New Release: Negative Exposure

New Release: Negative Exposure

Today I have news of my latest release, Negative Exposure.

This is book nine in the ongoing Clearwater Mystery series. It not only gives you a mystery, an exciting finale with a face-off and chase, but it also paves the way for book ten—more about that in a minute. First, I would like to tell you a little about what is behind Negative Exposure and how I came to write it.

Banyak & Fecks

Although this is book nine in the popular series, it is born out of the series prequel, Banyak & Fecks. When I was writing the prequel, I was researching what my main character, Silas Hawkins, might have done to make ends meet. If you have read it, you will know he moved to London in 1884, aged 16, to find his fortune, send money home to his sisters so they could survive. He was always a petty-criminal and not afraid of the law, so he fell into dipping (pickpocketing) and running scams. Having met Andrej (Fecks), he discovered prostitution, which led him to pose naked for a photographer.

There is a scene in Banyak & Fecks where Silas goes to have his photos taken, and it all goes wrong (no spoilers). That was the starting point for the idea behind Negative Exposure.

The story starts in December 1889 and the second Clearwater Foundation gala, held at the Lyceum Theatre in London. Silas is now the Foundation’s public face, and the Queen’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor, is considering becoming a patron of the charity. It’s all going well, but then Silas’ old life comes back to haunt him. The story of his past unfolds, and in the narrative, we’re taken back to the scene of the photographic session. From then on, the mystery becomes more complicated as James and Fecker work together to discover the villain’s identity and do something about it before it’s too late…

The Obscene Publications Act of 1857

This act of British law, also called Lord Campbell’s Act, was introduced into statute because, Prior to this Act, the “exposure for sale” of “obscene books and prints” had been made illegal by the Vagrancy Act 1824. but the publication of obscene material was a common-law misdemeanour. The effective prosecution of authors and publishers was difficult even in cases where the material was clearly intended as pornography. [Wikipedia]

Researching into this act, because I like to include factual historical details in my fiction, I discovered that the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Campbell, presided over its creation when the House of Commons was debating a bill to restrict the sale of poisons. Campbell made the analogy that (what we now call) pornography was a sale of poison more deadly than prussic acid, strychnine or arsenic. So, our obscenity laws stemmed from the sale of poison, and the act was not repealed and updated until over one hundred years later, in 1959.

All very interesting, but what I found more interesting was the law didn’t say anything about those who made the pornography or appeared in it. It was purely to do with the sale of printed works. More interesting, though typical of the time, was the blatant hypocrisy behind notions of pornography. It was something that would adversely affect women and young people — men, it seems, were not affected by images of naked men. I also looked into that and had to wonder how a person can pose for an artist and have a nude painting represent, say, a Classic figure from mythology and people call it acceptable art, and yet a naked man posing in the same fashion but for a camera was considered pornography. That was something of a rabbit hole, and one I may go further down one day.

All interesting stuff, and slightly explored in Negative Exposure, which is more a mystery thriller than it is a work about the originals of the Obscene Publications Act of 1857.

The Russian or Asiatic Influenza Pandemic of 1889/1890

Another aspect of Negative Exposure is the background world, what was actually happening in London in 1889, and that, ironically enough, was an influenza pandemic. It started in Asia and quickly spread across Europe in 1889, reaching London late in the year, just about the time my story starts. That, I thought, would act as a handy added layer of tension and could also make for a couple of twists.

And On To Book Ten

While writing Negative Exposure, my mind was already fast-forwarding to the next book.

Now then, some people might think that ten books in one series is enough, and right now, I agree. It’s not that I am getting tired of my characters or world, but I wonder if the reader might be. As the series has grown, so has the cast list, and there is now a group of ten main characters. They, I thought, might make for a good and final part ten. ‘The Power of Ten’ was my original idea, and I thought of a story that would see all ten main players banding together to fix one final mystery.

[The ten, by the way, would be: Clearwater and Silas, James and Thomas, Jasper & Billy, Fecker & Lucy, Mrs Norwood, Doctor Markland.]

Map showing the spread of the pandemic, 1889 to 1890

However, when I started on Negative Exposure and brought in the influenza pandemic as background colour, another idea occurred to me. This was an idea I had a while back, and one that concerns Archer (Lord Clearwater’s) title and estates. It’s complicated because he is the second son and the oldest one—the ‘real’ viscount—is still alive though stripped of his title (which, I don’t think, was possible, but this is fiction). So, I started to think, what would happen if Archer’s land, money, charities, business and all that were in jeopardy? Not the man himself, but everything he stands for. Well, actually, why not the man himself as well? What if Archer stands to lose everything? How might that come about? What could be done to save it?

And that’s how part ten has started. So far, it is titled ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, and the last couple of chapters of Negative Exposure pave the way and start the story rolling.

I am working on it. It’s turning out to be complicated to hone down to the simplest way of explaining the inheritance problem and how it might be shifted from one man to another, and it’s giving me a headache. But, once I have the technicalities nailed down, the rest of the story will flow because I have already invented it in my head.

‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ won’t be out for a few months, as I have to get everything right, and there are lots of ends to tie up before the series finishes.

Except, it’s not going to finish, not really, and not if I can keep the momentum and direct it into a siding. You see, I have an idea for a second series based in the Clearwater World, and the groundwork for that is also laid out in the final chapters of Negative Exposure, and the foundations will be laid during the telling of book ten, The Clearwater Inheritance.

No promises, but don’t worry that you after book ten you won’t read of Archer, Silas, Fecks and the crew, because they will be back as background characters in a new series, ‘The Larkspur Academy Mysteries’, or adventures, or… well, it’s all still rather in the planning stage, and I am not even sure it will be written.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling from me. The main point here is that Negative Exposure is now available in paperback and Kindle and on Kindle Unlimited if you use that service, and it’s set at the same price as all my other books. Just follow the links, read, enjoy, and if you do, review and share the news.

Thanks for being here, and I will see you next week.

Jackson

Negative Exposure & A Valentine’s Peek

Negative Exposure & a Valentine’s Peek

Hi, welcome to my Saturday blog. Today, I want to tell you more about ‘Negative Exposure, the Clearwater Mysteries, Book Nine’, and give you a heads-up about something special for Valentine’s Day.

Negative Exposure

This is the ninth book in the ongoing series, the Clearwater Mysteries (though the 10th book in the Clearwater world, as there is a non-mystery prequel, ‘Banyak & Fecks’).

If you’ve been following the series, you’ll know that after the mayhem of books one to six, there was a break in pace for two slower, calmer mysteries, ‘Home from Nowhere’ and ‘One of a Pair’.

Inspiration for part of the cover

Well, with ‘Negative Exposure’, the Clearwater crew is back to detecting, unlocking clues, racing against time and battling things out on stormy clifftops. While I’m about it, I’m also drawing on information and events from the prequel and other novels through the series, and bringing in the real flu pandemic of 1889. (It was around for longer, but this story takes place in December 1889.)

Negative Exposure is also setting things up for Clearwater 10, which will be the prelude to a change in direction, but not an end to the Clearwater world. I’m still thinking about this idea, so my plans might change.

