A Few Resources for Your Historical Novel (Victorian)

The Victorian Period

When we talk about the Victorian period, we are talking about the years of the reign of Queen Victoria, 1837 to 1901. It was a time of significant change in the United Kingdom. The industrial revolution, the age of the steam train, steam-powered factories, a rise in industry and exploration, inventions, and the growth of the British Empire across the world. It also saw the rise of the middle class, a great divide between rich and poor, and a move from agricultural labouring to factory work for many, because it was in the cities where wealth could be made.

When you’re sitting down to write a novel set in these times, you really ought to know what you’re talking about. Or at least, do your research.

Alison Weir, the writer of many a great historical novel, says that,

“You can’t write a historical novel without being familiar with the sources. You have to have an idea of how people lived. It’s a completely different world and you’ve got to get in the mindset, the zeitgeist, that informs the language.”

If you were writing a book set in, say, the 1990s or 1980s, you may remember what it was like to be around at that time. It depends on your age, of course, but if I was writing about the 1980/90s, I’d remember the clothes, the TV shows, the politics, the way of life, the new-fangled thing like CDs, DVDs and BluRay. I’d know what it was like to be a young person of the time because I was there, so my characters would be drawn from my experience of the zeitgeist, the culture, and the language of the time.

Zeitgeist is borrowed from German and literally translates to “time spirit” or “spirit of the times.” It comes from the German Zeit, meaning “time,” and Geist, meaning “spirit” or “ghost” (as seen in poltergeist, which means “a noisy ghost”).

Clearly, I was not around in 1888 when my Clearwater Series begins, so how do I know how the characters spoke? How did I know what the streets of the East End smelt like? How do I know what it was like to exist in a workhouse or live in Belgravia? And how could I tell what it was like to fight a villain on top of a moving steam train hurtling towards certain death?

I didn’t, and I still don’t. Not 100%, because I’ve never fought a villain on the top of a moving anything, and as a novelist, one must use imagination. But your imagination must be confined to the times in which you are writing. I have to admit, when I started writing the historical series, my mind wasn’t 100% in the times because I started Deviant Desire with the intention of setting it all in a fictional London. Now, with the Larkspur Series (and in the later Clearwater books) we are firmly in London and the world as it was at the time because I have learnt as I have gone along. It’s too late now to change Greychurch to Whitechapel, and Limedock to Limehouse, but it is never too late to learn from mistakes. This is why, a little way into the Clearwater series, I returned to the earlier books and struck out every use of the words okay, teenager, adolescent and others. I’d learnt by then that those words were not in use until the 20th century. They weren’t in the Victorian era zeitgeist. (Nor was homosexual, which was only used in medical terms from the 1860s, and which gets a mention in my next novel.)

Research Ideas

Where do I get my information from? You may ask, and that was the point of this post; to share a few resources with you. I have previously mentioned particular books, but today, I wanted to highlight a few websites I regularly use. These will be useful if you’re starting out on writing a book set in the Victorian period, or you might simply find them of interest. I currently have over 150 bookmarks in my ‘research’ bookmark folder on Firefox, and within it, there are several sub-folders such as ‘travel’ and ‘maps.’

My go-to source for writings of the time is the Dictionary of Victorian London at http://www.victorianlondon.org, an excellent resource created by author Lee Jackson. I have some of his books on my shelves, but I’m talking about online resources here. If you head to this link you will find the index for the Dictionary, which is actually a list of categories, and within them, you find collected pieces from various sources written in the Victorian period. Each section has subsections, so, for example, I want to look up Prison life, and within ‘Prisons’, I find Executions and Punishments, Prisons, Rehabilitation of Offenders and Remand. I go to ‘Prisons’ and there’s another sub-list. Following one of those links, ‘Pentonville’, I find several pieces from newspapers, reports and other publications written between 1843 and 1879.

The point is, at a site like this, I have reports and information directly from the time in which I am writing. By reading them, I gain a sense of the language and how it was used, and also the zeitgeist of the time.

