Work In Progress 3.03

Speaking in Silence

I started back on Larkspur Five, Speaking in Silence, on Monday. I’d done some work on it previously, but I wasn’t that happy with what I’d written.

The first chapter is fine (for now), and it’s rather Dickensian as we follow a mystery character into the depths of Greychurch (Whitechapel) for a clandestine meeting which sets up the rest of the story. Then, however, I’d cut to a couple of men at the Larkspur Academy and had written a very prosaic ‘waking up’ scene. This was followed by breakfast where Fleet asked all the characters what they were doing, and filled us in on what’s happened at the academy since we finished reading Seeing Through Shadows.

What I’d actually done, I realised, was tell myself what had been happening and where everyone was. Cadman was mapping the estate, Clem was about to start his business, Frank had been doing XYZ and Hyde and Hope were blah-di-blah. The reader didn’t need to know all that in the second chapter, and it was a bit ‘in yer face.’ So, I scrapped it. Rather, I put it in the ‘cuts’ folder because there are parts of it I will need later. I just didn’t need to bung it all in right at the start in the manner of a ‘Previously on Larkspur…’ announcement at the start of a TV show.

So, with chapter two out of the window, I moved chapter three, which I’d started, to second place, and carried on, and now things are flowing much more smoothly.

The story proper starts in chapter two (one being something of a prologue), and it starts with a dinner party at the Hall. Bigwigs and important MPs have come to inspect the academy, and among them are the men who will decide if Archer should be raised to the rank of Earl.

I need to do some research there, because things might have been different in 1891 to how they are now, and I know it’s not as simple as the monarch awarding the title like the good old medieval days. At least, I don’t think it was like that… I’ll let you know.

Anyway, the news is that the train has left the station and I am driving it, albeit slowly to start with. If you’ll excuse the analogy, I reckon I’ve just left Paddington and am still building up a head of steam. I’ve only reached the western suburbs so far, and my destination, Larkspur Hall in Cornwall, is still a long, long way away.

On my way!

Guest Post with Ally Lester

Hi everyone! I’m Ally Lester and I write queer romance across the rainbow spectrum as A. L. Lester. Firstly, thank you so much for having me visit your blog today Jackson! I’m really delighted to be here and to get to chat with your readers.

I’ve come to talk about Warning! Deep Water my release that is coming out on Saturday 7th May. It’s part of a project with Holly Day, Nell Iris, K. L. Noone and Amy Spector. As regular readers of my blog will know, Ofelia Grand (who also writes as Holly), Nell Iris and I write together in the early mornings. This involves a fair amount of chat and discussion about what we’re working on. As Holly, Ofelia writes stories to mark all the different holidays throughout the year and one day in December we were teasing her about what she should write next. We joked that World Naked Gardening Day would be an excellent idea…and lo and behold, here are five of us writing on a similar theme.

Warning! Deep Water! is a 16,300 word novella set in England in 1948. When given half a chance I slip back in time, obviously. It’s set on a horticultural nursery in Somerset. Did I grow up on a horticultural nursery in Somerset? Yes, yes I did. Was this weird? Yeah, a bit—half way through I realised I was having trouble writing any scenes with sexing because the MC reminded me of my dad. Did I change that fairly rapidly? YES, DEAR READER. YES I DID.

Once I’d got over that little hiccup however, it was extremely fun to write. For my historical background I rang my mum. She and my dad met in the 1950s whilst they were working on a nursery that grew mostly chrysanthemums. During the second world war, the place had had to stop growing flowers and focus on growing food. They grew lettuce and tomatoes, mostly to supply the local army camp, and were only allowed to grow a small amount of flowers every year to keep the stock fresh. After the war, once food supplies weren’t such an issue, they expanded back in to flowers and by the time the nursery shut and was sold for building at the end of the 20th century, they were known all over the country for their different varieties—they were the people that other nurseries bought cuttings and rootstock from.

This was the place on which I based Roseland, as a sort of mash-up with my own memories. My family’s place was more diverse—they grew flowers and tomatoes, lettuce, beans and cucumbers; and had pick-your-own fruit as time went on. In later years, my Mama grew plants and sold them at local country markets. We had three big stoke-holes that I remember being converted from coal to oil as a child in the 1970s. Before that we had regular deliveries of coal to keep it going.

