Final Draft: How I Improve my Manuscript

Final Draft: How I Improve my Manuscript

This week, I wanted to give you an insight into how I edit and improve my manuscript. Remember, this is my process, and is not necessarily correct or the only way. I’ve used examples from my current work in progress (WIP), ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ The section I’ve borrowed from started off at 224 words and ended up at 164. That’s only 60 words shorter, but then editing isn’t always about cutting down your word count. I have identified several areas where I edit, and a professional editor would identify many more.

Here are my thoughts with examples.

Overall story

The first thing I do is write the first draft. When I do this, I am simply telling myself a story. I usually know how it will open and close, and I start at the beginning and work through. I make notes as I go and it’s a long list. I note:

  • Questions raised in the story, which I must answer later
  • Clues to be solved and their solutions
  • Character descriptions, eye colour, etc.
  • Dates and times, ages, birthdays
  • Ideas for developments and plot points
  • The timeline
  • My common typos so I can run a search/find later

I am also aware of my overall structure and pace, and as I like to use a classic four-act structure, I note when I have reached the end of each act. The acts generally run:

  1. Set up, inciting incident, MC’s current world, ending with a shift into a new world/experience/state.
  2. Developing to a mid-way twist or crisis,
  3. Reaction to that, finding answers leading to the major crisis and climax,
  4. Settling down, denouement and change.

Here’s an example of my section at draft one stage:

What hit him was a building as tall as the workhouse, a gravelled stable yard, and the smell of trees beyond a red brick wall. Once out of the carriage, Mr Hawkins told him to wait while he and the coachwoman stabled the horses, and taking in his surroundings, he noticed the double gates through which they had come. For a second, Clayton contemplated making a run for it.


Great, the first draft is done, and I have an overall picture of the story. Now, I start on draft two. The first thing I did with my current WIP was change the MC’s name from Clayton to Dalston. That’s easy to do in Word with find/replace. I also read through the text highlighting repetitions. When writing draft one, it’s easy to think, ‘Have I made that point? Will the reader take that in?’ So, I tend to restate important facts, mainly to ensure I have put them in. Later, I have to identify them and take them out, else they become repetitious.

Also, I’m aware of repeating words. In my current draft four, I am conscious that, in dialogue, I’ve been writing, ‘Now then,’ Mr Wright continued…’ for example, and I think my characters ‘continue’ on just about every other page. So, I’ve been finding ways around that repetitive habit. Similarly, I look for overuse of ‘He’ at the start of a sentence, as there’s always a better way around that. Ending a sentence with a pronoun doesn’t tread well either, so anything ending with him, her, it, they, is rewritten. There’s also the overuse of a character’s name, although you don’t want to constantly replace a name with him/her either. So, balance is key. (As is not using split infinitives such as ‘to constantly replace.’)

Right ideas in the wrong place

Here’s another thing I am guilty of. As I go through draft one, I often write in ideas for later or change an idea for a better one that comes naturally to mind as I write. This can be a real pain in the arse. For example, at one point, Dalston has lived 13 years in the workhouse and later, he’s been there since he was a baby. Here’s an example:

There was nowhere to go. The workhouse had been his home for thirteen of his eighteen years, and he couldn’t remember where he had lived before. His first memory was of a matron in a white cap standing him beneath a tap, naked and shivering, and dousing him with cold water. From then on, life had been a repetitive round of sitting in silence, standing in line, sharing beds and, later, picking at oakum with a spike, or breaking rocks in the rock shed.

That was draft one. By the time we get to draft four, we have something much more succinct and accurate to the story.

There was nowhere to go. The workhouse had been his home all his life; a repetitive existence of sitting in silence, standing in line, sharing beds, and picking at oakum with a spike.

The mention of his first memory was one of those ideas that felt right at the time, but later, I realised it was something for further on in the story. The example is from chapter three, now Dalston’s first memories come out in chapter 14 where their placement makes much more sense.

Too many words

Here’s part of the above example: From then on, life had been a repetitive round of sitting in silence, standing in line, sharing beds and, later, picking at oakum with a spike, or breaking rocks in the rock shed.

That, remember, has now become:

The workhouse had been his home all his life, a repetitive existence of sitting in silence, standing in line, sharing beds, and picking at oakum with a spike.