I also use the British Newspaper Archive, where I can search for newspapers published on specific days, and read what was happening in the world on that day in 1891 or whenever. This archive is also useful for checking what day of the week a date was, the weather, finding advertisements to mention in my books to add authentic detail, and finding interesting asides, like actual cricket scores for my character Dr Markland.

Another of my favourite sites is The National Library of Scotland. Why? If you click the link, you’ll find an incredible resource for maps. Ordnance Survey, Military, County, there’s an endless list. I have a bookmark that leads me directly to a London map of 1888. It doesn’t give me street names, but I can see where the railways ran and other details, and, by using a slider, I can reveal beneath it the modern-day map of the city to make a comparison.

Victorian Gay

Specific to my novels is the theme of homosexuality, and if you wanted to know what it was like to be gay in the Victorian Period, you only need to head to Rictor Norton’s sourcebook. His list of articles dates from 1800 to 1891, and it is from here that I find inspiration for the court cases, characters and histories of some of my stories. There is a full collection of reports about the Cleveland Street Scandal, for example. If you have read ‘Speaking in Silence’, you can find the original reports here.

[Rictor Norton (Ed.), Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. Updated 1 December 2021]

A Few More Valuable Resources

I could blether on for hours and give you the full list of what’s in my research bookmarks folder, but instead, here’s a list of some others that you might find of interest.

‘Always put the weather in’ is a top tip from many authors, and I always have weather in my books. I also have accurate sunrise and sunset times, and phases of the moon too, and I get all that from Time and Date, where you can search by year and place for accuracy.

I have links to various dictionaries, such as Cockney Rhyming Slang, one for Irish phrases and slang words, and a dictionary of the Cornish dialect. I always check words were in use in my time period, and to do this, I use Google’s online dictionary because it gives a graph of printed usage of words. I have a dictionary of idioms bookmarked along with some oddments such as a list of Latin mottos, a Gothic glossary (Gothic architecture, that is), a glossary of carriages, and my favourite, The Vulgar Tongue (1785) for slang words.

The points of this post are:

  1. Always ensure your characters are acting, talking and thinking within the zeitgeist of the time, and make sure your/their language is time-appropriate.
  2. You can do this by reading novels written at the time, but better, newspapers and other journals, such as those you find in the online archives.
  3. Keep every useful page you come across and bookmark it, making separate folders in your bookmarks if necessary.

You can’t beat a book on a shelf, but for speed, I use the net. What I don’t do, however, is take a search engine’s results as 100% accurate in their information and I always double-check what I read on online encyclopaedias with a website run by experts. If in doubt, do your research.

[I’ll be back on Wednesday with an update on the work in progress, ‘Starting with Secrets’.]

Work In Progress: 4.2

Starting with Secrets

Well, I’m not sure how this happened, but by the end of today, I shall be at 50,000 words of the next book in the Larkspur Mysteries series, ‘Starting with Secrets.’ This is only WIP blog 2! One of the reasons this one is going so smoothly is that I have been planning it since starting book four, and it’s already plotted, I know all but a few of the characters, and I started writing scenes for it while I was writing ‘Speaking in Silence’, which, I am pleased to say, is doing well. Thank you for your reviews!

But 50,000 words? That’s like half a novel already and yet I am only a third of the way through the planned story. This book is either going to be another epic like ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, or it’s going to end up being two books. It is, in fact, the first part of a two-part finale to the series, and I intend to write on and on until I reach the end and not worry about word length. Then, when it’s done, I will take a look and decide if it’s a) is over-written and needs massive editing, b) it’s a two-parter or c) it’s just a long book with lots of mystery, thrills and spills.

It is a very simple story: Archer is left a treasure hunt which he wants to solve. However, the clues are obscure and, it turns out, they are also many. This means the ‘crew’ has to split into three teams, including the academy men, and among them is a new character, Bertie Tucker. While not being sure of why he is at the academy, Bertie becomes a distraction for Edward and that means he becomes a concern for Henry, and it’s down to James (Jimmy Wright) to play the part of mentor while investigating one line of clues. Meanwhile, Silas takes the lead on a London-based hunt, leaving Tom to consider the last two cryptics back at Larkspur. Behind all of this, there is a villain trying to stay one step ahead and bringing in other characters to his evil team, and there will be moments of danger, excitement and, of course, bromance.

