Researching and the Larkspur Mystery Series
This Saturday, I thought I’d tell you how I’m doing with the new series, The Larkspur Mysteries. I also have a treat for you at the end of this blog in the form of a flash fiction piece, but we will get to that later.
What are the Larkspur Mysteries to be?
A series of mysteries that revolve around a central character who is in some way involved with Lord Clearwater’s new Larkspur Academy. The Larkspur Academy is a place where young men can develop their unique talents and was inspired by Jasper Blackwood and Billy Barnett from the Clearwater Mysteries. Although it is overseen by the Clearwater Estate, it is run by a mentor instead of a headmaster as it is not a school, and he lives in the house with his men. They are not students as it is not a college, and deciding what to refer to them as has been one of my first headaches.
The mentor is the eccentric but brilliant Barbary Fleet, and when the series starts, he and the academy have been in place for four months. There are already four young men there, benefiting from the Clearwater contacts, Fleet’s way of improving people, and from having space simply to be themselves.
Each story will take a central character. I was going to start the series off with Barbary Fleet himself and show how he came to be chosen to run this unusual establishment. I thought about giving readers a ‘how the academy started’ story along with Fleet’s own, but I’ve decided to do that in a later book. A little like how Banyak & Fecks is the prequel to the Clearwater Mysteries and yet wasn’t written until after book eight. By the time I have written a few of these new mysteries, I will know more about Fleet and the academy, which will make for a better prequel.
What is the First Story?
Each of the stories will start with, or be inspired by, an actual event. The first book had a working title of ‘Dalston Blaze’, and I considered titling each one after the principal character. However, now I am 60,000 words into the first draft, I have thought of another working title, ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ We shall see. Whatever the title, the story was inspired by an article I found in Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper, dated June 1st 1890, exactly the right time for the period of my story. The piece was headed, The Chelsea Workhouse Scandals and the opening reads thus: Joseph Bailey, 35, porter, and Hugh Johnson, 16, were indicted for inciting each other to the commission of unnatural offences… Another line, later in the piece, states …the jury, after what they had heard, did not desire to hear counsel for the defence, which I thought was outrageous.
What set me off on a trail towards a mystery was the idea that two men were tried (unfairly, by the sound of it) for intending to have sex together, the unnatural offences mentioned in the report. What we have, are two men in a workhouse and facing five years of penal servitude for, as we’d say now, being gay. (Five years is what the older one got, the younger one’s sentencing was postponed, and I’ve not been able to find out what happened to him.) That sounds exactly like the kind of thing Clearwater would get his teeth into, and just the sort of men he would want to save, but how to mould a mystery?
What if the character in the dock, who we’ll call Dalston Blaze and who is 18, wants to be sentenced? What if it is his only way of avoiding death? And what if he is being guarded in the dock by a young Irishman posing as a policeman who is there to spring him from gaol? What if a new barrister has been called to represent him, a man called Sir Easterby Cresswell, who has an assistant by the name of Wright? And what if, by some ancient legal argument, Creswell holds off the sentencing until the partner in crime, who is missing, has been found? What if the missing man, also 18 and from the workhouse, was also a deaf mute? And what if the ‘evidence’ against the two was a message written in symbols because that’s how they communicate?
Then… What if Dalston finds himself bailed to the care of the Larkspur Academy?
And so it went on.
I have not only been researching old newspapers for stories to inspire, but I have also been looking into workhouses and sign language because my missing character is deaf from birth. The mystery is mainly ‘Why does someone want to kill these two workhouse boys?’ They are, by then, porters, but they have grown up together in the workhouse since they were twelve. They are best friends (possibly more?) and communicate via signs and symbols. Then, there is the mystery of what has happened to the missing deaf man, Joe?
It’s been a fascinating journey so far, and my research list is growing longer by the day. I don’t know when this book will be ready, there’s a long way to go yet, and it’s only the first draft. As it sets up the feel for the rest of the series, I need to make sure I get it right, so bear with me.
Meanwhile, here are some of the sites I’ve been using, along with books, for my research, in case anyone is interested in knowing more about the Victorian Workhouse, and the development of British Sign Language (BSL). After this list, I have the flash fiction treat for you.
Lord Bastion Announces
This was a piece I wrote for an anthology. It’s my first piece of flash fiction, i.e. a very short story complete in itself. As you can tell from my books, I tend not to write short stories, lol! So, this was something of a challenge to produce, but in the end, I was rather proud of it and thought I’d share it with my readers. Enjoy, and I’ll be back next week.
Lord Bastion Announces
Fleetfoot straightened his wing collar and leant his well-trained ear to the activity beyond his butler’s pantry. Servants moved through billowing kitchen steam in the vaulted chambers, and the day began in butler-acceptable fashion. Satisfied, Fleetfoot turned his scrutiny to the flat-iron and the daily broadsheet.
How many years had he spent with this iron? Too many for any other life, yet not enough.
Fleetfoot had loved his master in silence and servitude through an age of stigma. Lord Bastion, inventor and newspaper owner, was forbidden to express love. He, like Fleetfoot, dared not utter the unspeakable, forced by Victorian convention to deny the unnatural.
Secret life was a trial for both, but His Lordship knew he was loved by the unquestioning thing of black and white that glided through pillared halls. The man who gently closed laboratory doors, bowed his head and obeyed. The same companion now ironed the newspaper to set the ink, so his master’s untouchable fingers remained unsullied.
Licked finger, iron-touch, hiss and press.
Fleetfoot regarded the headline. Lord Bastion Invents… The master was always inventing, the headlines always lauding. Page two. Reheat, lick finger, touch and continue; every page the same.
Lord Bastion Announces… The master announced every day, but no reader knew what because a blank space always followed the caption.
Fleetfoot ironed the empty page, as was his time-worn duty.
Lord Bastion Announces… Something that only appeared when the ink was heated to the exact temperature by the correct iron pressed at the precise pressure by the only man able to read His Lordship’s daily declaration.
Lord Bastion Announces Fleetfoot, too, is loved.
The butler continued to iron his master’s newspaper and, like every day, was careful to catch the teardrops before they smudged the ink.