Negative Exposure starts at the end of the 2nd Clearwater Gala, this time, held at the Lyceum Theatre, London as discussed by Clearwater, Henry Irving and Bram Stoker in ‘Artful Deception.’ Everything’s going well until, the next day, two pieces of potentially devastating news arrive at Clearwater House. One, brought by Dr Markland, involves the spreading pandemic, the other is found by Harvey in Silas’ coat pocket, and threatens to blow Silas and Archer’s world apart.

What is it?

These days, we would probably call it pornography, back then the word, although in existence, wasn’t widely used, so I’ve gone with ‘erotica’ and other Victorian euphemisms. James leads the investigation, with Silas and Fecker also involved, and it takes them back into Silas’ past and an event from ‘Banyak & Fecks’, on to the Cheap Street Mission, and later, to the wilds of the west coast of Scotland. During all of this, there is a growing sexual frisson between two major characters who should not be attracted to each other. There is no great love story, other than my favourite theme of friendship and how far we would go for our friends.

I’ve decided to release a sample of the story in a special newsletter on Valentines Day, not because the story is about love, but as a gift for readers.

Valentine’s Day

On this day, I will be sending out a newsletter that will include part of a chapter from ‘Negative Exposure.’ I have yet to decide precisely what chapter and what part as it’s one of those stories that follows on scene by scene, and doesn’t have a section that can easily be taken out and posted as a standalone piece, but… well, we’ll see.

If you’ve not signed up to the newsletter, you can do it here with a couple of clicks.

I usually only send one per month, and I don’t bombard people with other writers’ books’ sales opportunities or news. It’s purely informal and personal, with news of my work and what I have been doing here on our quiet Greek island.

Back to Editing

While writing this post, I am in the middle of editing ‘Negative Exposure.’ I am currently on chapter 12 of 24, going through each page line by line, removing repeats and shaving off too many passive verbs and dangling modifiers, and all that grammar jazz. I’m also ensuring that clues tie-up, backstories are consistent, and words are spelt correctly. The manuscript is booked in with my proof-reader for February 15th, which means I am aiming for a release date in the week of February 22nd. Not long to wait now. It also means I have a tight deadline and as each chapter takes me roughly two hours to line-edit, I can’t hang around, and I need to get back to work.

First, though, I am finishing my cup of tea before going for a short walk around our village for the exercise. It gets in the way of my writing but must be done, and while I am doing it, I can put together an outline for Book 10, which has a working title of ‘The Final Prelude’, but that’s very much at the in-the-imagination draft stage right now.

One last thing, an appeal. If you’ve read any of my books and liked them, it would be helpful if you could give them a good rate on Amazon, or even a short review, and share news of the books around your social media. I know many of you do, but new readers might not know how much those small actions can help a writer develop his audience.

Thank you, and look out for the Valentine’s Day newsletter and your exclusive peek at ‘Negative Exposure’, the Clearwater Mysteries, Book Nine.

Jack

What’s a Novel without Characters?

What’s a Novel without Characters?

Last week, I was talking about how I write a novel. Today, I want to talk about characters. After all, what’s a novel without characters?

Character Vs Characterisation.

In his book on screenwriting, Story, Robert McKee discusses the difference between character and characterisation, a concept that confounds many. Characterisation, he says, “is the sum of all observable qualities of a human being.”

So: age, height, sexuality, choice of vehicle, speech style, dress sense, personality, behaviour, job… And so on.

Many people, particularly new writers, think such things show a person’s character. They don’t, they are their characteristics. So, what makes a character and, more importantly, how do you show character when writing a novel?

My rule here is to never write something like, ‘Oh, Tony? Yeah, he’s a dodgy character,’ and leave it at that. Show Tony is dodgy (whatever that means), show him doing something so the reader imagines for himself how dodgy Tony must be.

Yeah, okay, but how?

Robert McKee, one of the gurus of screenplay writing, says: ‘True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.’

He also says the pressure is essential, and that reminded me of a writing truism. In this case, it was said best by Syd Field in his work, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting

“All drama is conflict. Without conflict, you have no action; without action, you have no character; without character, you have no story; and without story, you have no screenplay.”

For screenplay, you can read novel, play, musical, story…

How do I show character?

All this theory made me think about my characters and how I set about creating them. I shall be honest here, sometimes I don’t think about a character before I write him/her, I just let them write themselves as I go. In other cases, I sit and consider the character beforehand, and at other times, I imagine someone I know, put them in a story-appropriate costume and setting, and write them doing what I think that person would do. Later, as I go through the drafts of a novel, I pay more attention to whether that character would actually do whatever it is I have them doing. I ask myself, would they say that? And more importantly, would they choose to do that? Sometimes, they just do it, and they’ve made a decision and shown character before I realise what I’ve written. That, for me, is when I know the characters I am creating are real.

Here are some examples of how I show character in The Clearwater Mysteries. Some of these examples were planned, others just happened because I was being led by the characters I was creating.

Silas Hawkins

At one point in ‘Deviant Desire’, Silas and Fecker take Clearwater and Thomas into the East End to see the sites of the Ripper murders. Archer (Clearwater) is looking for clues and becomes increasingly aware of the life Silas has been living. He is also falling in love with the Silas. Seeing how he lives, the squalor and the danger, Archer, being an impetuous romantic, offers Silas a new life and declares his love for him. They happen to be at a Ripper murder site, in the dark, with a mob of vigilantes fast approaching, all of which are designed to add the conflict, drama and tension to what should be a romantic scene.

On hearing a handsome, wealthy man, a viscount, is offering him a way out of his hellish existence, and knowing that he has feelings for Archer, what does Silas do? In a classic romance novel he might swoon into the man’s arms and say, ‘Take me away from all this,’ but this is a Clearwater novel. Silas simply says no, tells Archer to run before they are caught, and disappears into the night.

That rejection defines his character. He’s not weak, he’s not swooning, he’s taking himself out of a ‘dream come true’ situation because he can’t cope with the idea of being loved. That’s his character or part of it, and we learn from that scene that Silas is insecure about love, but strong when it comes to his convictions.

James Wright

In book four, ‘Fallen Splendour’, we know that James is handsome, a ‘jock’ by today’s standards, literate and loyal, and we know he was bullied when younger, but these are characteristics. So, we need him to show character. Cut to the scene where Inspector Adelaide has taken Silas from Clearwater House and thrown him in gaol, Archer and Fecker are away, Thomas is at Larkspur, and two strangers, the Norwoods, have come to look after the house. James is alone, and because of the way Adelaide behaved, he suffers a flashback to his bullying. He crumples by the door thinking all is lost but, hs anger at Adelaide unlocks an inner strength. Refusing to be put down, bullied and trampled over, and does something about it. The conflict of the scene, the arrest, brings out the best in James. He chooses not to give in, chooses to seek help, and so his character develops from servant to friend to businessman.

Archer, Lord Clearwater

Of all the characters, Archer is the one most driven by outrageous, character-defining decisions, mainly because he can. The fifth richest nobleman in the country, he has the resources to do whatever he wants. He could give his life over to pleasure if he wanted, as so many rich landowners did. He could spend his time at any one of his homes and evict those families who rent his property if he fancied using it for himself. He could attend balls and galas, the theatre and dinners simply to socialise, and he could treat his servants like shit as his father treated them, and treated Archer.