The big water tank where George finds Peter swimming is directly modelled on the irrigation tank in #1 greenhouse. It always fascinated me…the mossy sides and the stillness of the water. It’s pumped up from a bore-hole and is fresh and crystal clear. We weren’t allowed to go in the greenhouse by ourselves in case we fell in and drowned, and I can remember getting the bollocking of my life one day when there wasn’t much water in there and my sister and I slid a ladder over and climbed down inside to paddle.

It was an idyllic childhood—of course there were dangers, from water tanks, to piles of broken glass from the greenhouses, to sharp tools, machinery and weedkillers. But we pretty much ran wild when we wanted to. Roseland is an affectionate look back at that and I hope that comes across behind Peter and George’s story.

If you want to find out some more about me and my books, my website is allester.co.uk, where you can sign up to my newsletter for a free paranormal-historical novella; or you can find me on social media, mostly as @CogentHippo. For now though, here’s a bit more about the story, and an excerpt.

Warning! Deep Water

It’s 1947. George is going through the motions, sowing seeds and tending plants and harvesting crops. The nursery went on without him perfectly well during the war and he spends a lot of time during the working day hiding from people and working on his own. In the evening he prowls round the place looking for odd jobs to do.

It’s been a long, cold winter and Peter doesn’t think he’ll ever get properly warm or clean again. Finding a place with heated greenhouses and plenty of nooks and crannies to kip in while he’s recovering from nasty flu was an enormous stroke of luck. He’s been here a few days now. The weather is beginning to warm up and he’s just realised there’s a huge reservoir of water in one of the greenhouses they use to water the plants. He’s become obsessed with getting in and having an all-over wash.

What will George do when he finds a scraggy ex-soldier bathing in his reservoir? What will Peter do? Is it time for them to both stop running from the past and settle down?

A Naked Gardening Day short story of 16,300 words.

BUY JMS BOOKS $2.99 : WIDE BUY LINKS TBA

Excerpt

“You didn’t say you liked music,” Peter said, as they were sitting across the table from each other over a cup of tea, once he’d finally pulled himself away from the instrument and reverentially closed the keyboard.

“Well,” said Peter. “It didn’t come up, did it?” He paused. “Mother used to play a bit,” he said, eventually. “Not like that, though. Hymns, mostly. She was big on chapel.”

There was clearly a story there.

“It’s nice to hear it played,” George went on. “Instruments should be used, not just sat there as part of the furniture. And…,” he paused again and blushed, “And you play very well.”

“Well,” said Peter shuffling with embarrassment. “I learned as a nipper and just carried on with it. Dad wanted me to go and study somewhere, but I wanted to get out and earn. It would have taken the joy out of it if I’d had to pass exams and such.”

George nodded. “I can see that. And you’re good with your hands.” He blushed again and became very absorbed with mashing the tiny amount of butter left from the ration into his baked potato.

Peter coughed. “Well yes,” he said. He couldn’t help smiling a little at George, although he didn’t let him see. He forged on. He really didn’t want him to be uncomfortable. “I think mathematics and music sort of go together, you know? And I was always good with numbers as well…it’s a good trait in a joiner.”

George nodded, clearly feeling they were on less dangerous territory. “Yes,” he said. “There’s all sorts of things you can use maths for; but music is pretty rarefied, isn’t it?”

Peter nodded. “This way I get to keep the music and earn a living. There’s always work for a carpenter, like you said the other day.”

He gradually became less self-conscious about playing when George and Mrs Leland were in the house over the next few weeks. It made him feel like another piece of what made him a person was coming back to life.

****

What it didn’t do was make him any less confused about what was happening between him and George. Half the time he thought George was completely uninterested. But then something would happen that would make him reconsider. The comment about being good with his hands was a case in point. It was a perfectly commonplace thing to say and George shouldn’t have been embarrassed. But he had been. Which meant he’d thought of it in a context that might cause embarrassment.

Peter spent several very enjoyable hours spread over several evenings working through different variations of what the other man might have been thinking.

George was nobody’s Bogart. But he was decent-looking. Nice face, especially when he smiled. A bit soft round the middle, but otherwise hard muscled from the physical work he did day in, day out. Clever…did his own accounts. Liked music. Made Peter laugh with his dry commentary on things in the paper or local gossip and the social pickles the girls reported on in the break room.

