: I won’t publish your book for you, I don’t read unsolicited samples, and I’m not going to hold anyone’s hand as they explore Amazon KDP for the first time because all the instructions are there. If in doubt, hire an expert. Yes, you will have to pay, but you won’t be paying a vanity publisher, which means, you keep control of your work from start to finish. Amazon says you can ‘publish for free, but really, you must expect an outlay. Without taking into account my time, I expect to pay around €300.00 to publish one of my books. I pay for the cover design, stock photos to use on the cover, professional proofreading and the layout artist. I do it because I love writing stories and improving my writing with each one.

That’s it. See you next week.

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.

Meanwhile, In the Real World

Meanwhile, In the Real World

After the release of The Clearwater Inheritance and the sales promotion that went with it, I thought I’d find myself wondering what to do next. Not so! In fact, I have a few things going on at the moment, and I thought this Saturday’s blog would be a good place to tell you about them.

Firstly, I want to thank everyone who took part in the recent book promotion, where we made ‘Deviant Desire’ free for a couple of days. Jenine organised this as a way to publicise the whole series. The idea, of course, was to boost sales of the books that follow in the series, and that’s what seems to be happening. Thank you to everyone who shared the news, wrote a review and made nice comments about the books on Facebook and so on. Keep up the good work.

The Larkspur Series

And on to what comes next… As you may know, I said that ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ marked the end of the Clearwater series, and yet it doesn’t. The characters will live on in The Larkspur Mysteries, and I have already started book number one. It has a working title of ‘Dalston Blaze’ after the main character. In it, we not only meet new characters (three or four so far, and I am on chapter 12 of the first draft), but we also meet up with characters from the previous books. However, you don’t have to have read the Clearwater series to enjoy what’s coming next. In this first book, we’ve already met Silas and James running their detective agency with the help of Mrs Norwood and a new character we met briefly in Clearwater 10, Duncan Fairbairn. Later, our MC, Dalston Blaze, is introduced to Archer down at Larkspur Hall. There, he meets a few other characters from the previous books and on the Larkspur estate, but mainly, he meets others at the new academy, by now (July 1890) being run from the old dower house.

Dalston is 18 and from the workhouse, and I am researching those institutions as much as I can to get some genuine background and flavour. There are flashbacks to life in the workhouse. There are coded symbols and messages involved as the mystery, a villain, of course, and likely as not, there will be a chase before the climax. There is also a friendship/love story, although that’s not the main thrust of the drama. I have already involved steam trains! I don’t know when this book will be ready. I expect it will be at least two months before I start thinking about its cover and publication.

The Haunted Manor

No, that’s not the next book; it’s a model kit I have started building. You might know I like to put together horror figure models, those made by Aurora in the 60s and 70s, and then re-released by Polar Lights and others. So far, I’ve made the Phantom, Dracula, the Witch and the Invisible Man.

I am halfway through the Wolfman but have put him aside because a new one came on the market. It’s not the same line as the others, but I made it when I was about 12 and wanted to have another go. It’s a model with moving parts, originally released by Disney, and it’s called ‘The Haunted Manor, Play it again Tom.’ It’s a man playing the organ, inside of which there’s a lurking mummy. I’ll let you see it when it’s finished.

Summer

That might not be for a while yet, because it’s starting to warm up here in Greece, and the paints dry too fast in their pots. So far on our little Greek island, the summer season has had a slow start. Understandable, of course, and we are hoping for more visitors as travel restrictions are eased. Neil is working at the bar for his two hours per day while I am at home writing, making my model, playing the piano for a friend who likes to sing, or teaching my godson to play. He should be taking his grade one examination at the end of next month, so we’re both nervously excited about that.

When I can, I’ve been taking some walks in the mornings before it gets too hot. I wander up the hill, thinking up the next chapter and occasionally stop for photos. I should do it every day, but I’m still not back in the routine. On the other hand, Neil has been walking and swimming most days, so he’s lost weight put on over the winter, whereas I haven’t. Yet. He’s also going to do an introduction to scuba diving course. Me? Er, no.