He doesn’t.

He has more money than any of us can dream of, and yet chooses to use it for others. He sets up a charity to help who we’d now call rent boys, which, in 1888, was a fairly dangerous thing to do as it could invite all manner of negative speculation. Archer doesn’t care. He treats his staff well, is constantly trying to promote them and make them his equals if not friends (his fatal flaw), and he chooses to see the best in people (another flaw which nearly leads to his death on a few occasions). We get from that that Archer is a kind man, but it’s deeper than that. Like Silas, he needs to be loved, but for different reasons, and although it would be easy for him to throw money at people to make them happy, he doesn’t. His charity is also a business concern, his fundraising galas are also social manipulation, he gathers influential friends and knows how to play the political game while choosing to fill his house with staff we’d call gay or gay-friendly. In other words, in a time and place when being gay was punishable by two years in prison with hard labour, he chooses to tread a dangerous path and risk losing everything including his title, by protecting other gay men.

Some of Archer’s character-making decisions are made under great pressure. Examples: Knowing the Ripper’s identity and that the man is dangerous, he opts to accept his invitation to a potentially fatal confrontation (twice). When faced with a bland, legally correct and society-expected speech in front of 2,000 people at the Lyceum Theatre, he sets it aside to speak from the heart. (That’s book nine, you’ll have to wait for that.) Those are but a few examples.

Thomas Payne

Today, Tom is interviewed exclusively at the MM Fiction Café.

These interviews are an excellent way for a writer to stop and think more deeply about the character he has created. In this case, it’s Thomas Arthur Payne, and I was attending more to his characteristics than his character choices.

Thomas begins his fictional life as Clearwater’s footman, later, his butler and, at the end of book nine as something else (no spoilers!). Tom’s interview is accompanied by a drawing that I had commissioned (left), and I’ve posted it here so you can get a rough idea of how I see him. The drawing is pretty accurate except I notice the artist gave him an earring, which he would not have worn, and his cheeks are a bit chubby, but that was her interpretation of my description and everyone imagines characters in their own way.

Check out Tom’s chat with Josh at MM Fiction Café, and you will learn a few things about him that you won’t find in the books.

Finally

There is a line in a film, and I can’t remember which one, where someone says, ‘History judges us not on what we choose to do, but on what we choose not to do,’ and that also works when putting together a character. Ultimately, choices, or choosing not to make them, define character, particularly decisions made under pressure and during conflict because, as Syd Field says, “All drama is conflict. Without conflict, you have no action; without action, you have no character; without character, you have no story.”

[Currently, Saturday morning, European time, the Fiction Café server is having an issue. You may need to check back with it later to read the interview.]

How I Write a Novel

How I Write a Novel
Thoughts, Tips and Tricks

For this week’s blog, I’ve jotted some notes on how I go about writing a novel. There was once a book on my shelves titled ‘The Three Rules of Novel Writing’, but I discarded that years ago because, according to some, there are no rules to writing a novel. That’s not true. Mark Twain agreed that there were three, “Write, write and write”, and endless websites and creative writing commentators come up with lists of what you should and shouldn’t do when you want to write a novel. I tend to side with Mr Twain: Write.

The word ‘novel’ originated from the Latin novella, a singular noun use of the neuter plural of novellus, diminutive of novus, meaning ‘new’. We’ve probably all used the word, as in, ‘That’s a novel idea,’ and that’s exactly what a novel should be; a novel idea expressed through the medium of storytelling, one of mankind’s oldest forms of communication. Take it to the extreme, and you could write anything and call it a novel. For example, I’ve seen some books that had no punctuation or no speech marks around dialogue… Hideously affected if you ask me, and they come across as publisher-wank, for want of a better way to put it, and being ‘original’ for the sake of it. My advice? Avoid!

But I am not here to lecture on the art and craft of writing a novel, simply to tell you how I do it and what my thoughts on novel writing are. So let’s leap straight into a common question I am asked when being interviewed. Are you a pantster or a plotter?

Pantster

When I first came across the word pantster, I thought it was some fetish-related quirk or a typo, but soon discovered it refers to someone who makes it up as they go along. As in, flying by the seat of your pants, I guess. Famous pantster novelists include Margaret Atwood and Stephen King.

I’m in good company then, because I am sometimes a Pantster. In fact, I can confess that my entire Clearwater Mystery series has been written by pantstering, if “to pantster” can be a verb. I usually start with a question?

Deviant Desire: What if Jack the Ripper killed rent boys?
Twisted Tracks: What happened next?
Unspeakable Acts: Why not bring in a Cleveland Street scandal idea?
Fallen Splendour: What if the clue to a mystery was hidden in a Tennyson poem?
Bitter Bloodline: Why not expand the series to involve real-life characters of the time?
Artful Deception: How many twists can I get in one story?
Banyak & Fecks: Can I write a Victorian bromance?

Some tools of the trade on my shelves.

Next, I usually have a beginning and an end. For the current work in progress (‘Something Exposure’, still not fully titled), I want a thrilling chase towards the edge of a cliff kind of climax followed by a massive twist that leaves the reader thinking, ‘Oh no! What next?’ I have both in my head, and I’m currently heading towards them.

For some stories, I have an opening. Example: ‘Home From Nowhere.’ Here, I wanted to start with Jasper being woken in the early hours and told to be ready to leave immediately. ‘Why?’ I asked myself and received the answer, ‘We’ll find out as we go along.’ As that story progressed, the ending came into sight about halfway through writing, before then, when I reached chapter five, I think, I had to ask myself, ‘So what’s the mystery?’ and then music popped into my head.

For other stories, I start with a setting, a ‘world’ in which the story takes place. Again, I can give you a list: Deviant Desire, Jack the Ripper. Unspeakable Acts, Opera. Banyak & Fecks, male prostitution in the 1880s. Something Exposure, Victorian, male pornography. Artful Deception, art. And so on.

For all of them, then, I have either a beginning to launch me into the story, or an end I know I have to aim for, and what happens in between is made up as I go along. Sometimes, the characters add the twists for me. I’ll be beavering away on a chapter, and it’s flowing, and I’m heading towards the last line which I imagine to be one thing, and one of the characters will suddenly say something I wasn’t expecting. Either that, or I throw in a line to see where it will lead to, and I take myself by surprise. There’s an example in ‘Fallen Splendour’ at the end of chapter four when Mr Norwood answers the door to find three men looking for Silas.

‘These men are here to see Mr Hawkins,’ Norwood announced.
‘Actually, Sir,’ the moustached man said, straightening his overcoat and squaring his shoulders. ‘We are here to arrest him.’

Believe it or not, I didn’t see that coming. My subconscious must have said, ‘What if…?’

Making it up as you go along is fun, but does require a lot of backpaddling, changing details in written chapters as you go, and making notes to remind yourself of things to tie up later, but it also offers the freedom to let the characters run wild. You can always tame them later.