I’m putting a lot of background research into this one, as I usually do, but as the story is so big and diverse, so is my background reading. All will be revealed in time, but for now, I am ploughing on with chapter 14, and wondering what the word count will be this time next week. Be here then to find out.

Summer on Symi. August.

Having just released ‘Speaking in Silence’, I thought I would take a day off. Ha! As if. I can’t remember the last time I had a full day off. Because we live on a Greek island, people assume I spend my days sitting under olive trees jotting notes in a leather-bound notebook, watching the lazy world go by and popping down to the beach for a swim in the afternoons.

Not quite.

I’m not saying I’m a workaholic, but I am. If you’ve been following my Saturday blog, you will have read about my typical day. Up at 4.30am or a little later in the winter, cup of tea, and to the desk where I write up to 4,000 words per day for other people, because we have to pay the rent. I usually aim to get that done by around eight or nine, if I haven’t gone for a walk, which I sometimes do in the summer months.

A morning walk here on Symi is pretty inspirational

At some point during the morning, I can start on my own writing, and on days when I don’t have paid work in, I can get to my next chapter earlier. That’s on days when I don’t have to prepare a blog for my site like I am doing now.

My morning usually finishes around 11.00, certainly before midday, because by then I might have written 6,000 words or more, and my brain needs a rest. There then follows a two-hour lunch break, sometimes a doze, and I tend to go back to the desk to read through what I wrote in the morning. I’ll either finish at three and have a siesta, or carry on until around four when I might pop out for a drink and to rest my brain. Bedtime is often at nine, though the other day it was eight.

That’s my day and while it’s going on, other people are having a holiday because Symi is a holiday island during the summer. This year, we’re experiencing a milder August than we had last year when the temperature got up to 45 degrees or slightly over, and the days were humid. Currently, we’re averaging around 36 degrees in the shade in our courtyard, which is slightly lower than it was in July when we hit 42. That’s a far cry from the winter months when I spend the morning heating my office, typing with my gloves on and still don’t get the temperature past nine degrees.

Symi’s a popular place for sailboats in the summer, small yachts and massive gin palaces alike, and this summer is no exception. The last two years were quieter due to the pandemic, but this season has been busy from day one.

My PA, Jenine, housekeeps for a luxury villa in the harbour. This is a typical morning view from that terrace.

We have up to five day-trip boats per day come over from Rhodes bringing visitors for a few hours, and many regular visitors come to stay for two weeks or more; some come several times per year, and who can blame them?

We’re into festival season now and have already had the famous ‘Symi shrimp festival’ where the municipality gives out the island’s local delicacy (small shrimps that you eat shell and all) and where the band plays music, and people dress in traditional costume and dance. I try to avoid this festival because I once had a bad allergic reaction to these shrimps, and now can’t even stand the smell of them, but that’s me.

One of Neil’s photos of the Symi Shrimp Festival a few years back

There will be other festival events such as bands in the town and village squares, musicians in the church courtyards, possibly plays, art exhibitions and other cultural events too. The festival used to run for three months, but now it’s more like one month, and will take us to September.

This September, Neil and I will be celebrating living on the island for 20 years. We arrived on his birthday, and that is also celebrated on the same day, as is our marriage, which happened on his birthday too. We will also celebrate meeting 25 years ago around the same time, so early September is our own kind of festival season.

Before that, however, I must get back to the business of writing, and it is a business. Someone commented the other day, ‘I don’t know how you do it,’ referring to my output. My reply when people say this is, ‘It’s my full-time job’ and it is. Even when I am writing for other people, my mind is on the real work; mine. It’s there when I am walking in the morning, having a shower, meeting people for drinks—I’m terrible because I’m often not there—and when I am watching TV of an evening. That is the life of a writer. It’s a good job I’m not keen on swimming anymore, otherwise, I might be tempted to sit beneath a tree on the beach, contemplating life and taking the occasional dip. Too many stories, not enough time!