Peter liked him a lot. And fancied him. After the third night of considering at length how he could demonstrate how good with his hands he actually was, he gave up pretending. He fancied George a lot.

About A. L. Lester

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Writer of queer, paranormal, historical, romantic suspense, mostly. Lives in the South West of England with Mr AL, two children, a terrifying cat, some hens and the duckettes. Likes gardening but doesn’t really have time or energy. Not musical. Doesn’t much like telly. Non-binary. Chronically disabled. Has tedious fits.

Facebook Group : Twitter : Newsletter (free story) : Website : Link-tree for everywhere else

Work In Progress 3.02

Work In Progress 3.02

Week two of the creation of ‘Speaking in Silence’ and I’m afraid I will have to be rather silent on the subject. I said in my last WIP blog that I intended ‘beginning on the book proper in a couple of weeks.’ I still do, and the couple of weeks has now become one week. I intend to start on it on Sunday. Meanwhile, I have been reading about railways, investigating a few other matters I need to know, and inventing scenes in my head.

So, the WIP news this week is that there isn’t any WIP news this week, but I’m looking forward to knuckling down again in a few days. Summer is fast approaching, and that means I’ll be up at my usual summer morning time of 4.30-ish, at the desk by five if not sooner, and will have all morning and, when it’s not too hot, all afternoon to dedicate to the next Larkspur adventure. I’ll be keeping you informed as I progress through it.

The Author’s Bible

Or, in my case, two bibles, and we’re not talking religious texts. We’re talking about notebooks. Today, I thought I’d take you through my author’s bible. In other words, how I keep track of characters, places, descriptions and facts when writing a long and ongoing series. The photos show my two main notebooks, with brief explanations as to what you are looking at.

In the Beginning…

I have a chest in which I keep my original notes. I started this collection about two years BC (that’s Before Clearwater), and the papers are now yellowing, and the writing is fading. I used to make notes about the stories I was writing on pieces of scrap A4 paper, usually the backs of drafts I’d had printed, and among them is a list of most commonly mistyped words. I use that to check the full manuscript when I reach the end of a draft; words like form and from, for example. But these notes are not my author’s bible, that is a leather-bound, blank page notebook Neil bought me for Christmas 2018, and just after I’d written ‘Curious Moonlight’, I decided to start keeping my story thoughts in it. The first few pages concern a Gormenghast type story I was thinking of writing, and the only thing not now crossed out is a list of names: Anthem, the choirmaster, Pook, a serving boy, Tripp, a footman, and Archie with no job, but whose name means ‘genuine and bold.’

The beginning. As you can see, the Clearwater Series started in January 2019, and the first book was originally titled Deviant Lamplight, then Deviant Devotion and finally, Deviant Desire because the other two ideas were, frankly, terrible.

And therein lies the beginning of the Clearwater Mysteries. ‘A brethren of seven…’ was among my first notes, and I carried that idea over to the Clearwater crew: Archer, Silas, Fecker, James, Thomas… Well, a brethren of five that later becomes seven with Jasper and Billy, and then eight with Mrs Norwood, and so on until I now have a cast of thousands.

So, with 11 Clearwater books and, now, four Larkspur novels, how do I keep track of the details, and why?

Why is Easy

If you read a book and the character has blue eyes in chapter one, but brown eyes in chapter ten… If Larkspur Hall was in Bodmin one moment, and near Bodmin the next, or if Silas’ mother came from Dublin in one book and somewhere else in another… You see where I am going with this? It’s easy, as an author, to think I’ll remember that, and not write things down. Later, say two or three full novels later, you think, Ah yes, I remember I had to remember that, but what was it…? And then, you spend half a day searching your copy of the novel you thought the fact was in, only not to find it, and end up rewriting your section to avoid having to mention the important fact.

Keeping concise but accurate notes about the world you are inventing is safer all-round, even though you think, It’s my world, I won’t forget that.

You will.

How is Another Matter

Every author has their own way of keeping a record, notes, the author’s bible, as it’s commonly known. Some hire people to do it for them, to read the entire series and make notes on everything. Some people do this because they are fans, others, to earn money. I do it as I go, but I don’t do it in any structured way, by which I mean, my bible doesn’t have an index. I do, though, know roughly where to find things, and failing that, I flick through the pages.