And Back to the Books

So, that’s my brief and general news from the desk this week. Next week, there will be something about music, and I am trying to remember which of my books involve music or have something to do with it…

The Clearwater Inheritance, Home From Nowhere, One of a Pair, Unspeakable Acts, The Students of Barrenmoor Ridge (both are musicians), The Blake Inheritance (involves a secret and a church organ), and The Mentor of Lonemarsh House (a music producer and a violinist).

If you’ve not read any of those, you can find all my books listed on my Amazon Author page here.

Have a great week to come, and I’ll be back next week to continue my series of ‘The real history behind the stories’, this time, looking at the music that features in my novels.

The Clearwater Inheritance. The End of the Line?

The Clearwater Inheritance. The End of the Line?

I have quite a lot of news for you today, starting with the release of ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, book ten in the series. As I write, the Kindle version is now available to download, and the book is also on Kindle Unlimited. You can find it here. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0971F1HT3 That’s the Amazon.com link, but it is available in other Amazon countries/sites too.

The paperback version is still being checked by the Amazon bots and going through that process but should be available any moment if it’s not already out there. You will be able to find it from the main Clearwater Series page here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07RPCKF4L

Is this the end of Clearwater?

In a word, no. Having written ten stories and a prequel, so 11 books in total, I thought it might be time for a change. However, I enjoy the Clearwater world and characters so much, I don’t want to let them go. What was starting to become a problem for me, though, was having so many characters I wanted to write about, and I was looking for a way to deal with this. In ‘Inheritance’, I wanted to give a sense of something ending and something about to begin, and I wanted as many of my principles to play a part as possible without the story becoming cluttered. So, without giving anything away…

In ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, you’ll find four storylines taking place, and all leading to the same end: Who will inherit the Clearwater fortune and name? The story is set in three locations; Larkspur Hall in Cornwall, Clearwater House in London and across Europe. After it becomes clear that the inheritance is in jeopardy, the ‘crew’ split up to work various leads. Some stay at Larkspur, some go to London, and two head off to the Carpathian Mountains. Each team is working their own lead and has their own tasks. Meanwhile, the usurper to the Clearwater fortune is heading towards them with a devious plan of his own.

That’s the basic outline, but Clearwater’s inheritance (and thus, his ability to fund charities, run the mission, help those in need and do what he does) is not the only thing that might be lost. His new venture, The Larkspur Academy, will not happen if he loses the race to secure what is rightfully his. And that’s where the continuation comes in.

I’m now starting on the follow-on series, The Larkspur Mysteries. My intention is to bring in new characters and make each mystery/love story/mashup mainly about one new and central character. However, they exist in the Clearwater world. So, in the first book, which currently has a working title of ‘Dalston Blaze’, we meet an eighteen-year-old chap brought up in a workhouse. He is rescued from a predicament and sent to Larkspur to join the new ‘Academy.’ Thus, some of the existing characters play parts in the new series but are not always central. I’ll say no more for fear of giving away things that happen in ‘Inheritance.’

Thanks

This seems an appropriate place to thank people for their help in making the Clearwater series such a popular success. First of all, you, the readers who keep the writing going not only through book sales and reviews but also through interaction on my Facebook page. I must also thank those who work behind the scenes to ensure historical accuracy, people such as Andy Ward, my railways guru who helps with timetables and routes and all those factual details I love to insert into the fiction. Jenine, my PA, who does sterling work to promote the books and this site, and who keeps me in line with orders to post this and write an interview for that while holding down two full-time jobs, one of which is bringing up my two godchildren. Similarly, I must thank Neil, my husband, for reading the first drafts, calling me a ‘bastard’ for making him cry and laughing in the right places.

On the publishing side, my proofreader, Ann Attwood, tirelessly corrects my punctuation and typos with the patience of a saint and never complains when I repeatedly make the same mistakes despite her notes. Andjela K, my cover designer who, I think you’ll agree, produces some amazing covers. She does this from a few notes I send her and always seems to understand exactly what I am after. For ‘Inheritance’, I would like to thank Khayyam Akhtar, who produced an accurate map of the route two characters take across Europe, including the route of the Orient Express, which features in the story. The map is based on an existing German map of the time. Finally, Scott and Mark at Other Worlds Ink who now do my layout and interior design, and their reviewer Maryann who has been so supportive.