On which note, if you want to follow the progress of the next novel, check into the Wednesday Work in Progress blog, where I will update you about ‘Starting with Secrets’, the Larkspur Mysteries book six. I am already 30,000 words in…

Work in Progress 4.1

Starting with Secrets

Okay, before we start on our next journey together, let’s just check in with the news.

Speaking in Silence, the Larkspur mysteries book five is now available on Amazon as a paperback, Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. Follow that link and you’ll be directed to your own country’s Amazon if necessary.

Now, onto the next one which I started while I was finishing the last one. That’s something I often do, but in this case, I did it because I knew that what happens next in the Clearwater/Larkspur saga has to relate back to what the previous novels contain. In the case of ‘Starting with Secrets’, we go right back to before even 1888 and Deviant Desire, the first in the Clearwater series. (Which, I notice, now has 75 ratings and many decent reviews. A few more ratings and we’ll cross the 100 mark, a milestone for me, so keep rating every book you read folks!)

I am already 25,000 words into ‘Secrets’ and am nearing the end of Act One. The thing is, this is the first part of a two-part adventure, and so the first quarter of ‘Secrets’ is actually the first eighth of the overall story. As a four-act story needs a turning point at the end of each act, when I get to 50% through ‘Secrets’, I will be at the end of Act One of the two-parter, if you get me. I have to bear all this in mind as I plough on.

So far, we have met one new character and we’re about to meet a couple of ghosts from the past. James and Silas have been called down to Larkspur because Archer has been set a treasure hunt. It will, ultimately involve the academy men, Fleet and various other charters we know and love (or hate). There will be trysts and triumphs, sadness and success, love and maybe a little lust if it is appropriate (am thinking of you, Charles).

I’ll keep you informed as I write on, so stay tuned to the Wednesday WIP blog, and check back on Saturday for my weekly ramble about all things books, me and creative.

Speaking in Silence

The Larkspur Mysteries Book Five

I have the cover and the details uploaded, and should be finalising the internal files over the weekend. This means you should be able to find ‘Speaking in Silence’ any day now. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll no doubt receive a notification from Amazon and know the book is available before I do. Meanwhile, at the bottom of this post is the cover reveal. Click the image to open the full cover.

Who is it?

The problem with discussing any new release is that I don’t want to give away any spoilers or tell you what the story is because I don’t want to ruin the journey for you. However, you will meet the character while you’re reading the book, and all I will tell you is that he is our protagonist. Everything that happens does so because of him. Things also happen because of the antagonist who is after his own reward, but he’s slimy and horrible, so I didn’t want to put him on the front cover.

Speaking in Silence is a slightly unusual story for me in that it’s not exactly a mystery. It is, but the mystery is ‘How will they do that?’ and, later, ‘How did they do that?’ It’s one of only a few novels I have written with a classic drawing room denouement, as I discussed in a post the other week.

The fun thing for me was holding back what I and the characters knew, and not giving things away to you, the reader, too soon. I could have done that, and then there would have been one tension point at a particular place in the story, but that would have been it. This time, I decided to keep you wondering until after the event—the climax—and I hope it works.

‘Starting with Secrets’

With ‘Speaking in Silence’ written, I was able to turn my mind to the next book, ‘Starting with Secrets,’ and the one after that, ‘The Larkspur Legacy.’ What I am embarking on now is a two-part mystery that leads to what could be the end of the series. Having said that, I am sure the Clearwater world will live on after the Larkspur collection. I just haven’t decided how. Yet.

From Wednesday, on my work-in-progress blog, I will set the counter back to week one, though I have been working on ‘Secrets’ for the past several days already. I have been devising clues because the next novel is all about solving obscure clues while chasing down a secret ‘treasure’ that will secure the Clearwater future. (Again, I can’t say too much.) There will be a new character or two, and many of the established Clearwater and Larkspur characters will be involved.