Plotter

Plotting, on the other hand, involves… well, plotting. When I was studying screenplay writing, I learnt an awful lot about structure. I am still a structuralist as having a structure is different from plotting. All of my novels have a basic four-act structure as you see in most mainstream films. 1) Ordinary world, 2) change of world 3) halfway twist or boost/change, 4) unravelling. That’s a very basic outline of the four-act, hero’s journey storytelling structure which I like to think of like this:

Act 1:  There is no problem.

Act 2:  What is this problem?

Act 3:  How do we deal with this problem?

Act 4: Let’s put this problem to bed.

Some of my Victorian research books

Okay, so you could say that’s an outline for a plot, but it’s not really. That’s the frame on which you’re going to build your story, and there are plenty of other tried and tested structures, for example, Shakespeare’s five-act structure, but let’s not go there right now.

Plotting, to me, means detailing the action and the character arcs, developments and relationships, as you would do very carefully if writing a film. That involves storyboarding and telling yourself, ‘In chapter six, X must do something in order to show her development from A to C via B.’ ‘In chapter seven, the relationship between Y and Z reaches the point where the subplot rides above the main plot, and the MC comes to terms with the IC’s resilience, forcing…’

Yeah, well, as you might imagine, that’s far too technical for me. I can do it and have done it when writing film scripts, but it’s simply too restrictive.
(Btw, MC = main character, and IC = impact character, the wall he hits, the man he falls in love with, the challenge character, etc.)

Having said that, I do have to do some basic plotting, particularly in a mystery. Mainly, that’s around pacing. Don’t give away too much yet, drop a clue here so the reader will know it but forget it long enough for it to be a pleasant twist later, make sure you foreshadow that, if a character’s going to escape by galloping a horse, make sure we know early on that he can ride… And so on. But I don’t outline each chapter and arc my characters in fine detail. I have done in the past; ‘Jason and the Sargonauts‘ was one of my first James Collins novels, and that took a lot of plotting because of timelines, and because I was new to writing. Now, I like to think I am more intuitive. Besides, if you get it wrong in draft one, you can always go back and untangle your plot in draft two onwards.

My process

So, my process now is this:

From the Clearwater ‘bible’

I have an idea, a ‘what if?’, an ending I want to use, a twist to drop in at some point, a world I want to write in (Ripper, opera, art, music, early pornography…), or sometimes, simply a title. With Unspeakable Acts, the title came before the story.

I start at page one. Sounds obvious but often it’s the last chapter that’s in my head, and yet I leave that one and write chronologically to give myself something to aim for, and often, the ending changes or develops as I go as more and better ideas come to mind.

Actually, I messed with the chronology in ‘Artful Deception’ which opens a few days after the start of the story proper. We have the first scene, wonder what it’s all about, and find out later when the scene is fitted back into the storyline, although from a different point of view so as not to be repetitive. That’s a common film technique.

I make notes as I go. When writing anything, it’s vital that if you come up with an idea for later, you note it somewhere, else you’ll forget it. Similarly, I have a list of ‘Tie-ups’. These are ideas I have along the way and add in, intending to use them again later. The list is to make sure they do.

For my current Clearwater work in progress, I have a file titled ‘Ideas for act one onwards’ and running through it, I find these headings:
A ‘POC’ for each chapter. (POC = point of chapter, to ensure there’s a point to each part of the story and I’m not just indulging myself with interesting but unnecessary detail).
Time limit – to remind me of the timeline and pace.
The letter. In this case, a blackmail letter starts the mystery story, and it’s in my notes so I can easily refer to it as I go.
Notes on photographic ‘printing out’ paper, Eastman’s Solio paper (1888) very important!
Then there’s a whole section on train times because that’s one thing I like to be realistic about. I have notes from my friend, Andy, a railways’ expert who has copies of rare timetables books from my era.
TWISTS. In capitals, note. One of these rather alarmingly says, ‘CUT TO: Funeral’, but I will say no more.
A list of additional/cameo characters so I can add them to the ‘bible’ and maybe use them in later stories.
TIE UPS. Ah, there it is!

There then follow links to all kinds of research websites and title of books I’ve dipped into and might want to check back with.

My Rules for Writing a Novel

To summarise this rather rambling post, I’d say that my rules to writing a novel are simple. This list is not exhaustive.

  1. Don’t get it right, get it written, and then get it right.
  2. Write what you would like to read.
  3. Keep everything realistic within the world you create.
  4. Make sure everything ties up.
  5. Plot if you must but don’t let it restrict you.
  6. Write to the best of your ability.
  7. Constantly ask yourself, ‘Is that what I meant to say?’ and ‘Can I write this better?’
  8. Learn your grammar!
  9. Employ a professional proofreader.
  10. Write something every day, even if you think it’s rubbish.
  11. Don’t feel you must adhere to anyone’s rules.

And now, I shall thank you for reading, and head back to chapter 19 of ‘Something Exposure’ where one of my MCs is just about to confront the IC, while my other two MCs race to stop him. I must take what should be a cordial meeting to the point of fatality in a realistic and thrilling way without being ridiculous or allowing the pace to slacken. We’re at the crisis and climax stage, and I really can’t leave these boys hanging around a cold castle in the wilds of Scotland any longer.

See you next week!

Ideas for the Next Clearwater Mystery

Ideas for the Next Clearwater Mystery

I have to admit, I completely forgot what day of the week it was, and that’s why my Saturday blog post is appearing on a Sunday. I was sitting here at the computer yesterday writing ideas for a new Clearwater story and thinking, ‘I’m sure there’s something I should be doing…’ There was, and here it is.

A (possible) New Clearwater Mystery for Book Nine

Here’s a treat for you. A sketch of Fecker drawn for the Clearwater Companion (a work in very slow progress).

During the last two weeks, I have begun work on a new Clearwater adventure. I had started one before I sat down to write the prequel, Banyak & Fecks, and had the beginning, the ending and the mystery in between semi-mapped out. I was going to call this one ‘Men of a Similar Heart’ because I liked the title, and I may still come back to that title and story in the future. For some reason, though, I reached around 30,000 words and found myself trundling. I mean, writing chapters where all kinds of interesting domestic things happened, characters chatted, and we delved into day to day life at Clearwater House, but where nothing actually happened to advance the mystery story. This suggested that either I wasn’t in the right mood to continue an adventure, or the story was mundane.

Victorian Erotica

So, I set that aside and started on a completely different idea which was thrown up during the writing of Banyak & Fecks. If you’ve read that one, you’ll know there is a scene where Silas is invited/seduced into posing naked for photographs. [I looked around the web for an image or two to illustrate that scene and found only a couple of solo men. The others were far too pornographic to display here.]

Later than 1889 judging from his hair style, but you get the picture.

This did go on in those times (1889). There was a market for erotica and pornography, straight and gay, and you can find original images online in various archives. Of course, the practice was going on before and has been happening ever since. My godfather (born in 1919) was once a model for erotic images in the 1920s and 30s. He posed for a fairly well-known photographer called Angus McBain, in Victoria, London, and told me about his sittings when he related his life story to me later in his life.