Price changes

And now for some business news. Thanks to various changes in tax and stuff I don’t fully understand, I have to put up the price of my eBooks and paperbacks. We noticed that many people sell their ‘novels’ at the same price as me, but those novels are actually novellas or even short stories. I have always tried to keep my prices low, but I was recently reminded that I am producing full-length novels of at least 90,000 words, and I should be offering them at a price more appropriate to the amount of material. For example, ‘Inheritance’ is 150,000 words long (which is why the print costs are more than usual), and that’s a lot of typing for a return of only $0.17c per sale.

However, for three days starting tomorrow, the first in the series will be run as a giveaway, so ‘Deviant Desire’ will be available for free for a very limited time. This is to celebrate the ‘end’ of the series and hopefully encourage new readers to start at the beginning and carry on through by buying the other 10 books. This, by the way, will be my first ever price rise since I started publishing ten years ago.

Instagram

A quick note. I now have an Instagram account/page/thing, and although I don’t really know what Instagram does, you can now follow me there.

MM Fiction Café on Sunday has an Interview with Archer

The MM Fiction Café will be hosting an interview with Archer, Lord Clearwater, this Sunday, 13th June. Check out their blog post, and find out a little more about Archer than you might already know.

A Treat from Doctor Markland

And finally… Another talented artist has been working with me to produce sketches of some of the characters for the Clearwater Family page, which you can find in the main menu. Dazzling Designz works through a ‘work for sale’ site and has been drawing several of the Clearwater crew over the last few months.

Her latest is a sketch of Doctor Markland, the scatty but brilliant doctor who first appears in ‘Deviant Desire.’ (He actually appears in the prequel, Banyak & Fecks too, if you look closely). The Doc has just appeared in an early scene in the new Larkspur Academy series, so he’s still with us. I thought I’d end by showing you the sketch. This is how I imagine him. Oh, and here’s a little known fact… When I was born, I was delivered — in the harsh winter of 63 when the Romney Marshes were deep in snow and the roads impassable — by our family doctor, Doctor Markland. He was nothing like the Doc in my books, though he did, apparently, take a first look at me and say, ‘He looks like a keen beer drinker; you should call him Toby,’ so he wasn’t far off.

I’ll be back next week. If, in the meantime, you want something to read, then ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ is out there and waiting.

Do We Judge a Book by its Cover? Part 2

Do We Judge a Book by its Cover? Part 2

Today, we have the second in our series ‘Do we judge a book by its cover?’ Here, I’ve invited some of my favourite authors to chat about their covers and what’s behind them. The reason for this is because I have a new Clearwater Mystery coming out during the coming week, and Andjela K has once again done me proud with the cover. This is the first Clearwater with no person on the cover, and there’s a reason for that. Being the 10th in the series, and the ending of one thing and the start of another, and concerns more than one main character. In fact, the story follows three paths, all leading to the same overarching end in one story, but the question was, who to put on the front?

As you can see, I didn’t put anyone on it (apart from a train driver, if you look closely, but he’s not in the story). What I asked for was a representation of the main ‘props’ in the story. In this case, you can see Rasnov Castle in Transylvania, the Orient Express as we now call it, and a piece of music by Bach, one of the preludes referred to in the mystery. I hope the cover also suggests a journey, snow, urgency and the period.

So, that’s what we’re talking about today; book covers. I’ll now hand you over to my guests.

 


 

A Little Morbid

by Olivier Bosman

Book 3 in The John Billings Mysteries

Published February 9, 2021

(Victorian mystery, the occult, Egypt, Treasure Hunt, LGBT)

 

The year is 1895.
An ancient manuscript claiming to hold the secrets of God’s creation;
A cunning old woman trying to make sense of it;
A deluded psychopath intent on stealing it away from her.
Following on from the events in “A Glimpse of Heaven”, Billings and Trotter travel to Egypt in search of the elusive “Codex of Solomon”, where things suddenly start becoming… a little morbid.

 

 Why did you choose this cover for your book?

The posture and clothes of the man in the picture give him an air of mystery.

Do you design it yourself or pass over to a specialist designer? What’s your process?