Here’s an opportunity that’s just occurred to me—I’ll discuss it with Jenine when I can, but I’ll drop it in here now, so I don’t forget.

I was thinking I might ask readers and followers on my Facebook page to tell me who is their favourite character from either series. I can then make sure those characters appear in the next two books. There is such a cast now, that my spreadsheet of characters is bulging, and I am running out of names. (I realised the other day that I had an Archer and an Arthur, and when they appear in the same scene, I have to call Arthur a footman or Art, so readers don’t get confused between the two.) Keep an eye on my FB page and I’ll put up a post (if I remember) asking for suggestions.

Which characters would you like to appear in the next two instalments? Who’s your favourite? Perhaps then I’ll draw a random name and send off a signed copy of ‘Starting with Secrets’ when it’s out.

Speaking in Silence Cover Reveal

But I mustn’t get ahead of myself and forget that Speaking in Silence is out next week. Tune in to Wednesday’s WIP to start the adventure of writing the next novel, and before that, look out for the ‘Silence’ release.

Now you can click the image to see the full front cover open in a new window.

Work In Progress: 3.13

Speaking in Silence

I am currently reading through the proofed manuscript, and only have a few chapters left to do. After that, I’ll be contacting the guys at Other Worlds Ink and setting up the formatting process. That usually only takes a couple of days, and after that, I will upload the Kindle versions of the book. I’m waiting for my cover designer to make a tiny alteration on the back cover of the print version, but I think she might be on holiday, so the paperback may not come out at the same time as the Kindle and KU versions.

So, in a nutshell, you should be able to find Speaking in Silence online in the first week of August. Once I have sent it to Amazon, I will return my attention to the next one, which I left five chapters in, to turn my attention to ‘Silence.’ Another WIP will begin, this time #4, because it will be the fourth novel I have taken you through in these blogs. It will actually be the 40th book I have written. Gulp. Then again, I do write full-time for around six hours per day.

Anyway… There will be more news soon, and keep an eye on the blog and my Facebook page for the cover reveal.

Mapping Your Novel

Or, Getting From A to D via the B and C of it all

Today I wanted to talk about maps and mapping your novel, and how I use maps while mapping my novels. There are two parts to this.

  • 1) The way I structure the paths through the story
  • 2) How I use maps when creating a novel

Mapping Your Way Through Your Story

When previously talking about structure, I have recommended a couple of screenwriting books to read which were written by experts about story structure. ‘Story’ by Robert McKee, and ‘The 21st Century Screenplay’, by Linda Aronson. I can also add to that ‘Into the Woods’ by John Yorke. (I also recommend the Sondheim/Lapine musical with the same title as an excellent example of how to interweave stories together.) Read those books and you’ll know just about all there is to know about how to structure a story. Add in ‘The Writer’s Journey’ by Vogler, and you’ll know all there is to know about character arcs and development, archetypal characters and plot structure.

Essential reading for the budding writer

There are various ways to structure a story, but let’s think simple for now. By the time your story ends, something should have changed, a character should have learnt something or altered his/her state, and you should leave the reader with a sense of things to come thanks to that change, either good or bad. In other words, the end state is far away from the beginning state.

You can start your tale partway through the overall story as I did with ‘Artful Deception.’ There, chapter one starts a few days into the story, leaving us wondering what was happening and how and why the characters were in that situation. Then, in chapter two, we start at the real beginning with the inciting incident that leads to the scene we read in chapter one, and then we carry on from there. That’s a way of drawing the reader in and is very common in films. The point is, the story still starts somewhere and ends somewhere else, and I don’t just mean physically.

To get your action from A to D, you need to go via the B and C, and that’s where you need to map things out. I make a list of ‘hit points’ or ‘plot points’ or twists if you like…

A, everything’s fine and dandy when something happens.

That leads to B, trying to work out what has happened and what we can do about it, which then leads to a twist or change of direction at halfway, and we’re off into…

C, how do we deal with what’s happened? Working through that, through difficulties and challenges, emotional turmoil and whatever, leads us to the crisis. Just when you think things couldn’t get worse or the hero is doomed, he overcomes his fatal flaw, takes a leap of faith, and pulls up his socks.