Once I knew Deviant Desire was going to lead to a second book, I decided to use my new leather notebook to keep my facts, and started with Archer.

Archer’s notes updated over time.

These two pages contain the basics about my main character. His full name, titles, date of birth and other unchangeable facts like where and when he went to school and his physical description. Over the page, we have a double-page spread about Silas, including the date he and Archer met, and how old he is. Then comes Andrej (Fecker), Thomas, ‘East End and other characters’, minor characters not seen, other locations, a glossary, the list of murders, places and dates (from Deviant Desire), and a page of random notes.

After a blank page comes the name Sam Wright… Crossed out and replaced by Jim… Crossed out and finally replaced by James Joseph Wright, messenger, 25 years old (born Jan 10th 1863), started at post office aged 14, not 100% attractive (sorry, Jimmy), Fecker’s nickname for him Tato (daddy), and ‘James writes with a pen (book 9).’

Moving through the book, I find lists of dates as to when things happened, who works at the house next door, a page listing servants’ wages in 1888, and a rough plan of the ground floor of Clearwater House.

Clearwater House. My first attempt at a layout to help me picture how to get from one room to another, to improve consistency.

As you might have gathered by now, I keep the notes according to the book I am writing at the time. I stop now and then, usually after completing a book, to add to the previous pages and make other notes and lists about the world, not about the stories; that’s a separate matter. For the Clearwater series, I kept story notes in a separate notebook, jotting down ideas and points to answer, clues to solve and how, and story details, then later, I put the pertinent ones in the bible. If I filled the pages of the leather book with story notes, there would be so many things crossed out, it would make the book messy and even harder to read than it is.

Moving on, we next find a page outlining the characters’ skills, because, at that time, I was comparing them to superheroes – not in the stories, but in my head. So Archer was Iron Man and skilled in combat, money, and status. James (Captain America), communications, fitness, strength. Fecker (Thor), strength, loyalty, transport. Thomas (J.A.R.V.I.S.), Logic, cool head, planning… And so on.

For ‘Twisted Tracks’, I drew a map of the railway route I’d invented. Book three’s notes include a page of villains, and who was dead by then, and book four outlines who was on the board of the Clearwater Foundation. Also in the Fallen Splendour section are notes such as ‘Silas wears Curzon cologne’, and ‘Fanny… crossed out, Sarah… crossed out… Mrs Norwood, 40s, James’ old schoolteacher.’

Book five is set at Larkspur Hall, and as that was the first time we’d been there in detail, there’s a list of servants, places on the estate, ‘A patchwork of a property,’ ‘Ruined church from Dissolution’, and ‘abbey given in 1538,’ which is a worry as I am sure I’ve said it was another date in another book.

You see, even though you keep notes, you don’t always use them. I know I once messed up on the address of Clearwater House saying, in one book, it was in Bucks Avenue and then in another that it was in Bucks Row. (Bucks Row was a site of a Jack the Ripper murder.) I was able to go back and change that later, but I am sure there are other minor inconsistencies caused by ‘I remember that, no need to look it up.’

Occasionally, I paste things into the bible, such as this note, written on the back of receipt.

Romanian. Gabriel’s translation and some of my notes about pronunciation.

I was sitting at our local café one day and was joined by a Romanian friend. That was handy because I was writing ‘Bitter Bloodline’, which features a Romanian villain, and although I’d used Google translate, I wanted to be sure the most important sentence in the book was correct. Gabriel, my Romanian mate, wrote it down for me, and then I told him we were talking about Transylvania in 1889. He rewrote it, because the language would have been slightly different, and that’s what that note is all about.

What Else Should Be in the Bible?

I don’t want to bore you with details of every page of my book, but apart from those things mentioned above, it also contains pages titled:

Height, Hair & Build (brief character references)

Skills (again, but with more characters)

Archers’ family tree by three generations

Notes about Larkspur Hall

A calendar of character’s birthdays (Harvey, a minor character, June 2nd, Jasper Blackwood, 1st August, Silas, 21st October, etc.) These minor facts are useful to know and use because they add depth to stories, even if it’s only a mention.