That’s 33 words down to 28, but again, cutting the word count isn’t everything. What’s missing from the later draft is or breaking rocks in the rock shed. We don’t need two examples of workhouse life, not at that point in the story. The sentence, although still long, is more succinct.

Here’s another example of me trying to get my thoughts in order over four drafts.

Draft one: Whether Joe would survive on his own was another matter, and one that brought Clayton more sadness than being left on his own.

Draft two: It was a question of survival, but not knowing if Joe would survive on his own caused Dalston more sadness than being left on his own.

Draft three: Joe could have been anywhere, though, and not knowing if Joe would survive on his own caused Dalston more sadness than being without him.

Draft four: Is the same as draft three, but I’m still not 100% sure. (The second Joe is not needed, it could be a ‘he’, the ‘would’ might become a ‘could’, and caused Dalston more sadness than being without him is clumsy.)


Ah, yes, grammar. I’m not wonderful at this, and my punctuation is dodgy. That’s why I employ an expert proofreader. I also use a couple of programs. I started off with Grammarly, which is good at finding punctuation issues and other things according to its own style, but I found it messed around with my Word autocorrect and spellcheck. I unplugged that plugin and now use ProWritingAid. This wizard of a programme looks at all manner of things such as spelling, grammar, style, repeated phrases, passive verbs, sentence length, readability, clichés… There’s a lot to it, and you pick which parts you examine.

After draft two, I run each individual chapter through specific points in ProWritingAid. I look for grammar and style, overused words, sentence length, and clichés. Within those settings, the programme flags up passive verbs (which are not your enemy, just don’t overdo them), readability enhancements and repeated sentence starts.

Don’t just rely on these plugins, though. I also refer to published books on grammar and style and have my wonderful proofreader. Some would say that as you are creating your story in your style, you can employ whatever grammar you think fit, and yes, I suppose you can.
But it’s more about readability than showing off your crazy grammar style. Oops! I started a sentence with ‘but’, my old English teacher wouldn’t approve. But, it’s fine for emphasis. And, you can do it with and as well, for emphasis, but do it too often and you’ll read like an action comic. What you should do however is make sure the reader can understand what you’re saying because if you don’t write consistently and clearly using proper punctuation and you make your sentences too long and complicated as I often do in drafts one to three then your reader is literally going to run out of breath by the time they reach the end of what you’re trying to say.
In other words, don’t write sentences with no punctuation like I just did.

Be aware of some classic mistakes, such as the use of the Oxford comma: This book is dedicated to my readers, Harry and Sam. I have only two readers? No. This book is dedicated to my readers, Harry, and Sam. The comma replaces ‘to.’ This book is dedicated to my readers, to Harry, and to Sam.

And remember to help your uncle, Jack, off a horse, not help your uncle Jack off a horse.

And so on.

Do I mean that? (It.)

Every time I write a book, I do it for two reasons. 1) To write what I would like to read, and 2) To improve my writing a little more each time. Thus, I stay aware of bad habits, like starting sentences with ‘He’ and having my characters ‘continue’ during dialogue. Or, ‘What is that?’ she asked. We know she’s asking, there’s a question mark right there! Oh, and don’t use too many !! Certainly don’t put two together, and try to aim for none.
Another thing I’ve found myself doing recently is using ‘it’ when I know what I am talking about, but the reader may not. This usually happens with a break between the subject and the use of ‘it.’
Dalston put his sketchbook on the table when Frank came back with a sewing kit and wanted to fix a lock to it.
Say what? That was a made-up example, but not far off what I sometimes do when my brain is working faster than my fingers. What I meant was, Dalston put his sketchbooks on the table. When Frank returned, he brought a sewing kit, intending to attach a lock to the book…

Always read and reread sentences as if you’ve never seen them before. In fact, you should do that with the whole MS and ask yourself, ‘Am I saying what I mean to say, or am I writing lazily?’
Oh yes, and you can use adverbs, just don’t do it all the time.
Don’t be lazy: ‘I ain’t like that.’ Dalston was angry. (Boring!)
‘I ain’t like that!’ Dalston kicked the chair away and balled his fists. (Better.)

This leads me on to:

Can I make it better?