That done, we then get on the with D of the story, the climax, and, after that, we’re in a different story state. It’s done, and the reader can relax or sigh with relief. We have gone from the A state of normality, travelled with our characters through the B and C (the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune) to the final battle and the D, the resolve.

Don’t take my words literally. You don’t have to have a physical final battle, it can be an emotional one, but it usually involves a leap of faith or a difficult decision. That’s because the emotional plot (character arcs, development, overcoming fatal flaws etc.) runs parallel to the action, and also needs mapping.

There are loads of online resources to use to understand this better, and while searching for a simple illustration of the above, I found the graphic below. This shows you the points of the story I mentioned (inciting incident to climax, etc.) with a typical character arc set against it in a graph.

How I use maps when creating a novel

If you have read ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ you will have seen a map of the route of the Orient Express circa 1890 to 1914. I had that map drawn because I wanted to include it at the start of the book, and because I love looking at maps. I can sit at my desk for ages reading a map, imagining the locations, revelling in the romantic place names, the terrain, contours and symbols, and I often have a map open when taking my characters on a journey. I have a map of the Great Western Railway routes, again from the late 19th to early 20th century, and I referred to it while writing my recent Work In Progress blog about ‘Speaking in Silence.’

I have a fantastic book about the history of maps and cartography, ‘The Cartographia’ by Vincent Virga, which sits in pride of place on my desk. Vincent also wrote ‘Gaywyck’, the first gay gothic romance novel. Along with the Cartographia, I have a Reader’s Digest Atlas of the World, a large book that talks about topography, geology, and geography, and comes with detailed maps of every part of the planet. I use this to find remote locations, such as the castle in ‘Negative Exposure’, so I can see where my characters are at any one time when on a countrywide chase.

Then, I have the more detailed Ordnance Survey maps, such as the one of Bodmin Moor where the imaginary Larkspur Hall is found. I have drawn on my copy, filling in a rough estate boundary for Larkspur and marking the location of the ring of standing stones Joe discovers in ‘Keepers of the Past.’ The OS  Explorer maps are great for detail, but if you’re not a map reader and want to see what a location looks like, then Google Maps is where you need to go.

Maps, maps and more maps

I use the Google map service a great deal. I find a place on the map, then switch to the image results to get an overview, and then switch to the Maps option and use the satellite view. With that, you can zoom in, and even place yourself on a street or in the countryside and really get into detail. I used this in ‘Speaking in Silence’ as you will read in the author’s notes at the end. That story is based on a real event, and the newspaper reports I found gave the address of one of the characters in 1891. I went to the satellite service and dropped myself onto the same road, found the actual house and had a look at it, as it is still standing.

Ah yes, you say, but that’s a good point. What we see now on these maps may not be what was there in 1891 when my current novels are set. You are right, I reply, and that’s why I often go to the National Library of Scotland. They have a brilliant online resource for old maps. If, for example, you head to this link: London map 1888 to 1913 you should see a black and white map of London that you can zoom into. In the bottom left corner of the screen is a ‘transparency of overlay’ feature, a slider that, when slid, reveals today’s Google map of the area, so you can compare then and now. The site has hundreds of maps of different scales and from different times and is a great online resource. Here is a link to their list of online digital resources. https://www.nls.uk/digital-resources/

Why am I Even Talking About Maps?

You might wonder why I am talking about maps at all. The reason is that the next novel in the Larkspur series involves journeys, as will the one after it. I am about to release ‘Speaking in Silence’, and have started working on the sixth book in the series, ‘Staring at Secrets.’ After that, we will have ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ and both books will involve characters from Larkspur and Clearwater heading off to various places, trying to put together a massive puzzle and find a ‘secret treasure’, as I’m calling it for now. Because I like to be as accurate as possible, I’m using maps of the time and other resources to work out distances, the time it would have taken to travel, and the means the characters would have had at their disposal. That’s why I also have a copy of Baedeker’s Egypt from 1892, and Cook’s Tourist Handbook for Egypt, the Nile and the Desert, 1897.