In Banyak & Fecks, Silas poses and is photographed… and then the story moves on. I was thinking about what to write next, aware that the ongoing series has reached the last few months of 1889, and I wondered, ‘Now what?’ Most of the love stories have been put in place, and I can’t really introduce another new character and love story, Clearwater House is now full of couples! Well, we have Archer/Silas, James/Thomas, Fecker/Lucy and now, Jasper/Billy. Apart from perhaps having some infidelity (which is not impossible), it’s currently hard to think how I can inject another love-thread into the saga. Instead, I thought, I might have a simple mystery for James, the detective, to solve with one or two of the other characters.

And then I remembered Silas’ photo-shoot with ‘Sir’ in Banyak & Fecks, and thought, ‘What if…?’ As that idea started to grow, I realised that, as we’re towards the end of 1889, another Clearwater Foundation Gala is due; another big theatrical event with the well to do of London, and thought, ‘that’s an interesting starting place,’ and the idea developed.

Relating the Story to Today

1889 saw the outbreak of a worldwide flu pandemic, the ‘Russian’ or ‘Asiatic’ flu that started in Bukhara in the Russian Empire (now in Uzbekistan). It reached England in December 1889, perfect timing, I thought if such a tragedy could be considered perfect.

This means I have three pieces of a possible mystery puzzle. 1) a threat to Clearwater and his way of life with the surfacing of erotic photographs of Silas, His Lordship’s secretary and coordinator of the Greychurch Mission. 2) The second Clearwater Gala, and 3) the arrival of Russian flu in Britain.

How to tie them together?

Well, I thought, also available to me in terms of historical accuracy, is Prince Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence, Queen Victoria’s grandson (also known as Prince Eddy, and one of the more unlikely suspects for being Jack the Ripper). He was away in South Africa at the time I am writing, but I can take a liberty with that, and I wondered how it might add pressure to the story if he was at the gala, and better, considering becoming the patron of the Clearwater Foundation.

A cencored image such as those Silas posed for.

With that in the offing, and images of Silas about to surface, there could be a head-on collision for Clearwater, and what’s more, it will take place during the outbreak of deadly flu. So, I then added another what if…? Someone close to Clearwater became gravely ill. That adds pressure, but what if this impending tragedy caused Clearwater to travel abroad, thus putting him in more danger, leaving some of his crew behind to deal with the possible Silas embarrassment?

Who is in charge of sorting out this mess? Well, at the moment, I am working on the idea that James, Silas and Fecker will take the lead in this story, and I am up to 30,000 words, which is about the end of the first act.

The New Story So Far

No spoilers, but in the story so far, the gala has happened, Prince Eddy is considering lending his name to the Clearwater Foundation, everyone is happy, but Dr Markland has pulled Archer aside to give him grave news. Back home the next day, Markland and Archer tell everyone about the flu heading to London, and Archer orders everyone to Larkspur for their protection.

The spread of Russian Flu 1889 – 1890

But… He’s also received word that his mother, while travelling to Bran Castle for Christmas as she does every year, has fallen ill with the flu in Paris. Archer and Thomas set off for Paris, Harvey and Mrs Norwood pack up Clearwater House and take the staff to Larkspur, and everything seems on track.

But… Behind this, Silas has received copies of photos he posed for three years previously, along with a blackmail threat, and the only people he can turn to are James and Fecker…

And… Well, that’s the next stage. As the characters investigate, I will inject a deadline and head to a climax that will somehow involve one of those ‘race to beat the baddie’ endings that we saw in Twisted Tracks, Unspeakable Acts, Artful Deception and the others.

That’s where I am at the moment. Today, if I can, I want to bring the first act to its end with one almighty twist, or development, or ‘oh no!’ moment, and that’s my job as soon as I have finished this stream of consciousness ramble.

Thanks for listening. Writing this has helped me clear my thoughts which were becoming a little bit stuck. Next week, hopefully, I will remember what day it is and post my last blog post of 2020 on Saturday as usual.

While searching for suitable photos for this post, I stumbled across Josephine Myles, ‘Gay romance with lashings of English sauce’ and a post on her site, from which I borrowed an image (which I censored slightly). Have a look at her site.

Do We Judge a Book by its Cover?

Do We Judge a Book by its Cover?

This week I am revealing the cover for my next novel, ‘Banyak & Fecks’ a Clearwater prequel. To help celebrate this, we asked a few fellow authors to answer some questions about how they arrive at their covers. I’m thrilled to post the replies from A.L. Lester, Samantha SoRelle and Vincent Virga along with their covers and links to where you can find their books.

My new Clearwater cover is posted at the end of this blog, but first, let’s take a look at how these three authors arrange their book covers, see those covers and find out a little more about author and book.

A.L. Lester, Taking Stock
Published 19th September 2020
[Historical, Gay romance, 1970s, Disabled MC, Hurt-comfort.]

It’s 1972, and Laurie is a farmer with a problem. He’s had a stroke, and he can’t work his farm alone any more. Phil is running away from London and the professional suspicion that surrounds him at his City job. They’re both alone and unsure what the future holds. Can they forge a new life together with their makeshift found family in Laurie’s little village?

Why did you choose this cover for your book?
Honestly? Because it was purple!

Do you design it yourself or pass over to a specialist designer? What’s your process?
I work with my publisher, JMS Books, to get the cover that I want. I fill in a cover form when I submit the manuscript, saying what I think would work; and that’s a starting point. I pick out some cover art and tell them what I’m visualising, and then we have a couple of rounds tweaking the look of it and changing things if necessary.  I find it all quite stressful…decisions and all that. I don’t much like them!

Are you making a statement with the cover?
With Taking Stock it was really, REALLY hard to find appropriate cover models in the stock photography libraries. It’s set in the 1970s, and the models all tended to look like refugees from a book of knitting patterns. The sexiness levels were somewhere in the minus figures. I found a few pictures I liked that gave the right vibe for the book though, and I decided to use those rather than go for strictly accurate sideburns-and-flares type chaps. So my cover statement is more ‘Oh thank goodness, these people are in love and gazing at each other romantically’ than ‘Hey! It’s the 1970s! We all wore flares and had insanitary moustaches!’ if that makes sense?

Do you ask others for feedback or go with your gut feeling?
I rely on feedback from the cover artist. We have a good relationship, and if I say that it’s not working for me, the artist gives it another go. There’s mutual trust there, I think–they try and do their best for me, and I try not to take the mickey and be a primadonna about it.

Do you usually do a cover reveal event? If yes, is it only for selected viewing, e.g. through your newsletter?
I have in the past, but not recently, properly. I think in the future, it’s something I will make available through my newsletter or in my (tiny) Facebook group. I like people who are loyal followers to feel special.

Who would be your ultimate person to provide a quote or appraisal for the cover of one of your future books?
Oooh, good question! Can I have a dead person? I’ve got a series of 1920s mystery books planned for the next year, and I REALLY love this picture by Joan Miro, called ‘Horse, Pipe & Red Flower’. I’d love the trilogy to have covers similar to this!

 

Website: https://allester.co.uk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ALLesterAuthor/
UBL: https://books2read.com/takingstocklester

Samantha SoRelle, His Lordship’s Master
Published 20th November 2020. Series: His Lordship’s Mysteries
[Gay, Historical, Romance, Mystery, Scottish.]