This was a premade cover, but I asked the designer to add an Egyptian background.

Are you making a statement with the cover?

Yes. It’s clear that this is a Victorian mystery set in Egypt.

Do you ask others for feedback or go with your gut feeling?

I go with gut feeling. If I ask for feedback I get contrasting opinions and that only confuses matters.

Do you usually do a cover reveal event?

No. I just announce my new book on Facebook and my newsletter without too much fanfare. It’s important to have a cover well before release date so you can do some marketing.

Who would be your ultimate person to provide a quote or appraisal for the cover of one of your future books?

I haven’t done that yet, nor have I thought about it. I’m not even sure who the leading author in my particular genre is. I guess it’s because my writing falls between genres.

Find Olivier at his website https://www.olivierbosman.com/
Universal book link https://books2read.com/alittlemorbid
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/olivier.bosman.author

**********************************

 

99 Days

by Matt Converse

Published May 27, 2021

 

(M/M, Sci-fi, romance, thriller, novella)

 

 

Life as we know it will never be the same. Flying saucers are spotted all over the world. But after one crashes into the San Francisco Bay, they disappear. Not far from the crash, Mitch rents his spare room to Claytone and quickly develops a crush. But what he doesn’t know is that Claytone will soon turn his world— and heart, upside down. Claytone’s final revelation will reach even further; it will change life on planet Earth— forever.

 

Why did you chose this cover for your book?

I looked through many pics at the site my publisher offers to choose from and this one grabbed my attention the second I saw it.

Do you design it yourself or pass over to a specialist designer? What’s your process?

I pick out the picture and font of the lettering I want, then my publisher’s cover designer works her magic.

Are you making a statement with the cover?

I certainly hope so. I think it fits the contents of the book very well.

Do you ask others for feedback or go with your gut feeling?

I go with my gut feeling.

Do you usually do a cover reveal event?

I do a cover reveal of my two main social media platforms, Facebook and twitter.

Who would be your ultimate person to provide a quote or appraisal for the cover of one of your future books?

This is my only m/m sci-fi, most of mine are LGBT horror and thriller, so I wouldn’t mind a quote from Stephen King!

Amazon profile: https://www.amazon.com/Matt-Converse/e/B00TKCCVWY/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/matt.converse.39

Universal buy link: https://smarturl.it/99Days

**********************************

 

Silly Little Love Songs

by Frank W. Butterfield

The Latest book in The Romantical Adventures of Whit & Eddie Series

Published May 18, 2021

(Mystery, Hitman, Elders, Redemption, Billionaires)

 

It’s a mystery about a mystery. Sal Desimone was executed in 1948 for the murder of Pete Rudd. But did Sal really do it? Or was he covering for someone else? Whit and Eddie are digging into the past to find out the truth. But will doing so get them or the people they love killed?

 

Tell us why you chose this cover for your book?

This is the ninth book in the series, and it follows the template.

Do you design it yourself or pass over to a specialist designer? What’s your process?

I designed this myself with help from designer Ron Perry. Since I publish rapidly across a number of series, Ron helps me develop a template I can then adapt when new titles are ready.

Are you making a statement with the cover?

Yes! Just prior to the publication of this book, I revised the template and updated all the covers. There are two MCs and I previously only had one (Whit) on the cover. I added the other MC (Eddie) to the template and really like the results!

Do you ask others for feedback or go with your gut feeling?

I ask my loyal readers for their feedback but primarily follow my inner feeling about whether it’s right or not.

Follow Frank on his website https://frankwbutterfield.com

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/FrankWButterfield/

Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09581QSW9

 


I’d like to thank everyone for contributing to today’s post. Make sure you click through and read more about these books – you’re not going to be disappointed!

Have a great week, Jackson

The Real History Behind The Clearwater Series

Part 2 – Trains

This is the second blog in a series where I look at the real historical events and facts behind my Clearwater Mysteries Series. Today we talk about my love of train travel, how it features in the books and are joined by my personal Railway Guru, Andy.

There is a lot of train travel in The Clearwater Mysteries, and for two reasons. Firstly, in the era in which the books are set, there were no cars or aeroplanes, travel was steam-powered, horse-driven, by sail, or you could walk. Secondly, I’ve always had a thing for travel, maps and routes. Within that is an interest in steam trains, though I am no expert. It must be in my blood, this thing about locomotives, and if it is, I can identify a good reason why.