A calendar of years of birth. Archer 1859, Thomas 1861, Fecker, probably 1865 but no-one really knows.

A rough map of the area around Clearwater House

Extended family tree for The Clearwater Inheritance

Who’s Who at Larkspur Hall, March 1890

The guest list for Archer’s 31st birthday party

Ages. Character’s ages through the years and some other major events. This makes it so much easier to remember how old people are. If you look closely, you’ll see that Fecker started renting in 1883 when he was 16, though he may have been older, and James started at the post office (PO) in 1877. You never know when such trivia will come in useful.

And so on and so on until we hit a page on which I have (badly) drawn three standing stones and the title The Larkspur Mysteries, June 2021, and underlined it in red as if it were school homework.

Two Bibles

I’m now a two-bible household. I keep the leather notebook going, and still add to previous pages, while using up more to give the same basic details of the new characters from the Larkspur Mysteries. However, when I started this second series, I decided to use a large, lined book that a friend had made for me. The cover is decorated with the titles of the books from the Clearwater Mysteries, but I am using the book as a bible/notebook for the Larkspur Series.

Big book.
Notes on the viscountcy of Larkspur from 1541 to the present day (1891), for ‘Seeing Through Shadows.’

That’s one example of how I am creating the Larkspur bible alongside the Clearwater bible. I’m not repeating facts from the first to the second, but I am adding facts from the second to relevant places in the first. I’m also using it to outline the stories, track the timeline, create character arcs, and make story notes. The Clearwater bible remains my go-to place for the basics, but now, using the larger Larkspur book, I can keep all my story notes in one, lovely to write on, set of pages and not the old trunk.

Revelations

I hope you found the above interesting. If I have a final point to make about why authors should keep a bible, it’s this:

When you create a fictional world, you are the Creator. You are omnipotent and expected to know all, see all, and care for all you have created. Unless you really are the Creator, it’s unlikely you will store every fabulous fact in your memory, so if in doubt, write it down.

Notebooks yet to be used, except for the green one which I used when writing the Saddling series as James Collins.

As for me, I have plenty more notebooks waiting to be filled…

Work In Progress 3.01

Speaking in Silence Well, I have the title of Larkspur five! I also have an outline, I know where I am ending up (kind of), and I know where I am starting.

I also have an idea of where the characters are going to take me once they start on the adventure, and I have begun the opening chapters to see how they work out. I’m also doing my background reading, and that’s going to take me another week or so. After that, I should be able to forge ahead and get the story down in the first draft.

But what I can I tell you about it as, together, we embark on the next adventure?

This is where I have to be careful as I don’t want to give away anything that happens in the previous book, in case you haven’t read it yet. I can tell you, though, that it will involve characters you met in ‘Seeing Through Shadows’, there will be an ongoing love story, a mystery (of course), and we won’t stay in Cornwall the whole time. In fact, the story starts with a prologue set in Greychurch (Whitechapel), in January 1891, and then jumps forward to March of that year. I’m currently reading newspapers of the time, and I am reading about the great blizzard that swept the south of England between 9th and 13th of March, making roads and railways impassable, wrecking a number of ships, and killing at least 200 people.

Train derailed near Camborne, Cornwall
https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Great-Blizzard-1891/

My story begins just after that, and it’s going to involve at least one Clearwater detective in the mentoring role, as a small group of academy friends seek justice for one of their number. Other old favourites I hope to use in ‘Speaking in Silence’ are Creswell, my barmy barrister, and Dr Markland, my even madder medical man. They will be cameos, because that’s what those characters are good at, while the main leads will be two Larkspur Academy men. The fun part, for me, is going to be how to convey the backstory of a character who doesn’t speak. (He can, but for some reason, he chooses not to, and understanding why, is one of the mysteries to be solved.) I have an idea for how this character will tell us about his past, and that’s one of the many ideas I am jotting in my notebook. For now, it’s back to the newspapers of the time, working out logistics, setting the timeline and then, beginning on the book proper in a couple of weeks.

Stay with me and follow the creative journey through my Wednesday WIP, and remember to check in on Saturdays for a new, more in-depth blog post or MM romance news, interviews and other things, and I’ll see you there. Meanwhile, you can catch up with the Larkspur Mysteries here.