Still reeling from the horrific events in London, Alfie thinks Balcarres House, the seat of his earldom, will be just the place to recover. But unexplained noises in the night, figures that vanish into thin air, and ghostly tales of the infamous Wicked Master all make for a less-than-restful stay. When one of the household turns up dead, matters only get worse. 

While Alfie tries to solve this mystery, his lover Dominick struggles to fit into his new station in life. It feels like the mud from the slums still sticks to his fine new clothes. He starts to worry that he’ll never be able to stand by Alfie’s side, and about what will happen when Alfie realises the same.

But Balcarres House holds secrets that cry out for blood. If Alfie and Dominick aren’t careful, they may become the next ghosts trapped within its walls. 

His Lordship’s Master is the second title in the His Lordship’s Mysteries series.

Why did you choose this cover for your book?
It’s a striking image that conveys the tone of my book, and the figure looks like shockingly similar to one of my main characters.

Do you design it yourself or pass over to a specialist designer? What’s your process?
I designed it myself using Canva at first, then Gimp once I became more familiar with the program.  My process is pretty simple. First I scour the internet or my own photo archives for a picture that fits what I’m looking for, then AFTER CHECKING THE USAGE RIGHTS, I spend endless hours tweaking it, moving it one pixel to the left, shading it two degrees cooler, etc. I know I spend more time fussing with it than most would, but when you’re your own designer, you’re allowed to make endless revisions!

For the first book in the series, “His Lordship’s Secret”, I used a photo I took myself then played around with the coloring, then was fortunate enough to find the painting I use for “His Lordship’s Master” which already fit my color scheme of golden yellow and navy blue, however with the emphasis on the blue as opposed to “Secret” being predominantly yellow. So the two are distinct but still maintain that stylistic link.

Are you making a statement with the cover?
The only statement I’m trying to make is “Here’s a book you want to read! Come take a closer look.” I do try to keep similar elements within a series, so someone who has read book one will immediately know book two when they see it.

Do you ask others for feedback or go with your gut feeling?
I ask for feedback after I have a rough version marked up, or if I can’t decide between certain elements, but mostly I just go with my gut.

Do you usually do a cover reveal event? If yes, is it only for selected viewing, e.g. through your newsletter?
So far, all I’ve done is tease for a few days on social media before releasing the cover.

Website: www.samanthasorelle.com
Facebook: @samanthasorelleauthor (www.facebook.com/pg/samanthasorelleauthor)
Amazon Series Page: www.amazon.com/author/samanthasorelle
Amazon Link “His Lordship’s Master”:  www.amazon.com/gp/product/B089FSQLLV

Vincent Virga, Gaywyck
Published 1980
[The first gay Gothic romance]

In the summer of ’75, pissed off by the fashion in the bestselling contemporary gothic romances of having the husband’s evil secret not a crazy wife in the attic but a hunky male lover in his bed, I decided to prove that genres have no gender. Essentially, it was about claiming territory. I was captivated by 19th-century writers like Charlotte Bronte, who used spooky happenings for spiritual shake-ups while prowling the labyrinthine corridors of self-discovery. My central character Robert Whyte’s psychological dilemma is not his being gay; it is his being human and prey to romantic delusions. To make this point, I rampaged through world literature and Hollywood movies abducting lines associated with female characters and putting them into the mouths of my male characters with no camouflage. (Like Bette Davis in “Now, Voyager,” Robert bursts into tears in Chapter 18 when being called “darling” for the first time.) I knew I had succeeded when Irish Murdoch sent me a note welcoming the new genre–the gay, gothic romance.  

In one sentence, tell us why you choose this cover for your book?
The book was published by Avon; and their art department, having much experience with romance novels, had great, brilliant fun with it on their own.

Do you design it yourself or pass over to a specialist designer? What’s your process?
With my own Amazon reprint, I did my own simple cover: a single peony for the first volume of the trilogy.

Are you making a statement with the cover?
Yes, peonies are my favorite flower and make an appearance in both published volumes of the Trilogy.

Do you ask others for feedback or go with your gut feeling?
With my own reprint, I knew what I wanted.

Do you usually do a cover reveal event? If yes, is it only for selected viewing e.g. through your newsletter?
There were no cover reveal events. They were first seen in reviews & in bookstore windows.

Who would be your ultimate person to provide a quote or appraisal for the cover of one of your future books?
I would have to talk this over with my editor. All of my nonfiction books have quotes from appropriate people.

My website is www.vincentvirga.com

Back to Jackson

I’m waving at my screen and saying a huge thank you to those authors for taking the time to give their answers, which I hope you found as interesting as I did.

Three very different sets of answers to the same questions.
That shows us that everyone has their own approach, or their publisher does, and that book covers are very personal things. I’m thinking of A.L. Lester’s comment about purple, and Vincent Virga’s comment about peonies. And what’s interesting about Samantha SoRelle’s comments about the image fitting how she imagined one of her main characters, hits home with me.
Which leads me to my next cover. As usual, I discussed this with my professional designer, Andjela K, and, because this novel is about two of the Clearwater series’ main characters, I wanted them to be on it. I gave Andjela descriptions and some photo ideas, and she agreed to create portraits of the two boys circa 1884, giving the cover an old-world feel with the colouring.
So, once again, my thanks to Ally, Samantha and Vincent (whose books are now in my to-be-read collection), and will leave you with the front cover of ‘Banyak & Fecks’, due out at the end of this month.

Jackson Marsh, Banyak & Fecks
Publishing at the end of November
[Historical, Bromance, Male prostitution, Survival]

Editing the next Clearwater Story

Work in progress: Banyak & Fecks

I’m working on ‘Banyak & Fecks’, the prequel to the first Clearwater mystery. This isn’t a mystery, however, and it’s not MM Romance, though it is romantic. It’s a story about the friendship between a Ukrainian refugee and the son of an Irish immigrant who meet in London in 1884.

The story starts in 1881 when Andrej (Fecks) leaves his homeland, and the first five chapters are dedicated to him and his journey across Europe. The next five chapters start in 1884 when Silas (Banyak) leaves his home in Westerpool to travel to London looking for work so he can send money home to his twin sisters.

Deviant Desire‘, the first book in the mystery series, begins in 1888, when they have known each other for four years. The second half of ‘Banyak & Fecks’ is about those four years, what happened to them as rent boys, and how their friendship developed. The story takes us up to the day before the first scene of ‘Deviant Desire’ during the time of the Ripper murders.

Here’s the book title taken from the first draft of the cover. There will be a full cover reveal in a couple of weeks.

That’s a quick summary of the story. What I wanted to talk about today is how I am working on it. I finished draft one a couple of weeks ago and am now editing draft two. It’s a slow process.

Editing

Everyone should have an editor, but not everyone likes to have one. Why? Well, because lots of people don’t like someone else telling them what they should do with their creation. The author knows best, right?

Wrong.