The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway: A Childhood on the Tracks

It’s ironic, maybe, that I was born in 1963, the year the first Beeching report was undertaken. ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’ sought to streamline the nationalised railways industry and was responsible for identifying 2,363 stations for closure (55%) and 30% of route miles. It’s also interesting that when I was born, my small, fairly remote hometown still had a railway station, and steam trains were still in use on mainlines, although they were being replaced by diesel. However, I can honestly say that the first time I ever travelled by train, it was pulled by a steam locomotive.

New Romney Railway (1966) – YouTube film

A mile from where I was born (in a petrol station and car repair shop, by the way) was, and still is, the central station for the world’s smallest passenger-carrying light railway. That’s the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (RHDR), a 13.5-mile steam railway on a 15-inch gauge. The line was opened in 1927 and later expanded, much used by the military in WWII, and runs today as a popular tourist attraction. When I was at school, my classmates from out of town used it to get to school, and when I was growing up, it was part of my playground. I have childhood memories of not only riding on it but also being at the stations among the steam, playing on the tracks and simply watching the locomotives trailing steam and smoke across the marsh.

As an aside, at some point in the 70s, my godmother, The Dowager Lady Alvingham (on whom Lady Marshall is based in the Clearwater books), showed an interest in buying a castle that stands on a hill overlooking Romney Marsh. At the same time, my uncle, who had a passion for model railways, showed an interest in buying the RHDR. Their plan was to sit in Aunty Dolly’s castle, watching Uncle Hugh’s ‘toy’ trainset chugging across the flatlands below. Sadly, it never came to fruition, but my uncle did give us the model layout he’d built, and my father installed it in our attic. It was a vast landscape about 12 feet by four, had houses with working lights, the Flying Scotsman with real smoke, and provided hours of endless fascination for my brothers and me.

Still Chugging

My interest in train travel is still chugging along. In fact, it is my preferred method of travel. There is something romantic in planning a journey, and sometimes I think I am a frustrated travel agent. I don’t mean popping into Expedia and booking a flight and hotel; I mean looking at a map, working out what railways will get you there, finding the timetables and working out the connections.

Our travel companion, Paddington, at budapest train station

A few years ago, Neil and I decided on a Central European holiday. It was my fault, really. I wanted to travel a few countries by train, so I got out the atlas, Googled a bit, and set to work on a route. Because we live on an island, we had to start the journey by boat and fly to our first destination, Vienna. We were met by Neil’s brother, who lives there, and travelled into the city by train, so that was a good start. After a couple of days there, we moved on, and in the space of a couple of weeks, went from Vienna to Prague to Budapest to Belgrade on a variety of train journeys, some more classy than others.

Me fulfilling a bit of a dream, on a train, in the Carpathian mountains, coming back from Transylvania

Before this, we had been to Romania for my 50th birthday, flying into Bucharest and then taking the train into the Carpathian Mountains to Sighisoara, the alleged birthplace of Vlad Tepes on whom Stoker based Dracula. We also travelled by train to Brasov and stayed there on the way back to Bucharest, and we did all this first-class because, in Europe, ticket prices are often a tenth of the price they are in the UK and elsewhere.

I mention all this because, in the upcoming novel ‘The Clearwater Inheritance,’ some of the characters find themselves travelling by train and visit, among other places, Vienna, Budapest, and Brasov, and they journey through the Carpathian Mountains.

 

Across Canada by train, 2020

One of my life’s ambitions was to travel across Canada by train, a five-day journey from Toronto to Vancouver. (We passed through a place called Clearwater, and stopped at a place called Collins.) This we achieved last year, just before the world was overcome by the virus.

 

 

Seen in Vancouver

Actually, we left Vancouver at the end of the Canadian leg of the journey, the day after the country went into lockdown. Although our trip wasn’t over, we had to cut the London and Athens legs short as there was no point in going there; everything was shut. Rearranging flights at two in the morning while sitting in an airport, buying boat tickets, finding hotels, and wondering whether we might have to travel from London to Athens by hire car or train… Well, for me, that was like a weird dream come true. The travel agent in me kicked in, and we became like continents on ‘The Amazing Race.’