While the fun part is happening—the plotting, mapping and planning—I am also mapping the character’s arcs and developments, working out who will be the main character(s), what the emotional and love story will be, and those throughlines will be mapped against the physical action storyline. If you look at the photo of my larger notebook, you’ll see the beginnings of a rough chart that spans both books, as ‘Staring at Secrets’ is part one of the story. That’s good fun to do, but it’s also vital if you are to produce a well-structured action and emotional story through which your characters grow, and through which you take your reader from the ordinary world of A to the new world of D via the B and C of it all.

Work In Progress 3.12

Speaking in Silence’ and ‘Starting with Secrets

Yes, sorry about this, but I now have two WIPs on the go. Speaking in Silence is with the proofreader, so there is nothing more I can do about that for now. Having said that, I have just asked Anjela to amend the cover because I got something wrong in the blurb. Well, in the story, actually, where I gave Clearwater a title he could never have held. I’ve sorted that now, and it was only a case of changing one word three times. So, Speaking in Silence has gone for its check-up, leaving me little to do except prepare its Amazon page for when it comes back. Then, I will read it again, have it laid out, and upload the files. I am still aiming for the first week of August for its release.

Meanwhile…

Starting with Secrets has started. This story will be the sixth in the Larkspur Mysteries series and begins with something that happened way back before the first of the Clearwater series began. A secret known only to two characters sets off an adventure that will involve the academy men and characters from the Clearwater series. It’s going to be a two-parter, with the second book having its own title, and I have begun work on the plotting and early chapters.

The Larkspur / Clearwater Bible

I need to invent a fair few clues for ‘Secrets’, and my notebook has come in very handy, as has my Clearwater and Larkspur bible, where I record info about characters and places, events and so forth in case I need them later. Right now, I am about to sit at my writing desk and dream up another set of unlikely clues before returning to chapter four, which I wrote yesterday, and reading that through before moving on to chapter five.

I’ll be back next Wednesday with another WIP update, and who knows what I’ll be writing by then.

Learning While I Write

While ‘Speaking in Silence’ is awaiting its proof reading, and while I am mapping the next book, ‘Starting with Secrets’, I thought it high time I did some more learning.

You may remember that when I started on the Larkspur Mysteries, I introduced a deaf character, Joe Tanner. To better understand him and his language, I signed up for an introduction to British Sign Language (BSL), and passed the basic course. This was useful not only for forming the character, but also for my own learning, and I learnt a little about the history of BSL, particularly that it was outlawed in Victorian times. This meant that Joe would have invented his own version of it, which he and Dalston did as they grew up in the workhouse. That was typical of what happened back then, and is the reason BSL has so many regional variations in its signs.

Introduction to the Victorian Age

That was then, this is now, and I have now signed up for a course called, ‘Introduction to the Victorian Age.’ It’s a diploma course run by the Centre of Excellence. Recently, my husband passed a Sociology diploma course with them and has now embarked on a philosophy diploma. The Centre of Excellence prices its courses at reasonable amounts, has won five worldwide business awards, and all their courses are certified or accredited. Now and then, they have promotional offers, and last week, we bought three courses for €58.00, where the original price should have been €450.00. So, not a bad deal at all. If you want to know more, head to the Centre of Excellence and have a look around. It costs nothing to investigate, and you will find all kinds of courses from Earth Sciences to Animal Care.

They have 25 different writing course that might interest you.

What am I about to learn?

My course is titled an ‘Introduction to the Victorian Age’, and you might wonder why I am doing this. Having already written 16 books in my Victorian mystery series, don’t I already know about the age? Well, yes, I know some, and I do my research, but usually on specific novel-appropriate topics. For example, I read a great deal about Jack the Ripper when writing ‘Deviant Desire’, and a lot about workhouses when writing ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ I have books on my shelf that range from The Cleaveland Street Scandal to Victorian architecture, and from the Victorian country house to slumming, but I haven’t yet read much on the early part of the era, the industrial revolution and what took place before the 1880s when my books are set. The Victorian era began when Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 and lasted until her death in 1901. The course I am about to embark on begins with her ascendancy to the throne, Prince Albert and his death, and moves on to look at gender, society and class.