All of what I’ve been talking about comes down to the same end: Can I make it better? The answer is always ‘Yes’, but the question is always ‘How?’
There’s a theatre saying that’s bantered around as a joke, and I’ve used it myself when working on musicals as a director. ‘Let’s do it again, only better.’
Better is not specific, of course, and only you will know when your MS is perfect. For you. It will never be perfect for everyone, but you should always make it the best it can be.
Be critical of your own work. Don’t write it, read it, and think, ‘That’s wonderful. It’s done.’ Nothing is ever finished. I rarely read my books once published because I always see how I could have done something better or differently. I’m still finding better words for lyrics I wrote for a show in 1997, not that it will ever be performed again.
It’s not about taking out words but improving the ones you have. Well, sometimes it is about taking out words and putting them in another chapter because it’s something you want to say but doesn’t feel right when you first put it.
It’s not about trawling the thesaurus for something other than good, bad, ugly, it’s about asking why you wrote ‘good’ rather than leaving the reader with the impression something was good. Dalston woke feeling good, is pretty rubbish, really. Dalston woke with a spring in his step, is a cliché. Dalston woke full of the joys of… Don’t even go there. Dalston woke, remembered what the day promised, and grinned his toothy grin. Well, it’s a start.

Have I gone too far?

As I rewrite my drafts, I ask myself ‘Is this needed?’ and if it isn’t, it goes in the Cut folder, just in case I want it after all, or it contains something I can reuse another time. Currently, I have an entire chapter in the ‘Guardians’ Cut folder, and three other folders containing the first three drafts. I have been editing the MS for some weeks now, and it started at 105,000 words and is currently at 104,000. That means I have taken out only 1,000 words. Some writers suggest you should cut 20% from your first draft word count, and maybe that’s correct. I probably have cut 30,000 words from my first draft, but then I have replaced most of them with something better.
The trick is to improve your work, and if that means cutting, then do so, but remain aware of your style. Don’t just cut for the sake of it, but similarly, don’t leave something in a) if you’re not sure about it, and b) just because you like it. Whatever you take out, you can use elsewhere. Even if you can’t, what you have written has been practice, and by cutting it—no matter how painful it was to do—you have learnt something from the experience.
When I set about writing a chapter, the first thing I ask myself is, what is the POC? That’s my shorthand for Point Of Chapter. What is the point of this chapter? Is it to advance the plot or the character? Hopefully, both. I apply the same to any sections I am not sure about. I ask myself, what is the point of this paragraph? Is it scene-setting, a transition from one scene to another, is it colourful background, setting the time or era, or is it because I rather liked the prose and thought everyone should be treated to it?
Always wonder about your POC, and if a chapter has no plot advancement or character development, then you probably don’t need it.

And now, I think I have gone too far. I’ve rambled through my early morning thoughts, and I must return to my WIP and continue to check my POCs, cut out ‘continue’, check my pace, spelling, punctuation and readability, and make the MS as good as it can be.

I’ll be back next Saturday with an update on ‘Guardians of the Poor.’

Self-Publishing: How I Do It

Self-Publishing: How I Do It

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

No Vanity Publishing

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

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

My Method, Step by Step

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

My desk this morning.

I Write the Book

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


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

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

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

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

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

The map designed by Khayyam Aktar

When the Writing Stops

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

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

Back to the Proof-Reading.

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

One of Dazzlingdezines’ character sketches

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

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

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


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

Other Worlds Ink author services

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

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

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

And So, To Amazon

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

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

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

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

My author page on Amazon (part of it)

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

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

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

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

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

And Afterwards?

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

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

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

That’s it. See you next week.

WIP: Guardians of the Poor

Guardians of the Poor

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

The Larkspur Mysteries

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

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

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

Meanwhile, in Bow Street Magistrate’s Court…

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

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

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

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

Who Were the Guardians and Why the Poor?

So, what does the title mean?

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

The Hackney Workhouse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

When will Guardians be Ready?

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

My writing room.

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

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

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

A Week of Work and Walking

A Week of Work and Walking

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

Guardians of the Poor

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

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

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



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

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

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


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



An early morning boat trip.

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

And Back to the Books

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

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


Latest News

Latest News

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

I was on Rhodes yesterday.

Guardians of the Poor

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

The gif below is BSL fingerspelling of ‘Larkspur.’

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

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

Now then…

Learning Sign Language

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

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



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

And generally

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

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

Thank you