You won’t be surprised to learn I am keen on ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ by Jules Verne.

——————————————————————————-

At this point I thought it would be fun to invite my good friend Andy over tell us a little about himself. He has become my Railway Guru, always willing to answer my questions and check facts for me as I research the series. I asked him where his love of trains came from and how that seed grew.

I first became interested in railways at the age of 10 when my parents unwisely bought me an “ABC” locomotive spotting book to shut me up on an interminable family holiday rail journey from Birmingham to Ilfracombe. They came to very much regret doing this as my bedroom filled up with railway magazines, models, and bits of actual railway equipment. I was already interested in buses as there was a major bus depot a few minutes walk from my house. Through the teenage years the interests became more advanced with much borrowing of books from the library, and at the same time steam was disappearing from the UK national railway network. No doubt all that reading about how things came to be the way they were encouraged me to take a University degree in history, and then start a career in transport management (buses in this case). A switch to managing freight transport followed, and then manufacturing industry.

So great that your childhood hobby grew into your career. And I know that even now in retirement you have managed to carry on in a new capacity…

The view of the Booking Officer

Yes, after semi-retirement I took up a part-time position at my local heritage steam railway as Booking Office Supervisor, surrounded by 1898 vintage buildings, real working steam trains, and a superb shop selling second hand railway books. I have also added looking at ferries and aircraft to my transport studies.

When not doing this I like reading fiction, often set in the late-Victorian, Edwardian, 1920/30/40s era, and sneering at authors who get their railway facts wrong (and so often their geography too). Being used as a consultant on your “Clearwater” series was immensely satisfying as a result.

Thank you Andy and I really think that maybe it will be your turn next to write a book!

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So back to my writing and how I use trains in the Clearwater Mysteries.

The first time a train appears is in chapter one of book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’.

James Joseph Wright was born on January 10th, 1863, at the precise moment the world’s first underground train delivered its passengers to Farringdon station. As the locomotive puffed and fumed from the tunnel, James’s mother, some four miles distant, puffed and fumed through her own first delivery.

That’s the only time an underground train is mentioned in the series, but overground trains start to feature from then on. I started this book with an ending in mind. I wanted one of those classic ‘fight on the roof of a moving train’ moments and wanted to add in men on horseback riding alongside, someone (James) inching along the outside of the trucks, the villain doing away with the driver, and the train racing out of control towards a fiery end… And that’s exactly what you get.

Archer wasn’t far behind, galloping from the ridge to the rear of the train and encouraging his mount with his crop. The horse knew its purpose and worked with him, delivering him up the embankment to the backplate. The viscount drew level with the last car, stood in the stirrups, and grabbed the rail. With one great leap, he left the saddle and swung his legs across to the car. He landed first time and clambered aboard as the horse veered off and slowed. Archer wasted no time climbing to the roof, and James turned his attention to the engine.

‘Jimmy!’ Archer was above him, fighting the wind for his balance. ‘Warn the driver. Stop the train.’

Everything was shadows and speed, gusts and fumes as James fought his way to the next car. Wooden, it offered a narrow walkway, making it easier for him to pass, but there were no handholds apart from cracks in the planking where he dug his fingertips, pressing his body flat against the side. He didn’t know how many more cars there were before the tender, but the headlamps were still a way off. The driver was expecting to continue straight on and was steaming the engine hard. [Twisted Tracks, chapter 24.]

Fallen Splendour and Other Journeys

Trains appear again in book four, ‘Fallen Splendour.’ For this one, I wanted another tense sequence and included a race against time. In this case, I had to get James from London to the Welsh coast to collect Archer and get them both back to the High Court in London in as few hours as possible. Initially, I thought I had not left myself enough time and thought I might have to rewrite some chapters because the time I had given James to achieve his task seemed unreasonably short. Then I referred to my railways guru, Andy, and he told me about ‘specials.’ Apparently, if you had enough money and clout, you could have the railways put on a special train just for you, and this, they could do with a few hours’ notice. Perfect! Of course, being a Clearwater novel, I didn’t go for just any old special, which is why Archer finds himself steaming through the night in Queen Victoria’s royal carriage.