I learnt this years ago when writing musicals. I’d write the book (dialogue/story) and the songs, and be happy with what I’d created. There’s no point writing a musical that no-one will see, so I then raised funds to produce them. For the first one, I hired a director who turned out to be useless; all she did was tell the actors where to stand. I watched rehearsals in horror and realised that, although it needed improving, the director didn’t want to interfere with what I’d written. I got rid of her and took over. I collaborated with the cast on character, dialogue and lyrics, and worked with the musical director on the score, cutting, improving, moving things around and so on. I even changed a scene because the set designer had a better idea than mine. The show was better for it, and when I revived it a few years later, I changed, edited and improved it again.

The point here being, collaboration can be a good thing, and usually is.

‘But my creation is perfect!’ cries the newbie author in the manner of Victor Frankenstein exclaiming, ‘It’s alive!’ Yes, well, we all know how that turned out.

Some people can solo-edit, and that’s up to them. Others can afford a professional editor, and that’s wonderful as long as it’s someone you trust. You should always stay true to your vision but remain open to suggestions, and learn to swallow your pride. Your work will benefit from the discussion if not the input, because writing is a solitary pastime.

Back to Banyak & Fecks

Having finished the first draft of ‘Banyak & Fecks’, I sent the first chapter to a trusted friend of mine who had proofread some of my James Collins’ novels, and with whom I had collaborated on a film script or two. He’s what I’d call a ‘word technician.’ An Oxford classicist, ex-newspaper editor, BBC journalist of the past, and also a long-standing, highly pedantic friend, so, I trust him.

I sent him the chapter knowing it was good and made perfect sense to me, and he came back with It certainly has lots of promise but definitely needs a lot of re-working and re-writing, as you probably realise. As a writer, you think, ‘Really? Not sure I agree with you there…’ Then he comes up with notes such as over-dense, slightly confusing, and quite hard to get through… confused over timelines… descriptions were good but lacking in emotion… quite a lot of passive voice… I was also a bit confused about… make that moral response more ambiguous and flexible, otherwise you’re creating a stereotype…

And so on. There were many positive comments too, I should add.

I wasn’t disheartened. I took the comments on board and thought about them as I began editing.

Editing alone

Now then let me pull out two phrases from what I’ve just written, afford a professional editor, and quite a lot of passive voice.

Not everyone can afford to pay a freelance editor, myself included. So what do you do?

I use two plug-in programmes. Grammarly, and Pro Writing Aid (PWA). Both are good at what they do, they have different ways of working, you can customise them, and I use them for two kinds of writing. Grammarly, I use for my freelance review and copywriting and find it’s good at picking up on punctuation and typos. Here it is in use on what I am writing right now.

As you can see, I’ve not gone back over this post yet, as I’ve not reached the end.

I don’t use Grammarly as an editor I use it more as a proof reader. (When I am happy with a drafted novel, I pay for a professional proof reader.)

Pro Writing Aid, however, I do use as an editor because it covers all manner of technical things, such as passive voice, adverb use, repetitions, sentence length, readability and clichés. It also compares the writing to published standards, giving notes such as, ‘68% of sentences start with a subject (compared to 72% in published writing).’ It’s just said that about what I’ve written for this post so far. When you visit their website, you can find out how they compare to published writing, and find explanations for passive voice, ‘sticky sentences’ and the rest.

I can tell you, examining every sentence with this writing tool is a slow business, because it’s so in-depth, and it’s tempting to skip some features because there are so many. I try not to. Here’s a screenshot of PWA at work on my sentence length.

You also have to be aware of over-editing. When I’m using PWA, I start with the Grammar & Style feature which picks up on grammar, spelling, readability, passive verbs and repeated sentence starts. Later, I check overused words, then repeats in close proximity, sentence length and… You know, it goes on and on. The thing is, the programme might suggest cutting this and changing that, and if you cut things around too much, you can lose your voice, your style. So, such programmes should be used judiciously, and you should approach your editing as an individual. If everyone did as these plug-ins suggest, all our writing would come out the same.

And back to the editor

Which is why, whenever possible, writers should work with a living, breathing editor. Together, they can improve the work technically while keeping an eye on the wider picture. What these programmes can’t do is examine a whole manuscript and check things like character arc, pace, repetition of theme or descriptions, and obvious errors.

I’m thinking there of a paragraph in ‘Deviant Desire’ that originally said Silas and Andrej met at night-time, and then, in the next, describes the meeting as being in the afternoon. I mean, that contradictory information was only two sentences apart! I only noticed when I reread DD some months after publication, but I changed the manuscript and reloaded it to Amazon. The joy of self-publishing! Fixing errors after publication is easy, but then, if I’d had an editor, there wouldn’t be errors to fix.

And finally


‘Finally’, is an adverb, and adverbs are to be avoided in creative writing because they tell not show. (There are 29 of them in this post so far. PWA is not happy.) Anyway… Adverbs are to be avoided. (Passive verb: to be avoided. Better is, ‘you should avoid adverbs.’) You should do this for your whole manuscript. (Style improvement: ‘a complete manuscript.’) As I was trying to say… Adverbs are to be avoided… (Repetition: Frequent 5 word phrases, ‘adverbs are to be avoided’, try these ten suggestions…)

That’s the kind of thing my PWA programme comes up with, and believe it or not, I don’t mind.

What’s come out of all this ‘editing with a robot’ experience?

  • They can be useful for those who can’t afford a professional editor.
  • You learn a great deal about grammar and spelling. (Both programmes can be customised to English-English and the America equivalent.)
  • You don’t always have to agree with what they say.
  • It’s easy to overwork your MS, so be careful.
  • You still need to see the story from afar for the wider picture.
  • It takes a hell of a long time to do a line edit.

And there I will leave you and return to chapter 18 of ‘Banyak & Fecks.’ Another three hours lie ahead (or is it lay ahead?), and that’s just on the one chapter. The Clearwater prequel should be ready before Christmas. Once I, Grammarly and PWA have done with it, it still needs to go through my proof reader, and if you are looking for one, I can recommend Anne Attwood at https://www.facebook.com/AnnieA2017/ who also offers editing services.

Jackson Marsh on Facebook
Grammarly
Pro Writing Aid

Banyak and Fecks, A Clearwater prequel

Banyak and Fecks
A Clearwater prequel

In the last couple of years, since I’ve been able to commit more time to my writing, I have fallen into the habit of starting on the next book while the current one is ‘resting.’ I take a book through its however many drafts and reach the point of leaving it alone before I fiddle with it too much and break it. During this time, it waits for its slot in my proof reader’s schedule, and Andjela K designs the cover. Meanwhile, I turn my attention to what’s next. So, while ‘One of a Pair’ awaits proofing and layout, I have started on the book to come after, and it’s a prequel with the working title, ‘Banyak and Fecks.’

If you’ve read the Clearwater Mysteries, or if you’ve only read the first one, ‘Deviant Desire’, you will know how it all starts. Here’s the opening paragraph.

Silas from the cover of Deviant Desire.

Silas Hawkins was searching for coins in an East End gutter when a man four miles distant and ten years older sealed his fate. Silas had no idea that the discussion taking place concerned him, or that it was even happening. He wouldn’t know the details for some time, but even if he had heard the conversation, he wouldn’t have believed it. It wouldn’t have concerned him if he had, because Silas wasn’t the kind of youth to shy from a challenge, not even one that might threaten his life.