Then there is a module about the industrial revolution and the ‘rise of the factory’, followed by one that covers the labour movement, slums, urbanisation and city improvements. I will then look at crime in Victorian times (can’t wait for that!), punishment, the Whitechapel murders gets its own section (can’t wait for that either), and there is a module about science, religion and fear. Health and medicine, the Empire, the Irish famine in the 1840s are all covered too, as are the arts and culture.

As you can see, there’s a lot in it, but I don’t have to rush. Once you’re signed up for a course, you can take as long as you want to complete it, and that means months or even years, so there’s no pressure. There are marked assessments along the way (marked by qualified tutors), but no need to sit an exam. My aim is to do the modules as and when I can, and use what I learn to further improve my historical accuracy. As I also have copywriting work and two novels in the pipeline, my time is restricted, but I will do my best and I’ll keep you informed on progress as I go.

Here’s the link again in case you want to know more about the courses. Centre of Excellence.

And what of Larkspur? I mentioned I am planning the next in the Larkspur series, and I am. Speaking in Silence should be with you early in August, but I have already drafted chapter one of the next book, ‘Starting with Secrets.’ Actually, I have been making notes on the one after that too, and I’ll be updating you every Wednesday on my Work In Progress blog. My current plan is to write a two-part story to bring the Larkspur series to an end. There will, therefore, eventually be seven books in the series, though who knows? I may write more. The next one, ‘Secrets’ starts off the two-parter, and should be followed by ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, which will be similar in design to ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’ I’ll say no more just now, and will leave it for my Wednesday WIP blog, and turn my attention to Queen Victoria.

P.S Cover reveal for Speaking in Silence is on its way later this week!

Work In Progress 3.11

Speaking in Silence

You may remember my to-do list last week looked like this:

  •     Finish the fine editing
  •     Reread for a final check
  •     Create the blurb
  •     Find images suitable to make a cover and open negotiations with Andjela
  •     Proofreading
  •     Layout
  •     Check everything and reread
  •     Upload to Amazon
  •     Hope for the best

I’m happy to tell you, I have completed the first four things on the list ✔✔✔✔, though I haven’t finalised the blurb yet. Neil has read my edited draft, and I have a little editing to do on the last chapter, which I will do in a moment. Andjela and I have the licence for a photo to be adapted for the front cover, and there will be a reveal of that nearer the release date, which is still estimated at the first week of August.

Check in next week for an update. Meanwhile, here’s the draft blurb.

Speaking in Silence

The Larkspur Mysteries Book Five

Jackson Marsh

“The quiet ones have the loudest voice. Them as say most by speaking in silence.”

Fiona Hawkins, 1881

March 1891. A parliamentary committee arrives at Larkspur Hall to assess Lord Clearwater’s suitability to become the Earl of Cornwall. Prince Albert Victor will announce their decision at a society dinner on Archer’s thirty-second birthday.

However, the MP with the authority to advance Archer to the title is the same man who caused Edward Hyde never to speak again. When the parliamentarians arrive to inspect the Larkspur Academy, Edward comes face to face with the man he had arrested for making unnatural advances. A man who was never tried for his crime.

Silas Hawkins and the academy men band together to ensure Edward sees justice done while protecting Lord Clearwater’s reputation and each other. Using their skills in chemistry, physics and deception, they embark on a game of secrets and subterfuge where the unspoken causes the loudest outcry.


Speaking in Silence is the fifth book in the Larkspur Mysteries series, and touches on themes of victimisation and suicide. Like all books in the series, it is inspired by actual events from the late 1800s. With themes of friendship, bromance, male love and revenge, the story is more of a ‘how dunnit?’ than a ‘who dunnit?’ and like all of Jackson’s mysteries, contains humour, while mixing fact with fiction.