Bitter Bloodline’ (book five) starts with a train crash. ‘Artful Deception’ (book six) takes us across the English Channel and on a relatively short journey to the Netherlands and back, plus another train journey to Derbyshire. In book seven, ‘Home From Nowhere’, Jasper encounters his first journey by train.

Jasper’s fear soon gave way to intrigue when the train moved, and became awe when it picked up speed. It wasn’t long before he began to enjoy the rhythmic trundling, and the only time he thought he was going to die was when they passed through a tunnel. The

sound was deafening, smoke poured in through the window, and the carriage was plunged into darkness. It was over in seconds, leaving the footman struggling with the window, and Jasper shaking.

Train journeys are also featured in books eight and nine, but when we reach book ten… Well, that’s when I thought it was time to branch out from the domestic lines and go intercontinental.

The Clearwater Inheritance

You know how I am with ‘Dracula’, the epistolary novel to end all epistolary novels in my opinion… I employ a little of this ‘story in journals, letters, and other documents’ style in The Clearwater Inheritance.

Dracula opens with Jonathan Harker writing about his journey from Munich to Bistritz (now called Bistrita), travelling through Vienna and Budapest. Two of my characters take the same route because they are also travelling to Transylvania (though that’s got nothing to do with vampires).

I may have travelled on similar routes, but not, obviously, in the same century or on the same kind of trains, so I had to do some research into how such a journey would have been. You know how you sometimes get lucky? I put a search string into the search engine that read something like this: ‘Travelling in Europe in 1890’, and what should I find in a book collection?

Travels in Various Parts of Europe During the Years 1888, 1889 and 1890, Being a short and practical account, by Gilbert H. W. Harrison (with 24 illustrations).

I couldn’t have asked for anything better and was able to draw on first-person accounts of Folkestone, the channel crossing, Paris, Vienna, Budapest and parts of Hungary as they had been experienced in the same year as my story. I even have my characters stay at or mention hotels and stations Harrison saw and described.

Harrison was on a tourist route, however, and my characters follow the same route until they realise Thomas Cook & Son haven’t grasped the urgency of their journey. There are other delays, and backstory from ‘Banyak & Fecks’ comes into play at one point, as do other pre-mentioned backstories concerting Lady Clearwater’s Romanian/Transylvanian connections and other things to do with Archer’s past. Ultimately, my travelling characters need to get back to England in a hurry.

The map created for ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ based on one from 1912. All rights reserved. Dark lines and lighter solid lines show the Orient Express routes, dotted lines are the characters’ other routes.

Again, I spoke to Andy about this side of the story and asked how long it would have taken from Bodmin in Cornwall to Brasov in what is now Romania in 1890. He came back with suggested times and routes. Finding original timetables is never easy, but I reckon, in the story, I am as close to what was possible as I can be. For the return journey, though, I needed to speed things up a bit and so looked into using the Express d’Orient, the Orient Express as we now call it.

A timetable from The Orient Express

A couple of chapters happen aboard this luxury train, but this is not an Agatha Christie, and the journey to and from Brasov is only one aspect of the story, but again, I tried to be as accurate as possible, at least with descriptions and distances. I had to reschedule the Orient Express to a different day, else the rest of the plot wouldn’t work, but apart from that, the race home is, as far as I can see, accurate, if a little tight. The characters have an awful lot of luck making steamers and ‘very early’ trains, but hey, it’s fiction and fact mixed, faction, you might say, and it was all possible.

End of the line

Is book ten the end of the line for Clearwater? Has the series finally reached its destination? All I can say is, running at 150,000 words, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ is the longest of the stories, and it does have a sense of rounding things off. It also has a sense of leaving something open for another series set in the same world, and it is that idea I will be considering once this book has been published.

Look out for my newsletter at the start of June, as there will be an extract from the book included as a special preview for those who sign up. (There won’t be any plot spoilers.)

I must go now, but I will add a list of references I have used for my railway research as a guide for anyone who is interested to know more.