Even though he is only 19, Silas arrives at the start of the Clearwater series with a history. We learn parts of it through the book, where he mentions his upbringing in ‘Westerpool’ (the Wirral). We see where he used to live in book four, ‘Fallen Splendour’, but there is a lot of detail as yet unshared in the series. Hold that thought.

When we first meet Andrej (Fecker/Fecks), he also comes with a history. Remember we’re dealing with two young male prostitutes as you read Andrej’s first entrance:

(Silas) had deliberated at this window so often that some good had come of his indecision. That good appeared beside him, bringing the smell of apples and the reflection of a tall man of similar age.
‘Privet, Banyak,’ he said in his native tongue.
‘Evening, Fecks.’ Silas acknowledged his mate’s reflection with a nod towards a marble angel.
Fecker, like Silas, was nineteen and had picked up a street-name known only to his close mates. Silas had given it to him not long after they met. Andrej, his real name, knew that it was Irish slang for fucker, but he took pride in that. Unlike Silas, he wasn’t queer, and only rented when he was desperate. His cock was usually enough to secure him an income. There were plenty of men who were happy to pay for the youth’s substantial endowment, particularly as it was attached to a six-foot-two blond lad built like a docker.

This is how I imagine Andrej/Fecker

Again, as the series unfolds, we learn some of Fecker’s past, particularly when he is travelling with Archer in book four, ‘Fallen Splendour’, and tells him why he left Ukraine and came to England. What we have never had, however, is the full story of that journey.

And that’s where ‘Banyak and Fecks’ comes in. I am currently writing a prequel to ‘Deviant Desire’ which tells the story of how Fecker and Silas came to London. Starting in two different countries at different times, these two characters eventually meet in 1884 and spend nearly four years living and working together on the streets of the East End before book one starts. I wanted to explore the beginning of their friendship. To do that, I decided, I had to go right back to the pivotal moments in their lives, the inciting incident, as they call it in scriptwriting circles, and that’s what I’ve started doing.

At the moment (this is only draft one), the story opens with Andrej aged about 14 (no-one, not even he, knows his exact age) surveying the ruins of his home following an invasion by the Russians who have taken his sister and killed his father. One brother had also died in the fighting, and another, Danylo, is missing. With nothing left and no-one to turn to, Andrej decides he must find a new life, so, when he has established himself, he can return to his homeland and search for what’s left of his family.

Serbka, Ukraine
Late summer, 1881

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

They were coming for him again now; he could see activity across the long field towards the village where the smoke still rose, and the wailing was louder than yesterday. They could come for him, but he would not go, and he gripped his grandfather’s knife as he said his farewell to his childhood.
Andrej put the pebble in his pocket. It gave him the strength to leave the past, turn his back on the land that was no longer his, face the west, and walk.

Fecker’s story begins a few years before Silas’, because Silas didn’t leave Westerpool until his mother died in 1884, and I am still playing around with how the two stories will be told. If I write it chronologically, the first quarter of the book will be about Andrej and the second about Silas, and they will meet at the halfway point. The second half will then be about them both, the lead up to the Ripper murders and the night they meet Thomas in The Ten Bells, and are offered the chance to meet Lord Clearwater. I’m still thinking about structure and, when the draft is finished, will see how it reads if I cut the stories together. My concern is that we’ll jump from 1881 to 1884, back to 1882 and forwards again to 1884, and so on. We’ll see.

This story won’t be a mystery, nor a thriller, nor a romance. It will be a simple story of adversity and friendship, and I have to say, some of Fecker’s story that’s already written isn’t exactly cheerful. It’s the story of a refugee walking across Europe to find safety, and we see a great deal of that happening today. As someone who has worked directly with refugees, I’ve seen the conditions, pain, hope and resolve first-hand, so I have some observations to draw on there.

The poor of Liverpool, 19th century. Silas when he was about 11?

Against that seriousness (in which there are lighter, happier moments, colourful characters and friendships), I have to balance Silas. He’s a cheeky scamp with a lot of self-confidence, speaks with the blarney of his Irish mother and doesn’t care what he does to survive, although, to start with, its petty crime rather than prostitution.

‘Ach, Father, if I were to confess me sins, we’d still be here come Christmas. Will you not take a pew?’

Here’s an extract from the first draft. Silas has come to tell the family priest that he is leaving Westerpool the next day.

‘A pair of shoes you’re wearing today,’ (Father Patrick) observed as they walked along the deserted aisle, treading on the tombs of the long-dead and once wealthy of Westerpool. They weren’t new shoes, but they were new for the usually barefooted Silas. ‘Now how did you come by those?’
‘Ach, Father, they were a gift from God, I’m telling ya,’ Silas replied, his accent a mix of his mother’s Irish and local slum. ‘The Good Lord himself left them for me on a windowsill only last evening.’
‘Uh hu.’ The priest was dubious, and rightly so. ‘And this windowsill, would it have been inside or outside the house it was attached to?’
‘Outside, for sure, Father. They were just left there, discarded.’
‘I’ll remind you, you’re in the house of Our Lord, Silas Hawkins.’ When the lad didn’t reply, he hinted with more vigour. ‘And I’ll remind you, you came to me, and as that only happens when you’re wanting something. You’ll be more likely to get it if you attach some truth to our discussion.’
They entered the chancel, and the priest paused with his hand on the sacristy door, unwilling to enter until Silas accepted his terms.
‘Aye, well perhaps the windowsill was a way on the inside of the house,’ the lad admitted sheepishly.
‘A way?’
‘More like…You now, an arm’s reach… Well, maybe it wasn’t a sill but the floor beside the cupboard… Or inside it, I forget now, Father, but they were left there for me by God, I’m sure of that.’

Silas, of course, is a great manipulator and mimic, and I’ve already started having some fun with him when he arrives in London, confident that he will make his fortune.

I’d tell you more, but I’ve already chatted on far too long, and I only wanted to let you know what I was up to. What I will add, however, is that ‘Banyak and Fecks’ is taking more research than any of the others so far. The number of times I’ve had to work out distances between Serbka and Brasov, Belgrade and Genoa, or look up nautical terms, Russian-Ukrainian words and sayings… That’s one thing. The other has been my ongoing research into the East End of London in the 1880s, from the street slang to the way of life, though it was hardly any life at all for the poor.

[I am using an excellent online resource, and if anyone is interested in Victorian London, I highly recommend The Dictionary of Victorian London, a site put together by author Lee Jackson. I have some of his publications on my shelves, and they are invaluable.]

On sale for $0.99c for International Buy a Book Day, September 7th.

There we are. That is an update on what I am doing right now, and there will be more about ‘Banyak and Fecks’ as time goes on. There will also be more about the Clearwater Mysteries Book Eight, ‘One of a Pair’ which you should be able to start reading in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t read ‘Deviant Desire’, now would be a good time to start as it will be on sale for International Buy a Book Day, on September 7th, Monday. You will be able to find it on Amazon Kindle for $0.99c, but only for 24 hours.