Books:


 

Journal of the Society of Arts (1891), Austro-Hungarian Railways and the Zone System
London Daily News 1890 (and other newspapers of the time)

Online:

GlobalSecurity.org (on which my map of the route is based) https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/europe/orient-express.htm

The Man In Seat 61

 

 

News From Both Worlds

News From Both Worlds

Hello everyone, here’s what’s going on in my writing world and my real world. Let’s start with where we are right now, at my website.

The Clearwater Family

We are starting to build new pages. Have a look at the top menu, and you will see The Clearwater Family. You can click on that to find links to individual pages about the main characters in the Clearwater series. So far, we have interviews with Jasper, Thomas, Andrej and James, and more will come along in time. When they are published as a blog post, they will also be available under the family. So, if you have missed any chats with the characters, you can find them there. This is part of the ongoing project, ‘The Clearwater Companion.’

The Clearwater Inheritance

The news on Clearwater 10 is that I am almost at the end of the third draft, while Neil is almost at the end of his beta read. Proofing is booked in for May 25th, Anjela is working on the cover, and I am aiming for publication in early June.

There are no spoilers here, but already I have overheard Neil in the other room muttering things like, ‘You can’t do that!’ ‘Oh no!’ ‘Ha! I knew it!’ and other helpful/unhelpful asides. There are a few twists, a code, lots of history, an evil villain, and a certain amount of travel involved in this story, which is to be the longest of the Clearwater collection so far.

Flash Fiction

I have devoted my writing time to the Clearwater series for the last two years because it grabbed me, and I love writing it. But, during that time, I was also able to release The Students of Barrenmoor Ridge, and recently, I was invited to enter a flash fiction anthology competition. I’ve never written flash fiction before (I had to look up what it was), but I thought I’d have a go. The competition called for only 300 words which, to me, is more like a sentence – lol – rather, a couple of paragraphs, but I did my best. The very short story has a beginning, middle, end, something to do with gay/love, and is kind of in the required genre of mystery/sci-fi/fantasy. Oh, and it also had to be about ink, as if there weren’t enough constraints already. I won’t know the outcome for a while yet, but if it is not accepted into the anthology, I will post it here.

Meanwhile…

Meanwhile, here in Symi, Greece, we are at last allowed to go to the pub. Well, to the kafenion and the tavernas as we don’t have pubs.

Easter on Symi. Neil made the cake.

There are still restrictions in place, but they are easing ahead of the opening up for tourism date of May 15th. This could be an excellent thing for the economy, but not such a good thing for health; we will have to wait and see. If you want to know more about where I live and what we do on Symi, click the link for my five times per week blog from the island, Symi Dream.

Neil and I have had our first vaccination against ‘the thing’, and the second one is due next week. I had a couple of dodgy days after the first, with heavy cold/flu symptoms and a very painful arm, but you know what us writers are like, I just got on with it, and it passed.

At Rhodes Old Town with my godson

Also, a couple of weeks ago, I went to Rhodes for the first time in 13 months. In fact, it was my first time off our island since we came back from Canada last year. This trip was to start the process of proving I have the right to live in Greece now the UK has left the EU. Tedious, I know, and don’t get me started on Brexit. I am now waiting to go back to Rhodes to have a fingerprint taken as the second stage of my application to remain as a third-country national. Neil is still a European citizen because he has an Irish passport, lucky thing. We’ve been here nearly 19 years, had a business and all that, and I should have no trouble getting my new residency card. I hope!

Next

And now, I am four chapters away from the end of the latest draft of the Clearwater Inheritance, and so I must get on.

Yesterday’s sunrise seen from our roof

Neil has gone for a walk and a swim, as the temperature has been up to 30 degrees of late, but I am chained to the desk and deadline. I have been out for a few walks recently, and I need to do more to get rid of some of this lockdown lard. I’ve spent the last year at the desk, making models or watching endless TV series, with only a few strolls up and down the hills and not my usual five days per week schedule. Still, I’ve got lots written and a few models made.

Two of the horror figure models I have made during lockdown – and a photo of Neil created by Anjela in the Clearwater style

So, thanks for reading. Keep in touch and keep following the Facebook page, sharing things around and leaving reviews. I’ll be back next week with… something else to chat about.